Disruptors is an ongoing interview series that highlights industry executives and creatives under 35, who are rewriting the rules of the game and moving the cultural needle in the digital age. In this edition, Juliette chats with Tiffany Pham, Founder & CEO of Mogul.
Tiffany Pham is the Founder & CEO of Mogul.
As the largest platform for diverse talent and one of the leading tech platforms for women today, Mogul currently boasts a whopping 150 million users across 196 countries in more than 30,470 cities worldwide. Mogul is also a B2B company, which provides HR software and services to hundreds of Fortune 1000 clients including Amazon, IBM, Nike, T-Mobile, and Intel, among others.
Previously, Director of Business Development at CBS, Pham handled strategic initiatives and partnerships for more than 150 digital properties for CBS TV stations and radio stations across 29 US markets. She has also worked at HBO, Credit Suisse, and Goldman Sachs. Additionally, she served as Global Head of Marketing for the Beijing International Screenwriting Competition, launched with the Beijing government, and hailed by James Cameron, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Governor Deval Patrick as a new model of “cross-cultural collaboration between China and the US.”
A graduate of Yale University and Harvard Business School, Pham is also a coder, award-winning film producer, the author of two books, national bestseller You Are A Mogul (Simon & Schuster) and Girl Mogul (Macmillan), a judge on the TLC TV show “Girl Starter,” and co-host of the show “Positive Pushback.” She speaks on a quarterly basis at the United Nations to present gender policy recommendations and has given talks for MSNBC, Bloomberg, Viacom, Microsoft, AOL, Prudential, Harvard Business School, Wharton Business School, and Scripps Research Institute.
Pham has been named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” in Media, Business Insider’s “30 Most Important Women Under 30” in Technology, ELLE Magazine’s “30 Women Under 30 Who Are Changing the World,” and Entrepreneur Magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women.”
I understand you started Mogul because you were inspired by family – specifically your grandmother who ran multiple businesses across Asia, working to provide others in need with information and opportunities. Can you talk about why your grandmother has served as such an inspiration for you in your life and career, and about what foundational elements she instilled in you as a young woman that have helped you to achieve your own goals?
My grandmother has been one of my biggest inspirations because she was an amazing mogul of her time. She ran businesses across multiple industries in Asia and always worked so hard to provide others in need with opportunities. Growing up, I wanted to be like her. When she passed away I was 14, that day I made a promise to myself that I would do everything I could to follow in her footsteps. That’s all I’ve ever worked toward. I underwent this journey to learn all the various skill sets that I thought I needed to learn to build a company that, just like my grandmother, could help and inspire others to achieve their goals and cultivate meaningful success, no matter who they are or where they come from.
You grew up in Paris and Plano, Texas. Those are three completely different cultural experiences. How did moving around during your early life inform your outlook as a young woman and later an entrepreneur?
Moving from Paris to Texas when I was ten years old was jarringly different. I spoke a little English, so I was very quiet and shy. At first, I didn’t talk much and wasn’t very confident. So, as a result, I stayed focused on being the best student I could be. Gradually, I started doing better in school (Math was my favorite subject), which gave me the confidence to start breaking out of my shell and trying new things. I tried everything that seemed exciting. I joined the school orchestra, started taking piano lessons, I trained Taekwondo and tried out for the high school lacrosse team. What those experiences taught me was that confidence is a developable skill. One of my favorite quotes is by actress, author, and producer Mindy Kaling. In her book Why Not Me? she says, ‘Confidence is like respect; you have to earn it,’ and I couldn’t say it any better. I’ve learned firsthand that the only way to earn confidence is to do something you once thought was impossible. When you reach a goal that seems overwhelming, you’ll love the feeling of accomplishment and know nothing is impossible. That mindset has informed my outlook throughout my life.
Let’s talk about the infamous millennial side hustle. Early in your career, you worked a number of side hustles at the same time. During the daytime, you took on jobs at major media corporations including CBS and HBO, while at night you juggled a wide variety of unique gigs ranging from working with Hollywood talent to partnering with the Beijing government to launch the International Screenwriting Competition. You’ve also produced a number of feature films and documentaries.
