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Don’t be sucked into yet ANOTHER episode of Tiger King on Netflix…Instead, pour yourself a cocktail and join us for an interview with Veteran and Mom Boss Zakia Lott! Zakia with Zakia & Co Designs joins us today to talk about being a #SheBoss. As a Veteran and Army Spouse, Zakia has learned firsthand about the importance of persistence, gumption and hard work – all of which she brings to the table each and every day to her Interior Design Firm. Pour yourself a cocktail and join us!

She Boss with Zakia Lott

Megan: Hey guys, thank you so much for joining us today. We had some technical difficulties getting this thing off the ground, but who cares? We’ve survived COVID 19 and haven’t lost a limb, right? So I’d say that we’re doing pretty well. We wanted to share this recording with you guys because as some of you know, Flourish is a woman owned business. We celebrated two years this month, which we’re very excited about, and one of the things that not only myself but the rest of our team is extremely passionate is about promoting, highlighting and collaborating with local women entrepreneurs who are totally kicking ass and doing amazing things. So this is going to be a vlog series that we unveil every Wednesday at 3:30 and typical Flourish style, we’re going to be doing it over a glass of wine, so make sure that you pour yourself a cocktail and you join us for this. And one thing that I just want to say before we get started and introduce our guest is that being an entrepreneur is extremely hard. I think the last two years of my life have probably been the hardest I’ve ever been through, but they have absolutely been the most rewarding. 

And second to that, I think being a mom is also very hard. A lot of things go unrecognized and you don’t necessarily get the gold star that sometimes you feel you deserve but that’s okay. When you get a little bit older and your kids get a little bit older, they finally realize all the blood, sweat and tears that actually went into being a mom, so kudos to you, mom. I know I probably put you through hell, but I finally realize that you were doing everything that you possibly could, and I appreciate that. So being a mom and an entrepreneur at the same time is extremely challenging, and I wanted to- we wanted to do with flourish is really find a way to kind of promote these women who are doing awesome things. 

So our first guest that we are going to introduce is Zakia, who is with us, and I’m going to have her talk a little bit about her background and what she does. And she’s a total mom boss and is doing amazing things. I had a chance to interact with Zakia a couple of months ago at the Mom Preneur event, which was sponsored in collaboration with the Catalyst over at the University of Alabama here in Huntsville, Alabama. And this is an event that we bring together mom entrepreneurs who are either thriving in their business, thinking about starting a business or are just getting it off the ground as a way to pull these women together and just help them with resources, camaraderie, teamwork, you name it, just to help sort of propel their businesses forward. And Zakia was one of those people who were there, and I thought it would be great to have her on that way she can tell us a little bit about her journey. So thank you so much for joining us. I will turn it over to you. And if you can just kind of share with us a little bit about your journey. What brought you here? You have an extremely decorated background of doing a variety of different things. You’re also a veteran from the United States Air Force, which is awesome. And so I just want to kind of hear a little bit about your background. What brought you to this point and what inspired you to start a business?

Zakia: Thank you so much, Megan, for having me. I really appreciate it. I also want to thank you for the opportunity because She Boss is an amazing series that you’ve come up with. It’s definitely something that I’m proud to be a part of, but it’s something that I’ve hoped and dreamed that would be brought to Huntsville. So it’s really nice to have the camaraderie and the support of women entrepreneurs here in the area. So I just want to give kudos to you.

Megan: Here’s to you. Thank you. It’s our entire team.

Zakia: So as you said, yes, I was in the military for about ten years, so I served in the Air Force for ten years, had various different positions when I was in the Air Force; executive assistant and security manager, you name it, I’ve done it. Deployed several times and then from there I worked also in the Department of Defense and most recently as a strategic planner. But I’ve also always had a desire to focus on interior design. It’s always been a very strong passion in my life. So about a year ago, I made the decision to venture out and actually start my company, so it’s called Zakia and Co. And so essentially it’s an interior design business, and what we focus on is bringing people’s vision to life and showing people how to live beautifully in their surroundings. 

