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An Interview with Yasmin Bashirova around Strategic Finance Management for Start-ups

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Yasmin Bashirova

Yasmin Bashirova is the Chief of Staff at an e-commerce start-up on a mission to bring trust and simplicity to the peer-to-peer used car market.

She graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. and M.S. in Energy Resource Engineering. After graduation, Bashirova worked as an Investment Banking Analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York City, where she provided data-driven financial analyses for capital decisions such as M&A deals, IPOs, and LBOs.

Combining her engineering and finance background, she delivers data-driven results for projects in the finance, product development, and marketing sectors. Bashirova’s top skills include research, data analysis, economics, and strategic leadership. She also speaks four languages, including Azerbaijani, French, Russian, and English.

We recently got a chance to Interview Yasmin Bashirova about strategic finance management for start-ups.

How did you get started in strategic finance management for start-ups?

Starting out as a Chief of Staff at Shift, I had to wear many hats and found strategic finance to be most aligned with my background. In a growth stage company, the strategic finance arm is crucial for scaling the company in a sustainable fashion, so it’s been exciting to be a part of an impactful team.

In your experience, what does strategic finance look like at a start-up as opposed to a big business?

I never worked in a strategic finance arm of a big company, but a guess would be that the experience is most likely more focused / niche vs. broad. When you’re in a small company, as the team is still small, you have an opportunity to work with more business partners and capture more business management and decision-making than you would in a big company FP&A role.

What was the biggest takeaway for start-ups during Covid?

Managing your runway early on is crucial. As we saw during COVID, start-ups that weren’t well-positioned for the recession and couldn’t pivot in time ended up not making it through the difficult macro environment. 

How do you think your background in engineering has prepared you for success in the field of data-driven finance? And more specifically, would you say your background has any perks when it comes to finance for start-ups?

I think studying engineering in school prepares you for any kind of job, even if your role doesn’t end up being super technical in scope. Engineering teaches you how to become a structured thinker. In computer science, for instance, I learned how to decompose large tasks into smaller manageable steps. This type of mindset is something I encounter every single day in my work in strategic finance. If a business has a problem, the answer is rarely a binary decision dependent on one variable, so isolating for different components that drive the issue is an engineering approach that I use in strategic finance on a day-to-day basis.

When it comes to finance, how do start-ups strike a balance between short-term growth and long-term resilience?

It’s tough to summarize this question in a quick interview, as this is the billion-dollar question that many companies are dealing with every day. From my perspective, the business model needs to have a profitability path in sight as the business scales. The heaviest costs from the unit economics components need to decrease as the network effect becomes more prevalent. When operational or corporate expenses are growing linearly with the company’s topline, that’s when issues start to arise because the business model will never become profitable unless there’s a sudden change in the profitability profile.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while coming up with a financial strategy for a start-up? And how did you overcome it?

Start-ups are resource constrained relative to big companies, so the biggest challenge I faced was building out tools and dashboards from scratch. In order to come up with a strategy, you need to understand the state of affairs for key drivers and challenges for the business, and getting clarity is not the easiest thing in start-ups as the data is not perfect. I overcame this challenge by partnering with operational and technical leaders and letting their expertise drive the analysis from the bottom-up vs. judging based on my assumptions.

What are some tools that are essential to your craft? If you have a problem related to strategic finance, what kind of things can you rely on to help you find an answer?

Most of my work is done in Excel/Google sheets. The majority of my analysis relies on pivot tables and excel formulas like index match, as well as scenario planning using what-if analysis. It’s tough to point to one tool as the panacea for the problem; usually, the combination of all is what you need.

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Interview

Dani Thompson is Making Noise in the Music Industry to Empower Independent Artists and Aspiring Entrepreneurs

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Dani Thompson is the founder of DNT Entertainment. DNT Entertainment is a boutique artist management, artist development, music marketing, and PR agency. DNT Entertainment is a leader in artist development and has been empowering artists to succeed independently without compromising on their creative control.

Dani, Thank you for talking with us. The journey of an Entrepreneur is never an easy one. Kindly describe your journey as an Entrepreneur.

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): My journey as an Entrepreneur has not been an easy one. Lots of research, time, tears, sacrifice, money, late nights, 3 phones, side hustles, full-time jobs to fund my passion, coffee, wine, and at least 2 diet cokes a day. To top it off I birthed 2 humans in the past 7 years while I was building my business, worked a side hustle as a Regional Sales Director for one of the largest financial processing companies in the health and fitness industry, and survived homeschooling and nannying my wild boys during a global pandemic. My journey has been a bit nuts to be quite honest. I thank god for getting me through it, and my family, friends, and clients for their encouragement and support. I honestly would not have been able to do it without them.

What were the initial challenges that you faced in your endeavor as the music industry has a lot of competition?

