Execution is everything — I know a lot of smart people who have great ideas. And I’ve had other great business ideas too. But the idea, concept, and strategy are nothing without execution. And for someone who likes to problem solve creatively — it’s the execution that’s the toughest part for me. I’m talking about the day in and day out, very important, but mundane work.
Aspart of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Savannah Enright from Modern Muslim Market.
Savannah Enright moved to New York City to study business and design at Parsons School of Design. After graduating, she worked in top tier design and advertising firms. Still, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago when she was looking for modern Islamic art for her home that she realized how little was available. Surrounded by young, energetic, and stylish Muslims that didn’t seem represented in the mainstream or retail — she started putting together the pieces of Modern Muslim Market. A dual-sided e-commerce site that promotes the voices and ideas of Muslim creatives while providing the community a marketplace for everyday products that allow them to express their style and beliefs.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Modern Muslim Market is genuinely equal parts of my private life and dedication to my craft as a Business Designer. I went to Parsons School of Design, where I earned a BBA in Design and Management. I’ve always had a passion for Design, and I love working with designers. Some creatives are inspired by beautiful things, not me. My inspiration typically comes from frustration and noticing the unseen in my daily experiences.
Even though I was educated in and worked with some of the most talented creatives in advertising, design, and branding, it wasn’t until I moved in with my fiancé, who’s not a designer, that I learned what current Islamic art looked like. Up until that time, my only exposure to Islamic art was in museums. Shortly after moving day, I made a small comment about redecorating and removing a velvet scroll with gold glitter on the wall. I had inadvertently offended him because the piece was a religious work of art, my fiancé is Muslim. We talked. He explained what I was looking aat, but I still didn’t like the style. But I knew it was important to him, so we agreed — if I could find a piece of art that had all the meaning of this piece but in our aesthetic — we’d donate this piece. I looked high and low for years! And never really found something. That’s when I started putting together the pieces of what would be Modern Muslim Market.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
By far, the biggest challenge was feeling like I needed a partner and not finding one. I wanted a partner who came from the community, who filled my gaps, who I could be accountable to, and could create and execute this vision with. My fiancé would have been the obvious choice, and while he loves MMM (short for Modern Muslim Market), but he had his career to focus on and didn’t want to put the pressure of business on our relationship.
I spoke to a lot of people, and a few of them had serious promise. Smart. Creative. Talented. Hard-working. But whether it was visa issues or personal commitments, each person had a different reason for not committing long-term. I let this cripple me for a long time — four years.
One day, I decided, with or without a partner, I had to make this happen. I spoke to a Muslim woman, we were both commiserating over decorating ideas when I showed her some of my initial prototypes. She was shocked that I had designed something so symbolic and beautiful, she encouraged me to keep going. She would be the first of many who would give me the permission I was looking for to keep going — even if that meant on my own.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
Without a doubt, the support and encouragement from the community. There were a lot of obstacles that I didn’t anticipate — and every time I heard “this is a great idea” or “I want this,” I told myself to keep putting on foot in front of the other.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
You hear a lot of the same advice over and over again. And the weird thing is that it’s all true. You just don’t know how it’s true until you go through it. I wish I could give you 5 new things you’ve never heard of, but the reality is that if you’ve heard it repeatedly, IT’S TRUE.
- Execution is everything — I know a lot of smart people who have great ideas. And I’ve had other great business ideas too. But the idea, concept, and strategy are nothing without execution. And for someone who likes to problem solve creatively — it’s the execution that’s the toughest part for me. I’m talking about the day in and day out, very important, but mundane work.
- It’s a lonely (slow) road — There is a magic, a sweet spot when building a team — especially when you’re bootstrapping everything yourself. You know delegation is essential, but you’re also trying to not bankrupt yourself. This process is very isolating, and it’s easier to doubt yourself. Once you’re able to make your first “good” hire things, just pick up steam. The sum of two people is greater than each individually — and that is a blessing.
- Start with the community — It was always important to me that people be able to buy different kinds of artwork to create a space that showed off their style and beliefs while supporting artists from the community. But when I was struggling early on, I just stopped posting, reaching out to artists, and exploring. That was by far the biggest mistake. I didn’t give up on the idea’s essence, but I gave up on me, and I stopped building the community. It saddens me the time we lost, and I regret not supporting more talent all those years back.
- Don’t listen to everyone — Specifically, don’t take advice from people that haven’t earned your highest respect. Honestly, I wish I had learned this lesson earlier in my career before starting my own company. Some people are excellent about projecting a particular story without having results to show. Combine that with the inevitable low points entrepreneurs encounter, and you have a recipe for negative self-talk. In my experience, the most successful people are encouraging and thoughtful. Don’t let your energy go to anyone undeserving.
- There are many easier ways to make money — If you’re doing this to because you see a big pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I can tell you there are easier ways to make money. The reality is that most people aren’t going to be Bezos, so if money is the only motivator — fine, but there are easier ways to make it.
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’m not totally convinced avoiding burnout is possible, let’s just start there. But I do believe that you can minimize the length of a “burnout” to keep on a more consistent track. Some people might call that self-care, but at the end of the day, a business is built off consistency, not just how fast/slow you can go in a given period. My advice…
1. Learn about yourself — what days, times, seasons are most productive for you? How do you work best? What motivates you? What keeps you accountable? How much sleep do you need? What environment feels good? For me, Monday is always a really productive day. I need to schedule early morning meetings on my non-gym days, or I’ll sleep in. And I’ve been taking long drives and getting into the woods. It really helps me slow down, something impossible while I’m in the city. Learn about yourself and design a system that works for you. This is something you can and should be doing before you ever own your business.
2. Recognize the telltale signs — We all have our own patterns when burnout is coming. On a typical day, I would feel guilty for taking a mid-day nap or spending time on the couch. But when I find myself not wanting to do ANYTHING. I know it’s coming. I’ve learned to be kinder to myself, shut it down before it shuts me down.
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?
There are too many people to count. Some people gave me everything they could in one meeting — and they probably don’t even realize how helpful they were. Some people showed up week in and week out, and I consider myself lucky for their friendship. But if I had to pick one person — it would probably be my life partner. The concept of the Modern Muslim Market would not exist without his commitment to his faith. The business would not exist without his selflessness, he’s never complained about how many hours I work. And I would not exist, he kept me fed and gave me the hugs I needed along the way.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I want MMM to show even greater diversity in the art we sell, in the artists we support, and in the products we sell.
I want to grow a team that is equally as diverse and forging their own path. I want them to have a vision for this business and make it work for them.
Professionally, I’ve learned more about who I am as an employee through this experience. I will continue to uncover strengths and weaknesses. But as a Business Designer, I want to be able to say, “I know the hard work it takes to build something.”
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I don’t need to be remembered. That’s not why I’m doing this. I want to be of help today. I want to add value to people’s lives today. Modern Muslim Market is not about me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
If there is one thing that comes from all of this — I think I would like people who aren’t familiar with Islam, like I once was, to understand the side that is not being shown in popular culture. There is a whole community of smart, energetic, talented, creative, funny individuals who are dealing with the exact same things you are. — Let’s stop “othering” people.
How can our readers follow you on social media?