It is hardly news that women—particularly women of color—are chronically underrepresented in the US tech sector. While the percentage of computing roles women hold has mostly declined in the United States over the past 25 years, still we have been able to see the rise of a few female superstars. Sherly Sandberg, Susan Wojcicki, Arianna Huffington, Marissa Mayer are the name of the few. Dela Rostami, a multi-disciplinary designer, technology entrepreneur, artist, and co-founder, and CCO AWAYN, is one of the newly added entrepreneurs to this small list of extraordinary women.
Dela embraced design and technology at a very young age. “My mother introduced me to the arts, music, and movies, and my father introduced me to technology,” Dela says.
At the age of 13, she built her first music website, ramband.com. In her late teenage years, Dela moved to London, England, where she exposed herself to a variety of artistic fields. Eventually, Dela moved to the United States, where she studied graphic design at Minnesota State University Moorhead, and later entered a fully-funded Master’s program at UC Davis in California to study UX Design.
In 2018, sister and her older brother Ariel Rostami built the first iteration of the AWAYN.
AWAYN, is an online media company with a focus on traveling like a local, has created an innovative platform that provides the perfect search mechanism to find the most exciting local adventures. This platform, is a comprehensive database of local adventures that earns money by selling limited, yet highly competitive ( first come first served) paid articles. Today, the company has grown to 20 employees, with campsites in 150,000 locations across the U.S. and internationally.
I am genuinely fascinated by your story and how you moved from the Middle East to the US and started your own company with no money. I’d like to know how a graphic designer/ artist got into the tech world?
Well, I was in love with technology from the young age, and built my first website at the age of 13. It was called RAM Band ramband.com.
You were in a band?
Hahah.. I wish…No, it wasn’t a real “music band”. Basically I was playing different tunes and sample beats on my Windows 98, which I would upload online. This is pre-mySpace time when MIDI and RTSP were a thing. I was always fascinated by the connection I was making between the internet/web and the art.
So the 13 year Dela made a virtual music band but how did the idea of building a travel media company come about?
Dela Rostami: For us (Me & my brother Ariel) starting AWAYN came so naturally. We’ve lived in three different continents, and since moving to the U.S. we’ve lived in ten different states. When you get to live in cities that each has different socioeconomic and cultural structures, then you learn to embrace your differences and enjoy what each place has to offer. You essentially learn to live like a local! So to be honest, I couldn’t see myself working on any other project but this.
So you and your brother built AWAYN with no outside fundings, and grew it to an extraordinary size. We barley get to hear about the dark side of building a venture. How hard was it to build a media company?
Dela Rostami: That’s a great question, and the answer is really hard. Unfortunately in this day and age, we don’t really get to talk about the hardships and failures. We speak loudly about our latest achievements, show off our new acquisitions, update our social media pages to only show our happiest moments, and we hide all of our failures in our heart. We don’t celebrate failures, and it’s all about the wining but in reality building a business from the ground up is really tough! if anyone is out there telling you it’s not then they are not telling you the whole truth. I don’t think I’ve never worked that many long hours as I did (and still do right now!).
That’s a great point. So I am guessing there isn’t much time for other things in your schedule?
Dela Rostami: Well, when you start a company, you have to accept the reality that you won’t have time for other stuff in your life. You have to make sacrifices, and you have must love what you do or else you go crazy.
Was there a moment that you doubted yourself?
Dela Rostami: Of course.. I am not a robot hahah. You’ll always doubt yourself. Sometimes nothing goes the way you wanted to go, or you make bad decisions, and you fail. That’s when not only you question yourself but also questioning anything and everything around that!
I agree.. but how do you bounce back and continue?
Dela Rostami: That’s why I’ve mentioned you have must love what you do or else you got crazy. When you love something or even someone you’ll accept this notion that sometimes things are not going to work out! So you have to find a way to make it work or else it’ll break.
I love your passion Dela! So What advice do you have for the folks who usually stick to their comfort zone? How could they start traveling like a local?
Dela Rostami: How could they start traveling like a local? well.. they can check out our website or download our mobile app to find the awesome destinations around them! Also, I would encourage everyone to ignore star rating platforms… nothing is better than judging a place by yourself. Get on the streets and ask locals about their favorite restaurants, market stalls, and dishes— then check out them.
Huge fan of AWAYN by the way. How do you collect all the information’s in your mobile apps and website?
Dela Rostami: Thank you! Well, we work with some 300 paid contributors worldwide who write light stories, take photos, and create videos about everything under the giant umbrella of local adventures. The all-going strategy creates a unique combination of high and low, mainstream, and intellectual, which is perhaps how we like stuff today. We have the best and most dedicated travel writers, and for that, we feel very blessed.
AWAYN also recently joined the Apple News Publishing team as well. I enjoyed reading your content in there as well. Is there any difference between those articles and the one you have on your platforms?
Dela Rostami: Yes, there many new articles that are solely on apple news.
AWAYN also has started a documentary project! what is that about?
Dela Rostami: We are in the middle of making our first secret documentary movie which we will launch in 2020. It will be mainly a story of young solo travelers who are traveling like a local around the world.
Last question Dela. What is your advice for future entrepreneurs who might be hesitant to start a business?
Dela Rostami: Get comfortable with being uncomfortable