As part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sisters-in-law and business partners for 1302 Watch Co., Asma Heerji and Rozmin Ladha. The partners left their full-time jobs in 2017 as an IT consultant and a lawyer respectively to create beautiful, modern watches based on the simple belief that high-quality products can be found at affordable prices. They custom-design all watches and accessories to include minimalist neutrals and bold pops of colors to appeal to women and men of different styles and tastes. The partners have been inspired by the legacy of their family business and the surrounding areas of Dallas, TX to create a brand that represents who they are.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
AH: My family has been in the watch business since the 1960s, starting with my grandfather. My dad brought the business to Dallas and has been wholesaling watches ever since. I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but didn’t know what to do or where to begin, so my dad took me to Hong Kong to one of the world’s biggest watch trade shows. That’s really where I got inspired to start my own brand: 1302 Watch Co. Something that was affordable, yet high quality, and something that I would wear myself. When I got back, I enlisted the help of my sister-in-law, Rozmin, and convinced her to join the business with me. Both of us left our full-time jobs in 2017 and haven’t looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
RL : The most interesting and inspiring week for me since we started this business was when we attended the Baselworld watch convention in Switzerland in 2018. At Baselworld, the entire watch industry gets together to see the biggest new releases from dozens of big name brands and to network including meeting with manufacturers. For a small town watch brand like ourselves founded in Dallas, Texas, it was just amazing to see what other big watch brands were doing and maybe even dream that we could be one of them one day. We were so inspired and the trip reinforced and rejuvenated our passion for our brand and the industry.
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?
RL: The funniest thing about us starting our business is that we had no idea what we were doing in the beginning. I used to work as an attorney and Asma was in consulting and neither of us had business experience nor did we fully understand what was required to start our own business. Yes we had Asma’s parents there to guide us to an extent when it came to business know-how, but they had never created their own brand nor did they know how to run an e-commerce business in today’s social media heavy world. We made a lot of mistakes and took way too long to bring in experts to help us. For example, initially we created our branding ourselves which included a color palette of dark blue and silver, not at all representative of the bold colors of our brand. We put in so much work (and money) without fully understanding what visually appeals to consumers. Once we finally invested the money to get expert help and re-brand the result was so much more on par to what appeals to customers as well as what our brand really stands for. If we were to do it again we would bring in expert help much earlier.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
AH: One thing that is very important to us is giving back. When we first started the company, we told ourselves that we would always give 5% of our profits to a charity. However, instead of just giving back to the same charity, we went even further and decided that every quarter we would give to a different charity. That way we could support different causes that were important to us. For example, we donated to Days for Girls, a charity that provides access to menstrual care and education for girls in third world countries so that they no longer have to miss school while on their periods. This cause is near to our hearts as we look for ways to empower women and help them get the same opportunities globally.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
AH: Our newest project that we just launched is our first-ever men’s watch line and Apple Watch straps for both men and women. We are very excited to bring affordable yet high quality and trendy options to the market for male consumers and tech lovers. Also, we are proud to be eco-friendly. We now carry strap options that are made with almost no chemicals called “vegetable tanned” — a process requiring skilled artisans and takes an average of 40 days from start to finish . Also, the hides used to create the straps are left over from animals already harvested for the sole consumption of meat products. Thus, these bands have a minimal environmental impact. Something we know our eco-conscious fashionistas really appreciate!
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
AH: For me, the most important advice is to inspire, but also, be a sponge. You have to remember to learn from those around you. There are so many smart people in the world that have had different experiences than you and can bring different perspectives to the table. As a leader, whether you are male or female, it is important to sometimes step back and soak in the knowledge around you. And when your team realizes that they are also a source of inspiration, it will help them grow stronger and give them a sense of purpose.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
RL: As female leaders, there is such a drive to be successful that sometimes women try to do everything on their own and spread themselves too thin in the process. I think that it’s really important to designate tasks in a large team and to focus on tasks that need to be specifically completed by you for yourself. You have to trust your team and have faith that you are all working towards a common goal. Also, it’s important to set manageable and realistic expectations for each individual on your team and the team as a whole so everyone is aware of these expectations and agree that they are attainable goals. Additionally, these goals need to be constantly re-evaluated at periodic check-ins to ensure that you are still on track and flexible to make any changes needed.
AH: I think one of the most important things is to keep your team motivated and to figure out how each person gets motivated. Some need positive reinforcement, while others need space to work on their own goals. It is important to really understand each person and work with them to let them shine in their own ways.
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?
RL: We are most grateful for the support of our parents. Not only did they provide the startup money for us to start our business, but they continue to invest in our company and support us on an emotional level. They really believe in us and our dream Its their faith in us that has driven us to do well and give it our all. Additionally, we really appreciate their willingness to share their knowledge and wisdom from the watch industry. Their advice has been invaluable and the key to the success of our business.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
AH: Both of us have grown up giving back and volunteering, and wanted to make sure that we kept the same values in our business. 1302 Watch Co. donates 5% of profits to a different charity every quarter. Thus far, we have donated to Days for Girls, The American Red Cross, and currently we are donating to the North Texas Food Bank.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.
