#003: Ayesha Mathews Wadhwa

Finding Purpose In Branding & Design, Immigrating From India, & More

In our latest episode, Deepa is joined by Ayesha Mathews Wadhwa, Senior Director and Head of Global Brand Experience at Nium. Ayesha, an immigrant from India like Deepa, shares her story, ranging from her journey to the U.S. to her distinctive approach to branding and personal values. Deepa and Ayesha explore how to find community, tapping into one’s flow state, and understanding what energizes or drains us. Ayesha also shares her commitment to the principle of “Pyar se” (meaning ‘with love’) in all her endeavors, and her experiences of learning and collaboration within a community of like-minded individuals.

Interactive Video Transcript


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Deepa Pulipati

You were almost like, I'm just going to sit here till I can convince you to give me a chance. Because I know that this is my path.

Ayesha Mathews

Yes, I think at some point you just should turn around.

Ayesha Mathews

She saw I was still there.

Ayesha Mathews

She was like, okay, you can start for this, right? And I'm proud to say in three months, I got a raise to 10,000 rupees a month and got to work on MTV India and Manipal and I think Pantaloons, India's first mall. So that was pretty incredible. And in that time, I was also applying for design school and then got accepted to Parsons.

Speaker 7

Yeah.

Deepa Pulipati

So, you know, what I'm really hearing you say, Ayesha, is that you knew through your experience, even though it was a short experience of having your first card sale, like you made money. So that kind of gave you the confidence that this actually could work for you. And you enjoy doing this to your dad's point. And you just like literally said, this is a right opportunity for me.

Ayesha Mathews

And I'm just going to stay here till I get this opportunity. You find me outside your doorstep one day, just being like, just going to park myself.

Deepa Pulipati

You have developed a self-awareness of who you are and where you want to go.

Ayesha Mathews

But now what?

Deepa Pulipati

Sound familiar? In my 20 years of practice as a superior court mediator, clinician, executive coach, and parent, I've noticed one thing above all. No meaningful transformation can happen unless you find and apply the tools and skills that are right for you. See, the thing is, without tools, without a recipe, you might as well flip a coin and hope it works. Or you'll get burnt out listening to bad advice and following tips that just aren't useful in your situation. I have been there and I've seen thousands of clients right there as well.

Deepa Pulipati

My name is Deepa and Recipes for Life is my show where you and I learn the ingredients of high-performing, well-adjusted humans, how they get through their own life, all to craft a recipe for life of our own. Today's guest is Ayesha Matthews Wadhwa. Ayesha has an interesting story. She's a brand and creative leader with experience taking companies to $100 million plus in funding, successful IPOs, and more. She was raised in Bengaluru, India, and is a graduate of Parsons School of Design.

Deepa Pulipati

She's led end-to-end creative projects with brands such as Apple, Facebook, Sephora, Amazon Lab 126, and the Smithsonian with her creative agency Picsync, which was acquired in 2015. Ayesha loves orchestrating people, ideas and products, and experiences that feel transformative, have an innate beauty, and strengthen our sense of community and positive impact. By the end of today's conversation, you will have new ways to find community, access your flow state, and identify whether or not something drains or gains you of energy.

Deepa Pulipati

You'll also hear Ayesha's fun take on how she would rebrand Costco's Kirkland brand and her core value of doing all with pyar se, to do with love. Ayesha also talks about her immigrant journey and the value of finding community as a South Asian woman. Before we jump into the episode, I have one favor to ask of you. Promise me that you'll teach what you've learned from today's episode to someone you care about within 48 hours. Research shows that it'll help you internalize the tools beyond just listening to them.

Deepa Pulipati

Here's lovely Ayesha, Senior Director, Head of Global Brand Experience at New. Ayesha, what is your favorite food that you like to cook, my friend?

Ayesha Mathews

Ugh, oh my god. Okay, if you said like to eat, it would have been a never-ending list. So like to cook was the right question. You know, I have to say that at this stage in my life, like the criteria is it has to be really delicious.

Ayesha Mathews

It has to be really simple and easy to put together. So I tend to kind of gravitate towards one pot meals, just because it's all in a pot. And I think our current favorite is a pesto chicken pasta. And I think it's a favorite just because Vishal and Azai love it so much that I, you know, I think the joy of cooking is really for the opportunity to share it with folks that you love and because they're fans, it's now become my favorite dish to make.

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah, amazing. Do you follow an exact recipe? Do you change it? Like, what do you do?

Speaker 4

I think I have, I make sure that I have all the right ingredients.

Ayesha Mathews

And that starts with some great pesto, obviously the extra ravioli, you know, with chicken and cheese.

Speaker 4

And the rest of it kind of changes up.

Ayesha Mathews

Sometimes I put in some onions and tomato, saute all of that really well. Pine nuts tend to add a really lovely sort of touch.

Speaker 4

But no, I don't follow like a super precise recipe.

Ayesha Mathews

But I feel like the things that are always there tends to be the pine nuts, the pesto, tomato, and the pasta.

