How Ashish Toshniwal Empowers Companies Through Tech

Helping build better mobile apps, websites, and digital experiences

Ashish Toshniwal said the idea for his tech company came from a desire to make something big and connective.

Toshniwal is the co-founder and CEO of Y Media Labs (YML), a Silicon Valley-based design and technology agency that builds digital products for both large companies and fledgling startups.  

Ashish Toshniwal
Ashish Toshniwal.

Y Media Labs

"Our mission is to help companies become tech-enabled so they can serve their customers well," Toshniwal told Lifewire in a phone interview. "We want to export the Silicon Valley mindset to the world."

Toshniwal launched YML in March 2009, just months after the Apple App Store launched in 2008. He described this development as "magical" and wanted to get in on the action ahead of big tech companies. YML has built mobile applications, websites, and other digital experiences for big names like The Home Depot, PayPal, Google, and Universal Music Group. 

Quick Facts

  • Name: Ashish Toshniwal
  • Age: 39
  • From: Kolkata, India 
  • Random delight: He ran a company-wide walking competition in March, and even after accumulating more than 1 million steps, still lost to one person. 
  • Key quote or motto: "Spend each day getting a little wiser than you were when you woke up."

A Better Life

Toshniwal grew up as part of a family of 15 people, who at one point were all sharing one restroom. One of his biggest aspirations as an adolescent was figuring out how he could become independent. His childhood experience is what pushed him to seek an American education. 

"It used to be pretty challenging to make sure I didn't lose my time slot to use the restroom in the morning," Toshniwal said. "Growing up, I wanted to make sure I chose a different life for my family and me."

Toshniwal moved to the US to seek a degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University. With all of the visa challenges and financial hurdles, Toshniwal said he forced his way into America. Following his academic tenure at Purdue, he worked in a few different tech roles in Texas and Silicon Valley before starting YML.

The startup founders on the West Coast inspired Toshniwal, so he moved to Silicon Valley and got a job with eBay while conceptualizing his company. 

All you need is for one person to give you a break or recognize your work. Once you catch a break, you build on that success, and that's what I've done.

"It's extremely challenging to make sure as an entrepreneur you become successful. When you're starting something, obviously, you're the only person that thinks this can be big, and others generally don't agree with you," Toshniwal said. "I felt like I had to do something bigger."

Twelve years later, Toshniwal has grown YML's team to roughly 450 designers, engineers, strategists, and more. He said the company has "pretty much grown with the growth of the iPhone." After building the 54th application to hit the App Store, Toshniwal said he received an email from Steve Jobs that said, "'I love what you are doing! Let me know if we can help, Steve.'"

Focus and Persistence

As a technologist from India, Toshniwal said employers often overlooked him for promotional opportunities. His coworkers told him that he was experiencing discrimination in his previous tech roles, which felt unfamiliar to him, coming from a place like India, where he was part of the majority. 

"What I have realized is, even if there is discrimination, as a minority CEO, you have to just focus on your work and be persistent," he said. "All you need is for one person to give you a break or recognize your work. Once you catch a break, you build on that success, and that's what I've done."

Toshniwal said YML was declined for funding opportunities 21 times by venture capital firms before deciding to bootstrap. YML operated this way until 2015, when the leadership team sold a part of the company to New York-based MDC Partners, an advertising and marketing holding company. There is no outside funding aside from this partnership; YML uses its revenue to pay its employees.

YML CEO Ashish Toshniwal and CTO Sumit Mehra.
YML CEO Ashish Toshniwal and CTO Sumit Mehra.

Y Media Labs

"At this point, we are not raising any more money. We are considering acquiring other companies because of our partnership with MDC Partners. If we need money, they can provide it," Toshniwal said. 

Early on, Toshniwal said one of the biggest challenges was retaining partnerships with tech startups. One of the most significant transitions YML made was seeking partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, which ultimately propelled its success. This was one of Toshniwal's most remarkable accomplishments with YML, he shared. 

Diversifying Forward

Toshniwal is mainly focusing on strengthening YML's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts over the next year. He said the company has done great in this area, but he wants to do even better. Today, YML's team is 46% women and 40% people of color. Toshniwal makes it a top priority to give his employees equal pay, as well. 

"Building YML, this understanding of why DEI is so important was not there early on," Toshniwal said. "In 2013, I was doing an all-hands, and I looked around the room, and I was like, we only have 40 men and one woman here in our office. Since then, we have worked very hard to change that stat."

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