Pushpa Ithal: Engineer Turned Entrepreneur to Help Digital Marketers

Parna Sarkar-Basu

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I have the privilege of interacting and collaborating with a variety of woman founders, and I have a lot of respect for their tenacity, passion, and determination. Most of the time they are running and growing their business while raising a family. It's never easy. Yet, they stay focused, roll-up their sleeves, and make it happen.

There are 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S., employing nearly nine million people and generating more than $1.6 trillion in revenues, according to the 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report. Female entrepreneurship saw the biggest increase in the past 20 years. Every month, 260 out of every 100,000 women choose to become entrepreneurs, per a Kaufman report.

Pushpa Ithal is one such entrepreneur. Born in India, she came to the United States in 2003 and made Silicon Valley her home. Like most immigrants, she had to work for free until she landed a full-time job with Bank of America. Now she is an entrepreneur and just launched Advo.Ninja - a MarTech platform to tackle the pain point of digital marketers.

In this Q&A, Pushpa shares her views on entrepreneurship, the digital marketing industry, and tips for students who want to pursue science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.

Parna Sarkar-Basu: You've had a successful career as an engineer. What made you become an entrepreneur?

Pushpa Ithal: Engineering gave me the most tangible job satisfaction, and I had no plans to be an entrepreneur. After I completed my MBA, I took on a product marketing position, and that's when I discovered a huge gap in social marketing tools and decided to solve the problem. And that's how Advo.Ninja was born.

More importantly, I embraced entrepreneurship because I was fascinated by the idea of helping marketing and employees build their social profiles and thought leadership.

PSB: As a women entrepreneur, could you tell me about some of the challenges you may be facing, if any.

PI: There are thousands of women-led businesses in this country, and I am proud to be one of those entrepreneurs. Despite what we hear, there are a variety of communities and ecosystems that we can tap into, and almost everyone I've reached out to is more than willing to help women entrepreneurs. In fact, there are several men who support and advise me on how to get off the ground and grow my business.

That said, some negative perception and presumptions do exist, from fundraising to selling to building partnerships. Women have to work extra hard to get the same things done. I hope that changes in the near future.

PSB: Tell me about your Advo.Ninja.

PI: Advo.Ninja is a social amplification platform that creates everlasting marketing impact for brands. Companies include their employees, investors, and even partners in building their brand through leadership on social networks.

PSB: Could you give me an example of how it helps customers?

PI: One of our customers—a startup—used Advo.Ninja to promote an upcoming webinar. By being able to amplify the news simultaneously on various social channels, leveraging the account of 25 influencers and employees, the company was able to drive more than 600 clicks per post to their webinar page. That's a huge accomplishment for a start-up.

PSB: Who are your target audiences?

PI: Any company that wants to expand its brand awareness on social networks can use Advo.Ninja. The majority of our customers are technology B2B companies.

The platform is also used by individuals, looking to create their brand in today's digital ecosystem.

PSB: There are a lot of digital marketing and social media engagement measurement tools in the market. What makes your product unique?

PI: First, the market opportunity is tremendous. According to analyst firm Forrester Research, in the United States alone, the digital marketing spending will be near $120 billion by 2021. Small and mid-sized businesses in the United States increased their social media budgets by more than 56%, per a study conducted by eMarketer.

Therefore, we'll see more and more vendors coming up with new MarTech tools to help measure digital marketing investment.

The Advo.Ninja advocacy platform is about end-to-end automation and targeted personalization. We provide opportunity for everyone in the company to have a voice while they build on their leadership skills.

Marketers get to automate the complete process of social posting to multiple networks as well as amplify their message, simultaneously. Most importantly, the product allows each post to be personalized to fit the respective employee's profile.

PSB: What tips would you give to girls who'd want to pursue a STEM career?

PI: STEM should be part of everyone's life. I don't see that as a separate entity. Human evolution and advancements have been dependent on STEM for thousands of years. Think of STEM as your contribution to humanity; then you will naturally build interest.

PSB: Why did you decide to settle down in Silicon Valley?

PI: Simply put, it's the weather and the tech ecosystem. Everyone here is helpful. There are many meetups that an entrepreneur can leverage, and get to know like-minded people. I can't imagine being anywhere else.

PSB: When you are not being an entrepreneur or a mom, how do you spend your time?

PI: I am an outdoors person and love to hike. There are a lot of trails nearby so when I need a break, I head over to Rancho in Los Altos and sometimes to Yosemite Clouds Rest or Mount Dana.


Parna Sarkar-Basu is a corporate marketing strategist and founder of Brand and Buzz Marketing. Leveraging her two passions—technology and brand building—Parna has an innate skill of humanizing brands, simplifying complex concepts and creating industry buzz that elevate companies to new heights. Recipient of multiple awards, Parna serves as a strategic advisor to CEOs and founders. She collaborates with them on a variety of engagements, from launching companies and products globally to reputation management and thought leadership.

A champion for STEM initiatives and innovation, Parna serves as the WITI (Women in Technology International) Boston Network Executive Advisor and sits on the South Shore Innovation board. Connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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