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Sehreen Noor Ali: Power Mom Turns Chaos into Tech Company

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The Power Mom

Life almost hardly ever goes the way we think it will, and sometimes, throws unexpected challenges out of the blue. It’s what we make of these challenges (and of ourselves in the process) that defines us! One such extraordinary story is that of Sehreen Noor Ali. She’s many things – entrepreneur, CEO, board advisor, market-maker, visionary, business executive, volunteer, ex-consultant, ex-diplomat, and perhaps the most challenging of all, mother.   

Sehreen is a graduate of Brown and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She began her career at the US Department of State, acting as a liaison to the White House for diplomatic response to execute President Obama’s initiatives in the Middle East and South Asia. Her career subsequently took her to consulting and business development in the education and EdTech sectors. It was after this that her life suddenly changed. A call from a doctor brought to Sehreen the news that her child was struggling due to an underlying condition that had gone unnoticed. With that experience, Sehreen’s entrepreneurial journey was born.

As we continue our series of portraits of inspiring women entrepreneurs, is this feature, we walk you through the ups and downs of Sehreen’s life. We’ll learn from the challenges faced head-on, the biases fought, the accomplishments earned, and the power of the entrepreneurial spirit.

Let’s dive in!

Founder of Sleuth Sehreen Noor Ali
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Spotting Opportunity in Chaos

Sehreen struggled as a special-needs mom. She had to juggle her responsibilities as Vice President and Head of Business Development at Noodle and then Kaplan, while also doing her best to raise her two girls. She would feel guilty for taking time off work for her child and would spend hours digging around for answers on Facebook groups for a symptom she was showing. Sehreen’s struggle to find useful, dependable and timely information, alongside the rising use of tech for family health acted as the motivation for her to envision a ‘GPS’ system for child health.

Opportunities are usually abundant. They require a visionary to spot them, commit to doing justice to them and building something worthwhile.

Sehreen co-founded Sleuth as a health-tech startup. She designed it to marry the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ from parents on the platform with other parents seeking advice for medical care and treatment for their toddlers. She calls Sleuth the ‘Waze for Early Childhood Health’. Sehreen was able to prove that there was a demand for a crowdsourced, tech-enabled solution for childhood health

She was able to spot signals to make an entire market where none existed, and her advice to other entrepreneurs is to do the same!

Rise and Rise

Sehreen has worn her multiple hats with a panache and proficiency that will astound many. Equipped with a strong educational background, she has risen through roles of public service, accumulated successes in the corporate world, and founded EdTechWomen and Sleuth. That’s not all – she advises on the boards of SXSWedu and other startups, guiding them in developing and executing their ideas.

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Composure, Confidence and Conviction

Many of us are familiar with the well-known quote by Dorothy Neddermeyer: “Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.” Sehreen has not only faced and resolved differences of opinion, but also overcome biases (whether overt or subtle), at every step of her journey.

In dealing with expectations at executive positions in the corporate world, it’s unfortunately not unheard of to feel guilt while taking time off for personal reasons. Sehreen eventually took a year off to care for her daughter, and confidently went on to build a tech ecosystem for other struggling parents like her.

While in Sehreen’s case, being a mother helped her as she represented a consumer to potential investors, she admits that the tech funding world is predominantly male. What are her suggestions for other minority entrepreneurs? She recommends building and trusting supportive social networks. She recommends being forthcoming and outspoken, because in many cases, people are welcome to change for the better. She leads the way by being bold enough to point out bias. And if it isn’t well received, she suggests accepting that some people just aren’t the right investors / collaborators. Sehreen exemplifies perfectly well how one can select one’s responses to negative triggers.

To perfectly encapsulate Sehreen’s story and to find inspiration from it, we must remember the words:

“Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” – Deepak Chopra

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Mother’s Day: what mom really wants

Yesterday, prompted by my husband, our five year old asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day.  At a loss for any ideas, I realized that by this time in years past, my inbox and FB feed would be flush with retailers pushing their goods on me and yet this year things feel eerily quiet.  I googled “Mother’s Day 2020” for the obligatory Top 10 gifts for Mom lists. . . and in light of the current pandemic, nothing on those lists feels relevant. 

My guess is most moms feel the same way.  If we are among the blessed to have our family in good health, for most of us that is enough.  But since the family is asking, what DO we moms want this year for Mother’s Day? 

 

A Break.  We just want a few hours to catch our breath and not have to constantly be thinking about what’s next. If for one day (or ok lets be real, a couple hours) we could be free of these things, I know I personally would feel mentally and physically rejuvenated.  And to all the single mamas out there, my hat is off to you. I truly hope you have a network of extended family and friends to help you celebrate the amazing mother you are.