Deepa Pulipati

Do you make your pesto? Or what kind of what brand of pesto do you use?

Ayesha Mathews

I use Kirkland's pesto. It's really good.

Deepa Pulipati

Is it? No, I would not ever imagine that you would say Kirkland's.

Speaker 4

I know.

Ayesha Mathews

I know.

Speaker 4

And I wouldn't, you know, I have a very interesting relationship with Costco. And needless to say, it was my husband that introduced me to it and living in New York and Paris and moving, you know, to California. I think the first time I went to Costco in San Francisco, I was such a snob. You know, I was such a like big city snob and being like, what is this suburban action you're taking me to? And I was I was horrified by the size and the scale of everything. Right. I mean, it's and a we were like two people.

Speaker 4

So outside of things like, you know, the toilet paper and bounty and whatever else you can use, there was just no way to consume any of this stuff. Right. But now over the years, I am a full convert. My dream project would be to take the Kirkland brand and redesign it, because what I've really come to appreciate about Costco and the Kirkland brand is you get some really great quality. You get great value, that great quality. They are kind of the, you know, the world's biggest, I think one of the biggest wine buyers.

Deepa Pulipati

Right.

Speaker 4

From what I know. And so you can get like really great value, which I appreciate. And some really good, you know, stuff that comes in there. But my pet peeve has always been like, where's the design? Where's the branding? Like, there's such an opportunity here because I think the the ability to elevate something with beautiful design and brand just makes the whole experience, you know, so much more fun. And to your point, you never thought the words like Kirkland pesto would come out of my mouth.

Speaker 4

We need to dive into that further and just be like, what do you associate with me?

Speaker 5

No, I just, you know, you just come across as somebody, not that Kirkland is a bad brand.

Deepa Pulipati

I mean, I go to Costco, like when my son was young, Costco was like a thing right now. It's like you said, it's just two of us. It doesn't make sense. But I just always associate the brand with like big size, like, you know, products which may go waste.

Speaker 5

And, you know, that's what I associate Kirkland with more than the taste or anything. I'm like, oh my God, who's going to use this three big bottles of like, whatever. So I get it.

Deepa Pulipati

I get it makes sense for the consumer. But like you said, I think we should tag Kirkland on this podcast.

Ayesha Mathews

We really should.

Speaker 4

It took me a while to really warm up to them. But now that I have, I've crossed over and I'm a full, full convert.

Deepa Pulipati

Like you said, I love it. I love it.

Speaker 5

So, so tell me something.

Deepa Pulipati

Do you have like a routine or ritual that you do every day?

Ayesha Mathews

I mean, outside like the basics, brushing teeth and, you know.

Deepa Pulipati

Yes, outside of the basics.

Speaker 4

Around like personal hygiene.

Deepa Pulipati

I'm glad you do the basics, Aisha.

Speaker 4

You know, I feel like it has to be morning chai, right? It's something, you know, it's like the first thing, you know, I drink and I'm really fortunate.

Ayesha Mathews

Vishal makes me my first cup of chai, which is a gift.

Speaker 4

And it is, I don't even know. I mean, yes, the caffeine helps. But I think it is more sort of muscle memory. And it's, it's a ritual that has carried over, you know, since I was a child.

Ayesha Mathews

I mean, obviously, like, I probably started drinking tea at home when I was a teenager. But that morning cup of tea for the family is something that I've always cherished. And I think it makes me feel connected to, you know, just back home. I haven't, you know, it's been years since I've moved.

Ayesha Mathews

from India, but I think it's a one ritual that makes me so feel connected. And even when I travel, I carry my little tea bag. And my morning chai is very rarely like the traditional Indian chai with, you know, all of the spices. It's literally just the the the black tea, milk, sugar. And then I really love the elaichi added to it. So that's the extent of it. But I don't do the whole like ginger and, you know, the rest of it that your classic chai calls for.

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah, no, no, me neither. Day to day. But when I go to my dad's house or when my dad is here visiting me, that's a traditional chai that we get. But many people think we add a bunch of spices, but we actually don't. Sometimes it's just elaichi or it's just ginger. And I'm like, no, no, we're not mixing all these things. We're just doing one thing. Yes, exactly.

Ayesha Mathews

I think for me and my chai is very different from masala chai or ginger chai. Like those are all, you know, and you also can literally just do elaichi chai. But like there's just a straightforward, regular everyday chai. Yes.

Deepa Pulipati

Love it.

Ayesha Mathews

Where is your family home?

Deepa Pulipati

They're in Hyderabad. Oh, that's amazing. Is that where you grew up? Yeah, my dad is in Hyderabad and my siblings are from Bangalore. Or wait, now it is Bengaluru, as you know.

Ayesha Mathews

Bengaluru, that's right.

Speaker 7

Yeah.

Ayesha Mathews

And and so is that where you grew up?

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah. Yeah.

Ayesha Mathews

School and college.

Deepa Pulipati

So when did you move to the U.S.? I came here 25 years ago, 1998.

