Interview with Asra Rasheed
An Interview with Asra Rasheed CEO, RRKidz
Date: October 25, 2010
NCWIT Entrepreneurial Heroes
Lucy Sanders: Hi this is Lucy Sanders, the CEO of the National Center for Women in Information Technology or NCWIT. And this is another in a series of interviews that we're doing with women who have started IT companies. Just really fabulous entrepreneurs with lots and lots of great advice for people who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs. With me is Larry Nelson from W3W3, hi Larry.
Larry Nelson: I'm so happy to be here, this is a great series.
Lucy: Well and W3W3 is a great partner and their podcasts are hosted on the NCWIT site as well as the W3W3 site. Also Lee Kennedy, serial entrepreneur and CEO and founder of Bolder Search, she's also an NCWIT Director. Welcome, Lee.
Lee Kennedy: Thank you. It's great to be here.
Lucy: Well, so we've got a person that we're interviewing today that really likes to play and game around. OK. I mean this is great. I think we're going to have a fun time with her, her name is Asra Rasheed and she's the CEO of RRKidz. And RRKidz develops and publishes engaging and interactive content for today's digital kids. And she really has had a very accomplished career as an entrepreneur and you'd say this, she's a serial entrepreneur like you are, Lee, very successful. And she loves gaming. She's actively been engaged with the women in Gaming International, something that is near and dear to NCWIT's heart. So Asra, welcome.
Asra Rasheed: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me today, it's a real pleasure to be here.
Lucy: Well so tell us just a bit about RRKidz and what's going on, what's the latest.
Asra: So RRKidz basically is a division of Burton-Wolfe Entertainment and Burton-Wolfe Entertainment was formed LeVar Burton. Some of you may know him from Star Trek, Jordie, and of course from Reading Rainbow. And Mark Wolfe is a producer who also worked on Terminator Three. So the two of them came together and they really thought that there was a need in the market for good quality fun learning experiences for kids and that's when they decided to launch RRKidz, January of this year. And I came on board as CEO of their company in April and RRKidz basically represents today's digital kids. We have an opportunity to educate this generation and future generations but what we see happening is that children now are spending less time in front of the television set and more time in front of devices such as their iPhone, online, and even their iPads believe it or not. So we're very excited to be able to bring explorative learning experience for kids but also more important, we want this to be the right place for parents and educators as well.
Lucy: Well that sounds pretty exciting and maybe you'll be able to get William Shatner away from, what was it, Priceline? [laughter]
Larry: And I interviewed Leonard Nemoy about three weeks ago, so.
Lucy: Oh my gosh.
Lucy: We're a Star Trek kind of crowd. Well Asra tell us a little bit about how you first got into technology.
Asra: I have always had this fascination with technology. I'm a very creative entrepreneur. I love sort of drawing things and sketching things out and I became very fascinated with technology back in let's say 1999, 2000, when websites were sort of becoming the big thing. And I started exploring that market and I noticed there was a really big opportunity for companies, smaller companies and mid-size companies to sort of take advantage of the online space and they just really didn't know how to adopt the platform. And so I found that to be the sort of opportunity where I could help them design what they wanted to do but also bring in technology and tie the two together. And so in 2000, you know it was interesting, everyone was saying, "You have to be online, " and "Oh I just got this great website and I spent about fifty thousand dollars for it, " and I said, "Wow, you know that's an awful lot to be online." And what I did was I tapped into my resources offshore and created a development team which allowed us to bring costs down on developing websites. And so that was sort of my first entry into technology, certainly a learning experience for me.
Lucy: Absolutely. Tapping into offshore development resources back then well, that was just starting to happen.
Lee: And it certainly leads into our next question about being an entrepreneur and why you like being an entrepreneur. Because definitely tapping into offshore resources is pretty entrepreneurial.
Asra: That's a good question. So, I always go back to saying that my entrepreneur spirit comes from my parents. Ever since we were kids, we all grow up in this home where both my mom and dad started their own companies and they're first generation immigrants here to the US. And I really admire them for what they did. They came here. They're educated here and they started two companies which were both very, very successful. So, my father would actually take me to his office every summer and I would have to sit there and take note on everything he did. He had a factory back then and that factory was based in Taiwan. So, that was sort of my first kind of exposure to offshore resources. I had a chance to get on to the assembly line, he manufactured for us lighting fixtures of all things. And even back then, I was trying to figure out how you could make that more exciting than just it being a light bulb. So, that was sort of my first entrepreneurial offshore experience. But in general, my mom as well, she started a company. She manufactured sil plants. She created silk flower arrangements and sold them to Price Club back then. So, I've always been surrounded by people who have been very entrepreneurial and they've also been risk takers which is sort of one of the things that you need to be when you are an entrepreneur.