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): I have always been one to learn everything in life the hard way. This applies not only to my personal life, but also my business journey. It is those hard lessons that have given me the knowledge to lead others, and therefore I know they were a difficult but necessary part of my journey as an entrepreneur. I faced many challenges and still do to this day.

I would say the biggest ongoing challenge has been finding a work/life balance. Knowing when to clock out and turn off my devices so I can live in the moment. Regarding the music industry and the competition there, to be honest I look ahead and not around me and I know there is only one of me. Sure there are amazing people in the industry that I look up to, but I don’t see them as competition. I feel like we are stronger together and collaboration is key to success in this industry. I’m not in a race to win anything. I have a long way to go before I will have reached what I feel would be the ultimate level of success in my career. I know that surrounding myself with people that have accomplished what I hope to someday in my life are not my competitors, but are mentors and are people I can learn from and grow with. The moment you look at your peers as your competition, you will fail. Instead you need to align and focus on finding partners that you can offer a mutual benefit to. We are stronger together. 

How and when did you come up with the idea of DNT Entertainment?

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): After graduating college I was asked by a family friend to manage and run a publicity campaign for an artist named Macy Kate. Her family sought my guidance because I had personal experience as an artist from my high school and college years, and had a degree in journalism and the ability to write. I also built an amazing network of creatives and music business professionals, worked with local studios, and had experience in photography, video, and live show production.

My resume and network landed me that first management client and I knew I needed a way to track income and expenses, draft invoices, have a professional public web presence, and all the other things that come with representing talent in the industry. I came up with the name DNT Entertainment which is my initials “Dani Nichole Thompson,” and the rest is history. 

Business-wise, 2021 and 2022 had their own challenges. How exciting the future of business looks for you in 2023?

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): I am very excited for 2023. I feel like our industry is slowly but surely recovering from the Covid 19 pandemic that set us all back the past few years. Live music is finally coming back, event mandates are being lifted, interviews are resuming in person, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. This gives me great hope for our continued growth in 2023. I am also very excited to be working with our growing roster of amazing artists and the all-female creative and development team at DNT that have brought their talents to the table and have made a significant impact on the success of our clients. I’m also very excited for our continued partnership with Thomas Barsoe and OC Hit and their amazing new recording studio location in Orange County, CA.  

Do you believe that music companies have been traditionally exploiting artists?

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): I feel like the label system has a lot to offer artists in terms of marketing, publicity, tour support, team support, global distribution, credibility and radio promotion. I wouldn’t necessarily say artists are exploited, because labels are essentially investors and are taking on such a great risk when they sign talent. If a label or publishing company offers an artist/writer a signing bonus, at some point they need to be able to recoup their investment. That’s the way it works. You get nothing for nothing. To say that the recoupment of investment is “exploitation” would be wrong.

I feel artists need to do their due diligence and research before diving head first into the first label deal they are presented with, and make sure it is the best next step for them. A label deal is not the answer for everyone, especially not artists that want to retain creative control over their projects and ownership of their music. When signing a label deal many times artists are voluntarily signing away that creative control, their catalogs, and their image and brand in exchange for promotion to help them connect with a larger audience and get their music out on a larger platform. Lack of financial investment at an independent level is why artists sign major label deals. They need the money to continue creating music, marketing, promotion, video production, travel, radio, and all the other things that are almost impossible for independent talent to self-fund. Therefore they sign a big part of their lives away knowing that they will be exploited. Why else would a label sign them? They sign them not to help them, but to make money off them. It’s a business. 

There are very clear contracts laid out and I feel like it is the duty of the artist to consult with a legal team and mentor before they rush into deals that they will later regret. Labels take a lot of risks when they sign an artist and invest in them financially with no guarantee of return. This is why you see the label deals these days only going to established artists or artists who have cultivated a following on their own. That presents a lesser risk to the label. Create your package, build your following, tie a pretty bow on it, and then present it to a label. At that point, you actually may be in a position to negotiate a mutually beneficial deal and not one where you will feel used and taken advantage of. The best first step is artist development and that’s what we do at DNT Entertainment.  

Doing business is all about solving problems. It is equally important to help others in business and in your case, you want artists to remain independent. What are your views on this?

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): I’m not going to say that every artist needs to remain independent. By all means, if they do not have the financial backing to continue the pursuit of their dreams of being an artist, and as long as they know the risks and benefits of signing a label or investment deal, they can make that decision and I will support whatever they feel is the right thing for their career. Every artist has different goals and based on those goals my job is to help build a strategy that will help them get there.

Are there any last thoughts you would like to share with our readers?

Dani Thompson (Dani N Thompson): In the world of entertainment and entrepreneurship, there is no guarantee that you will be successful, but I have learned that the more you put into anything you do in life the more you will get out. You can’t fail if you set realistic goals and if you have the motivation and drive to succeed. Work for love and not money. The money will follow if you are passionate about the work you do. Stay focused and grind it out. Have faith and trust in God and his plan for your life. Don’t look back. Don’t look around. Stop caring what everyone else thinks. Nobody will work harder for you than you, so start there and everyone else will get on the train. 

