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In conversation with women leaders - Mia Iwama Hastings

Oaklin is conducting a series of interviews with inspirational businesswomen, exploring their journey to date and providing advice for others aspiring to follow in their footsteps. The aim of this series is to highlight the successes and challenges of being a woman in business so that other women can learn from these experiences. As we continue this series, we will also explore topics that greatly impact working women including how to seize potential and understand strengths.

Mia Iwama Hastings

Can you introduce yourself with a few words?

I am Director of Marketing at Minna Technologies, a fintech scale-up and global market leader for subscription management embedded in banking and fintech apps. We partner with top-tier banks, fintechs and subscription businesses. I lead Minna’s global marketing and communications strategy and team. The opinions expressed are my own.

Tell us about your journey so far and what led you to this role today.

It’s been an exciting, serendipitous and unconventional journey. I always dreamed of being a writer. I grew up in Silicon Valley, studied Classics at Brown and moved to London to pursue an MA in English at UCL. I had no formal training in marketing and communications and learned everything from my manager at an education charity, a former advertising exec. We ran corporate marketing and communications, working with partners including Barclays, Vodafone, BAFTA and Honda, and policymakers. I edited our magazine. David Cameron wrote to us to say how much he enjoyed it, and Apple contacted us to form a partnership. I met incredible people, including Desmond Tutu and Princess Anne, who spoke at our events.

I was recruited to help set up the marketing function at the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association, representing over 500 VC and PE funds, banks and professional services firms. I vividly remember my first day – wearing a suit and seeing my business cards and BlackBerry on my desk. It was a steep learning curve. I joined foundational courses for VC and PE funds and an investor relations course. It was fascinating to meet so many innovative startups and scale-ups and their investors and understand how they leveraged investment, expertise and networks to grow faster. I met humble and inspiring luminaries such as Al Gore, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Justin King and June Sarpong.

Then I joined London & Partners, the Mayor of London’s promotional agency, to get closer to tech. My first task was organising a fintech event in Tokyo at the British Ambassador’s Residence with Boris as a guest speaker and filling the room with an audience of Japanese banks, investors, fintechs and policymakers while the BBC filmed it. I launched a high-profile tech campaign with UKTI (now the Department for Business and Trade) at SXSW, and planned fintech and investor events during Sadiq’s trade mission to the US, even getting the then-CEO of Shazam (pre-Apple acquisition) to speak at our event.

I moved from marketing to managing inward investment, helping US tech companies expand to London. I became fintech lead and served as a member of Innovate Finance’s ‘Raising the International Profile of UK Fintech’ Working Group and the Bank of England’s Fintech Accelerator Community.

I planned and raised sponsorship to fund a London fintech ecosystem trade mission to Money 20/20 in the US in 2017 with a group of 20 fintechs (including Revolut and Starling Bank) and corporate sponsors (including Investec and Taylor Wessing). We collaborated with our PR team, Investec and PitchBook to generate over 100 articles about record levels of VC investment into UK fintech, including in the FT, Reuters, New York Times and Evening Standard. I was named on Innovate Finance’s ‘Women in Fintech Power List’ that year.

I joined a fintech startup from the trade mission as Head of Business Development & Marketing in 2018, my first senior leadership and management team role. I went on to advise fintechs as a consultant and held senior product marketing roles at fintech scale-ups Symphony and Sonovate prior to joining Minna last year. I wrote a book, The Height of Fearlessness, about my mother’s childhood in Japan.

What has been your biggest achievement and your biggest lesson?

My biggest achievement has been contributing to the growth of many fintechs and the wider fintech ecosystem, and being included in the Fintech Marketing Hub’s list of the ‘Top 30 Most Influential Fintech Marketers 2023’. My biggest lesson is paradoxically that knowledge is power, but it’s impossible to know everything since knowledge and the universe are vast, infinite and ever-changing. You should never be afraid to admit, “I don’t know.” Embrace every opportunity to learn and grow. A wise colleague said, “No one knows everything. Just be helpful. If someone asks you something you don’t know, say you will look into it and get back to them.”

