Beenish Ahmed is an international freelance journalist. She has reported on a number of topics from vodou in Haiti to education in Pakistan for renowned outlets such as NPR, The New Yorker and The Atlantic.
Now, Ahmed is an entrepreneur — or at least that is what she hopes to be if her media project “The Alignist” gets the required startup funds through her crowdfunding campaign.
While it seemed like a big career move at first, Ahmed has realized there are many parallels between entrepreneurship and freelance journalism.
“For me before (making this project), there was a huge divide (between being a freelance journalist and an entrepreneur),” she said. “But it’s been really encouraging to realize the divide may not be as big. There are still going to be challenges ... but it’s not completely new terrain.”
The idea for her startup came as she realized her frustration with the somewhat superficiality of international news reporting. She said the coverage sometimes goes from “headline to headline without getting that deeper understanding” about the cultural aspects of a country or the day-to-day struggle and concerns of its citizens.
She figured fiction could be a way to fill that gap. As a freelance journalist, she would read a novel before going to the area in which she was reporting.
“I started to think about the power of literature to inform and engage in a way that’s related to reporting but also different,” she said.
She envisioned “The Alignist” as a subscription to “connect novels to the news and experience new worlds,” she said. Every other month, a subscriber would get a novel and products from a country along with information about that place such as a map and access to a Q&A with the author and experts on the issue approached in the novel.
But there were many daring questions: Was she sure she could do it? Did she really want to become an entrepreneur?
She started conceptualizing the project and what it would entail. She read books about business and listened to podcasts on marketing because she said it is a “huge component.” She also interacted with Subscription School, an online community for people who work on subscription-based business models, which was how she envisioned her strategy.
But thinking of herself as an entrepreneur was her biggest challenge, even if as a freelance journalist she felt she knew about managing a brand, invoices and finances, she said.
“It took some time to connect those dots and make sense of feeling like I was equipped to do this already in some way,” she acknowledged.
Planning for her business took longer than expected because of decisions about graphics, the logo and pricing. She also took time to listen to advice and input from the online community as well as friends and family about everything from shipping costs to boxes.
She had wanted to have only one subscription offer, but when a friend told her she thought she wouldn’t be able to afford it, Ahmed started thinking about the accessibility of her project. She adapted her pricing strategy to add another cheaper subscription offer.
Another important thing that kept her going was the podcast “How I Built This.” It was a motivation for when she was “feeling low” about her new work.
“That’s beneficial (because) it asks the big questions,” she explained. ”What does it take to be an entrepreneur? What are the particular skills you need, and what are the skills you learn along the way? And that’s really been beneficial to me.”
Her Kickstarter campaign has less than a month to go, but Ahmed is positive about the experience.
“I may not reach my goals, and that’s OK because what I’m learning is that a business is a beautiful thing,” she said. “And if I reach my goals, it means there’s a market for this and people are excited by it.”
Main image courtesy of Meghan Dhaliwal.