Female Leadership in Tech: Building a Swadeshi Cloud from India

June 29, 2023

We caught up with our COO and whole time director, Srishti Baweja, for a candid chat on building E2E from scratch, handling finance and operations, and what it means to be a woman leading from the front. 

To give a brief overview of Srishti’s career: Srishti did her B. Com (H) from S.R.C.C., Delhi University, completing her CA in 2004. She has over 18 years of experience in the field of finance, compliance and accounting. She gained experience in global accountancy and audit practices while working for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Then she joined the Forex and Risk Management department of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited. Later, at HPCL, she was deputed to work closely with the Ministry of Oil and Natural Gas at the Petroleum Planning & Analysis Cell. 

Since 2013, she has been a part of the management team at E2E Networks Limited, NSE listed and a pioneer in accelerated cloud computing in India. She has grown from being a promoter at E2E and establishing finance functions as CFO in the early stages of the company to becoming a part of the board of directors and Chief Operating Officer.

Currently, she is handling the overall operations and management of the company along with CEO and whole time director, Tarun Dua. Her vast experience in handling finance, legal, compliance, human resources and operations has helped establish E2E as one of the most powerful and trusted service providers in the domain of cloud computing.

Q. When did you first join E2E Networks and how has your role evolved over the years?

I joined E2E Networks in January 2013 as CFO - at that time, it was a young company, full of energy and raring to go. We were building the team, operating out of the ground floor of a residential building in Faridabad, NCR, and slowly growing our business and revenue. I was overseeing the Finance department - as you can imagine, one of the most challenging roles in a start-up - hustling to set up processes, making sure we comply with all statutory requirements, like finishing tallying a certain number of days before the due date and managing our cash flows efficiently. 

Since 2018, I have been a whole time director. Between 2013 and  2018, my role had grown significantly as I was now in charge of managing the overall affairs of the organization along with a very competent team. We listed on the NSE Emerge SME Platform with a stellar IPO, oversubscribed by up to 70 times. I have been overseeing finance, legal, compliance, human resources and operations all at the same time! In a remarkable achievement, we are now one of the most powerful and trusted service providers for cloud computing in India. Currently, my role is that of the Chief Operating Officer and whole time director.

Q. How strong a role do you think profitability played in the growth of the company? Have you often debated ‘profitability vs growth’ with the founding team?

E2E has been mostly profitable and always been EBITDA positive since its early years. However, there were times when the leadership team would sit down and debate over profitability vs growth. I can say that growth has been our priority and profitability has gone hand-in-hand with it, with cost efficiency and economies of scale. 

Profitability has definitely been a factor in our growth, as whatever we earned, we invested back into the business itself. 

Q. What, according to you, is E2E’s strongest USP? 

I strongly believe that the ability of E2E to offer newer compute workloads at very optimized costs in comparison to other big players in the market is our strongest USP. 

Q. How do you think E2E grew, in the face of all odds, to become a NSE listed hyperscaler building infrastructure that powered unicorns like Cardekho and Zomato?

E2E is one of India’s first home-grown cloud computing providers. We have managed to almost consistently scale against all competition from big hyperscalers. As a part of the E2E team, all of us believe in the power of innovation and improved customer experience. It is this common belief that has helped us grow.

Q. What factors are most central to building a successful swadeshi cloud platform?

Know your market and what your target customer wants. Be ready to spend on research and software development. These are the two factors most central to building a successful swadeshi cloud platform.

Q. Do you feel infra is primarily a male domain? How many women do you have in the team and what kind of roles do they primarily perform? 

Infra has largely been dominated by men, yes. But we at E2E believe in equal opportunity for everyone. We have almost an equal number of men and women in the sales team for example. We have women in various roles and departments, starting from interns to being part of the leadership team strategizing and helping the company grow. 

Q. How do you view yourself as a woman leader? What are the challenges that women face in the workplace vis a vis men in terms of getting leadership roles?

E2E has always had a very open policy. We have always hired people based on their skills, aptitude and willingness to learn, and we’ve trained them to excel in their current roles, while at the same time giving them opportunities to grow into more senior roles. Frankly, I consider myself as only a leader who knows her job and knows it well - gender doesn't matter. At E2E, I don't see any challenge for a woman to get a leadership role.

Q. How has the company culture evolved as E2E grew over the years and became a publicly listed company?

I believe that our basic values have always remained the same but, over the years, our culture has become more defined as we keep expanding our team. We have, time and again, stressed the importance of taking end-to-end responsibility for tasks and for improved communication within and across teams. We expect our leaders to be approachable at all times to team members, with an open-door policy. 

Q. How has it been like working with your spouse? Would you advise others to do it?

It has been almost ten years since my husband and I have been working together. Initially, it was difficult as personal and professional lives would often get mixed up. However, over a period of time, we have learnt to draw boundaries with clear bifurcation of duties at E2E. We make a conscious effort to not bring office stress and work to our house, or vice versa. 

I believe that our unsaid commitment to always be together in easy as well as trying times, no matter what happens, has helped us sail through. Our 12-year-old daughter often remarks, ‘Both of you behave like a unit, you are always on each other's side.’ That's the reality of us working together.

Of course, I  would advise other couples to go for it, if you get a chance. Just trust each other's capabilities and decisions and everything will come together.

Q. How do you see E2E’s future getting shaped over the coming years?

I see E2E as earning itself a very distinct and respectable position in the cloud computing industry, in India as well as globally. 

We have been early providers of cloud GPU workloads and I see that growing at a fast pace in the coming years. Our partnerships with Intel, AMD, NVIDIA have helped us grow in AI/ML and predictive analytics ecosystems, and we expect to grow it further exponentially.

Q. Finally, as companies become more and more technology driven, how do you see women’s roles changing? Will more women join tech companies or, because of the cutting-edge competition, are women likely to face early burnout?

As companies become increasingly technology-driven, I believe we will witness significant changes in women’s roles within the tech industry. There is a growing recognition of the value that diversity brings to the table, and we, as an industry, are actively working towards creating inclusive environments where women can thrive. 

Though the tech industry can be highly competitive, I am optimistic that the increasing focus on the initiatives and programmes aimed at recognizing the importance of work-life balance, providing mentorship and fostering supportive networks for women professionals, will go a long way. This will encourage more women with unique perspectives and talents to pursue careers in tech and find exciting opportunities. 

Q. Can you relate 2-3 key incidents that you remember from this journey? Pivotal moments that transformed the company, or you as a leader? 

As we had a strong drive to establish ourselves as a key player in the market, we had to raise small loans from various financial institutions at one point in time. We had no personal or office property to give as collateral; it was tough to secure money then but it gave us the ability to serve a larger base of customers who helped in our growth when we needed it the most.

Also, the IPO in the year 2018 was a pivotal point in my as well as the company's transformation. I handled endless paperwork with a small team; there were so many technicalities and decisions involved and the list of tasks kept piling on. While this was a one-time event, the regular work of the company had to be handled side by side. It was a great learning experience though, as we went to and fro with our merchant banker and several other parties involved, over a course of a few months, to make the IPO a success.

The faith expressed by each and every investor in our abilities was a surreal feeling. We were oversubscribed by 70 times the IPO size as investors kept pulling in to try and get a chunk of E2E’s shares.

The responsibility we owe to each of our investors, customers, team members and vendors keeps us motivated to pull through and shine.

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