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Asking for What You Want . . . with Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia
Episode 57th April 2022 • Creative Innovators with Gigi Johnson • Maremel Institute
00:00:00 00:40:25

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Question:  What can you do with focus on drive in both toys and STEM?  And what can a persistent Shirin Salemnia do? 

Guest: Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, Founder and CEO, WhizGirls Academy and PlayWerks

Shirin shares a passionate tale of drive, success with extreme persistence, and then designing new businesses to give back.  She talks about her journey through college, Mattel, MGA/Bratz, and building her two current businesses.  She didn't take no for an answer -- and said no many times to missions that pulled on her coattails.  She is one of our more driven guests, not taking no from guidance counselors, security guards, and many other people in her life.  The movie Big set her on her mission and voices as distinctive as Deepak Chopra and Simon Sinek inspired her to her current paths of giving back. 


Our Guest

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia is the Founder and CEO of PlayWerks and the founder of WhizGirls Academy. PlayWerks is an interactive media company that creates high quality multi-platform immersive games and experiences that engage children and adults. WhizGirls Academy is where students engage in project based learning and gamification that help them with tech and digital literacy while acquiring coding skills, entrepreneurship tools, and building confidence and growing as members of their communities with a healthy balanced lifestyle slant.


In 2013, she hosted the first Hackathon for Women and Girls with The White House Council of Women and Girls. In May 2014, she hosted the Kids Hack for LA in collaboration with Mayor Eric Garcetti, the White House, and will.i.am's i.am.angel Foundation. Also in 2014, Shirin gave her Ted Talk "Are You a Gamer or a Gardener?" at the TedxYouth conference in Los Angeles, CA.


She is currently teaching Tech for Social Impact/Entrepreneurship at USC School of Engineering/(ITP)Viterbi. In December 2014, Shirin joined President Obama, the First Lady, and Vice President Joe Biden along with hundreds of college presidents and other higher education leaders at the "Reach Higher Summit" at the White House to announce the commitment to serve 25,000 inner city children and adults nationwide.


The first WhizGirls Academy Mobile Tech Tour event with Mayor Garcetti in South Central Los Angeles in December 2014, was attended by 1500 people. More recently, in March of 2015 Shirin was honored by LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin as 2015 LA City Pioneer Woman of the Year. Check out his write up and her appearance at the Getty House with Mayor Garcetti (Check out the 12th pic). In October 2015, She was honored as a Tribeca Disruptor Innovation Fellow.


In March 2016 she was honored as IJWO Woman of the Year.


Mentioned Links


  • Twitter @ShirinSalemnia
  • Facebook @ShirinLaorRazSalemnia
  • Linkedin: linkedin.com/in/shirin-laor-raz-salemnia-a95381
  • WhizGirls Academy:  http://whizgirlsacademy.com/
  • TEDxYouth Talk: Are You a Gamer or a Gardener? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJvOSG9A6O4
  • Mattel: https://corporate.mattel.com/en-us
  • MGA & Bratz: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bratz
  • Jetsetter by Shag: https://www.artcollectorz.com/artworks/artwork-detail?artwork_id=2544&edition_id=3375
  • Jordan Mechner: https://www.jordanmechner.com/
  • Oviatt Library at Cal State Northridge: https://library.csun.edu/
  • Jack Dangermon at ESRI: https://www.esri.com/about/newsroom/author/jdangermond/
  • The Movie Big: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_(film)


Timecode



  • 00:06 Introduction
  • 03:17 PlayWerks, Tom Hanks, and College Choices
  • 05:13 WhizGirls Academy and hackathons
  • 06:25 Arc-GIS and Esri
  • 12:15 Career Centers and Conflict
  • 12:59 Persian Parents
  • 15:09 Nutrition?
  • 16:02 Finding Toy People
  • 18:06 Walking Into Mattel
  • 19:23 Super Persistent
  • 21:18 Interviewing at Mattel
  • 23:44 Deepak Chopra and Crisis
  • 25:49 Choosing Options and Saying Yes
  • 28:51 General Assembly and Persistence
  • 31:10 Success? Self-Metrics
  • 33:09 When Do You Close Doors
  • 35:24 Everyone Has a Mission


Our Mission

Through our guests’ stories, we aim to inspire current and future change agents who are creatives, entrepreneurs, researchers, or community leaders who are seeking inspiration and support around creative innovation — changing the ways we create, collaborate, engage, change lives, and build communities.


Your Host: Gigi Johnson, EdD


I run transformative programs, speak/moderate, invest, advise, and produce multimedia on creativity and technology.  I taught for 22 years at UCLA, where I ran the Center for Music Innovation and the podcast "Innovating Music," built four industry-connecting programs, and taught undergraduates, MBAs, and executives about disruption in creative industries.  Before UCLA, I financed media M&A at Bank of America for ten years.


Connect with Us


Sponsored and Produced by the Maremel Institute

Transcripts

Gigi Johnson:

So we are recording this conversation on

Gigi Johnson:

St. Patrick's Day here in 2022. And I, I am excited for me to

Gigi Johnson:

talk with you because we have talked informally for years at

Gigi Johnson:

events that we've talked about things and back alleys of

Gigi Johnson:

Interactive Peer Group TV Academy stuff. And we haven't

Gigi Johnson:

really talked about the you part of this. I'm very excited to

Gigi Johnson:

have this "you as creative innovator" conversation that is

Gigi Johnson:

part of this whole adventure. So Hello, and thank you for joining

Gigi Johnson:

us today.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Hello, and thank you for having me.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

This is so exciting. When I got the email, I was like, Oh,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that's so cool. I love . . . .you and everything that you do.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And I'm so glad that . . . well, unfortunately, we missed

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

each other the past two years of the TV Academy events.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

But I did, for a while, have you come out to my class at USC. So

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that was fun and . . .

