Yes We Can
A recurring series presented by Cloudflare Co-founder, President and COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech.
This week's guest: Mantazh Khanna - Head of Partner Marketing, Asia at Microsoft.
All right. Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for tuning into this week's Yes We Can.
Today, I have a very special guest, Mantazh Khanna, who's calling from Singapore.
Welcome, Mantazh. Hi. Thank you. I'm so excited for you to be here. I'm so excited to learn more about Asia region and your background.
And just for all the viewers, actually, this is really fun for me, extra fun, because Mantazh and I went to school together.
We were classmates. And so it's fun to see what we're both up to 11 years after graduating from business school.
And so great to kind of reflect on the career and all the things you've learned along the way.
So thanks so much for being here today.
Not at all. Thank you for having me for reaching out for including me.
It's awesome to be here with you, especially with a dear friend from old school.
But also a big thank you to all the listeners and viewers for tuning in.
Thank you. Oh, good. Well, so you've had such an interesting career, especially since business school, where you've done both entrepreneurship as well as worked at large companies and currently are at Microsoft, which is definitely a tech company we all have heard of.
So maybe we can start with where you currently are and we'll do a little bit of a weave around your career.
But maybe share with us what you're currently doing at Microsoft. Yeah. So look, I'm based in Singapore so that everyone can see this is the lovely Marina Bay Sands of Singapore, also known as the ship building.
Microsoft actually has its Asia headquarters here.
So Microsoft typically, I would say, is broken down into sort of a commercial or a cloud business.
And then there's the consumer business, which is where I sit.
And within consumer, we're selling all consumer products.
So if you know of Xbox, if you know of Surface and all the laptops of Surface, you know, Office, I'm sure, and Windows, I'm sure.
Those, I would say, are like the four big consumer categories that we sell to anyone else who's looking to buy them for their personal consumption or family consumption.
My job in this group, in the consumer group in Asia, is to make sure that all of the partners that we work with.
So let me take a step back and explain what a partner is. In the US, you probably go to Best Buy if you need a laptop, right?
In Asia, we might go to a company like Harvey Norman here.
These are retailers, essentially, that help sell our products and services to end consumers.
So these are one type of partners. Then there are also OEMs that we work with.
There might be distributors that we work with. So there's an entire sort of ecosystem of what we call the consumer partners.
And my responsibility at the moment, and this is just about a year ago, is to work with these partners to help them sell our products and services and market our products and services.
So I look after partner marketing for all of Asia, which is a fairly new role.
It's new for Microsoft as a whole, actually, for Microsoft consumer business as a whole.
So it's been an interesting challenge kind of taking that on.
And before that one year, what I did was for about four years, so I've been in Microsoft for a total of five, I looked after digital marketing.
And again, digital marketing for Asia, making sure that our products and services are being sold through the digital channels of our partners.
That's great. I'm surprised that a large organization like Microsoft, I mean, it's over a trillion dollar market cap, it's a massive company.
And you say that this is a new role for the company.
And so I guess that's a lesson for all of us that are in all of our current jobs, because unless you're working at Apple, you're working in a smaller company than Microsoft.
And so that there's always new things to try. Is it probably good luck?
Yeah, look, I don't, there's no formula for success, right?
Like, I think every organization has its own sort of way of getting there. And I think particularly in consumer and in channel marketing, for Microsoft, we've done things a certain way, and it's worked for us.
So it's actually a lot of kudos to the leadership to recognize that it's okay for us to maybe take a risk.
And there might be a need to have a role like mine, and for us to pilot it in Asia, not to have it anywhere else in the world is another risk, right?
But they've been open to that.
And given the opportunity, they've obviously taken, you know, a bit of a bet with choosing me in it.
But luckily, it's been a really good success. And we've seen that, you know, it's now landed as a blueprint across the organization.
So globally across the organization. So a lot of other regions are going to have this as well.
Because I think while we get so used to doing the everyday channel marketing and digital marketing with these partners, there is a need for someone to take a step back and think more strategically about what is the right way to work with partners and to work with the ecosystem of partners.
