When Shapol Majid read The Founder’s Story of Sofia, the fictitious business leader wracked by worry and exhaustion as her company grows, she thought she was reading about herself.
“You could have replaced her name with mine,” says Shapol, who was struggling to manage her ever-growing list of tasks and was feeling drained. “Everything that was happening to Sofia had happened, or was still happening, to me. It was so encouraging to learn that the difficult moments are all part of the journey.”
As is common at the beginning with all business start-ups, Shapol felt that her company, an eLearning, knowledge and community app for vulnerable women and young people in the Middle East and North Africa,was usurping her entire being.
She couldn’t have met Julie Perkins, founder of Wyseminds and Sofia’s creator, at a better time.
Stepping out of the safe zone on the path to growth
With Julie’s expertise and first-hand knowledge of growing a successful business, she quickly identified small actions that Shapol could take to claw back some of herself.
“The reason we wrote Sofia’s story was to show female business owners that when they feel stuck, it’s a very normal part of the process,” says Julie. “So often people choose to give up at this stage, because it can feel insurmountable and there’s not a great deal of information out there to offer reassurance.”
For Shapol, reading about the character was “liberating” and after a few Wyseminds workshops she learnt a new way to operate her company. She also read The Wyseway, another Wyseminds book that details the waves and plateaus that are the same for all start-ups.
“It’s so interesting knowing where you are on the journey, where you want to go next and how you should do that,” says Shapol. “The visualisation of these steps helps me know what to expect so I don’t try and return to my safe zone when things get hard.”
Empowering people in their own language
It’s her background as a teenage refugee fleeing war-torn Iraq in 1991 that Shapol credits for her motivation to help people learn how to be self-sufficient and independent in parts of the world where it is often difficult to do so.
Her app provides quality, practical vocational training and business development courses in English, Kurdish and Arabic.
“So many people don’t speak anything but their mother tongue so can’t benefit from the thousands of eLearning platforms that are out there. We provide the opportunity to find the knowledge in their own language and use it to generate an income for themselves and their families. I believe everybody has the right to access education and knowledge. Not necessarily education in the old way, but the right to access knowledge, empowerment and community. If we don’t do it together we can’t change things.”
The community side of the platform ensures everyone can come together so employers can find trained people and provide assignments, or buy products directly from those who choose to make and sell on the platform.
Opening doors to knowledge
The idea to empower people through knowledge surfaced when Shapol returned to Iraq from the Netherlands with her first business, a lingerie company. She was unable to find trained locals to make her product and had to outsource the manufacturing overseas.
“There was no vocational training anywhere in the country and I realised that people who are non-literate couldn’t access education. It was impossible to produce our products so I started a pilot with 45 women, teaching them how to make things and learn technical skills.”
When Covid hit, she continued the pilot online and after two years, developed it into her current business to ensure more women and vulnerable people could benefit.
Parenting and business ownership: the similarities
Shapol sees analogies between running her company and being a parent. Like her two children, her business is growing bigger and stronger every day and each stage involves new people and different challenges.
“With a child you need to be aligned with yourself and your vision of the world because what you stand for will affect them. I sometimes feel like it’s the same process, in that one day, when they’re big enough, I’ll need to stand back and give them more freedom. I know that this step is coming soon with my business, the one where other people will have to come in and I’ll need to delegate.”
She now thinks more clearly and through her knowledge of Sofia, has strategies to help avoid overwhelm. In addition, Shapol’s personal purpose to encourage independence through knowledge, is now extended into her organisational purpose which brings a renewed focus and energy.
“I’ve learnt that business is a combination of everything – your life, your work, your experiences. I have a systematic way of thinking now that keeps my personal vision and purpose as a founder at the core with everything else aligned around it.
“Julie says ‘business should be fun’ and I really couldn’t be happier than I am now.”
Would you like a copy of the book A founder’s story and learn from Sofia and her entrepreneurial growth journey?
You can get it in our shop for € 10,00 now or for free by joining our programme on Your Journey, here.