Gigi Johnson:

And that's been part of my journey stories:

Gigi Johnson:

coming in and talking to your [USC] Viterbi Engineering class

Gigi Johnson:

about life and careers, and how to be bold in their career

Gigi Johnson:

choices.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, I feel like my journey has been

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

about getting my career going, but then helping others and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

giving back and making a difference in a lot of ways with

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

careers. So I'm glad that we cross paths. And I think that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

happened accidentally. I think one night at the TV Academy

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

event, we were walking to the car, and we were just started

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

chatting. And I was saying, you know, I got this class at USC.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And unfortunately, I'm not teaching there anymore. But I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was for five years. And it was a fun experience. And we were kind

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

of sharing stories about teaching. And you were saying

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

you were doing stuff at UCLA. So it was interesting how I got to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

know that other part of you, which was exciting.

Gigi Johnson:

But we're gonna talk a lot about parts of you.

Gigi Johnson:

And I want to talk about kind of how also you make decisions to

Gigi Johnson:

do and not do things. So we'll come back to the to, to whatever

Gigi Johnson:

we can talk about in various things. Because I know that one

Gigi Johnson:

thing is that you're about to make a big announcement. And we

Gigi Johnson:

won't be talking about that today. Because it is not . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

unfortunately not yet. Yeah, as much as I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

itching to get it out there, I have a partner that doesn't

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

allow it yet. And we're still technically under an NDA. So

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

yeah. But there will be a big announcement very soon. And I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

super excited about it. I can't I can't wait to make that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

announcement.

Gigi Johnson:

So I'm gonna ask everyone to go the show notes.

Gigi Johnson:

And we'll say this at the end -- that by then we might be able to

Gigi Johnson:

announce it, or it will follow along with the show notes. So

Gigi Johnson:

you can stay tuned on all of this. But in the meantime, what

Gigi Johnson:

are you doing now that you can talk about?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yes, I'm still running my two

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

startups in the tech space for kids. PlayWerks, which is

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

interactive media. And we create IP that's transmedia and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

multi-platform. And our first brand is called WhizGirls, which

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

we're not officially launched on the gaming side yet. We're still

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

in beta, but also other is coming soon. Which is actually

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

not part of the announcement, but that's another thing. And

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

then WhizGirls Academy, which is my, like, technically social

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

good, social impact, live extension of the games with

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

girls. So, so I, because I started PlayWerks when I left my

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

toy business job when I where I wanted to be like Tom Hanks in

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the movie Big, which I honestly never thought I would leave

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

because I was obsessed with wanting to be like Tom Hanks in

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the movie Big ever since I was a little kid. And I went to Cal

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

State Northridge to do that. And I had everyone --including my

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

family and the Career Center at Cal State Northridge -- saying,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

"You're crazy. We've never heard of anybody come major in child

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

psychology and say they're going to be a Toy Tester." And

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

unfortunately for me, or fortunately, because I'm a big

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

book nerd, I used to go to the library at the Oviatt Library at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Cal State Northridge. There was this book, huge book, like 600

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

pages, and it was all about careers. And I opened it one

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

day. And I was like, "Look, it says child psych major - toy

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

tester -- I'm not crazy." Like I know. I've always like looked at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

media and been inspired. And I took it to the Career Center. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

said "Look, look!" I mean, we don't have Google Now. We barely

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

were starting to get email back then. Now I'm really aging

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

myself. And they still were like, no, no, fill out this

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Myers Briggs form, fill out this Myers Briggs form. And I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, "I'm showing you a book that says child psych major --

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

toy tester career, along with others." And they kept saying,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

no, no, I'll try. I'll child . . . child.psych majors usually

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

come and get a master's degree or a PhD. They work in a school,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

they work in a hospital, they start a clinic. We've never

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

ever heard anyone ever tell us they're going to be a Toy

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Tester. You know, like, well, there's always a first

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

We've had a game tester on this show who came in the backdoor

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that way. And that was Arabian, who came and talked about the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

fact that's how he cracked his way into

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

That's right. I remember.

Gigi Johnson:

The Gaming space.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, that's right

Gigi Johnson:

So I'm gonna back you up further. But let's sort

Gigi Johnson:

of step -- step into the present right now. If someone says, I

Gigi Johnson:

want to hang out with her with WhizGirls, what is WhizGirls

Gigi Johnson:

right now? It is hackathons. Yes?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

WhizGirls Academy is hackathons. Yeah.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

WhizGirls is the games. We're still in beta, like I said, not

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

officially officially launched yet. But WhizGirls Academy is

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

where we do the healthy, balanced tech lifestyle

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

hackathons. So we use the characters in the games, It's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

project-based learning. We're teaching real coding, HTML, CSS,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and UI UX. And we're also we partnered with General Assembly

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

at the time and shipped their curriculum, and we gamified it.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And then we also do like during the course of our hackathon day,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

we do like meditation, fitness and healthy eating. We have like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

keynote speakers, talk about how they got to their careers in the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

tech space or other like in engineering, or we had people

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

from NASA JPL and SpaceX, and all kinds of different fun

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

entrepreneurs and stuff. And then at the end of the day, they

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

pitch . . . Oh, and then we also use, . . . sorry, ArcGIS, which

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

is

Gigi Johnson:

Slow down a little bit, because you've said many

Gigi Johnson:

acronyms so far. And some of our listeners will know what those

Gigi Johnson:

acronyms are. And some are going, what the heck is she

Gigi Johnson:

talking about? And I would say maybe some of the 20 year olds I

Gigi Johnson:

used to hang out with we're going What is this ArcGIS thing?

