Be as Water with Khyati Sundaram

As I listen to the podcast I recorded with Khyati, I immediately get transported back to those last days in London before my big move. Khyati is an energetic inspiring woman, committed to changing what she sees wrong and going through the challenges life throws at her. Khyati is the CEO of Applied, after having founded (and closed) her own start-up Fosho post her Corporate Finance life.

Leaving Corporate Life

One day, Khyati looked around and found out she was not finding a path ahead in Investment Banking. Thinking about the future, she realized those 4-walls did not bear her dreams.  As a reflective and impatient person, she believes she jumps into things before she is even ready. So when she left, she did not know exactly what she was going to do.

“Ideas are a dime a dozen”

After 2 years back to school she tried different ideas, put some through incubators, passed her ideas through people on the street and really went on an immersive experience. She ended up creating Fosho, an AI-based, machine-learning platform for sustainable supply chains. But it was too early, and after initial traction, the company did not scale.

Back to the recruitment market

After Fosho, Khyati went through an inflection point as she looked to go back to the market. She had decided not to go to big corporate, but she also did not have any other ideas to get started. When she started applying for jobs, it was devastating. Khyati estimates she must have applied for more than 200 jobs. As she spent hours working on her CV and cover letter she got told (when she got an answer):

“You didn’t fit”

This message kept getting repeated back to her. And that is when Khyati realized that the recruitment market was broken. It was surprising, but also heart-breaking. Unfortunately, Khyati’s story is not unique.

Finding Applied

This experience defined her journey in finding a company that would value her skills and the things that really matter on the job. She joined to run product and after a year became the CEO of the company. If you were wondering what company hired her on the basis of skills? Applied is an end-to-end hiring platform that uses 50 years of research about hiring, evidence-based information rather than proxies.

Applied provides a better structure for decision making and has had so far over 350 thousand applications in their platform. The company tests exclusively on skills and have built a unique database that is de-biased. How? The candidate receives a questionnaire rather than sending in their resume. And the outcomes are anonymised and randomised in multiple ways to ensure there are no flawed signals in the process and to avoid drawing any inferences about the candidate – you can only focus on skills.

Can you see how I could go on talking about this company for hours?

CEO into the Pandemic

Khyati became the CEO of Applied a month before the pandemic hit. And what was her first job? To close a fundraise. She barely remembers that first month of Covid-19 as she was so absorbed in ensuring the company had enough money.

After the close, she was shocked about how the business was getting hit and losing customers. They took a bet that hiring would normalize but imagined it would take at least 18 months. As such, they went into a cash conservation strategy, most unusual after closing a fundraising round. It worked out and the company became self-sustainable during that time and is now ready to invest as recruitment has re-opened.

Life in the Pandemic

Khyati was in London for lockdown and that was a difficult time. I was impressed to find out that she replaced her commute time with meditation time, rather than just working more, as many of the women I interviewed or encountered (self-included). During the times at home, (other than her family) she missed her gym and the routine it gave her. She worked out new routines into her day to help her with it.

Whilst the pandemic brought a lot of loneliness, it also allowed her to go on a personal journey which included more meditation and long walks to give her more grounding. She hopes to keep that in a post-pandemic environment. One of the tools she used to help her keep going with her exercise and self-care was an accountability buddy, which ensured she would not back out of it on the harder days. The part she could not manage as well was dealing with the distance from family, despite all the virtual encounters. Travel is the only solution!

As we finished and I thought I had so much out of the podcast, Khyati hit me with a quote that I seem to forget often (as she does). Be as water. After this amazing story, there was no better title for the podcast.

Khyati’s List

  • 2020 Advice: Be as Water
  • 2020 Challenge: Distance from family
  • 2020 Lesson: There are things you can’t control
  • 2021 Book: Managing Yourself, HBR and Invisible Woman
  • 2021 Word: Energizing

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