Don’t be afraid to scrap a plan and move on.
Samar Shaheryar is the Co-Founder of Baby Hero, a Hong-Kong based ethical children’s clothing company dedicated to reducing infant mortality while maintaining a sustainable supply chain. After studying International Relations at Tufts University, Samar was an investment banker at JPMorgan for 10 years in New York City. Concurrent to her job, she co-founded and ran the youth arm of the charity Developments in Literacy, which educates girls in Pakistan. In Japan and Hong Kong she founded Tokyo Helps and Hong Kong Helps, fundraising organizations dedicated to raising money for emergency disaster relief. She is a passionate entrepreneur, interested in finding business solutions to the world’s most pressing social problems, especially those affecting marginalized populations.
Where did the idea for Baby Hero come from?
Baby Hero is harnessing the power of consumers to tackle infant mortality in the poorest parts of the world. My co-founder, Allie, and I had complicated deliveries with our first children and the vulnerability of that time for us and our new babies had a profound effect. We were lucky to be delivering our children in Hong Kong, a place with one of the lowest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world, but we knew that if I had been in certain parts of Pakistan, the country in which I was born, the odds were significant that myself and or my child would not have had such a happy outcome. It is a tremendous injustice that the luck of where one is born should determine if they survive or not. During this time, Allie and I were also on the receiving end of many generous baby gifts from our loved ones. The intersection of these ideas gave birth to Baby Hero. Every Baby Hero product helps fund life-saving medical supplies for mothers and babies in the developing world – meaning our customers could save the life of a baby just by buying a gift for their loved one. We do our best to maintain an ethical supply chain, using organic, fair-trade, cotton and a safe and equitable garment factory to positively affect communities so we can reduce the poverty that causes these issues in the first place.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day usually starts at 6:30am when I am head-butted awake by my 16 month old son (who has inevitably made his way into our bed overnight along with his 3 year old sister). While perhaps not the most inspiring start, I do check my messages on my phone before I get out of bed – it is the quickest way for my brain to start moving. After coffee, a good-bye to my school-going 5 year old, I meditate for 5-10 minutes and then workout for about 40. Must do before breakfast or I am never able to find the time and it is a great way to set the tone for the rest of the day. Once brain and body have been suitably refreshed, I plan out my day. I used to use project management tool, Asana, but I’ve recently switched to a bullet-journal style pen and paper system that is working much better as it is more flexible so I can use it for my varying responsibilities. After identifying my goals for the day, I block out time on Google calendar for each task along with breaks. When you are working from home with young children around, it is easy to get distracted by the laughter, fights, excitement happening outside the office door – I wear noise-cancelling headphones and listen to music – it is the best way for me to stay deep in my work.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I am an information-gatherer to the max. In the middle of 3-4 books at any given time, podcast and news junkie, pop and other culture absorber (as a teen I covered every inch of my bedroom’s 4 walls from floor to ceiling with magazine clippings I found interesting or beautiful). This means there are lots of ideas percolating at any given time. Prioritizing these is a challenge – I’ve found that the best way to structure my work is as follows: Spend 50% of my day on tasks that will have the most impact on revenue (sales-oriented). Spend 25% on administrative and 25% on long-term value (relationships, big projects). I actually list my daily tasks according to these percentages.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The significant increase in businesses with a social purpose and businesses creating social impact. I am a firm believer that every single company can imbed social impact in their product and that it not only is the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
See above – prioritizing tasks by value.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Volunteer in the field for a cause you are passionate about. While I think my experience in investment banking and non-profit offers value at the intersection of business and social causes, I wish I had spent real time in the field working with the populations (women and children) that I am most focused on helping. I still think about chucking it all to do that for 6 months.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Sucking on lemons dipped in chile powder is comfort food.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Read, read, read, even fiction. Actually almost all the entrepreneurs I know are readers, so this is perhaps not a revolutionary idea – but staying connected to ideas outside one’s own is so important to maintaining the creativity needed to push boundaries. It is also a good way to relax!
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Don’t be afraid to scrap a plan and move on. We have done that many times. Initially we focused on creating clothes for parents – “What parent wouldn’t want to clothe their child in our beautiful, organic and ethical products?”, we thought. Parents actually don’t have so much time or inclination to think about their buying decisions – but gift buyers, on the other hand, loved our products – it allowed them to express their own values and they felt good about the gift they were giving – we focused on designs that would appeal to gifters, and started targeting our marketing to gifters – it changed the direction of the company for the better and we saw a 200%+ lift in sales almost immediately.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We went to an expensive tradeshow and came back with no sales – it didn’t play to our strengths which are our very compelling story and our high-touch customer service. It was a quick lesson that the best channel for us is e-commerce where those two aspects are in our control – as a result, we stopped actively looking for retail partners (although we don’t turn opportunities away) and focused on our own e-commerce site.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
A co-working space for physical-product companies. I love the idea of co-working spaces for starting entrepreneurs but they are a bit useless to us because most just offer a desk and we carry physical inventory and we need to have the ability to store products and fulfill our orders as well as work at a desk. Having a co-working space that also offers warehousing and fulfillment options would be an awesome solution for a lot of companies like ours.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
On a survey of our customers using GetFeedback. There were a few internal disagreements about the preferences of our customers and we crafted a survey that helped clear up those issues – saving us time. Importantly, we stuck mostly to factual information in order to understand their preferences – e.g. instead of asking them what their favorite activities were (people often answer aspirationally rather than truthfully), we asked them which websites they had visited in the past month (and the options were related to those activities) so we could see how important something really was to them.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Asana – project management tool. It is a great way to organize teams deadlines.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
“When Things Fall Apart, Heart Advice for Hard Times” by Pema Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist Nun. I am definitely a fast-moving, business-oriented individual, lest you think my advice is hippy-dippy – but I also think maintaining mental health is one of the most important things an entrepreneur needs to do. That means maintaining relationships with family and friends and also feeding one’s soul (whatever that means to you). If your personal life is not stable, your head is not clear, it will affect your success. I have read this book by Pema Chodron many times as a way to soothe inner turmoil over anything, from health issues to work issues – it is a primer on how to confront and overcome fear, which is the source of most of our pain, personal and professional. It is a quick read I guarantee there will be at least one life-changing moment in it for you. Her quote, “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us” – should be an entrepreneur’s motto!
What is your favorite quote?
I have too many! But there is only one I keep tacked up on my desk, because it is the one I need to remind myself of the most:
“In disputes upon moral or scientific points, let your aim be to come at the truth, not to conquer your opponent. So you never shall be at a loss in losing the argument, and gaining a new discovery.” ~ Arthur Martine
Tell us about one friend or acquaintance of yours who we should interview on IdeaMensch? Who are they, how do we get a hold of them and what are they doing?
Nayla Ventura of Rug Your Life. Such a unique concept! They take any design – everything from your child’s drawing of your family to fine art and turn it into a bespoke rug. Imagination is the limit!