Gigi Johnson:

And what is . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, so ArcGIS is a platform that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

ESRI uses. ESRI is the first ever mapping company. So if you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

imagine like Google Maps, but with data, so they were around

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

way before Google Maps, and there's a ton of data. So I met

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

them . . . actually, I met Jack Dangermond, the founder at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Will.i.am's big event that he used to have every year for

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

STEM, and he invited me to lunch. And then we started

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

chatting, and I said, "I would love to include, you know,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

ArcGIS, the platform, in our hackathons." And he was like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

"Sure why not, like we're doing stuff with Will.i.am." I'd love

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to extend you know, to you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Now, I 'm assuming our listeners will know who Will.i.am is, but

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

they may or may not know that Will.i.am does his I.am.Angel

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and does his whole and actually has gone into robotics and LAUSD

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

with Dean Kaman. We'll come back, I want to haul you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

backwards. We're going to go backwards. Because usually there

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

is a real great origin story and you have fabulous interwoven

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

origins for that how you got here, but in some ways, you are

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

an interesting combination of toys, games, child psychology,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

coding, social activism. When did you first . . . who

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

introduced you to coding? And what has that -- their impact on

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

your life -- been?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

That's a great question. So in the third grade, I had a female

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

computer science teacher, I went to LAUSD public school. . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Fairburn Ave. Elementary in Westwood, right down the street

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

from UCLA. And I had a female computer science teacher every

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

day that taught us how to code Fortran on an Apple IIC green

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

screen computer. And that's why I actually played Where in the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

World is Carmen Sandiego. And I was obsessed at school every

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

day. And at home, I had it too. But I also had Atari and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Nintendo. So now I'm a child of the 80s, as you can tell, but I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

watched the movie Big and it changed my life. I think if I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

didn't watch the movie Big I probably would have stuck to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

coding and tech. Because she was super fashionable, really fun

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and bubbly. And every day that was the biggest class I looked

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

forward to, my computer science class, which was mandatory, by

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the way and . .

Gigi Johnson:

. . . which is very good for that time . . .

Gigi Johnson:

very, very advanced for that time. So your school?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Well, I mean, I everybody says it. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

mean, I was an LAUSD public school and when I was telling

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

LAUSD people, they're like, "That's wild." I'm like, "I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

know," because I was going to schools recently in there was no

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

computer labs and stuff. And I was like, what happened here?

Gigi Johnson:

And that's an interesting question as to what

Gigi Johnson:

happened here. Have you gone back to tell her that she's had

Gigi Johnson:

this impact on kicking you off in your life?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

You know, I've been looking for her

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

left and right. Her name is Miss Feldman. I can't find .... I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

looked on Facebook, I Googled, I can't find her anywhere, which

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

is really strange, because I was actually approached to do a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

commercial with her about this whole thing. When I couldn't

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

find her, I was like,

Gigi Johnson:

If anything . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I reached out. I reached out to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

some other student teachers. Actually, I have one teacher

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that I'm still friends with on my Facebook that was at the same

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

school and she couldn't even find her and I was like, Oh,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that's weird. I don't know...

Gigi Johnson:

If anybody listening or watching knows

Gigi Johnson:

where Mrs. ... Mrs. Feldman is please, you know, reach out.

Gigi Johnson:

We'll give the contact information in the chat. So who

Gigi Johnson:

knows? Maybe this will help so help help her get connected with

Gigi Johnson:

you.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, I would love to thank her

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

because she was like, super fashionable and super techy.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And, I mean, I never even heard of like, like when people say,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

oh, you know, girls shouldn't do tech or coding and gaming, I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

just like, I understand because I grew up with equality. She

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

never pointed a finger and said, "You're a girl. You shouldn't do

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that." We did it all together. So this whole this stuff is

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

foreign to me.

Gigi Johnson:

And actually, coding is much more dominantly

Gigi Johnson:

women actually early on. There's really interesting

Gigi Johnson:

direction the . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

The 80s. Yeah, yeah.

Gigi Johnson:

So not everyone . . . This is where I go. Not

Gigi Johnson:

everyone knows not everyone knows the movie Big. That may

Gigi Johnson:

seem really strange to you, but not everyone knows that movie

Gigi Johnson:

Big. So if you were gonna explain big to someone who

Gigi Johnson:

didn't know it, why it was inspirational to you other than

Gigi Johnson:

of course, Tom Hanks is really charming in it. . . and much

Gigi Johnson:

younger then too . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

That's funny. People usually ask me,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

you want to be a guy and I was like, no, no, he was a child. He

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

had a wish. I don't want to give the movie away. You gotta watch

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it. I think it's on Netflix or something. Now I'm sure you can

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

find it. But I think it's 1987, I'm not mistaken and . . .

Gigi Johnson:

He as a kid was able to . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

He's a kid . . .

