Self-Awareness. Knowing what makes you happy and what sustains you keeps the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur from getting too extreme. It’s extremely important to maintain a balance in your life and without the knowledge of how to balance your life, that’s nearly impossible. Just like my lowest point, when I was feeling down and a bit defeated, the best solution for me was to start getting back to the person that I wanted to be — a person who spends lots of time with family, who enjoys a walk in the fresh midday air, and leads a healthful, natural lifestyle. Making these changes helped me to better balance my work and personal life, sustaining my mental health to make better decisions in all areas of my life.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Rumana Bai.
Rumana Bai is the owner and founder of Turmerry, a North Carolina-based e-commerce company offering natural, organic, and affordable bedding products. As a wife and mother of two, it’s her goal to bring a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle to families just like hers around the world.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I started out as an Integrative Natural Health coach and e-commerce marketer. As I helped and watched other entrepreneurs grow their new businesses, I wanted to do the same for myself. I noticed a lack of natural and organic products available at an affordable price point and wanted to fill that gap for families exactly like mine who were needed a better way to buy products that they use every day — their beds! We started out small with items like sheets, pillows, and pillow covers and were fortunate enough to be able to expand to large items like organic mattress protectors, mattress toppers, and eventually mattresses.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
Health coaching and running an agency at the same time left very little time for me to spend with my family, so I began looking for a niche in the natural and organic industry that I could dive into. By chance, I was in the market for an all-natural mattress and started researching online marketplaces for any available options. When I settled on one, I was instantly enamored with the look, the feel, and the comfort it provided — which was very similar to memory foam. Not to mention, it was completely toxin-free and fit nicely into the lifestyle I wanted to create for myself and my family.
During the summer of 2019, I went on a trip to India to visit family. Rubber trees are very common in India and knowing that latex comes from rubber trees, the vision of an all-natural, organic mattress made from latex started to form in my mind. I immediately started researching, finding out everything I could about the subject, and even networking with exporters and Fair-Trade Certified manufacturers of organic bedding products. The way that every piece of the puzzle came together quickly and easily felt like kismet — this was the direction I needed to be heading.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
As cliche as it sounds, working for someone else never fits into my plan.
Back in India, my father and many other members of my family are established, entrepreneurs. For decades, they were traveling merchants who traded in different parts of India. While I was in college, I worked with him for a time, just to experience the workplace and its culture. At this time, I also started developing websites and helping exporters back home in India to get leads from companies in the US. Before I completed my Bachelor’s degree, and maybe even before I realized it myself, I was running my own business. I have never even worked in another company.
I don’t want to say that I am a natural-born entrepreneur because I’m still constantly learning. I firmly believe that entrepreneurs are a combination of nature and nurture. I don’t pretend to know everything about starting or running a business, but I have always had the motivation to make things work, the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, and the drive to see things through.
There are many people who prefer the safety net of working in someone else’s business. But once you enjoy the freedom of entrepreneurship it’s difficult, if not impossible, to go back to working for someone else.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
Yes, my husband absolutely inspired my entrepreneurial journey and has been a pillar of support for me for more than 20 years.
Before we got married, I was 19 and working toward my medical degree in homeopathy. He came to the US before I did and spent a year here to begin his career. When we got married, I wanted to join him in the US, which meant putting my medical schooling aside. Despite this personal setback, he assured me that he would help me complete my degree here in the States. While he was away, I developed an interest in computers, and when I was able to re-enroll in school, I decided to pursue my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science rather than continuing with medicine. To support me, he paid for all of my tuition and helped fund my first business while it got off the ground. He always believed in me and did everything in his power to help me achieve my ambitions.
With Turmerry, I was finally able to combine my health-based interests and computer science experience with an e-commerce store that offers organic and natural bedding. My husband continues to help me out with some of our operations and logistics.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
We listen to what our customers want, even if it’s something a little outside our comfort zone. When COVID-19 became a global pandemic, we knew people were having issues finding PPE and we already had pre-existing supplier relationships that would make it easier for us to offer the products that our customers really needed to take care of themselves and their families. The response from our customers was overwhelmingly positive. They were overjoyed to have access to well-made, natural, and affordable protective products.
