In Conversation with Dr. Najwa Javed of E’MAR
Describe E’MAR in a few words?
Luxury footwear designed by a doctor in Silicon Valley and handcrafted by experts artisans in Italy; the product line intersects art and science.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
The creation of E’MAR was completely serendipitous. As a shoe lover, it had never occurred to me that I, as a foot and ankle surgeon, could create a line of heels. It was not in my job description yet there could be no one better than me. I had spent the last 13 years of my life evaluating and treating people with foot ailments while simultaneously teaching them how to buy the best shoes for their foot type. It became apparent that it was my life’s calling to create a footwear line that would provide the epitome of foot support without compromising style.
One girls weekend trip in May of 2017, the concept of E’MAR came to fruition. My friends were complaining about their feet and I was advising them when one said, “Najwa, why can’t you make a high heel?” I laughed and said, “ I am a physician not a shoemaker.” They, however, were convinced that I had to bring my knowledge to the world. During my journey, I was able to meet wonderful people who would introduce me to my creative design and advisory teams. I did not have a background in fashion or footwear design, so learning from the experts was key. Then, I had to prove to them that they had it all wrong.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Like most children of immigrants, I come from humble beginnings. I grew up moving throughout the United States, but call Tulsa, OK my home, which is where I spent my formative years. I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry/PreMed and a Minor in Ethnocultural Anthropology and a Master’s in Clinical Research and Biostatistics at the University of North Texas Sciences Center. Then, I moved to the Bay Area to study at the California School of Podiatric Medicine and graduated with a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, DPM. My residency training took place at VA Palo Alto and Stanford Hospital, with an emphasis on diabetic foot care, limb salvage, and reconstructive foot and ankle surgery.
Today, I am a full-time Board-Certified Podiatrist, practicing in the heart of Silicon Valley. I am the CEO of Silicon Valley Podiatry Group, a robust and comprehensive medical group providing cutting edge medical therapies. During my private practice years, my patients ranged from VCs, CEOs, profiled celebrities, nurses, store clerks, fellow doctors, and socially active mommies; all of whom were looking for stylish yet sensible shoes.Therefore, the genesis of E’MAR was so special. For me, it’s a time of growth that is parallel to my own personal and professional growth.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Honestly, I never even knew what an entrepreneur was, I thought that the word was reserved for people like Bill Gates or Sandy Lerner. Entrepreneurship was a thing of the privileged and ones with pedigrees. I had neither. Yet, what I did have was ambition. I always thought of myself as a hustler, working harder and smarter on the daily. Yet, when I look back at my younger self, I realize that every single trait that makes you an entrepreneur was already seeded inside of me. I could identify a problem and develop a solution, regardless of how simple or difficult it may be. I had GRIT and that’s all one needed. Even today, it takes me a minute to truly get comfortable with the word ‘entrepreneur’ but what I know now is that I have equity inside of me, and that counts for everything.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
After years of research and development, we launched on Jan 1st, 2020. The pre-sale order was supposed to be delivered in March of 2020 coming from our factory in Italy. In January of 2020, Italy was hard hit with the coronavirus and everything came to an abrupt stop. By March of 2020, we didn’t even know if the factory, its suppliers, or E’MAR was going to survive. Unlike other shoe brands, the medical technology built inside the shoes had taken years to perfect in Italy. There was no way to transfer it to another manufacturer at this stage. We were in a deadlock.
Everyone around the world lay shocked as one by one the world and its industries came to a halt. Honestly, I was unsure of what to do but it is unlike me to panic, so I didn’t. Maybe, it is because I am a surgeon and work well under pressure or that I am continuously updated on what’s happening on the front lines. I had to think quickly on my feet, literally. After the initial shock, I just pivoted the whole 2020 game plan. It also helped that the whole world was in the same boat as me. So, the short answer is that the marketing did not go as we planned. The demographic that E’MAR targeted, professional and socially active women, were no longer working in office and the rest were reverting to lounge wear. However, as I pivoted our strategy it occurred to me that once people do go back to their normal life they will never want to wear anything uncomfortable again. That gave E’MAR an advantage because the line is built with comfort in mind. Furthermore, there is now a whole movement to increase sustainability. Gone are those days, when so many of us would buy cheap shoes on sale just to throw them away as quickly as we bought them; all because they HURT. With E’MAR, you can rest assured that your feet will be anatomically supported in quality materials and design, alleviating the need for high turnover on your staple pieces.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
Every entrepreneur is going to make mistakes and that’s just the name of the game. These are important growth potentials. However, one mistake that I made early on was trying to get VC funding.
Call this naiveté or just plain ignorance. I am not sure, but I always thought that it was like an equation. Amazing product + product market fit = VC money. Well, that is not how it goes. VCs are looking for an exponential growth curve and if you don’t fit that model it’s likely that they will overlook you. There is no amount of hard work, dedication, or GRIT that changes their mind. I get it, it’s a business after all. However, I was always told that for me to launch a startup and scale it – I would need VC funding. I had some dark days when I would be told “NO” over and over again. Most days felt like they were saying “NO” to everything you stood for. It was hard to digest. I was told that I had to leave my job as a physician, but I thought, “How would I fund E’MAR if I didn’t work?” There were so many contraindications in the funding world.
