Interview with Niya Panamdanam, Co-Founder of Obánj

Interview with Niya Panamdanam, Co-Founder of Obánj

Niya Panamdanam is the co-founder of Obánj. She has worked in the tech field as a designer and developer for over 6 years. She is a self-taught engineer, who has worked with multiple tech startups in Atlanta, from launching e-commerce platforms for car companies to helping major brands improve their web performance.

Where did the idea for Obánj come from?

Niya Panamdanam: I’m a self-taught engineer, which isn’t an anomaly for men, but can be for women. When I transitioned to working as an engineer full-time, I divested myself from anything feminine. I wanted to be taken seriously, so I even dressed like a guy. But as I was promoted into leadership roles, the dynamic shifted. Suddenly it was not okay for me to dress like a guy anymore. I had to “dress up to meet with clients” (my boss’s words, not mine) which meant: make yourself more feminine and fit into the idea of what society considers beautiful… even if it is ridiculously expensive.

Couple this with my Indian background. The history of jewelry in my culture is that it defines a woman’s agency. When I got married, my mother made it a point to pass down jewelry to me that she received from her mother, who had received it from her mother, who had received it from her mother, and on and on. For centuries, the only form of financial resource the women in my family were able to own were these pieces of jewelry. And here in the 21st century, I found myself having to pay a ridiculous amount just to be taken seriously in a leadership role.

I felt like there just had to be a better way… where wearing jewelry and dressing up didn’t cost your savings and wasn’t about proving your worth or talent. I wanted to make dressing up to feel good, affordable, and empowering.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Niya Panamdanam: It depends on the priority for the day. If the day is focused on product and creatives it can range from being heads down focused on the writing code, figuring out the designs for the UX or graphics for an ad. Or if the day is more administrative then I’m balancing our accounting and budgets, getting admin paperwork done, or planning out the resources we will need to execute the next marketing campaign or user feature.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Niya Panamdanam: Iteration, constant iteration. I expect things to fail when I first try it, but the intent is to take those learnings and improve, constantly.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Niya Panamdanam: The sustainability movement. People/ women finding ways to be fashionable to feel amazing about themselves, while reducing our carbon footprint.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Niya Panamdanam: When I’m stressed or blocked creatively I go for a walk or go do something away from the computer and put on headphones and listen to some amazing podcasts or audio books. Basically, move my body and consume tons of information. This always helps me feel refreshed and focused creatively.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Niya Panamdanam: Have more fun. Life is too short not to be. The journey you take by taking the risk of doing something you love is a lot more fun than sticking out in a safe job that you don’t enjoy.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Niya Panamdanam: When hiring resumés are useless. I don’t care what you tell me about yourself, I much rather work with you and learn what you can actually do. I am huge on doing trial runs with potential hires or new vendors, etc. I much rather pay the rate for a short term contract with someone, and test out how we work together, before committing to full time.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Niya Panamdanam: Test your hypothesis. This whole venture, everything you do is all a hypothesis that you get to keep fine tuning and improving. So always try to test and iterate on your ideas, question your basic assumptions, that constant iterative process just produces a much better product.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Niya Panamdanam: Community and Kindness. Building a community for women that focuses on empowerment and just being kind to the people you work with produces the best results. By engaging people with that level of authenticity you can inspire them to be your strongest advocates.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Niya Panamdanam: Being too scared to take a risk/ fearing failure. I can’t say I’ve really overcome it, it’s more of something you learn to get comfortable being uncomfortable with. Failure is hard, but the worry you will fail is much worse than the actual failure. When I get too wrapped up in my head about it I talk to my co-founder, and I picture the worst horrible thing that could happen, and weirdly it comforts me cause if that’s the worst, I can deal with it when it happens.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Niya Panamdanam: Technology to support subscription products on social media like instagram or facebook. We hit that problem where most platforms expect the item to be sold, it’s one way logistics. They don’t really provide a good way for the item to be part of a circular economy.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Niya Panamdanam: Lingerie. My brand is about empowering women, and I need to live that truth.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Niya Panamdanam: Notion. I use it to keep track of tasks but also share ideas and status updates with my co-founder. Just helps to keep us on track and on the same page.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Niya Panamdanam: Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It makes you think about what kind of a company you want to build. A company is an exaggeration of the leaderships’ personality, and this book really makes you dig into what’s important and helps you make sure that it is communicated well.

What is your favorite quote?

Niya Panamdanam: “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” – Lucille Ball

Key Learnings:

  • Niya Panamdanam: Worrying about failure is actually a lot worse than the actual failure, so never let the possibility of failure stop you from trying something new.
  • Nurture and invest in your community, be it your employees, your customers, or the vendors you work with.
  • Dressing up and self care is an amazing way to feel and be empowered by yourself. Especially now with all of us working from home, the little things you do to dress up really helps you feel the best of yourself.

Originally published


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