Decision Making

The minute our brains are conscious in the morning, moms are making decisions constantly.  What’s for breakfast?  Who’s doing what call from where?  What are the summer plans? Where is it safe to venture outside? What can kids do to burn off energy? “Yup, that’s right. We love our kids. We love our partners. But dammit, we are all in 364 days of the year, so for one day, we want to be out,” amen Andrea Rhoades creator of Selfies to Selfess and contributor at Scary Mommy!

The list is endless.  Please, don’t ask me what I want to eat or do on Mother’s Day.  I actually don’t really care what it is. . . as long as it’s with you and I don’t have to plan or execute it, I will love it.

Running Interference

With everyone home all day, everyday, it’s all too easy to step on each others’ toes and ruffle each other’s feathers.  And if like me you have more than one child, at least once an hour you are being made aware of a grave injustice or acting as referee. Let your partner and kids know that for this day, you are neither judge nor referee and all complaints must be submitted in writing for review on the next business day!  Producer David Kestenbaum from This American Life explained how teachers at his sons’ preschool installed a “tattle phone” where kids could register their complaints about each other. David rigged it up to record those complaints and document the unfairnesses of preschool. For young kids, I loved this idea of a tattle phone.

Family

Ok, usually us moms want more quality family time, and Mother’s Day is a fantastic opportunity for that…but in light of the current shelter at home, we have been seeing a lot of our kids. So maybe this year, we take a mini escape to the spa (aka bathroom) and treat ourselves to a long soak and read more than the same one page of our bookclub book.

Chores

You know what’s more gratifying than having your family do their chores?  Having them do their chores without being reminded. This one might require a prompt the night before, but it will be worth it to see the trash cans emptied, the dishwasher running and the bedrooms tidied without uttering a word.

An early/good night’s sleep

Moms, this one is crucial to feel the day was a success  and to feel fueled for the week ahead. Even if nothing else happens according to plan, put the kiddos to bed early and then proceed to tuck yourself in. Spend a moment reflecting on gratitude and all you are thankful for. My friend Jen reminded me that “when the children are squabbling, be thankful you have children to love.“ 

I wish you all a wonderfully joyous Mother’s Day.

We would love to hear your thoughts about how to make great Mother’s Day. Tag us on @TryVerima with your list

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“Doing unto others”

Years ago when we were living in New York City, I was tasked with buying strawberries for my son’s pre-school class.  This was still a few years before WholeFoods moved into the neighborhood or any of the produce delivery companies were delivering consistently good quality.  It was the middle of winter and the majority of available produce was of course imported.  At the neighborhood grocery, I made my way to the usual organic section and my jaw dropped at the $9.99 price tag for one box of organic strawberries. Knowing that strawberries topped the “Dirty Dozen” list for produce, it was one of those items I always purchased organic when feeding my family. 

But, now multiplied by 10 boxes and I wasn’t prepared to spend that much on a pre-school snack.  I glanced at the conventional strawberries for $5.99/box and I headed over and started to load the boxes into my cart.  And then I stopped.  I felt a deep sense of guilt as to why was it ok for me to purchase conventional for other people’s children when I only purchased organic for my own?  I slowly removed the berries from my cart back onto the shelf and turned back to the organic produce and proceeded to put the $10 boxes into my cart, $100 worth.

Similarly, when I started the formulations for Verima, I sat with Nathan my chemist and started the work.  By the time I had formulated my ideal product with my imperative “must haves” (Organically grown and processed CBD, essential oils, glass containers) and “absolutely nots” (NO perfumes, dyes, parabans, sulfates, garbage) my price per ounce was so outrageous my business partners automatically scoffed at the numbers.  “Forget the essential oils! “ They told me, “use the ‘natural fragrance’ that is still considered. . . erm not artificial. “ 

But in my heart and in my head I knew I couldn’t sell a product that I wouldn’t use for myself or my family. And so with Nathan’s help I started back at square one and was able to maintain quality, while bringing costs down. 

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Marcia Kilgore founder of 
Bliss Spa, Soap and Glory and Fit Flop and she imparted her wisdom to “Never, ever sell anything you wouldn’t buy yourself.” Well said Marcia and I agree wholeheartedly. 

http://www.tryverima.com

 

 

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Math Doesn’t Matter When its Your Kids

I don’t consider myself a panicker. In fact, I sway the other way in that after the first few moments of alarm, I become (some would say eerily) calm. In the past couple days with the CDC preparing communities to respond to a possible spread of Covid-19 in communities, I receive multiple alerts daily how my kids’ schools and communities are preparing themselves. The stock market is in correction territory, airlines no longer fly to parts of the globe. . . the world changed in a couple short months.

