The 29th Year

Disclaimer: It’s no longer thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving. It’s also my birthday. I love, love, love my birthday. I know some people just don’t care at all about birthdays but maybe it’s the youngest child in me, I love the attention, and I love feeling that today is a little different, even if only to me. That it’s a fresh start. It’s like a personalized New Year’s, what's not to love?  

I’m 29 today and I’m not quite where I thought I’d be in life. But that’s not a bad thing. I remember in my teens thinking 29 was so old. That I’d be married with kids and living in the ‘burbs while running a big, powerhouse non-profit by now. But here I am, in my snug Lower East Side apartment, single and building a 2 woman corporate empire (how many people does it take to qualify as an empire?!) It has been a big year. A full calendar year of working for myself, of working really hard and achieving some, but not all of my goals. Of stumbling over and over again, but leaning on family and friends to figure out how to get back up and try again. I want to take today to be thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned this year; to recognize that I have the chance to use them as tools to move ahead in the following year. 

Some things I’ve learned this year are so obvious that they shouldn’t even warrant a bullet point (i.e. #3) but sometimes you learn things the hard way. Or at least I do.

Here are the top 10:

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  1. Remember why you do this: the feeling of running in the first Sukoon prototype. Every woman deserves to have that feeling if she wants it. No one can take away what you’ve already built, no matter where it goes. 

  2. A great playlist can turn the moment around. 

  3. Contracts are important. Take time to read them, write them, and stay accountable to them. Make sure you’re ok with the terms. Make sure there’s enough detail in the scope of work. Contracts are important. 

  4. When interviewing someone, don’t be afraid to make them uncomfortable. Startups are the most uncomfortable places to be and seeing a candidate handle an uncomfortable conversation is far more telling than hearing them gush about why they want/deserve the job. 

  5. People will tell you how to spend your time and money, but remember that most people giving you advice have never done what you’re doing. Evaluate their advice but at the end of the day, listen to your gut. Sukoon is your brainchild, your blood, sweat and tears. You might make some wrong choices along the way, but you’ll be way more mad at yourself if you make the wrong choice based on advice you didn’t believe in. 

  6. Build in a 10-12 week buffer. Small team, small company, big goals, only 1 you.

  7. It’s okay to cry on the really hard days. You’ll feel better after you do. 

  8. When things go wrong: pray, do yoga, and eat a salad. You’ll feel so much better after this trifecta. These are the things you can control, and even when everything is out of control, don’t give up on the things that keep you human. 

  9. Read non start-up books, you are allowed to do that.

  10. You are lucky that your dreams look different from what you thought they would be. 

This last one is maybe the most important, and one that I want to remind myself of daily.

When I moved out of suburban Cleveland at the age of 17, the future was bright and sparkly. My dream was to move to The Big City, go to a great school, make incredible and diverse friends (while I love Cleveland, the suburbs are very #white), and get a fancy job at a big non profit. I, aA, was given the opportunity to do all of those things. And as a result, I was fresh out of dreams by 26.

It’s funny how so many of us don’t think about what comes after that 1st job (or the 2nd one…) What are the next steps? Yes, a spouse, a family, kids, maybe. But what about our careers? Our ambitions? Our legacies?

Three years ago, I took a leap into what would become my new path. A wobbly, unsteady one, but a path all the same. I’m more unsure than ever of what the next steps are, but I am still smiling, living and creating what comes next. It’s easy to forget what a privilege it is to have done all the things I wanted to do when I dreamed as big as I could at 17, and to be able to build what I want the future to be, for myself, and for others who look like me. Today, I’m thankful for this new dream of mine.

Cheers to 29, and all the dreams it will bring ✨

Meh-rathon

Last Sunday was the New York City Marathon, and it is one of my favorite days of the year. 

Marathon Day brings out so much support, love, and joy that is usually hard to come by on the streets of New York. (New York is always full of the magic, but you have to dig a little deeper to find the joy.) As a New Yorker going 11 years strong, I have almost always known at least one person running. Each year, marathon day adrenaline restores a little bit of my optimism. Even as a spectator, you feel proud and amazed and moved by the pure physical and mental strength that is literally running past you. And when you see a 90-year-old gramma owning an 8 minute mile, you start to regret your brunching choices and feel like you can do anything. 

This weekend was no different, except it was because I was cheering on a friend whose journey in running this past year has been public, vulnerable, and emotionally turbulent. As a young man who spent years struggling with mental health, Mehran tied his marathon training journey to a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He simultaneously published a collection of essays detailing his own battle with suicide. 

