This month, we spoke to Kiran, GirlDreamers Co-Founder, to discover what it takes to be the business powerhouse she is. Sharing her unique hobbies and her Ayurvedic lifestyle, Kiran shares her practice of personal growth and development. Discussing the difficulty of handling the business world as a perfectionist, Kiran outlines her journey of identifying her potential and growing in her confidence.
- Presently, what is your objective with GirlDreamer?
To make GirlDreamer futureproof and to bring GirlDreamer back to its core. During the pandemic, we went through changes, and those different directions meant that we moved away from our foundation. And so, moving through how things are with the pandemic and its instability, I want to make sure GirlDreamer is secure and reliable as an organisation that works for and represents women of colour (WOC).
- What is the ultimate goal for GirlDreamer?
For GirlDreamer to be a household name with young WOC. When a WOC is going through her journey, I want her to think of GirlDreamer. When she looks for a community, support, navigation, for the skills she needs to get through a time in her life, I want WOC to think of GirlDreamer as their first thought.
- What are you most proud of regarding GD?
I have two answers to this question.
First, the fact that five years on, we are still here. When people start, statistically speaking, there is a high drop off rate within the first 18 months. After all, it is so hard. With no experience, training or degrees, learning how to grow, develop and navigate a business, to exist five years later is a huge thing. Especially given the lack of support when we started, it could’ve easily trailed off. Half a decade is a huge achievement.
Secondly, I am grateful that we have a physical home for GirlDreamer, which is our office. Again, growing up in the city, to even think that I would have a space and an office through something that I created is a huge deal, and I think having this space allows us to host our community and create an energy and a vibe here that is so specific to us. I feel so proud that this exists for us all.
- What is the most important thing to you about GirlDreamer?
I think that GirlDreamer offers lived experience, and we can directly relate to the life and lived experience that women of colour, our community, have. You can’t necessarily find that everywhere. Having direct lived experience and being a space and platform where WOC can go is essential and one of my favourite things about GirlDreamer. The importance of GirlDreamer for me lies in that.
- What is the best and worst thing about being a Co-founder?
The best thing is having someone to bounce and soundboard off. Not feeling alone in the process and the journey is one of the best things. Having a second opinion, a support system, someone to share the load with is one of the best parts of being a co-founder.
The worst for me is how heavily I feel the pressure and how aware I am of how my behaviour affects the company and Amna. If we weren’t co-founders, my actions, behaviours and feelings would only affect and impact me. As a perfectionist, I am very aware of how my feelings and actions can affect other people, and in the instance of my work, that person is my best friend. I regularly have to check myself because I am aware of letting people down and how much I do not want to. So I always feel the pressure of a co-founder, especially because Amna is my best friend.
- Where is the company today compared to how you imagined it five years ago
In all honesty, although we have done and achieved a lot, I feel we were a bit naive five years ago. So we expected that GirlDreamer would skyrocket, whether this was playing into hustle culture or setting expectations that put a lot of pressure on us to meet. I did think that GirlDreamer would be bigger and a lot further along in the journey. I do think a lot of that came from being very unprepared. That is not to say that I am not proud of where GirlDreamer is and how far it has come in five years. I feel like this change has come with age. In our twenties starting we experienced a lot of pressure from outside sources, social media being one in particular. Now I am super comfortable with where GirlDreamer is. When I think back to the core mission of GirlDreamer, it is about organic growth, speaking to people, real-life experiences and change, which is not something that develops overnight.
- What was your mindset initially in developing and growing GirlDreamer, and has it changed?
When we were developing GirlDreamer, my mindset was very focused on success. I think that came from the pressure of family and community. There was a risk in doing this, developing GirlDreamer when nobody understood what social entrepreneurship was or knew of anyone that ran a non-profit. It was expected of me to do something real, go to university and do something in the medical field. So when we took a chance on this, my mindset was more so that it had to work. I’m aware now that this is not a great place to start. There was a lot of pressure when developing GirlDreamer, and so we had a lot of expectations and goals to reach because that meant that GirlDreamer, in the eyes of others, would be acceptable.
Now I completely take my time with GirlDreamer. It is reflective of who I am as a person. Five years ago, I was very different to who I am now, and GirlDreamer reflects that. Who I am now is someone who is not bothered by outside validation. The need for validation is not there. The meaning of success has changed for me as a result. For me, success means that GirlDreamer is impacting positively. Be it one person or a million. GirlDreamer is a success.
- How do you see GirlDreamer changing and growing in the next few years, and how do you see yourself facilitating that change
I feel like GirlDreamer’s focus will come back to our community, as it was initially. We went through a phase that focused purely on sustaining GirlDreamer as a business, and it took us away from our focus. As we are older, more comfortable, and confident in ourselves and GirlDreamer, we have refocused and understood exactly why we are here and what we do. And importantly, what we want to do according to our ideas and beliefs. So in the next few years to come, having found our balance, we will move forward heavily focused on GirlDreamers core and mission. How we build our community of WOC to take on this world, and a lot of that will be to digitise what we do.
