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What can Mariam Naficy teach us about How to Succeed In the Face of Adversity?

You don’t have to figure out the cure to a deadly disease, provide shelter to thousands of poverty-struck people, or even get an Olympic gold medal to give yourself a pat on your back. Similarly, acquiring an MBA degree from a reputable institution isn’t the only way you can carve a niche for yourself.

When Mariam Naficy (@mnaficy) started her journey, all she wanted was to create an e-commerce store and work from home. What she didn’t know was that after a decade, she would be running a business of 400+ employees and generating hundreds of millions of dollars in sales.

The Early struggles

When Mariam Naficy graduated from MBA, she dreamed of creating an e-commerce store. Regardless of many pessimistic reflections from the skeptics, she launched anyway in the late 1990s. Gave out every ounce of talent she had, worked day in and day out, and eventually sold her company.

This is when Mariam started noticing the rise of bloggers and suddenly started to marvel at how people were heeding the voice of people they have never met; people not even affiliated with any organization. This is when the idea of crowdsourcing designs and styles dawned on her. She got the ball rolling from some seed funding from a couple of close friends in 2007 and thought to herself, “let’s do it”!

Mariam Naficy shared some insights in an interview, ‘I wanted a lifestyle business. I believed in myself that I could sell stationary online. I invested a lot in learning e-commerce from ground zero. My focus was on getting a good margin, the transaction size, and value-to-weight ratio.’

In an e-commerce business, making the first sale is the hardest part. Sometimes months pass-by and owners bang their heads off the walls. Mariam met the same fate. When months of waiting only reaped one sale, she felt absolutely dazed. At one point, drowning in remorse and self-critique, she even thought of returning the money that remained her and calls it quits. However, Mariam was consistent, passionate, and clear about what she wanted. She sought venture funding in 2008 at the suggestion of a friend, mainly to get her business to a point where she could break even and pay back her friends.

How to Succeed when You Run out of Luck?

No one wants to see their business come under the fire of a famous tech magazine. However, in July of 2008, was publicly criticized by TechCrunch:

“Few people are going to buy from a stationery store they’ve never heard of, giving designers little reason to submit their designs in the first place.” TechCrunch July 2008

Now, the logical thing to do was to close the business and start something else. But not Mariam. She ignored everyone who didn’t trust her idea and focused her attention on the consumers.

“At age 28, I had no retail experience, no consumer marketing experience, and no real Internet experience. But I decided I wanted to work for myself. I felt starting a company would enable me to get the responsibility I deserved and that I couldn’t do that within the confines of a bigger company.” ~Mariam Naficy

Instead of going towards the rejection, Mariam snubbed off all the denials and restated her strategy. When everything was falling apart, ‘3 orders in a week’ showed a sign of life.

As an Entrepreneur hope is something that can keep you going. When the investors are against you, when your friends are against you, it is hope, it is gratitude that makes everything worth an effort.

The road to success is rife with failures. When the designs were not selling as per assumption, Mariam did some optimizations. It’s so easy to shut yourself down when things don’t work out. However, to keep trying when things start going south is the real challenge for every Entrepreneur.

One thing that Mariam talked about a lot in her interviews is that she was always a risk-taker. The greatest regret is not trying hard enough. Next comes people management. When Mariam devised strategies for, the focus was on how to succeed by managing people the right way.

Mostly, owners use the funding to pay up employees. While in reality, what they need is to take some extra funding and use it as a runway. In any business, there is much optimization that needs to be done.

We develop websites that drive sales

Every Entrepreneur must leave much room to fail if they are planning to succeed big time. In the scheme of how to manage, it’s essential to train yourself to learn from every failure.

“Don’t be afraid to develop a contrarian viewpoint on what type of a person is perfect for your company as CTO and how you’re going to find that person.” ~Mariam Naficy

Moreover, previously VCs were looking for people with MBA degrees. Now the trend has changed entirely. It is more about finding talented website developers or UI designers. It is less about high-end degrees and more about finding the right people for your business.

Professional mobile app developers or even website developers are hard to find. This is a defining moment for people who think that just owning a degree can help them succeed. Times have changed, and people are looking forward to people who are talented in some specific niche.

Some valuable lessons we can all learn from Mariam Naficy

Find something that energizes you:  In the end, it is not all about making money. If your business is not stimulating you every day, there is a good chance that you’re not prepared for it. Find a place or create a place where you can grow personally and professionally.

Work towards a shared vision: People work for various reasons. However, if you want to get the maximum potential out of them, it’s necessary to bring them on the same page. Work towards a single goal. Everyone in the company must know the entire purpose and take small steps daily to move towards the ultimate goal.

Take calculated risks: When Mariam launched her second business, she learned from her previous mistakes and took more risks. No one regrets missing an opportunity. If you’re not growing, you’re not working hard enough. Growth brings life to everything we do. Taking calculated risks enables a brand to fail and learn from it. It is good to test various things and go for what is working for your brand.

Believe in yourself: Whatever you do, never stop believing in yourself. Belief is the ultimate motivator for anyone who is willing to sustain in the long-haul. Take incremental steps daily to achieve small things. When you get small daily wins, you will gain confidence in your abilities.

Over to you

Being an Entrepreneur is not an easy job. It takes more than skimping on meals or compromising on your sleep. If you want to create a business that changes the lives of people, you must start by believing in yourself when everyone else says otherwise. Learn from your mistakes and work on improving every aspect of your business. If Mariam Naficy can defy the odds and achieve her dream, why can’t you?

Yousuf Rafi

A Caffeine dependent non-mainstream person trying to elevate small talk to medium talk. I know I will win, not immediately but definitely. I do most of the talking in my head. However, for other things, I prefer writing blogs.

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