NP Landscape

Natasha Prasad, country manager of ClassPass in Australia, always had an interest in technology and wanted to start a business from a pretty young age. When she got to university she decided to study mathematics and then went on to do a second degree in economics at the prestigious Cambridge.

Given that path of study, it is no surprise that Prasad fell into investment banking straight out of school, joining Goldman Sachs in London as a junior investor within its private equity group. After spending a few years there, Prasad transferred to the company’s New York offices.

“I always l knew that I wanted to start something,” said Prasad. “So I went back to school a third time, this time to get my MBA, and spent two years full time at Harvard and then began consulting while I was there for a number of different tech startups in the Valley and in New York. That’s where I really started transitioning into the tech space and getting excited about startups.”

Prasad felt that product management was the best path that would help her build the skills she needed if she was going to launch her own company, a role which back in the day was described as being a mini-CEO because it allows you to touch so many areas of a business.

Over the number of years, Prasad has worked in product management for brands such as Paperless Post, Rent the Runway and Atlassian in Sydney.

“About two years into my journey at Atlassian I had that ‘itch’ and really felt it was the time to do something on my own,” said Prasad. “I’d always been passionate about health and fitness, and both my parents are doctors. I was also running into a problem myself where I had a number of different gym memberships and was paying for yoga and paying for tennis somewhere else. It was very inefficient and unnecessarily expensive.”

“At the time I noticed a company called ClassPass, [based] in New York, that was picking up steam, and it had this concept of aggregating different fitness classes and I thought Australia needed to do something just like this.”

After completing her research and putting in place the foundations, Prasad left Atlassian to launch her fitness technology startup, Fit Sessions, in April 2015. By June of that same year ClassPass was starting to plan its international expansion into the Australian market and ended up acquiring Prasad’s new business, hiring her to head up operations in the region.

Since moving into the role in August last year, Prasad has overseen the launch of ClassPass into the Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth markets.

Prasad’s role with ClassPass is one of variety, albeit full of responsibility. When it comes to the success of ClassPass within the region, all roads lead back to her. Prasad oversees the local operations for the company, which includes being in charge of business development activities, sales, account management, and partnerships, as well as marketing and public relations exercises – all of which requires her to work closely with her global ClassPass colleagues.

“It’s really quite a broad role,” said Prasad. “It’s one that I especially love just given that I have that diverse, varied background in a bunch of different industries and roles. I really, really enjoy it. It’s a rapidly growing company so three months ago it looked very different to today and three months forward will be very different I’m sure as well.”

Prasad is a perfect role model in terms of creating a blue print for how young women might approach education and STEM-related elective subjects to set themselves up for opportunities.

A vocal diversity advocate in the Australian startup ecosystem, Prasad said that Australia’s issues around girls and engagement in STEM subject can only be addressed via great role models.

“There are a couple of different approaches and really we need to attack from all sides, because it is such a meaty problem,” said Prasad. “Part of it is making sure that there are role models available for young women, for students, and that a lot of the stereotyping that happens, [particularly] the gender stereotyping [is stamped out early on]. We need to stop falling into the established patterns of ‘pink is for girls and blue is for boys, lego is for boys’.”

“In schools, we need to show young female students examples of women who are excelling at roles in technology and address the fact that those careers are directly linked to STEM education. We need to show that it includes computer science and IT and all of these different technical fields, and that they actually offer quite a lot of flexibility for women as well. At a government level, it is about ensuring that coding is an important part of the education system and that it’s emphasised and made available to children everywhere. It doesn’t receive the importance that it deserves and I think Australia could be more aggressive about making that education available.”

A perfect example of what Prasad is talking about when it comes to having strong female role models actually hits quite close to home with ClassPass founder Payal Kadakia, a strong female leader of the fastest growing health and fitness technology platform in the world at the moment.

The real magic though is in the movement – today I would argue that there are more female-led health and fitness startups than there were just a short five years ago – and in just Australia alone they are building viable, globally scalable operations. Doctus, Circadyn, Hit 100, Health Kit, Fit Meet and Vie Active are just a handful of examples of local health and fitness tech startups with women at the helm.

“It is a really positive and powerful trend,” said Prasad. “It’s great to see so much of this innovation come from women. There are clearly certain pockets in certain sectors where I think women really are excelling and I’m excited to see that happen in other sectors as well. I think that this will be a really good inspiration for women in other industries and different areas to kind of follow.”

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Featured Image: Natasha Prasad, ClassPass | Source: Provided

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