Zarangis Huseynova is the founder of WoWoman, a startup providing mentorship and training to female entrepreneurs based in Azerbaijan. Since the establishment, WoWoman has trained more than 10,000 women from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Middle Easter. Zarangis is also the founder of Speak Glocal, an educational organization providing English language training to teachers. She also founded the W Space, a coffeeshop and rental space in Baku, Azerbaijan. Zarangis started her first business when she was 18-year-old with $200. Zarangis talked about her startup at One Young World 2018. She was featured on Forbes 30 under 30 Europe 2019.
[Below is the interview’s transcript which is edited for clarity]
Q: You have been traveling a lot this day. What are you working on?
Zarangis: Well, a number of projects. Some of my projects are kind of on hold, but we’re still working on them. Our retail store selling wedding dresses is a little bit on hold. I have kids’ apparel, and we build mom’s community in Azerbaijan. I have WoWoman, one of the main projects I’ve been working on for the last six months. With WoWoman, we just moved everything from offline to online.
With Speak Glocal, we are working with teachers from cities, suburban areas, and villages to help them better teach languages, specifically the English language. I believe that if you know English, it opens up so many doors to education, books, and all of that. We try to help those who don’t speak English through teachers. We are not working directly with them.
And last but not least, I’m working with a consulting company. As a business consultant, they’re working on stopping climate change through planting trees. We’re working with companies around the world to help them scale up their reforestation projects.
I guess one of the main jobs is being a mum of seven-month-old kids whose name is Ben.
Q: You are a mother of a seven-month-old baby, and you have so many things to do. So how do you manage your time and your task?
Zarangis: Well, I delegate a lot of things. I was asked another day what my superpower is. I think my superpower is the art of delegation to the right people to do the right thing. I have teams in each of the projects. I have a CEO in each of the projects, and I work with them. They do all of the operational stuff. I work on the strategy. In the early months of the project, I usually work on it full time, and then I build the team and system. I can delegate, and I am able to run all the other projects as well.
For my personal life and family, I do the same things. I have a nanny who comes from nine [o’clock] to six [o’clock] and five times a week. Thus, I can focus on work. I work remotely, which is great. I’ve been working remotely for seven years before the pandemic. Right now, it is even better. I have an office on the second floor of our house. I go back and forth. I come down to play with him and to feed him. I come down every hour or two, but I can work the rest of the time. It has been like this for the last three or four months. For the first three months of his life, I spent more time with him. I have a woman who helps to clean and cook. So again, I can focus on work and the family, including my kid and husband. I have time for my education and some time for myself.
Q: Can you share some tips for self-care? So how do you take good care of yourself?
Zarangis: Well, I think one of the critical things that a woman should do is kind of find what it is for her specifically. I’ve been asked this question quite often. There are so many things which you can do, but you need to find, and you need to know what works for you specifically.
What works for me is a shower with candles and gratitude practice. For example, every evening, half an hour is just for me. I turn on the music. I realized that a shower or a bath is my time for relaxing and getting my resources and energy back. Then, on weekends, there are always two or three hours that I allocate to read and reflect on the previous week and listen to podcasts and all of that. That’s also very recharging and rewarding. I like to walk without headphones. These are quite helpful, and I love matcha tea.
Q: You are the founder of WoWoman, which is a wonderful organization. You were featured on Forbes 30 under 30. What motivated you to establish the WoWoman?
Zarangis: I started my first business when I was 18 with just $200 in Azerbaijan. It was quite the traditional mentality at least ten years ago. Now, things are moving forward. It’s becoming easier and more resources available. But 10 years ago, people were like, “Oh, now you can build a business!” Being an 18-year-old woman running a business without big finances or special support, that is impossible. I ran my business. It was quite a lonely journey. People didn’t believe that I can build businesses of my own. It was quite a lonely journey.
I started WoWoman to help communities, myself, and other women. I created a platform that gave them resources to believe in themselves and get the impossible thing out of their way. It’s quite usual that founders start projects for their reasons and to solve their problems. So, that was the same story for me. I was adapting and changing the model over and over again as a community grew. We have over 10,000 women who have been through our offline training. I don’t know how many like online because it’s been a lot.
We did a project on design and digital marketing. I don’t know project management; I try to give financial independence to a woman. That’s another main reason why I started the business. I believe that we can talk about freedom of choice. It should include financial freedom. If you are financially independent, there’s much more choice for you if you have abusive people around you.
Q: What are your strategies to reach out to them because, in some context, it is really difficult for women to engage in social and economic activities?
Zarangis: When we were starting about six years ago, Facebook and Instagram were not overloaded. The organic reach was still possible. We were doing great content. That’s how we got our community together. The basic answer is through social media. No point for me to share the strategies because now things are so different.
Q: What I learned from other entrepreneurs is that they have the support system to help them navigate challenging times. I would like to learn about your experience. Do you have that kind of system around?
Zarangis: Yes, I think the first is my family, husband, and my team. Tough time always happens because entrepreneurship is not stable, especially for those who are not in partnership. People who have a corporate job think like, “Oh, I’m tired of working from nine to six or nine to five, whatever in your countries appropriate.” Suppose you’re an entrepreneur, you work like maybe 24/7 because we think about the project. There’s so much responsibility, not only for yourself, but for the result, for your team, and so on. My support system is my team, family, and all those little things, which I know get me back to a resourceful state.
