Shabnam Mogharabi, 35, heads a growing media empire in Los Angeles that focuses on spirituality. Which never would have happened but for a grad school project--and hearing a sitcom star on the radio one fateful afternoon.
--As told to Noah Davis
At the University of Southern California, I was a classic overachiever: a double major in journalism and business administration, with a minor in religion. I wanted to tell stories that would change the world. I got a job as an editorial assistant for People magazine. I was there for a year and a half. But it didn't take very long before I realized that I was not changing the world.
I decided to get a master's degree in publishing and media from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. For our thesis, we had to write about something we would launch and why. I put together a proposal for a magazine and website that would explore religion and philosophy in a more relevant way. I wanted to make the topics cool. Then I graduated and put the idea away.
For the next seven years, I worked in various publishing and editing jobs. In 2008, I was living in Washington, D.C., and while I was driving down Connecticut Avenue, I heard an interview on NPR with Rainn Wilson from The Office. He was talking about his new website, something called SoulPancake, which was getting ready to launch. His goal was to make religion and spirituality cool again. I immediately started thinking, "Oh, my god. Rainn Wilson stole my idea."
I was so angry. But I decided that I couldn't be angry, and that I needed to be a part of it. I reached out to everyone in Los Angeles I knew, and I eventually got in touch with one of Rainn's business partners, Josh Homnick. I talked with him on the phone. He put me in touch with a third co-founder, Devon Gundry. I said that I wanted to help them build the site. They asked me what I did, and I said I specialized in creating content.
It was a perfect fit. The site was going to launch in three weeks--and they didn't have very much to publish.
For those three weeks, I didn't sleep. I was still working a full-time job while trying to write and source writing, photos, and illustrations for SoulPancake. I pulled in favors from as many of my freelancer friends as I could. I ended up writing about one-third of what appeared on the site when we launched in March 2009. It was exhausting, but we did it. And, along with Golriz Lucina, I became co-director of content.
In January 2012, I became chief operating officer. A year after that, Devon left to launch his own tech company, and I became CEO. I left People because I didn't feel like celebrity gossip was serving humanity. I absolutely feel like I'm of service now.