Gigi Johnson:

Inspire.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

He . . . he grows up one overnight

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

basically enters into an adult and he has to like, I guess,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

support himself. So he decides to get a job at a toy company,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

which I think it was actually modeled around Mattel, because

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the logo was very similar. They don't use Mattel. I'm sure there

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was product placement there. So yeah, so that's how he gets a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

job. He . . I guess . . . runs into the head of the company at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

a FAO Schwartz while he was playing on the piano is with his

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

feet. And he wouldn't leave him alone. And he was testing toys,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

doing focus groups. And ironically, at CSUN when I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

doing my child psych undergrad degree, and I still did a little

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

minor in family and computer . . . Family and Consumer Studies.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

We had a one-way play lab, we called it, where we watched the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kids grow developmentally. And we had to write research

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

reports. So we had focus groups, but not obviously for marketing

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and products. We had it for the kids live. So I had that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

training for everything that I started doing at Mattel.

Gigi Johnson:

You actually had a Research Lens, which is unique

Gigi Johnson:

also to have a research and observational behavioral studies

Gigi Johnson:

lens.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah.

Gigi Johnson:

Coming in to creative play.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

In school. Yeah, exactly. And, and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that's why and I would tell the career center and I'd be like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Look, we did this. Like I had to write my research reports on

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

these kids since they were XYZ ages, like throughout the years

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

of me being in school here. So what are you saying? I mean,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

this is exactly what I was like literally training for being at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Mattel. And they just like were like, and I was like well, and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

then also the research that I've done is I can go to Mattel,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

which is in El Segundo. Technically, I went to North it

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like South, next to you know, the airport. Or I could go

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to Hasbro which is in Rhode Island and I prefer obviously to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

stay in LA . . . just makes more sense.

Gigi Johnson:

So I'm gonna stop you and kind of go sideways a

Gigi Johnson:

bit. What did your parents think of all this?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Oh my god, they saw that was nuts.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Parent -- my parents thought I was nuts. Because obviously I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Persian and I always make a joke. I say I came on a magic

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

carpet ride to LA when I was two and people look at me like what

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

magic carpet really like? Like, yeah, magic carpet. I've never

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

been back to Iran. I don't know what it's like, but they didn't

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

have market research in Iran. So, you know.

Gigi Johnson:

So your parents there was this young woman who

Gigi Johnson:

had Fortran and coding experience, love games, found

Gigi Johnson:

child psychology and game test designer in a big thick career

Gigi Johnson:

book. And then thought that . . . were the encouraging of this?

Gigi Johnson:

I mean, Cal State Northridge is a it's a good solid, public

Gigi Johnson:

institution, safe quality institution. ere they just kind

Gigi Johnson:

of going "She'll get over it"?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, they thought it was a phase. But

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

also my driving force was really the movie Big just because that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was my sample in real life. Like I had to sample in school every

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

day of doing those research reports in the, you know, child

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

play lab, you know, type of thing. And I think the lab

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

school still exists because that's what they do for that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

major. But the real the real deal for me was the movie Big. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

didn't care that it was the movie. I didn't care Tom Hanks

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was a guy. I didn't care any of that. So I was like, he tested

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

toys. He had fun every day going to work. He had the corner

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

office. He had the toys. They had the whole thing with that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Empire State Building and that people were messing with him

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that he couldn't make the right thing or something though it's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

not the right not the right toy or whatever. But he had you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

know, the big kid inside of him was like these are the toys that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kids will like, so . . .

Gigi Johnson:

You then graduated from . . Did you intern when

Gigi Johnson:

you were in school? Did you try stuff out? Did you raise your

Gigi Johnson:

hand and go "Mattel! Look at me I'm right here! I am. . . .Yeah,

Gigi Johnson:

so

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I did. I actually . . . so when my

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

parents and friends . . . so I had friends that were going to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like UCLA majoring in psycho bio and wanting to be doctors and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

lawyers, you know, the typical like Persian jobs or whatever

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

typical jobs ike engineering, whatever those things. And I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kept saying, no, no, I want to be a Toy Tester. And people were

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, Why don't you just try other things? So at one point, I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like, maybe I should do nutrition. I like nutrition. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

did volunteer in the hospital. I can't stand it. I was like, get

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

me out of here after a week. I couldn't . . . .once like, you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

got to do a rotation in the psych ward. I was like, I'm out,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

goodbye, like, thanks, I can't do this.

Gigi Johnson:

I shouldn't laugh. For some people . . . or

Gigi Johnson:

something. Every . . . for every job, there's somebody who

Gigi Johnson:

actually gets passionate about it. I tend to think there's

Gigi Johnson:

things I love that other people hate. But yeah, it's nice to

Gigi Johnson:

know that environmental thing early. I don't want to. . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, it made a huge difference.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Because honestly, like, I love nutrition, and for myself, I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

really like picky about food and everything, because I have

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

allergies, whatever. But like, not as a career, not something I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

would be happy with doing, you know, as a career. So I'm glad

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that I figured that out. And going through the motions. It

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like I had graduated. And I had one professor from CSUN that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was my champion, and we still keep in touch. And he kept

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

saying, You can do this, we're going to make this happen.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

You'll figure this out. And like I said, there was no Google at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the time, we barely were getting emails. I was literally going to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the library and figuring out Okay, so there's a Women in Toys

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

annual like event where they give awards in New York, and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

then there's like this toy group, I guess. We didn't have

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

meetups back then. But they had like this toy group in LA,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

people from Mattel and smaller toy companies that would get

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

together. So I found those places. And I went there. And I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

talked to the people. At the time, there was this thing

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

called GameWorks, which the guy that was the head was a head of

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the whole thing. So I talked to him, and I said, What are you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

saying? And he was like, well, sorry, I can't really help you.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