Scientists are giving us the math: 80,0000 cases in 40 countries which makes it 0.0001% of the world population, not hugely significant if you think about seasonal outbreaks of influenza that prompts 3 to 5 million people seek treatment. Tell that to a mom however and it doesn’t register as she kicks into Mama-Bear mode and every instinct to protect her family fuels her to take action.

Our brains are wired with Negative Bias which basically means a negative incident will impact us emotionally much more than positive incident of the same magnitude. This helped us stay alive back in the day when predators and other dangers lurked on a regular basis. Once a potential danger gets in our mommy brains, our instinct is to be vigilant and protective, it’s what makes us who we are. Chicken pox, measles, the regular flu; for thousands of years our mom brains have kicked into high gear, and with superhero strength forgoing sleep and meals, we have nursed our families back to health.

However, this latest development invokes more fear in people than usual especially considering the big unknowns regarding transmission, community spread and just when, where and how long we need to stay hyper vigilant. It’s difficult not to get caught up in the moment. Telling an upset or angry person to “calm down” usually will have the opposite effect.

What are we doing at Verima? In an abundance of caution, we have given our team the option to work from home and we have limited travel. Thankfully, because all of our production, CBD, packaging and business partners are all here in the States, we have not seen too much interruption in our day to day operations.

On the home-front, admittedly I did replenish our pantry with a few essentials but getting out of the Costco parking lot made we wish we had more storage in our basement. Unsurprisingly, our local Costco ran out of hand sanitizer, water and toilet paper. 

Mentally, I’ve tried in my life to observe my thoughts and not just automatically react to them. Turning on the news where the majority of stories (understandably) report on danger, causes an uptick in anxiety. So, instead I opt to check in directly with the CDC and WHO websites for updates and information.

Our minds can get pretty creative very quickly, expanding on our fears, so I try to balance that with gratitude. I remind myself that I am blessed to live in sanitary conditions and have world class health care in my city. I am thankful that even the act of going to Costco and *stocking up* is an option for my family. 

I am grateful for the technology that makes the access to vital information appear wherever I go. I am thankful that our friends, schools and neighbors, calmly waiting for updates, have chosen to band together and face this newest hurdle with compassion, level headedness and preparation. So for now, my kids will continue to go to school, ballet, gymnastics and taekwondo and we will face whatever may come together. Stay safe my friends.

http://www.tryverima.com

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The Power of “Yet”

My children were extremely blessed to have the opportunity to attend Bing Nursery School which is part of the School of Humanties and Sciences at Stanford University.  Esteemed Stanford professor Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset is pervasive in Bing’s philosophy and my children have benefited enormously.  According to Professor Dweck, a growth mindset means children believe that “intelligence can be developed through practice, learning, good mentorship from others. “ 

Professor Dweck discusses how children with a fixed mindset believe that “their basic talents and abilities are just these fixed traits.  They have a certain amount of intelligence or talent and that’s that.”  She then explains that the danger in this is “The wrong mindset, can make them afraid of challenges, afraid of effort, afraid of setbacks.“  

At Bing, I observed my children’s skilled teachers masterfully engage with my frustrated then three year old using the power of “yet” to ensure that the task at hand was not simply something he couldn’t do, but rather something he wasn’t able to do. . . . yet.  I have taken this skill with me and use it to this day well into my eldest’s the middle school years.  

Last year he was introduced to solving for a variable in an equation.  He was frustrated and yelled, “I just can’t do it. “  I carefully replied back to him, “Of course you don’t have the skills to do it YET. . . that’s why you go to school. . .  to learn how! “  It was important for me to further explain to him that once he became frustrated, his brain would actually block itself off from learning new concepts.  Once he understood that he wasn’t expected to already know how to do these math problems and that he was capable of learning how to solve them; this changed his entire mindset and as a result, he is now open to new challenges.  In fact it was so life changing that math has become his favorite subject this year.  

I have to remind myself daily, sometimes hourly, of the power of yet.  This applies to myself personally as well as for my company. There’s so much I want to do to grow Verima and oftentimes I am told, “No. “  But to me, this just translates to, “Not yet. “  And then I proceed to plan how I can position Verima to be poised to jump when the opportunity presents itself.  

Personally speaking, I am in unchartered territory as a stay-at-home-mom turned entrepreneur/CEO of Verima, and the learning curve is exhilaratingly steep.  It would be easy to get overwhelmed at all the business acumen I need to acquire in a new and unregulated industry nonetheless.  But, I persevere and continue forward knowing that if something is new to me, I possess the intelligence to learn it and I simply haven’t been exposed to it yet.  