Lee: That is pretty interesting they're both sort of manufacturing companies. I'm just as a side note in Washington this week and there's a big discussion going on about building manufacturing capability again in this country really, really a big discussion. So, that is coming back around.
Larry: Now, you mentioned your parents and the major influence that they have on you. Were there other people in your life that were very supportive and mentors along the way?
Asra: Yeah, I have been very blessed to have such wonderful mentors along the way. It's been such an honor to work with some of the most successful people in my industry. And yes, I have several mentors. I actually have a group of mentors who I turn to anytime I have to make sort of a big decision professionally. One of them has been my old CEO at one of my companies. I Gotta Play, who has been my mentors for the last eight years and he has taught me so much of who I am today. And then of course, I've got different mentors. I think it is really important to have mentors who bring strengths in different areas. You developed that personal relationship over time. And you need to feel comfortable with them because you really need to be able to tap in to them when you are making decisions. And they shaped away I think. So, yeah, I've been very fortunate to be able to go to those mentors whether it is in technology, whether it is in production, whether I need help with and investment opportunity. I have a great sort of foundation, a platform of mentors that I love to access.
Lee: I'm curious about you have a great set of mentors and you turn to them for advice. And I am just curious how you taken what you've learned from them and factored it in to how you mentor others today.
Asra: Recently I have been mentor to a lot of women and women in games. And it's been quite satisfying, very fulfilling to me. I think what I have learned from my mentors is that I try to pass along is I want to be a good listener and I want to be able to be there. If they're good, challenging times. As an entrepreneur, we all know that we have our set of challenging moments and there are times where you need to be able to call upon your mentor and sort of say, hey, I'm going through this and it is frustrated and need your advice and direction on it. Something that I learned from my mentor is early on I was able to pick up the phone and be able to talk to them and discuss whether it is an opportunity or challenge, they were a little bit... I think the other thing off of that is you really need to be very transparent at your mentors. They are your friends to guide and you should be able to go to them with sort of anything that you'd like to talk to them about. That's important. A lot of times, anyone of these things that I learned was I was always fearful of sharing too much and I think that you should be open and be able to share whatever you can because that is where your goal is the most benefit. So their advice is their help.
Lee: That's a really good point because sometimes the thing we're fearful of is the thing we need to figure out. You had just mentioned there were a number of tough things you had to do and some of them, you went to your mentors, what do you think has been the toughest thing you've had to do in your career? Asra: There has been some challenging moments in my career and I would say by far, you know, one of the things of an entrepreneur, you start of with this idea. And that idea comes from you questioning sort of, "What if this worked like that?" or "What if there was this?" And then that builds into an idea and then you say, "Well, you know, there's an opportunity here for me in terms of space." I do know one of the challenging thing for me has been a lot of times, you all start this as your baby and many times, you're just fearful of changing or shifting direction. And there are times that you just have to in order for your business to succeed. So you know, my biggest advice to entrepreneurs is, you have to know when it's time to make a change and there are some tough times out there. So, if there times where you have to downsize as much as you don't want to. I remember, there was a time, I had to downsize my staff at I Gotta Play and I would say that was the toughest thing for me to do. And more recently, I think you just need to be able to know when it's time to make a shift in your strategy, in your direction. I think a lot of time what happens is entrepreneurs will sort of hold on to what they started, and often times, that may not scale. You need to know when to make a change. So those are the challenging experiences and of course I've learned from them.
Larry: Let me ask you a different kind of question. You've been a mentor, a mentee and a mentor, but in addition to that, if right now, if you're sitting across the table with someone who's exploring the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur, what advice would you give them?
Asra: I would say to them, to be committed to what you're doing and be passionate about what you have embarked on. Those are the two things that are absolutely required of an entrepreneur, commitment and passion. You have to have to drive to get to the challenges, to benefit what the success that this will bring you. Not all days will be good. And the other thing that I would advise would be, you know, a lot of times I speak with entrepreneurs and they have this great idea that I would say, before you embark on the start up do your research, do your homework, make sure there is a clear market opportunity. I would also strategize, build out a road map, you need to be able to sort of sustain yourself through this time because it can be challenging but so rewarding. So, that's the advice that I would give, and be passionate about what you do. Really it's not just about the money, that will come, but really be passionate about what you're doing.
