Varsha Rao

Entrepreneur and former Head of Global Operations for Airbnb

Varsha Rao, an Accomplished Entrepreneur, Speaker and Mentor

Varsha Rao is the former head of Global Operations at Airbnb. She is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and international tech executive. Rao is passionate about e-commerce and the online global marketplace. During her tenure at Airbnb, she used her diverse business skills and entrepreneurial passion to expand the company’s operations across Asia, and take their vacation rental portfolio and bookings to the next level of success. She also helped improve customer service and trust in the company.

Rao came to Airbnb after decades of experience in the startup world, particularly in the digital marketplace. She received two degrees from the University of Pennsylvania: a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School of Finance and a B.A. in Mathematics from the College of Arts and Sciences. Varsha also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she graduated with distinction.

In Depth Research Leads to a Fascinating Career

Following graduation, Rao joined the staff of the international consulting company McKinsey & Company in 1995 where she remained until 1997. Among her responsibilities was to undertake an assessment of the web and its impact on the marketing and consumer outreach efforts of retailers. Her research culminated in a published article entitled, “Internet Advertising: New Medium or New Marketing Paradigm,” which ran in the McKinsey Quarterly in 1997. Her research project had an additional outcome—it formed the basis of what would become a lifetime of immersion in e-commerce.

Entrepreneur in the Dot.Com World

Varsha Rao combined her early love for entrepreneurship with her new interest in e-tailing to co-found Eve.com in 1998. Eve.com was an online cosmetics and accessories store targeted at busy women who were looking for quality products but had little time to shop in stores. It was immediately successful, landing a spot on the 1999 Forbes List of Best E-commerce Platforms and becoming a leader in the emerging dot.com marketplace. Within only two years Eve.com grew from startup to 125 employees and was sold for $110 million.

Following the successful sale of her company, Rao continued to build her resume in the e-commerce world, joining OldNavy.com, the online division of the Gap, Inc., where she held the position of Vice President and General Manager. Under her leadership, the division expanded the company’s market reach and increased revenues, reaching almost half a billion dollars.

Going Global

​Varsha Rao then turned her attention to Southeast Asia, relocating to Singapore and becoming CEO of Singtel Digital Media. Continuing to pursue her love for building companies, she initiated a new platform within Singtel, InSing.com, which was a digital interface for consumers to access information about restaurants, entertainment venues, and shopping centers. Here, Rao managed product development, marketing, content development and sales. Following her tenure at InSing.com, Varsha joined LivingSocial and ultimately became Senior Vice President, International. Rao oversaw a team of 2,000 employees across 14 countries. As SVP, Rao grew the company’s reach into Korea and South East Asia. It was a natural transition, for Rao to join Airbnb as Head of Global Operations following her international experience at LivingSocial and Singtel.

Despite her busy schedule, Varsha Rao has always made time to invest in the technology and entrepreneurial leaders of tomorrow. She coaches and mentors fellow entrepreneurs with early stage startups, and speaks at workshops and conferences, sharing her knowledge and experience with others.

Varsha Rao – Phocuswright India 2016