Be kind to yourself, and remember like our children we CAN learn and acquire new skills and knowledge so long as we believe we can and keep our minds open.  

http://www.tryverima.com

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5 Hilarious Truth Bombs from Moms That Will Make You Laugh

If you ever need a pick-me-up when you’re in the trenches of motherhood, just talk to a fellow mom about her experiences with her own children, and you will be reassured that you are not doing it all wrong, your children are not totally crazy, and you will survive this. By talking with other moms, we get to hear the wild, crazy, disgusting, laughable, tear-worthy moments that make parenting the roller-coaster ride that it is. And sometimes, we just need to know that what we’re going through is normal. So, the next time you’re feeling completely overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed, pick up the phone, call a fellow mom, and have a good vent and laugh about how absolutely chaotic parenting is. In the meantime, though, lock yourself in the bathroom with your favorite chocolate bar, and have a read through these hilarious truth bombs from fellow moms. If nothing else, it’ll give you a laugh, a moment of peace and quiet, and a chance to eat your chocolate bar (I won’t tell).

  1. Silence is golden. Unless you have children. Then silence is suspicious.

Remember those days when you could sit and enjoy peace and quiet, relishing the silence that surrounded you? I know, I don’t really remember either, but I like to pretend that I do. That golden silence does not exist when you’re a parent. When our son was a toddler, I was so proud of him for playing quietly in his room while I was putting his sister down for a nap. He was being so quiet and being a dear little soul entertaining himself while I was busy for a moment. When I finally made it out of his sister’s room and went to check on him, his entire room had been lovingly decorated in baby powder. A white sheen covered the entire room, and my son stood in the middle of it all, head to toe in white power, smiling proudly at his creation. Silence is never golden; don’t trust it.

  1. “Booty call” when you’re a parent: someone yelling from the bathroom for you to come and wipe their butt.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing sexy about parenting. We are knee deep in every type of grossness imaginable – from runny noses to vomit to poop. We’ve all heard it before, the call ringing out from the bathroom… “MOOOOOOMMMMYYY!! I went POOOOOOO!!” Unfortunately, unless you’re in the midst of potty training (#goodluck), your child isn’t really looking for any type of congratulations, they’re looking for a hand. Your hand. To wipe their butt. That’s the extent of booty calls when you’re a parent. Stock up on toilet paper, hand soap, and air freshener – you’re going to need it.

  1. That awkward moment when you discipline your child for acting EXACTLY LIKE YOU.

They say that when you become a parent yourself, you really start to turn into your own parents. No one believes this crazy talk, until that magical day when it suddenly happens. And you’re left standing with your mouth open, aghast at what just came out of it. My parents always told stories about how I talked incessantly as a child, literally falling asleep mid-sentence, only to wake up and resume my chattering the following day. I always thought they were just exaggerating and being funny. Then my daughter learned to talk, and I realized they were neither exaggerating NOR being funny. They were relaying the sheer pain of having to listen to non-stop chatter all.day.long. Every time I ask my daughter to just stop talking for a moment so I can think (her talking is literally an all-day event), I can hear my mother chuckling in my mind. Well played, karma, well played.

  1. Never make eye contact with a child on the verge of sleep; they will sense your excitement and abort mission.

No one knows ninja moves better than a parent trying to sneak out of their child’s room without them waking up. If you’re one of those parents who are blessed with a kid who drops off to sleep without a hitch, and sleeps through any sound possible, then you are one of the lucky few. Most of us have mastered the art of slinking out of a chair while holding our slumbering babe, placing them in their crib with the delicacy of a bomb disarmer, and crawling out of the room with ninja-like stealth.

If you’ve ever been stuck hovering just below your baby’s crib, waiting for them to settle before you sneak out, only to come eye-to-eye with them peeking out at you, you know the immense sense of failure that I am referring to. You’re done, Momma, it’s over. That baby will sense your anticipated freedom and decide that life is just way to exciting to go to sleep.

  1. Behind every great kid is a mom who’s pretty sure she’s screwing it up.

Ok, I admit it, this final truth bomb isn’t necessarily a hilarious or witty one, but it is most definitely a truthful one. Nothing is more humbling than being a parent, and there is no one in the world who doubts themselves more than a mother. My mom always told me that parenting is the best and hardest job you’ve ever do, and she was bang-on with that statement. No matter how hard we try, and how much we love our children, we are forever second-guessing ourselves and our decisions.

But Moms, let’s start celebrating all that we do, recognizing how incredibly hard parenting is, and supporting one another through all of the trials and triumphs. Let’s chuckle in the chaos, hug in the hard times, and above all else, try to enjoy those precious little moments. You are doing a great job, trust in that.

http://www.tryverima.com