So we and more so focus on helping people to create a space that’s more functional and also beautiful so they can enjoy their surroundings. So we’ve been in business for about a year. It’s been an amazing journey. It’s had its challenges. It’s a learning curve for sure. It’s not for the faint of heart entrepreneurship in general, is not. But it’s something that’s very rewarding. And people always say that if you’re going to do something, do it with passion and find something that you truly enjoy because a lot of entrepreneurs don’t collect a paycheck, generally, for the first two to three years. So think of something that really motivates you and inspires you and you have to be doing good work, and this is something that I honestly feel that I’m doing good work and it excites me every day. 

If I may tell a free story when I was probably about five my parents and I, we moved to Virginia and they bought this home that was built in the 1930s, and it was originally intended to be used as a hotel. And we grew up with a very large family, so it was always about 10 children in the house at one time. So my parents, they realized that we needed space, and so they bought this home and it was designed as a hotel. But my dad was very crafty and very creative, and he figured out how to manipulate and change the layout of the house as it was our family. And so I was always very involved with the process growing up and watching him and my mom, you know, create a space that turned into a home, which, you know, I lived there pretty much all my life until I graduate high school and joined the military now. 

Creativity is always been around me and I’ve always enjoyed it. So it’s nothing for me to paint walls now or put together bookshelves. It’s just a part of my day to day life, and I just I love exploring. So it’s nice that I get to bring that in and use that gift to help other people.

Megan: So what was sort of the turning point for you that allowed you to- after you came out of the Air Force and kind of worked in the different roles that you did? Did you wake up one day and you’re just like, I want to do this for myself. I want to do something that I mean just provides more passion to me every single day or what was sort of the turning point that allowed you to make that decision and take that next step? It’s good for people to figure that out.

Zakia: Yes, you’re right. I mean, I’ve always thought about starting my own business, but I never fully committed to it. I believe that growing up throughout my life, it’s always been a confidence thing, having confidence to at least try and be open to failure. So the older that I got, I realized, well, you know, failure is not a bad thing. Failure is just an opportunity to be redirected or to grow or strengthen yourself in a different area.

Megan: Totally agree.

Zakia: So I mean, I would say my light bulb went off when I became a mother. I mean, my daughter, I have a 20 month old and then we have also a six year old, you know, but especially having my daughter, it really made me gave me a moment to self-reflect. You know, she started to have aspirations about her career. She wants to be a veterinarian. And I thought to myself, how can I encourage her to do and be her best when I’m not doing and being my best and when I’m not taking risks and things like that? So I felt like almost like a hypocrite. I started taking the steps to explore and to see what being an entrepreneur probably would look like for me. And I started putting myself in an environment and that space. I realized that it’s okay not to know everything. You just have to continue to try and just be fueled by passion. Just put one foot in front of the other. Just make it work.

Megan: That’s awesome. And that was one of the things I was going to ask you about. Being in the shoes that you’re in now and I would imagine you have a lot of values that you represent to your kids, especially your daughter, because she’s female, but what sort of role model do you want to set for them? And I would imagine that as we get older and as we go through new challenges or new areas of our lives that changes slightly, you want to teach them something different as you learn something different, whether it’s about yourself or about how the world really works. So what sort of role model do you strive to set for your kids as it relates to what you do every day?

Zakia: No, that’s an amazing question. So when we actually went to that mom preneur event, they did an amazing exercise with us where it’s I believe it was at our 75th birthday party, your children throw your party right, the things you want your children to say about you that, yeah,

Megan: I think that was from Shannon Malone.

Zakia: Yes, it was.

Megan: We got to give a shout out to Shannon because Shannon is an amazing woman and she gave that session there. You are not the first person to tell me how impactful that was. And she and I are accountability partners, and she has challenged me to answer that very question. And I’m like, “Oh, that’s a big one”. That’s a lot to ask. And those are big shoes to fill when you really think about what that really means. And I mean, I have a fourteen year old daughter, and so, you know, it’s every single thing that you do influences and impacts them in some way. You are paving the way as a role model with the good that you’re doing, just as well as the bad. And they see the struggles and they see the ups and downs. And I think the combination of all of those things is very good. But yeah, continue, though that’s interesting. So shout out to Shannon because she’s amazing.

