Your family is your rock. I already knew this, but COVID solidified this for me. Having an amazing family during this time has shown me that there is nothing more important than having a family you can rely on — no matter how annoying they get!
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 Jameela Ghann.
Jameela is the co-founder of the online jewelry store Alora Boutique, Marketing Manager for Fera.ai, and mother to two lovely daughters. She graduated from Mount Royal University with a Bachelor of Business Administration and has been an entrepreneur since 2009. In her spare time, Jameela loves to help other female-owned businesses with free eCommerce and marketing advice with her non-profit she[EMPOWERS].
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?
Yes, of course! When I was still in university, taking my business degree, my mother and I took a jewelry-making class together and fell in love with creating beautiful, unique things to wear. Over time, we had so much jewelry that we had to start giving some away! Then people started asking to BUY our jewelry. And we were really shocked. I mean, we had just started making jewelry, and we were still experimenting with our designs, but people liked them, so we thought, “Hey, we might have something here!”
After getting a few inquiries about buying our jewelry, we set up a little pop-up shop at my mom’s work. We decided to give 10% of our sales to the Mustard Seed because my mom loved that charity. That’s kind of how the give-back portion of our business started. My mom has always believed that you are never too poor to give, so that is what we do with Alora, we give where we can.
In university, I met my partner Peter Njongwe (who now runs www.getlapishealth.com). At the time, he helped me run youth programs at the community center in my neighborhood (I served on the board of directors for my community for five years, from 18 to 22 years old), and we started hanging out, and eventually, he became involved in the business. He is literally the reason we got into so many wholesale locations. That’s because he is a great salesperson and an all-around awesome person.
After I graduated from university, Peter and I were expecting our first child. I was like, ‘there is NO way I am going to get a job and not spend time with my kids.’ Peter agreed. So we opened a store in downtown Calgary and started selling our jewelry and a bunch of other items. At 23, you think having a job is much worse than working for yourself, but the entrepreneur hours are brutal — but worth it! We did (and continue to do) a lot of great things with Alora, including free jewelry making workshops with disadvantaged women, and lots of cash and in-kind donations to local charities.
A couple of years ago, Peter’s/ brother passed away from heart disease, so he decided he wanted to help other families avoid the heartache of losing a loved one that way, so he started Lapis Health. Shortly after, he was accepted into Y Combinator, so he moved to San Francisco for the program and because the tech community is much better than it is in Calgary. When he left, I knew I had to pivot because he was the lead salesperson, and I didn’t have much expertise in sales. I was much better at marketing. So Alora moved exclusively online, and I started doing marketing consulting.
I started consulting for Fera.ai, and after a few months, then they decided they needed a full-time person to do marketing. We parted ways for a while, and I was heartbroken because I liked the people and the product. Fast-forward a few months later, they offered me a full-time position and some stock options, and because I loved the company so much, I had to say yes!
That is how I got to the point where I am now, running a store, marketing manager for a Saas company, and consulting!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?
When we just started Alora, we would take these long road trips across Canada and North America (Calgary to Vancouver, Calgary to Montreal, or Calgary to Los Angeles) to sell our jewelry. Now that I think about it, it was really silly, but we were young and had a lot of time on our hands.
There were so many times that we almost died on the road because of bad weather, bad drivers, or fatigue! Once, we were driving back from Vancouver, and I was sleeping in the passenger seat, and Peter was driving, and I suppose he fell asleep from fatigue. Something told me to wake up, which I did just in time to catch us veering into oncoming highway traffic and correct course!
While these road trips weren’t scalable at the time, hustling so hard allowed us to get into an agency because we got into so many stores on our own! Not only that, but these experiences allowed us to meet the coolest people, see awesome places, become better business owners, and best friends. Peter and I still joke about all the times we almost died building Alora, haha.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, I am working on launching the latest version of Fera.ai. The newest version allows online store owners (like me) to automatically request customer photo reviews from buyers, display social proof (like reviews, testimonials, events, customer videos, etc.) anywhere on their store, and push this important customer content to social media!
I was so excited to work for Fera.ai because the tools they have are extremely useful to stores like mine, but also easy to use. I have a Shopify store, and I have used countless apps, but some of them are so hard to use or need coding *insert eye roll here*, and I always think to myself, ‘I don’t have time for this nonsense,’ so I uninstall. Fera.ai has always been easy to use, and I have seen it have a material impact on my sales and store feel.
That’s why I think this new version is so great and will help businesses like mine. It literally has all the things a fashion or beauty brand needs to really put their user-generated content to use.
- A review request system
- The ability to give incentives for reviews
- One place to manage them
- The ability to push the reviews to social media
- A measurable impact on sales!
For Alora, we are trying to rethink our Christmas events. We usually hold a fundraiser around Christmas time for our charities, but this year is obviously a bit tricky due to COVID, so stay tuned!
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?
Grateful for Family
My mom and sister have been the best! Anytime Peter and I went away, my mom and sister would take care of my oldest daughter.