Speaker 7

Yeah.

Ayesha Mathews

So we're kind of vintage.

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah, exactly. Thousand. Yeah. Yeah. Almost the same. You know, I want to quickly circle back to when you talked about, you know, design and brand marketing. That's the big 40 of the work that you do. I'm curious, what would be your first design change for Kirkland if you had?

Ayesha Mathews

Well, the way I think about it is what is the kind of design, especially since it's lifestyle, you want to have something that you feel really good about putting on your table, right? It's it's a brand you want to show off. What does that mean? I mean, there's so many beautifully designed brands. And I think when you think of like Moss and brands at scale, Target did this really well.

Ayesha Mathews

At some point when Target was kind of going through a really big rebrand, they were really, I think, savvy about figuring out how to create value, right, and really create very water friendly or, you know, price friendly products, but to package it in a way that made it feel that it was more upscale than what it is. And it did really great design collaborations. And they still do right across the board. They're kind of curate really best in class sort of designers and kind of create capsule collections for Target.

Ayesha Mathews

But even a lot of their main sort of brand, I feel like Target, you know, made this very concerted shift to kind of be known and to put design and brand at the core and at their center in a way that Costco Kirkland hasn't. And I think by all intents and purposes, like maybe they don't feel like they need to, right, it hasn't impacted the value of their business. It's a really, really strong brand and business. And I think it's it's a great sort of description of can you sort of be a brand leader if you don't put design at your core and center?

Ayesha Mathews

And the answer is yes. But what happens to a brand if you do put design at the core and center and just think of the Apple, think of the Targets, think of all the, you know, the Airbnbs, like all the brands that we've come to love that really have design at the center and core to their offering and how they show up in the world. And so just by default, I tend to be super biased, right, towards those brands. And so I think about, again, like, you know, you can always cook a delicious meal and serve it in a pressure cooker on the table, right?

Ayesha Mathews

And that's fine. But if you care about aesthetic, your classic Indian pressure cooker is not like super pretty, right? And then a brand like Our Place comes in where they kind of make these beautiful stove or oven to table, you know, kind of dishes and have things that you can literally cook in, serve and, you know, store in the fridge. And then all of a sudden that's form and function adding in all of those layers to make it more accessible.

Ayesha Mathews

So back to Kirkland, you know, I just think that everything from elevating sort of the form, the colors and, you know, still keep what's.

Ayesha Mathews

core to their DNA, sort of honor that, but how do we infuse a design language that feels like an aesthetic that's more pleasing? And that's just, that's my opinion.

Deepa Pulipati

Of course, and I think to your point, the real question here is when we talk about Kirkland, do they really care? Because they don't have a business imperative right now, because it's selling well, it's doing really well, right? And does it really matter? And if it matters, what is the reason that they'd want to do it?

Ayesha Mathews

Yeah, exactly. And I think that it becomes, it's really for brand and for design to be a business imperative. I think it kind of goes back to the DNA. If you think of like Steve Jobs and his DNA, and he's somebody who spent time actually learning calligraphy, right? And that learning helped inform his awareness around the choice of fonts or typography when it came to Apple. So I do think that if it needs to, it does stem from like the core team, the core DNA of the brand.

Ayesha Mathews

And it's almost always better if it is that way, because then it's true to the brand. I feel like when design is sort of added in as a superficial layer, or the idea of like a design-led brand comes in as a superficial layer, it most times fails. Just because if the core leadership team, if the company isn't signed off on it across different levels, it has to become sort of a practice, not something that's layered on.

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So it has to be part of their core value for it to really make sense and for it to work. Now, the question to you is, what about, can stronger sort of brands attract better talent?

Ayesha Mathews

Can stronger brands attract better talent? Yeah, I mean, I think so, right?

Deepa Pulipati

I feel like it depends again.

Ayesha Mathews

Like I'm somebody, you know, you talked about a mentor you spoke with and how at the age of 20, 25, you know, 23, she made a bet on you based on potential versus, you know, skill or competency. And I think just the way I'm wired and what I find attractive and where I find like I can make the most impact and do my best work is when I see the potential in a brand, right? Because that's sort of me personally, super satisfying to be able to see that trajectory from here or there.

Ayesha Mathews

And I think for every person, like what attracts them to a brand or company is gonna be different. I think for me, being in the business of branding, it's a very different sort of like filter that I'm looking at. But absolutely, when you think of talent brand and employer brands, the reason that's come to the forefront in the past few years and the reason companies invest in that is because it's a magnet for talent, right?

Ayesha Mathews

Anybody coming out of school or looking to switch jobs, you're gonna gravitate towards the brands that are well-known, well-recognized and have sort of that, you know, a leadership in the market as compared to ones that don't.

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah, that sort of, that definitely makes sense. You know, I just quickly wanna say circling back to Target back in the day, and I still do, when all of his friends started shopping, we used to call it Target just for the reason that you just mentioned. We're like, yes, we got this from Target. I mean, it just speaks to how amazing they do their branding and how, you know, they're so impactful about it, right?