Zakia: And so, I want my children to look at me and say that, mom was scared, but she did it anyway. You know, she tried to push through and she did her best, and she lived her life bold and proud. And she was a woman of character and a woman of her word, and they can look up to and just admire. So it’s a challenge to be yourself. It’s tough to live in your truth and to do things that you’re passionate about, because the world isn’t always going to agree with the decisions that we make. And that’s okay, because no one is going to understand your story like you. So I want my children to stand in their truth and do things that they’re proud and passionate about and be leaders and in order to be a leader, I mean, sometimes you have to stand away from the crowd and go a different direction. 

Megan: Well, there’s something to be said about the word, ‘vulnerable’ and to be vulnerable in your day to day decisions and put yourself out there and not necessarily care about the judgment that others might have. I mean, if you feel passionate about doing something, you really have to put yourself out there, which is not an easy thing to do. And I really think that the confidence and the ability to recognize the importance behind something like that come with time. Honestly, I mean, my kids are friends whatever we all joke about, I’ll be 40 this year. You know, there was a time in my life where I was like, “Oh my god, are you kidding me?” But the older I get, I’m like, “Bring it on”. Because honestly, and it’s not that the older I get, the better I get, but the older I get, the more I really realize the important things, and the more I think we as women truly can refine and become stronger and be more impactful. But we have to be able to put ourselves out there in a way where we can actually recognize that and be true to ourselves and be true to other people around us and surround ourselves with the people that help sort of fuel that fire. And if you don’t do that, you’re just sort of going through life somewhat at a standstill.

Zakia: Yeah, definitely. One hundred percent

Megan: So let’s talk about I love the concept of your business and in looking at some of the things that you’ve done, I love it. And I know with interior design. So do you primarily do homes or commercial spaces or office spaces or anything in between what sort of your area of specialty? 

Zakia: Well, my area of specialty is definitely residential spaces, and I also like to work with investors as well to redesign homes, especially older homes. I love restaurants.

Megan: Yeah and you have a lot of opportunity here for that, for sure.

Zakia: Absolutely love it. Yeah, I think I’m in the right space for sure. Yeah, I love finding older homes that just need to be restored and modernized, but also finding ways to maintain the character and the true identity of the home. So, residential homes are definitely my specialty. It allows me to work in a more intimate environment, too. Someone’s home is a very vulnerable space for them, so it allows me to have those deep conversations about how someone’s going to use that space. This is essentially the place where you’re going to bring your children home to when you have your first child. And it’s our largest investment that we’re going to make. So it definitely resonates with me to work with residential homes.

Megan: So I want to ask you a quick question and not to derail from it, but only because my kids sometimes make fun of me and say that I’m crazy and I’m going to use this as a way to say that I’m not crazy, that it’s somewhat based on science. But I cannot stand being in either a home or an office building that has like those bright LED lights that are just like- the lighting to me is so important, like dimly lit rooms. I love natural light don’t get me wrong, but like the ceiling fan lights that are just sort of- like in our office building, we don’t turn a single light on. It’s all through accent lighting. So tell me there’s a science behind that trigger and good emotion or is it just crazy.

Zakia: If you use like antique lights or something like that or, yeah, all colors with a warmer hue to it, it’s very soothing and relaxing. So yeah, definitely, I can definitely see that.

Megan: I just want to make sure that I’m not crazy.

Zakia: I definitely love antique lights. It’s just has that soft dim that I just really like.

