Through triumphs and uncertainty, bootstrapping a startup and launching a formal first round of funding, entrepreneur and Wolfen Spirit Award winner Sheeva Sairafi (FEMBA ’15) finds that none of it feels like work if she makes her passion a priority. UCLA Anderson’s Entrepreneur Association spoke with Sairafi about her socially conscious home décor company, Local + Lejos.
The EA’s CREATE Conference takes place on April 29, 2016.
Social Innovation Week returns to UCLA Anderson April 18–21 under the theme Ignite Impact.
Local + Lejos creates contemporary product in collaboration with artisan women abroad. Traditional fair-trade products do not take changing market trends into consideration, and we provide our artisans with the tools they need to create products for a younger consumer. I had been working for the TJX Companies for seven years in merchandising and buying, and was seeing shifts in consumer demand for products with a social impact. After spending time abroad in countries like Peru and Argentina, I knew there was product out there to fill that demand, but it needed an update to fit modern taste. And thus, Local + Lejos was born.
Q: How has the Silicon Beach startup community in L.A. impacted your business?
Silicon Beach has impacted our business mainly because of the number of founders/advisors/collaboration opportunities that exist in such a small radius. I’ve become close with a few e-commerce founders that are further along in their businesses, and it’s been extremely helpful to hear their insight on what has worked for them, and their advice on the most important places to spend (and not spend) precious capital. At the end, you still need to make the decision about what is right for your business on your own, but it is helpful to have some guidance.
Q: How did you receive funding?
I haven’t! We bootstrapped our first year and are raising our first round now.
Q: What challenges have you faced while starting this business?
Fundraising has been a challenge, as it is for most businesses. The most challenging part for us is finding investors whose values are aligned with the social impact component of the business. Another big challenge has been marketing on a bootstrapped budget. E-commerce is a crowded space, and many companies have large budgets to spend; it’s hard for us to compete.
Q: What is your long-term vision for your company?
Long-term vision is to continue to expand our artisan network, through mobile technology and training. This will help diversify our product mix without taking on too much risk.
Q: How did being an MBA student help you in starting your business?
My MBA definitely gave me the confidence and the tools I needed to take the leap and start the business. Coming from a corporate environment, I knew nothing about building something from the ground up. Anderson helped round out the skills I needed to know to start, and helped connect me with individuals to serve as mentors throughout the process.
Q: What advice can you offer aspiring MBAs and entrepreneurs?
The best thing I did during my MBA was take some time to work with a few different startups and get a feel for the vibe and the team. I learned a lot from those early experiences and it helped guide my decision to start Local + Lejos. For me, what was most important was to find something I felt so passionately about that it didn’t feel like work. This is what I feel like I’m meant to do in life, so when that majority of my time is spent working on Local + Lejos, it still never really feels like work. Because my personal goals in life are so directly tied to my goals with Local + Lejos, it helps me keep going on the days that seem impossible.
Q: What is your favorite memory from Anderson?
My favorite day of the year at Anderson was always the EA Conference! It is such a great day bringing together L.A.-based entrepreneurs and alumni with knowledgeable experience in this space. My favorite speaker was Mohanjit Jolly of DFJ. He gave an insanely inspiring speech about his trajectory from cleaning toilets to [becoming] partner at a major VC firm. One of his quotes that never left me was, “Life is less about a projective straight line and more like ‘walk like an Egyptian’ — it’s unplanned serendipity.” I think about that often during the days of uncertainty.