Where do you live? I live in NY, born in Morocco but raised in Colorado.
What is your profession? I am a media startup founder by way of the medical industry, an uncommon path, I know. I have a Masters degree in biomedical engineering and worked as a scientist and an engineer before I launched my digital media platform, SWAAY.
How did you decide to start your company and what was your path leading up to this? Although I have always been drawn to science, math and technology, I also was drawn to pageantry. In fact, I was crowned Miss New York US in 2015, as the first Moroccan to do so. During the competition I was asked by a judge if I would rather be beautiful or smart, and this question really affected me. Why do women feel as though they have to choose? I thought more about this and realized how true it was, even when you look at how women are portrayed by the media. I realized that throughout my life I never really fit into any perfect mold that was expected of me. Like all women, I am multi-dimensional. I care about style and fashion but I am business-minded and wanted a platform that was reflective of all parts of me and showed other women that you can embrace your feminine side while taking a leadership role.
Has anyone been a mentor to you? What role did they play and how do you feel about mentorship now? I’ve had many different mentors throughout my life, some who were very unexpected. I would say that my parents were my first mentors because they had the foresight to push out of a comfortable life in Morocco and into an unexpected, challenging journey in a new country. My parents taught me to never rest on my laurels and that without risk there is no reward. Even though many people thought I was crazy to leave a stable career and start my own company, they have been my biggest supporters. As I continue navigating the unknown, I have discovered new mentors along the way that inspire me daily. Fran Hauser, the former President of Digital for Time Inc.’s, has been one of those rare helping hands who is giving me wings to fly.
What’s the hardest thing that you’ve had to deal with in your career so far? Thus far, the hardest thing has been my transition from a well-established engineering and corporate career to the uncertain world of startups. I have never known how strong I can be until I found myself launching a full force media brand and needing to assume multiple roles throughout my days, with barely any money. Not having a steady income, bootstrapping, and at times wondering if things will ever look up have been quite challenging. Fundraising takes a lot of time, A LOT! Quitting my job, using up ALL my savings and half of my parents’ savings wasn’t how I envisioned launching my company, however I had to and I continue to fight for the success of my company every single day. Money is a challenging matter but things are finally looking up and the pieces are coming together and we are getting a great amount of interest in the business. But it was very hard to keep going, not knowing when the money will come. All I could do is keep working on my brand and proving the value we bring, and the rest started lining up.
What has been a really rewarding moment in your career? For me the most rewarding part of launching SWAAY has been the consistently positive feedback about the brand and about our content, which I have made sure to keep as differentiated and original as possible. At SWAAY we are aiming to revolutionize today’s cover model by elevating women who are making a difference in the world and challenging stereotypes, and it’s clearly resonating. I made sure that the brand stood for the celebration of intelligence and substance while embracing a glossy feel…because that’s the existing white space in the female media brands currently.
What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime? I would want my legacy to be one of empowerment for my future daughter. I want future generations of women to have less hurdles in terms of moving ahead in business. I want to help shift the status quo from a culture that dwells on appearances and a media that plays on women’s insecurities to a conversation that is centered around celebrating intelligence and substance.
What’s something you want young women to remember when thinking about their future? That they don’t have to choose between being feminine and being powerful. I want young women to tap into their creative and problem solving minds from a young age and realize that they have the power to change anything they want to about the world they live in. I want them to take risks without the fear of failure because even if things don’t go as planned, women are the strongest humans on earth.
Where can people find you on social media if they’d like to connect with you? I am all over social media with the handle @imanoubou, and you can follow our digital publication @swaaymedia