We have all been “forced” to operate outside of our comfort zones for a very long period. What an opportunity to grow and stretch beyond what we thought we were capable of.
COVID might have very well been the wake-up call humans all needed to remember that we are all citizens of the world, and we must be kind and compassionate to one another. Perhaps we will have a more thoughtful and gentler world after we are through this.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.
As a part of our series about how busy women leaders are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Arezou Zarafshan, founder and CEO of a technology startup (DispatchMom), a startup coach and advisor (AZA Consulting) and a former corporate executive.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I have followed a meandering path. I started my career as an engineer in a Fortune 50 technology company and grew to senior and executive levels rather quickly. In 2011, I completely redesigned my career to focus on marketing and analytics instead of engineering. In 2016, I joined the startup world as a CMO and co-founder of an early Seed-stage company. That was my first experience as a startup operator, founder, and investor. Although that experience did not materialize, I learned how much I loved entrepreneurship and the startup ecosystem. Since 2018, I have been advising entrepreneurs and founders on taking their product to market, validating product-market-fit, and raising capital, and I have loved every minute of it. Last year and out of necessity, I founded my technology startup. I am a mom of a young boy, and before COVID, I found it incredibly challenging to maintain my professional identity while being a mother. I needed on-demand, safe, and reliable help to come to my aid and help me with childcare and chores. That is how DispatchMom was born. DispatchMom is the one-stop-shop providing on-demand help for busy moms. My vision? Become the “Uber for all things moms.” We are about to launch in Colorado, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
There have been many interesting stories and along with that lessons! When I was at the initial phases of founding DispatchMom, I shared my idea with a good friend who also happens to be an entrepreneurial mother. As soon as the cat was out of the bag, a light bulb went on in my friend’s mind. She energetically shared how the business model should look and how I could successfully build the company. While I loved her enthusiasm, her ideas and opinions were the complete opposite of how I had envisioned starting the company. Prior to spilling the beans, I was spent; building something much more complex and overhead-heavy than what DispatchMom is now. Luckily, objectivity won and I built the company based on her recommended business model.
Sure, I wanted to “own” my story and be the master-architect of everything related to the company and brand. Many of us entrepreneurial-spirited dreamers do. However, without putting my ego aside, DispatchMom would cease to exist. Or at least I’d still be back in phase 1. Sometimes the best gifts are unsolicited opinions. Moral of the story: there is no room for ego in entrepreneurship.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
DispatchMom is the most exciting project that I am working on right now. As a mom and especially now during the pandemic, I know how frazzled, time-constrained, and stressed out moms are. DispatchMom will give us a little breathing room. I want to hear about customers napping more. Stressing less over dinner because DispatchMom offers oven-ready meals delivered. More time to catch up on their favorite books while a trusted sitter is taking care of the kids. I created DispatchMom because I don’t believe we should have to choose between our identities as mothers and as professionals, students, friends, and leaders. Unfortunately, COVID has exacerbated our situations with homeschooling being added to the long list of moms’ responsibilities. While the situation is challenging, the need for DispatchMom couldn’t be timelier.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
The person who initially lit the fire in me to excel and go beyond my comfort zone was my father. Although I was born and raised in the Middle-East, where women are in general, considered second-class citizens, my father was a staunch feminist and a big proponent of education and women’s independence. From before I entered elementary school, my father encouraged me to ask questions, take risks, challenge authority, to be a free thinker and to never depend on another human being to provide for me. After immigrating to the United States, there have been many people who have been my cheerleaders, supporters, and advocates. I am forever grateful to my tribe for having pushed me to get to where I am now.
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman business leader during this pandemic?