Another quality that helps us stand out from our competitors is our commitment to sustainability. Since our products are organic and natural, oftentimes our customers will inquire about other sustainability efforts in our business, as these two lifestyles typically go hand-in-hand. That’s why, whenever possible, we don’t ship our bedding products in plastic packaging and have turned to source recycled and biodegradable plastics for the rest of our shipping materials. Unfortunately, there are still some things that must use vacuum sealing along with plastic packaging, but we continue to look for more sustainable options to become available.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Curiosity combined with self-motivation: My innate sense of curiosity is what led to my interest in health coaching and the wellness industry. I wanted to learn more about creating a cleaner, safer environment for my family. That required a lot of self-directed researching and learning about the ins and outs of a lot of different materials, businesses, and processes. Without self-motivation, that interest may not have led to anything or worse yet, led to a job I didn’t truly enjoy.
Passionate diligence: Being diligent is important, no matter your venture. There is a lot of work that goes into becoming an “overnight success”. Sometimes it’s a slow and steady race, other times it’s a quick sprint. You have to be able to respond and keep working at it and be willing to fight for it. I have had a lot of late nights, but every time, it was my passionate diligence that has pushed me through tough times.
Ethics and Integrity: My business isn’t about creating an economic windfall for myself. Instead, it’s about helping other families, much like my own, find safer, more natural alternatives for products that we use every single day. I truly believe that my business will have a positive impact on my customer’s lives and, in that way, hopefully, change the world for the better. With all the greenwashing, little white lies, and hidden truths out there, it’s almost hard to be competitive in the e-commerce industry without sacrificing or compromising on your integrity, but I will continue to stand by my personal ethics to deliver high-quality products at the most affordable prices I can and to be truthful and transparent with my customers. I not only think this is something that sets my business apart from the others out there, but I also believe that this quality is one that will propel Turmerry to success.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
When I first started my business, I was told to hide or whitewash my identity. I am a Muslim immigrant with a headscarf, and when I first came to the US there was a lot of misinformation in the media about people with these characteristics. However, I am a US citizen who immigrated legally to this country more than two decades ago. I am also someone who believes in the goodness of people and that I will receive back the positivity and kindness that I put out into the world.
As a business owner, I want to attract customers who are tolerant and accepting towards other religions, cultures, and beliefs and people who appreciate the diversity that immigration brings to this country. Hiding myself and the most important things about my life only cater to those with backward beliefs about “the other”. I never want Turmerry to act as a faceless corporation, but rather to be seen as the small, family-run business it is — as well as one that appreciates the opportunities in this country and supports our local and national economy.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
Don’t make employees wear too many hats. In startup culture, hiring budgets are often very small and so entrepreneurs look for employees who have a wide breadth of skills and experience. When first joining exciting startups, employees are usually willing to jump into new roles. However, I’ve found that asking them to join on too many projects or split their time between too many unrelated tasks is the fastest way to burn them out. Because unfortunately, budget constraints still exist, and it’s often difficult to compensate them for all of the various roles they’re taking on.
One important way that we mitigate this problem is to work with a lot of freelancers and temporary employees, especially at busy times like the holidays. Our executive team also is never afraid to step in and get our hands dirty to help out whenever needed. We have an open-door policy for all of our employees and encourage them to come forward if they’re feeling overwhelmed or need to ask for help, without fear of repercussions.
For our customer support team, although we have many policies in place, we try our best to be flexible, adapt, and go the extra mile, not just for our customers but for our team as well. Customer support is one of the toughest jobs in any customer-facing industry. They are the ones who have to pick up the phone and deal with unhappy customers, not us! And they do such a fantastic job resolving customer issues that we want to make their lives as easy as possible. When we give them the flexibility to change policies to accommodate the needs of our customers, it helps them to quickly build rapport with customers while also boosting employee satisfaction. When they feel empowered, their jobs are infinitely easier and more enjoyable.
