Welcome to “No Fluff Talk”, a content series centered around female entrepreneurship with all the tea and 0 fluff. In this weekly series, we will be interviewing female entrepreneurs from around the region to discuss hardships and struggles faced by females in the workplace, tips and happenings – with no filter (Well… maybe just a few IG filters while we’re doing IG lives 😁)
In this read, Lara from Woman’s Guide interviews Nyla Khan, a Forbes 30 Under 30 millennial educator and the co-founder for Mirai Partners, Wilow Tree Kids, and Kids World Nurseries.
Over the past 10 years & more Nyla lived, worked and pursued the same dream of wanting to create sustainable & scalable change for those most vulnerable.
Over the past two years, as the co-founder at Mirai, Nyla brought Artificial intelligence and literacy assessment to governments across MENA, with a potential impact of millions of students. On the other hand, with Willow Tree Kids & Kids World Nurseries, Nyla and her partners have been pioneering a new nursery for a new normal, along with launching the first machine-learning enabled personalized early learning platform.
In this interview, we discuss being the youngest in the boardroom, the surfacing of the entrepreneurship syndrome, whether being a female is in fact a challenge or opportunity in business and more. Scroll for some no fluff talk:
1 – Are millenial entrepreneurs all over the place? Should they just focus on one thing and perfect it? Or keep shooting hoops till they get one in the basket?
It’s funny that you mention that, because it’s actually a question that’s been on my mind my entire life. Two and a half years ago when we first started Mirai, that was a question that kept coming up. Where should we place our focus? Do we focus on governments? Do we focus on investors? So there were all of these questions that would come up – outside of which, I would meet someone and they would be like “We should start a clothing brand!” and I would be like “Yes, we should start a clothing brand!”.
I mean there are just so many opportunities – but I think at the end of the day, what I’ve learned from the mistakes i’ve made, is that one of the best things you can do for yourself is become an expert in the field that you work in and note everything about that! So now in education, one of the things we’ve started to do is focus on a niche within education – and being me, of course I did to do many things but I try to do many things within my niche in education so it gives a nice balance between both.
When you’re thinking about building a company however, you can focus on one project – do it well and then exist. I think that would be an idea option for today’s multiple project inspired entrepreneur. A lot of entrepreneurs build businesses, they give their all for that sprint year or two years – then they exit and pursue another project.
2 – Millennial entrepreneurs have been putting entrepreneurship on a pedestal. Word on the street is there’s even such a thing as an “Entrepreneurship Syndrome” that refers to people’s obsession with earning the title of being an entrepreneur and constant use of the term.
Are our unrealistically positive perceptions of entrepreneurship ultimately ruining our lives? What are your overall thoughts on this topic?
To be honest, I was at a webinar with Microsoft and we were talking about the future entrepreneurship – for me, I definitely believe there’s such a thing as entrepreneurship syndrome. I do think that people have glamorized it to the extent that anyone anywhere can call themselves entrepreneurs – but that’s not the problem. The problem is the pressure that people are now under to be something that doesn’t necessary need to be done.
People need to be taught how to be entrepreneurial in their lives. There’s a huge difference. When I work with schools, I always tell them entrepreneurship is important – not so they can go quit their jobs but because if they go work in large well reputed companies, they can use their entrepreneurial skills to create products there that actually fix problems. At the same time, being an entrepreneur… can entail so many things! Sometimes, you don’t sleep. You don’t have a social life. It’s not fun! You only do it because of two things: 1 – You like some level of masochism, and the main part being you love what you do so much that you’re willing to lose everything for some time.
3 – Is being a female in business a challenge or opportunity? What are some of the biggest challenges you have personally faced as an entrepreneur?
It’s an interesting question because I have so many thoughts about this. I’m a gender policy major so I studied gender policy – someone called me a professional feminist once! One of my key focuses when I was studying was around South Asia and Middle East, where we were raised and where we come from. When I was looking at this from a humanitarian perspective, It’s very different from when you go in and work and practice.
When I started working as a woman, a lot of the leaders in education were men. It’s very rare to see a woman as a leader but you see men all the time that don’t have an education background in leadership roles. So you see that discrepancy here. There’s this kind of big boys club that think their way is the right way, and especially if you’re a young Indian woman – they’re not going to be too happy about you giving your opinions.
It was a completely different world for my co-founders. But to pretend things have changed… no! They haven’t. When I walk into rooms, not only am I the only woman but also the youngest and the only Indian. This is why I have to work three times as hard, and if you’re a subject matter expert – there’s no challenging.