Lee: You're clearly very wise in the advice that you give. Just curious, if you could tell us, other personal characteristics of yours that you may give you advantages as an entrepreneur.
Asra: For personal characteristics, I would say that I am very driven. I would also say that as an entrepreneur and more so as a leader, you have to be balanced and that's very important. So particularly, when you're dealing with other people, you need to be able to articulate yourself very well, be able to communicate your message and it really is all about relationships. I think one of my personal characteristics is I have been able to build relationships, build a network. That network that you build is so valuable, and I always say that you can know everyone out there in your industry but unless and until you make use of your network, you're not leveraging it. And I think that's one of the things that has helped me as an entrepreneur greatly. Lucy: Well, one of the things we're always curious about being an entrepreneur, usually is a pretty crazy life in general and how do you find balance, how do you bring balance between your personal and professional life?
Asra: You have to find time for yourself and that's one thing that I learned very quickly as an entrepreneur was I found myself in front my computer all the time, I found myself working all the time and at some point, you burn out. You do get burned out and that's when I realized that I needed to make a shift in my lifestyle and I needed to make a more conscious effort about balancing my life. So for other things that I enjoy doing. I enjoy doing activities outdoor. That helps me sort of stay away from all of my electronic devices and that's difficult to do in this day and age. I really make a conscious effort to spend time with my family. That's important. It is tough to bring balance as an entrepreneur. It is a challenge and you have to prioritize what is important to you and it is interesting. You want to be the best in everything you do. You want to be the best as far as family is concerned. You want to be the best Chief Executive Officer and just know that it's OK to not make it to every single event that your child is at. And I would say that I struggled with that at the beginning and then I said, OK. I'm going to take a step back and I am going to prioritize and try to balance sort of everything that is going on. OK, I'll put my family provides a lot of balance in my life.
Lucy: Well, so you are in a new position now, CEO of RRKidz. You really have achieved a lot. This is a bit of an odd question for someone who is in a new CEO position but let's just see if you have any thoughts about what's next for you or if the RRKidz position is going to be enough for a while.
Asra: Well, certainly the RRKidz position is going to be enough for quite some time. I am really excited about RRKidz. It is an opportunity for me to do something that I've been very passionate about which is taking technology today and applying good content, trying those together and delivering it to kids. So, I am extremely excited about the future with regards to RRKidz. Yeah, I do see myself being a mentor. That is something that has been very obviously satisfying and fulfilling. I also enjoy advising a lot of different companies and I see that in my future. The reason why I enjoyed it so much I once was working with start up launch entrepreneurs and having been able, having the opportunity to see all the different things that people are doing. There is so much going on out there and it's really just fascinating to me to see how many people sort of recognize these different market opportunities and then embarked on a start up. I would love to sort of become an adviser. I don't know when that is going to happen but certainly not right now as what I have at RRKidz.
Lucy: Well, I have... I'm sure our listeners are going to be interested in the answer to this final question which is I am just tackling on. It is not on the list but I am going to ask it anyway. Give us a little bit about the women in games international work that you are involved with. What does the group do and what is on their horizon?
Asra: Sure, so women in games have been around for several years. The game industry is predominantly, it has been men and it is an area when I started my game company which was an online video game rental service. I started it back in 2002. And I was probably one of maybe a handful of women in the industry and it's very, very intimidating. It has changed and it continuous to change was that the entry of casual games and social games. We see more women entering into the space. We see more women becoming readers and executives. And we as women in games are sure to represent those women and we are here to advocate the inclusion of women in the game industry. That is something women in games as an organization that has been something very near and dear to me because I will tell you that in my years in the game industry it was quite challenging to be a woman in a minority. So, that is sort of what we are doing with women in games. The organization has been growing. There are more women that reach out to us every single day asking how they can get involve. We have chapters across United States and in Canada. So, we are very excited about the future of women in games and really just being the stage for women to be recognized for all of the contributions they've made to the industry.
Larry: Yeah, great.
Lucy: Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate your taking time away from your busy schedule to talk to us today. And I want to remind or listeners that they can find this podcast at w3w3.com and NCWIT.org.
Larry: And download it 24/7.
Asra: Thank you.
Larry: Thank you.
Lucy: Bye. [music]