You might think not having a data background means it’ll be tougher for you to get a career in data. For Preksha Kaparwan, co-founder and CMO at Alphaa AI, the journey into data was anything but traditional. In this episode, Preksha talks about starting her career in the hospitality industry, falling in love with data through printed POS (proof-of-sale) receipts, and bombing meetings with clients when she was growing her startup. In addition to being a startup founder, Preksha was a 2021 LinkedIn Top Voice: Next Gen winner. We discuss how she utilized LinkedIn to grow her community, and how to be vulnerable to build trust with your community. Hopefully Preksha’s story inspires you to pursue a career in data no matter where you got your start.
It begins with hospitality
Preksha started her career as a chef at a top hotel in India after studying hospitality management at university. What she liked about being a chef is that you have a set amount of ingredients in recipe and something good comes out at the end of the recipe. After becoming a sous chef, her responsibilities expanded beyond just creating food. She had to manage events, supplies, profitability, and ensure hotel guests were fed and happy.
The hours were brutal. Working from 7AM-12AM was not uncommon. The worst part was at the end of her shift, she had to use a POS (point-of-sale) system to make reports about the day’s activity. The POS system was not connected to the Internet so she had to do a print out of every single receipt. She had to manually calculate how much butter chicken was sold that day, compute revenue, and do other tedious calculations by hand. This data would then get manually entered into a computer. This would push her shift to 2AM or 3AM some nights.
At the time, Preksha didn’t know she was doing data analytics. The unfortunate part was that while technology was advancing all around her, it wasn’t catching up with the restaurant and hospitality industry. She knew that data and processes should be digitized, but wasn’t sure how or where to start.
The hospitality industry creates a ton of data
Preksha didn’t realize it at the time, but when she was a sous chef she was doing data analyst work. She wanted to get into the data world and decided to join any startup would be willing to give her a job or internship. Any restaurant or hotel that is working with data would want to hire her, she thought.
The toughest part of this process is taking that one small step from your cushy job and willing to be a student or intern again. Preksha was managing a team of 30 and felt like she would be going backwards by starting over. On top of that, you have the peer pressure from friends and family.
She ultimately joined a startup that was working with restaurants and hotels by helping them create menus on iPads. As a business development manager, Preksha ate at 50 restaurants for 3 months but didn’t make any sales. She ended up working with one account that wanted a website for their restaurant. The restaurant also wanted to keep track of their orders online. The startup she was working at was losing money and the developers were leaving. Preksha still felt like she wanted to deliver what she promised to this restaurant. During this time, she met her current co-founder and developed a data analytics platform for restaurants.
Turning into the data analytics team for restaurants
20 businesses started treating Preksha’s startup as their in-house data analytics team. Preksha wanted to create a self-serve data platform for businesses to use themselves, but the businesses dependency on the startup increased. Customers would keep asking them to change this or that in the reports. What if they could use voice assistance to make these changes themselves. This is where Alphaa AI was born.
Like many startups, the journey is full of ups and downs. Preksha remembers having a meeting with Toyota and wanted to show them something amazing with her voice assistance data platform. At the time they decided to use the Alexa service to listen to their voice commands. During the meeting, Preksha asked Alexa 10 times what were the sales for the north region in January? Alexa didn’t understand what she was saying at all. Needless to say, the meeting didn’t go well and it was back to the drawing board.
Going all-in on LinkedIn
Even before Preksha and her team created the product at her startup, she was creating content on use cases for the platform and posting it on LinkedIn. Over time, she saw a lot of interest from the business community. Some of her content even went viral since the content addressed data pain points felt by the business community.
This community developed into a learning community called Citizen Data Scientists. There are over 7,000 people in this community consisting of business professionals. In-house data literacy programs at companies can get pretty technical, so Preksha and her co-founder structured the CDS program in a way to make it easier for businesses to answer everyday questions.
The community started in early 2020 when people were leaving and losing jobs. You learn how to create dashboards and provide insights about your data to your colleagues. The program is really open to anyone that is interested in data science. The only requirement is you have to create a dashboard and provide one insight about the data.
Becoming a LinkedIn Top Voice in 2021
LinkedIn influencers are the new thing. When Preksha started talking about building Alphaa AI, she mostly posted about new technology that people may be averse to learn about.
Sometimes a big divide between business and technologists, and analysts are in the middle trying to translate between the two.
Preksha was creating content to help business users understand and interpret these new technologies (not just data). As her community on LinkedIn grew, she found people were getting promoted and finding new jobs from going through the content in the Citizen Data Scientist program. In order to become a LinkedIn Top Voice, the content you post needs to be provide value and create impact for the community.
Strategies for creating content on LinkedIn
Preksha recognized her target groups are business users and technology users on LinkedIn. For business users, all the content is technology-jargon related to AI, NLP, and data science. The content needs to drill down into the problems that business users are facing. When she just started posting on LinkedIn, all the content was related to building her company and the successes and failures you face as a startup.
In terms of the type of content you should post, there is a certain type of content that you share to give value. Another type of content is creating content that builds trust with users. You can share all the content you want but if people don’t trust you, they won’t read your content. Show that you failed. Be vulnerable.
The types of content you should post (in this order) are value, trust, then promotion.
For instance, Preksha shared a picture of her and her co-founder after they bombed an important client meeting. The content ended up doing really well on LinkedIn. She found that there are generally good people who will help you out and provide encouraging words.
Other Podcasts & Blog Posts
In the 2nd half of the episode, I talk about some episodes and blogs from other people I found interesting: