Name: Reham Fagiri
Job Title and Description: Co-Founder of AptDeco
College Name/Major: BSc. in Electrical Engineering/University of Maryland College Park and MBA/University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School
Twitter Handle: @aptdeco
What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?
Reham Fagiri: My day varies quite a bit, and it would be hard to describe a “typical day.” As a young startup with a team of only six, it means that I’m very involved in every aspect of the company – from marketing, product development to scouting out a new office and decorating the space (we just moved!). Typically though, I get in around 9AM and sit down with my co-founder and team to plan for the day ahead. This includes chatting about any media interviews we have scheduled and what new features/announcements we have in the works and how we intend to execute them. Not surprisingly, a lot of my day is spent on email coordinating logistics, dealing with customer enquiries, working with our engineers and ensuring we are providing the best level of customer service to our customers.
What is the best part of your job?
RF: I love coming in to work every day knowing that I am working on something that I have built that answers a need to a problem that I saw within the market. It’s a pretty amazing feeling knowing that I’m putting my time and energy into something that emanated from a problem that I had with trying to sell my own furniture and knowing that I’m providing a safer, more streamlined way so that others can avoid the stresses and inconvenient hurdles that I faced.
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
RF: After I completed my undergraduate degree, I began working at Goldman Sachs in engineering and eventually tech management. I was part of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) chapter at the University of Maryland College Park, so right before graduation I attended SWE’s national conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I met Goldman Sachs reps during the conference and we stayed in touch. A few weeks later I was invited for an interview and the rest is history.
What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?
RF: Where to start? When you’re starting your own business, so much is unknown, which is both terrifying and incredibly exciting. Business and grad school can only prepare you for so much, the real learning comes on the job and I think this applies to every industry. Everyone tells you how hard it is starting your own business but I guess you don’t fully understand it until you actually do it. There’s so many different things to consider and it takes time to learn how to prioritize what is most important and deserving of your time. There is really no magic formula for success; it’s all about trying different things with the knowledge that some things will work and some will not.
Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
RF: I would have to say my co-founder Kalam Dennis, who is also one of my closest friends. Everyone always tells you never to go into business with friends but we’ve made it work and I feel my professional life and our company is all the better knowing that what we have built AptDeco on the foundation of a strong friendship. Building a startup is hard! It’s the most extreme roller coaster. Having someone that you’re close with is very beneficial to help manage the ups and downs to keep your sanity.
What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
RF: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” —Steve Jobs, Apple Inc. co-founder, chairman and CEO.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
RF: I’d say not monitoring our business expenses closely enough almost cost us our business at one point in time.
As a founder I had to quickly learn the art of juggling many things at once. Despite that, we all know it’s human nature to want to spend more time on the things you enjoy versus the things you don’t. For me, focusing on the growth of the business was exciting and fun but it came at the expense of monitoring our financial health more closely. While our business was reaching amazing heights, frankly, at times we couldn’t even keep up with it. I was amassing a huge bill and it dropped like a hammer one month. It’s amazing to see how an expense can balloon if you don’t watch it closely. Thankfully it was a lesson we were able to rebound from and, now monitor every dime we spend, literally!
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
RF: When Kalam and I were accepted into Y Combinator for AptDeco, that was pretty surreal. We attribute so much of our success to what we learned during our time there.
What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
RF: You’ve no doubt heard it before, but professionalism is a really core component when it comes to being hired. Dressing the part and going that little extra way will always make a good impression on any future employer. I also don’t just look at the candidate’s qualifications, but also their personality and how I see them fitting in with the rest of the team. You end up spending a lot of time together working as a small team so it’s really important that everyone gets along. Sending a thank you note and writing a killer cover letter go a long way too. Do your research on the company and make your application personal and you’ll be surprised how much further that gets you!
What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
RF: Do extensive research. Know more than anyone else regarding what you’re working on. (i.e. in tech = be the best coder). Combine knowledge with unrelenting will and you’ll make it!