Where to find Dani Thompson

Website: https://www.danithompsonmusic.com/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/danithompsonmusic/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danithompsonmusic/

YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/danithompsonmusic

DNT Entertainment 

Website: https://dnt-entertainment.com/Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dntentertainment/

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Interview

An Interview with Jennifer Miree Cope

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Described as thorough and organized by her closest associates, Jennifer Miree Cope graduated from Vanderbilt University in 1985 with a degree in Electrical Engineering.

Jennifer has a deep-seated passion for several non-profit organizations. Especially with the Susan G. Komen Foundation and The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, which has treated several of her close friends and family members.

Jennifer Miree Cope’s respect for the generosity of nonprofits inspired her to become a volunteer. Currently, she is involved with several charities started by Independent Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama: STAIR tutoring, the Children’s Fresh Air Farm, and Holiday House. 

Jennifer’s husband, Pat Cope, is the founder of Cope Private Wealth — a prestigious financial planning firm. When not relaxing with her husband and two sons in Mountain Brook, Jennifer can often be found exercising, walking her dog, or hiking in the mountains of North Carolina.

Jennifer, thank you for doing this. Tell me about your best and worst days at work. 

My worst days are the days when we’re busy. You know those days when customers are calling, texting, emailing from early in the morning to late at night. (I can’t help it that it rained that day.) But one of my best days was when we had three very happy clients, two of whom brought me wine!

What are the projects that you most enjoy working on?

Landscaping an empty or nearly empty lot.  It’s just like an artist starting with a blank canvas.

What was your biggest ‘a-ha’ moment?

My biggest eureka moment was when I realized that technical drawings such as landscape plans can often be just as pretty as art.

What has been the most important part of your professional journey?

That’s a simple answer. It would have to be time management. There’s simply no way to succeed without it. And I start managing my time well from the beginning – it really starts the minute I wake up in the morning.

What risks is your company facing? 

With the economy doing poorly and inflation on the rise, people can always stop landscaping. That’s really the biggest issue here. It is unfortunately a luxury and not a necessity.

What would you do with unlimited resources?

That’s a tough one! I mean, to be honest, there are a lot of things that I would do with unlimited money, and I imagine that’s the same for everyone else too.

But there is one thing that I would prioritize if I had unlimited money: First, I would try to use it to find a cure for cancer. Both of my sisters, my mom, my aunt, and my husband all had cancer. My two sisters died from it. It’s a nasty disease and we need to dedicate more of our resources to fighting against it.

When was the last time you totally lost yourself in doing something?

I would have to say it was the last time I made a needlepoint belt for one of my sons. It can be very easy to find yourself in the zone when you’re engaged in that.

What do you do when you’re not at work?

Yeah, well for exercise, you can usually find me playing golf, doing pilates, or yoga. I often enjoy going out to eat or attending sporting events and musical theater. And I can’t forget that one of my favorite things to do is travel — mostly to our place in the North Carolina mountains.

How do you feel you make a difference in the world?

For me, the number one way to make a difference is tutoring the underprivileged. I have done a lot with STAIR, and I am very proud of that work.

 

 

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Interview

In this interview, Raquel Ureña talks about the second season of ‘NY Never Sleeps’

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New York Never Sleeps

Raquel Ureña is a filmmaker and the Founder of NYC Latin Media. She has produced over 8 films. To know more about Raquel Ureña, please read our interview with her.

Raquel, It’s a pleasure talking with you again. Much awaited “NY Never Sleeps” will be rolling out its second season pretty soon. How excited are you about this?

I am really excited. Especially because the participants of this second season are super successful women who are truly inspiring. They are great role models.

Would you like to give a sneak peek into the second season for our audience?

These women of Dominican descent all have successful businesses and they all started with nothing, showing us that if you work hard and remain focused, anything is possible. They are all immigrants and today, have many luxuries due to their hard work. Besides seeing the lifestyles of these women, we will also be seeing a lot of fashionable and trendy, and exclusive places in New York.

When will you start filming?

We will start filming in May and have many plans and exclusive events that we will be attending. We will be showing exclusive restaurants and places that people need to see in NY.

On which platforms, will the second season be available? Also, how many episodes will be there in the second season

There are 13 episodes in the second season and it will be airing on Digital 15 and Telemicro Internacional which is the biggest TV platform in the Dominican Republic. Telemicro Internacional is seen in the US through Comcast cable. The show will be airing towards the end of September. We will be filming all summer.

What are your views on the current status of women in entrepreneurship? especially in the Latina community?

New York is a difficult place to live in and very expensive but these women have proven that even with a humble beginning and hard work, it is possible to get ahead in life.

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