As a company, our two pillars of culture are quality over quantity and a positive work-life balance. We try to never set unrealistic expectations or tight, unachievable deadlines for our employees. When we have success, we celebrate as a team with office lunches or other rewards. We also believe that people should only have to work when they’re at work. While we expect focus during working hours, we do not expect our employees to check email or work while they are at home with their families. Just like my employees, when I am home, I want to be able to spend quality time with my husband and children rather than worried about work.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
Be transparent about your business. Always be willing to share success and failure with those who can benefit from your experience.
Building trust with your customers means being able to deliver what was promised in a timely manner. In our business, building credibility means not only delivering the products that were promised but also being accountable for your actions. Mistakes happen, that’s inevitable in business as in life, but we always take responsibility for our actions and do everything in our power to correct the mistake. In order to build our authority with our customers and within the business world, we strive for consistency in everything that we do, from our actions, to what we say on our website, how we conduct ourselves in the workplace, the way we interact with our community online and locally, and even what we do in our homes. We live the mission of affordable, natural, and healthy living in every facet of our lives.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
There is so much false advertising in the online world, especially in the world of organic and natural products. Whether it comes from influencers, bloggers, or companies that greenwash their offerings, consumers are wary of almost everything they see or read.
We try to go against the old business adage that “business isn’t personal”. We believe that everything about business should be personal, upfront, honest, and real. The way that consumers buy products has changed, and there are few people out there who are interested in supporting faceless corporations that they feel they can’t trust or who have lost credibility with their customer base. Instead, people have refocused on supporting local or small, family-run businesses, or those who work for a cause. People are searching for authenticity and genuine intention. We started this business to provide for and nurture our family but also to take part in solving worldwide problems like climate change and unhealthy living practices. We are here to stay, hopefully for many years to come, and to serve families who are looking for non-toxic products for themselves, their children, and their homes.
What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Working as the head of an e-commerce agency that specialized in marketing and website design, I have seen many business start-ups come and go. In e-commerce, too many founders believe that if they build it, customers will come. They don’t have a broad understanding of business and try to simply delegate tasks to others without knowing anything about the “right way” things should be done. On the other hand, there are founders who try to learn everything and do it all on their own. Neither extreme is good, and both scenarios rarely work out. As founders and entrepreneurs, we should have a basic understanding of many things. Then, when budgets expand, we also must know when to delegate to the experts who know more than we do. We can defer to their knowledge while maintaining our curiosity that will help us stay involved. Knowing the work that it takes to accomplish great things in each section of our business also creates more appreciation for the hard work our employees are doing to help the business grow and succeed.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
Being an entrepreneur is a means, not an end. Being an entrepreneur is a way to reach the kind of lifestyle you want with no guarantee of success. Just like with any other job, a lot of things will happen outside of your control. However, with entrepreneurship, there are many more variables and no contracted earnings. You only succeed as much as you put into it, but circumstances can cause you to fail. It’s simultaneously “sink or swim” and “leaving things up to chance”. That’s what causes the fluctuation from highs to lows. Sometimes your hard work pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. But no matter what happens, it’s a lesson learned.
In a traditional job, many things are predictable and stay the same — to an extent. As a founder or entrepreneur, especially in the early years, things are constantly changing and unpredictable. There may be days where sales are really high and the next, they may be low, with no exact reasoning for the drastic fluctuations. You may blame the weather, the Super Bowl, Coronavirus, or even current events because you have no other explanations. There is an infinite number of variables in business that can cause highs and lows in business financials, customer satisfaction, employee morale, and your personal demeanor.
