Where would you find a young book lover, a 28-year old lady who loves her students like her own children? Yes, we are talking about Sania Adil and her world of Literary Junction.
“It’s a place where people are free to borrow books,” She shares, “those books which are not even available in Pakistan, my kids have read them all.”
With a lot of hard work, efforts and passion, she has managed to unite all the book lovers under one roof.
In this technological age, it’s amazing to see that Sania is a keen reader! She has passed it on to her students by starting up a book society in her basement.
She moved from Karachi to Lahore in 1992 and back then to Karachi after her wedding, where she believes that she started life from scratch. She has done her schooling from American School and owns a degree in BSc in accounting & Law from London School of Economics.
Let’s take you through her motivational and inspirational journey from being a lawyer to an Entrepreneur.
Being a lawyer, how did you come up with this business idea?
I had gotten my admission in to Warrick, but my dad didn’t want me to go. I was also engaged at that time and on my dad used to tell me “Please don’t leave us, you can work where ever you want to.”
Eventually I got a job in corporate department of RBS – worked there for a year in Lahore and I realized that this is something that I don’t want to do ever, the whole 9 to 5 job was not my thing!
When I got married, I was 22 years old. My husband wanted me to do my masters, I did my LLM after my marriage! But when I decided to do my masters, I was like “wait a second” I’m not going to ask my dad for the money and I’m not going to ask my husband for the money so I need to do something to get money for my masters.
This is how it all began! What an interesting start to your career!
While I was doing my masters, I honestly wanted to start a book club for women my age in order to meet people. Then I realized that people don’t read here.
So I came across a friend so she advised me to start a book club for kids. And I thought to myself, I have all the space in my basement so I could really start something!
Then, I joined a committee, became an organizer for it, got the money for it, then I set up the whole class room, designed flyers. I debated with my friend about the kind of table and chairs that should be bought, the color schemes so we decided on was yellow. I searched on IKEA and bought table & chairs.
It must have been a difficult task to start it all from the scratch! How did you do it all?
Facebook was a huge help! Initially, it did help in marketing my business! Since this is a part of my house, I just didn’t want anybody to walk in- it’s not safe!
Did anybody try to de-motivate you?
A lot of people told me that no body’s going to come because the kids now-a-days don’t read. I said “that is exactly my target audience-parents who want their kids to read.”
Did you take anybody’s guidance before setting up your book society?
Initially I didn’t know what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it. But then I contacted all of my old American school teachers, and they were huge help!
We tend to forget all the creative stuff we did in school. And I think talking to them was a huge help. I sat down with them and took me 2 months to come up with the curriculum for 12 books. I started off with 2 groups with 5 kids each. And I ended up with 6 groups and I have space for 24.
Tell us about the culture that exists in LJ?
The sessions are about 5 weeks. So that means 8-10 classes and one class is a movie class. So suppose if we are reading To Kill a Mocking Bird, then we would watch its movie. Also, now Neuplex has come into the picture, it’s a safe environment so I take the kids to watch movies over there.
The best part is how you keep them engaged in a lot of fun!
When kids come to class, we work on everything, from comprehension to vocabulary, to acting to oral expression exercises, and even debates! Everything has a twist and for every grade its different- they play games for at least 20 minutes- I make sure they play Tabboo or Pictionary or something that gives them confidence to speak up.
The people they meet here are not their friends, they are from different schools so initially they are a little shy but once they start to know them they get comfortable, they get competitive and they want to play.
Wow! How difficult is handling kids alone?
It only gets difficult if there is a difficult child in the class, but that’s very rare. I have had one instant when I was pregnant and a child started kicking me. He had a fight with another child and he got violent by kicking me. I wasn’t terrified but I was scared for the other kids and at that time this was the 2nd grade group, the youngest one!
So you don’t take assistance from maids?
No, I don’t keep maids-its only 1hr 30 minutes. I have tried keeping 2 hour classes, but I don’t think that works because kids have a short span of time and after a while they tend to get tired & restless!
However, I hired internees this summer who were my ex-students! So that was a huge help, this way they got to learn a lot as well.
But now-a-days iPad’s are the new ‘in’ thing for education purposes!
Honestly, the kids who come to me, I don’t even think they are occupied with iPad. When they come to class, it’s so structured! The first thing they do when they come to class is that we talk a little bit about the book, I have divided the book into 7 sections, they are allowed to read ahead but sometimes I don’t allow them to read ahead in case of mystery or a suspense book it depends on the genre of the book.
