Ashwini Asokan: Making People All Over the Globe AI Natives

The story behind Ashwini Asokan, Founder and CEO at Mad Street Den, Chennai-based AI and computer vision startup.


When one talks about AI and tech start-ups, we imagine an office brimming with men, led by men. Society conditions you to think that the tech space is meant only for the male counterparts. However, as the world moves forward in space and time, women have eased into the technology landscape and are making a mark in the pages of history. One such woman is Ashwini Asokan, who is the Founder & Chief Executive Officer at Mad Street Den. 

About Ashwini Asokan 

Growing up in a family of professors and computer scientists, Ashwini decided to do something different. While pursuing her undergraduate at Chennai’s MOP Vaishnav College, Ashwini was training in dance. Later, she decided to let go of her plan to become a professional dancer and went to the US to pursue a career in product design and movement grammars at Carnegie Mellon. This was one of the turning points in her life. She went on to work at Intel which back then was still in the process of making it big. Ashwini learnt a lot from there as there were so many new technologies developing and changing every year. She was working as a product designer, which led her to work with a spectrum of business teams including anthropologists, designers and human-computer interaction (HCI) teams. By the end of her career at Intel, she was leading a team building different types of mobile products with AI at the core. This sparked a fire within her, a fire that attracted her to AI. She realised she was ready to quit her job and begin her venture. 

The Story Behind Mad Street Den 

After quitting her Silicon Valley job, Ashwini and her neuroscientist-husband Anand Chandrasekaran partnered up to set up their start-up. After wrapping up their life in the US, the duo flew back to India to join the entrepreneurial world. They launched their startup, Mad Street Den at a conference in 2013. Mad Street Den became a retail disrupter and has helped retailers disrupt the physical shopping experience. 

Ashwini always felt that the human component in AI was missing as people built AI only for furthering the limits of technology. She wanted to develop meaningful uses for AI that would positively transform the consumer lifestyle. While working on new products, they wanted the machines to observe and absorb and help in making sound decisions. Even though she does not code, Ashwini fit in the tech space as the CEO of Mad Street Den with her husband as the CTO. In 2016, they launched Ashwini’s brainchild, Vue.ai, which is a pioneer end-to-end retail automation platform, after years of extensive research on the practical applications of the technology. This has proven to be a retail disruptor attracting clients like TataCliq, Mercado Libre and Macy’s. 

What can you learn from Ashwini Asokan?

Ashwini never imagined being a tech entrepreneur working on AI and computer visions. She always felt her calling was in professional dancing or singing. But somehow life had different plans and she switched to product design and she has no regrets. Sometimes, the path of life meanders and turns into ways you cannot imagine or you are not ready for. But trust your instincts, never give up on yourself. Learn and grow as much as you can where you are because knowledge is power. It will give you the edge wherever you end up in. Where you end up in your journey matters more than where you started, make sure every decision you make brings you a step closer to your destination. Break the stereotypes around you and follow your dreams. Determination and hard work can take you a long way as it did for Ashwini. A woman who didn’t know how to code, became the CEO of a tech start-up and she owes it all to her knowledge and years of experience. Observe and absorb as much as you can. Ashwini has also been labelled as an agent of change in STEM, with 50 percent of Mad Street Den’s workforce consisting of women. With more leaders like her, more and more women are driven to join the tech landscape, normalising women working in the traditional male-driven technology industry. 

Smruthi Krishnan
Smruthi Krishnan
Smruthi interviews and writes on inspiring entrepreneurs and the success stories of start-ups. She is currently pursuing Economics major from Delhi University.

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