Women in Business Q&A: Aarthi Ramamurthy, Founder & CEO, Lumoid

Aarthi Ramamurthy is the founder and CEO of Lumoid, a YCombinator-backed Silicon Valley startup, that provides a try-before-you-buy rental service for consumer electronics. Lumoid originally offered rentals for photography equipment, then expanded to Google Glass and drones, and and more recently branched out into the wearable tech arena.

Aarthi hails from Chennai, India and has a Masters in Software Engineering. She was recruited by Microsoft as one of their youngest product managers and has built products such as Xbox LIVE and Netflix's video streaming software, before founding Lumoid.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My previous jobs (at Microsoft and Netflix) inspired me to build a business that could cater to millions of people, and be able to change lives for the better, in whatever way I could. Netflix taught me how to create a healthy team dynamic, ability to recruit and retain top talent. We're just getting started at Lumoid, and I'm still learning how to be a better leader everyday.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Lumoid?
You could say that the idea for Lumoid brewed up when I worked at Netflix. My primary role there was to work with various consumer electronics companies, to enable Netflix streaming on their devices. I realized that the CE market was booming, but the retail experience hadn't really changed. So, in a way, working on Xbox and Netflix, made me familiar with various electronics and how consumers adopted them, and that was tremendously helpful while starting Lumoid.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Lumoid?
Where do I even begin? We've had plenty of highlights and plenty of challenges through building Lumoid. Getting through a program as coveted as YCombinator is definitely a highlight. Our first customer was from Boise, Idaho, who placed an order a few hours after our basic website was published - we honestly couldn't believe it. We started getting Thank You notes in the boxes that came back after renting (see http://love.lumoid.com/ for the collection) - definitely a highlight.

We're growing pretty rapidly, and that leads to challenges. We've had trouble keeping up with the demand. We've had shipment delays due to snowstorms which meant customers couldn't get their gear in time for their vacation - those make us feel terrible, but helps us re-assess and fix the problem, so we can do better next time. We keep learning every time.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
Be the change you wish to see in the world. It's so easy to get bogged down with all the negativity, especially while starting something new. Focus on being able to build or provide something of value, and focus on fixing the problems that bother you. That, and never be afraid to ask for help or advice - at the very worst, you'll get told no, but you atleast tried.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
In the spirit of full disclosure, this is something I'm really bad at. My excuse is that it's too early at Lumoid to have a good work/life balance, but I'm beginning to see that it has more to do with my personal habits, than with Lumoid. I'm working on getting better at this - I love running, and I'm trying to dedicate more time per week running longer trails.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Specifically in software engineering, I believe the biggest issue for women in the workplace starts even before they join the workplace - there are too few women who take up Computer Science and Software Engineering courses in school, which leads to fewer women joining the workplace in technical roles. I think initiatives like Girls Who Code do a great job in getting more girls interested in computer science and eventually close the gender gap in tech companies.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
While working at Microsoft, having a mentor helped me build my technical skills quickly, and focus on building great features. After leaving Microsoft, I haven't had a mentor in the true sense of the word, although I still keep in touch with my mentor from Microsoft. Being a part of YCombinator has been immensely helpful to seek advice from other founders like me, and to talk about common issues that we all face at the early stages of building a business.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Angela Merkel - for her strength and fortitude in trying situations. I'd love to meet her someday.

What do you want Lumoid to accomplish in the next year?
We've had a very good year at Lumoid in 2014. This year, we are looking forward to offering more categories of gadgets to try, and to open up Lumoid Locals (our peer to peer rental program) in more cities.