How do we enable them and get them to be better?
How do we help them with their digital transformation, which we all know in today's world is so critical, right?
So yeah, that's why my role was born.
I love that. Thanks for sharing that. And so you also mentioned before this current role you've been in for about a year that you built the digital marketing practice at Microsoft, the consumer side there in Asia.
And I think digital marketing is a term that not everyone understands. It's a little bit it's certainly that you search it online, there's a lot of information, but maybe you can explain a little bit more what is what?
How do you explain digital marketing to your parents when you have dinner with them?
Yeah, it's a hard one.
I can simplify it, but I have to say that it's just such a buzzword, right? Like there's so much buzz that's created about it and not many people fully understand it, even though actually each and every one of us is a consumer of digital marketing.
And I'll explain to you why, right? So what is digital marketing? It's essentially advertising through digital channels.
That's simply it. So if we all shop, we're all consumers, so I'm going to put a lens of consumer shopping through it because that makes it easier to understand.
Let's say you're in the market to buy a new laptop, right?
It's COVID, you're in lockdown, you need that additional laptop for either yourself or your family member and you're looking for a laptop.
You might see an ad for it while you're on Facebook or you're doing a Google browse or in any other website, you might see a laptop ad.
That's digital marketing.
That's the demand generation part of digital marketing. Then you might say, oh, that looks pretty cool.
I want to buy that laptop. And you click on it and you'll land up at this destination and maybe it's the best buy page, like their website that you go into.
And it tells you about this Lenovo or HP or whatever or the laptop that's really cool.
And you're reading through it. That's digital marketing too.
So all the work that we do to enable the customer journey and make it better so that you get all the information that you want and we create that purchase intent in you, that's digital marketing.
After you've read about it and you're like, I like this, I want to buy this, you click on add to cart, you exit, you actually check out.
That's digital marketing too, because it's all the e -payments and everything else that goes behind it.
It's the shipping, the logistics, all of that brought digitally to you in that digital channel.
That's digital marketing.
And then you're done. You get the product and it comes to you. Not really.
Even after that, we will reach out to you. The brand might reach out to you and say, how's it going?
Here's how you use that laptop better. How about you buy Office with that?
How about you buy a mouse with that? So that's a bit of like an upsell, cross-sell motion.
That's digital marketing too. That's the post -purchase part of digital marketing that we do.
So hopefully that explains in a simple customer journey, all the different aspects of digital marketing.
And of course there's so much to it, but that's the way I like to just simply explain because it makes sense to me and to my parents.
I was going to say that was very eloquent, how you just described it and you just, I think, broke it down and it's like, oh yeah, that makes sense.
I've done all of those things as a consumer. And so I guess that just doesn't exist.
It's the team that goes behind and thinks about all of this and puts it all together.
That's right. That's great. Okay. So when you were, as you built this team at Microsoft, this digital marketing, I mean, that's a big, that's, I mean, that's a huge responsibility.
As more purchasing is happening online, more of these consumer journeys are happening online rather than in stores and retailers.
What were some trends or things you learned along the way that, that as you built that up, you're like, other things that you thought, oh, this is for sure going to work and it ended up not working.
Or maybe things that, that you just learned along the way that you can share with us.
Yeah, look, I think the number one takeaway, especially during the recent months, and I'll, I'll, I highlight COVID because I think it's really been the true test for all of this and for us and our digital marketing capabilities.
Partners slash organizations, including us that were not digitally enabled or not digitally ready really suffered.
I think, you know, there, there've clearly been sort of two kinds of retailers or partners that we've worked with.
We've worked with those that have their own stores, but then they also have a website, but the website kind of takes a back seat because it's really the stores that matter for them.
And obviously with COVID these partners were really hit because the stores were either shut or really had very limited traffic going into them.
So suddenly the websites became so much more important.
And if this website was not up to the mark, it wasn't, you know, really ready with its digital marketing capabilities, it didn't offer a smooth consumer journey like the one I explained to you.
