Ten years before President Obama called her "a rockstar of the new economy and a leader we can all emulate," Shazi Visram was an MBA student at Columbia Business School, eager to create a profitable business and do good in the world. One day, after hearing about a friend’s struggle to find healthy options for her new baby at the grocery store, Visram had her lightbulb moment — and a new company was born.
Happy Family Organics (then Happy Baby) launched in 2006. Since then, the successful mompreneur has taken the company to extraordinary heights. In 2013, she sold a majority share to Danone for a reported $250 million and remains “Chairmom of the Board.” Today, Happy Family Organics is the top-selling organic baby food brand in the U.S.
Wondering how she does it all? Here, Visram, a mom of two, shares her top productivity secrets.
KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE END GOAL
My parents came to this country from Pakistan and Tanzania. We lived in a motel in Alabama that they saved up to buy. Their goal was to make a better life and be able to afford the best education for my brother and me. I watched them struggle and work hard to do that. There were long hours, a lot of business talk and not a lot of fun time. But it was because my parents never lost sight of their goal — to give their kids what other American kids had — that they were successful enough to send us to good schools. Anyone makes more progress when they have a clearly defined goal.
MIND YOUR STRESS LEVELS
When I was building this business, I was a lot like my parents: working nonstop, with no separation between the business and my personal life. And that was OK — until it wasn’t. A certain amount of stress and pressure does increase productivity because it keeps the adrenaline flowing. But many entrepreneurs hit a breaking point. For me it was always back pain, and I also have something called adrenal fatigue. Whenever I get really stressed out, I will end up having an episode where I can’t get out of bed. It’s my body’s way of saying, “Slow down.”
While stress can keep you motivated, it’s something that needs to be managed. Forget trying to be stress-free, just learn to recognize when it’s time to take a few days to chill and watch movies and drink wine, or whatever you need to do.
“It’s self doubt, not a lack of skill, that most often stands in an entrepreneur’s way.”
TREAT YOURSELF LIKE AN ATHLETE
While I don’t believe that there is such a thing as work-life balance when you’re an entrepreneur, I do believe that a balanced body chemistry is essential for productivity. I’ve learned a lot about this from my son, who has autism. We treat him by looking at his medical test results, seeing what’s going on in his body and trying to create balance. So I think a starting point for any entrepreneur is to make sure your health is on track. Gear yourself up for performance, like any athlete: Get blood work; make sure your gut health is in check; and don’t eat things that create inflammation, because it creates a foggy brain. I’m a big fan of Dave Asprey and the Bulletproof Diet. I also love to take walking meetings — walking and talking is exhilarating. Health is wealth, as my dad used to say.
BUILD SOME “BLUE-SKY TIME” INTO YOUR SCHEDULE
Starting a new business takes more than hard work. It takes creativity. I try to carve out a couple of hours during the day for what I call “blue-sky time.” I think that’s my most productive time — when I’m thinking about the future and how to make bigger moves.
FIND THE YIN TO YOUR YANG
I think I have A.D.D., and I’m always spouting off ideas that I can’t keep track of, so it’s really important for me to surround myself with organized people to help me execute my vision. If you’re starting something and not yet at the place where you can hire a team, consider bringing on a partner. If you understand your weaknesses and team up with someone who excels in something that’s not your strong suit, then you can focus on where you’re the strongest.
VISUALIZE YOUR TOMORROW — AND BELIEVE YOU CAN GET THERE
Almost every night before I go to sleep, I scan through a running list in my head of things I want to accomplish or make progress on tomorrow. I don’t write it out, I just take a second to be thoughtful.
These are the things that work for me. To start optimizing your life, all you really need is to believe in yourself. It’s self doubt, not a lack of skill, that most often stands in an entrepreneur’s way. Everyone has that voice in her head in the beginning that says, “This will never work.” I used to have it, too. Just keep believing. Give yourself a mantra to repeat in times of doubt. Here’s mine: “Whatever it is, you can do it.”