Finally, I had to just stop going down that rabbit hole. I told myself that I would do what I believed would be best for the brand and my vision for it. Once I came to this realization, I stopped letting people tell me what was best for my brand and started to seek out people who actually believed in me and my vision.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Not only did we survive 2020, but we also thrived. I have so much to be thankful for. I launched this brand with no trust fund, no handouts, no excuses – just with my passion and God’s help. To be able to bring innovation in the luxury footwear world is everything that I ever wanted. Building this brand and sharing it with my fellow “high heel lovers” is my greatest accomplishment for now.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
For me, it’s more about a personal connection once I deem their qualifications are on par. A few I like to ask are: “ Take me through your typical day/week”, “ How do you get all your work done?”, “Tell me about a time you coordinated multiple people or groups in order to achieve a goal”, and “How do you see yourself becoming successful at your job?”
Hiring good candidates for your passion project can also feel like dating.Therefore, I believe it is important to separate emotion and be focused on the work at hand. Hire people that believe in the company, are experts in their field, and those who have a clear and concise plan on how to be successful. I believe a good boss is someone who allows for autotomy but also has a dedicated task/goal list and performance standards.
Have weekly meetings with your teams to discuss short- and long-term goals. Give your staff the ability to brainstorm and pitch ideas. Everyone should have the opportunity to be heard. This allows for creativity to flourish. Listen to your team well and hard. Do quarterly reviews with staff and see how they are doing. Compliment a good day’s work and critique where needed. A company is built on teamwork and there is no I in team.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
We launched in Jan 2020, right at the beginning of COVID. Needless to say, all of our Q1-Q4 marketing, strategy, planning, goals went out the door. So, we adjusted our strategy and pivoted as much as we can. Our supply chain was hit hard so we had to send out weekly emails to those customers who were expecting their shoes. We dedicated our time to collaborating with like brands and seeking advice from others on how to sustain a viable business. We had to adjust our runway and, thankfully, all of our partners made it possible. It wasn’t easy, but we are an infant brand and had the flexibility to bend.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We are super excited because there is a wide range of footwear styles and designs coming out this year. Something for everyone, from variable heel heights, structured heel styles, wider toe boxes, and increased stability with each iteration of styles. We are also expanding our line to Spain, where espadrilles and casual shoes are perfected. This will allow for everyone to find style in their shoes while getting the benefits of the patent-pending E’MAR inlay.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Keep fluid. Flow to the path of least resistance, ebb when needed, and gush when allowed, but keep flowing. Nothing can stop passion, not even a global pandemic.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Building the product is the easiest part of the process contrary to popular belief. The hard part is building a successful company. If you want to succeed, surround yourself with people who believe in your passion and the product. Take all positive and negative criticism into consideration; this will help to hone your product or strategy for the best. Never forget, you learn best from failures and criticism- these give you the opportunity to perfect yourself with each step. Never take NO to heart, it’s better for you to have a naysayer off of your team. Set weekly and monthly goals and hold yourself accountable to those.
Finally, do your due diligence if you are serious about building a company; you will work harder than you have ever worked before and only passion and ambition greater than yourself will get you there.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
As a working physician, seeing the utter devastation of the pandemic across the US and in our local hospital systems has kept me humbled and thankful for the small things in life. Seeing the loss of in-school learning for my son or inability to go to our favorite restaurant has reminded me that nothing in life can be taken for granted. Early on in the pandemic, I refused to become a victim of the circumstance. Our family decided to take on things that we had never had the opportunity to do so before. This year, we have spent time enjoying our local trails, cooking at home, supporting local charities via Zoom fundraisers, and spending time with each other lying on the couches eating popcorn and watching movies. It’s the smallest blessings that have made my heart swell.
I have been working at my clinic for 11 months and have been able to keep myself, my staff, and my patients COVID free. With E’MAR, remembering that once we are out of the pandemic and as we go back to normalcy, our outlook on sustainability and comfort will be forever changed. E’MAR is made to be a gamer changer.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I believe in work-life balance, but I am not sure I have attained it. It is like the holy grail. We know it exists, but don’t know where to find it. That being said, I have the needs of two beautiful children, a robust medical practice, and a startup company that on most days feels like it cannot fit in 24 hours. I manage each facet of my life by focusing 100% on the task at hand.
For example, when I am in my office, my focus is solely on work. I am able to compartmentalize because I have maximized the help I need to be efficient. I know I cannot do it all. My office is a well-oiled machine and there is little to no turnover. It’s better to pay for good help than to keep turning over. At home, I have the kids’ school and activities maximized with help as needed. For E’MAR, I use time between lunch or while I am commuting to get those tasks done or late at night once the kids are asleep. I love Trader Joes for wholesome meals and BBQing when out of meal deals. For self-care, I have invested in the Peloton to get in 20-30 mins of exercise daily. I live by the motto, do what can be done today instead of waiting until tomorrow. It works 99% of the time and the other 1%, well, I’m only human and take a cheat day as needed.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m an introvert- my happiest days are spent with a good book, a strong cup of coffee, near the beach with my family around me.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
- Get a good night’s sleep, it is critical for your health.
- Wake up each morning with a clear mind. Take a moment to center yourself as you awake.
- Exercise your body and mind. Walk, run, stretch, swim and make task lists to keep it all on track. You cannot live a productive life if your body and mind is not optimized.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista, means empowering women from the feet up. In the age of self-care and attention to wellness, why not treat our feet better? The modern woman can do it all and she should have it all. E’MAR was built on the notion that every woman should be able to bring sensibility to style. Created by years of medical practice and perfected by master Italian Artisan, I have now brought medical innovation to the forefront of luxury footwear- the perfect pump, inside out.