A Vision is Better Than a Plan: Tech Entrepreneur Mona Bijoor on Digitising Fashion Buying To Digitising Faith
Meet Mona. Entrepreneur, investor, advisor and author, as the founder of JOOR she took fashion buying online. Now she’s launched a community platform for spiritual connection.
During a time where video calls have replaced nearly all face-to-face communication, becoming the go-to of pandemic life to connect with colleagues, family and loved ones - it’s often still hard to feel connection. But not with Mona Bijoor. A warm, wide smile completely cuts through the veils of technology and it’s almost as if we’re sitting opposite an old friend with a cocktail, having a really good catch up. Entrepreneur, investor, start-up advisor and author (also mother by the way) Mona certainly has her hands full, but her calm, warm demeanour means you would never guess.
Mona set an industry standard with her platform JOOR. The first to digitise the end to end buying process, she began connecting buyers with fashion collections in a whole new way - and she caught the eye of our Chief Product Officer Valeria in the process. Valeria worked with Mona during her time with Alexander McQueen and can confirm that this savvy start-up advisor has major ‘Hēdoïne energy’ - so here we sit! Ready to share more of her hustle, her genuine passion and her latest project, which turns out to be a spiritual side-step from fashion. This is the kind of Hēdoïne who within five minutes can make you feel like you can do it all, and if she were here writing this she would absolutely say - ‘because you can do it all!’
Tell us a bit about your journey up until now
My background is in fashion and while I liked fashion, it wasn’t really a conscious thing. I was more into sports as a child, but when I started working for a management consultancy firm after university, they kept putting me on consumer product and retail clients (as one of the very few women working there), and it kind of went from there. I ended up becoming a buyer and working for all different brands and retailers – Chanel and Elie Tahari to name just a couple. After I got pregnant though, I wanted to set up my own business. I started a blog that I doubt anyone was reading, as a sort of a brainstorm. I was looking for a gap in the fashion market and initially looked to set up my own brand, but it was within wholesale that I spotted the gap. Everything about buying back then was about having good physical placement at the trade shows. And so much of the selling process was pen and paper that I knew should transition to a digital format. So, I created a platform – JOOR – that connects brands to retailers online. At the start, it was a challenge for sure – brands barely had iPhones and iPads at this time, so it was a completely foreign concept to most brands and retailers to work online. I left in 2017, to start Kings Circle Capital, a personal investment fund and to write a book which I titled Startups and Downs: The Secrets of Resilient Entrepreneurs.
During the first quarantine of 2020 though, I set my sights on another space in need of change: religion and spirituality. In November 2020 I launched HolyTV.co, a personalized platform for spiritual connection.
Wow, how did you come up with the idea to do something around religion and spirituality?
My family is quite religious, well spiritual I’d say, but we don’t live near a temple. So, when my kids go to their grandparents’ they visit a temple and always return asking why we never go. My reply is often that we don’t have time, which is a terrible reply (laughs), so it dawned on me that spirituality is most impactful when it's on demand. I also found that my kids personalise their own spirituality. They take from the faith they were born into and also gravitate to a wide array of philosophies ranging from Buddhism, Judaism to Quantum Mechanics and Astrology. HolyTV is designed to meet users where they are in life. Users can search the platform based on how they are feeling and easily find inspirational talks to overcome anxiety, grief, fear, pain, isolation and more.
The role of technology in religion is in flux, but that was the same with JOOR. The key is to figure out the bell curve where you get the early adopters on board - and others will follow, trust me.
When you first launched JOOR, how did you convince companies and buyers to change the way they were thinking and sign up?
Behaviour change businesses are really interesting. With JOOR, we had to wait to convince the buyers. We spent a lot of time convincing the brands first, then once we convinced a lot of them, we went to the retailers with that data and showed them they could get information in a way they couldn’t before. If you work smart, you can do it in a way where people don’t realise that they’re changing their behaviour.
We have a similar job with HolyTV where some are easier to convince than others. Once we get people on board, it’s much easier to get others onto the platform. With HolyTV, we have a much bigger mission and problem to solve. People tend to rely heavily on spirituality, when they are in pain or experiencing struggle especially, so our team is laser focused on providing a personalised experience and a community-based platform to meet their needs.
What would you say were the most pivotal moments in your career, and what instigated that pivot or change?
