Building a DTC Brand through COVID: Wk 6

Week 6: Being a Student Founder through COVID

“Building a DTC Brand During COVID” is a series written by Farah Azmi to serve as a discussion for starting a company amid a pandemic. The stories are meant to share personal experiences and is not in any way meant to promote a “correct” methodology. We hope readers find this informative and amusing and we welcome informed advice and active discussion.

September 1st marked the very last first day of school that I’ll ever have – assuming I don’t go for my doctorates of course. My Instagram feed was filled with my fellow peers excited for this day, showcasing their at-home work-stations and Zoom screens. I don’t blame them for their excitement as I felt the same. However, as I looked at their feed, I was also there to check my Instagram messages in hopes to find photographers and models to shoot my campaign. Then it hits me; today, I add another hat to my repertoire of founder, pet-mother, partner and now a student.

In both the non-COVID world and COVID world, student founders have to manage going to class and working on our startup. Being at school, I’ve been exposed to many other student entrepreneurs, who somehow make it look effortless. They participate in class. They take their work calls in between and still manage to hang out with friends afterwards. Me on the other hand, I struggle to find time to prep for class. During class, I fail to focus solely on the professor while trying to answer emails regarding social media strategies.

While I’m still struggling to manage it all, here’s my to-do list to make things a little better for me that perhaps may be useful for everyone as we all manage wearing multiple hats:

  • Stop multi-tasking

  • Ruthlessly prioritize

  • Being happy with imbalance

Stop Multi-Tasking

In a non-COVID world and in a non-startup world, I would just respond to texts from friends occasionally, but easily turn my attention back to whatever it may be – whether it be class or conversations. However now, I have WeChat messages from my factory. I have texts from my intern. I have emails from my New York studio partners. There are more people to answer to than I have ever had. These messages coupled with my need to have a zero-inbox policy means that I’m always checking and responding to notes as they come in.

However, as I answer these emails, I hear the voices of my professors in the background. I like to think that I can manage to do both, but in this COVID world, Founder Farah is not managing any of it. I’ve realized that I must consciously decide – am I paying attention to class today? If so, I need to give it 100%: prep for class, pay attention and engage. As tempting as it is, I’m constantly reminding myself not to multi-task anymore. Otherwise, I’m more likely to mis-send an email or miss something important in class.

Ruthlessly Prioritize

A good friend of mine constantly uses the phrase, “ruthlessly prioritize” quite often. What does this mean? When you ruthlessly prioritize, you’ll have to give up other things that may be important. It may be missing dinner with friends or skipping one meeting for another, but you must actively choose what you’re giving up.

Last year, as a first year, I prioritized making friends and gave up doing great in class. The losses seemed minor as I still managed to pass all my classes and get plenty of sleep. However, this year I found myself ruthlessly prioritizing more and giving up things that should be important. I’ve missed class. I’ve neglected my readings. I’ve even pushed away social activities to make time for my startup. I ruthlessly prioritized IXORA above all-else. What I’ve found helpful in prioritization is creating a to-do list for the week, putting the most important on top and working my way down from there. With this method though, I also have learned not to punish myself for not finishing everything on the list. (A perfect example is me struggling to write this blog post two months later.)

Being Happy with Imbalance

This brings me to my next point – being happy with imbalance. As much as I’d like to think that achieving work-life balance is doable, it’s an impossible standard. Work-life balance only implies 2 factors: your work life and your personal life. In reality, we are managing, friendships, family, work, and mental happiness. I’ve had to postpone many commitments as I’ve focused more on IXORA. As of right now, I’m ok with this imbalance. However, some weeks when I need to focus more on myself, I make sure to schedule more time for long walks and exercise. Then when I need time with friends, I make sure to schedule that in, knowing that it would take away from IXORA. I’ve come to recognize that I don’t seek balance, but instead the imbalance that will make me happy this week.

These are only couple of my tips, and I’m honestly still trying to incorporate these into my life. If there’s other tips that you use to help wearing multiple hats. Please let me know in the comments below!

IXORA Apparel is an early stage start-up fashion brand founded by a Harvard Business School student. Our mission is to support women in their lives through the way she dresses while providing resources to support her in the workplace.  We aim to provide made-to-order trend-driven apparel for women, where everything is made-for-her-body and not made-to-stock.

Leave a comment