When thinking of Rengeeta Rendava and her PR agency, Mad Hat PR, a single word springs to mind – serendipity. Leading her team of ‘Mad Hatters’ with a fun and entrepreneurial spirit, Rengeeta is a staunch believer in encouraging them to pursue their passions.
Taking the time out of her busy schedule, Rengeeta spoke to MissMafia to tell us her story and why she refers to the creation of her company as “an accident”.
You have a background in accounting and international business. How did you get into the communications industry?
I studied accounting and business in school because I wasn’t sure what it was I wanted to do. So, it made sense for me to study business because it’s something you can use regardless of what industry you’re in. PR and marketing was never in my radar and not something that I really considered. But after uni, I travelled around the US and met two friends who got me an interview with Ogilvy in New York. Unfortunately, I had to move back to Malaysia shortly after that due to family reasons. But they put me in touch with Ogilvy Malaysia and that’s how I ended up in the advertising industry. After about a year, I decided to try my hand at PR and that’s when I joined my first agency, Compass Communications and that’s how I got my start in the industry.
Before starting Mad Hat, you also worked with AirAsia. How did you find yourself there?
I’m someone who always needs to keep moving and trying new things. After working with Compass, I had hit a block and was eager to try something different. A friend who was working with AirAsia had mentioned he was looking for someone to help him in the ‘Route Planning’ department. ‘Route Planning’ involves a lot of analysis and strategy development and has very little to do with communications and PR. Even though
it was something completely different to what I had been doing but I needed a change and I thought “why not”?
Considering aviation is very much a male-oriented industry, what were some of the challenges you faced?
It is a very male-oriented industry but I’ve been lucky to not have had to experience the chauvinism. I think the only time you sort of have to navigate that is when you’re overseas where there are different cultural approaches to it. For me though, the biggest challenge was not that I was a woman in a male-dominated world, but rather that I was always the youngest person in the room. But I think it all comes down to confidence. Having that confidence, especially when you’re moving into a new industry, is very important. I think there’s real value in admitting when you don’t understand something. It’s important to sit back and listen to others instead of trying to challenge and jump in with your two cents because that’s really how you learn. Even to this day, I tell this to my team at Mad Hat. You’re not going to know the right answers to everything, but if you try to understand something the best that you can and you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, then it only helps you in the long run.
You left AirAsia to start Mad Hat. What made you decide to leave the security of an in-house role and branch out on your own?
I always call it a bit of an ‘oopsy-daisy’ moment because I never actually decided to start Mad Hat. I had begun a travel startup while I was still working with AirAsia. I quickly realised that it wouldn’t go anywhere if I was still holding a leadership position at a large organization and that I would’ve needed to dedicate a lot more mental energy and time towards it. So, I left my role with AirAsia to pursue it. As I needed to generate income whilst I was working to launch my startup, I started doing PR work as a freelancer. My first big client was Red Bull who contacted me for a project where I was asked to come on board as a communications consultant and from there, I kept receiving calls for new projects. I soon needed to hire an intern to help me manage the workload and we quickly grew into a team of three after my friend joined us as a part-timer. I remember having to invoice Red Bull and I realised that I needed a company. When I went to register my company, I was asked what I was wanted to call it. At the time, I had just gotten a tattoo of the Mad Hatter’s hat and I thought I would just call it Mad Hat and that’s how it happened. There was never an intention to run my own PR agency, it was something that happened organically and to this day, still grows very organically.
What would your advice be to other women who are looking to start their own businesses?
The most realistic thing you can do is to plan financially. Before leaving AirAsia, I had spoken to friends who were self-employed and gotten tips on how best to prepare. For me, it was really sitting down and figuring out which aspects of my life I could downsize and the minimum amount of money I needed to survive. The main thing about planning financially is that it helps you to stay focused and not get desperate. A lot of people who go into freelancing tend to find themselves in a really bad cycle where they will take any job that comes their way simply because their scared of the uncertainty. And I think learning how to say no to things is also important because again, it just helps you to stay focused and helps you remember why you left your 9-5 in the first place.
You lead quite a young team at Mad Hat. How do you inspire them to perform at their very best?
I guess it’s making sure you’re building a family rather than just a group of employees. It’s understanding how your team can upskill themselves and really involving everyone in everything that you do and creating accountability. One of the main things we look for in new members, which I think has helped in keeping our family tight, is that we hire by culture and not so much by skill set. The main thing we look for is the predisposition to get along with the team and also being able to inject something culturally different. At Mad Hat, I really encourage my team to pursue their passions and side projects because we find that it helps bring creativity into the office. But I think more importantly, it’s also showing that we have an interest in our family members rather than just communicating about work. All of that creates a sense of belonging where they start to identify as Mad Hatters and that’s the beautiful part.
What motivates you to keep going?
My main motivation is control of my time which I think is why I wanted to go into business. Recently, I went down to Pulau Redang for a friend’s wedding and I decided to stay a few extra days and bring a WiFi dongle with me and work from the beach. That control over my own time allows me to do things like that which in turn, allows my team to do it as well. Knowing that I’m building something which allows others to experience the same things as me definitely motivates me. I’m in it because I get to decide what I want to do with my day and not have it dictated by my job – well, on most days anyway.
If your family and friends were to describe you as a music genre, what would it be and why?
I don’t know actually, I want to say acid jazz but I don’t think they would simply because a lot of my friends and family don’t really understand acid jazz. But I think that’s also why they might say that because if I do something unexpected, they won’t be surprised. And I find acid jazz very unexpected.
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