But like, you know, I'll put up feelers for anybody that I know

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

is looking for . . . to hire new people and what have you.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Then I went to a UCLA job fair. This is actually really funny

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

because I went through like a recruiting firm that was in

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Manhattan Beach, and I went through six or seven different

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

recruiters from the same company during that Job Fair at UCLA,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and then they said come to our office or you know, the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

president of the recruiting company wants to meet you and I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

started being like, cool. This is Manhattan Beach, it's right

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

by Mattel. This is awesome. So I walked in. And I sat down and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

she looks at me and she goes, college students that graduate,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

they don't know the right hand from their left hand. And I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, wait, what? Like I'm telling you, I want to be a Toy

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Tester. I've done my research. It's either Mattel or Hasbro.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I'm not going to Rhode Island, please. It's down the street.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Mattel. Just get me someone in HR. She would not stop. She was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, um, you know, college students. They don't know what

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

they're talking about. I'm like, I'm telling you exactly what I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

want, Woman. What are you saying? Like, she's like, I have

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

a perfect job for you is this company called Jax Pacific. It's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

right. It's a beautiful toy company.

Gigi Johnson:

I was gonna say that was a nice selection.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yes. But I said do they have a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

research department? And she goes, No. And I said, What am I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

going to do there? She's like, is a customer service position.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

You just need to get your foot in the door. I was like, that's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

a dead end job woman like she pissed me off so badly. I left

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

her. I drove to Mattel on my way back. I at the time had sent in

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

my resume and I got a postcard. So I walked in the security

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

guard was like, Can I help you? And I said, Yes. Can you get me

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

someone in the HR department? And he said, Do you have an

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

appointment? And I said no. And he, he looked at me and he said,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Well, this is a high security building. I can just let you in.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And I said, I know. Can you just get me someone in the HR

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

department. I sent in my resume. I got a postcard. I'm here to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

get a job. I don't need a postcard, like please. We went

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

back and forth for 10 minutes

Gigi Johnson:

This is you bold as brass 21 year old.Yes?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, I was like, Yeah, around that. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

think around that age. Yeah, definitely. I was like, Look,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

when I get a job here, you're gonna be like, there's that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

crazy girl and I walked out because he was pissing me off. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like, Why is nobody listening to me? I know exactly

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

what I want. Just give me the damn person. Yeah.

Gigi Johnson:

For those people who've been listening to the

Gigi Johnson:

podcast, you'll this may ring true with the Chris's ita

Gigi Johnson:

interview, who did this for months and months at Disney. And

Gigi Johnson:

that was the only place he was applying for and finally got the

Gigi Johnson:

opportunity to come in by someone who was sympathetic to

Gigi Johnson:

the story. So you were persistent. Yes.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Super persistent. So on my way back. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was thinking like, how do I do this? I'm connecting the dots.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

You know, Steve Jobs commenced this feature, he says connecting

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the dots moving forward. Well, I didn't have time for that. I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

already you know, like going backwards. I was connecting the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

dots move forward. So I don't know why but it got I got a like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

hit of like . . . I drove by Otis [College]. And I was like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Wait, what is this place? Oh, this is cool. I'm gonna look

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

this up. So I looked it up. And it said they have a toy design

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

program that services.

Gigi Johnson:

Otis College of Design. Also here in LA. Yeah.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, so it was on my way back from

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Mattel, but . . . A lot of interesting synchronicities

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

happened. And I basically called up Otis and I said, I want to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

meet with a toy design chairperson. And he said, Sure,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

come to my office. So I walked in. And he was like, beautiful

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

man wearing fashion designer clothes. And he had toys

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

everywhere in his like office. And I was like, this is the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

coolest thing. I just graduated from bachelor's. Do you have a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

master's program for toy design? Because I'm super creative. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

would love to do this. He goes, "No, unfortunately, we don't."

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And I said, What do you think I should do? Because I really want

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to be like Tom Hanks movie Big. He laughed, and he said, Why

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

don't you call my friend. He's the head of research. Ask him

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

out for lunch. Ask him for some information to view. He's a nice

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

guy. He'll do it. Tell him I sent you. And let's see how it

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

goes. And I said, okay, cool. Thank you, Mr. Martin Cabeza. So

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

next day, I went and called his friend who was the head of

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

research. He actually picked up the phone; his assistant said

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it was a miracle. And I said, Martin from Otis said, I should

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

call you because I'd love to learn more about your job. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

want to take you out for lunch and, you know, do an information

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

interview and he said, Well, I don't have time for lunch. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

just come over. Okay, so I walk in to Mattel now with an

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

appointment.

Gigi Johnson:

Maybe . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Remember this crazy girl? She's back?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yes, I walk in. I walk into his office. Super nice corner

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

office. He's got like this amazing poster of Jetsetter,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

which is my favorite Shag [print]. He was really into

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Shag. I was I was obsessed with Shag because of him. My old boss

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Michael Shore. So I walk in, I shake his hand and I hand him a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

business card. And he looks at me and he says you're an

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

entrepreneur. And I said wait, what? No, no, no. What are you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

talking about? I said I want to be like Tom Hanks in the movie

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Big and I'm here to learn about your job. He goes, I've never

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

seen anything like this. You just graduated from college and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

you handed me a business card with a link to your resume on

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it. That's super innovative. I've never seen anything like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it. You're an entrepreneur. He wouldn't stop he was like you're

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

an innovator for like 10 minutes and I was like no no no, I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

thought this is cool. Yes, it stands out, but I want to get a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

job here.

