In 2014, Sophie Kahn and Bouchra Ezzahraoui were having brunch in New York City.
Kahn was working at Marc Jacobs after a stint at The Boston Consulting Group, and Ezzahraoui was an interest rate volatility trader at Goldman Sachs. They had met in 2009 as Princeton graduate students, two of only a handful of women pursuing finance degrees.
“We were talking about the idea of doing our own thing someday,” Kahn told Business Insider. “We wanted to do more than we could in our day-to-day jobs.”
Inspired by a name-brand gold ring that was turning Kahn’s finger green, the friends decided to start their own company that would provide affordable, fashionable, high-quality gold jewellery. That company was AUrate.
However, they didn’t quit their day jobs the moment inspiration struck.
At the beginning, the business partners spent the weekends taking classes at Parsons School of Design to learn the craft. “We started weekends at 7 a.m. on Saturday and ended at 9 p.m. on Sunday,” Kahn said. “It was nonstop. But you can get a lot done if you’re motivated. You realise how much time is spent on leisurely activities if you just have one job until you start doing something like this.”
“We didn’t know the extent of the workload when we thought of the idea and simply decided to go for it,” said Ezzahraoui. “At first, most of the focus was taking design classes at Parson’s every weekend, working on our designs and setting up the company — all at the same time. Looking back, we had no time to even contemplate being busy during the experiment; our gut feel was the timing was right and we had to get it done.”
In fact, Kahn found, running a side business made them better at their day jobs. In the office, she was 100% focused on her job and had to be more efficient to keep her duties from bleeding into her time at AUrate. Then, when she was working in the side business, she had to be 100% focused on that.
“You know how some people do yoga or mediation or go to the gym to get their mind off their work? If you have two jobs, you always kind of have that, because your job is the meditation for the other one,” Kahn said. “You’re always distracted in a good way, because you don’t get absorbed. You can be working in a corporate job and get an idea for your venture, or you can be working on your venture and get an idea for your corporate job.”
The duo spent 2014 setting up the company, and used 2015 as their test year. Would people buy their jewellery? Could they run a successful pop-up shop? They had begun with funding from their own savings, their families, and from friends, and they needed proof their concept would work. “We’re very rational,” said Kahn. “It has to work.”
And so far, it has. As far as managing their time as the business grows, Kahn says it’s come down to two strategies in particular: detailed to-do lists broken down by high-level goals for the week and incremental goals for the day — plus estimates of how long those tasks should take — and exemplary communication. “For the two of us, we had different types of day jobs with different schedules,” she said. “You have to discuss who does what when, and not get frustrated when one can’t help out. You have to be independent in a way, and very flexible.”
“At all times, I had both a mental checklist for AUrate and for my personal life, and was constantly evaluating how the two priorities interacted with one another,” Ezzahraoui said.
Kahn left her corporate job in early 2016 to devote herself to AUrate full-time, but Ezzahraoui is still working full days at Goldman and nights at AUrate. “My schedule became a continuous week that starts from Monday 6 a.m. and extends to Sunday nights,” she said. “I am available for AUrate every weeknight and weekend and I don’t believe in the so-called work-life balance when you’re growing your business. You will make the time when you are working on what you believe in and what you love.”
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