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Mina Radhakrishnan is co-founder of prop tech :Different

Mina Radhakrishnan, co-founder of :Different

Google, Uber then :Different: Mina Radhakrishnan’s tech life and startup

Mina Radhakrishnan is co-founder of :Different, an Aussie tech startup revolutionising property management in Australia through technology innovation. 

Along with her husband Ruwin Perera, Mina founded :Different after a tech career that saw her working in the infamous tech hub of Sillicon Valley, for the likes of Google and Uber. She was actually Uber’s first Head of Product and their 20th employee, and has picked up many tech startup lessons along the way that made launching :Different possible. 

:Different is essentially an all-in-one full service property platform that is subscription-based for landlords. It’s disrupting the way property is managed by using smart tech to deliver a better service and experience.

Mina swapped her majors at University a few times, and never really considered life as an entrepreneur or founder. A tech career was never really on her mind either, despite enjoying playing with tech as a kid.

Years later, Mina has gone on to launch a company which now operates across three cities and managers over $700 million in property.

As a rare find – a woman in tech and a founder of her own tech startup – we wanted to talk to Mina about her career in technology, how she got there in the first place and what she has learned so far on her journey. 

How did you get into the tech industry? Did you always envision this for yourself? Did you study an IT degree, for example?

As a kid, I always loved programming. I spent my days building on Geocities and learning basic HTML and JavaScript, but it wasn’t something I ever thought seriously about. Instead, I went to uni wanting to be a doctor, but two months in, as I was dissecting a mudpuppy (salamander), I realised I couldn’t do this for the rest of my life, so I swapped to a major in economics. I lasted one semester before jumping to art history — something I enjoyed but I couldn’t see future job prospects, so I moved again, this time to philosophy, where I lasted another semester. But during this time I realised I’d spent two years taking Computer Science electives and was doing well, so I thought why not? I now have a degree from Cornell University in Computer Science, which kickstarted my career as an engineer and then a product manager.

What’s the story behind working in Silicon Valley, to now landing your startup in Australia?

I spent much of my adult life in the US. I studied and spent my first couple of years in full time employment in New York before making the jump across coasts to the San Francisco Bay Area. That’s where my career in product development kicked off. I spent over 12 years there then took some time off to travel and clear my head, before landing in Australia. It’s here, along with my husband, Ruwin, we launched :Different. The market was ripe for disruption and the conditions made it favourable to launch a startup, so here we are.

Have there been any challenges as a female in tech? And wider challenges within your tech career?

I’ve actually spent much of my career in male-dominated industries — my first role out of university was at Goldman Sachs, and from there, my career in product lended itself to be more male-skewed. But one of the biggest challenges I found was actually a lack of strong females in leadership that I could look to as an example. Couple that with a lack of ethnically-diverse women in leadership roles and it has been a challenge.

The industry is definitely getting better, but it is still something that we can do more to improve. It’s why I try to involve myself in opportunities to mentor and advise rising under-represented entrepreneurs and hopefully be a successful example.

What attracted you to work at big companies such as Google and Uber? What did you learn? How has this shaped your view of business and tech?

Google and Uber were very different companies when I joined. Google was massive — we had 15,000 people, while at Uber, I was employee number 20. But both taught me invaluable lessons about product, design and team management.

Google showed me the discipline of product management. Google was a massive company that touched hundreds of millions of people everyday. This gave me unique insights into how to create products for scale. Millions of people a day were using our products. One product I headed up was used daily by ⅓ of the worldwide internet population so we really needed to think about how it would work for different people with varying needs, wants, and experiences globally.

At Uber, I was able to see how companies grow from startup to enterprise. Uber was still starting out when I joined — I was their first head of Product. But by the time I left, the team was in its thousands. This gave me the opportunity to see how businesses grow and change as they scale. Part of this meant learning how people grow and adapt with the company. Sometimes people and companies grow in different ways and while it may have once been a perfect match, as both grow, it may no longer be the case. And that’s fine. Somebody who thrives in an environment like a seed-stage company isn’t necessarily suited to do well in a larger organisation that needs a lot of structure. You need to recognise when to move on and make a change to suit your own strengths. These experiences have definitely shaped the way I lead and run :Different.

Related: Invest in tech if you want to grow your business: Xero data insights

Did you always think that this would lead you to or prepare you for launching your own tech business? 

I didn’t start my career wanting to be a founder. To be honest, I didn’t even think entrepreneurship was an option until I moved to San Francisco and saw the startup scene. People all around me were going out there and creating things. It hit home that this could be a path for me. My curiosity was sparked and it inspired me to start thinking about being a founder.

Everything along my journey taught me skills that I have applied to running my own startup. Goldman Sachs taught me basic finance, and maybe even more importantly, the power of hard work and a drive to succeed. Powering through, even when things get tough.

At Google I learnt all about product management. How to build, create and launch products to millions of people around the world.

The startup world showed me what it is like working in a constantly changing and evolving industry.

It’s these combined experiences that continue to shape my decisions today. I’m constantly looking at past experiences, learning from what worked and what didn’t, and applying it to new situations. I’ve been lucky enough to have a diverse career, which has given me different skills that I think are critical to be a founder.

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Loren Webb

Loren Webb

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