When we look at a product, we appreciate its design, color, texture and often stop at that. We are unaware of the story behind it, the artisan who made it. Sumeera Rasul along with her sister Nadia Rasul, both of Pakistani ancestry, came up with the innovative idea to develop an online platform called “Madesmith.” Here, handmade products are sold to the consumers with the inspiration behind them along with the story of the artisan.
Sumeera has been named as a social innovator and thought leader by The ‘Good 100.’ She has written her tailored business advice for numerous online publications, including The Huffington Post, presenting an in-depth roadmap for all aspiring entrepreneurs. We met Sumeera in action as she was mentoring aspiring female entrepreneurs at the Power Panel in New York.
Sumeera’s love for “entrepreneurship” and subsequently handmade products started in her childhood. Her family manufactured and exported garments and textiles to other countries. Sumeera’s grandmother was passionate about handmade crafts and was also an avid teacher of the craft of embroidery. As a result of her close relationship with her grandmother, Sumeera developed an appreciation and love for handmade textiles and the artists who produced them.
When she was seventeen, Sumeera moved from Pakistan to the United States to complete her undergraduate degree majoring in Management Information Systems. She describes her transition as “fun“, she says, “It was relatively quiet and yet focused as there were no social media to distract at that time.”
Already a trendsetter, Sumeera got her first job at the age of 22 in the aerospace and defense industry, which was a heavily male dominated space at the time. After three years in the aerospace industry, Sumeera moved into advertising and later, in 2010, she worked at Apple. It was a remarkable time to work at this innovative corporation, which was making quantum leaps under the tutelage of the iconic Steve Jobs. For a Pakistani woman to excel high in the cutthroat corporate world is not easy. Sumeera attributes her success to the mindset: “If you have an international mindset, it’s very easy to fit in”, she says.
Sumeera excelled in her corporate life, yet it was always there that sooner or later she would venture into an entrepreneurial business herself.
“One major thing I always felt was that the impact of your own business, nothing beats that,” she says.
Starting off with her new business, Sumeera had a realistic expectation. She was well aware of all the problems and challenges she could face. The primary problem she faced was to come up with a business plan – “you have to experiment a lot to see what works”, she says. Once you have a feasible business plan in your hands, which should always be open to changes as the circumstances change, the next goal is to plan for the financial part of the new business.
She used her personal funding for her venture. Regarding funding, she says when you become an entrepreneur“you have to become creative and resourceful as to how to use the limited resources at your hands.” Most of the small businesses shut down due to lack of cash, so Sumeera’s advice is to become a smart money manager before you become an entrepreneur.
When asked if it’s harder being a woman entrepreneur, Sumeera says, “It is more difficult, yes because sometimes conservative mindsets make it harder for you. Some people may treat your business as a project and not take it seriously”. So women entrepreneurs have the added pressure to prove themselves. Her advice to all aspiring women entrepreneurs is to make sure they correct the people who treat their business as a hobby and educate them about the enterprise. Sumeera firmly believes that the only limitation on women entrepreneurs are the ones they put on themselves. Once you have a business idea, and you think it’s great, do not be afraid of going big. Relentlessly advertise it and your cause.
A lot of times even if the business idea is great, what stops women entrepreneurs is the lack of funds. Sumeera agrees that for women who go to venture capitalists, they face a hard time. But there are particular organizations, which cater to female entrepreneurs. Tory Burch Foundation: Finance for Female Entrepreneurs, provides the needed economic support for women. Also, Goldman Sachs has a special program called, “10,000 small business” program that provides the aspiring entrepreneurs with the required capital, education, and support.
Sumeera warns that being an entrepreneur is not as glamorous as it sounds. One handles all the ups and downs of the business and has to look at both, the individualistic and holistic part of the company. As an entrepreneur you are always working, she jokes, as opposed to the corporate life where you do not have to worry about work on the weekends. One has to be prepared before they venture into their business. When we look at a successful entrepreneur, we see the success of the company but often what is missed is all the hard work, stress, and hours of relentless work of the owner.
Starting off her own business, with all the risks, obstacles in a country away from the homeland, may scare many aspiring entrepreneurs but not Sumeera. She sees this as an advantage and advocates others to see it this way as well, “While a newly landed person may not have the full cultural context”, she adds, “they should be able to use their cultural perspective to come up with creative concepts for solving problems here.”
It’s easy to see why Sumeera Rasul succeeded. She believes that everything is possible and is aware that a negative mindset is the biggest hindrance to anyone’s success, entrepreneur or not. One will always have a reason not to take that step forward but once you overcome this, you will be soon on the road to success. Living with Sumeera’s philosophy is not bad, “Turn obstacles into opportunities, and plow through hindrances by being adaptive”, she says.