There can’t be too many people in the world who’ve both juggled numbers as a managing director at Goldman Sachs and handsewn textiles for ateliers working with designers like Marc Jacobs and Proenza Schouler.
But Shobana Mani has.
“I've always been two things: a commercial person and a creative person,” says the Parsons Entrepreneurial Academy mentor. “My grandfather was a dyer in India, so I grew up among textile looms and seeing saris woven in front of his house. But then I did my master's degree at the London School of Economics, and in my first career, I worked in investment banking.”
When, after a dozen years, she found herself drawn back towards creative work—dreaming of launching a sustainable womenswear brand—she approached it with the finance sector’s rigor.
“A lot of people said to me, ‘You already have this background, why don't you just start the brand?’ But I just don't believe in that. I really respect creative people and the processes they go through. I decided to go to school, learn design, and then become a creative.”
She earned a degree in Fashion and Textile design and a production certificate in pattern making (“Those are the hard skills of fashion, and I tend to like hard skills,” she says), then refined her skills as a designer and textile artist at various ateliers in New York.
Today, all those experiences come together in her work as a PEA mentor. And an effective one, judging by her reviews:
Recently, Shobana led a workshop titled Learn by Doing: Launching Your Minimum Viable Product as a Creative Entrepreneur. [Video BELOW.] We talked to her about that experience, and why being a mentor feeds her brain.
What do you think you bring to being a mentor?
I’m able to understand creatives’ process and empathize, because I go through the same struggles. Then simultaneously, I can work with their entrepreneurial problems because I understand them from my finance professional background.
You worked a lot with emerging markets. What does that add to the mix?
To me, there are a lot of similarities: How do you position yourself? How do you build credibility? You're still dealing with a lot of risks, trying to handle growth. All of these things are actually very similar to what I dealt with working with, say, Angola.
What kind of people have you worked with? Do you have a sweet spot?
Their fields have been very different, from someone working in sustainable construction to illustrators and culinary entrepreneurs. So I think my sweet spot is more the type of person, someone who’s open to stepping out of their comfort zone and taking on the process of doing. Because some people are like, "I don't like numbers." But when you go buy a pair of shoes, you compare prices, right? You have to be open to the whole process of it, ready to just say, ‘Okay, let's do the steps.’ And I’ll help.
I think one of the best skills I can offer to a mentee is, if they have a hodgepodge of ideas, or visions, or goals, I'm able to take that and quickly break it down, outline it so it’s clear and then palatable, and then they're able to take action.
Your recent webinar was about creating a Minimum Viable Product. What is that?
It’s much more than a prototype. It’s that version of a new product or service which allows you to collect the maximum amount of information about customers with the least effort. Tech entrepreneurs use this methodology often to spin out new ideas. So, they might think that people need a marketplace to buy books, and then test it and realize people actually want to buy more than just books. And that's how you get to an Amazon-level tech business, and so on. But the tech process and the creative process are different. I actually created a roadmap to finding your MVP. ( Find the PDF here!)
Why are MVP’s especially important for creative entrepreneurs?
A lot of our ideation happens within ourselves. We sketch, we journal, we write. I know when I'm asleep at night, that's when I get the best ideas. But it's really hard to know if those ideas are going to resonate with the target consumer. A feedback loop allows you to test them and create a community that will become customers, so you can turn your passion into a business and scale.
Watch the webinar replay? Click here.
Learn more about Shobana? Click here.
Consider mentoring sessions? Click here.
And see you soon with more great content!