How to reinvent an industry – and yourself

Dr. Nadia Shouraboura is the CEO of Hointer, a Seattle-based technology consultancy for the retail industry. She’s determined to reinvent the way we shop for apparel, groceries, electronics, and everything in between. She left a senior executive position at Amazon to pursue her dream. But reinvention doesn’t come easily. Nadia’s learned that in business, before you can truly reinvent a category, sometimes you need to reinvent yourself in the process.

Nadia was a panelist at Virgin Atlantic's recent Business is an Adventure Seattle event – along with other Seattle entrepreneurs and Richard Branson – and shared the ups and downs of blazing her own trail. I had the privilege to speak with her afterward, where she told me some wonderful lessons everyone can apply to their own business adventures.

Find one thing that drives you nuts and fix it

For Nadia, it was the retail shopping experience. “There’s nothing worse than combing through piles and piles of clothes, digging to find what you want. Our customers told us they wanted a cool, futuristic experience in a retail store. A place where they could go, have fun, try different things, and even play. Shopping should be an amazing experience, and that’s not what it is today," she said. 

“What’s exciting is that there are many problems in the world. They’re very real, and they drive you nuts. I believe technology is a very useful tool to turn something bad into something amazing.”

Don’t be afraid to speak up

In corporate cultures, you can’t go far without the confidence to speak up. For Nadia, she found an encouraging environment to gain that confidence: “I was born in Russia. For a number of years, I didn’t speak any other languages so for me it was easier to write code than to talk to people. It was difficult for me to speak up," she explained. 

“And then I had a life-changing experience working with Jeff Bezos at Amazon. He put me on his team. He asked me what I thought and made me speak up. I learned to give my opinions and defend them. Suddenly, I felt more and more comfortable expressing myself. That was a turning point for me.”

That’s what’s kept me going – the assholes. 

Anger can be an amazing motivator

Prior to going out on her own and opening the first iteration of the Hointer retail store, Nadia was a vice president at Amazon, overseeing the e-retailer’s global supply chain and fulfillment platform. So when she opened her store, which sold premium men’s jeans, her former colleagues were curious about her new solo venture:

“Every asshole from Amazon came in to see what I was doing. They’d point out the flaws in the experience and the business model. They made fun of me – saying that I used to know where every item was in every Amazon warehouse worldwide and now, I didn’t even know where the jeans were in my own small store. And they told me I couldn’t replicate the efficiency of the online experience," Nadia said. 

“That’s what’s kept me going – the assholes. I was, and still am, determined to prove them wrong.”

It’s great to focus on technology but don’t forget the beauty

Hointer is developing a new store concept that aims to inject the magic back into the retail experience. No lugging around groceries or diapers. No digging through piles of clothing. No standing in long lines to pay. For Nadia, it’s a way to combine her technical skills with her love of shopping. But as she’s learned, technology and beauty don’t automatically go hand-in-hand:

“I’m very passionate about what I do and love it. I’m very technical, so I write my own code. I even make my own IoT devices that will enhance the retail experience for Hointer customers. My garage looks like a mad scientist’s workshop. But while I honed my technology-oriented ideas for the store, I learned I needed to get a better understanding of the beauty and emotional connection retail spaces need to create. That’s why I’ve toured, and even worked in, some of the most fabulous and admired retail stores around the world."

“Shopping is like making love to someone. You need to create a beautiful space together. You need an emotional connection. So now, when I think about shopping I think about making love. When you compare the two, they make perfect sense. That’s the experience we’re creating with our new store concept,” Nadia explained. 

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