Social media guru and bestselling author Shama Kabani is a lifelong entrepreneur, ever since starting her first business at the age of 9—selling gift wrap out of a catalog. “The business was a flop, but I learned along the way,” Kabani says. “Growing up, I wanted to do multiple things. I wanted to be a journalist, a teacher, and I even toyed with the idea of Bollywood! My mom is an actress, so she was very supportive. My dad wanted me to be a doctor. What I do today is a combination of journalism, technology and media. I am very lucky that I have a career which combines all three which I am passionate about.”
Fastcompany.com, a top resource for entrepreneurs, calls Kabani the “master millennial of the universe” and an “online marketing shaman.” She was honored in 2009 by BusinessWeek magazine as one of their Top 25 Under 25 entrepreneurs in America. The author of “The Zen of Social Media” (2010), Kabani speaks around the world. She is an expert source for publications like BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal, among many others, and has her own Web-based television show,
Kabani attributes her triumphs to an uncommon blending of Eastern and Western academic and cultural styles. “I was born in Goa and grew up in Bangalore,” Kabani says. She enjoyed a very idyllic childhood, from participating in sports days and performing in talent shows to being mentored by the nuns and the Father in Residence. “As in most Cambridge-style Indian schools, discipline was strictly enforced. I learned the value of working hard and being diligent. At home, I was the eldest of two sisters. I enjoyed a fun childhood—playing in the monsoons, taking walks with my grandfather, and watching my mother run her boutique from the house,” she says.
Kabani moved to Texas in the United States when she was 9. “It was a challenging transition due to cultural differences,” she says. “It was tough to go from uniforms and strictly textbook work to jeans and book reports on novels. I’ve often felt that the combination of an elementary Indian education combined with a secondary American education was the key to my success. I came into the U.S. classroom with the same diligence and discipline I’d acquired in India. However, this time I learned creativity and teamwork. My parents both worked full-time, so I took on greater responsibility, and was a ‘latch-key’ kid until high school. I owe a lot to my teachers, who took a great interest in helping and mentoring me. My passion for writing and technology was ignited by teachers who pushed me to succeed.” She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in corporate communication and then a master’s degree in organizational communications from the University of Texas at Austin.
Despite her positive experiences with schooling, Kabani recommends that those who want to follow in her footsteps in the digital age should take responsibility for their own education. “I often find students over-relying on schools and career centers,” she says. “School should teach you how to learn, but it is your responsibility to make learning a lifelong pursuit—especially when it comes to a field as young as social media and the digital world. The careers that exist today didn’t exist five years ago. And we have no idea what will come about in the next 10 to 15 years...
“Career paths are not so clearly defined now, and no career is 100 percent secure. Even doctors and engineers have to be the best at what they do and be responsive to changes, or they can find themselves marginalized.” In the future, Kabani hopes to continue building her company, The Marketing Zen Group, which she founded in 2009; it has seen rapid growth.
“And I plan to continue sharing my passion for technology with a broader audience via TV and the Web,” she says.