These businesses really, really suffered.
So our job, and as a partner marketer, even as a digital marketer, our job was to make sure that we very quickly bring products, services, capabilities to these partners and enable them to really boost up in a very quick, short frame of time, there's their digital capabilities.
And, you know, pre-COVID when we used to speak to these partners, it was a little bit of a tougher negotiation because they would say, ah, is there really a need?
No, my stores are really important.
But all of a sudden that doesn't exist. So quite a catalyst, I would say.
And then the other big trend that we saw was for the e-commerce partners.
So, you know, you have retailers that have stores and then those that don't, and they are completely online and you would think that they are really only digitally focused.
So typically, obviously they have much higher digital capabilities.
But they have seen, especially in Asia, such a boom. E -commerce has gone through the roof and the kinds of innovations that we've had to do with these players has been really, really interesting.
One really interesting innovation is actually live commerce, which kind of like how we're having a live conversation is about how people sit down and sell products to you live.
And there are orders being placed live and checkouts happening live.
You know, product information given to you in a video format live, Q&A happening live.
So this has been a really interesting trend that's actually come into the e-commerce world.
It was always really predominant in China, I would say, but it's trickled down into lower Asia and come into, I would say, Southeast Asia in a really big way, still heading its way into Korea, Japan.
But it's been fantastic because now we're seeing the brick and mortar retailers with the stores also taking some live commerce and absorbing that into their websites because they're seeing how much that's needed.
So yeah. Such a good idea. I mean, it makes sense as soon as you say it. Wow. There are so many lessons to be learned around the world.
So thank you for sharing.
It's so interesting. So let's say there is an audience who are really captured by what you're saying.
They're like, wow, this is an area that I'm really passionate about.
I think I really want to pursue this as a career. Obviously, as you were building this at Microsoft, you hired a lot of people.
And so if somebody is looking to pursue or change into digital marketing, obviously this is an area that's going to grow.
It doesn't seem like it's going to go away anytime soon. It's going to become more important.
So for some, a good place to expand their career. What advice do you have for people who are looking to get into digital marketing, whether they want to come work on your team or just like in general that really want to get into this area?
What advice do you have for them? Yeah. So before I answer that, I just want to sort of set the scene a little bit in Asia.
Having done hiring, coaching and building these teams here, I think in digital marketing in particular, there really is a bit of a gap in talent.
So in Asia in particular, in some markets, so I would say markets like Japan, even Korea, Southeast Asia, it's not that hasn't been that easy for us to actually hire good talent.
So if you're out there and you've got a passion for this space, you've got the necessary skill sets and you don't have to have done digital marketing from the day you got out of college or even in college.
Look, my background was in environmental policy. It has nothing to do with marketing or even with digital marketing.
So I pivoted that post our MBA, Michelle.
So I went into marketing after that. So you don't have to have known it from whenever.
And look, it's a fairly new field anyway. And it's changing like crazy at a crazy pace.
There are new solutions out every day. So as long as you have a foundational knowledge in the space, you've got that drive and you've got that passion and you just have sort of a knack, I would say, for understanding behavior, whether that's consumer behavior or a business behavior or how decision makers in business, because again, digital marketing can be B2C like what I do.
So, you know, business to consumer or it can be B2B where you're selling to another business as well.
So there are opportunities in that space too. And I want to recognize those.
So, yeah, I think as long as you've got that drive, you've, you know, got that foundational skill set.
And if you are a diverse talent, happy to move to Asia, you know, definitely reach out, definitely look at all the job posts.
I always say like, there's a lot of big tech here in Asia now because it is one of the fastest growing regions.
There's a lot going on in Asia. So definitely look out on job posts, reach out to people and network within the organization.
If you can, you've got LinkedIn that's available on every computer around the world, sign up for LinkedIn and make sure that, you know, you're reaching out to people, just have a casual conversation with them, especially in today's world.
I think a lot of people are open to having, you know, to connecting over digital, connecting over LinkedIn and looking for good talent.