Ayesha Mathews

Well, I think they do it brilliantly. And I remember kind of being a fairly young designer, maybe just a couple of years out of school and going to a talk where, you know, listening to one of the founders, the agencies that have helped, you know, was part of like all of this redesign for brands, for the Target brand speak and talk about it. And it just was so inspiring for me to kind of see, you know, a mass market brand take an Italian company like Alessi. Alessi makes beautiful, you know, products, right?

Ayesha Mathews

And really high-end products, but make it accessible and figure out a way to, you know, bring sort of high design to sort of a mass market. And I'm a huge proponent and believer of that, right? Because when there's great design, most times it's intentional, it's thought through, and you're getting a better experience and as a result, a better product. And why shouldn't everyone have access to that?

Deepa Pulipati

Yeah, so in that talk, really quick, Ayesha, was there a specific principle or like something that the person that said that really stayed with you, that like really, the idea, the big framework, I understand, but was there something specific that, you know, you heard that stayed with you?

Ayesha Mathews

Yeah, I think this would be my first boss at this incredible design studio named E-Sign, which is now called Spread in India. It's huge. Sonia Manchanda is like a legend. And I was so fortunate to be able to work with her before I, sort of that transition period, you know, graduating from college while trying to figure out my place in design. It was kind of, you know, this exploration because I was the only one in the studio at that time that didn't have a formal design or art training and background.

Ayesha Mathews

I came in with, you know, a degree in commerce and it was very nerve wracking. And, you know, when I think about the portfolio that I took for my, you know, it wasn't an interview, you know, a mutual friend connected me. I kind of went there. Like, I would like cringe today thinking about what I considered was my portfolio. The only thing I had going for me was like my absolute, like, you know, conviction that this was a place that I needed to be.

Speaker 4

And I just, I sat there till she hired me, Deepa. I didn't leave. Like, I just sort of sat, I met with her.

Ayesha Mathews

She looked at it. She didn't laugh on my face, bless her heart, right? But she also knew she couldn't like legitimately give me a job, right?

Speaker 4

But I just didn't leave. I kind of just sat there. And then I think she finally was like, okay, you can start.

Ayesha Mathews

And, you know, this is gonna be like 3000 rupees a month was my starting salary. And it was like diving in to the deep end, right? I remember having to teach myself Adobe Illustrator, like all of a sudden, like I'm working on a logo for Manipal University in India, which is, you know, a huge university, and submitting designs. But I think when you sort of know, you know, you're the only one without sort of the formalized training and the skillset and the, like, you know, just how far you need to leap to catch up.

Ayesha Mathews

And, you know, there were very, very talented colleagues at that studio. But the biggest lesson Sonia taught me was PR say, okay. She said, if you're going to do anything, do it with love. And I think that has had to be one of the most profound and important lessons that doesn't just work for design. It works for leadership. It works for life. It's part of my recipe for life, right? And going back to the title of your show, which I love.

Speaker 4

So I think that has really stuck.

Ayesha Mathews

And I feel like even today, I use it as a filter and a blueprint. If I take something on and I'm unable to do it with love, then the question is, should I be doing it? Or should I be giving it to somebody else who can do it with love? And that's what I ask of my team.

Speaker 4

And I ask, you know, because things can get very transactional.

Ayesha Mathews

Sometimes, you know, things are moving fast, people are busy, you know, you can kind of go in and be like, check it off the list and I'm here, you're paying me and you're gonna get X for what you're giving me. But I found that I think, and maybe it's because, you know, I identify as a creative and how I kind of am wired and function. But that has never been my MO. I've never been, you know, excited by sort of doing something that checks off, you know, the books. It's always been like, how do you do it with love if you're going to do it?

Speaker 4

Oh my God, Ayesha, thank you for sharing that because now it's like that puzzle piece that clicked for me when you said that because since the time I've interacted with you, you've done this at every interaction, PRC. It's unbelievable to me that I'm now seeing that you've embodied this at every single interaction we've had together and not only with me, with everybody else.

Deepa Pulipati

When we did the South Asian Women's Leadership event, that's just, I'm like, okay, this makes sense. This is who she is. So wow, thank you really for sharing that because now it all makes sense to me. How does she do this? And now I know. This is a practice for you. This is a value for you.

Speaker 4

It is a value, but it's also, it's mirroring the energy you bring, Deepa. And frankly, with any, you know, I mean, this is what I've learned. It's sometimes a hard way that no matter how you think about something, your level of excitement, your level of investment, all you own or control is 50% of that equation, right?

Speaker 4

Because, and every time, you know, that goes out of balance where if my investment in you or what I wanted to give or offer was at 80% and yours was 20%, that might be okay for a little while, but sooner or later, that creates a misalignment, right? And expectations, the quality of the relationship. And so I think that, you know, the thing about PR say is it has to also be met and it has to be mirrored. And so I just want to tell you that if you felt it, it's because you came with the same energy.

