Varsha Rao's business and investment career includes a wealth of experience at the forefront of the mobile and digital commerce space. Before reaching her leadership role as Head of Global Operations for Airbnb, Rao served in multiple senior positions at leading consumer tech companies and was involved in several innovative ventures. She founded Eve.com, one of the first e-commerce platforms to enter the global market, and is an angel investor and startup mentor.
Education and Professional Background
Varsha Rao graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she received a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of Finance and a B.A in Mathematics from the College of Arts and Sciences. Upon graduation, Ms. Rao entered the world of investment banking, joining the boutique investment bank, Wasserstein Perella. For two years she advised clients on public and private investment transactions in the media, financial services and healthcare industries. After her tenure at Wasserstein, Rao returned to her native Boston to obtain her MBA at Harvard University. She graduated with Distinction, and then became an Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company in New York. Her duties at McKinsey included managing e-commerce, telecommunications and media projects for an international roster of clients, guiding them to improvements in their overall marketing, media and distribution strategies. While at McKinsey, Rao co-authored ‘Internet Advertising: New Medium or New Marketing Paradigm’, which was published in the McKinsey Quarterly in 1997. Her research on the internet and its impact on marketing and retail success is what launched what would become a lifetime of involvement in global e-commerce initiatives, including her former position as Head of Global Operations at Airbnb.
Venturing into the Digital Business World
In 1998, Varsha Rao founded the online company, Eve.com, an online beauty products and accessories retail site with her co-founder and business partner, Mariam Naficy. Serving as Co-CEO with Mariam, they took the company from launch to 125 employees within two years and raised $25 million in venture capital, before selling the company in 2000 to Idealab for $110 million. Eve.com was ranked by Fortune magazine as the 6th best e-commerce site in 1999. Following Eve.com, Varsha served as Vice President and General Manager of OldNavy.com, the online arm of the clothing retailer Gap, Inc. from 2004 to 2008. Under her leadership, base revenue grew significantly to nearly half a billion dollars. As VP and General Manager of Oldnavy.com, Rao oversaw the merchandising, planning, marketing and creative production teams.
Starting in 2008, Varsha Rao began the development of her international career. From 2008 to 2011, she was CEO of Singapore-based SingTel Digital Media (STDM) and launched STDM's signature property, Insing.com. Insing.com is one of Singapore's leading digital lifestyle publications with up-to-date events, restaurants and movies providing a wide variety of content such as articles, things-to-do and reviews. Rao was responsible for all facets of the business including product management and engineering, editorial/content, marketing, sales, finance and overall business administration. During her tenure, she expanded the offerings of Insing.com to include discounted movie tickets, shopping deals and enhanced listings of local businesses. Rao then went on to serve as Senior Vice President of International for LivingSocial, where she was fully responsible for the company’s international operations. Her role included overseeing operations in Asia, including TMON in Korea, and businesses in Thailand and Malaysia as well as in Europe, Australia and Latin America, overall managing over 2,000 employees. Varsha Rao joined Airbnb in 2013, as the company’s Head of Global Operations. In this capacity, she managed Airbnb's operations in 16 cities around the world. She supervised teams in San Francisco, Dublin, Singapore, Portland and a number of other European and Asian cities and promoted the expansion into growth markets in Asia. Varsha left this position in 2016 and has since been advising several entrepreneurs and startups, and contributing to their growth as an angel investor.