Do the most uncomfortable thing FIRST. This was the most challenging thing for me. I always wanted to the little and easy things first. Well, because it was easy and it made me feel like I can just check it off my list! But it didn’t get me too far. The thing you want to do the least is probably the thing that is the most important for your business success. So just take a deep breath, close out all the other tabs and just DO THAT ONE THING! You’ll feel better after it is done, I promise!
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Noor Ali. Dr. Noor Ali is a Bangladeshi-American medical doctor who champions the way for female entrepreneurs and creates fresh perspectives on health insurance options from an inside lens. As a first-time mother and business owner, she combines her innate desire to make a global impact and her powers of sheer determination to not only survive but thrive. When she is not taking care of her little one and making strides, you can find her curled up in bed with a book!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Hi! Sure! Well… health insurance is not a career most people seek out, unless they are pointed down this path. I certainly had some invisible stepping stones placed in front of me that led from completing medical school and training in Bangladesh to moving back to the USA and ultimately settling in Tampa, Florida. There was a time I was quite overqualified in skills and underqualified on paper. The waves of rejections ultimately empowered me to not place my self worth in others’ hands and just pave my own path. When this career opportunity presented itself, I did not have much of a choice but to take it. Soon, I discovered that this is the perfect blend of my clinical educational background and entrepreneurial work ethic.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Probably, the most interesting stories are the ones that took place during my all-time lows. The times where everything seems to crumble and the doubt and skepticism of others around you slowly sleep into the gyri of your brain. It’s the decisions and actions, after those lowest of lows that are the defining moments to success.
I remember times when I first started where I was driving 6 hours a day to learn this new career. There were times I could not afford gas money. Times I was so exhausted from my day, I fell asleep at the wheel. Dark, awful times that simply sound amusing now that I think back. The human psyche is so interesting in how those same events are viewed at the present time, and then again in hindsight.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Hmmm… the funniest mistake I made when I was starting this career in health insurance is probably mistakenly saying “I’m here to help you figure out your car insurance”. This whole industry was so foreign to me, I barely knew what I was doing. Home, auto, health, it all started to blur together! Now, I am an EXPERT in the health insurance industry, how ironic!
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?
Yes! Definitely my husband. Not just from a “supportive figure at home” perspective, but also from a very practical and technical standpoint. I went to an accelerated medical program right after graduating from high school. Then a career in public health. I had no real business, marketing or accounting knowledge or acumen. Yet, here I was pursuing my own business. He has a strong technology and finance background and he was able to advise me throughout and establish processes to streamline every stage of my business. Simple things like using spreadsheets; I felt very uncomfortable doing because I had no experience. He really helped me to set up and learn a few tricks that accelerated my business growth.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I would say self- doubt. If a woman read that stat, they might think that 20% is a superhuman breed of women and they themselves are not capable of such feats. But the reality is that those women are just women like me or you. In order to empower other women to recognize that, we need to show that anyone can create a company, and here is how we did it!
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I would say more readily available access to knowledge and resources. I’ll bet the first question a woman has when thinking about starting a company is…. What’s the first step? This is where government administrations like the Small Business Administration can provide resources that give instruction, point out free resources or make funds more accessible to female founders.
As a society, female founders can offer their knowledge and mentorship for free. In addition to their brand services, one aspect of that brand could be to offer mentorship to others who want to do the same and don’t know where to start. This is something I do regularly to my friends/family or anyone who asks! It’s important to pay it forward.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Yes! Women are in a category of their own in terms of “getting SH*T done”! I think there is a scientific and evolutionary aspect that has created a certain capability in women that is very naturally empowering. If we can just demonstrate that to women, or women can just get a taste of their own prowess, I think they can change the world.
Also, the perspective that women bring to the table is unparallel. Our personal encounters of childbirth, motherhood, gender challenges, cultural expectations all contribute to a very complex human experience. All of this translates to a perspective that many spheres of business are lacking to accelerate progress.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
I would like to say that being a founder does not mean grueling back breaking work forever, and it also doesn’t mean sipping cocktails on beaches all the time. I see these two polar extremes of representations of what it means to be an entrepreneur and founder and it does not have to be that way!
For me personally, that push to establish and set up a strong foundation of the start up phase did take one year of intense focused labor. But now that I am comfortably in the growth phase, I’m certainly not sipping cocktails every day, but I also have found my perfect balance. I chose to work at my office every other day and care for my son every other day. When I am working on my brand, I am fully focused on business and don’t leave until I get my work done. Similarly, when I am with my son, my focus on solely on his growth development and I don’t take any business calls or emails.
