The Survival Spirit of an Entrepreneur

In our field as company formation experts, we come across many inspiring international entrepreneurs. One of them is Nada Rothbart, who fled her war-torn homeland of Yugoslavia and then went onto become a successful businesswoman in the US. Here is her brave story of survival...

Nada Rothbart is an entrepreneur who has had many lives. From the ages of 14 to 26 she took advantage of her towering 6ft 3 inch form by becoming a world-class basketball player in her home country of Yugoslavia. Setting her sights beyond a sporting career, she then qualified as a lawyer and opened her own law firm in Sarajevo in 1992. A month later war broke out in the city. As a Bosnian Jew, she was forced to flee her home with her husband and two children and made her way to Israel where she lived in an immigration camp.

When the opportunity to be rehoused in America came their way, the family moved to California but tragically her youngest son Ivan died from a deadly bacterial infection and then her marriage disintegrated. In true survivor mode, Nada pulled her life together again and trained herself up as a real estate agent.  She eventually accompanied her eldest son Robert to Paris where he was playing professional basketball and whilst there she began Bikram Yoga training. Ten years later, she is now a fully qualified yoga teacher, owns her own Bikram Yoga Studio in Sonoma, California and continues to sell real estate. We spoke to her about her amazing entrepreneurial journey and what drives her success:

You came through some really tough situations, Nada. Can you tell us what happened to you during the war in Yugoslavia?

"My boys were six and five years old and after several months of us all living in the basement of our building without any chance to get out due to the fighting, I heard on the battery operated radio that there was going to be a cease-fire for five days. Without waiting for a second, I grabbed my kids and ran through the door. That's how I saved our lives. The journey from that moment to my parents’ house, normally a five hour drive in peaceful times, was the scariest thing I ever went through in my life.

Then came the opportunity for anyone who was Jewish to escape to Israel. We moved to Tiberias in the north where we lived in immigration centre for one year. I remember walking to the market because 50 cents for the bus ticket was too expensive. We integrated with 13 other families, and every week one of the families would buy one newspaper. We would all read the ads to find jobs. And we also wanted to know what was happening back home in Bosnia. We started taking intensive Hebrew classes and five months later I found a job in a store selling diamond jewellery and I started playing basketball again professionally.

I was so happy when I received my first salary and I was able to pay buy my kids some food and some little T-shirts and shorts that didn’t come from secondhand stores. But what I did find on the floor of a secondhand store was my favourite dress. I love that dress. That dress represents everything to me - new beginnings, the beauty of life, gratefulness for life, everything. Every night I would wash that dress and put it on the line to dry. In the morning I had a fresh clean dress that I adored.

Yes, we lost everything, physical possessions, our homes, our clothes, our furniture, our businesses, our money in the bank - everything physical we lost, including our country. But what we gained was the understanding that we are alive.

The strongest feelings that I had during that time was extreme happiness for a new beginning for me and my family. I was the happiest person ever knowing that I had an ability to give my kids a chance to start a new life. I had the confidence that I would make it because we were all together."

How did you feel about moving to America?

"Being born in Yugoslavia, I never thought that I would even be able to visit America. For us, America was this big successful huge country far away that we would never see or visit because we couldn't afford it. Maybe deep inside I thought that America was designed for people who were better than me, more intelligent or more capable than me. My husband at the time got an offer to join an Israeli company which was locating to Silicon Valley and my kids and I were going to join him to start another new life. I felt safe and secure because he already had a job. That's why I didn't feel intimidated or afraid. I was excited and curious to finally see America. I remember on our flight to America, my younger son Ivan asked me: “Mom, are we going to meet Michael Jackson?” I thought that was very cute."

How did you get into selling real estate?

"My time spent selling real estate has taught me so many things. I started by signing up with the Mike Ferry real estate coaching program. Mike Ferry was my personal coach. He took me on because he said he liked teaching single moms and former athletes. The reason was because athletes have to start work at six and single moms are desperate to make it. He was right. He taught me that the most important thing is to show up on time, tell the truth and do the best I can. Many years later when I became the owner of my own yoga studio I wrote him a letter saying how grateful I was for all his coaching and everything I learned from him.