Mehran moved from NYC (where I met him back in 2013) to SF about 2 years ago. I didn’t know him super well personally when he was here, but always enjoyed his company and hype personality in our friend group. I remember during our Sukoon Kickstarter, Mehran kept a close eye on our funding and every couple of days would top off the donation to the nearest even number. It was a small gesture but it was incredible to feel that level engagement on what would soon become a bigger dream than I could imagine at the time. 

And so, I was surprised by the Semicolon Series. I didn’t know anything about what Mehran was going through when he was in NYC. I remember sometimes feeling that he was a little aloof, but I never thought anything beyond it. Years later, I realize how mistaken I was, and I’m grateful that at the very least, the Semicolon Series pushed the boundaries of what I think I know, and of what I assume to be the baseline of mental health in the people around me. And maybe even of what I assume my own mental health to be. 


I’ve been fundraising for Sukoon over the last few weeks, and it is rigorous. Distracting. Soul crushing. Exciting. Invigorating. Riddled with uncertainty. 

There were a few days just in the past month where it felt like everything in my personal life and work life were colliding. It’s scary to feel so alone, to feel like no one else can quite understand the gravity of the stakes, of the decisions, of the steps required to move forward. I try to talk through it all, but when I’m tossing in bed at 2 am, only I can feel the weight of each choice on my shoulders. 

Investors want you to be scrappy but confident and aggressive but humble. They question you on everything you know, or that you think you know. They make you forget that you know your business better than anyone, and that metrics are just one part of the dream you’re building. They keep you on the edge of your seat with “maybe.” They ask too many questions in pursuit of the one question that no one can answer with 100% certainty: how do I know that Sukoon will succeed? 


I felt everything I always feel on marathon day. I felt the joy of the runners around me, I felt the magnitude and unity of this race that attracts travelers from all over the world; but mostly, I felt the love and community that Mehran inspired to rally behind breaking the taboo around mental health. I felt the way his 26 essays and 26.2 miles left a mark on the people who thought they knew the real him for a long time. I felt sweat, tears, joy, exhaustion and achievement in the air. And I thought to myself, I don’t know if Sukoon will succeed, but I know that it has to

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For so many people, running (or any physical activity) creates a space in this world for us to be who we are. It creates an alternative dimension for us to work through the things we can’t say out loud. Sometimes it gives us the courage to start saying those things out loud. It gives us the strength to open ourselves up to trying and failing, and to explore the possibility of overcoming our greatest fears. It reminds us that there is more to life than revising pitch decks and calculating acquisition costs. It teaches us to breathe and to become resilient in the face of everyday traumas. It makes us ok with being vulnerable because we know that from vulnerability comes strength, conversation, human connection and ultimately, community. And that community is everything we could hope to experience in this world. 

    “You are not alone.” 

     - Mehran Nazir, Semicolon Series (2018) 

Did You Think It Was Going To Be Easy?

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Forty minutes in. A few more uphills. A few more recoveries. 

Have you ever been to a Peloton class? If you have, I hope you’ll understand that feeling near the end where you’ve never resented anything more in your life than the fact that you are clipped into a bike and surrounded by an intimidating group of seemingly overachieving fitness addicts. Circles of fluctuating cadence, output and resistance are outwardly measuring every moment of your tiredness. You give up because working out should be FUN and who needs another five minutes of this STRUGGLE BIKE. 

WE DIDN’T COME THIS FAR JUST TO COME THIS FAR!

^^That’s Cody and I am shamelessly his #1 because he is 🔥and inspirational and brings all the energy to class that you left at work. DID YOU THINK IT WAS GOING TO BE EASY, BOO? I KNOW YOU DIDN'T!

My mind wandered outside the studio for the first time that class to Sukoon. We are redesigning both our Technical Up-Do Hijab and our Technical Classic Hijab, two products that I have LIVED AND BREATHED over the last 2 years. To say the least, I have sweated through these iterations at least 300 times before taking them into production. Why do people say business isn’t personal? What could be more personal than sweat and savings accounts? 

“It’s just a hijab.” <— what my design consultant told me earlier that day as she quit. She had been underperforming for a few weeks already, and "Hire slowly, fire quickly" kept running through my mind.  There’s no room for second and third chances; it’s too important: your time, your product, your momentum. 

So when she quit, I was relieved. In our final meeting, she kept her sunglasses on indoors…in the middle of a gloomy winter day. Ok, this is how it’s going to be, I thought. She seemed angry. She spoke. She was angry. Why though? I asked a few questions, I asked if she was ok, she said: “F**k this. It’s just a hijab.” 