Megan: Instantly it sets a mood. You know, that is something where it’s just like, okay. And I feel myself getting calmer as I dim lights down. Not that it’s dark, but you know. So a couple of quick questions and then we’ll wrap up on the business. So we, as you and I both know, there are, for those that don’t know, Huntsville Alabama is home to the second largest research park in the country. We have the most PhDs per square capita than any other city in the country. When you’re not a rocket scientist, you’re kind of boring. It’s like they’re just everywhere. Not really, but I mean, it’s insane. How many engineers and smart minds we have here? And with that comes no shortage of entrepreneurs and primarily women entrepreneurs, and even more primarily, we have a lot of veterans and or military spouses who have their own businesses here as well. When we were at mom preneur, I have a great group of women that I collaborate with and just love and enjoy and spend a lot of time with. And they’re all military spouses who, because of the nature of their family environment where they’re having to kind of move around. They’ve all started their own business and they’re thriving and they’re doing really well. And it’s just to see not only with the entrepreneur committee, but particularly with women, because it’s just not easy and being a mom. If there are some women that are out there now and even entrepreneurs for that matter who are dipping their toe in the idea of wanting to start a business, think that it might be too overwhelming. They can’t do it. Maybe they don’t have enough money in the bank that they think that they need. What would be a piece of advice that you have knowing now that you’ve sort of taken this journey and granted you’re still in the early stages of things, but you sort of have overcome the hardest part because you committed to it and you decided to do it, and now you’re doing very well. What’s a piece of advice that you would give to someone who sort of like on the fence about it?

Zakia: You just got to go for it. A lot of times sometimes we’re holding ourselves back at reaching our true potential. So even if you have a full time job, actually organize your day and look at the time that you’re allotting or you’re giving away to something that’s really not serving you. You dedicate an hour to trying to build a business while you’re even working full time. Can you give you a half an hour before you go to bed? You can put the kids to bed an hour earlier. You know you’d be amazed at what you can do if you can just find 30 minutes to an hour each day to try to just dedicate and work on building a business. So my advice would be just try and you’ve got to have reasons on why? Why do you want to do this? It can’t just be about money.

Megan: Now that you won’t make any in the first couple of years. Let’s just be honest,

Zakia: But you really won’t.

Megan: Yeah, you won’t be drinking the expensive wine. I’m just saying that. 

Zakia: I got to twist off over there.

Megan: So what? We do what we got to do, right?

Zakia: True though. It really can’t, it has to be about something bigger. So you have to have a big why? And if you really focus on that, what is the purpose of your business? How are you going to help people? Then you realize that you’re serving a purpose that is greater than yourself. That should motivate you to do good work in this world. And what do you want to be remembered by? I mean, I think I’m touching on a couple of different things, but the life that we live, I’ve realized, a short while ago, that it’s not about ourselves. It’s about the work that we’re doing in this world to really help it impact others. So it’s selfish for us to have an idea and not to carry it out to fruition. I know we all have bills, we have expenses, and we have children. But like I said, just try to figure out maybe thirty minutes to an hour each day that you can dedicate to growing a business before you actually take the plunge. Break it down in a small baby steps.

Megan: Yeah. Don’t try to swallow the whale, one bite at a time. I think people would be amazed at and by no means am I saying that trying to go down that path is easy by any means, but I think that a lot of people are amazed that when you do focus it that way and you really do allocate a time where every day you get up an extra hour early from seven to eight, whatever it might be, and you’re doing nothing but that and you have dedicated and devoted time to achieve these certain things. It’s amazing what can happen. I have a question for you, though, and you may have touched on this slightly. What is your why? What drives you every day?

Zakia: Creativity fuels me and I love to see people happy. I’ve always had the saying like, I want to be people’s light. There are a lot of people who are going to dream in dark times. And so I want to use my gift to bring people joy. And that’s what really excites me. Knowing that I can be the light in someone’s life and bring them happiness and joy. There’s no greater feeling than that. And it’s actually selfish because it brings me joy too. So I get out of it.

Megan: So it just so happens that it makes its way full circle, right?

Zakia: It really does. But yeah, happiness and joy. I want everyone to feel that and experience it.