Deepa Pulipati

Thank you for that. And I have a feeling, and you do this in your leadership role too, which I want to explore in a quick second. But before that, I want to circle back to something that you said earlier when you were sitting in front of Sonia and you had this new, you know, you had zero experience and you said, you just sat there. What do you mean, you just sat there and what was like, what was your thinking process?

Speaker 4

What were you thinking?

Deepa Pulipati

Like you dug your heels in and you're like, I'm just going to stay here? Talk to me about that. I was like, wait, this is amazing.

Speaker 4

You know, I feel like to get to that point, I need to give you a little bit of context of, you know, what life between 13 and maybe 19 was like. And, you know, no surprise. Like, you know, we are a middle-class family in Bangalore. As a teenager, the opportunities to get into trouble were literally none. Since you kind of grew up in a similar, you know, similar time. And so it was school, right? And obviously being a great student, doing well, no brainer, right? Just check off all of those things because that was the baseline.

Speaker 4

Like there was, you couldn't even think about anything else or ask for anything if you didn't do your primary job, which was go to school and study. Right, absolutely. And so I feel like there was a lot of that and I embraced it. You know, I was a kind of kid where I loved to read. And so I would, I knew that if I got my homework done, then I would have all this time to read. And I think the majority of my childhood was very, very books driven. And even as a teenager, like I spent a lot of my time like at my dad's bookshelf, okay?

Speaker 4

So as a 15 year old, I'm reading Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I'm reading, you know, the book from Pepsi to Apple, which I'm now blanking out on the author, but that's when I discovered the character of Steve Jobs, right? The book was not about him. It was John Scully's book and his story of going from Pepsi to Apple. And I ended up falling in love with this character in the book named Steve Jobs that I didn't know about. This was like, you know, early nineties in India, like Apple still hadn't infiltrated.

Speaker 4

We didn't have a computer at home. You know, we had to go into the library and, you know, get access to the computer. Yeah, exactly. Like reserve one, kind of use it, like, you know, listen to the dial-up sound and then leave for the next person to do that. So, you know, it just, like Apple was not a brand that, you know, anyone knew at that time. And, you know, my interest in art and creative, I used to sketch and draw, you know, spend summers going to like art classes, but you know how it is, that's the hobby. That's not the career, right?

Speaker 4

At least at that stage in India. And so I think coming out of graduating college, I knew I had several competencies, but I also grew up with a dad who said, there's nothing like doing something you love and being papery.

Ayesha Mathews

And that kind of stuck, right? And I was like, well, I could do A, B and C and I can apply myself and do it well, but I'm really curious and excited about the space called design. It was still very nascent. Advertising was pretty well known, but it was not what I was drawn to.

Speaker 4

And so I felt like I had like a fledgling business.

Ayesha Mathews

I would hand make sort of invitations and cards and kind of sell to like a small mom and pop boutique. And then I actually ended up, that was like my first entrepreneurial venture. And I remember signing on my first client at some point in the late nineties. And he gave me a 50% deposit check for 15,000 rupees. At that point, that was a big deal. The job itself was 30,000 rupees, right? But in like 97, 98 for like a 17, 18 year old, that was a pretty big deal.

Ayesha Mathews

And I remember it was only when I brought that check home that my parents were like, okay, let's pay attention. And like, clearly you're super interested in this and clearly someone out there is paying you for it. So let's figure out how you can actually pursue design.

Speaker 4

And so without, at that point there was an art school in Bangalore called Chitra Kala Parishad that was a CKP for short, that I'd kind of missed because you start out to stand at 10.

Ayesha Mathews

And then there was the Indian Institute of Design in Ahmedabad that was also really famous, but they also needed me to do a full bachelor's, kind of start like up to 12. And so I was unwilling to kind of spend another five years kind of redoing stuff. And so looking at colleges abroad was the only option. And when I met Sonia through, I said, a colleague, I was president of college and we do a big cultural festival called Kala.

Ayesha Mathews

And I'd hired this team of artists from Chitra Kala Parishad to help like build out our, you know, kind of the event decor and they did amazing. That's how I knew Vinil. Vinil introduced, said like, hey, I work at this thing. And you know, since you're interested and you kind of, you know, make these invitations and stuff, maybe you should come meet Sonia and see, you know, see if there's any opportunities there.

Speaker 4

So I think just with everything that I'd seen and learned, I was pretty convinced that this was a path I wanted. It was unclear where, you know, the future would lead, but to your point, I think I just kind of, she met with me and I kind of just sat there. I wouldn't leave. And it wasn't weird. I didn't feel weirded out because I felt like, okay, there was a friend of mine who was working here that I knew, you know, I didn't, it didn't come from any place of entitlement, but it also just came from like, look, I have to do this.

Ayesha Mathews

I don't know where to start. This seems like a start.

Speaker 4

So.

Deepa Pulipati

So you were like, you were almost like, I'm just going to sit here to like, and convince you to give me a chance because I know that this is my path.