This balance of every other day work and family has been the peace that I needed and it is quite achievable. I am not in either extremes and there is a world in between. Here I am, happily living in that world!
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
There is really one trait I look for when seek to mentor founders or assess the likelihood of their “success” and that trait is perseverance.
I think the one question that really matters is, “Will you keep getting up and trying again each time you fall?”
If you immediately answer yes, to that question in your mind, guess what, you’ll make it! Go for it, whatever it is. Don’t stop and don’t give up!
Founders will fail, that is inevitable. No one has it all figured out in their first try. But how you use that failure to plan your next decision is crucial to determining success in any industry.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Document everything! The importance of having content and creating systems as you build your company is so important. It is ten times harder to go back and write up procedures for the tasks you do daily. In fact, most times, if you don’t do it from the start, the task seems so daunting you just give up altogether and that creates a bottleneck to growth. The mountain of tasks is too great to climb so founders are more willing to scrap the need altogether! It’s also quite hard to go back and “wish” you had taken pictures or taken a video that you could have used. Just get into the habit of documenting everything business related.
2. Do the most uncomfortable thing FIRST. This was the most challenging thing for me. I always wanted to the little and easy things first. Well, because it was easy and it made me feel like I can just check it off my list! But it didn’t get me too far. The thing you want to do the least is probably the thing that is the most important for your business success. So just take a deep breath, close out all the other tabs and just DO THAT ONE THING! You’ll feel better after it is done, I promise!
3. Just because you can’t do everything all at once does not make you incapable. I stand proudly representing mothers in science who are also boss business women and want to do it all. I have it all but I used to feel quite pressured to do x, y and z otherwise I wouldn’t be fitting this self created mold of “women who have it all”. Although, it’s absolutely possible to want and have it all, it’s quite impossible to do it all simultaneously, and alone. I used to link my accomplishments to my capability. I had a wonderful coach, Aimee Teasdale who helped me to disassociate that connection in my head. Just because I am not doing it all simultaneously does not mean that I am not capable of doing it. I am infinitely capable. And my accomplishments are not linked to my capability whatsoever.
4. Your timelines don’t have to look like your role models’ timeline. It’s important to have emulated your role models and those who are already where you want to be in your business. But I used to think lesser of myself when I took more time to get there. I failed to take into account everything else I had accomplished in that timeline, that my comparative role model hadn’t. Everyone’s timelines are quite different and unique challenges are also different. Don’t compare success with mimicking timelines. You will get there when it is right for YOU to get there.
5. Letting go of control will be the most liberating thing you can do for your business. As a founder, it’s easy to take excessive pride in breeding a company from an idea to a profit-making venture. That’s your baby and you should be proud! But delegating your vision to others is the best thing you can do to watch your baby grow and take flight. I did this much later than I should have and struggled with the weight of the world on my shoulders. And it really prevented me from standing up straight and tall and projecting my company’s vision farther. Once I distributed my brands’ responsibilities, I was able to stand tall and see a much clearer trajectory of where I want my brand to go.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I’d like to think so! I love sharing my success and work to mentor youth in my area to allow them the same opportunity and career. I train them to build their brand from scratch and offer the same resources I have access to to get there faster, if they choose. I’m currently hiring in the Tampa Bay area.
I also offer free advice and mentorship to any friends and family, especially female Asian founders who feel unsure of the first step to start their own business. I offer assurance and encouragement, but more importantly, the sequence of steps of what practically needs to be done to go from idea to profit.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would like to inspire a movement where we all discuss and share our failures more. We highlight SUCCESS so much as if it’s the only thing worth celebrating. The truth is that no-one reaches success without countless failures. But those failures are swept under the rug in shame. I propose to we all talk about our failures to success, so that those going through a rough trough can know that everyone goes through this and everyone comes out the other side as well. I think highlighting failures of the most successful people can be quite empowering.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I am quite inspired by homepreneurs and mothers who value their family and business equally. I’m a big fan of Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media. When I was pregnant with my first baby and also working feverishly on building my business, I realized how important both of those things were to me. They were both my literal and metaphorical babies.
I listened to a podcast episode where Shama said she was working and tending to her clients right after giving birth. That love and passion for both business and family was a feeling I deeply connected with. For the first time, I did not feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit that business and family were both equally important to me, and there is someone else who feels the same way!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this