With the growth we saw over the pandemic, our community is no longer just in Birmingham. It is international. The pandemic amplified the need for a global GirlDreamer because there are WOC everywhere, and wherever they are, they experience challenges. So in the years to come, we want to make sure GirlDreamer is accessible to those further afield.
For me, my role in facilitating this growth is creating the resources and capacity to facilitate this. Because my role is focused on finance, strategy, and ensuring we have the resources to make it happen, that is all my responsibility. My work behind the scenes will make sure the front-facing version of GirlDreamer is sustained and grows.
- How do you ensure that what you are doing for GirlDreamer remains authentic and purpose-driven from the goals you set yourselves.
A lot of that has to do with Amna and I remaining authentic to ourselves and GirlDreamer. GirlDreamer is an extension of us as people. It doesn’t operate in the same way that a lot of different organisations do. It is a very personal thing. Because of this, the more authentic we are to ourselves and the team we now have, that authenticity within ourselves reflects the authenticity of GirlDreamer. We have to check ourselves. Ensuring that what is going on inside is what we want to be happening on the outside. Whatever we share with our community has to align with our values and make sense to us. Taking our lived experience and putting that at the forefront of GirlDreamer helps maintain authenticity. Channelling our lived experience into GirlDreamer in all aspects, I feel that encourages a natural form of authentic actions and acting in a purpose-driven way.
- What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your professional career and, how did you overcome it
The biggest challenge for me professionally was that I felt unprepared to step into this role. Being somewhat of a perfectionist has made me clash with taking on the responsibility of a CEO a lot. I come up against myself a lot. How I am in my personality versus the role I take on professionally really does challenge me. For me, the challenge has just been my entire professional journey. Truthfully, I didn’t understand what a CEO did and what it entailed. Becoming it was overwhelming, and I thought that I was not the person for this. But I had to be the CEO because there was no alternative. It was super uncomfortable, and a lot of it was personally challenging. If you ask Amna, she will reiterate that all I do is battle with what comes with being in this role. Weirdly, I think that it has something to do with being the eldest child in my family. I think because of this, I became a perfectionist. I hold myself to high regard and standard and respond to responsibility in a very intense way. Being the eldest child in my family and being so responsible in the organisation is often overwhelming.
As an extension of this, something I struggle with is separating the personal from the professional. I didn’t have boundaries in place for the longest time. Now, in the past year, I have been able to do that. Because GirlDreamer is so personal to me, that made it hard to create that separation and boundary. I am overcoming this by focusing on the phrase to be in it and not of it. It changed my whole perspective. I think of this anytime I am struggling with carrying out healthy separation. Remembering this phrase allows me to detach myself from what I am as a title and who I am as a person.
- Do you measure your success, and if so how
I think that I do, but not in the traditional sense. I don’t measure it with accolades or achievements.
What I mean by this is that for each day that we’re still here, and for each day that I hear a story or know that I was a part of somebody’s journey, that for me is how I measure success with GirlDreamer. The ability to still be here as GirlDreamer and still feel like I’m bringing something that has value to the world for me is a success.
Success, for me, is very feeling-based, and I can feel the most successful when nothing is going on externally. Feeling this way reduces the pressure and need to be the version of success we’re used to seeing. There was a time in 2019 where we were winning awards, meeting notorious people, growing internationally, and there was a lot of buzz around GirlDreamer. Everyone around us told us that we were at the height of GirlDreamer. But for Amna and I, this wasn’t how we felt. In December of 2019, we shut down. We didn’t know if we wanted to come back from this ‘break’ because we were unsure if we wanted this anymore. We took two to three months off and shut down operations. Everyone around us was confused; they thought we were experiencing success. So they couldn’t understand why we needed to stop and take a breather. For us, within ourselves, we were not feeling connected to what we were doing and couldn’t understand the reason for GirlDreamer at the time. We were questioning our purpose and the way we were operating GirlDreamer. To us, at the time, GirlDreamer did not feel like a success. We felt very disconnected from it. At this time, I realised that I did not measure success in that external way.
- Do you feel that you experience regular periods of personal development and growth, and how do you move within those
Yes, I do, very regularly. I think that comes from the professional and personal aspects of my life being so intertwined. I’m constantly learning things about myself, discovering who I am, my personality, and how I approach things and lead on things. Those experiences are teaching me a lot about myself as a person.
Outside of work, personal growth is a huge priority of mine. For me, personal growth is that I’ll take up more hobbies. In my personal growth, I like to take up things in life that I feel like maybe I’m too old for or inexperienced. I wanted to start taking up this challenge for myself. I try to do things that add to my portfolio as a person. Doing that is of high importance for me because I feel like one day I could stop GirlDreamer, and it won’t define me any longer, but who I continue to be as a person will always define me. So for me, redirecting my focus on myself and my hobbies are so important. I have taken up archery and recently become certified in it. I follow an ayurvedic lifestyle. I play the piano. I take up origami to help me focus. I do these things because I want to be the best version of myself and truly understand my potential. Personal growth is up there in importance for me.