Speaker 4

Yes, I think at some point you just, she turned around, she saw I was still there. She was like, okay, you can start for this, right?

Ayesha Mathews

And I'm proud to say in three months, I got a raise to 10,000 rupees a month and got to work on MTV India and Manipal and I think Pantaloons, India's first mall.

Speaker 4

So that was pretty incredible.

Ayesha Mathews

And in that time I was also applying for design school and then got accepted to Parsons.

Speaker 7

Parsons. Yeah.

Deepa Pulipati

So, you know, what I'm really hearing you say, Ayesha, is that you knew through your experience, even though it was a short experience of having your first card sale, like you made money. So that kind of gave you the confidence that this actually could work for you and you enjoyed doing this to your dad's point. And you just like literally said, this is a right opportunity for me and I'm just gonna stay here till I get this opportunity.

Speaker 4

You find me outside your doorstep one day, just being like, just gonna park myself till I get what I want.

Deepa Pulipati

But no, it's also very endearing and it speaks to your grit and determination, I think, to really follow your instinct and not be scared of trying something because you knew in your heart at some level that this is the thing that's gonna bring you joy. That's what I'm getting.

Ayesha Mathews

Exactly. And I think the other big realization at that point, because it wasn't sort of a slam dunk, I wanna do design. And it's like, sure, you know, how much money do you need? Where do you wanna go type of thing, right? It was a process of persuading my parents first, right, to really sort of support this. And then, finally, my dad sort of said that, well, if you really wanna do this, then go get yourself trained and get yourself a proper formal education because I don't want you to just try to work your way through it. Who knows, right?

Ayesha Mathews

I mean, at least, I'm not sure which path would have worked out. But for me, I think, looking back, this was the perfect path for me because here I am, having a conversation with you, all these years later, but.

Speaker 4

I think that was in my head, which was how I started to apply to design schools. But I think going back, you know, the thing about John Sculley's book and kind of, you know, reading about this character named Steve Jobs was I realized to pursue anything that's a passion, you need to be relentless in that pursuit.

Ayesha Mathews

Because there is going to be a lot of pain, sacrifice, suffering. So that was really internalized, it was very clear.

Speaker 4

And the other thing was a real belief that if you have a talent, right, even if it's, you know, however, like, sort of small or big, I think it's your responsibility to invest in that and build on that. And, you know, there's a difference between, like, your core strengths, your superpowers, and, like, your competencies and skills, right, that you can build and be like, yeah, I kind of suck at it, but I can apply myself and kind of get better.

Speaker 4

And I think I've always just gravitated to, like, what is the stuff that's going to light me up, right, that where I can get into a state of flow.

Ayesha Mathews

And until today, if I'm, like, just muddling about and puddling about, you know, I have peers and team members who are far more talented and skilled than I am, but it's still a space. It's one of the few spaces that I get into a state of flow, where I'm lost hours later. Like, you have to come, like, you know, tap me and be like, what are you doing?

Deepa Pulipati

The fact that you, from a very young age, continue to listen to the thing that feels right for you in your head. I mean, people say, broadly, we can say it's gut instinct, listen to it, listen to it. But what I'm, like, really hearing you say is that you really were, like, very thoughtfully, you were, like, listening and paying attention to what matters to you and then relentlessly pursuing it.

Speaker 4

Yeah, and I'd actually say, I would argue that that was much stronger when I was younger, right? Because, let's face it, with experience and time, you do become risk averse, and sometimes that's a good thing. You become, you know, you just get more calibrated, I guess, in your thinking, versus just going all out. But there are times in your life where you just have to go all out, right?

Speaker 4

I feel, like, very grateful that, at that time, there was just sort of the conviction of my belief and my passion that drove me, without really understanding all the repercussions and what it means and what the consequences could be and all the risk that, you know, comes with it.

Deepa Pulipati

Coming back to a couple of things that you said, you know, you came to this country after that experience in India, you came to Parsons, and then how did you, like, can you speak to maybe a challenge that you went through or, like, at that point, a struggle? Because you were new to this country, you were here by yourself, you were here with $2,000, and you had to figure out a way to make it happen with a $100,000 loan, as you mentioned. Can you speak to that?

Ayesha Mathews

Yeah. So, I think, you know, there was all the classic sort of challenges, right? And I feel, you know, you're an immigrant, I'm an immigrant, we all know immigrants who came 10 years ahead of us, you know, 20 years ahead of us, and they came with $20, right?

Speaker 4

And so, I think I've always been, like, sensitive about talking about, like, challenges or hardships because my story is not unique, you know, like every immigrant has had their share of struggles and journeys and, you know. But I think, for me, the biggest thing was, I want to say that my foundational upbringing, you know, you really appreciate, like, who you are and what you've been taught when you leave home is what I felt. Because otherwise, I was very sheltered.

Speaker 4

Like, you know, like, I remember, I don't think I ever took public transport, I never took a bus anywhere.

