Shoheb Punjani, 24, was born in India in 1991.
At the age of eight in 1999, he and his family moved to the United States.
Shoheb has always been geared toward creativity. Today, he is the founder of a startup called Ark Content Media Management, a small business whose goal is to further the presence of other small businesses online.
a HOME and a FOUNDATION
Shoheb said his experiences growing up in India were amazing.
“The rich culture, the family atmosphere, and the traditions were the seasonings to my life. Having that foundation in India was a big blessing.”
Shoheb is an Aga Khani Ismaili Muslim.
When he was a kid, his family lived separately, but every evening after prayer at the jamatkhanas, or prayer center, everyone would go to his grandparent’s house.
“That laid out the foundation of my upbringing,” he said.
As a child, Shoheb joined his grandfather on trips to the wholesale markets in India. There, his grandfather would buy a truck full of items and then resell them to make a profit.
He saw the passion and struggle of his family in business every day and was inspired by it. It was then he knew he wanted a career in business.
“It was amazing to see how much money my granddad made and how he connected with people,” he said. “A lot of people in my family on both sides are in business. My granddad was one of my best friends as a kid and is still a best friend to me until this day.”
Shoheb said seeing the human aspect of business played a big role in his life. He said with so much dependency on technology and with everything being about the bottom line, some of that essence in humanity is lost. Going forward, he believes that human connection is what’s going to make the difference in the future of business around the world.
COMING to the U.S.
When Shoheb and his family first came to the U.S., they moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Having never been exposed to American culture before, he and his sister didn’t speak any English.
“It was difficult at times, but then it was easy,” he said. “I remember watching PBS Kids shows like Arthur and Clifford The Big Red Dog and learning English from that.”
In school, Shoheb was in an English as a Second Language program where he said his teacher did an excellent job of breaking down the language and the culture for him to understand. There were also many other immigrant children in his school from India, Russia, Africa, and Korea and being with others like him made his experience better.
“Growing up around these different ethnicities and being the age I was, just made for additional seasoning to my life. It was a different atmosphere, and it almost felt like I was on a different planet.”
Shoheb and his family were in Atlanta for a year when his father bought a business in the small town of Claxton, Georgia. With a population of just a few thousand, Shoheb said it was challenging because there wasn’t much diversity there.
“It was a big change going from the melting pot of Atlanta where a lot of my friends were Indian to Claxton where it was 50 percent White, 48 percent African American and two percent Hispanic,” he said. “Another challenge was that there wasn’t a prayer center. For Ismaili Muslims, our jamatkhanas is a big part of our religion. There are three prayers every day. We go once in the morning at sunrise and twice in the evening when the sun sets.”
During his time in Claxton, Shoheb had to learn how to fit in within a culture that he didn’t belong to and assimilate to the good while restraining himself from the bad. He said it was difficult but also a blessing.
PRESSURE MAKES DIAMONDS
A turning point in his American experience came shortly after September 11, 2001, when anti-Muslim rhetoric rose nationwide in response to the terrorist attacks in New York City.
“There I was at nine years old thinking, wait a minute, what is going on? That’s not my religion. Why are they saying all Muslims are bad? I’m a Muslim, and that’s not me.”
Shoheb said there came a time where he had a hard time saying he was a Muslim.
“I had a hard time communicating with people who I was because your religion, if you follow it, is what makes you. It’s your mentality, your spirituality, your ethics, your everything,” he said.
It was then that Shoheb realized that people needed to be educated on what Islam represents and its values of peace. He said it’s important for all communities but especially for those in a rural setting like Claxton where there isn’t much exposure to different religions and cultures.
“I realized at a young age that I couldn’t run, hide, or lie about this. I need to be upfront. I need to tell people who I am and educate them on the reality of what it means to be a Muslim and the truth about Islam.”
Shoheb said his goal is to educate people and be that positive and truthful narrative about Islam.
Almost 20 years later, he’s grateful for his time spent in the U.S. and the exposure to different cultures, perspectives and a better quality of life that will affect him for the rest of his life.
“Anytime you’re going through a rough time in life, you’re growing,” he said. “Pressure makes diamonds.”
In 2009, he graduated from Claxton High School.
Applying for colleges in his senior year, Shoheb wanted to go to back to Atlanta to attend Emery University or Georgia State University.
The year before, in 2008, his parents moved to Nashville so that his father could manage Cricket prepaid cell phone stores with his uncle.
