Inspired by Asian Culture
Varsha Rao’s professional connection to Asia began in 2008 when she accepted the position of CEO at Singtel Digital Media in Singapore. Continuing the successful journey she began with Eve.com and OldNavy.com, Rao launched a new online platform at Singtel—InSing.com, which quickly became the leading lifestyle and entertainment directory in Singapore. While launching and developing InSing.com, Rao managed product development, marketing, sales, and the content strategy.
Early in 2011, Rao left InSing.com and became Senior Vice President at LivingSocial, an online marketplace that offers attractive deals to registered customers while introducing them to local businesses. Varsha was LivingSocial's first hire in Asia, tasked with introducing the platform into the Asian markets. She traveled throughout the continent, exploring new opportunities and developing potential partnerships. In this capacity, she made many trips to Japan, India, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, and oversaw operations in Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.
LivingSocial and the diverse skillset and experience it required served as the perfect launching pad for Rao’s next post as Head of Global Operations at Airbnb. One area of focus during her tenure at Airbnb from 2013 until 2016 was to grow Airbnb's presence in Asia. Here too, her position required traveling across the region in order to drive the company's growth specifically in Asia Pacific.
A Home Away from Home
However, Varsha Rao’s connection to Asia began well before 2008. Her family emigrated to the US from India, and during her childhood, she spent many summer vacations visiting her extended family in Bangalore. While she herself grew up in the States, the cultural infusion she received at home would guide her in the future, enabling her to navigate successfully through the Asian markets and help the companies she represented adapt to local needs.
A Land of Endless Possibilities
While Asian cultures are very traditional by large, during her tenure at Singtel Digital Media, Living Social and Airbnb Varsha was exposed to the inspiring entrepreneurial spirit spreading across the continent. Traditional societies often display worrying educational and professional gaps between men and women. And indeed, in many countries across Asia women are not allowed to achieve a full education or participate equally in the economy. Yet, when it comes to entrepreneurship things are looking up, in 2015 women entrepreneurs added a total of $5.5 billion to the Asia-Pacific economy, and in 2016 Singapore ranked fifth in the world for female entrepreneurs.
Today, Asia is the heart of global commerce, and with school systems that emphasize academic excellence for all students, it will most probably continue to dominate across all sectors of the global economy.
Bridging Between the Cultures
Aside from her deep understanding of and fascination with the different Asian cultures and economies, Rao is also driven by a desire to strengthen the bridge between Asia and the Western world. Her efforts to communicate Asian business cultures to the West and empower entrepreneurship in the East extend beyond her career. They are also evident in her voluntary work and in her Asian Culture Blog where she shares timely articles about Asian getaways, cultural events, educational opportunities, social issues and more.