Shazia Mustafa

Shazia Mustafa

Founder of Third Door

Third Door is about you. Your family, your career, and your peace of mind.

Tell us about the venture/ business/ initiative you have started...

I’m the cofounder of Third Door, a family-friendly coworking space with an onsite flexible Ofsted registered Nursery in London. I have three children who are aged 11, 9 and 7.

Third Door is the UK’s first coworking and flexible nursery hybrid business, based in South-west London. I co-founded the business nine years ago with my husband. Back then and even more so today, Third Door has been about removing the parenthood penalty and creating a better work/ life balance for mums and dads. We have created a solution that allows parents to be able to work near their children, thus saving them time and money by cutting their commute time, as well as removing parent-guilt. Our nursery solution is super-flexible allowing parents to choose between fixed days and flexible packages, upgrade and downgrade their childcare package depending on their needs. With the flexibility we offer, we have helped countless families, especially mothers, who may not otherwise have been able to return to work and continue their careers on a full-time or flexible basis. We also have many members who are freelancers or run their own business and they say they couldn’t have done this without the services we offer. We always designed our services and amenities to be inclusive of fathers, and as a result, are delighted with all our dad members who also regularly use the Workhub.

What is your definition of success? What advice would you give to your younger self about "success"?

Success is all relative. When I was younger, my definition of success was very different and more about working hard and getting up the career ladder to earn enough to buy that huge house of my dreams! My definition of success has definitely changed now though. Today it’s more in tune with impact and building a life that I am proud of; where I can spend time with people I love and respect and where I can be involved with work where I can make a difference.

I also think success is built up on a succession of small failures to be honest! That’s the great thing about running your own business, you can tweak your business as you go along learning from any mistakes alongside feedback from customers or your team. I guess what I would therefore say to my younger self is “don’t be afraid to try new things, mistakes are ok, and you can learn from them.”

What challenges have you encountered on your journey and how have you overcome them? Is this a common challenge in your industry? How can we tackle it?

I think setting up a new business that no one had heard of, in a world where co-working wasn’t even a thing, with a very young family has been my biggest challenge.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, are there any examples you can give and tips you can share with other women on how to overcome it?

I think it’s only natural to question yourself. It doesn’t matter how confident you may appear on the outside, imposter syndrome can show its face when you least expect it. The key is seeing when and how it presents itself and then trying to avoid these situations moving forward. Likewise, it’s essential to tell yourself that it’s ok not to always know the answer. The other thing I do, which I would encourage others to do, is recognise and reward. I always congratulate myself if I have done something well and call out my success (even if just in my own head), rather than always focusing on the negatives. This is a key means to negate imposter syndrome. To be quite honest, I haven’t suffered from imposter syndrome for some time. This is because I talk to myself on a daily basis to remind myself of all the amazing things I have achieved in the past decade, both through the business, and through raising three amazing children with whom I spend a great deal of time with.

Are there women you look up to? Who are they and why are they inspirational to you?

I look up to so many women and many who I know personally. I am inspired by my cousin, Riz, who is a GP partner of a super surgery in North London and has taken so many more responsibilities over the years to help the NHS whilst being mum to what are now three grounded young men. I look up to my mum for teaching the values of integrity and hard work and unconditional love. My younger sister, Sadia, who set up this amazing charity in Malawi where she designed and produced fashion items to sell that maintained an ecosystem for the local population. My friends and members who all have maintained their own businesses and careers to create their own legacy, whilst being there for their children. There are so many aspiring and inspiring women out there that are not getting their stories out and I can’t wait to see more on the Aspiring Women website.

What are your thoughts on work-life balance? Do you apply any techniques to achieve work-life balance?

Having a work life balance now is so much easier than it was when we set up Third Door. Ten years on, I have a great team of people that run Third Door who follow all the systems and processes we have put in place. My husband tends to do the morning run and I will pick up the children and spend the afternoon taking them to their after-school activities. My children’s school has recently introduced a flexible/ad-hoc after-school service which means that I can book the children if I need to especially around meetings. Having set up a business with the intention of helping parents with their work/ life harmony, I always make sure I too spend enough time with my children during the week. Similarly, I will happily rearrange my working week if I feel that it is impacting my work/ life balance.

As a mother in business, I would remind mothers to remember to look after themselves both physically and mentally. That’s why I love going to the gym to do weightlifting, spending time at home baking, reading the latest book about feminism (!) or watching a great movie. Step away when you need to and work on your own schedule, not somebody else’s. Relationships with loved ones are more important than building your legacy or money. Because when all that fails, it is only relationships that you can fall back on to support you. Nurture yourself first and your relationships and everything else will work out. I step away from my work for a few days every few months and then go back to my ‘why’. I also make sure I have downtime for myself, as well as my family. I can’t stress how important self-care is. Likewise, to aid this focus on self-care, I also try to work shorter focused bursts, rather than long stressful days.

How did you know it was the right time to start your own venture/ initiative? How would you advise someone who is just starting out with a project outside of their regular 9-5 job?

To be frank, I didn’t know that it was the right time, I’m not sure you ever do. I had an idea for a business back in 2006 and left my career to work on that, quickly realising I had no idea how to monetise the idea! I had no regrets as my attitude was at least I tried.

A few months after I had my first child back in 2007, the only thing I knew for certain was that I wanted to return to work and further my career. However, like most new mums, I was reluctant to be far from my baby and wanted somewhere I could work in peace whilst my little one was cared for nearby. My husband was also studying for a self-funded MBA at the time as well as working full-time as a remote employee. When I suggested the idea of Third Door to my husband, he immediately understood the concept and based it as a feasibility study for his MBA dissertation. When he received a Distinction for his work, we decided to set up Third Door for real and two years after the initial idea we launched Third Door, in Putney, London. The world’s first coworking space, with an onsite flexible nursery, was finally open for business.

The timing may not have been spot on (I mean back then no one even knew what coworking was) but we completely believed in the idea and the stronger vision of creating a spaces where family and work could grow together. The conviction was so strong that we built Third Door as we could see that in the future, knowing that this would be type of spaces parents would be looking for. And I am so glad we did it when we did; to pioneer a whole new concept and see so many follow in our footsteps has been pretty amazing.

What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?

The women I look up to most are those who support and nurture other women’s successes. I personally live by the famous Madeline Allbright quote “There is a special place in hell for women who do not help other women”. Being surrounded and supported by other amazing businesspeople is essential for leadership success and is a key ingredient when mentoring others.

What mistakes do you see people make when they first start their own venture/ intiative/ business and what advice would you give to women so that they can avoid making these mistakes?

One of the big mistakes I see is people jumping in too quickly. My advice would always be, just don't go into setting up a business without doing your research. Speak to people in your field, ask those who have set up businesses what it is really like to run a business around a family. And if you go ahead with it, then invest! Invest in your personal development, marketing the business and childcare so you can give your business the attention it needs.

Are there any resources/ books you would like to recommend for the women who read your #AspiringWomen article?

Whenever I am asked for business advice, I always recommend reading ‘Emyth’ by Michael E. Gerber. The other book I do recommend to anyone starting a business is ‘Start with Why’ by Simon Sinek. ‘Emyth’ helps you understand what is entailed in running a business - if you have a passion you need to put in procedures to help you continue that passion without getting embroiled in the day to day firefighting. ‘Start with Why’ is a great book to help you discover your core beliefs and why you started your business in the first place.

Is there anything else you would like to share with other women on their journey to success?

Be yourself and follow your gut. And always take some time out for yourself too to ensure work doesn’t become all-encompassing.

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