For someone who owns their own business, it’s important to always keep your “why” at the center of everything that you do. For me, it’s the ability and the freedom to create my own life and make my own decisions while also helping those around me to lead happier, healthier lives. Seeing the results of my own inspiration, ambitions, and effort spur real results — whether good or bad — is always a learning experience for improvement as we reach for future success.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
The highest moment for me since starting Turmerry was actually at the end of 2020 — not the best year for everyone as we all know. Turmerry reached a milestone of donating 10,000 trees to be planted in American forests. In only one year of business, we were able to contribute so much to this effort to combat deforestation and climate change. When we chose American Forests as our partner to create positive change in the world, I never imagined that we would be able to make such a difference in only one year — we are just a small, North Carolina business, with no investors or outside funding. Seeing this accomplishment motivated me to work even harder on my business so we can plant even more trees in 2021 and hopefully start contributing to more causes.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
While trying to drive my business forward, I found myself working long hours including evenings and weekends. As someone who enjoyed going for long walks and being active in nature, the reality of spending long hours in front of a computer was taking a toll. I had constant body aches and pains and started to become very moody, emotionally vulnerable, and mentally out of sorts. I soon realized that going without physical activity and natural sunlight was putting me completely out of balance.
Constantly being active in my business was exciting, but as a mother of two, a wife, and a health coach I truly believe in the power of having a good balance between the spiritual, physical, social, mental, and emotional facets of my life. When that balance was off, I was off, and I was feeling the consequences of that. Once I realized where my unease and distress were coming from, I was able to start making small changes in my life like scheduling time for my walks, delegating more responsibilities, and setting realistic working hours that helped put everything back into balance.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
Bouncing back doesn’t happen overnight. It’s very difficult to recreate good habits once you’ve let them slip. But by adding small changes back into my routine gradually, I was able to find a healthier balance again. It’s still something that I work on every day to make sure things don’t go back to the way they were.
I have to make conscious decisions to maintain the positive change — like getting outside and soaking in all the sunlight on beautiful days, visiting the local farmer’s market more often and cooking healthy meals for my family, spending more tech-free time with my family. These are the small things that are slowly helping me get back to where I was. After all, I realize that I am not working towards perfection, I’m working towards progress. There are good days and bad days, but making sure that the good outnumbers and outweighs the bad is my ultimate goal.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is about charging through difficult situations or failures by adapting, changing, and creating new paths forward. To truly embody resilience, people must see failures and difficulties as learning opportunities. My faith, Islam, like many other religions, teaches us that this world is not paradise, and this world is filled with challenges. We will constantly be tested and if we have the patience, perseverance, and qualities of acceptance, then we can conquer those tests. By consciously making an effort to remember and recognize our blessings, we build the strength to be resilient no matter what comes our way.
Resilience isn’t about doing everything on your own. Resilience means building a system of support that will be there to lean on during difficult times like rainy day funds, family, creating a village to pick up the slack when workdays run long. I also love this quote from the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) about difficult times and think of it often when I face unexpected challenges, “Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks God and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus it is good for him.” (Sahih Muslim)
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
Adaptability — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world, the early days took a heavy toll on e-commerce. So many people weren’t sure where their next paycheck was coming from or what new challenges the next month would bring. Seeing sales start to decline was scary. But instead of approaching the problem with a duck and cover attitude, we searched for a solution that would help us pivot our business to weather the short-term storm. For Turmerry, that meant leveraging our bedding suppliers to provide PPE, which was in short supply at the start of the pandemic. We were able to quickly produce and provide organic cotton face masks, face masks that were made in the USA, and even wholesale masks in large quantities for businesses. This willingness to adapt allowed us to keep our business going, and now it’s allowing us to spend more time and money promoting our primary product line of organic, natural bedding.
Risk Tolerance — There is an inherent risk in starting your own business, especially one that doesn’t take on any outside funding. Every decision you make has a consequence, good or bad that informs the next decision that you make. As your business grows, more and more people depend on you for their livelihood, but you still have to be willing to take calculated risks. Without risks, businesses become stagnant and will often fail. So, not taking any risks can be equally as damaging to a business as pursuing a course of action that doesn’t work out.
Self-Awareness — Knowing what makes you happy and what sustains you keeps the highs and lows of being an entrepreneur from getting too extreme. It’s extremely important to maintain a balance in your life and without the knowledge of how to balance your life, that’s nearly impossible. Just like my lowest point, when I was feeling down and a bit defeated, the best solution for me was to start getting back to the person that I wanted to be — a person who spends lots of time with family, who enjoys a walk in the fresh midday air, and leads a healthful, natural lifestyle. Making these changes helped me to better balance my work and personal life, sustaining my mental health to make better decisions in all areas of my life.