We can all agree providing to your child(ren) with work obligations can be a considerable challenge. Often, it’s a lack of peace and quiet as you try to remind your children you need to focus. Sometimes that is okay. Other times, (later that day/week/year), you realize you should have just dropped the work thing and taken care of whatever was the pressing issue for your child at the time. This balancing act, figuring out what action to take is right and when, is an art. Some draw a hard line and say the needs of their child should always come first. As a business owner, you can be on a call with a very important client and your boy is upset because his favorite toy is missing? Do you drop the call and tend to your son? Or does one isolate themselves to finish the call? Neither of these answers is wrong. To execute on your workload (motherhood and career) at any given moment, with objectivity and a clear mind, is the real “balancing act”.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
I am a big believer in schedules and planners. Every Sunday, I *try* to plan my week and put things in my calendar and my paper planner. Also, I am very clear with my family about my schedule and my time. I have found that the surprise element for my son (when he thinks mommy is available to play and learns otherwise) is detrimental, so I tell him when I have a call and when he can expect me to resurface, etc. Also, early morning meditations help me start the day with a clear mind so I can continue to build.
Can you share the biggest work-related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
By far, maintaining connections and networking. Women, in general, are less keen on networking, and yet in my experience, networking is the second most critical element to success (the first is grit). Working from home and not having the opportunity to meet new people organically really limits our influence and reach. It is also a challenge to maintain the health of my existing network.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Again, back to calendar and scheduling. I make a point every week to reach out to five people in my network via email and if possible, schedule a quick call with them. I have learned that this has to be scheduled, or it will not happen.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
First and foremost, and if at all possible, have a separate physical space for working. Working from where your family hangs out, such as the kitchen table or family room sofa, conveys that it is okay for your family to integrate themselves into your work. In addition, starting the day early, having a written plan for the kiddos to follow, and most importantly, staying consistent with the routine all help to stay focused while meeting the needs of the family. All that said, we all need to give ourselves some grace. None of us know what we are doing! We all mess up and get frustrated. We are all doing our best. Let’s give ourselves some grace and suspend judgment on ourselves and others.
Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place, or simply staying inside, for long periods with your family?
- Wake up early and meditate
- Create a little corner/haven that is yours and gives you some amount of privacy.
- Schedule alone time every day, and ideally, have your family members have some alone time too.
- As much as you can, do something outside. Perhaps a little walk or even stepping out for 10 minutes and stretching.
- Do one thing that is new with the family every week. It could be cooking a new cuisine together or gardening. The point is for your family to share an experience that strengthens the bonds and hopefully creates ample opportunities for enjoyment and laughter.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
There are far more than five reasons to be hopeful, but I will list five here.
1. We have all been “forced” to operate outside of our comfort zones for a very long period. What an opportunity to grow and stretch beyond what we thought we were capable of.
2. Many industries that needed to be disrupted went through ultra-accelerated disruption. For example, a year ago, it was uncommon for someone’s primary care doctor to examine a patient over a video conference! Today, telehealth and telemedicine are the primary ways people connect with their primary care doctors. Same for working from home or working from the office. These days, employers are very open to remote workers, which gives employees a tremendous amount of flexibility.
3. COVID showed all of us how fragile life is. So many lives were lost, despite all odds. This should wake us up to enjoy every moment of life and be kind and compassionate to one another.
4. Our air is cleaner, our environment is healthier, and wildlife is having a bit of break from all the damage we have left to their habitat. I sincerely hope that we continue this trend and not revert to the harmful environmental practices of the past.
5. COVID might have very well been the wake-up call humans all needed to remember that we are all citizens of the world, and we must be kind and compassionate to one another. Perhaps we will have a more thoughtful and gentler world after we are through this.
From your experience, what are a few ideas that one can use to effectively offer support to their family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
I think the most important acts are to listen, empathize, and support. Anxiety is an emotion, and, in most cases, it will not be quieted by logic. On the other hand, empathy provides comfort and invites reflection. In one of the darkest periods of my life when I struggled with a debilitating disease that may have doomed my future, my husband said to me: “I believe in you. You will figure it out.” That simple phrase has been life-changing for me; I remember it, every time I feel like I am hitting a brick wall. To everyone who is feeling anxious, I say this: “COVID does not define you. Let how you “figure it out” be the defining element of who you are and what you are made of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
― George Bernard Shaw
From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to live my life to the fullest and make a difference, albeit a small difference for others. I view my life as an opportunity to leave a legacy. I have paid a heavy price for standing up and speaking out against imbalances that I have observed. That said, if I have been able to make a tiny difference for someone in some way, I would consider my life a success.
How can our readers follow you online?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!