I wish TSA thought that.


I pedaled harder. “DID YOU THINK IT WAS GOING TO BE EASY?” I asked her. She didn’t respond. I asked again, did you think it was going to be easy to invent something new? To redesign a product that has never been effectively made before? Did you think it was going to be easy? 

She stared at me blankly. Or so I assumed, as I searched for her soul through her sunglasses. And she finally said “I thought you were chill.” As she left, the guy next to me stared at me in disbelief. The coffee shop was pin drop silent and I was mortified. He bought me coffee and apologized on behalf of humanity. (I love NYC sometimes.) 

I was shocked because I realized in that moment that...she actually thought it was going to be easy? Because we exchanged Bitmojis and met at coffee shops and sometimes a 10:30 turned into a 10:40. I am a pretty “chill” boss, but does that mean I’m setting a culture of sub-par work product and ethic? 

Should the people that report to me think I’m a jerk? Should they be scared of what happens if they make a mistake or they show up 5 minutes late? That’s the kind of cut throat, finance culture I was trained in. There was a recession, I was lucky to be employed at all. My first boss certainly wasn’t “chill.” She was tough on me — never mean but certainly tough — and maybe through that I learned how to be accountable and build work product that I could always stand behind. 

I’m still trying to figure out the kind of manager I want to be, but Sukoon feels too close to my heart to constantly be “managing” people. I’m “chill” because I miss co-workers and jokes between our cubicles. I miss leaving work at work and I miss having a work family. So when I bring on a new hire, I feel energized by them. I want them to be happy, I want to be their peer and shoot the sh*t...but I still want to deliver an A++++ product to the market. I expect and want to be able to do both these things. Sukoon isn’t my “job” — it’s my entire life. Its existence drives every choice, every breath, for better or for worse. I want it to be fun and collaborative and I want to feel like a team, and while there are moments in which I must manage, I don’t always want to be a “manager.” 


There’s no perfect way to cultivate company culture or become an overnight manager. You live and you learn from experience but that doesn’t stop me from trying to read my way into perfection. And in this pursuit, I came across Jay Desai’s The Indispensable Document for the Modern Manager. Gadgets and appliances have user guides, so why don’t people? 

It’s BRILLIANT. Jay shares his own user guide, and one of the most compelling sections is when he highlights his own flaws and struggles. “I am flawed. I'm not great at process. I can be bursty. I sometimes leap to conclusions, rally people around it, then backtrack. I can go into a hole when strategizing. I put together frameworks that I don't hang on to for very long. I'm a workaholic and will work at odd hours.” He implores his team to "Commit to providing me direct feedback when I’m blocking your or the company’s success." It's brutally honest. It's humbling. It's an empowering call to action. 

So here I go: putting it all down in my own user guide. The onboarding read of who am I, what I expect, what to expect, where I might fail, and how because of AND in spite of these things, I hope we can build, scale and execute a vision that is on the cusp of materializing. 

WE DIDN’T COME THIS FAR JUST TO COME THIS FAR. So here we go, a little further, a little better, a little bit more indispensable. Because two years in, I never thought for a moment that it was going to be easy

 

Find Your Sukoon

This morning I was ironing a few of my mom’s clothes. After about a half hour, my arm started to ache a little as I stared at a heap of laundry waiting to be pressed.


My mom has had a herniated disc for most of my life. She had surgery when I was 4, after which she ended up in the 1% that no one wants to be in, the 1% that suffers severe complications, further nerve damage, lifelong scar tissue and varying levels of immobility. Her life — our lives — after surgery became about building a new life around pain tolerance. We’d start each day with “How’s your back today, Mom?” and end most evenings giving her a heat pack and massaging tiger balm into her spasms. It became our new normal as she overcame her new normal. 

Most nights after dinner, I’d bounce around her as she did her exercises in a little corner of her room. God, I must have been annoying. But she was patient and loving, as mothers are. She taught me how to make flash cards while holding a one-legged bridge and quizzed me on spelling while balancing her upper back on a medicine ball. I never thought this was strange, what else could moms do after dinner every night? I had no idea how hard she was working every day to recover, to strengthen her spine, to become who she was before I could remember.

Over the years, she learned to manage and mask her pain beautifully. She has lived a normal and even adventurous life, knowing her physical limitations but embracing every moment of her mobility. If you were to meet her, you’d never know that her daily level of pain is more than most of us could think to bare for a moment. You’d never know that the slight raise in her left eyebrow meant that she was smiling through hours of shooting nerve pain down her legs. You’d never know that you were in the presence of a 4 foot 11 inch warrior.