Oh, so interesting!
The activities are very impromptu. They don’t know what we’re going to do so every time it’s new for them, they are active and very inquisitive. They keep asking me that “miss what are we doing today?’
I check their listening skills, by taking quizzes and throwing random questions at them and tell them to write answers.
I really like how hard you work on them!
In summers specially, I like to give them something they can do at home as well.
When the kids register, I ask parents for two passport size pictures, make them a membership card because of security purpose as there is an armed guard outside. And before LJ session starts, I message them that LJ is about to start and contact us for details.
What were some of the hurdles you faced?
A lot of parents are not tech savvy! So if mothers are older, they don’t really know how to operate Facebook, and when they don’t know that so they won’t be able to see the schedule. For a lot of other mothers, they are very tech savvy, they post pictures, they like pictures, they will inbox me and ask me to save a seat for my kid. A lot of other moms are constantly in touch with me and they are actually my friends now.
It was a bit of challenge, specially marketing, tapping it on to the right audience. There are a lot of members, and I do have problem sitting down and messaging each one of them- contacting about above 100 kids!
What is your greatest professional accomplishment to date?
Me, as the only person who’s doing everything- from the curriculum, to the attendance, to arranging snacks- it’s just a lot of work! Sometimes people have walked into class and I have totally forgotten that “OMG, they were also supposed to come to class!” I always leave extra books, leave extra seats because this happens to me sometimes. Sometimes this has also happened that first class has gone by and mothers message me when was the first class?
I’m not perfect, I have a system and it works 99% of the time but because I’m the only person doing it, it becomes difficult.
How do you manage this with your daughter?
I have obviously put her in a schedule. When she was born, so she used to sleep all the time. Other than that she is usually playing with my in-laws!
Who has been your greatest influence?
It would sound a bit clichéd, but I think my husband. He really sat with me and helped me with making flyers and brochures and run the Facebook page. Every time I plan an activity, I share it with him and sometimes when I’m really stuck on a project, and don’t know who to give the prize to, he sits down and sorts it out with me.
Also, my in-laws also deserve credit! Because a lot of kids and mothers are walking in at odd hours of the day and kids make a lot of noise as well and they very kind about it!
What is your greatest accomplishment?
Being an entrepreneur and handling it all by myself, from the scratch, is a great achievement! Words can’t describe how immensely proud I am of this. I also think it’s a very unique idea. A lot of people initially told me “oh aren’t you scared, someone might steal your business idea?”
And I told them that I don’t think there’s anybody who loves to read as much as I do. Also, you need so much patience to deal with children that it’s not everybody’s cup of tea.
Moreover, you don’t need a degree for this, it’s just a platform where kids come to read and talk about books and I just like to teach children without them realizing that they are being taught and that’s something which a lot people don’t know how to do.
What advice do you often get regarding your business?
Since it’s a homely environment, so parents sometimes tend to just leave their kids, or pick the kids 45 minutes after the class. So people advise me that you should do what other places should do, that they kick children out of the gate- I just don’t have the heart to do that. I have a waiting area over here. Some of the mothers come from far away so they request me if they can sit here, and I let them!
I just believe a child should not miss out on anything important due to some issue a mother is having because of conveyance.
My friends who have left the country and left for Dubai, they suggest me to open a book society there!
Tell us what being an entrepreneur means to you and why you decided to become an entrepreneur in the first place?
Hats off to the mothers who are working from 9 to 5. I believe a mother can’t work 9 to 5, at least it wasn’t for me.
When I finished my LLM, people told me to join a law firm. I thought about it and went to a couple of firms to check them out but then I thought that this is not even half as good as what I’m doing now. I’m making good money out of it, it’s a comfortable environment, and I’ve gotten so attached to kids that I almost don’t want to do anything else.
What was the worst day you had to face in your career?
It disheartens me when it rains as my basement gets flooded! Once it happened and I had to cancel 2 to 3 classes initially when LJ had just started. So I got really upset because I got everything planned for the classes and it rained a lot due to which I had to reschedule my classes. Plus kids now-a-days are doing so many other activities. They have their Quran classes, horse-riding and so much more, so it also disturbs their routine.
Do you wish to start anything similar in short-term or long term?
I have couple of kids, they are coming for free, I don’t’ charge them. So I do feel that I should do something for these particular kids. They are actually a part of Kiran School System and I have such kids in all of my sessions now. Some have 4 kids or some have 6!
