SHEEVA SAIRAFI ’15
SHEEVA SAIRAFI ’15 started her career at the TJX companies, where she worked as a buyer in Boston, New York, and then Los Angeles. With that experience in retail, she decided to start her own venture. So in 2015, Sheeva founded a socially conscious e-commerce site, Local+Lejos, focused on employing women in developing countries. Since then, she has been working on a second venture, a nutrition company called Vejo, which will launch this year. She holds an M.B.A. from UCLA’s Anderson School of Business. She was born in raised in Boston, where she grew up a soccer player and transitioned that need for cardio into obsessive marathon running.
Interviewed by Monique Beals • May 1, 2019
Please describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.
When I was at UCLA, I had been working at a corporation for pretty much my entire career and my goal was to come out to Los Angeles, go through UCLA’s entrepreneurial track and transition into the startup world. In my 3rd year at school, I ended up leaving my job to start my own business. From there, I was working on that business and still run that business myself, but I started getting into other ventures as well. It went from working on my business during my last year at UCLA to then running that about two years after graduating Anderson, and then about three years ago I started working on another project that will be launching shortly. UCLA definitely got me out of the corporate world and into the whole world of start-ups.
What inspired you to choose this career path?
I think that I have always been someone who likes to figure out problems. I tend to get bored easily, so for me, I knew that I was in an environment that was always changing and I love to learn new things and to try to figure something out from beginning to end.
It is a really cool experience to start with nothing and show how you can create something from scratch.
How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?
I think I never would have felt like I had the confidence and all the tools I needed to start my own business without my experience at Anderson. Being able to be in an environment where you can learn so many things, even if it is just understanding bits and pieces of accounting or the finance component or marketing, really gave me the confidence that I needed to get going.
The other component is, of course, the community and being surrounded by other amazing individuals doing things that you might not have even thought of before. You can bounce ideas off of your classmates and really push yourself to go to the next stage.
In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?
Even in the current business that I’m working on, the first place that I like to go to for hiring is UCLA. It is always where I go first. I also have another Anderson grad who works with me now, which is amazing. I definitely use the network to find talent. I should probably utilize it even more to find other components like mentors, but for right now it has been all about finding great people to work alongside.
What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
When I was at UCLA, I started a business of my own which is a home goods company called Local + Lejos. At the time, when I started it I really wanted to go the venture track of raising capital and fast growth, and I think what I learned during that whole process was that my business was not made for the venture world. The goals that I had in mind for the business were not necessarily in line with how typical financing worked in this environment. It was a challenge for me to learn and understand that I had to transition my business into something that I hadn’t originally expected it to be, and I had to be okay with that. It wasn’t in my plan, and I have always been very driven to execute the plan. You have to learn and understand that not everything has to follow the same path, and sometimes it is about learning and understanding that paths are different for different businesses. It was definitely a little fallen pride and learning that everything doesn’t have to go one way. I overcame that by starting a new project that is more scalable while keeping Local + Lejos as my project that is my lifestyle business. I run it with a really small team but can operate in a way that keeps its mission of keeping women employed abroad without having to sacrifice those values.
What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in this field?
The advice I would give is to approach your ideas with an open mind, and try not to fit them into a certain box that you think is the “right” one. There really are so many different paths that you can take, and in thinking too narrow you could end up jeopardizing the growth of your business without realizing it.
How do you participate and support in the UCLA community now?
My main goal is to always, from a hiring standpoint, be working with any UCLA alumni or potential alumni that I can. I had a few interns from UCLA work with me over summer, and any job that I am looking for I always go straight to UCLA to see if there is a fit for someone who could be working in it.
What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?
I think what makes me most proud is the sense of support that you get from the community. I’ve found that even if I am in other settings outside of UCLA the network is present. Even a few weeks ago, I was at an event and saw someone with an Anderson mug and said, “I went to Anderson, too!”. There is that hand that goes out and people are so willing to help with anything or even get coffee just to get to know you better. There is always that lending hand of support which I find to be really unique and special being in a city like LA that can feel so big and overwhelming. You always know that if you meet someone from UCLA it is going to knit you together a little tighter.
And finally, what’s next?
What is next for me, at least in the next 12 months, is that the business I’ve been working on for the last three years will launch. My goal with this one is that it is a scalable product, mass-market product that can have a real, tangible impact on health & wellness. I am really excited to see something go from the beginning to a much larger end and look forward to seeing what happens from there!
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Monique Beals is a Communications major and UCLA College Honors student from Memphis, Tennessee. She has previously interned at the Office of Senator Lamar Alexander, the Orange County Register, and Tegna Inc. She has also worked as an Urban Fellow for the City of Memphis. At UCLA, Monique has been involved as Marketing Director of the Community Service Commission in addition to working as a Student Recruiting Assistant for UCLA Athletics. After graduating from UCLA, Monique intends to pursue a career in journalism or law.
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