Two months ago, my mom had her first acute disc episode since before her surgery 23 years ago. She ended up in the emergency room, unable to stand, unable to walk or even sit. They mentioned the possibility of another surgery. We all shuddered. 

It has been challenging to be far away. To carry the responsibilities of my life, of my business and of my team while my whole heart is with her. As I circle in and out of my hometown of Cleveland, I can’t help but feel dejavu. As I lay next to her in the same room doing the same exercises, I join her in bridge pose, I pass her her resistance band, I count our breaths together and I turn my face away, tearing up, wondering how different her life could have been if she were part of the 99%. I feel guilt rush over me for even noticing the momentary ache in my arm, and wonder how long it will be before the daily household tasks will be pain-free for her again. I make a mental note to up my strength training regimen. I iron everything in her closet. 


When I was first starting Sukoon, I thought it was about hijab. But looking back, it was always destined to be so much bigger than that. It was about community (shout out to our Kickstarter backers!), about empowerment, about access to a lifestyle we all want to have the option to live. For me, I know now that it was about my mom. 

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There has been so much in life that she hasn’t been able to experience, and that she has urged me to experience because of her own limitations. She listens longingly to my stories of hikes to Half-Dome, she looks admiringly at my race medals, and she holds my hand as we do yoga together on my visits home. She is why Sukoon is about doing right by our selves and our bodies. 

It’s about becoming our best selves, a right (NOT a privilege) that we all deserve regardless of how we choose to cover, or of our body type. It’s about inclusivity. It’s about access: to wellness, to potential, to flexibility and mobility; to the breadth of the human experience; to the views we earn and to the adrenaline of crossing a finish line.

It’s about finding your strength, finding your why, and using it to #FindYourSukoon.

I can't think of a better way to start Women's History Month than to celebrate my persistent, resilient mother and honor the life she taught me to live.  

$4.99

I woke up Sunday morning feeling groggy and a little sore from all the dancing and laughing, but really full of joy for the couple I spent the weekend celebrating (#offishallydiva). No matter how many weddings I go to, there's always that moment when they are about to say "I do" that gives me the chills. A few words exchanged in a few moments, and two people's lives are forever changed. And there we are, a privileged few, sitting, watching, fidgeting, casually witnessing a moment in which two souls become one.

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INSERT ***CHILLS*** 

So I woke up feeling a lot of love and joy, and ready to carry that into the love and joy of my life, Sukoon of course. We were hosting our first official yoga event with Amina Sanders. Two Muslim hijabi women building wellness communities and safe spaces for other women to explore fitness and holistic health? HELL YES. The studio space was BEAUTIFUL. Light poured in as our yogis set out their mats, and Amina's cheerful smile just set the VIBE, a vibe I tried to capture in Sukoon's Insta-Story when...MY PHONE CRASHED. 


A few hours later, I found myself wandering through the Whole Foods on Houston Street, exhausted and hating myself for not backing up my phone as religiously as I apply Retin-A at night. The only fix was to reset it completely, wiping all my data. I cringed at the hours of work going unsaved, and treated myself to a few stems of flowers and brownie bites, pretty much a steal at $2.99. At checkout, I removed my credit card as the cashier handed me my receipt, and I noticed that the brownie bites were charged at $4.99. 

I started crying. YES. CRYING. The poor cashier! She was like uhm...we can fix this! Just go to the next register and they'll price adjust....it didn't matter. In that moment, seeing that $4.99 on my receipt turned into a mind storm of loneliness and open items, pending invoices, unanswered emails, bad dates, imperfect prototypes, website glitches, piled up laundry, Kit upload errors, a mountain of paperwork on my dresser...I felt like a failure.


^^^I KNOW. All the drama. But being an entrepreneur is really hard. That sounds overly reductive but it's a simple truth I'm learning and living every day. Each moment forward feels heavy on a route that could lead to success or failure. Mediocrity becomes less and less of an option, if it ever was one. 

It's easy to forget that not all moments are created equal.Sometimes you just need to cry it out in a Whole Foods, and that doesn't have to be the moment that defines you. You get a refund, hope you don't run into anyone you know, wander back home, and google iPhone boot loop fixes for the next 6 hours.

Your hard-earned brownie bites are your team, your supporters, your vices and your allies. And then you fix the unfixable! You recover the unrecoverable! The mind storm settles as you scroll through your camera roll and relive the chills of two souls becoming one. And you remember that sometimes, you get to choose the moments that define you as much as you get to choose the moments that don't. You get to choose the moments that matter, and everything else is just...noise.