Insights from a Millennial Entrepreneur

“Your idea doesn’t work unless you do”

Sabena Suri commenced her career as a brand strategist with some of the World’s leading advertising agencies. Now, that spectacular beginning might be sufficient for some but not for Sabena, who dropped the safety of being an employee to embark upon a journey on the rocky road of entrepreneurship at the tender age of just 24.

Her dream was born along with her co-founders, Chelsea Moore (CEO) Jenni Olivero(COO) in the guise of BOXFOX. The idea was delightfully straightforward: thoughtfully pre-packed gifts from a selection of hand-picked offerings all delivered with a personalised hand written note. The mission was equally elementary: to create stronger relationships through beautiful and personal gifts, enabled by simple user experiences.

Given the Worldwide focus on International Women’s Day last week and the latest research suggesting that growth in entrepreneurship will come from both women and millennials, I spoke with Sabena to glean more insights into what motivates her and what qualities she believes entrepreneurs need to be successful:

Sabena, some recent studies have suggested that despite a 4 decade overall decline in entrepreneurship, there are signs of entrepreneurial growth from both women and millennials. As you fall into both those categories what advice can you offer to other female / millennial entrepreneurs who are just starting out on their own career path?

“I see sitting in both the female and millennial categories as something to embrace. I believe in using those attributes to your advantage and allowing them to empower you, because they form the distinct POV that only you can bring to the table. When you begin your career journey, use every asset along the way; your personal experiences, your connections, and your network to help you grow. When in doubt, start somewhere and take the first step in making your idea real in whatever way you define that, whether it’s writing a plan, filing for a business license or setting up your home office. Make it a priority and your path will become clear”

It was International Women’s Day last week and I interviewed 6 senior female business leaders including Leigh Thomas from Facebook. She was described by one of her colleagues as being “cool, tough and fun”. What 3 words do you think your closest colleagues would use to describe you and why?

“My colleagues would describe me as passionate, pioneering, and productive. I believe so deeply in what we’re building and the relationships we’re creating and strengthening through gift giving. One of the most important things an entrepreneur can do is always be thinking a few steps ahead. This is important to keep in mind as we lead the conversations around modern gifting. I spend a lot of time thinking about how new technology can be applied to our business. Finally, I’m productive. Your idea doesn’t work unless you do, so put pen to paper and get after it”

As part of International Women’s Day they used the hashtags #PressForProgress and #BeBoldFor Change. How do those messages resonate with you and what, if anything, have you done to push for gender equality in the workplace?

“I love this question. We’re living in a time that is openly celebrating females at the forefront of innovation and achievement. My co-founders and I are so honored to sit alongside other women who are disrupting industries, breaking barriers, and making a lane for themselves. #PressForChange and #BeBoldForChange are daily affirmations for me as the co-founder of a female-owned and operated startup. I’m inspired by the work I see other women doing and I’m motivated to be an inspiration for someone else who may be questioning themselves and their abilities to succeed. I action those hashtags by always making myself available to like-minded women in business and by being a mentor to budding female entrepreneurs”

A recent report by Vistaprint looked at the key motivators for entrepreneurs. Interestingly money wasn’t one of them as they cited benefits such as being in charge of their own destiny, a better work/life balance and more job satisfaction as their key drivers. What 3 things made you want to be an entrepreneur?

“I never would have started BOXFOX if I was motivated by money.  I went into entrepreneurship because I wanted to solve a real problem for people. Starting a business from a genuine place was incentive enough for me. Another motivator for entrepreneurship was the opportunity to do things my way. There’s something deeply empowering about having your own ideas and being able to execute your vision without cynicism. Of course, I collaborate with my co-founders, but there isn’t some telling us why something won’t work. We have the room to create our own brand and community from top to bottom and that’s definitely something to be motivated by. Lastly, I would say I was enticed to pursue entrepreneurship by the chance to make a significant impact within the gifting industry. I wanted to be a changemaker, create a brand of substance, and modernize the way gifting has always been done, for the better”

In the same Vistaprint research, they delved into what personality traits it takes to be successful as an entrepreneur. The top 3 included being hardworking, innate self-confidence and intelligence. When you think about how you successfully launched BOXFOX, do you think that these 3 qualities played a part or were there other more important personality factors at play? 

“I agree – those are three necessary personality traits. I’d also add resilience, flexibility and vision. Resilience comes into play at almost every step of entrepreneurship. Be it pitching your brand, sourcing distributors, negotiating a contract, or any and everything in between. In a room full of “no,” you have to have an unwavering commitment to your idea and seek out the one “yes”. Flexibility sits alongside resilience. While you’ve got to stop at nothing to get the job done, you’ve also got to know when to recognize the need to adjust and pivot to make the best move forward. The last trait is vision. The most impressive companies started small but had big plans. They knew what they wanted and their hustle to create and succeed came from first having the vision”

Steve Blakeman
About the author: 

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director – Global Accounts at OMD Worldwide, and is based in London and Paris.  Previously Steve lead the Asia region for OMD and prior to that he was the Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). Mr. Blakeman was recognized by Media Week in their first-ever ’30 Under 30’ people to watch in the industry, and he is a regular judge at award events such as the Cannes Media Lions, AME’s, EFFIE’s, Festival of Media, Cristal Global and Spikes. Follow Steve on Twitter and LinkedIn.