From Google to Entrepreneurship: Deepika Phakke On Pivoting to Live The Life You Want
At nineteen years old, Deepika Phakke was faced with a decision that would set the course for the rest of her life. She could pursue a career as a model or take a job in advertising at a tech company she knew little about – and she was having second thoughts about the latter.
Phakke was the youngest child in a conservative family living in Hyderabad, India. Self-described as quiet and reserved, her upbringing had been restrictive. She attended Catholic schools and says she barely spoke to boys throughout her youth. Phakke says she faced sexism within her own community, where stereotypical societal pressures around marriage & career were (and still are) very common.
“If you had met me ten years back, you wouldn’t recognize the person I am today. It was a very different and bizarre life, now that I think about it,” reflects Phakke. “Despite the stark difference in personalities then and now, one thing was common - I was determined to challenge the norms, thanks to those unsettling experiences I was enduring while growing up.”
Dealing with the challenges in her household had emboldened her. Despite her reservations, Phakke took the job at the tech firm she knew little about. The position: Adwords Representative. The company: Google.
“It turned out to be the best decision of my life,” says Phakke.
“If you had met me ten years back, you wouldn’t recognize the person I am today. It was a very different and bizarre life, now that I think about it.”
Nearly a decade later, now twenty-nine, Phakke has worked with seven different teams for the global tech giant, and her career has taken her across two continents and three cities: from Hyderabad to the heart of Silicon Valley, and now, New York City, where she manages a global third party team serving Google’s Publishing Partners.
She says, while the early days at Google in India were challenging, she saw it as an ocean of opportunities. She worked hard and took on three new positions in just two years.
“I would work sixteen hours a day and just kept going overboard. I chased one promotion after another and made it happen,” says Phakke. “Every promotion, every achievement in my life, I chased and deliberately planned.”
It was then that she was selected to go to Google’s headquarters in the US for an event, and upon seeing San Francisco, all her planning fell away. “That’s when my life changed,” says Phakke. “I fell in love.”
“I went skydiving, got a tattoo, and did everything that my family asked me not to. At twenty-five, I thought I had reached my peak.”
With a new dream in mind, Phakke waited eagerly for an opportunity to open up in California. In early 2015, an account strategist position was made available. Phakke was ready. After sitting through a series of interviews, she packed up her life and prepared for her new life in Silicon Valley working on Doubleclick, Google’s Ad Tech platform.
Her newfound freedom allowed her to grow in ways she says she “never thought would have been possible.”
“I went skydiving, got a tattoo, and did everything that my family asked me not to,” laughs Phakke. At that point, she had risen to working in Google Ads’ Chief of Staff office. “At twenty-five, I thought I had reached my peak.”
Feeling fully supported at work by her team and then-manager Xavier Brouard, Phakke launched her first independent project: Street Store, a non-profit pop-up shop providing donated clothing to homeless people and those in need. Soon after, Phakke travelled to Alexandreia, Greece, where she spent a few weeks working at a Refugee camp with a team of thirty international volunteers to provide everyday services to asylum seekers.
But then, a change in her team’s management and the end of a romantic relationship sent her spiralling. Phakke says that she went through a challenging time and was forced to ask herself what she really wanted. She had outgrown the valley lifestyle.
“What I believe is that the hustle is real. Just keep relentlessly going after your goals.”
Instead, she set her sights across the country: New York City. In early 2018, she once again packed up her life and made her next move. With a new city came a new professional goal: environmental entrepreneurship.
“I am never afraid to uproot and reinvent. After doing some soul searching, I realized that I had been so lucky and privileged to have my mom, who is my hero, and my family and friends cheering for me all this while. With all these experiences I saw it as my personal responsibility to do something more. I asked myself, how do I use this opportunity to create more jobs?”
After recognizing the issues that plastics were causing the environment, Phakke launched her first startup, Ethically Inc. Now working with five interns in preliminary “stealth mode,” Phakke and her team of five young women are working on understanding how they can create a solution to plastic waste. She says she wants one day to create “the new Nestlé” of the consumer packaged goods industry.
“From working at Google, I acquired a relentless drive to create something that doesn’t exist. Challenging the status quo is at the core of what we do at Google,” says Phakke. “You just break the rules and create new ones. Right now, we're doing the extensive research to understand the industry rules, and once we figure out those rules, we want to break them and rewrite them our way.”
When she’s not working on Ethically Inc. or as a manager at Google, Phakke spends her time climbing mountains. From 17,000 feet up, she says, she has learned to gain perspective on her life and journey. She says that if she could talk to herself ten years ago, she would offer words of encouragement.
“I would say, just keep going. Stay true to your values and it's okay to pivot,” says Phakke. “San Francisco was not planned. Entrepreneurship was not planned. I’ve always made plans based on what seemed right to me at the time, and now, maybe I’ll turn to politics after entrepreneurship. What I believe is that the hustle is real. Just keep relentlessly going after your goals.”
Written By: Irene Galea