After three years in San Francisco, Sameena Ashraf has found herself working in two areas she is particularly passionate about – technology and logisitcs.
These may be traditionally male-dominated environments, but Sameena has forged a strong career path and now works in business development at Stowga, a startup which allows companies to trade warehousing space.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your current role.
I joined Stowga almost a year ago, and it’s been an amazing journey so far, to see the company grow from strength to strength and embark on plans for international expansion in 2019. I work on the Commercial team at Stowga. My current role at Stowga primarily involves building partnerships and relationships with senior stakeholders in the logistics industry, ranging from third-party logistics companies and FTSE 100 companies. I work diligently with Stowga’s partners and customers to ensure sure they have a seamless experience using the Stowga Marketplace – a marketplace that has been created to allow customers to search, compare and book on demand warehousing space, and other logistics based services.
What were your initial career plans? Have you always wanted to work in logistics?
When I moved back to the UK almost 2 years ago, having lived in San Francisco for three years, I was looking to join an innovative company that would allow me to leverage my international network and skills in relationship management to push products towards growth and success. Logistics was definitely not in the top 10 of my career plans. However, I have always been interested in technology, and how innovative technology could be used to empower people. Stowga presented a great opportunity, and I could not say no. Stowga has allowed me to build upon my existing skills and learn new ones in the process. I have the best of both worlds – working in technology, something I am passionate about and working in Logistics, an industry where as a company we are working hard to solve a larger problem, of underutilised warehousing space, and creating a platform that unlocks this space, and making it accessible to all. I am in a privileged position to combine both my professional pursuits and passions for the greater good and helping to grow the company.
Did you face any challenges along your career path? If so, how did you deal with them?
Like most people, I have faced challenges in my career path. However, I believe that to achieve success, I had to constantly push myself outside of my comfort zone, and take chances. I am no stranger to failure, I have always aimed to learn from these failures and move forward. This has resulted in me having a resilient and persistent character. I have worked tirelessly on several opportunities where I have gained invaluable international work experience in London, Dubai, Singapore and more recently in Silicon Valley. These experiences have allowed me to excel in building partnerships/relationships with senior stakeholders and implementing creative, yet practical solutions based on data and analysis, skills I continue to grow and hone at Stowga.
Logistics is a traditionally male-dominated industry – is it a matter of surviving or thriving for women in logistics?
I am not new to working in a male-dominated environment. Working in the technology sector is generally more male-dominated, therefore working in the logistics sector was not a huge change for me. However, I do not perceive working in the logistics sector as a woman, as ‘surviving’ or ‘thriving’ – for me it is an extension of building upon my international work experience.
Yes, I work in the technology and logistics sector – sectors that are both male-dominated, however, I work with a supportive team of gentlemen, and we are all constantly learning from one another to build an amazing product. More importantly, to thrive in any industry involves working as part of a diverse team, in order to collectively bring different ideas to the table. At Stowga we are all from different, unique, professional backgrounds. The meritocratic environment means everybody’s ideas are heard and appreciated, and the flat structure in the company allows me to flourish, feel appreciated, and more importantly be treated as an equal.
What’s the best thing about working for a startup?
No single day is ever the same, and I love the speed at which things operate at a startup. Unlike most corporate companies where ideas are slow to take effect, startups such as Stowga are open to trying new ideas, seeing what works and what does not learn from it, and constantly try new things. I am learning something new every day. I love working in ambiguity and my greatest skill that I have acquired have lived and worked internationally for the last few years, is that I am adaptable to change.
Being an early team member in the company means I am in a privileged position to not just follow the rules, but to write the rules. I am helping to create a diverse company and promote a culture within Stowga, where both men and women can be equals.
What are your goals for the next five years?
I would ideally like to transition into a customer success / operations type of role, lead a small team and have the opportunity to work on international projects. Holding such a position in the future will require close interaction with all departments of the company, such as marketing, IT, design and sales, and I will need to understand the activities of these departments best practices to facilitate my interaction with them, and for subsequent decision-making.
I have learned that an important part of growing into a senior position within a company is developing a vision, knowing not only what your business is doing next month but also what you think it should do three years from now. Such a position requires developing a road-map and setting milestones that will lead to long-term objectives while keeping short-term goals in mind, skills I continue to build upon at Stowga. Every position that I have undertaken has led me to this point in my life. Now I am ready to take the next step, which will propel my career to further heights in the long term.
What advice would you give to other women who are interested in perusing a career in logistics?
Firstly, Stowga is hiring, we are a technology company working in the logistics sector and we plan to double the team as we embark into 2019. There is huge scope to grow your career as the business grows. Startups such as Stowga, in essence, offer a fast track career development, with high risk there is a huge reward for career development, as the company grows. I think it is more important to hire the ‘correct’ team members that believe in a companies mission and hiring individuals that are a good cultural fit. This is what will allow a company to succeed, regardless of one’s gender.
However, I would say to women that wish pursue a career in logistics ‘apply’, do not be afraid to venture into the unknown. There are many companies hiring where one does not require years of experience working in the logistics sector. I am living proof of that, as I do not come from a traditional logistics background. Find a company where they support your development for learning and application. Life begins when you push yourself out of your comfort zone.