The realisation that I wanted to start my own business. I was working at a big retailer back in 2008 and its strategy was to heavily discount to clear their inventory. It was really hard for me to digest. As a merchant, you work on building the brand through your assortment, visual strategy, working non-stop to sell your product at full price. It was painful to watch the slash and burn discounting that quickly erodes brand equity. It was demoralizing work. It was then I decided that I didn’t want to work for someone else and make someone else’s mistakes. So many leaders want a command-and-control type of environment. For me, I prefer to work with close-knit teams where we drive the business together and as long as we’re on the same page about the ultimate vision of the company, it works. Also, since I’m in the thick of it, building HolyTV is a very different landscape for me, so that’s definitely been a great pivot.
How do you switch off or unwind?
For me, it’s reading. The indulgence is that I have to read about something unrelated to what I’m working on. I probably read 1-2 non-work related books per month.
What is your favourite quote/saying and why?
I’ve had many that have motivated me at different times in my life but my favourite one at the moment is: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it will not change you.”
When I left JOOR, I had complete freedom on how I wanted to spend time and designed all aspects of my life, focusing on what I wanted the next 10 years to look like. I realised that fulfilment is both about personal growth and how I add value to others. So, this quote reminds me not to run away from challenges as that’s where my personal growth lies and if I want to add true value in this world, it’s going to be challenging.”
It’s far better to have a vision than a plan. You can’t plan for your month or quarter until you have a 7-10 year vision for your business.
What would you say makes a great leader?
Depending on the situation, a leader needs to display different characteristics to adeptly deal with the circumstances at hand, but if I had to generalise then I would say:
1. Empathy combined with listening to your customers
2. Clear and direct communication – especially when conveying your passion and vision for your business.
3. An ability to sift through and embrace the unknown. I think to start a disruptive company, you almost have to be someone who welcomes ambiguity. If the problem that you’re working on is super clear – black & white – the solution would already exist. When you find a gap in the market there is so much lack of clarity and you need to be ok with navigating that.
Would you say company growth follows personal growth or other way round?
I think personal growth comes first. If your personal growth is on a steep trajectory then all that internal learning is directly impacting how you approach your work.
What’s good advice that sounds like bad advice?
Hard question!! How about “the universe always has a plan for you”? Or that the Universe is always conspiring to make things happen for you. A lot of people think it is spiritual mumbo jumbo, or just think paranoia will serve them better.
I was like that early in my life but now I’ve flipped my thinking. I think since I’ve embraced this belief, success is easier to come by. Now I focus on what I want rather than what I don’t want. It’s easier to visualize your future this way. It’s advice that has helped me measure and optimize my actions on a daily basis. I don’t dwell too much on when or how big my results will be.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned professionally?
I’ve learned that it’s far better to have a vision than a plan. I’ve always been reasonably successful in producing an end result; but what I’ve learned is the result that I achieve doesn’t always come close to the level of quality and quantity that I want. Usually, the results are a step down from where I could be. And the reason is not really in my execution – it’s in my lack of clarity in vision.
Plans change all the time but developing a purpose and vision for where you want your business to go is crucial. You can’t have a plan for your month or your quarter until you have a 7-10 year vision for your business. And this goes for life in general (personally and professionally).
I think to start a disruptive company, you almost have to be someone who welcomes ambiguity.
What are some of the challenges of building early-stage businesses?
I love the early stages and creating something from scratch. There was definitely a time in my life where I was sacrificing a lot, but luckily, I had a good support network and that saved me in a lot of ways. A big lesson for me is that you don’t have to sacrifice it all to build your business in the early days. If I had stayed on the path I was initially on, I probably would be in trouble in lots of other areas in my life now.
Are there any books or people that inspire you?
There’s a lot of things that I’ve read and people I’ve met, but it’s my parents that have influenced me the most. As entrepreneurs, they were very customer-centric. I realised that stellar customer service will never fail you- it breeds loyalty and an enduring reputation.
What does authenticity mean to you?
1. Focusing on speaking your truth, who you are, what you stand for.
2. Focusing on finding “your others”- people who you respect and uphold similar principles.
3. And, not really worrying about what others think after that.
What makes you a Hedoine?
I’m an entrepreneur at heart, who loves the hustle and always speaks the truth - and I always aim to be genuine in everything I do. Hustling while telling it like it is, and having fun along the way, that’s part of being a Hēdoïne right!?
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