When Ruzwana Bashir, CEO of Peek.com, was planning a trip to Istanbul with her friends in 2009, she found that booking, planning activities, finding places to eat, and everything that comes to traveling was quite a hassle.

Needless to say, it was exhausting going through various avenues just to plan one trip. So in 2012, she took matters into her own hands and created Peek.com, a travel software company that to date has raised over $50 million in capital to date, with the last round bringing in $23 million.

As a woman, immigrant, and first-generation college student, Ruzwana didn't have much support growing up. When she received an Oxford scholarship, she found that was her opportunity to shoot for the stars.

When we spoke to Ruzwana about her drive and what keeps her going every day, she simply said, “Showcase the full spectrum of who you are.”

“I realized that it’s important to be authentic and showcase the full spectrum of who you are. People will make judgments based on what you choose to share.”

Sticking With Your Truth

As an Oxford and Harvard alum and now a former Goldman Sachs employee, Ruzwana found that her resume dictated her narrative, not allowing her true, authentic self shine through. Those around her assumed that she wasn’t quite challenged in her life.

“I was the only kid in my community [to receive a scholarship to Oxford]. I was used to having to fight for everything. You have to work and build a path.”

Now, here’s the turn of events. As Ruzwana started her new life in the United States, she found that her background and prior experiences that she’d worked hard for were turned against her.

“People assumed, you've got all this pedigree, you don't have that persistence and grit. That was because they looked at my resume and saw Oxford, Harvard, Goldman Sachs. They assumed that I didn't have challenges in my life.”

That’s where Ruzwana decided to fully accept and showcase her adversities. Instead of shying away from her past, family, or personal struggles, she became vocal and took her narrative back.

“I think that authenticity and being able to be aware of the assumptions of the quotes are going to make so you can get ahead of those is important. And so for me, it might have been important to kind of share a little bit more about my journey, or the fact that you know, you know, everything wasn't kind of handed to me.”

“People assumed, you've got all this pedigree, you don't have that persistence and grit. That was because they looked at my resume and saw Oxford, Harvard, Goldman Sachs. For me, it was important to share more about my journey.”

Authenticity Means Empowering Others

When it came to building Peek.com, Ruzwana’s vision of creating a travel software company was to ensure that she could empower businesses and consumers throughout the whole process.

“We've empowered businesses with choices for their website. Now, on their Facebook or Instagram page, they can take instant bookings through our system right through the tools we've provided.”

For Ruzwana, being an authentic leader is to ensure small businesses are autonomous. It’s a way to encourage their partners to have their website and platform to connect with the consumers.

And to be quite frank, while empowering others has allowed Peek.com to raise a $23 million Series B venture capital funding round, be coined as “North America's Next Travel Unicorn,” and create a partnership with Google, this success has pushed the CEO out of her comfort zone.

“It kind of opened my eyes, the push to build a business where the environment is so much more entrepreneurial. I fell in love with it in a way that people think about startups.”

“Learning about this new area of business for me, which was startups and technologies, companies, which can have a huge impact is huge scale. You only take a few people to build a product or software that millions can use. It was a huge lesson for the actual aspect of going to business school and more for the opportunity to learn about startups and get involved in startups.”

“It opened my eyes, the push to build a business where the environment is so much more entrepreneurial. I fell in love with it in a way that people think about startups.”

The Takeaways

Use data to tell a story. “I can assess data and utilize that to make informed decisions, a good story.” When it comes to creating a compelling narrative, Ruzwana found that throughout her career crafting and anchoring any story to data, whether it was with her business partners or teammates, resonated with her audience. To an extent, she was able to win her team’s buy-in on some of her aspirational goals.

Focus on your strengths not weaknesses. “Get better at what you're really good at, not to get better at your weaknesses. Leaning into your strengths is going to have a bigger impact on your career than making yourself more average on the things you're not.” For Ruzwana, her advice is to find something you’re exceptional at and run with it. Instead of being a generalist and being average on a lot of things, be “brilliant” at one thing. By the time you're getting into your career, you want to lean into your strengths and sharpen those skills. Why? That allows professionals to feel confident in their abilities and find purpose in their work.

Empower others to empower yourself. As Ruzwana previously mentioned, Peek.com’s business is to empower small businesses and other partners to succeed. And in turn those words of encouragement, allow her and the Peek.com team to shoot for the stars. When you empower those around, you're influencing not only them, but also all the people they will influence throughout their careers. That’s what Ruzwana hopes to achieve through her leadership skills.

Get To Know Ruzwana

At the end of every interview series, we ask our guests a series of rapid-fire questions to get to know them better as a leader. Their quirks and habits have led them to where they are today.

Q: Who are three leaders you look up to?
A: Female founders of companies. I respect Julia Hartz at Eventbrite, Trina Spear at Figs, and Oprah Winfrey.

Q: What’s one quality that most people don’t know about you?
A: I'm really curious about everything and everyone.

Q: Night owl or early bird?
A: Night owl.

Q: Advice for your younger self?
A: Have more confidence. You're much better than you think you are.

Q: If you could become an expert at anything right now, what would it be?
A: Right now it would probably be an expert chef. I’m at home trying to learn how to cook, and I am not good.

Q: What are you currently reading?
A: The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.

Q: What’s your favorite word?
A: I’m very English, I guess ‘brilliant.’

Q: If you could go anywhere right now (pre-Covid-19), where would it be?
A: As someone who’s originally from Europe, I miss Italy.

Conversation Starters

  • Influence: See how these influencers are using TikTok to teach the Black History we didn’t learn in school. (Source: Los Angeles Times)
  • Leadership: Kathy Hannun, founder and president at Dandelion Energy, wants to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by making geothermal heat pumps mainstream. (Source: CNBC)
  • Supportiveness: 2021 has already become a landmark year for women. Continue to support women through these 20 women-owned fashion brands. (Source: Vanity Fair)

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Cover Photo: Ruzwana Bashir

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