“I’ll have a watermelon smoothie please,” says Hazera Chowdhury to the bar staff. I met with her in a rooftop café in Bethnal Green for our interview. Hazera chats away to the bar staff confidently and totally at ease, as if these people were her lifelong friends. I watch her somewhat in awe. This is a woman who has founded and now leads her own business, POD-X. She is so full of energy and life. Indeed, what strikes you when you meet her is how youthful she looks. Hazera tells me, “often people don’t believe me when I tell them I’m a CEO. They think I look too young.” We joke together, saying she should really be called the ‘baby-faced boss.’
During our interview Hazera tells me about her background, her career path and gives advice for entrepreneurial students at Queen Mary. She is excited to announce the upcoming release of her new product. In this article I would like to share with you her journey into the business world. Ms Chowdhury is definitely someone you can learn a lot from if you are a budding businessman/woman, an aspiring entrepreneur or just a creative student with awesome ideas.
When I think of a CEO, the first image that springs to my mind is a white, middle-aged man in a suit. Indeed, an article by ‘The Guardian’ (Rankin, 2015) reported that there are fewer female bosses in the FTSE top hundred businesses, than there are chief executives called John. Of course, the top UK businesses may not be wholly representative of all businesses in the UK; nevertheless, this statistic gives an indication of how male-dominated this sector is. Hazera also suggests that it is relatively uncommon for Asian women, especially Bengali women like herself, to hold leadership positions in businesses. “I’m actually proud of myself coming from a background that doesn’t really recognise or celebrate female entrepreneurship as much,” she says. “Maybe I can help to inspire a new generation of young Asian women going into business.”
Hazera grew up in East London. During her childhood, the family did not have much money to spare, particularly because they were such a big family. “I am one of nine children!” she informs me, “eight girls and one boy.” Hazera enjoyed growing up with so many siblings – “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” she says. “We didn’t have toys, but we didn’t need toys really, we had each other. Plus we always found bits and bobs around the house and tried to make stuff with them.” Hazera’s parents supported their large family by working as tailors. This did not bring in a huge amount of money, but Hazera appreciates how hard her parents worked. “My parents, I love them; they worked hard for us day and night, sewing clothes and running a mini business.”
To get to where she is today, Hazera has overcome many challenges. She studied product design at university but dropped out a few times and failed in some areas. “To be honest, I never wanted to go to university” she tells me, “I really hated writing essays. I just wanted to make stuff.” However, she was determined not to give up. “I just got back in there to the next round, because I wasn’t going to let anything get me down. Eventually I succeeded, completing my product design degree with a 2:1.”
Hazera worked hard to realize her goals. She explains how she called up a countless number of companies to get work experience. “I volunteered a lot. I interned a lot and, you know, some people literally took the p***. But at the end of the day, I was young, I was keen and I just knew that I had to go the extra mile to get to where I wanted to be. Often people are like ‘ohh noo…they didn’t accept me’, but I never accepted no.” Hazera’s hard work paid off: “when it came to getting an actual job, people could take me seriously, because I had experience.”
Hazera has helped companies to design many products including lights, packaging, baby products, toys and even high- tech robotics and camera equipment. I ask her whether there was one project which she had particularly enjoyed. “Yes, there was one project where I helped to design nail clippers for babies. That was really interesting, because I was the one who had to research all the problems. I was interviewing all these mothers and trying to understand why they had problems cutting babies’ nails. […] From our research we were able to invent a nail clipper that sold out everywhere. [The nail clipper] prevents mothers from cutting the tips of babies’ fingers.”
She makes clear just how much work goes into designing these consumer products. “There is so much that goes into designing, like people don’t even realize. Take a product, a phone for example. You just see a phone. But you don’t see the research behind these products, the material testing and the trials on customers. There is so much groundwork involved […].Like for the project with nail clippers, I made so many models; it was crazy.”
I ask Hazera why she eventually decided to set up a business of her own. “You know what it was, I was working for all of these high-profile people and there were a few in particular taking the credit for my work. Although I worked for the company, I kind of felt there should have been some acknowledgement for the team involved.” Furthermore, Hazera wanted to create her own line of innovative products to help people and nature. “It wasn’t an easy process. At times I was worried, but I just realized that I had to do this, because it is more painful not doing it. You know, the soul is going to do what it came to do.”
“I just realised that I had to do this, because it is more painful not doing it.”
Hazera’s company POD-X have been working on a new product. However, she cannot reveal too much about the product before it is officially released. “What I can say is that the product is a travel product and it’s going to be a product that you use every day. It’s simple but beneficial for health and for the earth. It’s about self-love, love for others and loving planet earth. That sounds really poetic, but it’s not. When you see it, you will understand it and be amazed. This product is about inspiring intelligent human behaviour and it will have a positive impact on the environment.” That certainly does sound intriguing!
Since many students at Queen Mary are interested in entrepreneurship or in business, I ask Hazera for some top tips. She is keen to offer advice: “The whole entrepreneurship thing, people think it’s about money. It’s not about money. No, it’s about doing what you love. […] If you are doing it just to make money, don’t do it, because that gets boring. And also, then it only becomes about you, when really it’s about what you are contributing to others”
“If you are doing it just to make money, don’t do it […] really it’s about what you are contributing to others.”
She also advises entrepreneurs to just focus on developing one particular product or service. “Often people focus on five different things at once and never get anything done. Just focus on one thing. […] If [you] don’t focus all of your energy and attention on one product or service, then [you’re] not going to give it one hundred per cent. […] If you feel like you can’t make enough money out of [your product], then obviously I understand that – of course you need to make money. But I think there is a strategy and you have to understand what your strategy is.”
She continues, “Think about what you are actually contributing, how your product or service is actually going to benefit people.” By way of summary, she says: “so my advice would be focus on something you love and don’t do more products or services than you need to do. Also, work out a strategy to get there, be patient and never give up!”
Hazera is not only the leader of her company, but also happens to be the only female. However, this does not faze her. “Actually I don’t see my team in terms of male or female, I see them in terms of creative energy”. She stresses the importance of having a good connection with your team. “Sometimes members of my team say ‘oh you’re so inspirational’, but I equally find them inspirational.” Hazera is very conscious of what it means to be a good leader. “People think leadership is about telling people, ‘do what I say’, but actually leadership is not about that. Leadership is about going to the top and taking your team with you. It’s about working together to make a real difference”.
“Leadership is about going to the top and taking your team with you.”
As a final question I ask her: would you encourage other women to get into entrepreneurship or business? “To be honest it’s not for everyone,” says Hazera. “That’s the truth. There are stresses and strains. I went through a lot, […] in the beginning it was really stressful. I would say it’s only for people who really want to make a difference. It’s only for people who can take the hits whilst still growing stronger. It’s getting punched in the face and getting back up again. If you can take the hits, then go for it. Of course, there are challenges and you must ask yourself whether you are willing to face these. Know and understand who you are first, why are you here and what are you going to contribute to this world”.
Queen Mary Careers Service offers great opportunities and support for entrepreneurial students, find out more here: http://www.careers.qmul.ac.uk/students/enterprise/
To follow POD-X –
WEBSITE :WWW. POD-X.COM
To follow Hazera –
TWITTER LINK: https://twitter.com/hazerachowdhury