In 2020, young people everywhere are feeling the burden of spending countless hours online wracking their brains trying to figure out a viable side hustle. Unfortunately, it’s usually to supplement their income because the cost of living is so high. You came at your side hustles from a bit of a different perspective. You mentioned embarking on a journey to collect all these different experiences that you felt were necessary to enable you to build and run your own company down the line. Do you think we need to flip the script on side hustles? Additionally, can you talk about why it is important for young women who are starting out in their careers to seek out a wide variety of experiences in different fields, and how that ultimately benefited you in your endeavors?
I feel there are a few different variations of what a side hustle can be. The key is to figure out your dream and then find side hustles that will help you learn the skills needed to reach that dream. This is how I built Mogul. I had my day jobs, and then I would go into my side hustle at night, which was to teach myself how to code and to work on the first version of the platform. With that said, I feel very fortunate because I’ve known what I’ve wanted to do from a very young age, but I receive messages from students and young women from all over the world explaining they’re not sure what their passion is and not sure how to find it. This is why I feel it’s important to seek a wide variety of experiences in different fields you enjoy. This will allow you to discover the things you love and gain new transferable skills. For example, let’s say you want to work in fashion. Try finding a part-time job at a high-end retail store to learn about the fabrics that are used and how different articles of clothing are priced. You’ll also make great connections who can help along the way. The different opportunities will help you refine your concept. Time and time again, I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and transfer them to what I do every day with Mogul.
You have talked about reaching out to your idols directly. Early on in my own career, I took a chance and cold emailed one of my idols. I still remember where I was when I received his reply. He ended up becoming a mentor and offered me a platform to showcase much of my early work. We live in a time where everyone everywhere is inundated with emails and information, and cold emailing can be a scary thing for young people, especially when you may still be struggling with a touch of imposter syndrome, amirite? Can you talk about the importance of having mentors when you are still finding your voice, and the benefits of dealing with rejection and failure from time to time?
One of the reasons I built Mogul in the first place, was to ensure that women from around the world would have access to a supportive community. My mentors were crucial to Mogul’s success – whether it was teaching me the skills that helped me start Mogul to helping me expand my network further. Over the past decade, my mentors have become friends and so many of them are still a part of Mogul as advisors or investors. In my first two books, Girl Mogul and You Are A Mogul, I have an entire chapter on how to reach out to possible mentors. My one piece of advice here is to make a list of people you greatly respect and reach out to them. Request a quick meeting or a brief conversation and offer to provide value however you can. There’s no need to fear rejection. No’s are going to happen, and that is alright. Just brush it off and move on. A ‘no’ is just a ‘not right now’ that will turn into a ‘yes’. I remember where I was when I received my first reply as well, and it was certainly after I heard my share of no’s, but the most important thing to remember when reaching out to possible mentors is to always offer to provide value. When you contact someone with the skills and experience you admire, don’t be afraid to tell them how much you admire them and how much you wish to collaborate with them and support them. When you finally get your ‘yes,’ go above and beyond on every task, no matter how big or small.
In 2014, you were named one of Forbes’ “30 Under 30” In Media. Shortly after the story ran you began receiving a ton of emails from young women who wanted to know how they could excel in their respective fields. You immediately recognized a need in the market for a platform/community that could help millennial women share insights, gain access to opportunities and mentors, and to ultimately level up in their lives. Being a self-starter, you taught yourself to code and created the first version of what became the Mogul platform yourself. Talk to me about this realization and about your motivation at that point in time to provide a solution for these young women in need.
