Have a willingness to outwork others and your competition. Be the hardest worker in the room. We can’t control our IQ, we can’t control our circumstances, we can’t control our luck, but we have 100% control over our effort.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Durana Elmi, COO of Cymbiotika LLC. Under her leadership, Cymbiotika has achieved rapid growth over the last three years, to the tune of $12M in annual sales, up 800% YOY. She is credited for transforming Cymbiotika’s call center from an offshore facility to 100% in house in San Diego and relocating Cymbiotika’s fulfillment from Boise, Idaho to a state of the art facility, also in San Diego. She leads Cymbiotika’s website design team and created the world’s first “Custom Subscription Bundle” platform. She is a people-first leader that sets the tone for Cymbiotika’s workplace culture where employees enjoy coming to work and want to work. Prior to Cymbiotika, Durana was founder and CEO of Day Group LLC and Konplott USA LLC. Prior to that, she was Director of Marketing for the Northeast Region for Cricket Wireless. She is an alumna of UCLA.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
The persecution of women at the hands of the Taliban made living in my beloved home country of Afghanistan an impossibility. My family and I packed up and, seemingly overnight, moved to Virginia. Like many other immigrants, the initial move was overwhelming. New language, new cultural norms, a new way of life — it was a lot to take in. Multiple moves later; we finally settled in Aliso Viejo, CA; where I spent my middle and high school years.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
My mother is a strong, opinionated, and self-sufficient woman. During her youth, Afghanistan was a much different place. In fact, many foreigners would vacation in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Afghan culture is centered around family, music, and some of the greatest food in the world. Unfortunately, the invasion of the Taliban changed much of that. My mother did not want her only daughter to be raised in an environment where women are oppressed, and their abilities suppressed.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Faced with the duality of living in the land of the free and growing up in a conservative Afghan household, I had a difficult time reconciling the so-called freedoms within my reach with the oppressive nature of my own home life. I knew I had to make the decision to either live within the narrow confines of culturally imposed gender roles or break free and live a life of freedom and creative expression. Fortunately for me, courage and perseverance were not in short supply, and I quickly flourished into the leader, businesswoman, mentor, wife and mother I am today.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I’m exceptionally grateful for my mother. She left Afghanistan with two children in hand and didn’t speak a word of English at the time. Her resilience, strength and courage are my daily reminder and inspiration to thrive in life, succeed in business and pave the way for other women. In fact, she is a successful business owner in her own right. She gave me my first glimpse into the possibility of entrepreneurship.
My husband, Shahab Elmi, has also played a big part in who I am today. We met when were very young and fell in love instantly; less than 2 years later we were married. Though we are both competitive by nature, we inspire one another to reach our full potential. We have built 4 companies together and I consider him the best CEO on the planet.
They both inspire me to be a great role model for my children and remind me that my toughest days could be someone’s best day and to always keep perspective and live life with purpose.
So how are things going today?
I’m incredibly blessed. I’ve been married to my best friend of 20 years and our home is full of love and life from our two beautiful daughters, Yasmine and Ariana. We live in sunny San Diego. Having worked since a young age, I’m a serial entrepreneur owning and operating multiple businesses. As a Chief Operating Officer and Managing Partner of Cymbiotika, a rapidly growing health and wellness lifestyle brand, I’m on a mission to empower individuals to take ownership of their lives by reclaiming their health, advance their understanding of optimum wellness and unlocking the full potential of their unique magnificence through the power of natural, vegan supplementation. Cymbiotika has grown over 7000% over the past 3 years and is positioned for even better growth for years to come.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m extremely passionate about giving back and living my daily life with purpose — never letting go of my roots and remembering my homeland. For over 15 years now, I have been sponsoring widowed women and children through an orphanage in Afghanistan. Along with this, I am committed to developing a diverse workplace with gender neutral opportunities in a fun, collaborative, and judgement-free environment here at Cymbiotika. I strive to provide as much guidance and support as I can to my employees and help them achieve and surpass their work and personal goals. It is my duty to invest in my team’s growth and development. Similarly, I’m also heavily involved with many local charities and I love being able to give back to the community. I have worked with with the Boy Scouts of America, Warrick Dunn Charities, and Toys for Tots. I’m also a Board Member of the Union Aid for Afghan Refugees and feed the homeless here in San Diego.
You have firsthand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- Adopt an employment based immigration system.
- Adopt an education based immigration system.
- Preserve Patriotic Assimilation.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Have purpose in all you do. Money cannot be the end game. Find a way to give back and help the next generation succeed. That “purpose” will drive you to achieve a much higher level of success.
- Have a mindset of “do what you NEED to do, to one day do what you WANT to do.” Hard work + Discipline + Tenacity. Put in the time today, so you can do what you want to do tomorrow.
- Have a willingness to outwork others and your competition. Be the hardest worker in the room. We can’t control our IQ, we can’t control our circumstances, we can’t control our luck, but we have 100% control over our effort.
- Always have a spirt of gratitude and perspective. Take the time to appreciate the wins, especially for your team’s benefit. This is one I have the most trouble with, but it is critical!
- Be bold enough to invest in your thoughts, self, business, and those around you. Don’t be afraid to fail. In business, in life, in relationships…. GO FOR IT!! If it doesn’t work, dust yourself off and try something else. Whatever you do, go all In!
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Innovative technology is transforming communities.
- Equity and Social Justice are in the hot seat and that will force more change for the better.
- Investments we are making into our youth today will shape and form our tomorrow.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Oprah Winfrey — She’s an inspiration. I’m interested in having lunch with her and learning more about her views of life, purpose and humanity.
Elon Musk — His vision for the future and innovation is something I would love to dive into with him.
About The Interviewer: Vicky Colas, Chef Vicky, is an award-winning chef in the Caribbean food arena. In 2012, Chef Vicky was awarded a silver medal for Caribbean Chef of The Year at the Taste of the Islands completion hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association. She was called to represent her country and be a part of the Culinary Team Haiti as a Culinary Chef Ambassador competing with 10 other Caribbean nations. The team was also awarded a silver medal for the Caribbean Team of the Year and received an Award for “Best Team for Taste of the Islands”. A published nutrition researcher, her study was selected in 2013 in the International Journal of Child Nutrition. Her recipe and interview have been featured in Essence Magazine online, Island Origin, and most recently the cookbook Toques in Black: A Celebration of 101 Black Chefs in America. In 2019, she was nominated in the “40 under 40” class of Legacy Magazine as one of South Florida’s “Black Leaders of Today and Tomorrow”.
Most recently, Chef Vicky was selected as one of twenty women candidates awarded for the 2019 James Beard Foundation Women Entrepreneurial Leadership (WEL) fellowship and is also part of a selective group of talented Chefs in the James Beard Foundation local food advocacy training programs. She is a wife, a proud mother of 3 boys, a business, and a food influencer in her community. Chef Vicky has been featured in her local news stations such as WSVN CH 7, Deco Drive, WPLG Local 10 News, 6 on the mix CH 6 and Good Morning Miramar.
Vicky is also a subject matter expert in the Hospitality, Culinary Arts, Restaurant Management, and Public Health (Dietetics and Nutrition) arena. She is a graduate of Florida International University (FIU) and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.