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Women In Business Q&A: Amina Belouizdad and Felicia Snyder, Founders, Bartaile

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Amina Belouizdad and Felicia Snyder are the founders of Bartaile. Although they hailed from different parts of the globe, they quickly discovered shared interests: a love for travel, an itch for bold experiences, and a boundless outlook. After college they parted ways, living and working in three continents and twelve cities. It wasn't until 2012 that they found ourselves geographically reunited while pursuing their MBAs at The Wharton School. They recounted stories of broken suitcases on far-flung journeys, tote-induced shoulder pain while moving up the ranks, and a badass bird. Bartaile, a modern travel bag brand, was born.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
A: I'm fortunate to have possibly the best parents one could ask for - they always knew when to push and when to pull, and they encouraged curiosity, discovery and blazing your own path. Growing up, my father would emphasize the importance of being your own boss and the architect of your own destiny. Now, more than ever, I appreciate that advice. I feel that I'm in firm control of my decisions - they have allowed me to take risks like moving to China without knowing a soul, going back to school for an MBA, and now building Bartaile.

F: I've lived all over the place - South Korea, China, Canada, Thailand, United States, India. As a leader, these experiences have made me more open to diverse thoughts, opinions and ways to do things. I've learned that there is so much to be gained by seeking out other opinions, and especially from those that come at things differently than you do.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Bartaile?
A: Actually, Felicia and I are both still full-time employees in tech and private equity respectively. Our philosophy is that our day jobs (as we like to call them) give us safety and clarity to build Bartaile into a long term, sustainable business. Entrepreneurship can take many forms, and this is the shape we have chosen for now. My experience in investing absolutely helps me better evaluate risk-return decisions, financing strategies, and manage growth. Moreover, it has made my world broader and deeper, which only helps me become a better leader.

F: Working in Financial Services, Consulting and Tech has taught me the importance of confidence. All three industries demand you walk into a room with presence or risk being ignored. The same principle applies when running your own business. If you don't believe in what you're saying (or selling) no one else will.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Bartaile?
F: Having your own business is full of ups and downs. The biggest reward is getting your product (or idea) out there and receiving feedback from customers. The response to our C12 bag has been so positive - women reaching out to us to share how much they love the bag, how they get stopped on the street by others, etc. It's really great to feel the customer love. The flip side, of course, is when you fall short of customers' expectations. We had an issue with some faulty zippers on our first batch of product. We felt horrible and it was a logistical nightmare! Thankfully though our customers were extremely understanding. I think it's because we handled the issue with personal outreach - the whole "treat others like you'd want to be treated" mentality. Sounds basic, but it goes a long way!

A: Similarly to Felicia, the highlights continue to be every single time a customer thanks us for creating our product and expresses the exact pain point we went out to solve. Sometimes verbatim! It's the best feeling in the world. As for challenges - there have been so many! But product development was a big one for us. We were battling two headwinds: firstly, that none of us had developed product before. And secondly, our natural desire for perfection. If I knew then what I know now, I would have brought product to market a lot sooner. We were too hard on ourselves.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
F: Focus on the 'how' instead of the 'not'. I know so many women who want to start their own business but never make it past the idea phase because they focus on the challenges, barriers and impracticalities. Instead, think about ways you CAN make something work! Of course there will be things you don't know how to do. But that's what others are for. Reach out. Ask for help.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
F: Wait 24 hours before making any major career decisions. A previous mentor of mine shared this with me and I swear by this rule. It's important to address career issues with a level head.

A: Have a very clear view of what you want from your career. I took an incredible class while getting my MBA at Wharton called Total Leadership (taught by Stewart Freidman). It reminded me of the importance of aligning work, home, community and self to live a fuller life. And, since we spend most of our waking hours working, it put a lot of pressure on thinking about whether my work is aligned with what is important to me and the life I want to live. Work isn't just a four letter word; it's important not to coast through life thinking that.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
F: Break your day into manageable pieces and make sure you allocate a bit of personal time throughout the day. Use the early AM for a workout. Sneak a personal phone call on your lunch hour.

A: Necessity is the mother of invention, and I feel like I've 'invented' hours in the day that didn't exist before! I think it comes down to two things: mindfulness and efficiency. For me, every hour of the day is spoken for - even if it means consciously creating a time slot for 'doing nothing'. It's amazing, looking back, at how many hours a week I used to waste - spiraling into Google holes, half-watching TV - when it wasn't what I wanted to be doing that very instant. That's not an option anymore! Also, I've learned that the world belongs to those that wake up before 6am.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
F: That there aren't more women - especially at the top!

A: I'm an optimist. I think things are changing so rapidly that the issues are soon to be negligible. There are so many female role models to follow, and women are congregating everywhere, both online and offline, to help one another. There is an open dialogue, and we are being heard. Let's shift the conversation from talking about issues to talking about possibilities.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
A: A mentor is only as good as you are as a mentee. I'm saying this partly as a reminder to myself, because I have been a very inconsistent mentee lately. Note to self: call Mitch. I've found that there is so much to be gleaned from someone that has seen the movie before and knows the role you play in it. So be proactive, communicative and collaborative.

F: My mentors have always encouraged me to take more risks, aim higher and not give up - advice stemming from their successes, failures and regrets. Like Amina said, they know how the story ends and there's so much wisdom in hindsight.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
F: Ursula Burns and Indra Nooyi. Fearless women atop Fortune 500 companies who climbed their way up through hard work and earned respect. Likewise, female entrepreneurs like Sara Blakely. She hustled an idea and $5,000 into Spanx.

A: I agree Sara Blakely is a total badass. They just don't make hustlers like her anymore! Also, I'm in admiration of leaders that are driven by selfless motivations. My friend August Vega (Malk) and Jessica Alba are two great examples.

What do you want Bartaile to accomplish in the next year?
F: We want to grow Bartaile into the go to brand for those who hustle. Bring more products to more awesome women building great things!

A: Exactly - we want to be more than just a brand - we want Bartaile to be a community for all those that are restless and motivated. We're working on initiatives that bring people together to help them achieve their goals. Stay tuned.