"Creating Jarsss has been a deeply personal experience for me, using leather products as my medium to share my own story of grit and determination with the world. By providing high-quality leather goods at an attainable price point, I hope to encourage the next generation of changemakers, go-getters, and young professionals to achieve their greatest potential. It’s not an easy road, but it sure is rewarding—I know this firsthand. And your Jarsss products will be with you every step of the way. We’re in it together for the long haul. I’m so grateful to have each and every one of you as a part of our Jarsss community. Let’s do great things."
What led you to start your business?
Born and raised in Pakistan, I grew up in a middle-class family. I experienced a unique situation, where attaining basic education had become a challenge. I walked for miles every day to reach the local academy, sometimes took public transportation, as a young woman, in some of the most dangerous pockets of the city. I even had to quit school for a couple of years and began teaching myself, when paying for school became too much for my family. Having experienced the inaccessibility to education first hand, I decided to do something about it. And so, I founded a non-profit, with the mission to deliver scholarships to children in need. Eight years later, the non-profit has helped send more than a hundred students to school. My profile caught the eye of the University of British Columbia, who gave me a generous scholarship. With that, I packed my bags and headed out west six years ago, becoming the first in my family to move outside Pakistan to pursue further education. Jarsss is the culmination of those years of hard work. This business is my chance to combine my passion for design, high-quality craftsmanship, and social activism together into one life-changing business.
As a recent grad, I did not have the luxury to take the financial risk to validate the idea. So, I decided to work for an Education Startup in Toronto. After almost two years, the tiny voice in my head asked me to redirect my focus to this idea. With that in mind, I quit my job and moved back to Karachi for a few months. It was stressful because it was a gamble, as I was leaving a stable job to work on something that may or may not work out. I remember being up at 3:00AM one night thinking about different ways I could fail at this. My dad noticed that and tried to understand what was holding me back. I told him about the financial drain this would be and in response, he made a generous offer, he promised that in case no one other than my mom buys the products, he would cover the startup cost. Although, it never got to that point, these words gave me the push to experiment. I'm grateful that I had someone in my life to promise me that support but I also understand that it's a privilege to have parents who support these crazy ideas of leaving a stable job to 'try-out' an idea. After the launch, I did get back to working full-time for another startup in the Valley, Skylight. It's a construction startup and I work there as a Process Manager. Interestingly enough, everything I learn in my day job can be in some ways applied to Jarsss, so I see this an expedited way to learn the inside and out of running a business. Truthfully, it has also been a source of inspiration because it's a constant reminder that putting yourself on the map doesn't happen overnight, it's playing a long-game that eventually yields results. During the week, I work on solving some of the most interesting challenges pertaining to the construction industry and over the weekends, I focus on creating functional accessories for young professionals in Canada.
Did you always know you would have your own business?
Starting a business and asking other people to buy your creation means shaking a lot of hands, cold-calling and pitching your ideas to every stranger who might be a potential investor. Whereas, I grew up as an introvert, who dreaded spotlight, so no, I never thought of starting a business. I have always been curious about other people's experiences so I thought becoming a talk show host would give me the opportunity to interview people and learn about their perspectives. I don't think it's not too distanced from what I do at Jarsss, today. Jarsss is unique in a way that it's not mass produced, it's created in limited quantities to keep things special. That has shaped the way I interact with anyone interested in owning Jarsss products. It's a very personal exchange, where I share my story, listen to theirs and this exchange gives me an insight into how each one of has a story. Then, if someone chooses to buy a Jarsss product, I basically become part of their narrative and they become a part of my journey. In my opinion, that's way better than having just a conversation as this exchange is more permanent and a constant reminder of grit, resilience and hope.
What has been the hardest thing about starting/building a business?
The hardest thing has been believing in myself. There have been moments, where I questioned myself whether I would be able to pull this off and realized that impostor syndrome is a real thing. In these scenarios, I keep reminding myself two things. The first one is that no one is forcing me to work on this initiative. Therefore, there is no one expecting me to meet certain key performance indicators. I can choose to not work on this cause but then am I someone who will find comfort in not doing anything about things and causes that matter to me? Secondly, I keep defining failure as success. In a way that if I don't get the expected results, I'm still one step ahead as I know what doesn't work and that means I'm one step closer to getting it right next time.
What has surprised you about starting/building a business?
Starting a business can be nerve-wrecking because you are putting a part of yourself out there. However, there is one thing that surprises me till day and that is how kind and supportive people can be. I couldn't have launched Jarsss without the support and encouragement I received from my family, friends and even those strangers, who gave me a pat on the shoulder after I botched a pitch in front of hundred people. It's said that entrepreneurship is a lonely journey and there is some truth in that. However, every time I have called for help, I have received unconditional support including from the members of Founder's Fund. It almost feels unreal, you say the magic word and you will find people going out of your way to help you.
