We’re getting up close and personal with mothers who are savvy innovators and businesswomen and finding out their secrets to success. This time, we got the scoop from Shazi Visram, Founder and CEO of Happy Family.
The Bump: Shazi, why did you start Happy Family?
Shazi Visram: I saw an opportunity to change what children are eating. I thought you could give a baby a fresh start by providing whole foods that taste great and offer nutritional value. The concept was to create nutritious, organic super foods that parents could feel really good about giving their children, knowing they were giving them the very best. I started working on it about 10 years ago, when I was in business school, before I was a mom. I had a lot of friends who were parents that I consulted for advice and testing. Now, I have my own personal source of inspiration. My son is three and he can be a picky eater! So I struggle with a lot of the things that all moms do.
TB: What are your top three pieces of advice for women looking to start their own business?
SV: Make sure you're totally in love with and passionate about what you're doing. You're going to have to put in long, crazy hours, and a lot of heart and soul to make your dream a reality.
Never give up. We all have great ideas that seem meaningful but they're even more powerful when you see your business as changing the world. Literally never, ever give up.
Enjoy the ride. For me, its been a roller coaster — a lot of stress, doubt and fear, but there have been exciting times too! Looking back, it's been a great learning experience. I appreciate challenges in retrospect and see how they helped me continue to grow.
TB: What was your biggest challenge?
SV: I think it was making sure we had enough capital and support behind our business while staying true to our original mission of purity and service. With every one of our products that you buy, a proceed helps a starving child in Africa. We wanted it to be something that changes the world. We also spend a lot of money on ingredients. It was important to offer functional, organic nutrition. We were the first baby food to supplement with probiotics, DHA and salba — one of the most nutritious baby foods on the planet. We wanted our foods to do something for a baby’s growing body. The other goal was to be accessible to everybody, not just children of parents with high incomes. To do all that and have a price point that's more accessible is tough. I’ve been very lucky to find people who wanted to invest in that bigger vision knowing they'd get a financial return but not focusing on the bottom line as much as the triple bottom line. That's been a challenge and we've really overcome it.
TB: Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently?
SV: No, I don’t think so. I think if you can end the day thinking, I did very best I could today, you shouldn't have regrets. I'm proud of where it’s gone and the challenges I've overcome. There were times I was worried I wouldn’t have enough money to pay my employees, or that I wouldn’t have enough to buy groceries or take the subway home. But I appreciate that journey and it kept me humble. I do think I let the stress get to me physically, so the one thing I'd do differently is to have a better plan for stress management. I've had a couple herniated disks and muscular problems. I was so busy and frantic for a while that I didn't have time to focus on myself.
TB: What’s a typical day in your life like?
SV: It’s pretty crazy. My son, Zane, has autism and we've had a lot of late nights when he's up at 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. I have meetings and calls as early as 8 a.m. or even 7:30, and I tend to work until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. I try to work from home a couple days a week be with him. It's a challenge to find balance because you want to be there for work. And I make sure every one of Zane’s needs are met before mine. He's the most important thing in my life. So business can be draining and it's hard to keep it in balance, but at the end of night, I'm happy. That comes from celebrating all the little victories along the way.
TB: Would you say that being a mother makes you a better businesswoman?
SV: Absolutely. I think being a mom makes you more focused on what’s important. Moms are very, very efficient. My efficiency levels have definitely risen. I focus on what I need to and I get it done.
But also, being a CEO has made me better mom. Zane was diagnosed with autism a year ago. Before that, he was very happy and healthy and made every milestone, but around age two, he started regressing. I put together a group of doctors and experts to help him. Being a CEO gave me the skills to figure out who would make the best impact on his life. We set up meetings. We set goals and we make sure we're meeting them for him. I think running a business helps motherhood in that way. It's interesting to see the two coincide.
TB: And how important are moms to your business?
SV: Very important! We employ 75 moms around the country as health and wellness ambassadors called Happy Mamas. They teach other parents how to cook baby food and host mommy and me yoga classes. They're really involved resources for new families for living healthy, happy lives. The products are just part of it — we want people to have all the information they need. These moms care about children’s nutrition and healthy living.