Danielle Kerani is the founder of AK Kerani, a program that promotes knitting as a therapeutic activity, reducing stress in the workplace and fostering efficient communication between teams. Danielle started AK Kerani when she was 19 years old, a college freshman. She thought at first it was just a platform to sell knit goods. But now it earns recognition from companies that are looking to alleviate stress in the workplace.
In this interview, Danielle shares her experience how she started a hobby that later became her advocacy in helping people develop a therapeutic outlet through knitting, while bringing the group together for face-to-face interaction outside their busy life.
Learn more from Danielle's insights in the following paragraphs. And when you are done digesting some new ideas from her, be sure to give her a shoutout on Twitter!
How did you get started as an entrepreneur? When did you first get bit by the entrepreneurial bug?
I always was a self-starter from an early age. I came from a musical family and by age three, I was writing my own songs on the piano. I also had an interest in writing "novels" that I would start and never finish. The idea of creating my own enterprise always intrigued me, whether it was for music, writing or another creative pursuit.
When I created my own band to orchestrate songs I'd written, I got the most pleasure out of bringing a group together and exploring their interactions. Knitting had been a solitary self-care outlet I'd turned to for years. I didn't necessarily expect it to make it into a business but am so glad I have. It's universal in the sense that everyone can learn within minutes. I take a lot of pride and joy in the teaching of such a timeless creative outlet.
What does AK Kerani do that makes it better than the rest? In other words, what is your competitive advantage and how did you find it?
We started up in a digital age and yet we market something that is tangible and based on face-to-face communication. In this society, taking time for oneself is a luxury when it should be a necessity. Knitting allows us to be still and relaxed while still doing something productive and results-oriented.
The therapeutic motions of knitting provide a tactile release for anxiety that this generation does not have as much access to as previous ones. Our corporate knitting programs definitely fit in with companies' recognition of wellness as a necessary investment for their staff. This allows us to efficiently market ourselves as vendors for corporate events.
However, the focus on knitting as an age-old tradition that produces a physical product is empowering and unique in a world that is progressing more and more into the cloud.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do?
I recently started working on AK Kerani primarily full-time, which makes my days rather unpredictable and a bit of a balancing act. In addition to working on AK Kerani, I tutor, help create content for the financial company, True Contrarian, and occasionally take on freelance design gigs. However, there are some routines that I make sure to do to maintain my mental health.
I commit to doing some kind of exercise every day, whether it's running, swimming, walking through the park or going to the gym. Working up a sweat is not only good for my physical health, but boosts my mental state and productivity throughout the day. My founding of AK Kerani is largely related to my own personal struggles with anxiety. I have to be careful about knowing my limits with others and making sure to invest in myself regularly.
Another important consistent element in my life is Twitter. Tweeting provides that same tactile release that knitting does and also has the benefit of being productive. I join Twitter chats regularly to network, read and contribute content, which has increased my knowledge about the world and the startup scene. The weekly Twitter chats are rooted in my schedule and break the day up nicely for me.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it made you the person you are today?
I didn't protect my idea and ownership over it well enough. I definitely appreciate the contribution everyone who has been involved with AK Kerani has made to its growth. However, I wish I had been more confident and discerning about what the company needs instead of opening it up to others' involvement too soon.
I think some of my decision to make AK Kerani a collaborative venture stemmed from being on a college campus as opposed to my more solitary current environment. However, some of it was insecurity and the lack of a strong sense of self. I felt that my business was only valid if others were a part of it. Now, it's become such a strong entity on its own that I know exactly what it needs and who I need to contribute on a contract basis.
Starting anew, I've learned to ask for informal feedback way more regularly but at the same time have committed to keeping internals private until the company is ready to formally expand.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
AK Kerani is dedicated to the memory of my uncle, Atindra Kumar Mitra. He struggled with mental illness and persevered with inspiring strength and a deep knowledge of his personal limits.
The loss of my uncle was difficult for me because I always felt that we were close on a higher, somewhat inexplicable plane. He was an engineer for the air force, loved to travel and started his own consulting company shortly before his passing. I have gotten distracted in the past and haven't devoted as much time to AK Kerani as I could have.
However, the emotional connection that the business has to my uncle and its mental health mission fuels my drive. Now that AK Kerani is getting noticed, I feel that I'm passed the point of disengaging. Days can be difficult, especially when I receive no feedback or negative feedback.
At the same time, AK Kerani is my main motivation to get out of bed in the morning and feel that I have a purpose. As therapeutic as a the act of knitting is for me, running this company and the personal growth it's caused for me is the most therapeutic thing I've ever done. That's why it's such a consistent part of my life and always will be.
What trait would you consider made you the best person and professional you are?
I'm intuitive. My instincts allow me to perceive my surroundings and make decisions based on those observations instead of society's protocols. I won't rush my business to make revenue before it's ready and I value connecting with people who support art therapy and truly want to discuss mental health.
I'm proud of what AK Kerani has become and that it's grown to that place gradually because other people who've known about the brand for a long time are holding it up and growing it with me.
What are the top 3 success tips that you would give anyone starting a business in New York?
- Network. New York has so many free or reasonably-priced events that can boost your knowledge and grow your community. She Worx has brunches ever month and Wix Lounge meets often in the morning. If you're into design, AIGA has a chapter in NY that frequently puts on networking events.
- Find ways to save money. The turkey sandwich at the little bodega next to my apartment in Washington Heights is the best I've had. And it's only a few bucks. New York can be pricey in general so make sure you take advantage of the many deals it has.
- Market online. New York is a tough market to break into. It's great for networking opportunities but make sure your business has an online component so that you can generate revenue from less condensed markets.
Are you using any apps that help you stay on track from day-to day?
Twitter. It's all about Twitter for me. They are the love of my life after my fiance and the Canadian band Marianas Trench. Twitter has a lot of weekly chats where the chat hashtag (i.e. #bufferchat #sproutchat #MHChat) acts as a virtual room where a moderator asks questions and participants answer.
It's a great platform for ideas and is the best form of speed-networking in my opinion. Twitter chats keep me on track because they break up my day. I know I will always be at #bufferchat on Wednesday at noon and knowing that motivates me to finish certain tasks before then and tackle others afterwards.
Working from home can be difficult, especially on days where I'm distracted or struggling to get out of bed. Twitter chats give me virtual appointments so even on more challenging days, I never feel that I haven't been productive.
What are your goals for the next 5 years?
I want AK Kerani to become a leading social enterprise for mental health. We are revamping our company store with trendy swag and t-shirts along with knit items. We have already had some success teaching knitting as a creative outlet for staff at corporations.
I believe that the store, the mental health mission and knitting as a creative outlet could become popular with trendsetting millennials who want to make a difference in their communities. I want to equip staff at more tech companies to knit for their mental health. I see a grassroots revolution just around the corner and I am committed to juggling all the moving parts enough to make it happen.