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Three Entrepreneurial Lessons I Relearned at Naya

There I was, enjoying my morning espresso on a random morning in March 2022 when my phone rang.


Ugh, an unknown number. I hate unknown numbers. Should I pick it up? Don’t really want to— just focus on the coffee. Ah, screw it, I might as well just answer…


-“Hello, this is Fede.”


-“Hi there, my name is Victoria. I’m a student at the NTNU School of Entrepreneurship. You don’t know me, but I’ve heard a lot about you.”


Her voice was bubbly, full of childlike enthusiasm. I could sense a bit of nerves, too.

She continued:


-“I think you can help my co-founder, Eirin, and I launch Naya, our social startup in India.”


What badass girls!


I was smitten — and the rest is history.


Entrepreneurship Lesson # 1: You need not go at it alone so reach out and connect with people who might be able to help your mission, even if you don’t know them. Nine times out of ten, you’ll flatter them. I know I was.

Soon after this short call, the three of us began meeting routinely and jelled quickly. During one of our first pow-wows, we massaged NAYA’s mission, which eventually became: to accelerate dignified employment worldwide, through developing people and technology.


Eirin quickly explained though, that during the very early days, technology wasn’t part of the equation. She had traveled to Dehradun in Northern India for charity work in 2017 and had met several women living in the Bindal slum who had made a powerful impression on her. They were resilient and strong yet faced seemingly insurmountable challenges.


She had a deep yearning to help and felt that dignified work would be a good place to start. What kind of work, though, was still to be determined. At first, she focused on handicrafts, teaching them how to knit woolen socks and make bracelets to sell on Facebook. She quickly realized that this strategy lacked scalability. After a couple of months, she left India disappointed but not completely dissuaded.


Eirin went back to her university work but couldn’t get the women she had met in India out of her head. She stubbornly tossed around different approaches. She decided to go back to India to try a new approach: to establish a clothing brand and production house. Despite devoting nearly three years to this pursuit, she could not shake a growing sense of dissonance. The fashion industry felt like a bad fit, failing to resonate with her core vision of empowering women.


It wasn’t until an ideation session with Victoria, whom she would meet in 2021, that they landed on digital labeling services as a form of dignified—and scalable—employment.


Entrepreneurship Lesson # 2: Resilience is not about bouncing back. It’s about bouncing forward. Growth from setbacks and failures—and having the required stick-to-itiveness—is the stuff of great innovators.

During one of our long breakfasts together, I asked Eirin and Victoria the cliched yet still important question any advisor worth his salt would ask:


— “Why do you really want to launch NAYA? What’s truly driving you?”


Victoria quickly leaned forward with a twinkle in her eye. Right when she was about to say something, she hesitated and became somber. A tear slowly rolled down her cheek. And then another, and another. Her voice cracked:


— “There’s nothing that drives me more…”


She paused and took a couple of deep breaths.


— “than to offer real opportunities to thrive to those who’ve been left behind.”


I was caught off guard. It really wasn’t what she said that shook me. It was how she said it. There was a profoundness to it, a real conviction, that I wasn’t expecting from a twenty-three-year-old.


Her upper lip shook as she continued:


— “My purpose is not only to help a handful of women. I want to empower millions.”

Eirin quickly turned to her. They looked at each other for a short while, smiled peacefully and embraced.


As I sat on the opposite side of the restaurant table, failing miserably to hold back my tears, I thought to myself:


I am 100-fu**ing-percent in.


A couple of weeks later I became NAYA’s first investor.

Entrepreneurship Lesson # 3: Vulnerability and authenticity are your superpowers. Being utterly raw and speaking from the heart when it matters…really matters.


Cause

09/05/24

Insights from Our Investor

Federico Lozano
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