So go ahead and do that and put yourself out there.
Like, don't be afraid, don't be afraid of tech, don't be afraid of, you know, maybe not having the right background, et cetera.
It's a pretty open -minded space. Yeah. It is new and growing and changing quickly.
And so that thirst, curiosity drive, as you said, I think does go a long way.
People who are willing to learn, it's good. It's interesting that you speak about the talent gap across some of the different parts of Asia, but where it was hard to find digital marketers in some of those countries.
I mean, are there any other similarity or differences among the region?
I think one of the, some of the, one thing that I'm always really surprised of when I talk to our team in Asia, we also have a large organization in Singapore and Japan and Australia is, they like to remind me, Michelle, Michelle, Asia is huge.
It's many countries. And so maybe you can tell us a little bit about what you see of similarities or differences in that region, because it really is a diverse region of the world.
So look, before moving to Singapore, I worked in the United States. I worked in New York.
I worked with American Express and, you know, the whole world was, was just those states and that, that one nation.
Moving to Singapore and taking on a regional role, suddenly it was like, you know, a mind blow because there is, there is just so much diversity here.
It's crazy. It's also so exciting. So I think for almost a year and up until today, I'm just learning new things about all the different cultures, the consumer behaviors, the way partners behave, the way businesses behave.
I think it's, it's really, really exciting. So going back to our previous point of, if you're looking for a role in Asia, regardless of whichever function it is in, you definitely have to have a really open mind and be ready to learn because it changes and it's changing fast.
It is 60% of the world's population.
60% of the world's population sits in this one region, right? And they are very, very connected, very connected individuals.
I think smartphone adoption is like 80% or going to reach 80% in a few years, which if you think about it is, it's crazy, right?
Each one of these smartphones is connected to the Internet.
So again, you have very high Internet penetration, bandwidths and speeds are getting better and better every single year, right?
And there's a lot of innovation that's happening in this region as well.
So there are lots and lots of new startups.
I know Singapore is one hub, Hong Kong is another hub, Bali is becoming a hub.
You wouldn't even think of Bali as a startup hub, but that's happening. And because the talent is starting to gravitate more and more here, you will start seeing a lot of innovation that's happening here.
Just like I was telling you in e-commerce, there's so much innovation that's going on there as well.
So it's a really, from that aspect, it's very different, right?
So on an everyday basis, I'm speaking to someone in Japan, right?
After this call, I'm speaking to someone in Korea.
And just from a marketing point of view, keeping an eye on all the different holidays and seasons and how consumers shop and all of that has to be kept in mind and catered towards.
But in terms of, I would say similarities, we're all still human beings, all looking to either buy things or empower ourselves to get better at the end of the day.
So the business fundamentals don't really change.
It's still the same. We're all looking for products to help ourselves, help our families, help our business.
But it's super, super exciting. I love it. I love being here.
That's great. I can tell your passion for the region and the diversity and all the learning, the thirst for learning really comes through the screen.
So thanks for sharing all that. It makes me want to hop on a plane and come visit and go to a food stall market and have a meal together.
Yes, we need to do that again.
Yes, definitely. Okay, so let's switch gears. We've talked about, you've currently working in a large company, which is great.
But before this, you were also an entrepreneur.
In New York, you also were an entrepreneur and built a health-focused company.
So you think about working in a large company and building these practices within a company, which a lot of people coin an intrapreneur.
What's similar? What's the difference between your entrepreneurial and intrapreneurial journey?
So let me start maybe with the similarities. It's all about risk, right?
Regardless of whether you're doing it by yourself or working for a startup, or you're in this large organization that's willing to take this bet on you or a bet on a project and get it off the ground and you're working in it.
So I think the one common theme has definitely been this risk-taking ability or a gravitation towards wanting to do something new, right?
Trying something new for the first time.
And it's really interesting. I think five years ago in Microsoft, I wouldn't have probably thought of Microsoft as a very risk-taking company, but I have really seen it grow leaps and bounds and also de-risk the things that probably weren't working for the organization, but really taking the right bets.