The motivation was, and still is, to help people to empower themselves by learning from each other and to support diverse talent and organizations to achieve their goals and cultivate meaningful success. I wanted to build a platform that openly encouraged unity and equality. A place that champions open dialogue is something our world so desperately needs. In the last few months we launched our premium community to bring working professionals together and provide a place to seek advice, ask for help, have discussions, and connect. Membership in our premium community gives members exclusive access to learning sessions, premium-only networking events, and access to industry-specific micro-community. We also continue to put out webinars, training, and virtual happy hours for HR professionals to provide them with support as we all evolve ‘The Workplace’. We feel very strongly about offering a safe place for people to help educate, learn from each other and help each other grow. By providing people with a platform that is safe for everyone, we are encouraging authenticity and ultimately democratizing media so we as a global society can be more informed and make more healthy and holistic life decisions.
Today, Mogul has become one of the leading tech platforms for women, with millions across 196 countries in more than 30,470 cities now accessing it worldwide. Mogul is also a B2B company, which provides HR software and services to hundreds of Fortune 1000 clients including Amazon, IBM, Nike, T-Mobile, and Intel, among others. While it is true that with technology at our disposal, it has never been easier to reach the entirety of the world at the click of a button, actually turning that into a career is a very real struggle for a lot of millennials right now. One of the most interesting and unique things Mogul offers is access and the ability for millennial women to forge real life connections with some of the biggest companies in the world. In a lot of cases, those are companies they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Can you talk about why providing that access to both millennial women and your corporate clients is so important in 2020, and about how the platform provides value to all who inhabit the Mogul ecosystem?
It’s now more important than ever to have diversity in the workforce in 2020 and beyond. The data is clear; Companies that have more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. A diverse workforce promotes an environment where people are safe to share their ideas and their different perspectives, which allows companies to be more creative and productive. Our ecosystem now reaches nearly 150 million. We help companies diversify their teams across all levels from Internships and Junior Talent to C-Suite Execs and Board Members. Our goal is to continue to connect the users and our partners who share the same values to help them grow. We do this through our Talent Acquisition Platform, where we help companies hire the diverse talent that is aligned with their employer brand. We are there to support them every step of the way ensuring they are showcasing their brand to attract the top talent. Additionally, we tackle executive roles, by utilizing our private network of executive level women, to provide them with a fully-diversified search service. Lastly, for companies lay-offing or furloughing their workforce, we offer support through our Transition Services which support the employees to transition out and provide them with resources, tools, and open jobs to pursue their next opportunity. As an ecosystem, we are here for companies and people through all different parts of their journey.
What is your goal for the future of Mogul?
Our global landscape is ever-changing, but I can say, our goal is to continue to be a champion of diversity in our world and support individuals and organizations to grow to their greatest potential. We are dedicated to providing our community with opportunities and resources to foster a more diverse global workforce, and as a company, we have a very talented, mission-driven team, so we’re constantly looking for new ways to provide our ecosystem with the highest possible value. For example, in response to COVID-19, we launched our Transition Platform 9 months early to be a resource for our corporate partners going through layoffs and furloughs. Our platforms provide our users with access to a supportive community, learning sessions to advance their professional skills, professional development events, resume reviews, and online one-on-one coaching. As a result, we have the capability to help the almost 40 million transitioning employees get back on their feet during this difficult time. In addition to helping people affected by the recent changes, we are also able to save our corporate partners millions of dollars a year on costs relating to unemployment. Ultimately, our mission is to continue to support and empower our community and partners with full 360 support.
You’ve been described as the “Queen of the Millennials,” which is an absolutely fabulous title, however, it’s also a very loaded one. We are one of the most stereotyped generations, and we’ve heard it all: We set the bar too high because we’re entitled, we’re compulsive job-hoppers who work to live rather than live to work, we have little time for experienced colleagues, and my personal favorite, we’re lazy. But, despite how we are often perceived, millennials are the leaders of tomorrow. In creating and running Mogul, and in working with such a wide cross section of women from all sorts of different backgrounds and cultures, what have you learned about the fabric of millennial women and what makes us tick?
