CrowdAI CEO discusses leadership in the tough world of startups

Devaki Raj, CEO and co-founder of CrowdAI joined Aileen Black on this week's Leaders and Legends to discuss leadership in the tough world of startups.

Devaki Raj, CEO and co-founder of CrowdAI joined Aileen Black on Leaders and Legends to discuss leadership in the tough world of startups.

CrowdAI uses artificial intelligence to produce quick and accurate cartography by studying satellite imagery. It has been used to map wildfire damage in California and Hurricane Harvey’s destruction in southern Texas. Raj said the advantage of CrowdAI is that is can be used quickly when disaster hits.  One recent project was finished in 20 minutes.

Raj co-founded CrowdAI after working in Google’s Maps and Android sector.  She completed her undergraduate and Masters in Statistics at the University of Oxford. The startup was picked up by Y-Combinator and selected by TechCrunch as one of their top 8 companies to watch, and one of Forbes’ Top 25 Machine Learning Companies. Forbes also named Raj as one if its “30 under 30” in the science category.  

Raj said working at Google helped form her leadership style, but when starting her own company she had to find an approach that suited her.

“I feel I have a servant style and help bring people up  because you learn from everyone around you,” she said.

Raj’s parents, who are both academics, greatly influenced her leadership style. She said they gave her the confidence  her to speak up.

“The gift I learned from my father was to ask questions and not hold back. At a very young age my dad brought me to conferences and it instilled that confidence to ask questions and learn,” she said.

Raj also said trust is the key to being an effective leader.

“Are you hiring people around you, that you can trust? You can trust the decisions you make if you can trust the people that help you make them. Relationships matter and trust matters,” she said. “How you attract talent is as important as the tech you make. Creating a great working environment with great people will also increase your ability to attract the right people who will want to work with your company.”

Leading through change is one of the biggest challenges for company CEOs, and she said the key is to over communicate and be transparent with clear goals. She also offered some advice to anyone who is considering creating a startup.

“This is really important to effectively get the change you need to give the team all the information and then they can understand the change,” she said. “First [creating a startup] is not easy. Everyday you need to be willing to learn something new. It is an extraordinary journey. It is the people you hire that is the most important decision you can make. I am still learning. It is all about relationships in hiring and choosing the right investors. You need to ask yourself,  can they help you grow and stick with you during difficult times.”

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