Patience — Success doesn’t come overnight. An impatient entrepreneur might fold up shop right before a big break or make decisions too hastily that threaten the sustainability of their business. With the patience to grow steadily and work hard to make good things happen, businesses are more likely to succeed. As I mentioned before, we started out small, with only a few product offerings, even though our dreams for the future were bigger than that. Within a year we were able to start making and selling our own primary bedding products like natural, organic latex mattress toppers.
Love of Learning — Being a successful entrepreneur means constantly learning. Learning new things about your vertical, business, marketing, and even finding learning opportunities in challenges and failures. Natural curiosity and love of learning are vital characteristics of every entrepreneur. If I hadn’t taken an interest in researching and learning about healthy living, I never would have found my niche as an entrepreneur. Turmerry is a collaboration of the things that interest me and finding a way to combine health, natural living, and e-commerce keeps me motivated to continuously learn more that I can then apply to my business and help it continue to thrive and grow.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is being able to stand back up after being knocked down. These people realize that failure isn’t the end. It just means you need to attack the problem from a different angle and learn from mistakes. Having a plan in place to help you respond to a crisis always helps ease the sting as well.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
A few years after coming to the US, my husband was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis and I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Both of us were only in our early 30s and never expected to experience anything like this so early on in our lives. These difficult times taught me to look for ways that I could change our lives for the better. I dove into learning as much as I could about healthy living and healthy lifestyle changes and was determined to get us both back in good health.
Though it took many years to adapt to these new lifestyle changes, my health and my family’s health are better than ever before. When we were first diagnosed, it was hard not to imagine a future filled with doctor visits, radiation treatment, and overall bad health. But looking back, I see that it was possible to make positive changes and even to come out healthier on the other side. 15 years ago, organic and natural living wasn’t as popular as it is today, but with determined to learn as much as I could instead of just going with the flow. I think these experiences built up resiliency in me and my family. We always look back and remember these difficult times and how we overcame it with the help of God and with resiliency.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I have to be honest, I’m not naturally an overly optimistic person. But I wholeheartedly believe a positive mindset is the best gift you can give yourself, even when it’s really hard. Luckily for me, my husband is an eternal optimist. When I have mixed feelings or start to doubt myself, I lean on his support and the positivity of others to keep me going. My faith also helps me to remain positive and builds me up when I’m feeling down. It’s easy to get into a negative pattern, but realizing that it does me no good and only exacerbates the situation is something I keep in the back of my mind along with the memories of times I was able to successfully navigate difficult times. It’s a strong reminder of the old adage, “this too shall pass”.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Leaders with positive attitudes are leaders that people will look up to and emulate. When company leaders are pessimistic, whether it’s about the future of a business or about life in general, it becomes very difficult for employees and partners to believe in their ability to be successful. And if there isn’t a general feeling of positivity towards the future, employees’ motivation will start to fall — why sink yourself right along with the ship? Being negative leads to a bevy of problems that include burnout, employee turnover, poor team decision-making, inefficiency, and more.
Positive attitudes have exactly the opposite, more desirable effect. When leaders seek opportunities to use positivity, everyone around them tends to follow that example. Leading with positivity inspires teamwork, resiliency, patience, diligence, and eases stress among your employees.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
The most inspirational quote I’ve ever heard is simple, succinct, and applies to every tough situation entrepreneurs may find themselves in.
“Everything is figureoutable!” — Marie Forleo
This is a great reminder for entrepreneurs when they are faced with the inevitable challenges of running their own business. Sometimes it’s best to take a step back from the problem and break it down. Not every problem or issue has to be resolved with one solution. When we break down a big problem into smaller parts, each piece seems more manageable, and that’s when things really get accomplished.
I strongly believe that if you really want something, you can achieve it by following this simple advice. The universe wants us to succeed, but that doesn’t mean that things will always be easy. But, as long as you work hard and actively work towards your goals, you will always find a way.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!