Welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview with Akshita Iyer, the creative force behind Ome. In this in-depth conversation, we’ll explore Akshita’s incredible journey – from her background in neuroscience to the development of a groundbreaking solution that has revolutionized kitchen safety and convenience.
Akshita’s story is one of inspiration and unwavering determination. Her mission began with a profound realization: the world of kitchen safety was ripe for transformation. Motivated by her mother’s challenges resulting from Parkinson’s disease and the potential dangers of unattended stoves, Akshita set out to create a safer, more intelligent cooking environment.
The fruit of her vision and dedication is Ome, the world’s first Smart Stove Knob. Ome not only enhances kitchen safety but also elevates the entire cooking experience. Akshita’s entrepreneurial spirit and resilience have been the driving forces behind Ome’s remarkable success, even in the face of unforeseen challenges.
Join us as we dive deep into Akshita Iyer’s extraordinary journey, gaining insights into her perspectives on resilience, innovation, and leadership, and discovering her invaluable advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. This is a story of transformation and empowerment, illustrating the boundless possibilities of human ingenuity.
Check out more interviews with entrepreneurs here.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET FEATURED?
All interviews are 100% FREE OF CHARGE
Table of Contents
We are thrilled to have you join us today, welcome to ValiantCEO Magazine’s exclusive interview! Let’s start off with a little introduction. Tell our readers a bit about yourself and your company.
Akshita Iyer: I never expected to know so much about kitchen appliances. When I graduated from Duke with a degree in neuroscience, I decided to work at the hospital to get some work experience before applying to medical school. I happened to watch a lot of Shark Tank during this time and was intrigued and inspired by the entrepreneurs building businesses to solve important problems in the world — often ones they personally experienced.
The most fascinating part was that many were building solutions without the traditional engineering or business backgrounds you would expect. This sparked my own interest in building something, but I had no clear idea of what it would be.
Around that time, my mom — who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s — accidentally left the stove on one too many times and started a kitchen fire that could have destroyed our house. This was a reality check for me. My mom’s daily life was clearly changing and my parents were getting older and had no intention of moving out of their house anytime soon. Since I live a thousand miles away, I needed to make sure they were safe.
Despite having every other retrofit smart device at home, such as door locks, thermostats, and doorbells, we had no way of monitoring or preventing another incident like this in the kitchen. I realized just how outdated the kitchen is, especially the stove — our most used cooking appliance! With nothing available in the market, I was determined to create a solution that would not only solve for unattended cooking hazards but also transform how we interact with our kitchens.
I assembled a team of talented engineers and we launched Ome — the world’s first Smart Stove Knob that makes cooking safer, easier, and more enjoyable. It can be installed on almost any gas or electric stove and replaces your existing knobs in minutes, transforming your stove into a smart appliance that lets you monitor and control your burners in real-time, from anywhere.
With Ome, our mission is to bring a sense of tranquility and peace of mind to the kitchen and home. Our Smart Knob is designed to promote a stress-free and safe cooking environment through various features, including automated safety shut-off, safety lock, active timers, and convenient hands-free voice control with Amazon Alexa.
Can you share a time when your business faced a significant challenge? How did you navigate through it?
Akshita Iyer: During the pandemic, our business, alongside other companies in this industry, confronted severe supply chain disruptions. These setbacks not only paralyzed our operations but also left us unable to honor commitments to our customers, particularly our early preorder supporters who had patiently waited for our product for years. The foundational pillars of our company were being tested.
We had to problem-solve quickly. Our first step was transparency: we directly communicated with our customers, shedding light on our manufacturing challenges and delivery delays. We set up a dedicated war room to think of solutions, covering both immediate and future needs.
Initially, we re-evaluated our current stockpile and sought out alternate suppliers with the promise of expedited lead times. Moving as quickly as we did allowed us to resume production, though in a restricted capacity, ensuring we could address some of our long-standing orders.
For the foreseeable future, our emphasis shifted to sourcing and verifying substitute components and engaging with a contract manufacturing partner — one who could amplify our operational scale and expedite delivery schedules. This proactive approach was not just about navigating our current situation but also securing our operations against any future uncertainties.
The lessons learned from this period were invaluable. Our adaptability and persistence not only enabled us to overcome the immediate hurdle but have also strengthened our operational framework. Now, we stand better prepared against any supply chain volatilities, dedicated to uphold the promises we’ve made and the unwavering faith our customers have vested in us.
How has a failure or apparent failure set you up for later success?
Akshita Iyer: There is no shortage of rejection, setback, and “failure” along this entrepreneurial journey. The biggest thing this has taught me, or rather fostered in me, is resilience. Resilience is a characteristic that often separates successful entrepreneurs from the rest. It’s the ability to bounce back from setbacks, learn from failures, and keep moving forward despite obstacles.
My journey as a female founder started with a dream and a vision. Like any entrepreneur, I poured my heart and soul into this from day one, not knowing what I didn’t know. I hit obstacles immediately, from investor rejections to manufacturing defects to running out of capital, but it was during these darkest periods that I truly discovered the power of resilience.
Instead of giving up, I chose to view this failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. I recognized the importance of having a strong support network and mentors (this takes a village!) and learned the importance of adaptability. Rather than sticking rigidly to an initial plan, I became more open to pivoting and adjusting our strategies based on market feedback and changing circumstances.
My story is a testament to the power of resilience, and I hope it inspires other aspiring female founders to embrace failure as a stepping stone to their own success.
How do you build a resilient team? What qualities do you look for in your team members?
Akshita Iyer: We certainly would not have made it this far as a business without a strong and resilient team. First and foremost, I seek individuals who aren’t afraid of making mistakes. They view mistakes as chances to grow and learn, rather than as failures. They understand that setbacks can actually lead us toward success, much like what I’ve experienced in my own journey as an entrepreneur.
