If you live in Metro Manila, there’s a good chance you’ve seen GrabTaxi cars painted as cartoon characters and wondered, “who pushed for that idea?”
That person is none other than GrabTaxi Philippines assistant general manager Natasha Bautista. People call them “pussy cabs” – a play on “pussy cats.” There are three of them: Sexy Fox, Bipolar Panda, and Mr. Moose. The painted cars have been getting a lot of media attention, again affirming that cartoony cuteness is a valid business strategy in Asia.
The character cars came about as a result of Bautista and team wanting to do something viral. Previously all the marketing efforts of GrabTaxi Philippines were targeted at the same demographic since they were using the same marketing channels. According to Bautista:
We needed to tap into a different market, but we can’t expect that result if we don’t change our strategy. As Einstein said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’, and we definitely did not want to be insane. Well, scratch that, we actually want to be insane but in a good way. We wanted to be crazy enough to do something extraordinary so that everyone would be talking about us – therefore the birth of our crazy character cars roaming around the Metro!
Attractive women and their advantages in tech
When not leading the company’s disruption of the transportation industry, Bautista also moonlights as a professional model, gracing billboards in the Philippines and runways across Southeast Asia. Bautista is a card-carrying member of Professional Models Association of the Philippines (PMAP), and she regularly appears in the pages of premiere magazines like Preview.
Models are a rare species in the tech world, one which gets undeniably more attention. While Bautista’s experiences are of course not representative of all women, they are a valid data point to understanding the role of gender in tech.
In broaching this conversation with Bautista, I started by asking: “Have you ever intentionally played up your attractiveness in the business world?”
“This is embarrassing,” Bautista says. “…I could say I’ve never intentionally used attractiveness to my advantage but my coworkers have ‘sold’ me multiple times to help close deals. I don’t mind as long as it’s still professional and it gets the job done.”
This usually happens when the team tries to sign a new fleet of taxis onto the GrabTaxi platform. “My job has always been more on the passenger-side rather than the driver-side, but I would take meetings with fleets and drivers every now and then to close the deal,” Bautista says.
Naturally, I wondered how much she credits her current success as a GrabTaxi executive to her looks. In addition to pushing for the “pussy cabs,” Bautista recently launched GrabCar – the premium service for GrabTaxi that pits it against the Uber juggernaut. She also notably conducts all the GrabCar orientations and trainings herself, professing to be a teacher at heart.
“Not to sound conceited or anything, but beauty really is a powerful weapon,” Bautista says. “It definitely is something that has helped me in my career in selling myself and therefore in selling my product or service, specifically with closing sales deals, striking partnerships, and getting media buy.”
Her appearance also helps her retain the attention of drivers during classroom trainings, which makes them easier to teach. You don’t have to think back to your first teacherly crush to know just how much that is true.
Backtracking a bit, she adds, “Don’t get me wrong – beauty is definitely an advantage but I could say knowledge and skill will always outperform the superficial any day. And that’s why there always has to be a follow through – use beauty to close the deal, but use knowledge and skill to execute.”
The price of beauty
Does this beauty come with a price? Bautista feels like she gets stereotyped by new people she meets on more than rare occasions. “It’s the worst to be labeled as a dumb blonde,” Bautista says.
But GrabTaxi should thank these doubters – perhaps even send them gift baskets and GrabCar vouchers. They give Bautista that extra drive to really make things happen in GrabTaxi’s national battle with EasyTaxi and Uber. “I’ve experienced plenty of times being judged and people underestimating me, and I can say that there is nothing sweeter than proving them wrong,” Bautista shares.
This happened mostly at the start of her career in tech because she had just come from the modeling industry. “I could tell during my first few months that people around me would give me very little work – work that any high school student can do,” Bautista says. “And that bothered me especially because my personality loves challenge and I wasn’t getting any.”
Despite the occasional stereotyping, Bautista thinks that female beauty is a huge asset and she encourages other women in the industry to play up, rather than downplay, their appearance. She can condense her reasoning into a catchy motto: “If you got it, flaunt it.”
Still, she cautions against women coming across as over-zealous, so that interest in them remains strictly or mostly related to business. After all, it’s not comfortable for anyone to get hit on all the time in the tech world. “Let’s just say that first impressions do matter and as long as you set the boundaries already in the beginning, work stays professional if you want it to be,” Bautista says.
To maintain that level of professionalism, she recommends that businesswomen “wear appropriate work clothes that emphasize your body, wear the right amount of makeup, and be wary of your body language.”
Of course, the onus does not fall entirely on women when it comes to setting the right tone in business. The tech world shares some responsibility in making the community more inclusive to businesswomen, and forming women’s organizations or hosting women’s events is not necessarily the right answer. Instead, Bautista thinks that talking about this issue is the first step in the right direction.
“We have always been comfortable with conformity and I can say this article which emphasizes the place of women in a man’s world is already one huge leap to having more female entrepreneurs,” Bautista suggests, adding that building awareness is key.
“Men should know that women are starting to be their equals and that their ego shouldn’t stand in the way, and women should get a sense of confirmation that society is more than ready for gender equality,” she says.
Almost as an after-thought, she adds: “Because admit it or not, the startup scene is filled with testosterone and that can be quite intimidating for women like me.”