Reprinted from Expat Women on 05/05/2011. Click here to see original piece.

ExpatWomen Interview with co-founder Shabnam Rezaei
Big Bad Boo Studios,Oznoz Entertainment & Persian Mirror

Shabnam is the co-founder of Big Bad Boo Studios, based in Canada. She started the company in 2006 (then called Norooz Productions) after winning the NYU business plan competition with her partner Aly Jetha. She has produced Babak & Friends - A First Norooz as well as Mixed Nutz TV series. Shabnam is also the co-creator of 1001 Nights along with her partner Aly Jetha.

Big Bad Boo's mission is to make cartoons to teach kids about different cultures. Their first DVD Babak & Friends - A First Norooz,highlights the Persian New Year "Norooz". Sponsored by Apple and screened in 40 museums, it sold 20,000 units in its first year. Mixed Nutz, the first multicultural series, featuring friends from Iran, Cuba, India and Korea. Mixed Nutz currently airs on PBS, Shaw Canada, Brazil TV, Family Channel Finland and many others. 

Currently in production: 1001 Nights, bringing to life famous characters like Sinbad and Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves. The show was nominated for 4 LEO Awards and will be launching on CBC Radio Canada, Disney Asia, ORF Austria, RPT Portugal, Al Jazeera Children's TV and MTV3 Finland among others. Comic books and mobile apps are also being produced for 1001 Nights. In addition, the company also launched Oznoz Entertainment, a platform for distributing multicultural content for kids.

With a BS in Computer Science, a BA in German Literature from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from New York University, Shabnam spent 10 years selling financial software to Fortune 500's such as Bank of America, ING and JP Morgan. She has held managerial positions at EXIS and Deloitte & Touche in New York and London. Before starting Big Bad Boo, she was the Head of Professional Services for Misys's Treasury and Capital Markets division, managing 120 international banking clients with 40 consultants and over $30 million in revenue. 

In 2006, Shabnam started, an online magazine about Iranian culture. The website currently receives more than 4 million hits per month and has over 10,000 Iranian business listings. She is a regular contributor to many news outlets and has been featured on CNN, Forbes, BBC, FOX, CBC, the New York Times and NPR. In 2009, she won Vancouver's 40 Under 40 Award and Canada's Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 

Shabnam was born in Iran and grew up in Austria. She speaks English, German, Persian, French, and Spanish.
Expat Women's Interview with Shabnam

Expat Women: Shabnam, your entrepreneurial passion and can-do attitude to build businesses that educate audiences about different cultures are truly inspiring. What convinced you to invest in creative, risky businesses?

Shabnam: With our first film production Babak & Friends - A First Norooz, we jumped right in because we knew that it was something that was needed and even if it didn't make money, we did not care because the social value was greater. That direct-to-DVD cartoon is about a little Iranian boy growing up outside of Iran and unfamiliar with the Persian New Year traditions of Norooz. We thought through the cartoon, kids from all over could be entertained and also learn about this important and fun holiday which is celebrated in Iran and many other countries, marking the coming of Spring. Over time, we learned that there was a real gap in the market for culturally-rich content and even though it may not be lucrative at first, with enough volume and persistence, it has to make sense from a money perspective.
Expat Women:  With no previous experience in cartoon productions, what challenges have you faced in setting-up and selling the concept of your business, Big Bad Boo Studios?

Shabnam: We started out slow and on the side so we learned about cartoon production on our first film. Then when we did Mixed Nutz, which is a TV series on PBS, Shaw and many other channels now, we grew organically. My partner and I both learned about design, scriptwriting, storyboarding, voice-records, animation and all the other steps through doing the work and we both believe anyone can do anything as long as you are passionate enough about it. I also think a lot of skills you learn are transferable. Managing people, allocating resources, hiring, delivering tasks on time, setting up an operation, these are all things I had done in other positions when I was in the corporate world and they are very much applicable when running an entertainment business.
Expat Women:  Why do you believe your businesses have been successful?

Shabnam: I consider myself very lucky but more importantly, the team we have is just very talented, helping us put out quality product. Our current show  1001 Nights is in production and has launched already on Disney Asia, Al Jazeera Children's and is slated for stations like CBC, Teletoon and many others around the world this coming year. We've also been nominated for 4 LEO awards and think the show will do very well around the world and kids will love it. We are producing the second season right now and hope this continues but for me it always comes down to having the right products and right attitude.
Expat Women:  What top five tips can you share with women who have a great business idea, but are scared by the concept of business set-up and capital raising?
1. You can be risk-averse and own a business - just proceed with caution.
2. Test your product with your friends, family and close network with little risk.
3. Connect with start-up networks who give advice, help with business plans, help build your advisory board, test your ideas and so on. A business plan competition is a great way to test out your idea in a safe environment.
4. Be persistent, passionate and don't give up easily.
5. Create a roll-out plan for your business that is realistic and in-line with your other responsibilities (your day job, your family responsibilities and so on).
Expat Women: Please share with us more about your journey, of growing up in Iran and Austria, then living in the United States and now Canada. What do you remember about each place and how hard was it to adjus twith each move?

Growing up in Iran was great. Unfortunately my brother and I left when I was 10, due to the political situation, and we went to Vienna. There I attended the American International School. Out of all my experiences I have the fondest memories from Vienna and my best friends to this day are from that period of my life. The kids in our school were from all over the world, mostly UN and embassy children but also local Austrians and people who were displaced for other reasons, like my brother and I. Our education was very international and we were exposed to many languages and cultures and that is perhaps the reason I loved it so much there. The school felt like a family and also offered a great education which helped me get into a top university in the US and get a head start on college and later working in New York and London. I do enjoy moving around in general and experiencing new cities. Los Angeles, Seattle and now Vancouver have all been cities I've had to work in with Big Bad Boo and they all have their own charm and vibe. Out of all the cities I have lived in though, I have to say that New York offers the most diverse, convenient, rich and exciting lifestyle and truly is the capital of the world, with all the industries aggregated there and the smartest, most ambitious people in one place. What I am passionate about truly comes to life in New York and that is the ability to know and experience other cultures and be able to speak many languages. That is the reason we started, which is to provide a place where kids can learn a second language through cartoons and other language-learning products. The world is changing and families are becoming more international and a place to have access to quality programming so kids can immerse themselves in a second language is very important.
Expat Women: Shabnam, thank you for sharing some of your story with us. We congratulate you on the success of all of your businesses and we look forward to seeing more and more Big Bad Boo cartoons on our television channels - all over the world!