When Ritu Narayan found herself struggling to balance her career in Silicon Valley with getting her kids to and from school, she didn't do what millions of parents had done before and learn to suck it up. She decided to disrupt the entire school transportation system instead. The result is Zum, an end-to-end student mobility solution that's completely reimagined the outdated and outmoded school bus service. Find out more with these 10 things you didn't know about Ritu Narayan.
1. She dreamed of being an astronaut
As a child, Narayan dreamt of being an astronaut. While it might have seemed a pie-in-the-sky dream for most kids, it wasn't for Narayan. A gifted scholar, she won a place studying computer engineering at the Delhi Institute of Technology - according to techtycoons.com, she was one of just 6 other women on the course of 300 students. After graduating with distinction, she moved to the US to study at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. While there, she was active in the Women in Management group, Entrepreneur Club, Stanford Venture Studio, and High-Tech Club.
2. She's worked for some of the top companies in Silicon Valley
After graduating, Narayan began her career in the tech industry. Over the next 15 years, she worked for some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, serving as a Management Consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers; a Senior Consultant with IBM Business Consulting Services; a Principal Product Manager with Oracle; a Lead Product Manager with Yahoo!; and Group Product Manager for eBay.
3. Becoming a mother inspired her to launch Zum
After building a successful career in Silicon Valley, Narayan's life changed when she had children. At the time, she was working at eBay, but before long, she started to struggle to balance work with getting her kids to and from school. It was then that she remembered how her own mother had been forced to quit her job as a teacher to raise Narayan and her siblings. Realizing that balancing a career with children was a universal, multi-generational problem, she decided to do something about it by building a business that would allow parents to do the best for their children without having to sacrifice their careers in the process. Soon enough, the idea for Zum came to her. Launched in February 2015, the service provides a safe, integrated transportation service for kids between 5 and 15.
4. She's a disruptor
School buses have always been around, but according to Narayan, the traditional “one bus fits all” approach to transportation doesn't meet the needs of the people that rely on them. It's also decades behind everything else that's happening in the world of mobility, resulting in parents facing issues at work, disruptive commutes, and a damaged learning experience. When Narayan came up with the idea of Zum, she didn't just want to create a new business, she wanted to disrupt the old, outdated one. Her vision clearly had legs: Zum now serves over 4000 schools and districts across the US.
5. She uses writing as a form of meditation
Narayan has been meditating for over 20 years, but since founding Zum, she's found a new way to achieve inner peace: journaling. Speaking to sequoiacap.com, she explained how she's come to rely on journaling as a tool to work through and reflect on her thoughts. "I think we often already know the answer we’re looking for—it’s just a matter of reducing the questions and complexity," she says. "I keep things very simple—I have one big document in the cloud, and I just put in a date and start writing about the biggest question on my mind. What do I know? What isn’t known? Most of the time, I’m able to at least narrow down the options. And if I still can’t make a decision, I’ve already gone through the process of editing my ideas a bit before I ask someone else for advice."
6. She once ran a marathon out of curiosity
Until a few years ago, Narayan had never run more than a couple of miles on the treadmill. That all changed when she suddenly decided to train for a marathon, something she says she did mainly to raise money for cancer research, but partly out of “pure curiosity.”
7. She thinks hard work always pays off
If Narayan's career proves nothing else, it's that hard work pays off. It paid off when she became the first member of her family to become an engineer, when she built a hugely successful career in Silicon Valley, and when she turned Zum into one of the leading school transportation services in the US. During an interview with Medium, she explained how her father helped inspire her work ethic. "Hard work always pays off - my dad used to always say that to my family, whenever someone felt disappointment or discouragement in the home and I completely agree with it," she said. "Being able to have a long view of any situation will eventually ensure that you are making decisions based on a long term goal with the biggest impact in mind and if you keep at it, you’ll eventually find yourself in the right place at the right time."
8. Zum isn't her first startup
Zum might be what Narayan is best known for, but it's not the only company she has under her belt. Prior to launching Zum, she gained experience in the world of startups when she launched TechX in 2013. Designed to help build collaborative relationships between people and ideas in technology and the Stanford University community, Narayan oversaw the launch and development of the company before stepping aside in 2014.
9. She's raised $71 million
Since launching Zum, Narayan has proved herself to be an expert in getting people to hand over their money. According to Crunchbase, the company has raised a total of $71 million over the course of 5 funding rounds. Some of its most recent investors include BMW i Ventures and Volvo Cars Tech Fund. Although Narayan hasn't put an exact figure on Zum's value, it's estimated to be worth between $100M to $500M.
10. She's keeping it in the family
Zum was launched to help solve the problems facing millions of families. Unsurprisingly, then, Narayan has decided to bring her own family on board to help. According to Zum's official website, both of her brothers (Abhishek, a 100x technologist and programmer, and Vivek, "an operational go-getter with military discipline,") have been on board the Zum train since its very earliest days.
Written by Allen Lee
Read more posts by Allen Lee