I also value team members who are open to trying new things, experimenting, and taking (calculated) risks. Startups rely on fresh ideas and the ability to adapt, and team members willing to explore new avenues help us stay competitive.
Finally, I place tremendous importance on open communication. I strive to create an environment where my team feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, worries, and ideas openly. This honesty not only improves our problem-solving abilities but also builds trust among team members. It allows us to address issues promptly, make changes when needed, and celebrate achievements together.
In this collaborative setting, everyone knows that their opinions matter, and their input is highly valued. This collective resilience, driven by a willingness to learn from setbacks, embrace innovation, and maintain transparent communication, has guided us well through the challenges of startup life.
How do you maintain your personal resilience during tough times?
Akshita Iyer: For me, maintaining personal resilience hinges heavily on creating a balanced lifestyle that supports both my mental and physical well-being — no matter how busy or challenging things get.
To achieve this, I consciously set aside time in my schedule for exercise, cooking meals, breaks, and time with family and friends, which allows me to recharge and prioritize my overall health.
Engaging in activities I genuinely enjoy during these periods throughout the week helps me relax, clear my mind, and revisit small and big decisions with a clearer, broader perspective. In turn, this enables me to navigate through tough times and challenging situations with a sense of stability, clarity, and composure. Striking this balance in life has been essential.
What strategies do you use to manage stress and maintain focus during a crisis?
Akshita Iyer: As a startup CEO, the volatile nature of our work environment means that crises can arise unexpectedly. One of the most helpful strategies has been recognizing when my emotions are high and knowing when to step away from a situation.
When stress becomes overwhelming or clouds my judgment, taking a break becomes essential. This pause allows me to regain composure, reduce emotional intensity, and avoid making impulsive decisions. It’s amazing how stepping back can provide the mental clarity required to assess challenges more objectively.
I will then revisit situations later with a calmer and more logical mindset. Taking time to reflect and gather facts also helps me make more informed decisions, even during a crisis. It allows me to focus on problem-solving and strengthens my ability to lead my team through adversity, ensuring we collectively focus on finding solutions that will move the needle for the business.
How do you communicate with your team during a crisis?
Akshita Iyer: Effective communication is my utmost priority during a crisis. As soon as I become aware of any issue, big or small, I get the core members of the team together.
This could be via an emergency in-person gathering, a Google Meet video call, or Slack, contingent on the situation’s urgency. I firmly believe in transparency and always aim to lay out the facts as they stand, ensuring everyone operates with the same baseline information. This method significantly reduces the spread of rumors and/or misinformation.
It’s equally essential for me to engage in active listening before mapping out an action plan. I intentionally surround myself with a team that’s smarter than me in their areas of expertise, and they each possess invaluable insights or have immediate concerns that need to be addressed.
Understanding these concerns and insights fosters a collaborative environment and builds trust. Once we’ve collectively assessed the situation, we identify specific roles and tasks for each member of the team — ensuring a cohesive response where every facet of the issue is tackled.
To maintain momentum, we check in often and keep an open line of communication as the situation evolves. In more prolonged crises, I’ve found it beneficial to establish a central hub, like a shared document, which becomes a single point of reference for all related updates and resources.
I also recognize the emotional toll that a crisis can exact on the team and so I focus on emphasizing mutual support and downtime as well. Every crisis presents an opportunity for reflection where we identify lessons learned, possible improvements, and how we can grow collectively. Through each of these stages, my overarching goal remains the same: to ensure that every team member feels continually supported, informed, and empowered.
What advice would you give to other CEOs on building resilience in their organizations?
Akshita Iyer: My advice to fellow CEOs is to embrace change and uncertainty as constants in the entrepreneurial journey. By fostering a culture of adaptability and flexibility, your team will be better equipped to pivot when needed and navigate unforeseen challenges.
Encourage open communication and create a supportive environment where team members feel safe sharing their thoughts and concerns. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of self-care. As a leader, taking time to recharge mentally and physically is crucial for maintaining a level head in all situations.
Lastly, view setbacks not as failures, but as opportunities for growth and learning. You have all the answers — be open to broadening your perspective to find them. These collective efforts will not only help your startup weather storms but also position it for long-term success in the ever-evolving startup world.
How do you prepare your business for potential future crises?
Akshita Iyer: To prepare my startup for potential future crises, I always foster strong communication among our team and ensure we have learned from past crises. Effective communication is the backbone of crisis readiness.
We ensure that everyone on the team understands their roles, responsibilities, and the channels through which we share critical information. By maintaining open lines of communication, we can swiftly respond to emerging challenges, adapt our strategies, and make well-informed decisions as a cohesive unit.
Every prior setback also becomes a valuable source of experience, helping us refine our crisis response protocols and improve our resilience. By consistently applying these lessons and maintaining a culture of open communication, we better our startup’s ability to navigate any future crises that will inevitably come our way.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned about leadership in times of crisis?
Akshita Iyer: How to maintain emotional equilibrium and a level head as a leader.
When the storm of uncertainty and adversity hits, it’s a leader’s ability to stay composed and steady that can guide the entire team through rough waters. Emotions can — and almost always do — run high during challenging moments.
But a leader who remains calm can inspire confidence, provide direction, and make well-considered decisions that steer the organization toward a brighter future.
This lesson has taught me that in the midst of chaos, a leader’s ability to keep emotions in check and approach problems with a clear, rational mindset is a beacon of stability and a key factor in successfully navigating any crisis. It has certainly worked the best for me!
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Akshita Iyer for taking the time to do this interview and share her knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Akshita Iyer or her company, you can do it through her – Linkedin Page
Disclaimer: The ValiantCEO Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.