I was taught how to empower myself and how everything I need is inside me. I became stronger. My self-esteem grew and I began to I believe in myself. I would always do the best for my client. From that confidence and belief, success came."

What is Bikram Yoga and why did you decide to change your career?

"Four months before I came to Paris I started practicing Bikram yoga in Sacramento. It’s a series of 26 yoga postures and breathing exercises carried out in a room heated to 40 degrees Celsius to help loosen up and detox the body."

"After the first week I started imagining myself owning a studio just like the one I was practicing in. When I got to Paris I practiced five times a week with the goal in mind of one day training to become a Bikram yoga teacher and teaching in local studios. After two years of living in Paris, I went back home to America and went straight into teacher training in LA.

It was a perfect time in my life to dedicate all my time to getting ready for this next step. It was also a process to heal from my past basketball injuries and the emotional pain of my divorce and losing my son.

In the process, I shed so many tears and healed so many emotional pains from my past. I lost around 65 pounds – it wasn’t just physical weight, it was the emotional weight I was carrying on my shoulders.

Having those experiences gave me the belief and confidence that every day I’m helping my students to heal as well. It's extremely rewarding to hear on daily basis how my students appreciate me, love the practise and how they are improving and healing in the process.

The pain from losing my child is a pain that will never go away. For some reason when I teach, I am given an opportunity to give love - the kind of love I was never able to give to my son after he passed away. I truly care for and love my students. They feel it because they know I'm sincere and honest. Giving love to them in turn helps them to give me love back and that's how I heal.

I also believe that if you do what you truly love - to give people a service and what they really need – then money will follow. I focus 100% of my energy on doing a good job, keeping my studio clean and giving my students love and attention every day. And because of that I know money will follow. That's how I do my business and that's how I stay in business. And at age of 58 I feel younger and better than I’ve ever done in my life."

What do you think has contributed to your success?

"I don't believe that what does not kill you makes you stronger. I don't believe that my past made me stronger or made opening a business in America easier. Every trauma that I had in my life made me more emotional and more sensitive and, in a way, afraid that the next experience might be negative.

When I started selling real estate and when I opened my yoga studio, what helped me was the simple feeling that I had no other options available to me. Have you ever heard the expression, “When all other options are removed, success occurs”? That's what happens with me over and over again. I just put one foot in front of the other trying to do the best I can at that particular moment.

I realized that if I wanted to be a lawyer in America I would have to go back to school again, take intensive English classes, take the bar exam again – all of which might take me years and years to accomplish.

Instead, I started selling real estate and working really, really hard to make it work. I was able to send my son to a private school, I bought my car with cash, I paid my mortgage on a house, and saved money too. I was driven because I didn't have any other option. I didn't have anyone or anything to help me or support me in anyway. That’s what happened to me - when all options were removed, success occurred."

Did you find it hard setting up a business as a foreigner and what lessons have you learned?

"I didn't find it hard to set up a business in America at all. People do not have prejudices against me being a woman or a foreigner. I found out that if you have something good to offer to society and you're honest, then nothing else matters. People love me, trust me and want to support me in everything I do.

What was interesting was that when I was doing my yoga teacher training I was visualizing a studio just like this. I saw a red colour and I saw my studio in my mind. When I came to Sonoma and found this studio, I opened the door and I was shocked - that same red colour was all over the front area. I looked around the studio and I knew that was my studio. I had visualized it all along. It was easy to sign a contract with the previous owner. It was like it was meant to be.

I learned so much and I changed so much since the day I started my life as a business owner in America. I learned that we are born with everything we need in this life, we just need to pay attention and find it inside us. And I also apply my favourite phrase to everything I do: show up on time, tell the truth and do the best you can."

To find out more about Nada’s work, you can contact her on www.bikramsonoma.com And for help opening your company in the US or in 30 other countries worldwide, please download our free guides below and either contact the Euro Start Entreprises team on  0033 (0)1 53 57 49 10 or email us through our contact page to find out how you can become a global entrepreneur too.