Nezha Alaoui is the founder of the Mayshad Group & Join Mayshad
Nezha has one of those careers straight for the history books (and straight out of countless vision boards): photographer for the UN, visionary behind a high fashion handbag brand in Paris, founder of a nonprofit, connector of women, fierce advocate for women’s empowerment, renowned author & so much more.
Nezha grew up in Rabat, Morocco. As she later explains, her experience witnessing so much inequality growing up was one of the main catalysts for her mission to help back humanity.
In 2011 Nezha founded Mayshad, a luxury handbag brand that is known for its social responsibility. Nezha founded Mayshad with the mission of sending a message to women around the world to empower themselves. Wondering about the name? The name Mayshad comes from combining the first syllables of both her daughter’s names, a testimony to how her daughters —and women— are at the centre of her life’s project.
The beautiful Mayshad handbags.
Nezha also founded the Mayshad Foundation, Join Mayshad and Mayshad CHOICE, all of which fall under the Mayshad Group umbrella, and fall under the same mission of championing women’s empowerment.
In September 2018, Nezha relocated her family and company to New York. Currently she leads her team in close collaborations with companies, organizations and institutions to help them develop initiatives and campaigns for women’s empowerment.
Nezha explaining the mission of the Mayshad Foundation to
Cheddar TV reporters in 2018.
Join Mayshad is one of Nezha’s recent ventures, and one that really resonates with us and aligns with our own mission at Built by Women. A platform for women’s personal and professional development, Join Mayshad connects women through workshops and events encouraging women to network and develop opportunities together.
I had the incredible honor of connecting with Nezha, a true force of nature, and asked her some questions about her entrepreneurial life and journey.
A true serial entrepreneur, did you always want to be an entrepreneur? How did the 'Mayshad woman' concept first come about?
As a child I always wanted to become a businesswoman. For me, being in business as a woman gives me the power and the means to be able to help back humanity. I grew up in Morocco and I saw a lot of inequality. In Morocco you’d see poor people every day, so you want to help them, you want to change the world… and so I was always thinking of ideas and projects that could be successful in terms of what the consumer would want —it would bring a solution for the consumer— but at the same time that it could have a social impact. So at a young age, at 24, I started my first entrepreneurial venture. I also had my daughters at that age. So from there I started building my life, making choices for myself, and leading a life of commitment to being productive, to keep advancing, to keep creating projects that would give back.
Snapshots from Join Mayshad events. Join Mayshad is a platform that connects and empowers women, a platform for women's professional and personal development.
What were some of the first obstacles you had to overcome both when starting with Mayshad in 2011 and now with Join Mayshad?
You know, I like to say that challenges are part of life. If you dream small or if you dream big, even if you just decide to commit to something, like you decide to go get a juice, you will find obstacles on the way. One of the biggest obstacles we have to overcome is ourselves: not being resilient enough to achieve that goal. So it really starts with getting to know yourself, getting to reinforce yourself. For me, successful people, it’s not that they had less challenges than others, it’s not that they had it easier, they just had that capacity to be more resilient than others. So the first obstacles that I had to overcome was learning to work with myself. Learning to find my focus, learning to find my balance, learning to have the right relationship to the world — taking the inspiration and not just being influenced right or left. Because the minute you have a challenge you have doubts and influences that come and take you out of your track. So the question is, how do you stay focused on your track? I don’t know if you know that I have my book “Be A Leader: Be Who You Want to Be” — I think that the hardest thing in life is to find out who we want to be. So the sooner you find that out (and it’s a massive, huge project) the sooner you will get to wherever you want to be. But if you’re changing routes every 5 minutes, if you are choosing things that are more influenced by your neighbor or your girlfriend or your parents, or someone in your life, then at the first obstacle you will start doubting yourself and think ‘well at the end of the day, I didn’t really want that.’ So you have to start making choices for yourself.
Nezha with her two beautiful daughters — the inspirations behind the Mayshad name.
Although this number has slightly fluctuated in the last years, less than 3% of VC funding goes to female founders, how was your experience pitching/seeking investment?
Right now I’m in the middle of fundraising for Mayshad. And it’s really not easy, and again, I can’t say it’s not easy because of others, it’s not easy because as women we are not wired to ask for our business. So it took a lot of weeks and weeks of introspection to really work on myself and realize that the world is not shut down to my business: the world is open to my business and my business is really amazing, there is a need for it out there and there is a lot of financial investment and personal investment that has been done to get it to where it is now. The thing is you just have to open many, many, many doors and it’s like that for everything and everyone. What also makes VCs not invest so much in women is that women are very passionate, they have amazing ideas — but VCs are very pragmatic, and so you need to take those passionate, amazing, grand ideas and also turn them into a business model that is also very pragmatic. In reality, VCs are looking for businesses that will generate money, so if you bring them the right, pragmatic, simple cut down business, then they will choose it whether you are a woman or a man. My advice is: when you pitch you have to be very confident about yourself and you have to pitch to as many people as you can. My second piece of advice is to cut down the business model to something very simple. Even if you are envisioning something grand and diverse, take it to just one product: what is one product you are going to sell? When pitching to VCs you don’t need to explain your entire vision. Explain your short vision and let them focus on that. And then, of course, once you are successful you will take it to the grander vision.
"Women in 2021 need to have financial independence, it's at the source
of their empowerment" - Nezha Alaoui.
What are you looking forward to today? You have so many different initiatives and projects going on right now, what are you most excited about?
What I’m looking forward to today is the solidification of Join Mayshad and the community, because for me it’s at the source of all other possibilities. Women in 2021 need to have financial independence, it’s at the source of their empowerment. Women’s empowerment really started being active in our modern society in 1968, it’s tied with media outlets (like Marie Claire, Elle and so on) that started publishing content for women that helps them empower themselves in their sexuality, their lifestyle, relationships… fast forward to the 2000s, technology brought also more means for women to connect with each other, to create communities, and it came also with a trend of wellness — just look at yoga: yoga has always been there, but it became popular when communities were created that gave possibilities for women to gather and do certain activities for themselves (in this case yoga) together. Right now we are past that, you know, I don’t need a friend to come with me to a yoga class because I already know that it’s good for me. I want women to connect and make business together, and this is something that I still don’t see. I want women to be like men have always been: after work they’re having a good scotch, a good cigar or playing golf on the weekend all while doing business. They’re discussing contracts, they’re discussing how to make money together, how to achieve things together. So this is what I want women to get. And this is the vision for Mayshad, what I'm going to be doing and what we’re already doing with Join Mayshad, connecting women and telling each other ‘you have a talent, she has a resource, you can work together, collaborate.’ And this is what we need. We’ve evolved as women in women empowerment and we know how to make the right choices for us now, we have to be able to afford it.
What is one thing you wish you would’ve known before you started your business?
I wish I heard this interview. I wish I would have listened to it and applied it. When I was starting my company, the advice was coming from people that were so conformist, that I wouldn't want to listen to it. I would've liked to hear advice from someone like me today, I’m this new generation of entrepreneur, I'm not the typical conformist person in a suit that you are going to feel that it's so far away from you... I wish I had mentors that were more in that model of social impact, being successful in business and humanity. I didn't have those mentors. Fifteen years ago the world was so divided, you had on one side the business/corporate/money maker world and then you had the social world that knew nothing about making money.