Nikki Barua is the CEO of BeyondCurious, a digital transformation consultancy that helps large companies think and act like startups.
As a young woman in her native India, Nikki struggled to find her purpose in a very conservative, traditional society. In 1997, she came to the US armed with big dreams and lots of courage. She joined EY right after graduation from business school and quickly became interested in technology and how it can transform business.
When she made the leap to entrepreneurship, she was able to successfully leverage her EY experience as she followed her sense of purpose. The journey that ensued eventually led to Nikki and BeyondCurious being recognized by the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, where she became part of a group of innovative entrepreneurs who seek to share their hard-won wisdom with women following in their footsteps.
There have been a lot of twists and turns in your career path. What’s it been like?
It’s been a meandering journey, but it’s all been in the pursuit of purpose. EY was my first employer after business school and provided a phenomenal learning and professional development platform for a young immigrant with no understanding of how business really works. I eventually joined a tech company, fascinated by the power of technology to transform human experience.
Nikki’s book, Beyond Barriers: How to Unlock Your Limitless Potential, was released February 2018, look for it in your local bookstore or online.
As a young overachiever, the promotions, raises and new responsibilities I received were all great. But I felt something was missing and I never quite knew what that was. And it took a personal tragedy for me to actually understand that.
In 2008, when the market crashed I lost everything, including my partner to suicide. In that tragic experience, I realized that my entire life journey had been all about blending in. I now found myself looking for the real me and connecting with this authenticity of who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in. As an immigrant, minority woman and gay, I recognized my own personal power and the importance of living my authentic values.
I came to realize that my purpose is about unlocking human potential. All of my career successes were because I’d unlocked other people’s potential and built great teams. I want to inspire that.
How did your experiences lead you to start BeyondCurious?
I had a very successful career helping global brands use digital technology to transform their business. But I noticed that many large companies were getting left behind because they are like slow-moving elephants competing on their size. I recognized the importance of competing on speed because momentum is what matters today.
Momentum doesn’t come from innovation being an occasional event. That momentum comes from everyday innovation. It comes from a mindset of embracing change. It comes from a culture designed for risk-taking and experimentation. But I could find no service providers specifically focused on accelerating transformation for larger organizations.
That’s how BeyondCurious, as a concept, was born — of being in the business of making elephants run. And what helps an elephant run is removing the obstacles in its path, from outdated business models and fragmented systems to uninspiring customer experience and bureaucratic cultures.
What does BeyondCurious do to help companies?
BeyondCurious is a catalyst for change. We bring in proprietary techniques, industry-leading talent and cutting-edge technology to accelerate digital transformation. Our unique transformation accelerators help large companies invent new business models, upgrade their capabilities, reimagine their customer experience and shift their culture. And we do it in record time!
A startup’s power lies in its ability to adapt to change, pivot quickly and capitalize on market momentum. Our unique approach Innovation@Speed is designed to help big companies think and act with the agility of startups.
Our transformation accelerators interrupt the established patterns within big companies, help them leverage their scale, and accelerate their speed to market. That’s massive momentum, because even a one-degree improvement in speed is massive momentum for a large company.
EY alumna and President and CEO of BeyondCurious Nikki Barua (center) at the Strategic Growth Forum™ in November. Pictured with Nikki are, from left to right, EY’s Kerrie MacPherson, Herb Engert, Lisa Schiffman and Katie Johnston.
Your success was recognized by the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program. How has it made a difference?
The Entrepreneurial Winning Women program is a sisterhood that has your back. It’s not just about your business success; it is also about your personal growth. It’s about overcoming your own barriers as an individual, as a leader, as an entrepreneur, as a woman. This program has helped me dream big, take bigger risks and make bolder moves. This incredible community of women entrepreneurs has helped me become the best version of myself.
My greatest hope is that we are a shining example of women breaking barriers, building successful businesses and leading great organizations. My goal is to build a billion-dollar business because if I do it, then hundreds of other women will believe that they can do it.
Who are some of the EY people who have been important to you and your career?
I reconnected with former EY partner Yobie Benjamin at a Silicon Valley tech summit. He helped me make connections in the technology world, and some of those have led to business opportunities that fueled my company’s growth.
I was nominated to the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program by an EY alum, Sonia Luna, without whose encouragement I would not have been part of this program.
It’s incredible how the entire EY community has embraced digital transformation and what my business does. Mark Weinberger connected me with Uschi Schreiber and Annette Kimmitt, who are so generous with their time and advice on how I can continue to shape and grow my company.
I’ve had tremendous support from the EY leaders in Los Angeles – Scott Porter and April Spencer – who are inspiring in their contribution to the community.
And of course, the people involved in the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program — Herb Engert, Lisa Schiffman, Kerrie MacPherson, Katie Johnston — have been such relentless advocates and supporters.
On top of all of this, I even met my fiancée, [EY alum] Monica Marquez, at an EY event, and we are to be married next June!
What do you think is the key to your success?
If there’s anything I’ve learned throughout my journey, it’s that even ordinary people can create extraordinary impact. All you have to do is dream big, take courageous action and never give up.
I gave myself permission to dream big. I gained the clarity on why that dream mattered. That clarity fueled my confidence to face my fears and take big, bold steps forward. And my conviction helped me stay the course no matter what challenges I faced. I believe that is truly the formula for going beyond barriers and unlocking people’s potential.
More about Nikki Barua
- Holds three master’s degrees in the arts, science and business
- EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Class of 2015
- Awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by ACE in 2014, LA Woman of Influence in 2016 and Women of Entrepreneurship in 2017
- Author of Beyond Barriers: How to Unlock Your Limitless Potential (February 2018)
- Aspiring chef; amateur photographer; gifted linguist
- Favorite place: the library