She has a dream job at Spotify, can soon call herself a music producer, and in a few months will be releasing her first album of original songs. It all started with an MD job at Chalmers, or was it a talent competition in Hollywood? Not really. From the very start, Mona Khoshoi has simply let her passions to be her guide.
From an early age, she had three passions – maths, music, and writing lyrics. Mona Khoshoi has been calculating, playing instruments, and writing short stories and other texts for as long as she can remember.
“I was a little nerd, studying with my dad, who was a maths teacher. I would ask him for more and more advanced exercises, and he gave me maths books that were several grades above me.”
I went into the natural science programme in Borås. But after that? She wasn't sure. Her sister – 11 years her senior – was studying to become a doctor. That might be something – maybe with a specialisation in psychology? And writing? She obviously had talent there. The Borås Tidning newspaper had awarded her the 2010 Lilla Debutantpriset. The then 16-year-old Mona Koshoi explained to the newspaper that she could sit for hours piecing together a text over a cup of tea. “Just for fun.” The same with music. She had been playing classical violin for several years, but now stuck to more modern stuff – R&B – when it came to both her singing and her composition. The next year, she signed up for the world's largest talent competition, World Championships of Performing Arts in Hollywood. And she got in!
“I went there as a rather shy teenager, and came home a completely different person. I have never grown so much over just ten days.”
In Hollywood, she discovered she could confidently stand in front of an audience of industry professionals and just go for it. More so, she realised something else – she had a mind for business. She actually thought that talent competitions were a little silly and “American”, but if she was going to spend ten days in the United States, then she may as well make the most of them.
“The concept was that you got to perform and then meet with players in the industry who were interested in you.”
When preparing for the trip, she took steps to package herself as an artist – had business cards printed and built up a brand with the help of sponsored CDs, photos, clothes, make-up and jewellery.
“It was the first time I got the feel of real leadership. I was at the heart of things, getting the music studio, the photo studio and everyone else to work together. I discovered that I not only had a natural talent for it, but also thought it was a lot of fun.”
While in Hollywood, she did a lot of networking and made a lot of contacts. She still has some of them, but working full out with a record company never really felt like the right choice for her. For now, she wants to do it all herself – write, produce and distribute. She also returned from her time in the United States with a new-found interest in business, which led her to choose Chalmers and industrial economics after upper-secondary school instead of committing whole-heartedly to her music. And it was at university that this – “her fourth” passion – really took root and grew. The education was great, but she wanted to learn even more and test out things in real life. She heard about Chalmers Teknologkonsulter – a student-run consulting firm engaged in engineering and management – and applied. For one year, she worked part time as a consultant, with assignments such as warehouse optimisation for an industrial company.
“It was so cool. I studied logistics in school, but being on site in their warehouse, conducting interviews, and making suggestions for change all provided such a wealth of knowledge. In many cases, it was the people on the floor who know what could be improved. A lot dealt with creating a channel of communication between them and management.”
In her final days as a consultant, she ran a project aimed at building a system for how CTK would work with their strategic clients, large companies like Volvo and SCA. It made an impression. Here was someone with an interest in business development, someone who thought one step ahead.
“A member of the board called and asked whether I had ever considered becoming MD. Up to that point I hadn't, but why not? It was simply full steam ahead.”
20 years old. MD of a company with 70 employees. Responsibility. For staff and sales. Naturally, Mona Khoshoi focused on the latter. She began by changing the organisation into a matrix organisation that promoted cross-functional work.
Then sales dropped...
“I couldn't understand why and was kept awake many nights tried to figure out how to fix the problem.”
It didn't work. Finally, she gathered the management team together and admitted that she had no idea how to turn things around, but that she was convinced that they could figure it out together. After workshopping for a few hours, they understood that the wrong things had been emphasised and measured in the sales process. CTK broke records in a number of sales meetings! But after that, not much happened. It was time to start measuring the subsequent steps. With a new plan, sales increased by 300 percent in just a few months.
“It was a valuable lesson. I understood that it is OK to fail – it's sometimes even a good thing – since it can lead to something even better than you imagined from the start. But, you have to ask for help. As MD, you have to leverage your own capacity by hiring people who complement you, who are talented, and who you can delegate responsibility to. Companies are run as a team.”
After the MD position at CTK (which lasted one year and, of course, was a full-time job – and more), Mona Khoshoi intended to return to her 3rd year of industrial economy. But, the semester had barely begun before the next employer snatched her away from her studies. And it wasn't just any employer. But, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Mona Khoshoi wants to talk more about Chalmers – the school she says “opened up whole new worlds to her”.
