Shahdokth “Shy” Mudakavi, founder of Safari Kid, has worked hard to get to where she is today as the CEO and visionary behind one of the fastest growing daycare and early childhood learning center franchises. Her journey began well before she ever planned to move across the world to where she’s now based in Northern California.
“I’m always reflecting on my life. I’ve always been like that, ever since I was a child,” she said. “I often lay awake at night thinking about everything that brought me to where I am now.” Each event and obstacle she’s overcome laid the groundwork for what would become her incomparable preschool franchise.
The Importance of Education from the Start
Shy grew up in India, and though she was born to an affluent family, that fact spared her from a few hardships. Each of her parents was dealing with demons of their own and Shy unfortunately became a target of their unhappiness; neglected and resented for years.
“When I went to school, my teachers could see that I wasn’t being taken care of at home,” Shy explained. “My teachers really looked after me and counseled me.”
Her teachers saw the humanity and intelligence her parents ignored. The more time she spent at school and on extracurriculars and sports, the more she received the nurturing and support she missed at home. Her teacher’s attention and compassion made her more confident about her place in the world. Eventually, this led her to her first experience with child care when she herself was still a child.
Though rejected by her own peers and adults at home but loved and nurtured by her teachers, Shy started nurturing and attending to the youngest kids at her school during lunch hour. What started as a small group kept growing due to Shy’s infectious personality. By the time she was ready to graduate, she had an unofficial daycare on her hands. This unique school experience of being loved by her teachers and then passing on that care to the youngest children at her school left its mark on Shy.
“I believe in the importance of the environment – having well-trained teachers who inspire creativity and critical thinking, as well as balanced, engaging programs based on current research, and a facility which invites exploration. I believe, from the bottom of my heart, that school can really mold children into who they can be in the future,” she explained. Shy’s calling to create Safari Kid occurred as a way to put into the world the compassionate education her teachers gave her growing up. “It helped me realize how big of a difference having a support system can make.”
From Home to the World Beyond
Shy approached her graduate education and career ambitions the way she’d approached primary and high school– by throwing herself into her many interests with gusto. From modeling to marketing, marketing to graphic design, a Bachelor in Commerce to law school, she explored each with equal passion and curiosity. Initially, she was motivated by her desire to stay away from home, but with each new and intriguing educational and career opportunity, she found her enthusiasm was always rewarded.
“Everything I did, people uplifted me, and they really gave me a confidence boost,” she said. “Doing everything from the heart is what gave me the ‘Midas touch’ people say I have. It’s not that everything I touch turns to gold. It’s that I do it 100%.” This ethos has carried her through Safari Kid. Her genuine interest in the object of her work is what has determined her success, not a superficial avidity for material gain.
When Shy was 23, she moved to Northern California, where her husband, Deepak Mudakavi had chosen to settle. Although she had studied law, she felt pressured to join the computer science field in which Deepak and many other Asian immigrants were successfully immersed. So, she began studying computer science while also tutoring young children and teaching at a swim school to contribute to supporting the family. As in the past, the children Shy taught were drawn to her. In fact, so many parents began requesting her as their child’s swim teacher that Shy’s supervisor requested Shy to start giving private lessons instead. She explained that many families were refusing to enroll unless Shy was their child’s teacher. So Shy agreed to begin giving private lessons and remembers thoroughly enjoying her experiences with the children she taught once again.
Throughout this period of time, Shy was also dedicated to her studies in computer science and upon graduating landed a lucrative job offer. Shy and Deepak threw a party, inviting their friends and family to celebrate her good fortune. The next day she was scheduled to sign the employment agreement for this new job.
“I got up in the morning and told my husband, ‘I’m not going to sign the agreement.”
What changed her mind had nothing to do with the offer itself, it was something her father-in-law had said to her years ago. It was repeating in her head that whole night over, and over- “Everyone of us here is born for a purpose. There are few chosen ones who realize their purpose. If you realize your purpose in life, follow it!”
The tutoring and swim lessons had re-awoken something in Shy that she hadn’t felt since her school days. She had finally realized her purpose in life, and she was determined to let it guide her.
Building a Preschool Franchise from the Ground Up
Shy quickly began the process of developing Safari Kid from that point. She started with just five children in a small 850 sq. ft. room in Newark, CA. But Shy challenged herself to create unique experiences that she knew would ultimately help children maximize their potential. She was determined to make a difference in the lives of the children who were trusted to be in her care. It wasn’t long before parents came to her asking if she’d consider turning her tiny daycare into a proper preschool.
“I was a very good listener in the community and listened to the demand out there and kept growing steadily as the need grew,” Shy explained.
In just three years, word spread of Safari Kid’s exceptional curriculum that adapts to each child’s needs and fosters active learners with positive self-esteem. Parents came from all over San Francisco to bring their children to Safari Kid. Eventually, some of her teachers and parents approached Shy, telling her they were interested in partnering with her to grow Safari Kid.
When she looked into it and researched franchising, she found this would be the perfect way to collaborate with other business owners who were just as passionate about childcare and education as she is. She also wanted to make sure any decisions she made for her brand would ultimately benefit the young children in Safari Kid’s classrooms.
“It’s just not a job or business. It’s a responsibility, so we’re molding and building and developing every part of the child’s brain,” she explained. “We maintain an ongoing discussion and instruction with franchisees and their instructors on how important early childhood development is and the role we play.”
A Supportive Network of Safari Kid Franchisees
Shy found that as Safari Kid grew, so did her ability to offer opportunities to entrepreneurs like herself: women and immigrants. A part of establishing Safari Kid as a franchise was a way for her to extend the same level of support to entrepreneurs and extend her reach to more families and children as her current school offered to parents and their kids.
“Our franchisees and instructors always come to me and say, ‘Thank you for empowering us,’” Shy explained. “I think I really do that by listening to their needs, constructive feedback, and always trusting them. That’s why I think all the women in this franchise are very close.”
Furthermore, while Shy and her husband began their careers working in different fields, Deepak’s skills as a pragmatically minded analyst became invaluable to her the more business owners invested. He eventually joined her side at Safari Kid as CFO, though she describes him as a partner at every level of operation and her biggest supporter.
Putting the Pieces Together to Make Something Beautiful
When Shy began her journey in early childhood education nearly 15 years ago, she started with 1 location, approximately 1,000 square feet. Today, she has grown Safari Kid to now have over 40 locations with most centers spanning over 7,000 square feet. Although she started with five children, Shy’s influence has now been able to reach over 35,000 children and the numbers continue to grow.
“Everything that happened fell correctly in its place. The pieces were meant to be put together,” Shy said, in summation of her extraordinary life experience.
Through many life lessons and at times, difficult roads taken, Shy believes her upbringing led her to discover her passion. She saw the value of creating a support system and was motivated to provide quality care for children- the kind that would positively impact their future. Her extraordinary preschool franchise is the result of listening to her heart. It’s why Safari Kid franchises find success everywhere they open.