Gigi Johnson:

So I'm going to cut it short cuz you've got

Gigi Johnson:

lovely stories but . . . so you were at it Mattel. So you were

Gigi Johnson:

in kind of the kingdom of exactly what you wanted, which

Gigi Johnson:

is a very large and complex organization. And it's more

Gigi Johnson:

complex now than then. And then you left there to go with these

Gigi Johnson:

other strange, fabulous dolls.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, so yeah, so basically after nine

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

months, he finally created a position for me and then I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

at Mattel for three years. And then I went through the motions

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

of "I need to probably go back to school" because I either

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

needed a masters or PhD to grow at Mattel apparently. And then I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was debating on going back to school and then I found out MGA

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was right around the corner from CSUN. So that's how that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

started. So yeah, basically started the research department

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

at MGA from scratch and also was the brand manager for Brats

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

within six months.

Gigi Johnson:

So you before talking about Brats have

Gigi Johnson:

mentioned fashion twice. One about your third grade teacher.

Gigi Johnson:

One about the guy at Otis. And then Brats is a fashion fashion

Gigi Johnson:

doll with different fashion sets and Barbie. For those who don't

Gigi Johnson:

know? Yeah, exactly.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, exactly. I was I was always

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

obsessed with fashion too. And my, my boss, Michael Sharp at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Mattel, was super fashionable too. So yeah

Gigi Johnson:

The thread cutting through all of this.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, exactly.

Gigi Johnson:

So you've shared the story of Deepak Chopra

Gigi Johnson:

inspiring you to be in . . . to walk into your inspiration. Can

Gigi Johnson:

you share with us briefly how that was a pivot point for you?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Sure, yes. So when I was having my

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

existential crisis that MGA . . . Well, I want to say it

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

happened like two and a half, almost three years into having

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the corner office and the toys and everything I ever wanted. I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

would hear parents always complaining about how they

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

weren't positive role models for their daughter, Brats, and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Barbie and even Spider Man which I was like, I have nothing to do

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

with Spider Man. I don't know where that came from. I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

really having a serious existential crisis and wanting

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to find myself so I did like raw food classes. Like I did like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

life coaching. I did all these things. And I didn't even know

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

who Deepak Chopra was at the time, but he . . . I saw him at

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

an event and he told me to give back when I asked him, "What do

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

you do when you get your dream?"He kept saying you have

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to give back and I was like, I volunteer my time. I give money

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to charity. I do a lot of stuff. What do you mean? He was like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

no, no, trust me. I'll figure it out. I was like, can you tell me

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

give back to who, what, where? Like, another word, please? He

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like no, no, trust me, you'll figure it out. So that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like my big clue. Um, I call it now on the Tech Yellow Brick

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Road. And yeah, that was Deepak like, I guess the biggest like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

two, two-liner clue that I've ever had in my life. And then

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Simon Sinek was the next one who wrote the book called Start with

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Why? And I asked him the same question that his book signing

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

in LA and he said, what's your purpose? And why? And I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, Why is everybody giving me like a dangling clue? But not

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like a clear go do this thing? Like, well, let's get connected?

Gigi Johnson:

Because this question gets to be, you know, I

Gigi Johnson:

see where the sun is on the horizon. But the how do I figure

Gigi Johnson:

out what the bleep to do to get there, right? And you've had a

Gigi Johnson:

lot of really great inspiration. How do you decide how to choose

Gigi Johnson:

between options when building with girls when building out

Gigi Johnson:

your programs? How do you decide what to say yes to being such a

Gigi Johnson:

driven, creative entrepreneur? How do you try to read the tea

Gigi Johnson:

leaves and decide where to put the spade in the ground?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

That's a great question. I think it

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

comes with, in a sense, it's an intuitive inner knowing, but

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it's also what is the world want, because now I'm on my

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

journey of giving back and making a difference. So it's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

interesting, because actually, WhizGirls Academy almost didn't

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

exist. Because I resisted it for nine months. And now it's going

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

back and forth. Like nine months, it took me to get a job

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

at Mattel. And then nine months, the White House, Obama

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

administration, White House was saying, do coding programs for

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kid. Do hackathons. Do this. Do that. And I was like, no, no,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

no, no, no. I'm bootstrapping a tech startup. I don't not have

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

time to do another thing. No, no. But every time I turn

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

around, speaking somewhere, parents would walk up to me or

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like walking at USC, crossing the street, this woman literally

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

dragged me by my collar and told me that I needed to teach her

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

daughter how to code this summer. Like, there was always a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

constant message coming. And I was like, no, no, I'm good.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Resisting. I'm resisting. But that's what happens. So when I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

say no, it doesn't mean No, forever, because I'll get to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

signs and messages that I have to say yes.