When our oldest daughter was about one, my mom’s neighbors were moving, and they offered us the house. With a new baby, there was no better location in the world than beside my mom and little sister! Of course, we took the opportunity to get the house, so now my kids can just go through the backyard to visit grandma and aunty.
Anytime Peter and I had a networking event or needed to leave town, my mom and sister were there to help. They are a BIG reason that we are where we are now. We couldn’t have grown a business without their support.
Grateful for the Government
I also want to give a big shout out to the Provincial and Federal governments in Canada. The Provincial government provides childcare subsidies, and the federal government gives child tax credits, so with the subsidy for child care and the monthly Federal government money, day home was really affordable for me! I know that there are lots of families that have to use Federal money for other things like food and housing, etc., but I decided to use it for childcare. I couldn’t be a mom, a business owner, and a productive Marketing Manager if I had to keep my kids home all day.
So a combination of family and government support has aided in my success!
The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly early 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?
At first, when the pandemic first started with the closed schools and daycares and parks, I was super concerned about how I would teach and entertain my kids. However, our day home remained open (there are a total of 4 children there — including mine), so that adjustment wasn’t so bad.
If I am being honest, it was much better for me that schools had closed because, on Tuesday and Thursday, I could never work properly. I had to
- Drop off my 1st daughter at school at 8:20 am
- Drop off my 2nd daughter at pre-school at 8:45 am
- Pick up my 2nd daughter at 11:00 am
- Drop off 2nd daughter at daytime
- Pick up 1st daughter at 3:20
- Drop off 1st daughter at day home so I could squeeze in an hour of work
- Pick up kids at 5 pm
It was not fun! However, since COVID, I’ve had so much more time. The day home lady, who is amazing, would help my oldest daughter with her school work during the day, and they would always learn new things there.
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As stated above, I worked out how to make a schedule with my family that worked for all of us!
Peter also came back for a few months during the pandemic and helped our oldest daughter with her homework after school, and my sister and mom picked up the slack when I had a project to finish in the evening or something.
The other amazing thing about this pandemic is now that everyone is home, I only have to cook once a week. We worked out a sweet cooking schedule:
- Monday = My mom
- Tuesday = Peter/My brother (Peter has since gone back and my brother came home from university for summer, so he took the Tuesday slot)
- Wednesday — Me
- Thursday = My sister
- Friday = Take out
I think every setback is what you make out of it, so this challenge has turned into an opportunity! I have found that I have more time to virtually meet people and connect with other businesses and women because no one expects you to meet them in person!
This worked out really well for me because I have always been short on time and hated using my time to commute to meetings and events.
Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in business during this pandemic?
Challenge #1: Wholesale accounts vanished
One of the biggest challenges we faced was having all our wholesale accounts stop buying. Of course, if retail locations close, they don’t need any inventory. This was expected, but it was still a really big blow. Like I said, in every challenge, you can find an opportunity, so we focused on making our online shop better and being visible when people were looking to support black-owned businesses.
Challenge #2: An influx of new customers as we were changing our product
As for Fera.ai, we saw a huge increase in people sign-up for our app when they realized that they needed to be digital. This presented a whole new challenge because we were working on creating a better product, and there were some bugs that frustrated our new users. It is an issue that we resolved, but it was challenging from a customer retention perspective.
Challenge #3: Nowhere to work
The other thing is that I have always worked from home, and I would switch up my work routine between a co-working space or a coffee shop to keep motivated, but now there was nowhere to go!
Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Solution #1: Experiment with products
For the online store, we realized that we wouldn’t be able to keep up with all the demand on our own, so we decided to experiment with retailing other jewelry brands on our website. We did this to offer so that we variety, but not have to hold a lot of inventory. We chose to ‘stock’ brands that aligned with our values which are either
- Give back
As long as the brands met one or more of those values, we decided to stock them ‘in-store’! We also listed ourselves in many blacked-owned directories and sent out our jewelry to several influencers who were happy to share our story and jewelry.
Solution #2: Make our product better, faster & communicate
With Fera.ai, we continued to work on improving the product, but also continued to listen to and communicate with our customers as we were working on refining the product. We are also learning what our store owners need during the COVID pandemic: the need to consolidate and save money on multiple apps and find easy ways to capitalize on the influx of online orders and store traffic.
These learnings are the reason why we are able to give our store owners an affordable social proof solution that will help them make more money with their existing traffic and build trust with their customers!
Solution #3: Create several office spaces
With regards to the office space, I had to convert my living room into an office space for my sister and me to work in, and when Peter came home, we had to convert the basement bedroom into an office for him. Currently, with things opening up, I leave my house twice a week to work elsewhere. I plan to stop soon because of the prediction of a second COVID-19 wave.
Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?
Have a routine
First, I would say to have a routine in the morning. Get up, shower, get dressed, and get to it! Having an office space that you love being in is really important as well. I renovated my house, painted my walls white, got a light-colored floor, and pretty fake plants so I could feel like I’m in a bright, airy workspace.