Ayesha Mathews

And there was a time when I think, you know, my dad and I, we were having, like, an argument, and he refused to, like, drop me to work on his way to work.

Speaker 4

And Deepa, I was so scared of taking a bus, I walked two hours to work.

Speaker 4

because I'd never been on a public bus in Bangalore, okay? So I'd never written a check in my life.

Ayesha Mathews

So to kind of come from that level of, and yet, right, I was an entrepreneur, I was college president, I was, you know, figuring out ways to make money. So it was, I think it was a really interesting mixed bag, but I felt like I had everything that I needed, like I have the ingredients, I just needed to smarten up on application and kind of get ready, like here's the real world. And that's kind of all, you know, a test and learn environment.

Speaker 4

And I think by and large, I feel really like blessed because, you know, for the most part, people were hopeful, situations kind of worked out. I think I'll never forget my first lesson in credit was, you know, again, growing up in India, credit was a bad word. Like you didn't buy anything if you didn't have the money. Simple, right? You wanted a television, you had cash, you went and bought it, whatever it was.

Ayesha Mathews

And so I came in here to the US with no concept of what building credit means.

Speaker 4

And I remember when I had to purchase, get my first Mac, and, you know, I didn't have the luxury of internships, so I freelanced and sort of made some money on the side, but I still needed, you know, credit to cover a part of it. I paid 26% interest, okay?

Ayesha Mathews

And I just remember being like flabbergasted, just being like, no, no, no, I don't have credit because I don't buy shit if I don't have the money, right? Like that was what I was taught. And here I am being penalized in the worst possible way for not having credit, right?

Speaker 4

So I just think it's stuff like that, where if you have no precedent and, you know, just not like savvy enough to like find out and, you know, do your research and ask around. Those were some of the like the harder lessons for me that I was just like, oh my God, like, you know, this is fake.

Speaker 7

Yeah, yeah.

Deepa Pulipati

And that's so true, I'm sure a lot of immigrants, even now, maybe not now, but this was 20 years ago, it was very different, would completely relate to that. But what I'm hearing you say is that you had strong values that were instilled in you, you kind of knew where you wanted to go, but it's just like, sometimes you gotta have the experience in order to like really understand, like these are the life lessons that you just have to go through and figure a way around it and learn from it.

Speaker 4

Yeah, yeah. I think it's just like that street smartness, like we call it, right? Like that's the other way of saying like, how do you navigate the world? Because you can be incredibly good, incredibly brilliant and talented with a lot of things, but kind of navigating the real world is a whole different sort of skillset and that means hustle mentality. And I feel like that's the gift that this whole adventure has given me and doing it on my own, come moving to New York, moving to Paris, moving back, right?

Speaker 4

Like you can't get anywhere by kind of waiting politely for your turn. Like, yes, you are, like it's not about being obnoxious, right? But it really is about figuring out ways how to advocate for yourself, especially, you know, I was in a space where it wasn't common at that time to be brown and in design, right?

Speaker 4

It's like, now I'm thrilled, like, you know, to see how many young girls, especially through Wild Women in Leadership and Design, which is part of the AIGA, it gives me so much joy to just see, you know, groups after groups of like young Indian women and men, right? Men, boys and girls sort of graduate with degrees in design.

Deepa Pulipati

Absolutely, and I completely resonate with that. And we have such, parallelly we have our stories, like there's so much like similarities. Like when I first started doing my master's in, I know, like, you know, it's just when I started doing my master's in management family therapy, there was nobody that looked like me, nobody, none of my Indian friends at that time, 25 years ago were like, you're what, you're going into psychology? Like, why not engineering?

Deepa Pulipati

But now there's so many, it's just so heartwarming to see like young South Asian, South East Asian kids get into other fields.

Speaker 4

So Deepa, how did you know that that was the space for you?

Deepa Pulipati

Oh my God, I literally have a very funny story which I will share very quickly because I do have a couple of questions I would ask you. You know, I was always interested in how people think and behave since when I was a very young girl. And, you know, I told my mother when I was in my, wanted to do my degree, I said, I'm interested in psychology. She was like, no way, no thank you. You're not gonna be seeing, quote, unquote, I really even.

Deepa Pulipati

I cringe saying this, but this was her. Like, this was almost 30 years ago. She said, you'll become mental like the mental people. I was like, oh my God. But you know, she didn't know any better. I didn't know any better. I was like, I said, Ma, that's not the case. But then she said, no, no, don't do it. So I ended up doing civics and economics like any good kid, good Indian daughter, right? I came to this country, I got married, and I told my husband, I was like, hey, I wanted to psychology. And he's like, great, go for it. I'm like, awesome.

Deepa Pulipati

So I went and researched and did it. I called my mother, very excited. And I'm like, I'm going to show her. I said, Ma, I'm going to do psychology. And you know what she said, Aisha? She said, good, great. I was like, what do you mean, good, great? Aren't you worried now? She said, I'm not worried now. You're your husband's responsibility. I love it. She was like, I'm not worried at all.