1) At the start of business relationships, don’t be afraid to talk about what will happen if the relationship ends badly. This most strongly applies to contracts. As an attorney, I know how important it is to cover all terms in the contract including the basics (like duration, money, services), the good (how to extend), and the bad (what happens if the contract turns sour). Covering the bad is the biggest hurdle I have had to approach with people that I’ve wanted to work with. I have had people tell me that they don’t like to talk about negative things that can happen because it starts the business relationship off on the wrong foot. That is a very naive way to think about a contract. The purpose of a contract is to protect both people entering into a contract. Although we would love if every contract goes wonderfully and there are no issues, that isn’t always the way it works. Making sure you have provisions covering the relationship in case of disputes is like getting car insurance, you hope you never have to use it but just in case it’s there to protect you.
2) People work differently and as the leader, it is your job to figure out how best to approach them and motivate them. In this business we have worked with many different types of people and the most interesting example was one product photographer we worked with. He’s an older southern gentlemen who comes off as a little gruff and intimidating but very good at what he does. We learned how best to communicate with him (text) and to trust his judgment (even though initially we were wary of some of his choices) and to be patient more than anything else. He will get us what we want, we just needed to give him the time and space to get it completed.
3) Always be kind. We started working with someone to manage our social media and take photographs for us in October. We did a 3 month contract in the beginning to test out if we were a good fit. At the end of our contract, we were ready to extend but the person that we were working with informed us that they were increasing their pricing and now the services we wanted would cost double. We were super frustrated by this development but kindly let them know that we would not be able to renew the contract at the new price. They finished off their contract with us and actually provided extra photos for us so that we would be able to run our own social media until we found someone else. They also offered to do a la carte services for us as needed in the future. You never know when you’ll need someone in the future. We have had too many experiences in the past where we have burned bridges so one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is to alway be kind.
4) Don’t try to do everything on your own. Hire experts. As Rozmin mentioned earlier, one of our mistakes was that we didn’t hire experts at the beginning. At that point, it made sense to us — “why spend money when we can do it ourselves?” But we later realized that people are skilled in their fields for a reason. Sometimes, you have to spend a little more and let people focus on what they are good at, rather than spend time you don’t have trying to learn a new (or a few new) things, and not even excelling at it. Once we started delegating, not only we were able to focus our attention on other things to run the business, but the things we hired professionals for (social media, website design, etc) started looking a lot more professional.
5) Set realistic, attainable goals. In our first couple of years, although we had a business plan and idea for how we wanted to grow, we never set actual, concrete goals of where we wanted to be. A lot of this was due to the fear of going into a completely new business for the both of us and not knowing what to expect. However, once we figured out what worked and what didn’t, we sat down and created concrete goals and it has helped us tremendously. It gives us a sense of purpose and where we want to be. It is exciting when we hit our goals, but it is even more helpful when we don’t because that is when we sit down and evaluate what went wrong and make changes to help grow the business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
RL: If I could inspire a movement, it would be education focused. Growing up my parents emphasized the value and necessity of education and as an adult I really and truly believe that education for all is a way to lift our society as a whole. An old proverb comes to mind, if you give a man a fish, they can feed themselves for a day, if you teach a man to fish, they can feed themselves for a lifetime. There are so many aspects of education reform I would love to tackle. For example, providing more funding/resources for schools in poorer school districts so they can help their students learn better, higher salary for teachers because many good teachers leave the industry because they are worked so hard and not provided the support and financial compensation they need, creating more programs for at-risk youth to help keep them excited about school, and finding more affordable higher education options for students after high school. Right now attending college is very cost-prohibitive and prevents many students from being able to continue their education.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
RL: “Don’t think about what can happen in a month. Don’t think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you, and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be.” . Sometimes I worry too much about the future and what I may not be able to accomplish and that feeling can be overwhelming and disheartening. But when I look at this quote it reminds me to take things one day at a time and it reminds me that as long as I’m working towards my goal little by little, I will get there some day. This quote also helps me to remember to enjoy the now and worry less about what the future will hold.
AH: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” — Vivian Greene. There is a lot going on in life, and my first instinct is to stress out about it. But I’ve learned that instead of using the word “stress” when times are tough and things get busy, I should instead embrace the opportunities around me and make the most of it. I will never get this time back and I should work as hard as I can now so that I can enjoy my future.
Some of the biggest 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 🙂
AH: Someone who inspires me is Indra Nooyi, former CEO of PepsiCo. She has won numerous awards for her work and influence. I would love to pick her brain on how she broke barriers as not only a female CEO but also as an Indian female CEO. To me, she embodies women empowerment and I am motivated by the work she has done, and the influence that she has had in the industry.