Dr Ayesha
Khanna

Co-Founder and CEO, Addo AI

“I see myself having done a couple of things in five years. First, for my company ADDO AI, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) consulting firm, I see us expanding and helping create movements in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and even in the US where we’re going. A movement on how to responsibly use data to become a more competitive and profitable organisation. I also want to make sure that I’m really digitalising the courses for 21st Century Girls, which is a charity that I started, where we teach girls the basics of coding and artificial intelligence.”

For me, success is always about two things. Number one is doing meaningful work that I enjoy and adds value to the lives of the pseople I’m building products for. At ADDO AI, we build data platforms and machine learning models. Every time we make a person more productive in an organisation, we make them more active in meeting their own and customers’ needs.

I’m a very social person. So another marker of success for me is who I am spending my days with every day. I know I have achieved success because I am surrounded by a great group of people – my co-founder, colleagues and partners who work with me day and night.

It is not so much about getting an IPO or incredible wealth. It’s actually how you spend your day, hour by hour, second by second. It is the impact your work has. While it doesn’t need to change the world, it should have a positive impact on somebody’s life. That to me is success.
I was inspired to pursue programming when I was at Harvard University as an undergraduate. Growing up in Asia, I had always found engineering to be a dry subject with predefined answers that I have to give correctly in an exam. However, at college, I met people who looked at Science and Engineering as one would look at Art. A way to express your creativity, a way to find answers to things you were curious about and a method in which one could have fun and be innovative. This completely changed my way of thinking about technology. I began to see programming as a way to build things that I found exciting and as a way to make human beings more productive and creative in whatever they are doing.

My main inspiration came from my peers at college. I met many inspiring individuals who were driven by their passion to build products that were aligned with their personal mission statement.

At Wall Street, I discovered how technology and information systems could help make traders and quantitative analysts more productive by giving them better forecasts. This in turn allowed them to create better wealth management products for their clients. This would not have been possible without the use of data and artificial intelligence. It showed how technology could disrupt an entire industry. Today, even the healthcare industry is using technology to save people’s lives and detect diseases earlier.

The “why” of any journey is incredibly important and for me, making a difference in people’s ability to work better is my “why” in tech.
I think there were 3 very big hurdles to my success. It had a lot to do with my youth, experience, and mindset. Success has less to do with the circumstances you’re in, but more with the approach you take when you’re embarking on a mission to reach your goal.

Firstly, when I was young I thought I understood the best way to build a product. But I realised that I should have put myself more in the customer’s shoes, to truly understand their needs, desires and pain points. It was only when I started becoming more customer-centric that I became successful.

Secondly, I thought that I needed superstars on my team for my company to take off. I didn’t realise that having a team that is able to collaborate well together is more important than having brilliant individuals who work in silos. Collective success is what leads to much higher returns than individual success when you’re building a company.

The third thing is networking. I’m generally quite shy, so I feel like I don’t reach out enough to people – either to get information or advice from them. It was only when I started my charity and mentoring young girls that I realised how much I enjoyed the interactions. It even motivated me to start looking for mentors myself. There’s a wonderfully diverse network of women working in tech in Singapore now – entrepreneurs, data scientists, engineers – and we all help each other. This network is, as they say, your net worth. I wish that I had started that much earlier and I would encourage everyone to reach out for help, and even offer help to others.
I face fewer challenges now as compared to when I was younger. The first problem is that women are underrepresented in the tech industry. People still often assume that I am on the business side and that I will not understand the details of the data engineering, artificial intelligence or software engineering that my team works on.

As a young woman starting out in tech, it was incredibly demoralising. Not being recognised as an equal is really a disservice to the team and clients, because you face push back despite having very valuable insights to contribute.

This unconscious bias is the number one threat that minority women face because it makes us lose faith in our abilities. Having minority women to look up to as role models is extremely important because connecting with other women in the industry helped rebuild my confidence. I could see that together, we can be extremely successful. I think that is the most important challenge we need to face as a community.
I would have told myself that technology is an irrepressible force, that continually upskilling myself is the right thing to do, and that I should build companies sooner than later. Not everybody wants to become an entrepreneur. But being an entrepreneur makes me very happy and I feel like I should have started it much earlier. I started many companies which failed as I was hesitant, and didn’t give my all.

You need to understand your “why” for building products in tech, and that will help you create an incredible company. I’m very fortunate now to have a company that I 100% believe in, a team that is smarter, more creative and innovative than I am. I am also happy knowing that my customers are on a journey that I know is giving them high quality returns and better processes.

I see myself having done a couple of things in five years. First, for my company ADDO AI, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) consulting firm, I see us expanding and helping create movements in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and even in the US where we’re going. A movement on how to responsibly use data to become a more competitive and profitable organisation.

I also want to make sure that I’m really digitalising the courses for 21st Century Girls, which is a charity that I started, where we teach girls the basics of coding and artificial intelligence. Right now, one of our programmes aims to empower girls in all polytechnics. Eventually, I’d like it to be digital and available for women who already have established careers, in universities and even in secondary schools.

Thirdly, I’m working on a couple of books. Again, it is a big personal mission of mine to make it easy for people to use AI for their businesses or their own personal careers. I also want them to understand its potential downsides, and share with them how to use tech responsibly to amplify their own potential in life.