From Surviving the Bosnian War to Making $500M in Real Estate Sales


You might recognize her from her appearances on Fox News or CNBC's Secret Lives of the Super Rich, but before it all, Senada Adzem was caught right in the middle of one of the world's cruelest wars since WWII.

When in 1991, the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia began to fall apart, the divisions between neighbour states became apparent and war erupted, resulting in disaster for the Bosniak people. Senada Adzem was just a teenager when war broke out, acting as an interpreter for the U.N.

“It was a bit of a crazy position, and very dangerous of course because you had to go to different warzones,"

-Senada Adzem

Wartime Sarajevo. Photo courtesy of Balkan Insights

It would ultimately be her ticket out of war-invested Sarajevo as her U.N contacts managed to help her into a U.S business scholarship. “It was really my work with the UN that led me to meet the right people to help me get to the U.S," she remembers. Upon receiving the scholarship she left her country to journey to America, leaving her mother, father and brother behind. Her father would ultimately pass away from war wounds sustained in the fighting.

An immigrant, with $300 in her pocket, Adzem would really learn what it was like to struggle and acclimate to the very different American culture in comparison with the familiarity of wartime Eastern-Europe. Landing in Iowa, she remained there for the duration of her collegiate career before moving to New York City. And in-keeping with traditional immigrant success stories, Adzem would face adversity and job trouble in the big city, only to come out on top. Having strove for the finance sector, it ultimately wasn't meant to be. The venture capitalism ideal wasn't much like the reality.

Senada Adzem

She was in the depths of dissatisfaction with her financial career when an opportunity in the real estate market presented itself. Her friend needed assistance on a marketing valuation in Florida and Adzem was only too willing to help and travel down to a sunnier clime. Her work on this job led to an offer from Trump International, and Adzem was lured down to Florida by the lifestyle, the beach, and the simple pleasure of driving a car.

"Transform your fears and make them fuel whatever you want to accomplish."

-Senada Adzem

"Working on real estate with Trump International - it was quite demanding, and working with pre-development was very difficult. You have to design a project, so you're marketing and selling a dream. It doesn't really exist," Adzem says, recalling her first months within the president's empire as very challenging, but extremely rewarding. “The more I spent time marketing and sales the more I realized that was what I loved doing. That was my passion."

Her first contract with the company was worth a whopping $6.5million.

“It wasn't about the money but more like the rush - being able to do business at such a high level, dealing with properties in the millions of dollars," Adzem says, and indeed, she took very fast to the flourishing south-Floridian market. It wasn't easy, however. She continues, "honestly, it was really really tough, it took a lot of belief in myself. I didn't know anyone when I moved to Florida. I had to build my name from scratch."

However - gauging people's emotions and understanding their needs/wants, and a solid working-class background made it a natural assimilation for Adzem. “What I believe is that if you have great work ethic (which you have to have coming from New York) and you understand the luxury market, and you understand what people want [you will succeed]." She continues, “that came very easily to me, only because coming from a war, coming from the background that I do, I pride myself on being who I am."

“Real Estate is very emotional," Adzem postulates, "regardless of the level of wealth, if you're good at managing people's emotions, if you're good at getting to the point where they trust you, I think you can be very successful." In order to achieve the level of success she has since Trump international, she has a few steadfast rules, one of those being to keep a very small team.

Adzem now leads a team of five and is the face of Douglas Elliman real estate in South Florida. Amongst the five, they speak ten languages, and work well because they can cater intimately to clients needs and lifestyle specifications. "It's a 24/7 job," she admits unabashedly, but make no mistake, there is time for realtor to get into the throws of another invigorating and extremely challenging outlet as well - Mixed Martial Arts. "You have to be able to find time to do things separate from work," she asserts, laughing, "I volunteer with a couple of charities, but when it comes to an actual hobby, you'll find me kicking some ass."

It's safe to say that Adzem, following her journey from war-torn Bosnia has made the very most of her life in the U.S. And in awe of this, SWAAY asked her what she would say to those women facing an uphill climb or battle to get where they want to go or achieve their goals. Adzem responded, "You have to find a way to turn your pain into power. It's very easy to feel like a victim, even if you are a victim, but it takes courage to look at it from the perspective of a winner." Keep up with Adzem's crazy lifestyle over on her twitter, and gorge on the wealth of incredible homes to gets to sell every day.

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How I Turned my Fine Art Drawings into a Temporary Tattoo Empire

I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.

During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.

The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.

Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.

I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.

Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.

My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:

  1. Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
  2. Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
  3. Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
  4. Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!