What's the best advice (business or general) that you have ever received?
I have been constantly thinking about these three things that were passed on to me by my mentors: Firstly, our life is the creation of our mind. We are all flawed thinkers with a strong preference for believing that our ideas and right. That's where we need to question our assumptions, get out of our ideological and emotional safety zones. One way to do that is to educate ourselves and it's critical to understand that the purpose of education is not to make us comfortable but it is to make us think. Additionally, as part of this effort, we need to make sure that we get our information from high-calibre resources. Secondly, it is important to realize that when there is a no name for a problem, we can't see a problem, and when we can't see a problem, we can't solve it. Therefore, if you are someone who has multiple identities, being an immigrant, woman of color, the only one in your family with a graduate degree, you are living a unique life and if you see something that's problematic on any front, voice your opinion, find a seat on the table and try to help others, once you have the toolkit to address those challenges. Lastly, unfortunately, we live in our own little bubbles, without the infusion of new experiences, our frame for understanding the world becomes limited. To change that, we need to build ourselves a support system as we will build a board of directors for our companies It means that we need to diversify our circle, surround ourselves with individuals who are subject matter experts on different topics in life so we can always make more holistic decisions with the sound advice of someone who has already been around the block.
What's the worse (or most misleading) advice that you've ever received?
One of the most misguided advice that I have received is to start a business with one single purpose in mind. In this case, I was told to focus on profitability. In theory, it does seem ideal to focus on a single outcome. However, in that moment, I went back to the drawing board and deconstructed the genesis behind starting Jarsss. The answer to that question was to create a model that could be a force of good and to validate that more intentional, conscious way of doing business is a possibility. Another advice that I think was not aligned well with my circumstances was to spend some dollars on user research. As someone who didn't have enough investment to make that decision, I found an alternative way to find whether an idea would fly or not. Instead of spending thousands of dollars, I simply created a Facebook page, spent $50 - $100 to create targeted ads targeting to see whether people engaged with the content or not. Through this approach, I have tested a few ideas and have made informed decisions, before committing to any idea.
Who are some people in business that you admire?
What do you think is different about entrepreneurs than non-entrepreneurs?
In my opinion, it's not about starting a business that makes you an entrepreneur, it's more about the lifestyle that differentiates you from a non-entrepreneur. If these are the two things that you practice in your day to day, you have what it takes to start a business: If you are someone who keeps finding alternative ways to do things, you will find entrepreneurship a rewarding experience. Sometimes, it means going against the tide and not doing things in the most traditional way. For instance, when I wanted to verify whether Jarsss products were at par with other high-end leather brands, I carried the bags on my vacation to Turkey, attended a leather Expo, where I connected with the folks in the leather industry. After several conversations, I finally found a manufacturing unit in a far-fetched neighborhood of Istanbul, where I used Google Translate to converse with a 75 year old, who verified that both the leather and stitching of the products were at par with any other big brand sold internationally. Sometimes you have to do creative problem solving and find ways to do things that you won't find in a self-help book or the internet. Secondly, if you have demonstrated optimism and have stood up to life's trying situations, you have what it takes to take a risk and put yourself out there as an entrepreneur. I don't want to undervalue the importance of being keenly aware of the reality but a little optimism goes a long way. Entrepreneurship, in itself, helps you hone these skills as it's years of growth crammed into weeks and months, which leads to a net effect of having the optimism and grit to take anything in stride. If you are someone, who can showcase rational hope and rational panic, give entrepreneurship a try!
Do you have any books, podcasts or other resources to recommend to other entrepreneurs?
1. Farnam Street (newsletters, podcasts and community for business)
2. How I Built This podcast
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
4. Elpha (an online forum for women in business)
2. How I Built This podcast
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama
4. Elpha (an online forum for women in business)
What led you to join the Founders Fund community and how has it impacted your business?
After I launched Jarsss, the next logical step was to find a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, perhaps a mastermind group. One day, a friend suggested Founder's Fund and it turned out to be more than what I was looking for. In a nutshell, Founders Fund is not just any other community, the program managers are truly and sincerely invested in your growth and success. For a small fees, you can access all the resources that have been curated keeping in mind the challenges of a modern day entrepreneur. It's a place for driven, empathetic and intellectually humble leaders. To give you one example, once you identify any person that you need to be introduced to for advice or mentorship, both Sheena and Amanda will do everything in their power to put you in front of that high-profile individual. There are only a few platforms, where you will find people looking after you as genuinely as they do. My advice to you is that if you really want to invest in yourself this year, apply for the membership as soon as it's open and you will realize that this is the tribe that you were looking for.