“It was like finding a new home. I met like-minded people and wanted to make the most of my time at Chalmers. What I found most rewarding was all of the activities I was involved in along side of getting my education.”
CTK, of course, but also one year with the entertainment committee of the student union, student union activities, and Chalmers Female Network – something she started out of pure frustration.
“I was at a get-together for students who sit on the boards of Chalmers companies. After counting everyone on the room, I discovered that it was only 10–15 percent women. At the same time, 30 percent of the students at Chalmers are women, and women make up 25 percent of the members of Swedish boards. Why is this below average here? I decided that I wanted to contact all the women at Chalmers and encourage them to seek out these kinds of roles.”
At lunch at school one day, she sat down and started a Facebook group. After four days, the Chalmers Female Network had 2,000 members. Today, that number is 2,500.
“The charm of a FB group is that it isn't so formal. It's almost like writing to a friend. There are a lot of informal discussions. About salary negotiations, about frustrations over things that happened at work, about just about anything. I try to keep the group free of companies trying to promote themselves as an employer.”
“Many also launch their own initiatives – happy hour get-togethers, training sessions, workshops... That was my goal – to open up a forum for anyone who wants to pursue an initiative.”
Are there any women who get a job through the group?
“I hope so. Someone wrote ‘I work at this company. If anyone is interested, I can send a recommendation.’ I know that this was done. I've also offered to do the same if someone is interested in working at Spotify.”
Spotify. It was that very Swedish music streaming giant who snapped up Mona Khoshoi before she even finished her degree. The company's Innovation Manager, Sofie Lindholm, was a member of the jury for the CTK Bachelor’s Challenge (Chalmers' Bachelor's essay challenge organised by CTK annually) when CTK's young MD caught her eye – a person who not only seemed driven but also enjoyed working with music.
Things escalated quickly at Spotify. She started as Administrative Assistant to Rochelle King, Global VP Product Design and Insights, 1.5 years ago. She answered emails and did paperwork, but soon began taking on more and more responsibility.
“I'm not quite sure what happened, but after six months I was asked whether I wanted to become a project manager in innovation.”
The role of her team is the anticipate the future market: What's the next big thing? What's worth investing in? It's about assisting and guiding Spotify's technical development team to help them build the right concept.
“It's not until an idea has begun to be used and is financially viable that it can be called an innovation. Until then, it is just an invention that might not even be something anybody needs,” says Mona Khoshoi.
In December 2016, Spotify wanted her to take the next step when they offered her a project manager position at the fast-growing New York office. A dream come true. She had been travelling there for meetings practically every month recently and she loves the city. Nonetheless, she turned it down.
“It was a little scary, but sometimes you have to say no to create your own path through life.”
And her path involves music. That's why she only works part-time at Spotify while studying to become a music producer at Kulturama in Stockholm – a programme she will complete in the spring and is not willing to drop out off. Not even for a dream job in New York.
“It's a lot like my engineering studies, except you have to be more creative. You learn both technology and music.”
Right now, she and a producer are perfecting her first album – an EP with five songs scheduled for release in early May.
“It will be available on Spotify and for free on Sound Cloud. As an unestablished artist, it's a good way to start out.”
And what's next?
“I'm not sure, but I would love to work as a producer and songwriter. Both for myself and for others. But, it's a really competitive field and you can't just put your CV out there. You have to use your networks.”
One network is the Kvinnliga Musikernätverket Facebook group, which she started during her time at Chalmers. Today, the group has 1,500 members from all over Sweden.
“We talk about how to create more forums to meet and create new partnerships. Unfortunately, there is sometimes too much on my plate, so I try to find others who can drive the initiative. We've talked about associations and organisations that work with equality in the music industry, and I think there is enormous potential to bring about improvements.”
As mentioned, she wants to try working with music professionally, but in the future she believes her entrepreneurial drive will need to be given more space. She believes that sooner or later she will start a company – perhaps a record company, a company working in innovation, or a consulting firm. The important thing is not what you do, but that you do it with good people.
“I have my degree and you can certainly never go wrong as an engineer. You can always get a good job. But, right now I'm not so interested in the career aspect of things or earning as much money as possible. This might change if I start having children.”
And Spotify? New York?
“I would absolutely love to work there in a few years. I was just 22 when I got the offer. There will be more chances,” says Mona Khoshoi.
Text: Lasse Nicklason
Article from Chalmers Magasin issue 1, 2017.