Ayesha Mathews

You are my liability, yes.

Speaker 6

I was like, what?

Deepa Pulipati

Anyway, but fast forward, it's something you said, right? It's instinctly, I just knew that that was the thing that really I was going to enjoy. And I had a supportive husband who was like, just go for it, don't worry about anybody else, and just do it. And when I went in and I did my first class, I knew, I knew I was going to have so much fun with this, even though it was going to be hard, right? Just listening to myself, and you know, you and I met, and this is a great segue.

Deepa Pulipati

You and I met because I reached out to you and wanted to chat with you, and you were giving this time and space for people to connect with you from wherever, around just leadership, or just advice and mentorship. And one of your big tenets, and correct me if I'm wrong, is that you really love supporting and encouraging South Asian women in leadership.

Ayesha Mathews

I think it goes, yes. I know we met through NATHRE, which is an incredible organization, but I think my passion, it's really been women, right, in general. I think, you know, when I was, for about six years, I founded a creative agency called Picsync, and, you know, grew that over a six-year period. And I remember, and it was focused on sort of brand and design, and I remember coming across a bunch of research that talked about the size of the female economy, okay?

Ayesha Mathews

It was like a 20, at that point, you know, a $20 trillion, still a trillion dollar sort of market and economy. But I think I was so taken aback with all of this supposed economic, you know, access. By and large, women were still working in a world, sort of living in a world that wasn't designed by them for them. And if you, you know, I was just looking up some stats from the World Economic Forum. When it comes to parity for economic opportunities and sort of the financial, you know, leveling, it's going to take 169 years for parity, right?

Ayesha Mathews

From today, at the rate at which we've been going, as of 2023, it's going to be another 169 years. And I think, you know, the contrast of that, sort of like, yes, we have this supposed purchasing power, but how much of that is translating to real power, right? Where we're sitting around tables that were designed for us. When you think about it, sort of corporate America, the world, a lot of the world, isn't truly sort of designed with sort of feminine principles, right? It's all very sort of masculine driven in sort of the structure of the format.

Ayesha Mathews

And at best, for a long time, our best bet was to sort of, you know, twist and turn and find ways to fit into this world. And then I think I was sort of profoundly kind of struck with, you know, what if we could really use that economic power or this purchasing power that we have to start to shift and shift the way, you know, things were designed so it was going to be more equitable for women, because I think just having the purchasing power without the investing power, without the actual access to capital, like none of that really matters if.

Speaker 4

all that power is only when it comes to the time when we can shop. Right? And just with that, most things that when they're marketed to women, and this is something that's changing now, thank God, but by and large hanging over from the 50s marketing, panders to women, right? It's like, oh, let's make pink razors and market it to women. Let's make something else sort of pink and market it to women. And it's not only sort of dumbing down, but there was never real true functionality looked at, or how is this truly going to benefit a woman?

Speaker 4

Is it really designed, you know, for her to solve her problems? And I'm really thrilled to kind of, you know, see that there's so much change even in the last, you know, 10 years. But to your point, Deepa, I think my interest in kind of supporting women and making sure that I could do, in my little way, everything I could in my power to sort of empower, and selfishly was also be empowered, right? Because this idea of belonging, it's not just about being South Asian and needing to be, feel included, or feel a sense of belonging.

Speaker 4

It's really, I think, you know, you feel like you belong, and this goes beyond sort of even, you know, the color of your skin or your ethnicity. It's really being honored for the way you naturally are wired, and how you think, and what you bring to the table. Right. That is sort of where there's true belonging. And I think for too long, the script has been, in order to succeed, you need to be this, this, this. And most times, those qualities, those skills, whatever, are driven around what makes men successful. And that's great.

Speaker 4

That's the formula for them. But to sort of, you know, try to sort of say, hey, for you to succeed as a woman in corporate America, you need to take on male characteristics and male tendencies, which has been sort of the messaging for a while. Just sort of felt like, why is that okay? And who wants to work in those circumstances, right? It's just, it's not authentic. It's not real. But in how do we sort of carve out what it is to lead like a woman, to lead what sort of are incredible feminine superpowers.

Speaker 4

It's now been proven out that, you know, all of the soft skills are indeed what's going to make our current workplaces and future workplaces, you know, more innovative, more equitable. And I think sort of that work of really honoring that, codifying that, and making that sort of the OS, the operating system, you know, for the world that we live in, whether it's corporate, business, social, political, is something that I feel passionate about. Yeah, I mean, I can tell. But Aisha, here's the thing, right? I mean, this is a long journey.

Speaker 4

It's not something that's just going to happen right away. So how do we talk to women or how do we develop women, whether it's mentoring, advising, coaching, or consulting, in making this sort of shift or transition in how we think and believe about certain ways of being a leader? So I think the other step that I didn't share yet is when it comes to education attainment, we're 16 years away from parity, okay? And I think that's the first step.

Speaker 4

And I was really like delighted to hear that because, you know, like with anything, right, on some level knowledge is power. I mean, just