Q: You started your business when you were 18 years old. What are the main challenges for you to run a business?
Zarangis: I believed in myself and showed others that I knew stuff. I could do things despite my age. Initially, many didn’t know me. They wouldn’t take me seriously. After 5 or 10 minutes of conversation, I was showing that I knew what I was doing. They, people, took me seriously. That’s been one of the main challenges. Overall, our brain works in such a way that it forgets quite a lot of things. It’s hard to say what specifically was there. There are so many such as lack of knowledge, lack of finances, lack of network, and all of that. But at the same time, it helped me get where I am today.
Q: How do you build a network because the network is important for many sectors, not just for social entrepreneurs?
Zarangis: In my case, I was part of AIESEC, which is the biggest youth organization in the world. I built my initial network through AIESEC connections. I went to events and conferences. I would reach out to people and talk to them. One of the key lessons I learned is that you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and reach out to people, especially self-made people. They are usually open to giving forward and giving back in a way that supports young people who want to do good in the world. So, I was just reaching out on events, conferences, or just on social media, explaining what I needed and what I wanted and showing the other side’s benefit. People were open and willing to contribute and support. At one point, we became quite popular. So, speakers and networks were coming to us. They were using it as a PR (Public Relations) for themselves as well.
Q: How do you grow your company from something small? Now you’ve reached out to more than 7,000 women from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East?
Zarangis: There’s no short answer to this. Overall, you never know how to go. I think the important part is that there’s no clear answer to when you should stop trying something new or when you need to push forward until the end. We don’t know where that end is. It’s a matter of intuition, your readiness, and being able to look at your business in such a way that you can honestly say, “Okay, here’s what is not working out. Can I change that? What can I do about it? How can you scale up and all of that?”
One key thing which I learned much later is that you need to look at the market that you’re entering. You are limited by the size of the market. You can create a whole new market if it’s super innovative. You will need a lot of money and time. If you have the will to create or start a business, you should think about it from the initial stage “How big is your market size? You and the size of your company are limited by the market size.”
Q: If a young woman comes and asks you to advise on how to start the business. What would you tell her?
Zarangis: Do it because you’re passionate about this, and you want to solve a problem. Don’t do it because it’s trendy; everyone is doing business right now, or social business or entrepreneurship or whatever. Do it for your reasons because it’s going to be a hell of a ride. To keep going, you need motivation. You can motivate yourself with money or some other things. You need motivation for long enough to make it work. The second is the classics. That’s getting the right people around. Who are you working with? Your team will make or break your company.
Q: What would you tell young people if they come to you and tell you that they have been told that they are not good enough for their business or run their initiatives?
Zaragis: You will never have enough resources, a network, and all of that. There are no perfect moments to start. You should ways knows that there is no ideal timing. The earlier you start, the earlier you’re going to fail, or you will learn and get those network resources and all of that.
You can read books and listen to a podcast and all of that forever. I think that’s another way of procrastination, which we’ll go through right now. People were procrastinated by scrolling through Instagram. Suppose you keep on spending your time on podcasts, courses, books, and whatever, and not implementing any single thing you learned. In that case, that’s also a way of procrastination. You’re just procrastinating. You look smart. You may think you have learned something, but it’s also procrastination. If you don’t implement what you learn, it doesn’t make sense. The best time to start is today.
Q: Do you have any messages for young people who live in a conservative society that does not encourage them to embrace something new or create something different from the vast majority of society members?
Zarqangis: It was the same for me. My society doesn’t support what I was doing initially. You need to listen to your inner guts, even if your own family is stopping you. It doesn’t work with everyone. If we’re talking about adults, you’re an adult. Your parents, like your father and mother, are also adults. You can tell them, “This is my dream to start my own business, or like an enterprise or something. When you say that, it hurts or demotivates me. I would appreciate it if you would support me or just leave me alone.” You need to have adult conversations. One of the main problems is that we don’t talk. We assume. It’s not always easy.
The main thing is to get the courage and speak to those who are demotivating you. You need to tell them about how you feel and that if they don’t intend to support you, then get them out. Get the toxic people out of your life, if that’s possible. Don’t talk to your friends or others who are demotivating you. If you cannot do that, then just try to do your best and communicating. For example, my dad feels that my business is not going to work. I tried to talk to him. It didn’t work out. I was just doing my own thing until it became successful and then came back to him to show the results.
Q: I talked to other entrepreneurs. Family is one of the main challenges that do not accommodate young women to run their businesses. Do you think why it happened to them?
Zarangis: I think it’s such cultural traditions, the old ones, some religious, some just traditional thinking of women being home, or taking care of kids, and all of that. That’s the classical reasons or have such kind of conservative cultures. Things are changing. I would assume you’re talking about Sarah because I saw her photo on your Instagram. People like Sarah, myself, many others, and young black women entrepreneurs, are breaking those stereotypes. Little by little, I think it’s much easier. It’s already much more open for other community members.
Q: That is very inspiring and encouraging. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Zarangis: Thank you so much. Have a very good day!
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