Yara Samad is a 16 year old social entrepreneur, maker, actor, and musician from Palo Alto, Californa. She has founded an array of ventures ranging from a blog for creatives to a nonprofit that teaches technology, business, and design to people in Lebanon.
What is DesignpreneurZ?
DesignpreneurZ is an online instagram blog where I share my stories and lessons. It is also a blog and a youtube channel. Whenever I am allowed to talk about a venture or a project, I will post about it.
How did you Develop and grow your audience?
It takes a lot of following people to get those follow backs. First, you will be following more people than the amount of followers you have. But, with the whole community of creatives, it is really easy to gain followers because we are always following each other and connecting with each other in order to expand our networks. Just stick with it and be consistent when you post. If you are truly passionate, posting consistently comes really easily.
Make sure you are ready for that commitment or else it's not going to go anywhere.
What advice do you have for people who are too afraid to put themselves out there?
Just do it! At first, it's really scary for everybody. I’d always overthink but, nobody is going to care if i post this or that. When I post, I find myself reading into all of these details because I am the creator. People who are viewing it, won’t care about the little details because they are here for the content and the story that I am trying to convey.
What is the Amal Foundation?
I started the Amal foundation because I have always been thinking about the situation in Lebanon. Kids do not get access to the schooling they need and they live in inhumane conditions. It really changed my perspective on things. I remember when I was 11, it was the first time my parents took me to go volunteer in the poorest part of Lebanon. I met a girl my age and It was such a weird experience because her life was so different from mine. Our parents were born 10-15 minutes away from each other. It felt like such a close call because my parents were born in the same area. It was because of them, that I was able to have so many opportunities. There is a cycle of poverty in Lebanon. Essentially, I am trying to break that with the Amal foundation and give kids education and tools that will help them get out of their financial situations.
I named the Amal Foundation after my grandmother. She died before I was born, so I never got to meet her. My family always tells me how she would teach kids in the poor areas of Lebanon. When she would get a check, she would divide it amongst families. She did not need it because she was fortunate enough to have a husband that would provide for her. She taught these kids and she really invested herself in their education. She dedicated her life to those kids. So that’s why I wanted to dedicate this foundation to her.
This has been in the back of my mind for years! Everytime I volunteer in the US i’d feel an obligation to help people in this socio-economic situation in Lebanon. In the US, these people have government benefits, however, in Lebanon the government is corrupt. They have stolen billions of dollars from the people. A third of the population is comprised of Syrian refugees. The situation is much more extreme in Lebanon than it is in the US. Lebanon is my home country, it is my favorite place on this earth. It is where I want to die. I want to be around my family and help my people. I’m proud to be from Lebanon and I’m so proud of how far these people have come. Earlier this year, there was a revolution where people started to fight against the corrupt government. I was so proud because they are making change.
I want to help make that change even if it is remotely. I am able to pursue my dreams and I want them to pursue theirs as well.
What is it like starting a nonprofit?
It takes a lot of passion. It won’t be worth it if you aren’t because it requires so much time and effort. I didn’t know what the time commitment would look like before going into this. I never ever cared because it's not what i’m doing it for.
I poured my heart and soul into this and I can’t wait to see results. I am happy to just go along with the process and enjoy getting where we want to get. Once we do start making an impact, it still won’t be the end of my journey.
I want this foundation to outlive me (well if global warming doesn’t kill us) . It also takes patience, hard work, and grit. You need to be ready to not see results immediately and you need to take time doing your research. You want to tackle the problem in the best way possible and you need to remember that the first ideas you come up with aren’t going to be last. You need to be open to changing and adapting with the foundation.
How did you get into making accessories and clothing?
ve always been a creative and a maker. Ever since I was 5 or 6, I would make things and sell them in the lobby of my apartments. I didn’t spend my childhood watching tv, I spent it creating little businesses and recruiting my little brother and friends to sell things to our neighbors. I spent my entire childhood doing that and I actually made a lot of money from that which is super surprising. It taught me a lot about saving because I was making money every weekend. That was my idea of play as a kid. I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit. That passion has still been carried within me to this day.
In fifth grade, I was put into a fashion camp at the school of the art institute in Chicago. I was so fortunate to be able to go there and I have my parents to thank for that. They put me in illustration, fashion, design, and making classes. I fell in love with fashion and at that time I felt that fashion was what I wanted to do. It was really cool because we put on a runway show at the end and I got to walk in it and I dressed my friends up in what I made. My parents fueled my passion. They got me a sewing machine. I also got an internship with maker Alexandia Willis in sixth grade. I was so happy to be learning from someone as cool and innovative as Alexandria Willis. I started to intern with her a lot and we’re still close friends today. I think when you connect with creative people, that bond you have never goes away no matter how far you go or how long it has been. After the internship, I did more internships with other makers (jewellery maker, shoe maker, handbag maker, and a clothing designer) At the clothing internship, I’d go to the clothing boutique and make things with her. I’d go to client meetings and fittings. It was really cool because I got to work with the owner of an atelier directly. I got insight into what it's like to run an atelier. I learned so much because they mentored me and took me under their wing.