Luckily, it's a bet, so you don't know if it's right or wrong, but eventually, luckily, it has worked out.
So the role that I'm working in right now was definitely a bet for the organization.
Some of the business models that we've worked on and retweaked have definitely been a bit of a risk as well.
So I think what I'm trying to say is the similarities are definitely trying something new, trying something for the first time, taking risk and not having a high risk aversion, I think is really important.
And then this ability to constantly experiment and really be agile.
And I know that's another buzzword that's out there, but it's essentially just this.
It's constant experimentation, looking for most optimal result, right?
And I think both of those mindsets exist in both those worlds, entrepreneurship or large organizations.
It is also, finally, quite lonely. Whether you're an entrepreneur or you're an entrepreneur, it is quite lonely.
I would say you're constantly questioning yourself.
You're constantly wondering, am I doing the right thing?
Yes, you can experiment, but experiments take some time to come to fruition.
So until then, you're always worried. So there is a high level of stress.
But in all in all, it is really exciting. And I think whether or not you're an entrepreneur, if that kind of work excites you, which I know it does excite me, you're in the right place.
Now, the difference and why I switched from entrepreneurship into a larger organization is, there is a bigger safety net if you're in a larger org.
No matter what you say, at the end of the day, this is a huge behemoth.
And if things go wrong, yes, that unit or that project or that role might be shut, but there are opportunities for you to do something else, which if you're in a startup, there may not be.
Or if you're an entrepreneur, founder, there may not be.
So definitely, I think a bigger safety net. The other difference for me is that I definitely have more resources within a larger organization, which helps, which really, really helps because I can still go around and beg, borrow from folks that may not need some funding and I might need it, but tin cup it to kind of put it together for myself.
I've luckily been able to do that. The other difference is, I think if you are, you know, really, you are really, really not very positive in nature.
And I say that because I think you get a lot of naysayers your way if you're in a large organization.
And that's, I think, a downside.
If you're doing something new, there will be a lot of opposition, right? There'll be a lot of people that say, I don't want to change things the way that they already are.
I like that. I don't hear so much of that. I think in a startup, yes, you might have some investors giving you advice this way or that way.
You might do some consumer testing, but there isn't so much of an echo chamber of naysayers.
So I think that's definitely been a little harder working for a larger organization where people are just a bit unsure of why you exist and what you do and why you're trying to change things up.
I think those are really good reflections.
Thanks for sharing those. I found myself nodding ahead, like not prior to CloudFire, I worked at large organizations and it's been 11 years.
But I was like, actually, you're right. I was like, yes, yeah, I just found myself nodding along.
So thank you for sharing that. So turning to a totally on a more personal note.
So 10 years ago, you were diagnosed with lymphoma.
And you were recently married. You were young. I mean, you're still young.
You're now nine years in remission. So I'm so happy to hear that. Congratulations.
But I was wondering, that must have been so scary. And I just thought maybe you will share some of your journey and some of your story with the audience, because I think that's something that many people faced, or they know loved ones that face it and are kind of unsure.
So I'd love for you to share a little bit more about your experience.
Yeah, I'm very happy to share that. I think one of the things that I think is so important, if you are as privileged as I consider myself to be to have survived it, it's really important to talk about your story.
So first of all, thank you for allowing me to talk about it.
It's exactly like what you said, you know, I graduated, got married, I met my lovely husband at business school, we went for our honeymoon.
And on the way back from the honeymoon, actually, I had this strange pain in my chest, it was like, right here, lodged between my heart and my lungs and felt like this piercing pain, which we couldn't figure out what it was.
I was actually due to start my new job the next day. But we reached our home in New York and walked over to NYU, which luckily, you know, was just down the street from us.
And you know, long story short, I was diagnosed with lymphoma, I was very lucky that it was phase two, it wasn't beyond that.
So it had still not spread to the rest of my body, which made it easier to treat.
Obviously, I was also really lucky that I lived in a place like Manhattan, where the best of hospitals and medical facilities existed, especially for lymphoma, Sloan Kettering Memorial was, you know, a few streets down.
