Varsha Rao

Varsha Rao

Investor, Entrepreneur and Operating Executive


In every interview with international business executive Varsha Rao and every article written about her, one thing is immediately clear: Varsha is deeply passionate about the internet, e-commerce, and the role of the worldwide web as a tool for enhancing the lives of people around the globe. Her experience ranges from successful online entrepreneur to executive helping companies scale internationally. Varsha is the former Head of Global Operations for Airbnb, a community-based travel marketplace with global reach.

Education and Early Career

Raised near Boston, Massachusetts, Varsha Rao was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, where she graduated magna cum laude with a B.A. in Mathematics and a B.S. in Economics. She spent two years with investment firm Wasserstein Perella before returning to Boston to complete her studies with an MBA from Harvard Business School where she graduated with distinction. 

Upon graduation Varsha went to work as Engagement Manager for McKinsey & Co., where she consulted with clients from the telecommunications, new media and consumer technology sectors. Her passion sparked by the world of online world, Rao co-author an article published by the McKinsey Quarterly, “Internet Advertising: New Medium or Marketing Paradigm”. Her research and work with the earliest online companies had started, and would shape the course of her subsequent career choices.

Online Start-Up Founder

Part of Rao’s skillset stems from her hands-on experience as an internet company founder. In 1998, Varsha and business partner Mariam Naficy founded e-commerce company The company focused on the e-retailing of beauty products and accessories, bringing brands to consumers, using the internet and innovative marketing strategies to reach a growing audience of web users. grew from small start-up to a thriving business of over 125 employees in less than two years, and in 1999, Fortune magazine ranked it as the 6th best e-commerce site. The partners raised $25 million in venture capital and sold the company to Idealab for $110 million in 2000.

From 2004 to 2008 Varsha Rao worked at Gap Inc and ultimately served as Vice President and General Manager of the online division of Gap, Inc., where she led her team in driving a number of growth strategies.

International Experience – Online Commerce in Asia

Varsha’s career in international markets began when she was appointed as CEO of SingTel Digital Media (STDM), a division of SingTel, Singapore's leading telecommunications company, with a user base in excess of 500 million subscribers. She launched, a lifestyle guide for events, restaurants, cinema and reviews for Singapore residents, and negotiated a number of strategic partnerships with local businesses, bringing discounted deals to SingTel users.

She also served as Senior Vice President of LivingSocial, with overall responsibility for over 2000 employees and international operations including Korea, Thailand and Malaysia, Latam, Southern Europe, Australia and the UK.

Airbnb – Think Global, Act Local

As Head of Global Operations for Airbnb between 2013-2016, she was able to apply her international business and entrepreneurial experience to Airbnb's global community travel platform. During her tenure, she oversaw Customer Service, Trust and Safety as well as international markets; and focused on the company's expansion in Asian markets.
In 2014, Varsha Rao was named as one of the ‘Most Influential Business Women’ by the San Francisco Business Times. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, Cameron Poetzscher, and their two children.


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