WA: Can you briefly tell us about yourself and your background?
BF: I grew up in the Midwest, not too far from Amish country, so at an early age I was exposed to different cultures and have always had an interest in other cultures, languages and travel. My parents and the school I attended instilled a sense of community involvement and charity, and I’ve been fortunate to volunteer with and serve as a board member for many outstanding organizations. After graduating from college in the late 1990’s, I moved to New York to be at the center of the world of finance and began working for a major Manhattan based investment bank. I’ve had a lifelong interest in the stock market and studied Economics in college to better understand market dynamics and market history. After moving to NY I was lucky that my immediate family have relocated to the NYC area so we get together often for family celebrations and gatherings. My wife’s family is local too so we have a great source of love and friendship from both sides of our families.
WA: As the Co-Founder and Managing partner of SABR Capital Management can you tell us about its mission and operations?
BF: SABR Capital was co-founded a few years ago with my longtime business partner, Ariel Imas. We were seeing and hearing about many small and microcap public companies that were struggling to get the attention of institutional investors and the valuation of their more sizable midcap and largecap competition. We created SABR to offer a platform that would allow small and microcap public companies on the NASDAQ, NYSE or OTC markets to elevate their awareness with institutional investors, introduce strategic opportunities and advise on their communication to the marketplace. We have had the opportunity to work with a diverse group of company’s ranging from a NYC based public company where they build and engineer for companies like Starbucks and now Residential developers to create “green” retail and residential spaces from recycled shipping containers, to another publically traded NASDAQ listed Princeton, NJ based semiconductor manufacturer that has a strategic joint venture with a multi-billion dollar NYSE listed company. We really enjoy working with the management teams to help deliver the best strategic advise with the hopes of enhancing shareholder value. Along these lines we have created and co-sponsored an Institutional investor Best Idea Conference with Schulte Roth Zabel LLP and hosted our first one in 2013 and we’ll again be sponsoring the Best Ideas conference this coming September 2014.
WA: As one of Women's Annex Foundation's donors, how do you see the role of digital literary in empowering people, especially women in developing countries like Afghanistan?
BF: We are proud to be a supporter of the foundation and fortunate to have learned of the great successes that have been achieved in Afghanistan. Digital literacy is critically important for education and is a powerful skill that everyone needs to be aware of in this day and age. Even in remote areas of the world, like Afghanistan, and for the ambitious, intelligent and intrepid women that live there, an internet connection and a computer creates a lifeline and the opportunity to start a business, learn, make new friends and communicate with family and others around the world. When reading the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg and other major business publications it’s clear that digital literacy is en vogue but also seems certain that it will be an ongoing and integral component of everyone’s life as far as the eye can see.
WA: Your wife Robyn is a business woman with Persian Heritage. Robyn, can you briefly talk about yourself and your background?
RF: My mother moved to the United States from Tehran to attend college. She met my father in graduate school, they married and have lived in New York since. My extended family from Iran lives in New York as well, so I was very fortunate to grow up hearing Farsi, experiencing some Persian culture, and eating tons of delicious Persian food (my grandmother's is my favorite, of course!). I'm very proud of my Persian heritage and feel lucky that I grew up with a rich mixture of family backgrounds - my father's heritage is Scottish and German, and he is from Kansas, so I gained a pretty broad perspective.
WA: What inspired you to open Robyn Ferrari Design, an online jewelry business?
RF: Robyn Ferrari Design started very organically. Designing and creating was something that I had done since I was a child. I always got great satisfaction out of making things that I imagined. As an adult, I decided to make my husband's wedding band to give him something unique and from the heart. That is when my childhood interest turned into a hobby and I began to make jewelry for myself. That hobby grew into a business when total strangers wanted to buy my jewelry that I was wearing - I realized that I needed to create a place to show and sell my work, since the demand was there. My professional life up until that point, was solely as an actress and singer, and though this was a natural creative extension, it felt exciting and scary because it was something unknown. I started Robyn Ferrari Design as an online shop on Etsy.com as an experiment, and my jewelry started to sell. From that starting point, Robyn Ferrari Design has grown. I continue to sell my work on Etsy as well as in boutiques, and in person at live events in the New York area.
WA: Based on your personal experience in establishing an online business, what would be your advice for Afghan women who want to create their brand and build their financial independence?
RF: Having access to the internet and the knowledge to navigate and utilize the internet as a marketplace was absolutely vital in starting my business. The work that Women's Annex Foundation is doing is so important because it provides the necessary tools to empower women to create something meaningful and to support themselves and their families.
My advice to Afghan women who want to build a business and gain their financial independence is to work with their strengths and trust their instincts. I think the first step is to ask yourself what you are passionate about and what you enjoy. Using that information, what good/service/knowledge can you share with others that would make their lives better and/or easier? Then, your customer would be the people who would benefit from your good/service/knowledge. Now you have the information to choose the most effective platforms that compliment what you do and your target market and begin making your business visible to prospective clients online.
Building a business and putting yourself out there can be scary, but it can also be fun and I've found it helpful to approach the unknown with healthy sense of curiosity and the willingness to experiment and make mistakes. It is how you will learn, grow and build a business you are proud of.
Fereshteh Forough - Film Annex Senior Editor