[100 Emerging Women Leaders] From working in oil fields to starting up, how Deepti Yenireddy found her passion for tech

In this feature of 100 Emerging Women Leaders, we speak to Deepti Yenireddy. Currently the VP Product, Conversational AI, for US-based unicorn Phenom People, Deepti built her HRtech startup My Ally from scratch and got a great exit during the pandemic.

In her over a decade-long journey, Deepti Yenireddy has seen that technology can be a great leveller and be used to solve consumer problems. However, she realised that it can be a task to encourage people to rely on AI and other technologies due to the lack of human interaction 

So, after working in the oil fields in the Middle East, Deepti founded My Ally — an AI talent lifecycle management solution that was acquired by Phenom People, and is now Senior Director, Product, EMEA.

From tennis to physics

Deepti was born into a middle-class family in Hyderabad to a father who was a tennis coach and a homemaker mother. Sports played an important role in her life. 

“My father would take us to play tennis every day. I liked the game, but was more interested in the library at NV Stadium. The reason academics was significant was because of my parents, who early on inculcated in us that education was the biggest equaliser,” Deepti tells HerStory

Deepti developed an interest in physics and science early on. She knew she wanted to do something in mathematics and sciences instead of medicine, which was her mother’s dream. 

“I knew the best bet was engineering. I had fallen in love with physics. Even today, I passionately read about physics discoveries, talk about physics problems with my son, and love teaching it,” she says. 

In 2002, Deepti got into IIT Madras, which she defines as a life-shaping experience. “Every day, people were building things and conducting tech tests. In my first year, I was soldering on my own, and it wasn't out of a book. I was fixing a tool to a bicycle to figure out how many kms it was going, to measure the distance,” she narrates. 

Deepti's team

Working in the oil fields

Deepti also went on to work on desalination and other projects, but decided to get a job by 2006. From 2006 to 2009, she worked at oil field companies like Schlumberger and Shell, and travelled across the oil fields in Bahrain, Egypt, and Scotland. 

“I was always one of the few women on the teams and learnt how to build things from scratch. I was managing teams in high-pressure situations, with millions of dollars at stake. This was in remote places across India where there were no toilets, no places to sleep…I was the only woman,” she says. 

Being the only woman and one of the youngest on the team meant she had to face bias. “It took time even for clients and my own teammates to take me seriously. I had to put in the extra effort. I always felt like an imposter, and had to work 20 times harder for them to take me seriously,” she recollects. This also meant that she had to develop a thicker skin and learn not to take ‘no’ for an answer. 

Starting up

The idea of starting up was always there at the back of her mind.

Wanting to reskill herself, Deepti travelled to the US. She wanted to understand how businesses function, and joined the business school at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, US and later went on to work at VC firms like Silver Creek Venture Partners, Oppenheimer Funds, and UGST Investors LP. 

“As a founder, you hear a no every day…you develop a thick skin and understand that nobody is seeing what I am seeing. I, as a woman, was never believed but it kept me going,” she emphasises.

In 2015, Deepti started My Ally with a friend from IIT Madras. It started as an AI-powered executive assistant that would set up meetings through Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) — a personal pain point throughout Deepti’s business life. 

This evolved to recruiting point automation solutions, where they focused on the fact that building AI in business scenarios needed accuracy. The AI-powered HR automation solution raised funds from Storm Ventures, had Valley biggies like Gokul Rajaram as investors, along with clients like Booking.com and SAP. In September 2020, it was acquired by Phenom People, a unicorn in the HRtech space. 

Today, My Ally automates millions of conversations and provides over 70 percent efficiency gains for customers. 

Future plans

Deepti is now focused on building strong and responsible tech for Phenom People. She looks at product managers and engineers from two lenses. 

“I think, for a product, what is important to me, is extreme empathy towards users. A product manager should think from the user's perspective in every way, use a data-centric and qualitative approach, and focus on the user,” she says. 

Deepti advises all women techies to believe in themselves.

“We are here for a reason, [and should not feel] the imposter syndrome where we believe we don’t belong. We deserve our place,” Deepti signs off. 

Edited by Kanishk Singh


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