In ninth grade, I started making things because I had a Stanford Internship where I wasn’t making things. I had a bunch of things that I made just lying around and I thought why not make more things and start selling them again. I started doing it again and I’d go to maker markets and make a lot of money for someone my age. The best part was meeting other people and selling your products to them. It felt really cool to write up an order.
At the beginning of 10th grade, I started atelier Yara. To be honest, Etsy takes a lot of money. They took over half the amount it cost to make the bracelet. If you are selling anything under 30 or 40 dollars, don’t sell it on etsy because you wouldn’t really be making anything. I started to focus on selling at maker markets in person and I also got into retail stores. I did a lot of more brick and mortar ventures with Atelier Yara and i t turned out pretty well. When someone is talking to you, they can ask questions about the stuff I made. Everything I made was top quality. All of the bracelets were jade, cotton, and really nice materials. That quality isn't really available online, so that really improved my brand and helped me expand it and generate more income.
What advice do you have for getting products into retail stores?
I just walked into a retail store and I started to talk to the owners (watch the video Yara made about this here ). They loved my personality and I was fortunate to find people who were interested in my products and what I needed to say. We did a consignment and I started selling there. They even offered me a job, but I did not take it. It was such a unique experience and it really helped me expand the business.
Was there ever a time where you were underestimated because of your age?
Yes, it has happened before. I don’t remember any particular experiences. If an adult doesn’t take me seriously, I’ll notice it but it will be an afterthought to me because when i am doing something I don't really care if one person isn't into what i'm saying. I'll just move onto the next person. Rejection is a normal thing and that's ok. I'm fortunate to have adults that take me seriously because I have experience in different fields. It is definitely based on who you meet and connect with. You have to understand that if you are doing something new or risky, a lot of people aren’t going to believe you,
They will criticize you, be jealous, or not care about what you have to say. But if you have passion, that’s strong enough to fuel your dreams and strong enough to make it happen for you.
What advice do you have people who are afraid of rejection and failure?
Go for it. If I have something to say, I go for it. When i have an idea, I have to make sure that it isn’t something that I am just going to try out and throw away. I try to do my research and explore the industry before starting it. After that, you can’t start it without throwing yourself into it and doing what you can to make it happen. If it’s successful, it's good. If it's not, who cares? No one in 20 years is going to hold it against you. You learn from it. You can reformat what you are doing and make it better or you can just work on something new! You may not stay with the same ideas or user group but, you will always gain connections from it and you will be exposed to new opportunities and new things.
How do you come up with venture ideas? How do you decide which ventures you want to pursue after coming up with ideas? Do you test out all of them and see which you like best? Or do you have a specific selection process?
I think about what I care about the most and if I see myself doing this in 10 or 20 years or if I see myself pushing to make it happen. I make sure that I care a lot about it.
If I am trying to pick from a lot of ideas or if I am feeling overwhelmed, I will take a few steps back and see if I can live without it for a bit. I’ll see if it's really essential for me. I’ve started a good amount of things and I get people reaching out to me for help or with different opportunities. It is equally important to say yes to these opportunities as well as saying no if you have too much on your plate.
I’d also make a list and stay organized When i write my visions out and my commitments out, I can straighten my priorities.
What networking tips do you have for teenagers? What networking tips do you have for teenagers trying to network with adults?
When teenagers want to network with other teenagers, it’s important to just be you. When you meet them you don’t always want to start off by talking about your work. Sometimes it's great to start off a conversation with that if both of you are clearly passionate about something. You just want to become friends. At an event, you know that these people have cool projects, ideas, and experiences. So you don't really need to make it about that. You can start off by asking the person what school they go to and see if you know anyone there and try to connect with them through your own personal network. Try finding things in common and take it from there. Try transitioning to other topics that you want to talk about or you can go straight into it. For example you could be like “hey i heard you talking about this during the discussion, i'd love to hear more about it”. It is really important to get their contact info and keep in touch with them. I’m still friends with the people I went to fashion camp with and occasionally I will chat with them. After starting my ventures, I am still in contact with a lot of these people. I go to them for help and advice and they reach out to me if they have a project they want me to get on board with.
Connecting with adults is the easiest thing to do. They’re really mature and they are a bit more experienced with networking so it's much easier with them. Ever since I was little, I’d go up to people and say hi. That would always open up the coolest doors because you’d learn so much from their experiences. You could make lifelong friends with a simple conversation. Take those first steps and introduce yourself even if you don’t have anything to talk about. Most of the time, people will respond positively and they will introduce themselves. Sometimes people would be like “what are you doing?” And that is something I experienced at New York Fashion Week. I would go up to people and some people were wondering why some kid is talking to them because a lot of these people had big social media followings. Some of them thought that I was a college kid and I was like Ha Joke’s on them. I was still able to connect with many cool people over linkedin and instagram. We’re still chatting to this day. I even interviewed some of these contacts for my podcasts. The most important thing is just to go up to people.