Absolutely love how passionate you are about your work, certainly an inspiration for all the young ladies out there!
I have more ideas, I do want to take this thing out of the house in a 3-4 story building, have more classrooms, have more teachers, train them, maybe classes and books for mothers and teenagers! Tips for mothers where they have conflicts with kids- just something mothers would enjoy!
That would be great!
For that I need to find more people who like to read the way I like to read and be really creative.
If I invest then we can have cinema sort of setting, we can have rides, only have children movies to show them all the movies.
So we know, you have a lot of interesting stuff in the pipeline!
How do you spend time differently?
The best thing about being self-employed is that you have flexible timings. I don’t work in April and November because kids have exams during that time. This is my vacation time. Right now, my load is less as compared to summers, I used to have 12 classes in a week! So now, I have joined some of the age groups together so currently I have 4 groups. So I know what my peak and my low seasons are!
I drop my daughter to school, in mornings I workout! And sometimes I have kids who have siblings giving SAT’s, so I give them extra help and take time out for them in the mornings.
You don’t think of going back to practicing Law?
I saw the law firms, I didn’t like the system and I don’t want to be part of it. It’s a sad situation here regarding the law.
Who would want to leave this place? It’s nice, and cheery. If sometimes kids stay back late or come early, then they play with my daughter. The kids just don’t want to go back home. They are great, they celebrate my birthday, and they do a lot for me! I miss them when LJ is closed, I look forward to them and worry about them like my own kids!
I take them out, I hang out with them, I stay in touch with them, and it’s a completely different attachment. It’s fun to be around them.
It makes you that happy?
The kids! It’s entertaining to see how creative these kids are. The come up with the most awesome projects. They put their heart and souls into it! They are very competitive, they just want to put their best work forward! Some of the projects, I had a hard time throwing them away.
What is your greatest fear?
When I’m doing a certain book, so I exactly know which kids would enjoy it. And sometimes when their mothers excuse him or her from attending the class, it upsets me. The whole curriculum is made but just because that one kid can’t come, I don’t feel like doing it because I don’t want that kid to miss out on that book.
So my biggest fear revolves around my kids- since I don’t repeat books, I hate to accept the fact that they will miss it! I want to know what they thought about the character, I am dying to know their input because I have read the book and they haven’t.
It’s awesome to see you take your work seriously!
Sometimes also, when I design my curriculum and book is not in stock, I have to arrange and order it then! It causes a lot of anxiety! In order to incorporate the books on a short notice, I get them photo-copied-and the kids actually fight that we need the original ones. So either we give photocopies to all or originals to all! I have to be careful about it.
What is one thing that you do differently as an entrepreneur?
SNACKS! And when I mean snacks, I mean preparing different menu every day. One time its fruits, sometimes I give biscuits, I have cooked biryani for the kids, lasagna, sometimes I’ll order pizza or Mcdonalds.
One question that always ask parents during registration is “is your child allergic to anything?” A lot of people don’t understand this but I always ask this because you need to be aware that every child is different.
Also, there’s a star system: If my student collect 12 stars, I give them a small prize. If they collect 24 stars after reading 24 books, then I give them a grand prize. This keeps them motivated and they work hard to get those stars!
Why, according to you, is it important to promote entrepreneurship?
Very important! If women can start this change then it’s great. Especially if kids see their mothers working around then they get lots of inspiration. There’s a girl in my class who once told me “Miss I’m starting a cupcake business so if you want to order, let me know”
Every woman should be doing something! It’s so much better than just sitting in the house. We have so much talent, there’s no shortage of talent. And I’m proud of the fact that men now, push their women to work! Now when I look around, a lot of women are working. Be it photography or catering!
What is the business goal that you plan to achieve in the next few years?
I need to start separate group for girls who just graduated. Just for the girls, I want them to come once a week so that they don’t lose the hang of reading! Even though they have a tough schedule, but I want them to read books that are more challenging and train them for SAT’s!
I have realized that vocab is really difficult as competition is stiff. We are not just competing with us but the whole global world. Furthermore, I also do one session for just Kiran School System girls. But it’s good to see them gelled in so well with the other kids!
Which book would you love to write?
Children’s book! I would love to write it. My husband and I have a lot of creative ideas in mind. You know so much goes on in the class here, there’s a lot to learn from these kids.
A big thank you to Sania for sharing with us her career experience and inspiring young entrepreneurs out there! May her Literary Junction always keep growing 🙂
Sign up with HerCareer.pk and to share your stories!