Sonia Sahney Nagar has quite an impressive resumé — working for General Motors as an engineer, working for Amazon, and consulting for other businesses on eCommerce. She left it all behind, though, to form Pickie, a personalized shopping aid that just raised $1 million in venture capitalist funding. We got to talk to Sonia about how she made the leap from engineering to consulting to becoming a CEO, and her tips for women looking to follow in her footsteps.
1. What tipped the scales for you and made you feel that you absolutely had to act on this idea and become an entrepreneur?
Growing up in the Midwest, I always thought that I needed to work for a really long time to get experience, and then I would start a company. After studying engineering I worked as an engineer at a big company. Then I went to business school and went to work for Amazon. Then I moved to New York, and started consulting. While I was consulting I kept getting asked to provide my opinion for senior clients and partners as an “eCommerce expert.” I quickly realized that I had a lot of unique market insights about how commerce + technology work. It was through these conversations I realized I had plenty of “experience” and became confident that I could build something on my own. From a timing perspective, I felt (and still feel) like eCommerce still has a ton of room to grow and revolutionize industries — so I felt a sense of urgency to get started!
In hindsight, I don’t think you need a ton of experience to start a company. The best way to learn is to jump right in, or to work for a start-up. This is just the winding path I happened to take because I didn’t know any better!
2. What was the most challenging part of forming your own business?
Building the right team is definitely the hardest part of building a business. My advice to anyone who tells me they are interested in starting a company is that they should start building their recruiting pipeline long before they need to hire.
If you’re interested in building a technology start-up, that means being active in the start-up community. I’d recommend working on as many projects as possible to get to know who you work well with. Or start a meetup to bring smart people together in an area you’re interested in building a business in. Make time to maintain your relationships with good people (whether it’s coffee, or lunches), so when it comes time to hire you can hire people you know vs. starting cold.
3. How did your time working for a big corporation influence how you structured your company and your role as “the boss”?
Working at a start-up is so different than working at a big company — I had to learn many things anew. The best way to learn how to structure a start-up is really to work for a start-up. However, from my time in consulting I got really good at identifying opportunities and communicating my ideas. Part of my role as CEO is communicating our vision and our plan, and I definitely benefited from my consulting time. Philosophically, at Amazon I learned the importance of using data & testing to drive product decisions. That’s definitely one facet of product development we’re working to include in our product development process at Pickie.