A week or so ago I had the sweet pleasure of speaking with Arshya Lakshman, a beautiful soul, brilliant person, and creator & CEO of Milofy, who also is the first interviewee for my Young & Successful Women Series! We had an extensive conversation in which she answered my questions in detail, and showed her love for humanity and healthy relationships amongst all sorts of people. Please read on to find out just what is Milofy and why you’d want to Milofy, too.
S: So, what is Milofy?
A: Milofy is an app that answers a very simple social problem – making life more REAL – the way it used to be. Have ‘real’ experiences, by connecting couples/families with each other for memorable social experiences, creating healthy balanced lives.
Even with partners/families and with technology making it convenient to keep in touch, people are still quite lonely and struggle to meet new like-minded people. Very often they have this facade on social platforms – a performance of what they want others to believe their life to be. They say: “this is my life”, you know, “I have these selfies and these stunning pictures”. Gone are the days of making spontaneous plans with ease and finding like-minded people who are free to hang out when you want to.
With Milofy we’re getting people to meet offline, with the help of online technology. We are using technology to bring people together and do so in a safe environment. We help couples connect with other like-minded couples. We match them with an algorithm by asking some interesting questions – it’s a ton of fun but also truly solves the social problems for couples.
Not only do we match couples with each other, we also match them with fun, interesting local activities happening in their city. One of the cool things about it is that you can choose the same couples to meet with again, or you can choose new other couples to hang out with.
S: That’s a beautiful concept! So, I am curious about the name. How did the name come up?
A: Hahaha! Milo in Hindi means ‘to meet’. I was initially developing the app for India; however, while building Milofy I really thought it would be better suited for the US market. Reason – people are more isolated in the US. In big cities – they move here from different parts of the country or even world to pursue better opportunities leaving their friends and family behind. In suburbs, a family can get very isolated if they do not have a good social support system. Milofy solves this problem. Hence, I decided to launch Milofy in the US. I stuck with the name because I like Milofy. I felt that it had a nice zing to it. Also, it’s an easy name to say in the US as well!
S: Has it launched already?
A: Yes – literally a few days ago actually. We are so excited!
We did a soft launch four months ago and gathered a ton of feedback from couples in New York. People loved the idea and we were getting users organically every day. However, they wanted the app to be even simpler – so we removed some features, made the interface super easy and simple to use. Research suggested that we also give couples a chance to connect on the app first before they meet offline, to help break ground. So the app now has features to chat, send stickers, and engage before meeting offline. We launched Milofy Version 2.0 on the 4th of January. Please do download it from either the Playstore or the Appstore and send us feedback.
Now that we are live in NYC we plan to launch in San Francisco soon!
To date, we have done zero marketing but have over 1000 downloads with more than 200 couples who are creating profiles, uploading pictures, etc. I don’t know how it is happening, but every day we have at least 10 users join Milofy – guess useful products need less marketing (laughs). And though there are apps out there for couples, there isn’t an app like Milofy. It’s exciting that we have no competition, and that we are the first ones doing something like this – while we aim to solve a real life problem.
S: Trailblazers! You actually answered my next question. I definitely wish you continued success in that, and I am sure there will be similar services that follow.
A: Yes! I am excited! I want couples to do things like share a nanny or cab ride, or grocery shopping lists together. I mean, the need is endless; the number of things people can do as couples is huge – cutting costs while having help and company would be amazing.
S: So, my next question is: do you have education, or experiential background in this, in bringing people together, either couples specifically or otherwise, or is this a new venture for you?
A: Completely new. The only thing I have experience in is business, strategy, marketing, and startups.
I did my undergrad in visual communications and a Master in Business from the UK. I worked for startups and large organizations across Northern Europe and Asia Pacific. I started my first startup in London which was an ROI-based marketing firm and then did a short stint with Kalaari Capital (venture capital firm) before I jumped into being an entrepreneur for the second time.
While, I don’t have any background in couples/people or psychology of people; education and work allowed me to live in various cities – in Europe, in the US and finally back home in India. This made me and my partner feel the need to connect with like-minded people – spontaneously. It was difficult to create a social life in a new place and find new couples. Sometimes, even if we had couple friends, things like traffic, availability of time or a mismatch of interests would be an issue. This is how I came up with Milofy – it answered a personal problem for me and hence I set out to create this app.
S: Now you can say ‘there is an app for that’!
A: Yes, there is an app for that! (Laughs)
S: I think it’s important to talk about age because of young women who may want to take on something new. Has you being young, and a woman affected the creation of your app, particularly in India?
A: Well, I am 33, which is not young (sigh!) when it comes to start-ups, you now see 21-year olds doing so well with their own firms. My first startup was at the age of 27, again – not so young in this industry. I do believe age is just a number and it’s about the energy, drive, and passion that you bring to an idea.
Now as far as me being a woman I should give a disclaimer that I have been very fortunate. I have a very supportive family – which really makes a huge difference, helping me focus on my work. My husband, parents, parents-in-law, grandparent have always said: “do your thing!” and just want me to be happy in whatever work I do.