I was also really lucky, I had an amazing family support.
So you know, my parents, my sister, they flew down, my dear, darling new husband, who had just said in sickness and in health, and his vows was like, All right, you're already testing me.
So here we go. He was by my side.
And, you know, I think all of them just brought so much positivity to me.
So there was there were certainly difficult moments, you know, I lost my hair.
Everywhere. I lost my brows, I lost my lashes, I had just looked my most beautiful self as an Indian bride.
And then seeing myself look like that was that was hard to accept.
It was also hard to just accept the failing of my body to do the basic things that I was so used to it doing, which was really hard as well.
But all in all, you know, I think it's given me so much resilience towards anything that might come my way in life.
And of course, many, many other learnings as well.
But that that one phase, I think, defined me in so many ways, and has given me so much inner strength going forward.
It will always stay with me. And believe me, there are many days where it's very easy to forget what happened.
And most people would say, why do you even want to remember that you shouldn't but I look at it very differently.
I think it's a very positive thing that happened because it's changed my life and my mental abilities.
I think my mental and spiritual abilities strengthen them a lot more.
And it's made me a stronger person. So I don't want to forget that.
And I want to remember that that defines me. Yeah, which is why I also like talking about it.
Well, thank you so much for sharing that because it does. I mean, it resilience is a whole other word.
And the fact that you have such a outlook on what the positive sides of what happened to you that you had to go through is really empowering, makes us all makes me want to be more resilient.
So thank you for sharing that.
If there's somebody who maybe is recently diagnosed or has a friend, like, do you have any advice of what to say what to do?
Because I'm sure that they're putting their mouth with you all the time, too.
Yeah, look, and I speak to folks who either have been diagnosed or have a family member, colleague or someone that has been diagnosed all the time.
It's kind of, sadly, surprising and shocking how many people nowadays have cancer in one form or another.
But I would say, absolutely leverage on the medical community.
I mean, this is a no brainer, but leverage on the medical community.
I think a lot of people like to go completely natural, which may or may not work.
But I think you can't ignore what the medical community and the developments that have been made in the medical world today are.
So that's one advice I typically give people because in this part of the world, in particular, people try to avoid that and they try the natural remedies a little bit first.
But really, just depending on the type of cancer you have, the phase of cancer you have, it has to be a much more informed decision.
So don't ignore what exists out there in terms of the medical community.
That's one thing.
The second thing is, you know, have your own support system. I can't tell you the immense amount of positivity I got out of my family, out of my husband, obviously, but also my friends, my colleagues.
I mean, it's whether it's a call, a prayer, hey, how you doing?
Let's take you out for a meal or let me bring some food into you in bed and let's eat together.
I mean, the littlest of things matter.
And you'll be surprised by how nice people are and how much they will reach out and do for you when they know that you're down, which was a really nice, it's a beautiful feeling to have and be surrounded.
It's giving me goosebumps right now.
So make sure that you don't clamp up and just kind of shut down and say, oh my God, I don't want to talk about this to anybody.
And I don't, it's okay to just pick up the phone and be like, my life sucks.
I hate this day. I can't get out of bed.
You know, I hate the way I look. It's okay. Just that saying it out makes a huge difference and it's part of the healing.
Let me emphasize that. The other thing is- I was just going to say the other thing.
I want you to end on this, but just 20 seconds.
All right, cool. The other thing I want to say is don't forget about the people that are around you and those people are supporting you, seeing you go through this tough time.
Especially, I know for my parents, it was really hard. So allowing them to support you as part of their healing, also getting them to meet other people and other families that have had a similar experience also really makes a big difference because then they get to share how they feel, which they may or may not be able to do with you.
Well, Taj, thank you so much for sharing all your story today.
You are so eloquent. I feel inspired and uplifted and want to go conquer the world.
So thank you so much for sharing your stories with us today. Thank you.
Thank you so much, everyone, for tuning into this week's Yes, We Can. Thank you, Michelle.