Inspirational Woman: Sara Fazlali | Founder and CEO of Secret Me

Sara Secretme
What inspired you to start a business?

It is easy to notice the presence of something, but it is less so to notice its absence. I worked for a few other people, but what I missed was having someone’s dream to build on. Not enough people have dreams they want to execute. Then through the work I did in Africa I realised I had my own dream. I abhorred the duality imposed on people – women had to be fierce or feminine, you couldn’t be a capable strong woman and a girl in one. Men were macho or in touch with their feminine side, and so forth. I understood that I wanted to live in a world were these dualities don’t exist.

 I wanted an Audrey Hepburn meets Jason Bourne kind of character. Starting with myself, I am petite, love dresses, love feminine touches, but have a martial arts black belt and am a tom-boy at heart. And I love the skin I wear. Why? In part because of my work in Africa – I learnt how to be self-confident. I learnt when to ask for help and acknowledge when I need help and when to take the lead. You learn toughness but also an honesty with yourself. It is also what the Special Forces men I met had – so I had a crazy dream where I set up a business to use these skills to help train people in their competencies, capabilities, confidence, and mind-set. It was time I built on my own dream.

Tell us about your company, vision and team.

Secret Me is about finding out what you are capable of and how you react and cope with life-changing moments. You are taught an array of skills by elite instructors (ex UK Special Forces, Intelligence, and Counter Terrorism experts). It provides escapism as it is set in total luxury, yet gives each client a bespoke understanding of their security issues, adding to their competitive edge and capabilities. It is a chance for civilians to learn from military and espionage mind-set and skills.

It combines the old school glamour aspects of espionage, as represented by Ian Fleming’s James Bond, with a genuine, authentic and exciting insight into today’s vulnerabilities and how to protect against them. My team are the dream team – the mentality, drive and loyalty the team brings to the job is inspiring. Now I need to continue building the team and focus on the office side of the job, not just the fun operational side.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

The greatest challenge is being responsible for other people, their lives, their salaries, their careers, and the promises you make to them from first start-up dreams to the hardships of building the business together and the sacrifices you have to make along the way. The greatest reward is in your own mind – the freedom, learning, being true to who you are yourself, adventures, and to re-emphasise, always learning.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?

Set the right goals. Too small and you will get bored and move on; too big and you will get scared and perhaps not even try it. The right goal is both exciting and scary (and SMART to borrow another military acronym). No matter what you choose though, it is a path, a journey. To run a marathon (or ultra marathon as some businesses are) you take one step at a time. So make your goals simple little steps, take specific goals one step at a time, make your goals realistic, follow a story so you can grow, visualise each goal succeeding, set yourself a time to achieve it by, and have a co-founder, family member or friend who can hold you accountable to it. Most importantly, constantly evaluate and re-adjust your goals when the path changes.

Celebrate the little successes along the way.

Reward yourself for the things you get right – there are more than you realise. Stay humble – you didn’t just save the planet from aliens – keep in touch with the real world so you always remember where you are and who you are, outside your bubble.

Failure? It is all a matter of perception. Stop, breath, think quickly and clearly. This will take practice. Do not fear pressure but embrace it. Ask yourself, what can you control and what is outside your control? If you can influence it, change it. If you can’t, then learn from what happened and move on. And remember it is about perception – it is how you choose to see this failure.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

Hiring the right staff for the office side. The Special Forces and trainers I have set a very high bar for anyone else coming into the company. Firstly, we have a great culture and the new hires need to fit that culture and work with it. Hands down the most challenging part is hiring renaissance people who can think and work for themselves, be resourceful, and able to develop their own work with an interest in learning and proficient communication skills.

What to stay away from is “coin-operated” hires who needs to be fed a plan and any materials needed to execute it, someone who cannot think and operate for themselves but need to be fed what to do at each step.

What advice would you give someone looking to leave the corporate world and launch their own start-up?

It will be tough so will your dream and your reasons behind it hold up to all the pressures you will go through? You need to make sure it does and really back yourself in it. Secondly, find someone, a co-founder or few, to share the burdens with you and appreciate that it is just like a relationship – highs and lows – but with greater highs and much deeper lows.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?

It is all about the people you surround yourself with. Make sure you are surrounded by people smarter and more intelligent than yourself and see your role as someone mediating between these people and taking their advice and turning it into actions for growth – you are their champion. Plan for everything because planning is everything.

What does the future hold for you?

Excitement! We are looking at how to digitise our business and grow through various different channels. Personally, well, I’ll tell you that over a tequila.

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