Involve family and friends
The other thing you should do is involve your family where you can! If you don’t have family, make a little quarantine pod with a friend who has kids and rotate child care. Humans are not meant to be isolated, especially kids, so having people they can interact with, is essential.
Create a learning schedule
Finally, make a schedule with school. We never did homework in the morning. We did homework after the workday, but before dinner, so everyone could do what they wanted during the day (work and play), and then we were serious for a couple of hours before we ate.
I don’t think most women can effectively homeschool children, work full-time, and keep their sanity without help. Get it where you can. There is no shame in not doing it alone.
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?
I would do a lot of home workouts and walks outside to get a bit of energy. I also moved my kids into my mom’s house next door while we were renovating, because it was just too much having all the chaos at home. That and grandma’s house is much more fun than my house.
My sister and I would go days without talking because we just needed space. Sometimes you need an understanding that you aren’t going to be communicating, not because you are mad, but because you are tired and need a bit of solitude to recharge!
I also practice a lot of meditation, and I like going to the temple online on Sundays to get a bit of wisdom and peace for the upcoming week.
Escaping my family!
As an introvert, I gave myself permission to ignore my family for a day or so when I was annoyed or emotionally exhausted. I would take time to go outside and just sit by the river alone. I don’t feel bad for taking time to be alone because if I don’t take care of myself, it will be detrimental to my kids and family relationships in the long run.
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.
- Every challenge is an opportunity!
I used to think that bad things were simply that ‘bad,’ but when I understood that there can be a lesson learned in every setback or horrible thing that happened, I began accepting the challenges and ‘bad’ things in my life as a chance to become resilient and grow. For example, losing all our wholesale business was definitely bad from a financial perspective, but it turned out that it was an opportunity to do better online until retail recovered. If I had just spent all my time feeling sorry for the business about losing a significant portion of our revenue, I wouldn’t have looked for the opportunity to do influencer marketing or take steps to improve our online store’s conversion rate.
2. COVID is the perfect time to slow down
The best part about COVID is that it gives you an opportunity to slow your life down and appreciate the things you have around you. Many of us were confined to our homes and then confined to our cities as things started to open up. With nowhere to be, COVID has given me the opportunity to turn my home into my sanctuary, into a place where I want to spend time, not just eat and sleep.
Exploring my city and the surrounding area has also been the perfect opportunity to slow down. I had a bunch of vacation planned this year (Jamaica, a few European countries, Korea, and Disneyland), but being on the go and making all these touristy plans can be exhausting. Being forced to slow down has helped me appreciate my city and the beauty it has to offer.
3. Nothing lasts forever
One of the tenants of Buddhism is the notion of impermanence. Nothing that we humans know of lasts forever. That includes the way we feel, our lives, and COVID. For me, understanding that no good or bad situation will last forever really helps with this pandemic. Sure, it sucks, but it can’t last forever. I just have to make the best of it, and when the situation changes, which it inevitably will, I will try and make the best of that situation, too, with the full understanding that things are changing all the time, and I need to adapt to them.
4. Your family is your rock
I already knew this, but COVID solidified this for me. Having an amazing family during this time has shown me that there is nothing more important than having a family you can rely on — no matter how annoying they get!
5. Take time for yourself
Along with slowing down, COVID taught me that you need to take time for yourself. Anything from a weekend getaway or a 20-minute yoga session, self-care is so important when you are a business leader and a mother. Since things started opening up, I’ve taken lots of weekend trips alone or with friends to recharge my batteries. Working 10 hours days several days a week is a recipe for burnout, and I cannot afford to burn out, so I take breaks where I can!
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?
If you want to support loved ones that are feeling anxious, reach out to them in any way possible and let them know that you are there for them. Ask them what they need and what is on their minds. Listen and give them the opportunity to let everything out without feeling the need to let them know things will be okay.
Sometimes we want to reassure people and be overly positive, but sometimes, people don’t need to be told that they are being too negative; they want to be heard and understood. They want to feel like someone is listening to them and will support them. At this time, when many people are lacking human connections, being a person that they can rely on or talk to can make a world of difference.
Of course, some people suffer from anxiety disorders, and I would encourage anyone suffering from that to seek the help and guidance of a professional.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“How rare and wondrous it is to be born into human life, and now I live it! If I do not transcend the world of delusion in this life, when will I ever attain spiritual liberation?
May I be guided by
1. Right views
2. Right thoughts
3. Right speech
4. Right conduct
5. Right livelihood
6. Right energy
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right meditation”
This is a quote from one of the texts at the Buddhist temple I go to. It reminds me every day that I should strive to be a better person, enjoy my life on this earth, understand how lucky I am to live the life that I have, and be kind and generous to all living things, including myself!
I live by these words every day, and I have found that it helps me be a better mother, partner, family member, and business person.
How can our readers follow you online?
I would love to connect with your readers online! I make sure to return every DM and reply to every comment left and am happy to help other women on their journey.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!