An interview with nomad, creator and startupper Leila Antakly
Leila and I met over a decade ago in New York. We loved the same kinda stuff: music, people, lifestyle, art, traveling. The party scene was our scene and we’d shared the dance floor at many after-parties! But we didn’t only play hard. As real New Yorkers do, we also worked hard and collaborated on several artsy projects.
In addition to being one of the coolest, smartest and kindest people I know, she’s also an innovative creator with a ton of experience in marketing, production, fashion, content writing, and entrepreneurship. Her creative platform Ninu Nina has been one of my top favorite websites since she started it. If you’re looking for witty, relevant interviews with creative people from around the world look no further!
10 years down the road, after a good deal of nomadic life on both ends, she’s based in Madrid and I’m in Berlin. We’ve never lost touch, but the pandemic encouraged us to talk and write to each other more often.
In this interview for Enjoy the Ride Leila shares with us her views on the current status of creative work, startupping, working remotely, and how covid19 has been drastically changing our lives: perhaps for the better!
Virginia: Who is Leila Antakly?
Leila: This is pretty tough to answer… I am asking myself this a lot lately. Would prefer to hear what you have to say!
But here’s a bit about me: I grew up a nomad because of my father’s work, so I spent my childhood moving around the world. After University, I chose to live and work in New York City where I spent 16 years working in fashion and film production. Though, at some point my gypsy spirit took over and I’ve spent the past few years living/working in Beirut, Cambodia, Dubai, and L.A. Now I’m in Madrid and, despite the pandemic, I’m really enjoying my life in Spain.
I have been working on two startups: one is called “Photential” – a global art project for multimedia artists and photographers – and the second one is called “bob bodi,” an online platform for a Spanish speaking audience that combines fitness training, yoga and wellbeing.
V: That’s intriguing! Tell us a bit more about your new startup ventures: Photential and bob bodi.
L: Some people say I’m crazy to be working on an art project when the market seems really saturated and uncertain. That said, this is not just one more “ art platform”. The concept is to help artists, both emerging and established, get exposure outside their countries of residence and give them opportunities not only to sell their work, but also to collaborate with other artists, galleries, institutions, foundations and design brands.
Bob bodi happened because my friend Goda is an inspiring fitness junkie and I’m really into mindfulness. We joined forces and together we realized how hard it is to find this type of content in Spanish. We spent all summer scouring the Spanish speaking world for the best trainers to feature. Finally, we are now developing bodi talks, short interviews with experts on everything: from Ayurveda, to women’s circles, voice activations and herbal therapies.
V: What is Ninu Nina?
L: It started out as a blog and it’s evolved into a platform where I get to interview really interesting, creative people. I have been doing so since 2008. As a teen I was really inspired by The Face magazine from the UK. I guess I wanted to create a blog version of that and feature talented people you don’t hear about everyday. I’ve never wanted to monetize on this site because I felt it would have changed the authenticity and spontaneity of the content. I really didn’t want to fall into the commercialization trap! But right now I’m working so much on the start-ups that I’ve had to put it on pause for the moment…
V: How do you think COVID-19 is changing people’s lifestyle, specifically in relation to work and social relationships?
L: Well I think (and hope!) that covid is making us more responsible about the planet and our future. I’ve always wanted to be active in raising awareness on different collective issues, but this year I’ve actually felt the need to focus on making changes to myself: being more conscious about how everything is connected and about the way I see and experience the world. For example: how I eat, what I eat and how food is prepared; how I shop, how much time I spend on the phone, and so on.
Socially speaking, in 2020, I was basically forced to take a major step backwards, as lockdown was really tough here in Spain. But! On the positive side, this gave me much needed time to focus on myself, to read again, to work on artsy projects, and to spend time reconnecting with friends that I hadn’t been in touch with for a while. Things have been changing very quickly for all of us but, if we try to see the brighter side of things, I think we can hope for a better, kinder, and more conscious future.
V: Given all the creative people you interview, can you tell us what’s the current status for creative freelancers?
L: I interviewed a lot of musicians this year and most of them said that the main challenge for them was not being able to tour. On the other hand, many also stated that, creatively speaking, the pandemic helped their inspiration and has given them space to explore new things. The outcome, therefore, seems pretty positive. I often say the pandemic is helping many people to take a step back and re-shift their focus.
V: Being a creative entrepreneur yourself, what are the top 4 tips you’d give to those who want to embark on this professional path in 2020?
- This might sound so cliche, but do what you love. Startups are tough, so even if you have a great idea, there are so many obstacles you’re gonna have to face. And the only way to get through rough patches in business is to be passionate about what you’re working on.
- Be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day right? But we grew up in the culture of the “quick fix” so for the majority of us it takes practice ( I struggle with it everyday!)
- Don’t give up. If you believe in what you’re doing, just keep at it, no matter the hurdles that will come your way.
- Have a clear vision of your company culture from the start.
But I have a few more things to say to future startuppers and entrepreneurs: I joined the startup world kind of by accident. You hear about all these successful startups and what you don’t realize is that only a limited amount of those actually make it and become successful. It’s not only about having a great idea, product or service; there are a lot of other things that can make or break the success of a startup. Timing, the team, what’s going on in the environment, etc… honestly there are plenty of external factors to consider. Fortunately for me, I’ve had quite a few amazing mentors who have guided me along the way. So tip #5: find a trustworthy, inspiring mentor 🙂
In the current climate, I’d say having a solid business plan, and having an investment is necessary to launch properly. You can’t pray and hope that just your brilliant/cool idea” is going to work quickly. It takes time and money, but when you believe in your business, that hopefully shines through and investors/clients see value in what you have to offer.
V: You are an avid traveler: how do you see the future of traveling post-COVID?
L: For those who know me this sounds crazy, but I haven’t taken a plane since January! The only traveling I’ve done this year has been by car. Honestly, I don’t know what to answer to this one! I can only guess that, overall, people will travel less and that traveling by train and car will become more common. Perhaps, people will begin to appreciate and enjoy their surroundings more, rather than taking them for granted.
V: In 2020 remote working has largely replaced the more traditional office space. What are the pros and cons of this change?
L: I used to manage a modeling agency in Dubai and I loved going to the office to work with my colleagues every day. We worked very hard, but we also had fun. We grew together and, in a short time, we created something really unique and special, something each one of us was proud of. Every day was like an adventure! I find working remotely to be dull. I don’t manage my time as well as I would in an office environment, so I end up spending way more hours in front of my laptop than necessary. Besides, I’m not a huge fan of zoom or teams, but of course I find them useful. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of the more “corporate” ways of working – remember the movie Office Space?! Hahahha.
For instance, I work with a lot of Millennials and, in general, I am pretty shocked by their attitude towards work and career. Many times they can come off as entitled compared to when I started working. Obviously the job market has undergone a lot of changes and, actually, I think it’s great they prioritize work/life balance over career. But I feel they take it for granted and complain a lot. When I graduated college we had to work our butts off to prove ourselves and, if we complained, you were out the door, as simple as that. So we worked crazy hours, weekends, and put up with a lot in order to move up in the industry.
V: What do you mean when you say “simplicity” in reference to the corporate way of working?
L: With “simplicity” I mean not having to keep up with all the constant technological advances!
V: How are you adapting to the so-called “new normal”?
L: I refuse to call it “ new normal”! This situation will never feel normal to me. It’s just “new”. I do think it’s something we can’t fight or resist. We can only accept it and go with the flow, be cautious, and hope this evolves into something better than the current version of the world… ASAP!
Stay tuned for more juicy interviews, lifestyle stories and useful tips!