X Cultural Episode 2 – Iti Sahai


X Cultural Ep 2 - Iti Sahai

Iti Sahai joins Michael J. Asquith for X Cultural Episode 2. Iti is a transformational thought leader and intrapreneurial localization executive (previously working with Procore technologies and now with Chegg.) She has a passion for language, culture, with experience in international business, technology, and the entertainment industry. Iti also has a passion for storytelling. Michael J. Asquith works for Vistatec as a Client-First Global Content Solutions Executive.

Vistatec provides an end-to-end global content journey that supports many of the world’s most innovative and iconic brands. X-cultural is the intersection between passion, culture, and global communications to inspire ideas and connectivity with global-mindedness. Michael kicks off the episode, stating that topics and sub-topics related to pop culture and global business will be discussed—how they influence how we think and how they are the crossovers and universalities between cultural symbols and icons.

Regardless of where you are in the world, global and cross-cultural communications are the inspirational imagery that influences international marketing, transcreation localization, and so much more. Michael introduces his guest speaker, Iti Sahai, as an “exceptional talent and individual with a unique journey from Bollywood, India, to Austin, Texas. Iti has carved out a path as a transformational thought leader and intrapreneurial localization executive on the product and tech side.

Michael discusses pop culture—a subject that he is extremely excited about as it influences much of what goes on in his daily life, both professionally and personally. Michael is also a huge music fan and is interested in hearing how Iti’s cultural perspective on pop culture influences her work and what she does. Iti says she started her professional journey in the film industry—the Indian film industry fondly addressed as Bollywood. She then transitioned into Hollywood, leading acquisitions and international growth and localization for an independent film distribution studio. Through that journey, she has had the tremendous experience of working for many leaders in the industry.

Iti believes she is a storyteller at heart—that she takes the stories of these products and services into international waters by telling the story to that region through localization and language. Hence, it drives and motivates her storyteller within. Both Michael and Iti share the commonality of storytelling; Michael asks Iti to share her story, coming from Bollywood to the United States at the age of 21, and how that influenced her career.

Iti recalls one of the earliest film projects she worked on: a documentary regarding the micro-economies in emerging countries and how they thrive within a very complex economic structure. Iti was the transcription production assistant and was very involved in the project, calling it an “insightful experience.” After Iti transitioned into working for numerous film studios in LA, she realized her heart was with international business.

Michael asks Iti what pop culture commonalities in pop culture exist from India to the United States, such as icons like Michael Jordan. The next frontier, instead of being Americanized, is much more globalized, although certain things resonate better from a cultural perspective. Iti says she consumed international content as a child from America and Asia since few television channels are available in India. One experience she remembers, in particular, is watching Oprah on television with her mother when she returned from school each day. This show gave her a window of insight into the American culture.   

The conversation turns to how pop culture defines our experiences, no matter where we grow up—a universal thread that ties us together—then to localization strategies used in her business and others. Language and localization strategies are interconnected in how content is developed and whether you localize or allow it to be created organically within the region.

Michael asks Iti how she manages those language and localization strategies; she answers that it is a strategic function and that she has been a part of numerous conversations where she’s required to make a business case for a product-market fit where she must push localization or language strategies within a monolingual group.  

Iti refers to something Jimmy Fallon does when he invites musicians and singers on the show, then takes current hits and retro hits and puts them into Google translate. The songs are translated into Polish or Lithuanian, then back to English, then the singers sing this (poorly) back-translated English song and poke fun at it. This game makes the case regarding gaps and opportunities regarding language translation in business.

Michael shows Iti an image of Kamala Harris, asking her what it means to her—but not in a political way. Iti says that image ties into a commonality between the experiences we have grown up in whatever part of the world we grew up in, noting that every culture and every community imposes implicit biases and self-limiting beliefs. Iti briefly discusses failure, as it is “normalized” across the globe, but particularly for women and other marginalized communities.

Failure can become a “comfortable place” if you allow that. In truth, the fear of failure is not generally what drives us as it can be a comfortable, cozy place. The fear of success is what stops us from really going after what we believe in. So, in the end, the image of Kamala Harris means inclusion and hope.

Iti notes that the American communication style tends to be very direct, as opposed to the Indian communication style, which is very indirect, and how nuances affect translation. She recalls a meeting with women from India and how they exchanged looks very subtly, then shared with her how proud they were of what she had accomplished. The women told Iti that when they look at her, they see opportunity and possibility.

Michael asks Iti what her “take” on India is, with its different dialects and languages, as far as localization of the market goes. Iti says she thrives in the strategizing space, particularly when it comes to global growth and expansion and how languages impact localization strategy. Iti says she is encouraged by organizations that lead their global expansion effort through an emerging economy.

With one billion people, India is very diverse in terms of culture within the country and how it is sometimes divided by socioeconomics and religion. It can become challenging to determine which language to go to market with; the answer depends on the product, the segment you are looking to target, and the region and sub-region you are looking to enter in India.

Michael relays how important he believes it is to do as Iti mentioned earlier—to find your purpose, to find positive changes within yourself and as a representative of your organization. Michael says he loves the optimism and positivity that resonates with Iti. Asked whether she has any final comments, In conclusion, Iti says she loves a mission-driven business because eventually, that is the core of what solves problems within the industry.