International Women’s Day on March 8 is celebrated across the World to mark the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality. We love connecting with women entrepreneurs and share all the stories of overcoming obstacles and adversity to get to where they are. In this issue, we caught up with Shaon Tanvir, CEO, Satori Ltd., who shares her story of building the most reputed home decor destination in Bangladesh.
We are eager to know more about your early life. How did the idea of Satori become a reality?
I have always aspired to become financially independent. It prompted me to start working at a very young age. I started teaching English right after my O Levels before going on to become an instructor for TOFEL and SAT, even before completing high school. Financial independence allows you to make your own decisions in life; it provides the confidence and encouragement to achieve something bigger in life.
Even though I always had the full support of my family, my goal of becoming self-reliant always pushed me further. I earned a Fulbright scholarship to fund my undergraduate at Lawrence University in the US partially.
I also worked part-time while I was in university. It started with waitressing in cafeterias and restaurants, before joining as a bank teller in the last two years of my undergrad degree. After graduation, I joined American Express, and then later with Wells Fargo Wealth Management in investment management, where I worked for over five years before moving back to Bangladesh.
Initially, after moving, I worked for Standard Chartered Bank and then IFC-World Bank, but I always wanted to have my own business. From 2009, I started looking after marketing full-time for Persona, the largest beauty salon chain where – I had been a director since 2004.
While I love being a part of Persona – an enormous enterprise that has single-handedly changed the concept of beauty-care and made it into an industry in Bangladesh, my true passion has always been working with beautiful things, just not humans!
Satori was borne out of my passion for becoming a harbinger of the modern home decor of Bangladesh; it is something that I wanted to do for a long time. Finally, in 2011 we started the planning work for Satori, and we opened doors in May 2012. Think my family, especially my husband, was sick and tired of me talking about the concept and not doing anything about it! But seriously, I am very fortunate that they have been my safety-net all along.
How has Satori impacted the home decor scene in Bangladesh?
Satori has been a pioneer in home decor since the start eight years back. We wanted to make home decor items very affordable; we focused on value for money. Following international trends, Satori is bringing quality products to adorn Bengali houses at an affordable price. Something bought for less than one thousand takas, but that looked much more expensive! Our mission is to become the IKEA of Bangladesh. The difference is, we are distinctly Bangladeshi when it comes to aesthetic preferences. IKEA’s quality and affordability is something we want to replicate.
Before Satori, the only real choice of home décor was the crafty and folksy route. Very few items were available at very premium costs, or people had to pay a hefty price to collect them from abroad. Thankfully, we have changed all of that in the last eight years, and shake things up. Now countless other online and brick-and-mortar stores have sprung up overnight selling home décor products. So yes, Satori has had a significant impact on the home decor scene – we have created an industry here.
Who are the people that inspired you to become the person you are today?
I belong to a family of established women entrepreneurs of Bangladesh. My family’s role in shaping me has been edifying. My mother was one of the earliest women entrepreneurs in the country. In the 80s, my mother had a store called Antics in Elephant Road. Handicrafts were made from stones imported from Pakistan, and they were supplied to many reputed stores around Dhaka like Aarong. Among others, Kaniz Almas Khan, MD of Persona is my Aunt. She needs no introduction as one of the leading woman entrepreneurs in this country. Both my sisters-in-law, Rozana Wahab and Khadeja Yasmin Munni, are well-established entrepreneurs too. Our family conversations are never dull!
How would you evaluate your journey as an entrepreneur? Do you have any message for the aspiring women entrepreneurs of the country?
This journey has been a tremendous learning experience. It has, in many ways, shaped and defined who I am today. It has pushed me way beyond my comfort zones in many ways and has required tremendous perseverance and courage.
I believe, irrespective of gender, you need to figure out what you are passionate about, and go all out to achieve it. The Almighty has given all of us a lot of potentials; you should focus on becoming the best possible version of yourself. You need to set your sight high, put in the hard work, and strive for excellence.