Megan: That’s awesome. So what is next for you in your business? I mean, what gets you excited right now about what’s on the horizon and for those who will be watching this, we are undergoing COVID 19 quarantine right now. That’s the reason for this. And for a while, I have a guest bed in my background because I- and you know, my six year old comes in like every 30 seconds. He’s like mama. But it is what it is, right? This is one of those things that I think I’ve seen this a lot out on social media, but our hearts go out to those who have lost their lives and who have become ill because of this. I mean, I don’t think anybody could have ever prepared for something like this, at least to the extent that it’s impacted everybody. But I really do think that there’s a silver lining here and we’re all going to come out in a positive way at the end of it. But we are in the midst of COVID 19. So since we are being quarantined and as much as I hate to say it, hopefully we’ll be quarantined from a state level soon. Just that way, we can knock this thing out and get on with our lives. But what sort of adjustments have you guys made and how are you handling that right now?

Zakia: So of course, we have the children home and we’re both working from home. So my husband has his dedicated office space and then I have mine as well, and so we’re trying as much as possible to put the kids on a structured routine, but obviously with two toddlers running around the house, we have to be pretty fluid. We take them outside to play and have fun. 

Then with the business, we’ve made lots of changes we recognize that a lot of people are spending more time inside the house. So we’re launching a DIY project online on our YouTube channel, telling people how to do very inexpensive updates to their home, whether it’s free light consultations or how to add paint into your home to really brighten up a space and things like that. So we’re really excited about that. And we’re also showing people how to live beautifully in their home and just providing recipes and things like that. So people take time, just relax and just enjoy their space. I think this is very challenging as a lot of people have homes that they’re saying they’re in close quarters with. I was talking with a woman the other day where she has her mother, her grandmother, two children and her husband, and they’re sharing a one 500 square foot home and I feel for her.

Megan: I’d be like headphones where are my headphones?

Zakia: I know. So I mean, we’re thinking of ways that we can just add light and shine light into their space too. So, whether it’s providing recipes or how to update your space or how to do date night at home this Friday, we’re going live. My husband and I, we actually had a date planned prior to this COVID 19 scare. So we’re being creative and we’re doing a date night at home. So we’re going to give the couples some tips on how to do things like that and try to create some normalcy in their house.

Megan: So yeah, I love that and I think a lot of people are kind of scared to leave their house right now and I think supporting local businesses is so important right now, and there are a lot of options to do that. But I love that idea though, to be able to get creative at home because you almost have to reinvent your space that way you just don’t go crazy and you’re not looking at the same four walls every day. I mean, now is a great time for the DIY stuff. I mean, we’ve taken advantage of that for sure. It’s finally like, we really need to sand and paint those chairs that we’ve been staring at for three years that we’re like, we need to sand and paint those chairs. And now we’re doing it which is great.

Zakia: Exactly that’s true.

Megan: It is great. Well, I am definitely going to go ahead. Go ahead

Zakia: So I was going to say I really also feel that 2020 is the year of transformation. I’ve been saying this since January 1st. So another thing that we’ve been working on is pretty soon after this quarantine scare, we’re going to be helping people buy and sell homes as well. So not only we were going to be helping people redesign their space, but we’re going to be able to walk them through the entire home, buy and purchase pretty soon as well. So I’m excited about that too.

Megan: That is awesome. Talk about being in a thriving market in North Alabama, too for that. So it is insane. That’s awesome. Well, Zakia thank you so much for taking out some time today to chat with me and our team, and we are thrilled that you joined us. I’m so sorry about our technical difficulties earlier, so it goes with the theme of what’s going on lately. It’s just like there’s just one more thing. It’s totally fine. It’s totally fine. We’re going to make sure that we include all your contact info that way people can find you and engage with you and hopefully take advantage. I’m going to tune in and take advantage of the date night thing on Friday, because that sounds pretty awesome. With the three kids running around the house, it’s like we need to do something, even if we just lock ourselves in the back porch for a couple of hours, just to have some alone time and some adult time. But thank you again so much and we wish you the best of luck and we’ll definitely follow you on your journey. And we can’t wait to see all the amazing things that you that you accomplish over the next couple of years.

Zakia: Oh, thank you so much, Megan. I really appreciate the stuff.

Megan: Alright cheers to you.

Zakia: Cheers to you too.