I’m honored by the title, although I see myself as a leader. My goal has always been to offer support to our team, users, and partners. While supporting everyone, I make sure to lead by example. In regards to how Millenials and Gen Z are perceived, I believe we are driven and ambitious. We had to and still are maneuvering through a changing world that is drastically different than what we were prepared for. A lot of us have carved roadmaps for ourselves. We have come to value life experiences and diversity more than possessions because our experiences are all we truly have. What makes us tick is finding fulfillment in our day to day lives. We thrive on being part of something that is also attached to a mission that truly has the potential to make a difference in the world around us. We live in a globalized society, and over 90% of Millennials are active on social media, so we hear about every injustice happening in every corner of the world. Because globalization informs our behavior, we are able to not only accept but also celebrate the diversity in our world more than the institutions have in the past. We are all so unique, and I feel Millennials, and Gen Z as a whole see the beauty in that. We still work hard, we strive to make a difference, and we want to help change our world for the betterment of future generations.
2019 was certainly “The Year of the Woman,” as it has been described, however, between the #MeToMovement, the fact that a whopping 62 million girls annually are prevented from receiving a proper education, and the alarming statistic that women still represent a mere 10-15% of share voice globally, it is obvious that we as a society still have a long way to go. You have said that overcoming the context of our time is one of our greatest struggles and that it is going to take us until 2085 to achieve parody with men in top leadership roles. Can you talk about the context of our time from the perspective of a successful millennial woman in a leadership role?
Women account for 47 percent of the U.S. labor force, but women hold only 31 percent of senior-level positions. In the last five years, we have seen an increase of 8% of women holding C-Suite positions. While things are improving, we do have a long way to go. California lawmakers recently passed a bill requiring gender diversity on corporate boards in early 2019 and it is an excellent start. I believe more states and companies should follow California’s lead. Businesses with more women in leadership roles tend to show higher overall performance. The benefits of having women in executive-level roles are well documented from increased productivity and enhanced collaboration, to inspiring organizational dedication and decreasing employee burnout. Organizations are now also rightfully holding soft skills in much higher regard. Women have been proven to hold a key advantage in soft skills that are essential to leadership, such as professionalism, ability to network, and overall communication skills. Top-down change in business is powerful, and placing diverse talent at the top will help pave the way for the next generations. Another one of my favorite quotes is, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see,’ and female employees who see more women in the boardroom are better inspired to pursue open executive-level positions. We created a network called Invitation-Only, which we’re so proud to say has become the largest network for senior-level women worldwide, to directly take on this issue. We leverage our network to connect businesses with diverse talent for executive positions at the vice president, C-suite, and board member levels, by conducting the largest diversified executive search worldwide. By leveraging our ecosystem for a diversified search, we ensure we are finding the most qualified candidate for the role without any biases.
As a successful millennial businessman, what drives you to continue pushing forward?
What drives me every day are the users in the Mogul community. We have such a wide range of diverse and talented people, all who are chasing after a goal and becoming the best version of themselves. Everyone in the community is so dedicated to helping others. They inspire me to continue to push forward every single day. Second, is the amazing team around me. It’s truly an honor to lead this team, but I am also continually learning from them. My incredible family grounds me and helps keep everything in perspective, and finally, the young girls around the world who want to believe in themselves. I was once that young girl, and I know how difficult the journey can seem. Every day, I strive to provide them with information and opportunities to reach their greatest potential.
Given how incredibly painful and illuminating the past few weeks have been, can you comment on how Mogul is or plans to support millennial women of color as well as the wider Black community going forward as we begin to mobilize as a global community to help fight for racial equality, justice, and inclusion?
We feel a great deal of responsibility to do what we can to help move our world forward, so we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement and the people who are protesting civil and racial injustices. We continue doing our part by providing a platform for people to be a voice, discuss their views, and share information. We keep diversity top of mind and we’re regularly inviting some of the world’s top entrepreneurs, thought-leaders, and celebrities of all ethnicities to answer questions from our community and engage with thoughtful conversations. As I said, you can’t be what you can’t see and we want to make sure we are setting role models from all backgrounds, ethnicities, and experiences. Today, information sharing is more critical than ever so we continue to ensure our platform is a place where people can access different perspectives and keep this much-needed conversation going.