Another thing I realized was that the people who rejected me were people who were trying to put up a front. There are people who behave in a way that makes them look like celebrities. The most successful people were kind and open to everyone. They never acted like they were too big/too good to talk to anyone else. They were impressed by my passion. I even got an internship offer from Phillip Lim. I didn’t get it from Phillip Lim himself because he was surrounded by people. At launch parties, people don’t really have time to have long conversations with everyone. At some point, I started talking to people who worked at the Phillip Lim store. I was just chatting with them. A lot of people in the fashion industry would think “why would I talk to anybody who just works at a store?”
That's not why you network. You do it to expand your horizons and opportunities. The worst thing you can do is be selective while networking.
I was having a lot of fun speaking to these store workers and they introduced me to someone named Alan. He helped start the Philip Lim brand. We connected a lot and Alan asked me to send him my CV for a potential internship opportunity. I got their emails and I started networking with more people. Never think that you are better than anyone else. It doesn’t matter where you are in your work or industry. There are so many opportunities that you will miss out on if you think that you are too good for someone or if you are too afraid to talk to someone. Life is too short to miss out on these opportunities.
How do you manage all of these ventures? Are you working on them at the same time
It’s difficult to find the time for everything especially with school. What I try to do is prioritize what I want to do. I also look at timelines and I see if I have any applications, meetings, events, competitions coming up. I prioritize five things and work on those the most. I push myself to get these out there and get feedback as quickly as I can.
Outside of all of your ventures, what are your other hobbies/interests? What are your time management strategies?
I love design, dance, and being creative. My hobbies are my ventures because when I start something, it takes a lot of time and effort. I love spending time with my family, learning new languages, traveling, and I love talking to people and sharing new ideas. I love going on runs and hanging out with my friends.
My philosophy is that school is good for your formative years. Ever since I have gotten into high school, I’ve felt a little held back. I am so grateful for my education and I am going to pursue it. Some of the things I am learning do not bring value to what I want to do. Motivation is when you get an external reward for something and inspiration is when you get
an internal reward. School is definitely fueled by motivation.
I want to do well in school but i’m not inspired at school. I don’t see the value in taking so many APs in things I’m not going to pursue later on. Why would I put so much time into something I’m not going to follow through with?
I am not going to commit my time to something I don't care about. I don't want to live my life what way. I am committed to doing well in school because it's the benchmark.
I want to go above and beyond school and have a successful startup. I want to have revenue and generate an income. Most importantly, I want to be happy. I’m not doing this for money. I do it because I truly adore it. I don’t think my life would be the same without these ventures. I would have such a hard time coping with the lack of inspiration at school if I didn’t have ventures outside of school. I love to create and I need to work on things that I love in order to be happy. I want to go to bed knowing that I contributed value to the world. It's important to find a balance because you can't choose either or. If you don't go to school. It's difficult for people to take you seriously. School gives a good foundation but I've unprioritized it because It doesn’t bring me value. I need to implement projects beyond the classroom in order to get that internal reward.
What are your goals for the future?
After high school, I do have schools I want to go to for design. I want to find a major where I can combine my entrepreneurial and design interests together as well as the engineering aspects. I also am passionate about singing and acting and I want to pursue it after high school and college. I adore it and it brings me a lot of happiness. My aspiration after high school isn’t college. I'm sure i'll go to college; however, I want to be open to the possibility of taking a gap year and working on my startup and getting that startup. Maybe i'll have someone else running the show or i'll be going to college and taking a lesser amount of courses so I have time for my business. I want to see these things grow and make an impact.
I am a social entrepreneur. Most of my ventures are targeting a social issue. Activism isn't just raising awareness, it's doing things. Ive never called myself an activist before. When you are a social entrepreneur, you are pursuing the best form of activism which is acting! My personal philosophy is creating that change through projects is truly how activism should be. It shouldn't be about calling yourself an activist or your reach on social media. It should be about contributing to the world. How much of a person’s mind can you change through social media? You can talk to them yourself, have conversations, listen to podcasts, or be on one.
Reposting is great, but creating a solution is the best gift you can give to the world.
Where can you see yourself living in the future?
I am 100 percent going to live in southern california. I love the beaches, boogie boarding, the people. When I lived in chicago, my family would always go to LA to visit friends and family. A big chunk of my childhood was in Socal. The innovation is amazing! Everything is amazing. I may live there or I may not. My opinions may change over time. I definitely know that this palace will hold a place in my heart forever.
I also want to live in Lebanon. The question of when is the thing. I think that i will move there when i’m older and when i’m not working. I don’t know if ill retire early because I need to create and I love that mental stimulation. I know i want to be around my family. The community and support system is so essential. For now im content with visiting over summers. I want to travel more and live in other parts of the world. We’ll see where life takes me. I keep saying that i want to move out of the bay area. I don't know if i want to stay here for college but recently i have been thinking that this is the best place for a startup. Im ight stay here too . hopefully if Elon musk creates his hyperloop I can spend my days in the bay area and spend my weekends in LA. We’ll see. I hope its a place with interesting people and opportunities and a place that i truly enjoy being in .