The following year in the midst of the recession, Shoheb’s father bought a hotel in Sweetwater, Tennessee at a good price and was determined to turn it around when the economy got better.
His father suggested that Shoheb come to Nashville for college and help manage the Cricket stores so that he can manage the hotel in Sweetwater. Shoheb applied to Belmont and was accepted to their school of business.
“Honestly, I wasn’t too excited to come to Nashville. Where I was seeing my dream was somewhere else,” he said. “At the end, I just said ‘why not?’ There was a religious center in Nashville, and that was a priority. It wasn’t Atlanta, but it was a good in between.”
Shoheb said his first and second year at Belmont were tough. At the time, he was managing three Cricket stores, volunteering and being active at his jamatkhanas, and doing internships through school.
“Because of those experiences, I am where I am today,” he said. “If I didn’t have that hands-on experiences of sales and management then I would have never known how to start a business.”
After a few internships with big corporations in town, Shoheb decided he wasn’t made for the corporate office lifestyle.
“I wanted to see an impact,” he said. “When you’re working for a big corporation you’re doing these Excels spreadsheets with this and that but who are you affecting? What’s your return on investment? I couldn’t see that.”
Shoheb said looking back at it, Belmont was the best school he could have gone to for business. He said the creative atmosphere of the school and being around musicians, artists, and free spirits helped him find what he needed.
“I have that small business experience. My background and my DNA is that small business mentality, from India to Nashville.”
BUILDING a BRAND
In December of 2012, Shoheb graduated from Belmont and officially started his own business, Ark Content Media Management.
“The main idea is to impact local businesses to grow the local economy so the whole community can benefit,” he said.
Shoheb said while he was managing the Cricket stores, some customers would complain that the stores weren’t showing up on Google searches.
“There’s a problem that businesses need to recognize,” he said. “If they’re not popping up on Google then it’s like they don’t exist. If you don’t have a Facebook and aren’t updating content regularly, people aren’t going to find you.”
He said there’s a storm brewing in the marketing industry. The old traditional ways of marketing like billboards, cold calling, and even print ads aren’t working anymore. Ark Content seeks to take their clients to the promise land by utilizing the best new mediums.
Based in Brentwood and with a team of three, Ark Content has 25 clients varying from doctor’s offices to restaurants and prepaid cell phone stores.
Shoheb said one of his goals is to expand to all 50 states. He said most of all he wants to make sure he enjoys what he’s doing.
“The past two years haven’t been that enjoyable because it’s been tough. I’ve had to overcome a lot of self-doubts. Sometimes I over analyze, and that takes a toll on me. Instead of taking action, I waste energy over analyzing and criticizing myself.”
He said at the end of the day it’s all about the human connection, the grind and the hustle, and the small steps forward.
“One step at a time ends up taking us where we need to go, but we have to give it 100 percent of what we’ve got,” he said.
COMMUNITY and CHANGE
Shoheb said the best thing about Nashville is its creativity.
“There’s nothing set in stone here. It’s not x-y-z. You make up the rules, and that’s the beauty of it,” he said. “Nashville is a canvas that anyone can paint on.”
As an entrepreneur, he said another benefit of the city is that it’s big enough for opportunity yet small enough to grow quickly and easily as compared to other cities.
Shoheb said Nashville is blessed to have good leadership in a time when it’s needed most.
“A community is a group you can go to. You can share what you’re feeling, you can ask for a favor, support, or motivation. It’s a place you can go when the reality of life becomes too real.”
He said one thing that does concern him is people forgetting about the roots and the history of the city.
“Now, Nashville is growing so fast that we have to make sure we don’t forget who we were before all of this growth,” he said. “It’s important that we find that good balance.”
Shoheb said another thing that concerns him is how sometimes people tend to stop listening to their own voice.
“I find a peace in myself that even though I’m struggling to build something of this business, I’m listening to my voice,” he said.
“A lot of people my age forget that we’re still kids. We’re just now getting into adulthood, and some of us are already worried about buying a house, getting married, and having everything all figured out,” he said. “We put so much pressure on ourselves to live up to something that society puts on us. We’ve got to give ourselves some time.”
Shoheb said sometimes people are afraid to throw themselves out there because they’re afraid to fail. For him, he learns best when he fails.
To keep up with Shoheb and Ark Content check out their website here.
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