bistara | #BeYourOwnBoss
Freelance photographer, completing her final year at Emerson College and recently launched her co-founded company, bistara, Maya Rafie is on a roll! We sat down with Maya to ask her what it’s like to be an entrepreneur at 20 and her secrets to balancing school and work.
bistara is the world’s first college freelance marketplace that connects college freelancers with other students and communities nationwide.
Maya, how did you come up with the idea for bistara?
My co-founder and I are both freelancers and we both go to very artistic schools (Emerson College & Berklee College of Music). We both were doing work for similar clients, as I was photographing musicians and my co-founder would repair guitars or build amplifiers for them. We found that there was a high demand for musicians needing not only photographers but also filmmakers to make their music videos and to build their press kit.
Going to Emerson, I was surrounded by so many filmmakers who needed hands-on work and were always on the hunt for a new project. I decided to reach out to friends and friends of friends to see if anyone was interested. The demand was high so we made the connection. It ended up being a win-win for both the musician and the filmmaker and that’s when we knew we were on to something. Working with this model, we quickly understood bistara could go beyond creative services so that’s when it became a college freelance marketplace.
When did you know you wanted to follow an entrepreneurial path?
I have always been motivated by new ideas and always wanted to create something. Before Boston, I lived in San Francisco and started a photography business, doing photo-shoots and building my credibility by taking classes at Stanford University. When I came to Emerson, I co-started Humans of Emerson on campus then my photo business skyrocketed and I was taking photos of musicians at Berklee. When Zac and I made our first connection to these musicians, essentially bridging the gap between the two schools, we thought this can be so much bigger!
How long did you spend working on bistara before it launched?
My co-founder and I pitched the idea to the Emerson Accelerator program in September 2014, so about a year.
How did you balance school and starting a company?
It’s definitely not easy. I’m a very visual thinker so I make lists every morning. I use a day planner and divide each day into different sections. On the left is all school related work, on the right is bistara and finally to keep me sane, I have a personal section too. When I put everything down, it suddenly feels less overwhelming and I can calmly go through each task.
Do you have any advice for other women starting their own company?
Yeah, I’ve always tried to find balance between work, school and my personal life. I think looking for balance right now is kind of an unattainable goal ; there are just too many variables. I think this is the age where we have to power through. So to all the other women entrepreneurs out there, I would say don’t solely focus on finding balance. If you believe in your idea and give it time, it will all come together and that’s when you will find your balance.
Did you learn anything at school that helped you launch your company?
Yeah, I mean what I love about Emerson is how hands-on it is. My freshman year I worked as a photographer for a lot of organizations on campus and doing Humans of Emerson encouraged me to talk to people in a way I wouldn't otherwise. Being a photographer, I’ve been told I have a good eye, and attending one of the best film schools, I took some cool film classes because it’s an incredible opportunity to be able to train your eyes in other ways. Also, a lot of the classes I have taken have challenged me to think in a different perspective - simply and creatively - which I have been able to apply to my company.
Is there anything you wished you had when you were preparing to launch?
I mean probably more time to sleep or more hours in the day! But my co-founder and I were really lucky to have the accelerator backing us, providing a work space, and giving us access to amazing resources and mentors which not a lot of people have when they start out.
Along the way, what was your motivation?
The fact that I was passionate about the idea, I had a lot of creative ideas to expand it and I kept my eye on the prize. When we started, I was living in dorms and I hung this quote on my wall that reminded me everyday why I am doing this.
Would you recommend other women to start their company while they are in school?
There is definitely no right time to start a company. I mean there is probably an ideal time maybe a time with more financial sustainability, but when you know, you know. If you are driven and passionate about something, you aren't gonna sit and wait around. It’s definitely a challenge to balance school and a company but learning how to manage such a challenge at a young age is probably one of the best life lessons.