Uncomfortable Conversations: YML’s Ashish Toshniwal on how to make Silicon Valley more inclusiveBy Ad Age
This story originally appeared in Ad Age on December 4, 2020. It is part of a recurring series of Q&As called “Uncomfortable Conversations,” taking on the sometimes tough, but always necessary, discussions about inclusion in advertising. This series spotlights the many diverse voices that make up this industry—at all levels and in all disciplines—highlighting their personal experiences to illustrate the importance of inclusion and equity throughout the entire ecosystem.
Ashish Toshniwal is the co-founder and CEO of YML, a global strategy, design and tech company. YML creates strategy, design and engineering for digital products and experiences, working with clients like Apple, The Home Depot, Facebook, State Farm, Universal Music Group and L’Oréal. Toshniwal immigrated to the U.S. from Kolkata, India and founded YML in 2009, when he was just 26 years old. Today, YML touts a 60% multicultural workforce.
Can you first talk to me a bit about your background and how you got into the industry?
I was born and raised in Kolkata in a joint family of 15 people, all in the same house, with one bathroom. Looking back, I guess the shower-shuffle schedule was my first experience at time management. I was surrounded by love but there wasn’t a lot of individual independence or freedom. I was lucky to visit America, right before college in 1999, and it shaped my vision of how I could become independent. I wanted to study engineering, so the U.S. tech scene was already a big attraction. I had no idea at the time that my engineering major would morph into engineering for digital products and experiences, as that business didn’t even exist in 2000. I guess as a young Indian teen, America became my gateway to personal growth and education and, eventually, entrepreneurship. Not to mention the appeal of a long, hot shower.
Talk to me about starting YML. What was your reasoning for doing so?
After I graduated from Purdue University, my first job was working at Dell Computers in Austin. Flashback to 2005 when YouTube had just launched and 18 months later was acquired by Google for $1.6 billion—the opportunity and ability to accelerate from startup to success had a huge impact on me. At that time, many of the companies I admired had either started or were headquartered in Silicon Valley. To me, clearly, if my goal was to succeed in business and in tech, I had to be in Silicon Valley. Back in 2009, when all anyone did with their cell phone was make a call or send a text, YML Co-Founder Sumit Mehra and I saw the phone as a bigger mode of communication through smart, intuitive, powerful and beautifully designed digital products and experiences.