There have been some rare moments when my parents asked if I was sure I wanted to be an entrepreneur again (because of the amount of time and energy they saw me pour into my previous startup), or when my grandmother asked why I worked so hard and that maybe it is time for me to have a baby (which I believe is a question men do not get asked), but overall, they always have encouraged me to go do my thing.
I think the question of when to have a baby is probably in the back of most women’s minds. As a founder of a start-up, random people have asked me sensitive questions like – oh does it mean you can’t start a family if you start your company? Can I not do both? I remember having a heart to heart conversation with my mentor about these questions. He simply said, “Why is it anyone’s business”. He also said: “Look, who said you can’t do both. My best entrepreneurs have been women entrepreneurs. They are more hardworking, better with their money, and somehow, do everything that a CEO should be doing”.
This really made me feel okay. I realized there are some glass ceilings to break, there will be some sexist questions that get asked. As long as I work hard and believe in what I am doing from my heart – I will be OK.
In terms of executing this idea in India… well, the thing is this: In India, the moment something does well in the US, like Tinder, they might just take it up. (Laughs heartily) They might say: “hey, that’s cool!” So the moment I said Milofy is doing a bit well in the US, now suddenly I am seeing so many installs in India! In India, people may have this thought: “I don’t know, I don’t want to meet someone strange and new”. But then how did Tinder work out here? It’s a huge case study because in India people are more traditional and guarded! There is a cultural shift that’s happening, and I think that’s really going to help me with the introduction of Milofy in the country. Technically, building the app from India has been just awesome – I am so proud of what the team has created here. They are completely at ease taking instructions from a so-called ‘young woman’ entrepreneur.
S: Have you always had an entrepreneurial mindset (even as a young girl), or when did it begin?
A: Good question. To be honest, I had a dream when I was young. I remember it being very funny, very childish, that when I grow old I’d have built this business empire. Fairly egoistic dream, when I think about it now. I’ll be Arshya Advertising Agency, Arshya Production House, Arshya this, Arshya that. (Laughs). I didn’t pay attention to that dream and forgot about it. When I started working, my goal was to be a senior-most employee at a Fortune 500. I didn’t even know I had the entrepreneurial bug in me, at all, to be honest. I never thought that one day I’d aspire to start a Fortune 500. Now you know my plans for Milofy (giggles)!
When my husband and I moved to the US, I decided to take some time off. However, within three months of my so-called sabbatical, I knew I couldn’t stay so dependent in an absolutely new country. I was used to being drastically independent and this wasn’t working for me. I was conflicted whether to look for a job or dive into starting something on my own. My husband encouraged I should try the latter. This decision just felt right!
I did have the initial hesitation anyone would have when diving into something new, but within a few days I knew I would combine online-offline marketing (bring more numbers and ROI to marketing), I knew my company’s name, I started attending webinars, and learning how to start a company – it was just so exciting and felt so right!
S: If you could tell young girls anything, as a woman and as the CEO of your own company, what would you say?
A: I would say that you need to really (really) work hard and dream big. And I wouldn’t say be ambitious, I would say be aspirational. You know?
Don’t power your dreams with ego.
Power your dreams with aspiration.
Anybody who wants to be the best they want to be; the universe just works with them to give them what they want. And this whole idea of positive manifestation, positive attitude, I know it sounds really cliché, but it actually works!
I see a lot of interns and I hire a lot of older teens and young grads in their early 20s, and I feel what they really benefit from is by spending a lot more time on serious research and understanding of concepts instead of just shallow things. The new way of reading stuff is so… bullet points, gifs, quick 5-point blogs, etc… People have lost the ability, perhaps, to read long journals and think.
I really, really believe if young girls believe in something, do their research, work super hard, read, keep their eyes and ears open and see what’s going on around them, they can literally do and become anything. And when it comes from a position of love and aspiration, it’s amazing what miracles can actually happen; how mountains can move. It’s beautiful! The world is their oyster.
S: My last question for you is this: Do you hire both women and men?
A: Milofy is an inclusive company through and through. However, it just so happens that a lot of my team members are women. My head of operations is a lady in NY who has been with Ernst and Young and other large companies, my CTO is a lady who has been the head architect for Unilever and worked for McAfee, Oracle, and Intuit. My social media is run by another organization, which is run by a lady. My current project manager is a lady and so is my iOS developer. Most of my interns are women. Almost all of them are married and have children too! They’re just awesome. They work super hard.
We have a couple of men working on tech and as interns – they are fantastic too, but honestly it’s women all the way at Milofy!
It’s not that I designed for it to be that way, but I have been lucky that I have the most hardworking ladies, and so balanced with their duties towards family and friends.
It’s girl power all the way. We have to take care of each other. We have to help each other. Some people say that women don’t like working with other women. I really believe that’s one thing we should change because women have to support each other. We have to make it easier for each other. I think we should have a more mature attitude focused on empowering each other. It’s not a competition.
I aspire that Milofy can become an organization that empowers women from all walks of life!