With an unassuming demeanour, Natasha walks into the boardroom ready to chair a daily work meeting. In the room are a handful of employees eager to listen to this creative mind. As she takes a seat, an aura of confidence exudes her before she proceeds to address her colleagues.
This is a glimpse into the work-life of Natasha Stambuli, general manager at Boomplay – one of Tanzania’s leading music streaming and download service.
It’s no secret that the current reality for female digital leaders and tech entrepreneurs is grim. This is a situation pervasive across the globe. Even with a healthy demand for digital talent, the vivid lack of gender diversity in tech continues to be the bane of the creative industry.
For Natasha, her rise to the apex of the digital world didn’t happen overnight. In fact, she had studied for something entirely different before pivoting to the digital world. This means she had to work twice as hard to claim a spot on the proverbial ‘big table’. “I studied International Relations and Diplomacy at university and had dreams of becoming a diplomat,” she says.
However, her affinity with the creative intricacies of the digital industry saw her change route and embark on this journey. “My first real job was at a digital agency as a social media engager,” she opens. It is during her tenure at the agency where she realised her passion for creativity and brands. “I thought to myself maybe the digital world is my calling,” she adds.
To embolden her resolve in her new career path, Natasha had the full backing of her parents who believed in her. “I have always been independent and strong-minded ever since I was a child. So when my career path shifted, my parents wanted me to find my calling rather than them imposing,” she says.
From her first job in the digital world, Natasha then moved on to another digital media agency where she did more of the same job roles. However, being an ambitious person that she is, Natasha wanted more for herself. She wanted to do more after realising her passion and capabilities in the digital world. “I always believe in being content, but if I feel that my brain is stuck and I’m not being useful enough I always take the initiative to change that,” she says.
Even though Natasha had the hunger for more and the desire for an environment that would maximize her potential, taking the leap from her previous roles to becoming a general manager at Boomplay is an elevation she admits took her by surprise. “I went for an interview for another position, I guess because of how I presented myself, and based on my past experience in the digital world they gave me the general manager role,” Natasha explains.
At Boomplay, Natasha was entering a world of entertainment where music is an integral part of the business. She wasn’t entering new territory, however, because from her childhood days Natasha always loved listening to music. “I grew up listening to the likes of Sade and Whitney Houston,” she says. Her affair with music didn’t stop there, growing up, Natasha was part of a band inspired by the then chart-topping girl group Spice Girls. “We’d sing and dance and basically just have a good time,” Natasha recollects. As she settled into her new role as the general manager of Boomplay Tanzania in 2017, Natasha had to become more accustomed to Tanzanian music and artistes.
Having spent many years studying abroad, she needed to connect with her home roots. She quickly developed a liking for Bongo music to the extent of saying, “Tanzania is the next hub for music in Africa after Nigeria.”
Natasha describes herself as a people-person who works better in a creative environment. “It’s great that in the entertainment industry I get to interact with different people, it’s like a cosmopolitan environment where I get to learn something different each day,” she says.
But even as she continues to soar on, Natasha is dismayed by the lack of gender balance in her line of work and wishes to change this tip of scale. “I feel like there should be more ladies in the entertainment digital business. We should do more to push for equal representation in this industry – it is very male-dominated. There are amazing women out there with great talent who deserve a spotlight in order to inspire the rest,” she says, adding; “I didn’t like being on the media but I came to realise that in order for me to voice out my opinions, to be heard or to even inspire somebody else I have to be more actively out there. People need to see what you’re doing. Because if you don’t, then even if you’re doing amazing stuff, no one will notice because you’ve put that block.”
Natasha does believe that the gender divide will narrow with time. “I think more women are now conscious about the lopsided scale in this field so more of them are stepping up their game. There is this movement of feminism and because of that women have gained the confidence to take ownership and be at the forefront,” Natasha says.
Being a woman atop the ladder of a digital company hasn’t gotten to Natasha’s head or made her feel conceited. But this doesn’t mean she doesn’t take pride in what she’s achieved. “I am proud of myself and what I’ve accomplished. I’ve seldom sat down and said to myself ‘you did a good job’. But in order to do better, you need to acknowledge what you’ve already accomplished,” she says.
One of the things that keep the young digital expert on her toes everyday is knowing that there is talent out there that deserves a platform. This realisation works as a drive, which pushes her to go leaps and bounds to make sure the world recognises such talent. “Through digital means, there are a lot of channels we can use to push local talents to the global stage,” she asserts.
In a 2017 tweet, Natasha had once raised concerns over the constant failure of local apps to survive in the cutthroat digital market. However, three years later and after being in the driving seat at a digital firm she believes this failure can be transformed into a success story if only local apps maintain consistency in the market. “Sometimes we create apps that are very feasible but then we tend to treat the app as ‘by the way’. We lack the conviction that it could actually work.
The mentality that I saw Boomplay come with is that ‘it has to work’, ‘we will do whatever it takes for it to work’. This is the kind of mentality needed for a startup to make it all the way otherwise it will not see the light of day,” she explains.
Patience is a virtue in this line of work, Natasha thus advises anyone aspiring to become digital-savvy and excel while at it to embrace a level of patience that will help them stand the test of time. “The digital space and people using apps in Tanzania is fairly new, so you need to be patient if you’re to embark on this journey,” she advises.
Beyond work, Natasha loves travelling, dancing and reading romantic novels.