Tiller’s founder, Kathleen Sheppard, sat down with Sana Akhand to continue our Female Founders/Creators spotlight. Sana started Jet Black Social Club initially to be an in-person social club based out of NYC. Due to the pandemic, Sana has since pivoted to moving Jet Black online, to be a community for like-minded individuals to meet & learn from one-another.
Sana: Hi! I'm Sana, CEO at Jet Black Social Club. I'm combining my past 10 years of experience in event planning, culture building at tech startups and my 1 year of backpacking all over the world, together to build my company. I've always been extremely passionate about event planning because I believe people's best memories happen through experiences. Events celebrate achievements and LIFE. When I worked at tech startups in People Operations, my favorite part was organizing internal events. It was a tough challenge putting together company events that were fun for everyone from the outgoing & social employees to the quiet, introverted employees. Also something that would be fun for all age groups from 22-45 year old employees. I feel like this challenge really made me an expert in cultivating events that were fun for an extremely diverse group of people. This is why I love hosting events for my diverse community at Jet Black Social Club!
T: What sparked your interest in starting something of your own and what was the inspiration that led you to start Jet Black Social Club?
I remember watching my dad own small businesses my whole life. I loved seeing him buy gas stations & restaurants that were very run down, renovate them, and run them successfully. I was mesmerized by what humans could create with the proper resources. When I was 13, I knew I wanted to create something of my own. I started working at my parent's restaurant in hopes to take it over one day and take it to the next level. I wanted to make it an upscale franchise and I had really big dreams for its growth and future. But then after college, I knew if I took over my parent's business, it wouldn't be mine. That's when I started my first company as a South Asian wedding planner. I used my resources from their restaurant to create a business of my own.
It was great, but it was too small for my big dreams. I still had that itch to create something bigger than myself. Something that could actually change lives for the better. I just didn't know what that thing was, so I decided to move to New York City for inspiration and some startup experience. 5 years later, I still didn't know what I wanted to build, but I knew I couldn't continue working for startups. I was destined to create my own company, so I took a year off to travel the world with my husband to figure out what it was that I was meant to do.
During my travels, I met many locals & expats and realized how different people truly are, but how kind everyone is too. Learning about other cultures & ways of life helped me grow as a person. When I came back, I knew I had to take all of my experience in the past 10 years together to build something that could change the world for the better. Something that could make the world a little less lonely. Something that would encourage people to be their truest self so we can all learn & grow from each other.
T: Tell us about Jet Black Social Club - when did you start the brand and how did the process go (i.e. research, funding, web development, etc.)
I started Jet Black Social Club when I was searching to join social clubs on my own. I'm in my 30's in New York City, and many of my friends started families and moved out of the city. My husband and I realized we need to meet people like us, who are extremely ambitious but also enjoy having fun. We looked into social clubs, but they were pretentious and we just didn't fit in. We always felt like outcasts and didn't feel like we could be our authentic selves. This is when the idea came to me to start my own inclusive social club. A safe place for people to be their truest selves. To be accepted & have all the same networking & social benefits of a social club. Unfortunately, Covid hit a few months after I developed the idea. That's when I pivoted to a digital social club and realized that it could be better than an in-person clubhouse.
Now my plan is to create a global digital social network, where people can meet people from all over the world, build meaningful connections through deep dive conversations and fun events. Jet Black Social Club got accepted into the Founder Institute accelerator program, which is a 4-month program to solidify an idea and get ready for funding. We're excited for some explosive growth in 2021!
T: What is the mission behind Jet Black Social Club?
Jet Black Social Club is on a mission to make the world a little less lonely. We're creating a safe place for good people to come together and learn & grow, while having fun! We encourage our members to think outside the box, try something new and become a better person for it. We believe that open minded people are the best kind of people. They have empathy for people unlike them and accept everyone's individuality as an asset. We don't want our members to follow society norms. We encourage them to be their authentic selves.
T: What was the most difficult part of starting your own business? What has been the most interesting/rewarding?
