How I Got Here: Shiza Shahid on finding her passion and dedicating her all to it
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we meet the Soho House member, activist and entrepreneur to discuss Our Place, the Malala Fund and the women that inspire her
Wednesday 15 March 2023 By Chloe Lawrance
With its chic, pastel tones and hordes of celebrity fans (including brand collaborator Selena Gomez), it’s likely you’ve seen Our Place cookware all over your Instagram feed. You might too be familiar with the brand’s cofounder and co-CEO Shiza Shahid, the Stanford University graduate-turned activist and entrepreneur that we’re celebrating and elevating this Women’s History Month.
Born and raised in Pakistan, Shahid cofounded the Malala Fund alongside Malala Yousafzai back in 2013, leading the foundation as founding CEO, advocating for and investing in for the rights of all girls to access education. In 2019, she founded Our Place alongside her husband, before launching Now Ventures, an angel fund to invest in women-founded, mission-driven startups, including Pachama, Cleo, and Parsley Health. It’s no wonder that she was named one of TIME’s ‘30 Under 30 People Changing the World’ and Forbes’ ‘30 Under 30’.
Here, we catch up with the Soho House member to discuss her inspiring career trajectory and how she got where she is today.
In 2013, you cofounded the Malala Fund. How did this opportunity arise?
‘I supported Malala and her father Ziauddin while they were campaigning for girls’ education in Pakistan. Years later, as Malala’s mission took on a global stage she and her father asked me to be their cofounder and the founding CEO of the Malala Fund. I was only 22 years old and it’s one of the most meaningful things I’ve ever done.’
Since its launch, Our Place has become a huge success. What was the motivation behind the brand?
‘As immigrants, my partner and I founded Our Place in America by cooking and sharing food with new friends who became our chosen family. That’s why we started Our Place: to build a bigger table, one that would have room for all of us. In an industry that made everyone feel inadequate, we took a new approach and created products that celebrated the beauty and joy of home cooking (and actually made it easier to cook). Our work here is rooted in true inclusion and representation — celebrating all our traditions from Nowruz to Nochebuena, Ramadan to Shabbat.’
Its recognisable and Instagrammable aesthetic really sets Our Place apart – was this something you always intended to be at the core of the brand?
‘Absolutely. We want people to cook more and make it fun. So, the joy and inspiration derived from colour, aesthetic and great design – both functionally and aesthetically – is one way to inspire that. We’re also a sustainable brand, and we use non-toxic materials.’
What have you learnt from running your own business?
‘You’re only as good as the people you inspire to join your mission. I’m fortunate to work with an incredible team, who I learn from every day, and who are a tremendous amount of fun to be around.'
What did you aspire to do growing up?
‘I studied international relations at Stanford; I was an activist through my childhood, and I still am at my core. I wanted to fight for social justice and women’s rights, and that’s what I did. That’s part of what led me to Our Place: I believe business can be a force for good and a pathway to change, if aligned to the right values.’
How do you manage to stay motivated?
‘Call me old fashioned, but I believe when you’re building something, you have to give it your all. Our Place takes all of my attention and focus, but it gives me back more energy, inspiration and joy – and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If you are always looking for the next thing, you can miss what’s right in front of you. I believe in focus, and it’s a privilege to have something I care about so deeply to focus on.’
Why is it so important to you to support women-founded businesses through Now Ventures?
‘It’s been an honour to get to be a very small part of the inspiring businesses built by incredible founders like Cami Tellez, founder of Parade; Alicia Jackson, founder of Evernow, and Robin Berzin, founder of Parsley Health.
‘Women getting access to capital is a real issue – less than 2% of venture capital went to women last year and it was down from the year prior. So, I hope there are more large funds that invest capital in women-led businesses. And I also hope that Our Place’s success also paves the way for other women to raise capital.’
Who are the women that inspire you?
‘My mother, who raised me to be free, despite the constraints that had been placed on her life. And I’m also in awe of the women of Iran who have fought for their freedom, and showed us all what courage looks like in the face of unspeakable violence.’
Are there any women in your life you would like to celebrate and elevate for Women’s History Month?
‘I’d like to celebrate the many other amazing women who are building Our Place with me. They include Thea Mathias, our General Manager in the UK; Kristina Wasserman, who leads product development for us; Isadora Sales leading our brand, Luz Ramirez leading our community retention, and Emily Verone leading our acquisition.’
What have been your career highlights?
‘Cofounding Our Place and growing it to this stage; hiring an incredible team; getting over a million people to cook more and break bread together, and inspiring meaningful conversations over food that bring the disparate edges of our world a little closer.’
You were named in Forbes’ 30 Under 30, which is a big accomplishment at a young age – did this come with pressure?
‘I try not to think too much about awards and what other people think. Awards and recognition are fleeting. And if you take them too seriously, they will prevent you from taking risks, and from focusing on the things that truly matter.’
Why did you choose Selena Gomez for your advert?
‘We partnered with Selena because her mission is aligned with our own. She’s an incredible artist using her platform to speak on issues of mental health. She has her own cooking show on HBO where she learns to cook with her family and friends. Also, like Our Place, Selena believes cooking should be fun, and real. She cooks to connect with her family and friends, to celebrate her heritage, and to just have delicious, nourishing food. And the cookware she designed with Our Place is perfect for anyone, whether they’re a beginner or a professional chef.’
Why did you join Soho House?
‘I joined years ago as part of the Under 27 programme. It was an inspiring environment. And eventually we got our team a Soho Works membership as well. So, now we spend time there coming up with new ideas together. We’re excited to be part of the Soho House family, and our shared love for design, creativity and inspiration is a great match.’
What might our members not know about you?
‘That I absolutely love to host dinner parties where conversation goes deep. That’s partly why we designed a game of dinner party prompts at Our Place called Let’s Dig In, to skip the small talk and get to the real talk.’
Visit our events page for more details on what’s happening around the Houses this month