Claudia Mirza has a warm, open smile balanced with a confidence that exudes a sense of resilience and strength. Even on a video chat, Claudia’s presence fills the room. With her husband, Azam Mirza, Claudia co-founded Akorbi, a 930-employee firm that supplies corporations with a variety of translation, interpretation, staffing, and other enterprise-scale content needs.
As the mother of two boys, one of whom had faced critical health challenges at birth, Claudia is passionate about supporting working women build careers while raising a family, by providing a nurturing and flexible work environment.
“We founded and we run our business believing that we can demonstrate our values in everything we do. Claudia values being compassionate, so much so that she wants to hug everyone when they come through the office,” says Azam of his wife, dialing into the video chat by phone.
“She grew up during violent times in her home country of Colombia, then built a career in the U.S.,” Azam continues. “She took it upon herself to find mentors and advice to build it, and today she pays it forward with the people we hire.”
Here, we share excerpts from our conversation with Claudia, which she took time to conduct in between her classes at Harvard University, where she is currently enrolled in the 3-year Owner/President Management (OPM) Program.
Claudia, when did you know you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
When I was a little girl, I never thought that I could become an “entrepreneur.” I come from Colombia, where there is an informal economy. I lived in the equivalent of housing projects in Medellin. All of us were supposed to survive without access to a lot of employers.
I saw every other business was a house with a business. In homes, you’d find bakeries, places to get a manicure and pedicure. My family were agricultural workers. When I moved to the U.S., I realized I would have the opportunity to try working for corporate America. So, I went for it, and got a job at a telecom company. And then one day, I was laid off.
That was a very difficult moment in my life. But I made the connection that the reason people started businesses in my home country was to survive. So that is what I did, with the help of my husband, Azam. I started a business to survive.
What steps did you take?
I volunteered. I wanted to get business experience. I knew anywhere I could find it. So I had the opportunity to volunteer at a horse racing seminar and I did it; I volunteered at a nonprofit. I collected materials, looked at data, and started thinking of business plans. From my research, I realized there was a need for simple, fast, tech-enabled translation services for corporations. So I launched Akorbi with Azam. I had the creative idea, and Azam is great at operations and is amazing at numbers. We made–and make! –a great team.
How has working as a supplier to Google helped you grow your business?
We’ve learned how to become a better business. Google focuses a lot on its people, and values treating people well, making people feel amazing. After working with Google, we wanted to be a cool business, too! We decided to make a fun environment and make Akorbi an amazing place to work.
As a staffing organization, we are competing for amazing tech talent with so many other companies. To attract the best tech workforce, we have to provide the best experience. We make sure the experience of working with us matches the Google experience.
It’s not just about fun colors in the office and a playful furniture. It’s about creating an environment where the entire team can believe in themselves. Where everyone can ask, ‘What am I really good at?’ and then capitalize by focusing on their strengths, and magnifying them.
Working with Google as a supplier, I’ve come to learn we, too, can be an instrument of change. At Akorbi, we can provide a variety of people with a great environment for work. That includes moms with kids at home, veterans, immigrants like me. People who didn’t think they could be a contractor at a place like Google. Now, through our staffing services, they’re there and changing their lives. Working with Google, has also peaked my interest in STEM studies and coding programs for girls.
Can you recall a specific moment when you felt you achieved one of your biggest goals as an entrepreneur?
Yes. I am very passionate about supporting working mothers as they achieve their goals. One day, I saw someone drive a beautiful car in front of my office, and then park. Out came a single mom that we had hired a while back, who did not have a college degree. We had provided a flexible career situation for her over the years, so she could go pick up her child after school. And over time, she let us know that her child was growing up and thriving. And here was this mother, thriving too. At that moment, I knew that creating a business driven with Azam, based on our shared values of trust, compassion, and treating people like family, truly pays off.