Gigi Johnson:

Is it? Is it saying no, though, as a bit of a

Gigi Johnson:

defensive measure on your own creative energy? So you can't do

Gigi Johnson:

everything? So you need to focus? Or do you find that you

Gigi Johnson:

tend to put a . . . you commented on the fac Are you a

Gigi Johnson:

gamer or a gardener? In your your TEDx Youth talk. Do is it

Gigi Johnson:

that you believe that you have to plant seeds, but can't garden

Gigi Johnson:

everything? How do you kind of decide? I mean, it's a

Gigi Johnson:

challenge, especially for female entrepreneurs, to try to not do

Gigi Johnson:

everything and not spread yourself so thin How do you

Gigi Johnson:

decide what to not do? So it sounds like you've been a lot of

Gigi Johnson:

sort of time-based push and pull. How do you know when to

Gigi Johnson:

close the door? How do you know when to open the door?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I think it goes back to the gut

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

feeling and also like what signs and messages I'm getting to I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

know it sounds cliche, but when I said no so many times. So the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

hackathons and the coding it was because I was like, there's all

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

these other programs, I'm not just going to be another

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

program, right? So like when they kept coming to me, I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, there's Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, like there's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

some million of these things. I can't do another thing. And by

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the way, I learned how to code Fortran back in the 80s, which

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

is a very different ballgame now. I can't teach these kids

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Fortran, like, and what I see is there's mostly Scratch for the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

younger kids. So like, how do we fill in the gap? And I think

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that's where the creative innovator came in. And I was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, Wait, General Assembly has these coding programs they had

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

just launched in LA. Why can't we partner with them?

Gigi Johnson:

For adult people.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

For adults. Exactly. Yeah. And

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

actually, they even resisted me and I said, You know what I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

going to send . . . when I started when I came to the point

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

of like, literally, every time I turn around, somebody's telling

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

me I need to teach coding and doing hackathons. I said, I'm

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

just gonna send you directly to General Assembly because I don't

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

have that. I don't have curriculum, I don't have the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

capacity. And right now I'm in the throes of looking to raise

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

money for PlayWerks. But also building out like, I'm hiring

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

game designers. I'm like, you know, building out the startup,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the first one, right? So I came back to I have to, I'm going to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

send everybody . . . and after three weeks General Assembly

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

called and we're like, Let's have a meeting to discuss this

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

because we're getting a lot of requests and we don't know what

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

to do. Like we don't . . . we don't have kids capacity, and we

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

have a liquor license. That's what they told me. They're like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

we can't have kids here on our campuses.

Gigi Johnson:

So many ways you connect dots together. So . . .

Gigi Johnson:

you scale you, especially in the service space, education based

Gigi Johnson:

business by tapping partners. So partnering with the White House,

Gigi Johnson:

partnering with LAUSD coming back full circle there, instead

Gigi Johnson:

of trying to scale you and burn you out, you tap into people to

Gigi Johnson:

tie missions together. Is that a decent summary?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, that makes sense. I think the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

partnership is a huge part of what I'm all about, because

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

obviously, I can't do everything. And going back to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

your question earlier, it's like, yes, planting the seeds,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

but I can't do it all at the same time. Although I come from,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

you know, kids brands, and that's what they have. It's not

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like Bratz just was the Bratz doll. We had like a fashion

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

line, we had like an animated series that I worked on, you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

know, we had like, all these different things. And that's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

what I plan to do for WhizGirls as well. But I can't do it all

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

at the same time.

Gigi Johnson:

So how do you reflect on your own impact and

Gigi Johnson:

success? Because in many ways, you have been planting seeds,

Gigi Johnson:

with girls learning to code and be inspired to detect and

Gigi Johnson:

connecting people, similar to what you got started with in

Gigi Johnson:

third grade, right? So that, that, in fact, you're kind of

Gigi Johnson:

amplified her work in what you've done. How do you measure

Gigi Johnson:

that it's working? And how do you know when you . . . How do

Gigi Johnson:

you feel when you've done enough? And can sit there and

Gigi Johnson:

say, I'm gonna hold this and just be happy at this point in

Gigi Johnson:

time? How do you . . . how do you kind of self measure the

Gigi Johnson:

success of this stuff?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

That's a great question. I usually see

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it in the eyes of the kids that we have been working with. So

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like seeing them go from, I'm not interested in tech, the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

girls and the boys in the minority areas, because that was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kind of like my deal with the Obama White House. So seeing

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

them go from I'm not interested in coding or tech, or being a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

game designer or any of these techie careers to, I want to do

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

this now and look like I have my startup, I'm pitching you now,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

at the end of the day of our hackathons. That's where I see

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

the success because I'm literally planting the seed for

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

them to make a difference in their lives and giving them the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

tools. So that's how I see success. But I'm also an

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

overachiever, and also super driven and, you know, passionate

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and wild and crazy like that. I guess Steve Jobs said It's the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

crazy ones. So I'm always like, Wait, we're not doing enough.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Like, it's not on that. Like, we need this. We need this. We need

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

this. Obviously, I can't do it all at the same time. And that's

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

what I get frustrated about because I'm like, I have all

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

these things that I want to do, how can we haven't launched the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

games that you know, all this stuff. But it's literally like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

you have to plant the seed. And that's why I go back to my TED

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

talk of like, Are you a gamer or gardener? Because planting the

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

seed and it took me a really long time when Jordan Mechner

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

told me what that means to figure it out. I thought he was

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

on something when he first said that because I asked him like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

what do you do from a purely traditional toy entertainment

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kids background to focus on gaming and tech like how do you

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

any literally turn me and said You have to be a gardener? And I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

was like what? Like, are you smoking something? Like no?

Gigi Johnson:

Toy Gardner

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, I get it completely.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Plant toys . . . Anyways.

