Meet Soraya Darabi — the New York entrepreneur who, at only 28 years old is a household name for tech geeks the world over. The wunderkind behind Foodspotting, Soraya became a social media tour de force following a revolutionary stint at The New York Times. We’re proud to have Soraya speaking at our upcoming Curator’s Conference, and in anticipation we caught up with her at her NYC home to chat about curation of online personality and her youthful success…
Portable: Recently, when it comes to young women, there’s been a charge led by Girls culture, with a Liz Lemon vibe, but you aren’t that… What its like to be so successful in your twenties when that sort of irresponsible “kidult” persona is so prevalent in the pop culture?
Soraya Darabi: I don’t feel successful; this is indicative of a female thing. I was just reading a Rachel Maddow interview, and I admire her. And she was saying she often feels like “a miserable failure,” which I thought was crazy. But it’s funny because in my own career I have had the pleasure of working with some notable journalists, executive and occasional celebrities in which I would have reverse mentorship; I would coach them on the things I understand like digital media and in return they would help me finesse one angle of my career.
Two things of that: Women mentors would say, “I’m not sure if I have anything of value to have online”; I find that shocking because they are some of the most impressive women I’ve come across in my career. What I would pull away from that is it showed me how important mentorship is for success.
There was a generation of women not to long ago who would climb up the corporate ladder and kick down the rungs below them because they clawed and scratched to get where they were. My industry is experiencing something different; women taking mentorship and leadership roles. That, and only that, has helped me achieve an inkling of the success that people perceive me to have.
P: What’s it like being a woman in man’s world?
Soraya Darabi: Not easy. I’m fiercely ambitious due to being raised by a very strong, single mother. She also taught me you can derive great pleasure from work. I find that what I am doing is the perfect blend of creativity. There are pros and cons, anyone in technology will say that. A pro is that it’s nice to be an anomaly, and sometimes if you can hold your own as defending a thesis and you will receive great respect for that.
P: You’re so busy all the time. Do you ever “check out”?
Soraya Darabi: I was debating taking today as a holiday because so much of my team is away for July 4. But its hard because there’s a lot I want to accomplish and I feel like there’s so little time to do it all.
Getting a puppy is big thing in my adult life because it means that I am responsible for more than just myself. I walk him everyday between 5:30 and 7 a.m., which is my time to decompress and not have a cell phone and listen to the stories of people in dog run park.
P: Where do you see intersection between style and digital? How is one informing the other and infiltrating what you do?
Soraya Darabi: I have had the pleasure of working for both fashion media companies, from Conde Nast to the New York
Times helping the team launch into social media. Since then I have moved into tech and start ups, and I have had the pleasure of investing into startups Style Saint, Clothia, Brit Media, next generation media companies and next generation commerce companies.
Not relying on traditional print publications to spread gospel of what women should buy provides an interesting new mix of editorial and tech that allows you to quite literally buy the things that inspire you in real time. Whether it’s that or an innovation that I’m in awe of such as “Rent The Runway”, where you can rent a new dress to every wedding in the summer and not feel guilty about it because these expensive dresses aren’t hanging in my closet for months at a time and not being worn because they are on loan.
The fashion was perhaps the most important art to embrace. It’s a calling card to world, how you introduce yourself, what we wear is how we are perceived, like people who take risks on the way in which they are perceived based an outfit for on given day or mood. What’s exciting about e-commerce and new media and collision of two, is that we can be anyone we want to be and have no excuse because there are price points and style points for everyone, every shape and color.
P: What did you learn at the New York Times?
Soraya Darabi: I was lucky to land that job at age 23. I knew it was a wonderful job to have had at the time. It was serendipity to be at the right place and right time for this industry and for what I was doing. I learned so much from journalists there about how to be meticulous about your work, how to hunt for truth and how to be relentless until you solve your problem. The thing about Google and the NY Times is that they are chock-full of brilliant people and it’s inspiring to be in a work place where the culture is set by merit and intellectual achievement. It makes you strive more and makes you want to be a better and smarter person.
As I’m thinking about starting up my own company now, culture is something that I think about a lot. Without having such an exceptional experience at NY Times with goodhearted people who were striving for something honorable and borderline philanthropic, I wouldn’t really know how to set goals for the culture that I hope to achieve.