The most difficult part of starting my business was figuring out the target audience. This could be a place for anyone- anywhere. It's been a journey to figure out our "niche". Our niche is growth minded people with an urban mindset. We believe urban minded people sacrifice comfort & luxury in order to have extraordinary experiences.
The most rewarding part of creating Jet Black Social Club has been seeing the connections being made within our community. People are reaching out to each other for podcast interviews, meetups, and even just advice on life. We've created a place for people to meet people they normally wouldn't meet in everyday life.
T: How have your previous experiences shaped Jet Black Social Club and what makes the platform so unique?
Everything I've done professionally and personally for the past 10 years has shaped this company. My event planning experience is what makes Jet Black Social Club stand out from other online communities, because we host really fun events that anyone can enjoy. My traveling experience is why the platform is so diverse. My culture building at startups is how we're able to not follow a demographic or specific niche. All of these things are what make Jet Black different from any other online community.
Other communities usually focus on a niche like female or for people of color, we're encouraging people to diversify their social lives by hanging out with all kinds of people. Our events aren't going to help you in your careers, but they will teach you real life skills and maybe get you into a new hobby. You can learn cooking skills or learn how to make delicious cocktails for your friends, and also open up your mind through our deep dive conversations during our book clubs and social happy hours. We're here to help you learn & grow as a person, while having fun!
We're taking care of your personal & social lives, the professional benefits may come later. We encourage a work-life balance.
T: What does a typical day look like for you as a self-starter & CEO?
S: The best thing about entrepreneurship is that everyday is different. But for the most part, I get up around 8am, check the news (I know, the worst way to start a day, but it helps my inner anxiety relax knowing the world didn't end overnight LOL) and then I get a quick 30 minute workout in. It's like my coffee. I log in at 9am, check my emails, check in with my co-founder & my interns to prep for the day. We all use Trello to keep track of our workload & it helps staying in the know for the rest of the team to see what we're working on.
My husband and I work together in our 1-bedroom apartment, so we're usually juggling who gets the living room for video meetings and who gets the bedroom for phone calls. We basically have a calendar to make sure we don't overlap video meetings, because who wants to take a video meeting in a bedroom? SO awkward! I think that's the biggest struggle with us both working from home these days.
First half of my day is reserved for my team to have access to me for any hiccups that may come up, and my lunch time is reserved for enjoying a meal with my husband. We really prioritize eating meals together because we can easily end up working through all meals until 10pm and not even remember to eat. It's our way of making sure we get some nutrients, but also some quality time together.
At Jet Black, there are a ton of moving parts everyday, between enhancing the membership experience, brand & PR outreach, the accelerator program assignments, plus all the social media marketing, we're constantly on our toes. It's an extremely exciting time, but definitely a bit exhausting doing everything ourselves. We don't have employees working on just one thing. Both me and my co-founder work together on all aspects of the business together.
I try my absolute best to log off by 8pm the latest so I can enjoy the evening with my husband. We make sure we go out for dinner every Friday night for a date night. We put our phones away and don't talk about work. We just reconnect and support each other. It's my favorite part of the week!
T: What advice would you give other women who aspire to leave their day job to launch a brand/company?
Just do the damn thing!!!! There will never be a right time to start a business. You'll never have enough time in the day to do everything and feel accomplished. If you have a full-time job that you need to keep in order to start your dream business, dedicate every weekend to your side hustle. Prioritize your weekends. Create a schedule and tell your friends they have one day/month to hang out. All other weekends/free time should be put towards your business. If you don't dedicate as much time as possible, and if you don't make some sacrifices, your company won't grow as quickly as you need it to. The fire can burn out. And then you're just working on something casually, not actively.
If your goal is to quit your full-time job to work on your company full-time, you need to make sacrifices and prioritize your free time. Your friends & family will support your hustle.
T: What does the future hold for Jet Black Social Club? What are your goals and what's coming next?
S: We officially got out of beta-testing and launched our Digital Memberships on January 1st!!! Our goal is to have 2,000 members by December 2021, while prioritizing all of our members to make sure they're getting the most value out of their memberships as possible. We can't wait to start hosting in person events and building lifelong connections!