Gigi Johnson:

So

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Now I get it completely

Gigi Johnson:

So how do you know when you're done? So how do you

Gigi Johnson:

know when to move to the next thing because you . . . you've

Gigi Johnson:

moved to the next thing several times you've moved from Mattel

Gigi Johnson:

to Bratz. You've moved from Bratz into your own companies,

Gigi Johnson:

you've been percolating this for quite a while, you've picked up

Gigi Johnson:

partner programs. How do you close doors?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

That's a good question. I feel like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

when the universe says it's time, I follow, like I said

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

signs and messages very, very closely and clearly. And I feel

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like there's no random accidents. Like everything is

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kind of divinely timed, at least for me, it has been. Like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

running into someone at a party over the summer has led to this

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

new project that's coming. And then like two days after I met

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

her, I ran into her on the street, like walking in my

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

neighborhood, like I've never walked there, never seen her,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like, you know, I mean. So like those things happen in my life

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

where I again, connect the dots going forward, but for me, I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

feel like it's never done just because I've just only just

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

begun to like, launch a brand and then a brand that has so

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

many different moving parts. Just like my, you know, my, I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

know how that works in my world. But most people don't understand

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

how it's all connected because people would be like, Oh, you're

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

doing some of that stuff and teaching and advising for Bixel

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

and doing stuff for the mayor's office and -- and I was like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

look for me I see it's all connected. This is like that

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

kind of like the tree of life for it. You might not see it and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

it doesn't make sense to you but then I would be like yeah, Musk

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

does a million things not that I'm comparing myself to him but

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I mean, people that do get shit done are doers. I'm a doer. And

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I won't stop . . .

Gigi Johnson:

You're not in a single box right?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yeah, I can never be in a box . . . I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

don't do well in the box. In fact, and that's actually funny

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that you say that because my boss at Mattel was trying to

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

keep me in the box and I was like No, no, no, no, not

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

happening.

Gigi Johnson:

So we're nearly at the end of our conversation. We

Gigi Johnson:

have covered the waterfront. We're going to have in the show

Gigi Johnson:

notes, all these puzzle pieces for people who would like to tap

Gigi Johnson:

in and take a look at it more. What have we not talked about?

Gigi Johnson:

Other than the thing you can't talk about yet? What have we not

Gigi Johnson:

talked about that you want to mention before we close up?

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

It's a good question. I feel like

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

everyone has a purpose and a mission on this planet. And I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

say this all the time. But I feel like once you know what

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that is, it's not like it's ever handed to you on a silver

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

platter, but you have to work for it. And you know

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

instinctively what that is like for me. At first, I never

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

thought I would ever leave the toy business. And technically, I

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

don't ever want to make physical toys for kids. But I'm doing

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

things that are in the digital space that are similar in a

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

sense. But as we move technologically and become more

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

advanced with tech, I'm like, Okay, I'm super heart centered.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

I'm super here to make a difference and give back and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

everything that I've heard people say that I should be

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

doing now. And now I connect the dots, right? So like, what Tom

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Hanks did for me I'm doing as a give back for the next

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

generation of kids with technology and gaming, and

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

making girls excited about STEM and gaming and tech and boys

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

from the inner city. Like, that was technically my focus

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

initially, it's like, I always say, We're girl focused, and boy

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

inclusive, because I think it's really important. We don't live

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

in a bubble. But also, I am creating a lifestyle tech brand

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

for kids. And that's never been done before. So it's always

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

being that, you know, first innovator and being creative in

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

that space to be understood, because it's always been like,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Wait, what are you doing? Really? Oh, that's interesting.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Okay, wait, you're meditating with the kids, like your, and we

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

did Job Corps for a week summer camp, and they were like, you're

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

gonna do yoga? Like, I thought we thought the kids were gonna

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

do coding, I was like, No, we have to do all of it. Like, we

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

can't just sit on a computer for like, a full week, there's no

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

way.

Gigi Johnson:

Ahead of your time, ahead of the pandemic. And

Gigi Johnson:

then sort of closing comment on this that you have been running.

Gigi Johnson:

. . . You have been in a in a shifting of all this during the

Gigi Johnson:

pandemic when a hackathon is a generally live person event. So

Gigi Johnson:

now you're kind of sprouting those wings again. How can

Gigi Johnson:

people get a hold of you if they would like to participate in

Gigi Johnson:

what you're doing? And what do you need? I think you commented,

Gigi Johnson:

before we got started that interns! You need interns!

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Yes, because I'm getting a lot of

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

requests for hackathons in person again. So I'm super

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

excited about that. Yes, interns are much needed. And you can get

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

a hold of me at my website, or Instagram or my email, which is

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Sharin@play-werks.com. But yeah, in terms I definitely need

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

interns.

Gigi Johnson:

And I guess asking you a little bit non sequitur

question:

franchise? Is there ability for someone who thinks,

question:

oh, this is so cool. I would love to do because you're mostly

question:

California with this? Yes. With the hackathon . . .

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

For now. Yeah. Yeah, we've gotten

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

requests to do other cities and countries, actually. But yeah,

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

mostly . . . that's a good question. franchise. I haven't

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

looked into that yet. But I was thinking about maybe licensing

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

out a curriculum for a while. I've been open to different

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

things. It's just that path hasn't been open technically.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And that's going back to your earlier question, I think is

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

like how . . . if I push so hard, sometimes it doesn't work.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

And I'm like, Okay, what's not the right time? Just not.

Gigi Johnson:

Thank you for being on this show. And

Gigi Johnson:

everybody . . . thank you for enjoying this. And please join

Gigi Johnson:

us for the next installment of Creative Innovators. And I'm

Gigi Johnson:

very glad that we could hang out together and tell stories

Gigi Johnson:

together for people to get inspired.

Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia:

Thank you so much for having me. This