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Million dollar women

Any conference that serves a bubbly called Veuve Clicquot ‘Rich’ is my kind of event. So when I found myself at the first-ever Bumble Bizz Summit in Sydney, Australia, being served giant goblets of the drink, I thought, ‘Why can’t all conferences be so swish?’ The obvious answer is that they aren’t organised by women!

Bumble, the dating app founded by Whitney Wolfe-Herd in 2014, with Priyanka Chopra Jonas as an investor, has quickly grown into a social network behemoth. Based on the simple (but at the time revolutionary) idea of women making the first move, it hit gold. It has 72 million users around the world and a billion dollar valuation. Priti Joshi, Bumble’s strategy head, told me that since its launch in India 10 months ago, it has two million users, and that Indian women are sending twice as many messages as their counterparts across the globe.

Two years ago, the company introduced ‘Bizz,’ a business networking tool, whose popularity has grown exponentially. The Summit brought together successful women entrepreneurs from the Asia-Pacific region to share their stories and learnings.

Headlining the event was Jen Atkin, whom the New York Times describes as the ‘most influential hairstylist in the world.’ Truth be told, I had no idea who she was, but a quick Internet search set me straight. With 3.1 million Instagram followers, the social media star has all the Kardashians on speed dial, and works with some of the biggest Hollywood celebrities, not to mention Middle East royalty. Later I found out that many of my friends use OUAI, her very successful haircare line.

In addition to Atkin, the line-up included three big names from Australia — PR guru Roxy Jacenko, celebrity stylist Lana Wilkinson (whose new shoe line looks divine) and Elle Ferguson, who owns a tanning company — as well as a number of women from Asia. I met Martine Ho, who co-founded Sunnies Studio in the Philippines, with cafés, eyeglass stores, and, most recently, a cosmetics line (Sunnies Face lipsticks are always sold out!); Lindsay Jang, whose Hong Kong restaurant, Yard Bird, I go to every time I visit; Maggie Hewitt, who runs New Zealand-based sustainable fashion company, Maggie Marilyn (she retails on Net-a-Porter); Singaporean Liv Lo Golding, who founded a fitness company that integrates yoga and high intensity interval training; and India’s very own Malini Agarwal, the Bollywood blogger of MissMalini fame.

Michelle Battersby, Bumble’s very attractive Australian head, had told me about 500 people were expected, and from the moment the well-known Australian TV presenter Shelly Horton took to the stage, I knew this wasn’t going to be your typical, sedate conference. Shelly made everyone stand up and dance for 30 seconds and announced that the most enthusiastic dancer would win a bottle of Veuve. That set the tone for the evening, and there were three lucky winners by the end. With my two left feet, I was not amongst them.

I also met Neha Arora, one of Bumble’s six grant awardees from the region to win ₹3.5 lakh, to further her business. “When I started this company I was the least travelled travel company owner,” joked the founder of New Delhi-based Planet Abled. She founded the company — focussed on people with disabilities — three years ago because her parents, one of whom is blind and the other is wheelchair bound, had never been able to travel. She said she never expected to win. A learning lesson to us all, especially women, to take a leap of faith even if the odds are against you.

This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.

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