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Always be yourself, be fearless and be grateful. Surround yourself with bright, visionary and inspiring people who believe in the power of collaboration to effect meaningful change, and always help others. Our lives and humanity as a whole are fleeting, yet we can all make a positive impact on our world and solve global problems if we work together. There is a Japanese word – “kansha” – meaning “appreciation,” which my mother taught me binds us and our interconnected lives. Throughout my career, so many kind and influential people have helped and empowered me. Each act of kindness and empowerment has a ripple effect that leads to extraordinary things and leaves a lasting impression. In the immortal words of the late poet Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Have you ever felt imposter syndrome, and if so, how did you overcome it?

Of course! I often felt I had wandered into the wrong room and would be discovered and asked to leave. I’ve had brilliant mentors, who have helped me improve my confidence and self-belief immeasurably. This is why I enjoy mentoring others. I highly recommend Amy Cuddy’s TED talk and her book Presence. As Cuddy says, if you are nervous when you’re speaking to a group, you are focused on yourself and are not truly present and thinking of others. When I had to speak at London Fintech Week in a panel on stage in front of hundreds of people, I was terrified (see photo). Then I saw a young Asian woman sitting in the front row, staring intently at me. I realised I should be setting a positive example instead of being a self-obsessed coward!

I encourage everyone to share stories about the times they failed, doubted themselves, were bullied at work or battled depression. Revealing our humanity gives others hope and courage. I have failed interviews, I have had countless embarrassing moments and I didn’t sleep the night before I had to speak at the Innovate Finance Global Summit. In one of my first job interviews, I was told I would never get a marketing manager role without a CIM degree in marketing. I cried afterwards, but I didn’t give up.

Outside of work, what are your interests and passions? How do you balance this with your work and family commitments?

My passion is writing, so I write as much as I can in my spare time. I’m working on my second book. I love reading and have read 12 books so far this year, from writers including Haruki Murakami, Lucy Kellaway and Virginia Woolf and topics ranging from history and philosophy to writing, education and folklore. I enjoy painting, yoga, meditation, wildlife conservation and immersing myself in nature. I do a lot of pro bono marketing and fundraising for charities.

I am a very intense perfectionist, so I find it difficult to relax. However, it’s important to make time to be present with your family and friends and in nature.

What advice would you give to women looking to take the next step into leadership?

Be fearless. Go after what you want and ask for help. My favourite quote from Virgil: “Fortune favours the bold.”

Build your network and treat it well. That has been my number one secret to success. Your network is your support group and your power. Surround yourself with extraordinary people and you can achieve anything.

My late father was a trailblazing lawyer. He was the first Asian-American lawyer to be elected to the California State Bar’s Board of Governors. He co-founded the California State Bar’s charity to endow scholarships and support for under-represented groups aspiring to a career in law. Having been placed in an internment camp as a young boy, he was part of the larger movement that led to the US Government issuing a national apology to all Japanese-Americans for this injustice. He said: “Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. You can do anything if you believe in yourself and have people to support and inspire you.”

Share your story and be generous. Speak to students and mentor young people and those seeking a career change. Introduce them to people who can help them. You can connect them with life-changing opportunities.

Shape the debate. Share your insights and join initiatives to help define the future of your industry. London’s strength lies in collaboration and evolution,
building on strong foundations and embracing global ideas, cultures and change. Don’t be afraid to speak out or challenge the status quo.

Finally, lead by example. Be open, honest and collaborative. Build trust, be direct and be respectful. As a leader, you wield great power and can create a positive, diverse and open culture and foster other leaders, helping people develop their potential and self-belief. Exceptional leaders empower, inspire and support others, give recognition and act with integrity.

As Edith Wharton wrote: “There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” By empowering others, you can spread light, illuminate darkness and catalyse positive change that transforms the world.