Failing Forward with Nadia Masri

Nadia Masri (LinkedIn | Twitter) knows her market, and wants you to know yours. She’s the Founder and CEO of Perksy, next-gen consumer insights platform for brands and a category-creating rewards app for consumers.

She’s made it her business to help people find the answers to their questions, and while she’s pretty much crushing it – she’s on the Forbes “30 under 30 List” – she’s very open about her turbulent journey to the top.

After starting one successful business venture at age seventeen, Nadia branched out. She founded Birdcage Magazine. It was a passion project that didn’t turn out the way she wanted: “Trying to launch a magazine in New York and that was the first ‘failure’ that I experienced.” Masri was down, but not out.

She dissolved the company, moved back to Toronto, and joined a digital marketing platform for e-commerce retailers called Foursixty as a co-founder. After exiting, she decided against returning to university in Canada. Instead, she enrolled in Harvard’s continuing education school and was accepted through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, where she decided to study psychology.

It was the start of something new and exciting, but after only a few months at school, Nadia was confronted with an entirely new type of challenge. She was diagnosed with viral meningitis and encephalitis: an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord membranes that causes severe headaches, confusion, and other serious side effects.

It was not only physically demanding, it was mentally traumatic. For months she was in and out of hospitals. Most days she barely even felt herself.

After she overcome the disease, Nadia headed back to school, armed with her new perspective on life. For one of her classes, she pitched an idea: “For a summative project I prototyped this app called YouLab with a group. What it did was consolidated all the school’s research studies and clinical trials from the three participating hospitals into one app into a feed where students were pre-screened, they could register for studies, go to them and then get paid out through the app.” Her interest in the communication between customers and markets gave her a unique perspective. Her professor told her to run with it – that she might really have something. She moved to San Francisco in 2015 to start work on the project – even though she didn’t know anyone out there. “My belief is that if you want to learn how to do something and do it really well you need total immersion. You just need to immerse yourself in the environment and learn absolutely everything that you can about it, and just become one with it just so that you can achieve what you want to achieve.” The rest is history.

“It was off to the races,” Masri says simply – and that’s putting it lightly. Perksy is now flourishing in New York.

Nadia has some insight about what she’s learned as a young, female CEO, and she’s eager to share her best advice:

Admit you don’t know what you don’t know: “One of the biggest mistakes that I think I made… is I didn’t ask for help. I think it was because I was afraid that because I was a young entrepreneur everyone would automatically assume I didn’t know what I was doing. To be honest, in contrast to what I know today, if I have to compare, I definitely didn’t. But I was terrified that everyone would realize this and for whatever reason, wouldn’t want to work with me, and that in some way, shape, or form this would hinder my progress or make me unable to achieve my goals. I was afraid to say, ‘I don’t know.’ What I’ve learned is the power of I don’t know is extraordinary. I use it all the time today. Now I sit in a room and if someone says something I’m like, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ I don’t nod my head and pretend to, I just say, ‘I don’t know’. The beauty of that is if they take the time to explain it to you, which often they do, you then know. It’s really simple.”

Take time to recharge: “I’ve been going through this unique growth phase where there’s a bit of a turning point and I have to switch up my mentality. Before, I used to try and take any meeting any phone call, any meeting, any press interview, absolutely everything because we were in hustle mode. Then business started really taking off earlier this year. Last year was a huge ramp up time as well, but I found that I can no longer have the same approach with putting things onto my calendar. This has been a recent transition for me and it’s really tough. Learning how to say no is super, super difficult because the work that we have to do sometimes there’s really creative work and creativity on a deadline is hard. You do need thinking time. You need to be able to sit down and think. I’ve only just started leaving work earlier. I definitely didn’t do that before, but now I take the time to just leave work and just sit.”

She failed forward. Her passion project didn’t work out, but she didn’t let that break her. Instead of admitting defeat, she took what she learned from the experience and put it towards her future endeavors. “I think the bravest thing I learned how to do was bounce back and get back up, so what Birdcage taught me more than anything else was how to fail forward.”

Want more from Nadia? Check out our podcast here.

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