Hoya Highlight: Sabahat Chaudhary (L'06)

Sabahat Chaudhary

Co-founder/owner, Magpie Cookshop

Describe your current profession.

I co-founded and own a small business, Magpie Cookshop, which designs and makes sustainable kitchen textiles. All of our products are made in the United States and are aimed at helping home cooks and eaters establish more sustainable kitchen habits. For example, we make fabric Bowl Toppers that you can use to cover bowls, instead of plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Our products are made of natural fibers, such as sustainable hemp and/or organic cotton, and food-safe dyes, so you can feel good about having them around food. You can check us out at magpiecookshop.com.

Explain the transition from law firm to home office – what do Hoyas need to know about making the decision to leave the corporate world?

Have a business plan and save a lot of money! It doesn’t have to be fancy, but even a basic one page business plan will help you stay focused on what your goal is and guide you on your path to get there. And unless you get really lucky, it will take a while for your business to be financially stable, so you should be prepared to support yourself in the meantime.

Also, whatever your business is, make sure it is something you are really passionate about, or you may not stay inspired during the gritty times.

What have been the most challenging or rewarding moments in the startup process?

It’s awesome to tell Magpie’s story to people and have them light up when you talk about our products or mission. That is a great reward.

I would say the most challenging is that, as a small business owner, you have to do everything (at least in the beginning, where we are), including things that you really don’t want to do. For example, we do all of our bookkeeping right now. Sometimes, I really don’t want to, but if I don’t do it our books won’t be balanced and our accountant will be unhappy. This is why being passionate about your business is important. When I worked at law firms, I hated recording my time but I did it because I had to. Now, I don’t really love doing bookkeeping but I do it because I love our mission (and also because I have to).

Whom do you consider to be your influencers?

I find so many people inspiring, but to just pick one, I find Diane von Furstenberg to be very inspiring. I recently watched her Corner Office interview with The New York Times’ Adam Bryant. She is a great example of someone who found success in her own way without sacrificing herself. During the interview, she says to be true to yourself and not do things just because other people want you to. That really rings true for me.

What do you consider to be the most useful piece of career advice you ever received?

Aside from Diane von Fursternberg’s advice to be true to yourself, my husband and I volunteer at the N Street Village and they have a sign on a wall that says something like “Make your life’s work matter.” (This is a paraphrase.) I find it very inspiring. You spend most of your time working; I am happier when it is something that matters to me and/or makes a positive impact on the world.

What skills are necessary, or how do you think the requirements for your industry are changing?

This is obvious, but social media skills are invaluable in the retail industry now. You have to constantly stay connected to stay relevant. This would be the first thing I would hire out (even before I outsourced our bookkeeping) as it takes so much time and energy.

How do you think your time at Georgetown affected your professional decisions?

I think Georgetown Law made me much more disciplined and resilient. Also being among all those wonderful professors and students gave me the confidence to branch out on my own.

What websites/social media pages do you read the most, and why?

For business advice, I love Wired, Fast Company, and Planet Money and the StartUp podcasts. I also love Chip and Dan Heath’s books, Made to Stick, Switch, and Decisive. I always learn something new from these sources. I love reading Wired because it often has stuff about the science of sustainability in it and is really on-point on trends.

As we are a lifestyle business, I also read a lot of lifestyle/food blogs. I love reading Food52 and the kitchn. They are beautifully produced and both convey consistent and inspiring aesthetics. I also love Feast: An Edible Road Trip because if I can’t travel and eat delicious things, I want to read about it.

Anything else you would like to add?

I don’t think starting a business is for everyone, but I love it. I think if a Hoya has the itch to do it, she should go for it, even if it is a side business. You never know if you’ll like it unless you try it.