- Do you feel that GirlDreamer was in your Kismat?
Yes, I feel that it doesn’t matter what I think I may have done differently. I was supposed to do this. I would’ve ended up here one way or another. If I look at events in my life, I feel it was naturally leading to where I am today. I would never have predicted it. But I feel like where I am is where I am supposed to be.
The summer after college, I was supposed to go to university. It was just expected, especially as the eldest and being intelligent. But for some reason, I did not want to do this. It was a scary decision to make.
I feel like the path that I am on, a lot of it does have to do with Amna. Amna is good at getting you to dig deep within yourself and challenge yourself as a person. I was not used to that. Meeting Amna, her challenging me, helped me start to do that and made me realise more of what I wanted and didn’t want. She helped my mindset shift a lot. Which ultimately led me to make decisions I don’t think I would’ve ever made. I thought my life would have been very typical of what most people do, going to university, getting a degree, getting married and then having kids. I did not think it would ever be any different for me, so the fact that we created GirlDreamer was the complete opposite of what I expected, but in the best way. I feel like this is who I am supposed to be and where I am supposed to be.
- What is your biggest personal accomplishment?
My most personal achievement in recent years is getting my health back on track during the pandemic. For too many years it wasn’t in a good place. It changed a lot about who I am. How I felt about myself and how I looked at myself. Therefore, how I looked at the world. Investing in my health was the greatest thing I ever did for myself and by health, I don’t just mean weight. A lot of people assume I mean this because I have physically changed, but it’s the journey I went on within that was the turning point. My mental, emotional and spiritual health are the parts I needed to and have connected with again.
- Do you log off regularly, and how?
I do more so than I used to. I am not great at sticking to set times, but I know when I have hit my limit. When I feel that limit coming, I will stop. That does mean that it does not follow the same pattern all of the time. Sometimes this will be out of the traditional 9-5. Somedays, I can only get a few hours in. Or some days I can work an entire day. I am getting better but do need to make improvements.
- What do you do when you are not working on GirlDreamer?
I do archery, I play the piano and I do origami. I study and learn more about Ayurveda. I focus on my health and wellbeing. I read books on personal development and history. I go for walks; I like walking, the connection to fresh air and nature is always incredible. I enjoy coffee as a ritual. One of my favourite things to do is to explore independent coffee shops in my free time.
- What is one thing in your life that you have set as a non-negotiable
Joy. If it doesn’t bring me joy, I can’t and won’t do it. Life is too short to not feel as much joy as humanly possible.
Do you feel like your friendship with Amna has grown being Co-founders of GirlDreamer?
Yes, I feel like the closeness of us working together every day has potentially made the friendship deeper. I know parts of Amna, and she knows parts of me that other people wouldn’t because they haven’t experienced the same things we have together or haven’t had as much access to one another as we have. By having that closeness, our friendship has strengthened.
- What are some of your personal goals?
Oh, let’s see. I’d like to keep training in archery to become a coach, obtain a pilot’s licence, reach optimum health through my Ayurvedic practice, live in a few countries, maybe even travel the world and dive as deep as I can possibly go in the ocean – to name a few!
- What are your favourite meals to cook and to eat
To cook, not a lot. I do not cook a lot because I am the type of person that does not like their cooking even if everybody else enjoys it. To eat it is hard to say one or a few things, but the cuisine is South Asian and East Asian. Asian cuisine is up there for me. They are my favourite restaurants to go to, my favourite meals to have cooked, and my favourite food to enjoy.
- How do you practice self-care, and do you do it often?
I do not do it often enough and I don’t have a self-care routine. My way of taking care of myself is probably now through food and health. I do it through being mindful of what I eat, how much I move, and how I take care of myself physically. I also meditate very regularly. I have been meditating since I was around 18 and have embedded it into my everyday life. I am not very good at identifying my needs and responding to them. I am a work in progress on that.
- What are some things that fill you with joy?
Deep and engaging conversations bring me a lot of joy. Connecting to people profoundly for me is what life is all about. Good coffee brings me a lot of happiness. Exploring different cultures through food brings me loads of joy as well. So things that bring me joy are people, food, culture and coffee. If I could experience those things all the time, I would be overjoyed.
- Would 12-year-old you think that you are cool
You know what, I think she would. In fact, I think she’d be proud.
- What is your favourite quality about yourself and why?
My favourite quality about myself is that I’m a caring person. I do care a lot. I have a big heart. I’m not very close to many people in life, but I care deeply for those that I choose to have in my life and just people and the world in general. I always want to help, be of use and make things better for others. Even though sometimes it is a detriment to myself, I don’t think I would ever stop or try to close myself off.
Kiran is a testament to following your passions and moving through your discomfort. Finding her footing as a CEO, Kiran is honest and open in sharing her growth and experiences of the uncertainty of the future. We loved learning about her insight, tips and experiences in living as a perfectionist in a far from perfect world.