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COO of LaunchGood Amany Killawi on Entrepreneurship & Paving Your Own Path

Posted on Jul 24, 2017
Noor Suleiman

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Meet Amany Killawi. She’s the co-founder and COO of the popular crowdfunding website for Muslims, LaunchGood.  

I caught up with Amany to get her insights on what inspires her and what it's like being a COO of a startup. 

On making a difference:

Growing up, Amany always knew she wanted to make a difference in people's lives. At 14, she started the first Girls Sports Club in her community. She felt that there was plenty of focus on spirituality for youth, but not enough - in her own words - "transformative youth programs that taught them how to be community organizers and help them develop both soft and hard skills to succeed."

At 17, she co-founded 'Detroit Hearts & Minds' as a community youth organizer, to help inner city Muslim Youth develop causes and initiatives they cared about and pitch them to investors. They needed funding, so they crowdfunded on Indiegogo. Amany was amazed at how accessible this kind of fundraising was, and since there were very few Muslims in that space at the time, their campaign was a big deal. Fast forward a few years: Amany graduated college with a degree in social work and was working on a few projects when she met Chris, one of her co-founders (of LaunchGood) while working on crowdfunding for the DMH program. 

"If you would've told me I'd be doing this when I was in college, I would've laughed at you. But I’m learning more about macro-social work and organizing in real life than I did in school."

LaunchGood is launched:

She started working on LaunchGood with her co-founders, Chris and Omar part-time during its first year. The first campaign was the Nadoona Extreme Fitness DVD, which surpassed its goal. But the site was so bad at the time, and she remembers thinking "What did I get myself into?" Eventually, LaunchGood grew, and Amany wasn't able to balance her day job with LaunchGood at the same time. So she prayed istikhara and jumped in, becoming the first to go full-time on LaunchGood. She says, "At the time, it felt like holding a rope in the dark and you're not sure where you're going but you could feel it going somewhere." Eventually, the company started paving a path to sustainability, but it was slow start.

As the COO of LaunchGood, her job is essentially to make sure the ship is sailing. "My day is zooming in and zooming out. I work on everything from payroll to lawyers, to financial forecasts, to individual campaigns, helping them craft their stories. When we help a campaign succeed like the first hijabi weight lifter to go to the Olympics, it raises a bar for the Muslim community. By default, we show who Muslims are through LaunchGood. Each campaign is a chapter in the global storybook of who Muslims are and what they're capable of doing.”

Amany and her co-workers add their personal touches to all the campaigns that go through LaunchGood. "It's not enough to to just be a Muslim version of something. You have to build an even better product." They understand that for many, the crowdfunding process can be nerve-wracking, so every campaign on the site gets coached through the entire process.  

She says her younger self would never have dreamed that she can make a career out of social entrepreneurship. It was always a concept that appealed to her, but it wasn't a paved road yet. She adds, "If you would've told me I'd be doing this when I was in college, I would've laughed at you. But I’m learning more about macro-social work and organizing in real life than I did in school." 

On self-development and time management:

Her advice? "Go where you can grow. You're not married to your major - but it gives you context to work with. Read, take different classes, take yourself on dates and learn more about yourself."

It's not every day we hear about young Muslim women holding such powerful roles or leading start-ups. So I asked her what her day looks like:

She uses the first part of her day after Fajr for personal things before she heads to the office. While she's at work, she tries to be 110% present. Once she gets home she tries to get in a workout (at least two times a week), then dinner, and quality time with her family. She calls the time between 6-9 pm her 'Detox hour' when she doesn't check her phone or go online. This helps her reset, relax, and increase her productivity. Sometimes her best ideas come to her during her detox hours.

To ensure that her detox hour and productivity go uninterrupted, she doesn't have text messages go to her home screen. It helps her step away and be present. She gets back online at around 9:30-10(ish) just to check in. 

When we help a campaign succeed like the first hijabi weightlifter to go to the Olympics, it raises a bar for the Muslim community. By default, we show who Muslims are through LaunchGood. Each campaign is a chapter in this big storybook of who Muslims are."

On the glamorization of entrepreneurship:

She didn't always have this much control and ownership of her time. Amany tells me "A lot of people glamorize entrepreneurship, but it's more work than you'll be doing in a 9-5, so that's a big takeaway for me. Of course, for the first two years of working on LaunchGood, I couldn't do any of this because it needed so much time. It was incredibly exhausting - I almost burned out." She continues, "Startups are like infants - they're very intense and need so much in the beginning stages. It's a necessary evil, but you'll have room to step away once you grow."

On her inspiration and the importance of daily reaffirmation:

"A long time ago, I made an inspiration board of Muslim Women because I didn't feel like I identified the images I was seeing of what it meant to be a Muslim woman. So I collected all of these pictures of Muslim women that inspired me on a board and looked at it every day -  and years later, I've actually had the pleasure of working with some of them! Subliminally, it gave me something to work towards. They all took some sort of alternate path. They included the first Afghani runner, the first Muslim woman in Congress, and my own mother. This fed me for a long time and was a big part of my inspiration. It reminded me to pave my own way."

Amany is no doubt very talented, hardworking, and inspirational. You can tell she really loves what she's doing and is very passionate about LaunchGood's mission, and that translates into her work. We'll definitely be seeing more from Amany, inshallah! 

This past Ramadan, LaunchGood held an epic Ramadan Challenge, where people were able to sign up and donate to featured campaigns all month long! Watch the recap video below! 

 

Did you enjoy this feature? Share it with your friends, and tell us what insights you learned from Amany in the comments below! 


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