Jesse Byrd & Emaan Abbass Wedding photo

Jesse '10, raised in Oakland, California, left his job at Google to raise money to publish his first children’s book. His work won awards at both the Los Angeles and Paris Annual Book Festivals, and placed in the Top 10 for the year in its genre. Emaan '09, raised in Hollister, California, started as an employee for brands such as Target and Sephora. She made her way to become the product developer for Huda Beauty, a worldwide cosmetics company and has lived in Dubai working for the business for the past four years.

Now, Jesse is a writer and publisher for children’s books that focus on diversity highlighting marginalized groups that are less often represented. He also offers creative services to help others develop and publish their children’s books, novels, and memoirs.

Huda Beauty’s best-sellers won awards at The Vogue Beauty Awards and the Glamour Beauty Awards - some of which Emaan had a direct role in developing. Her own business project, part of the Huda Beauty family, is now in the pre-launch phase.

Jesse and Emaan followed the stars that most aligned with their heart. Being a Gaucho was the first and we interviewed them to see how they came to be the dynamic duo.


How did you two meet?

Emaan: I am going to be very transparent with you. Jesse is not hard to miss, he is very tall. I saw him around campus and we had History 17C together. We informally met at a party on Picasso. I initiated the conversation and asked him if he was from the Bay then we parted ways. About fifteen minutes later, I felt someone wrap their arms around me, and it was him. I avoided him for a couple of months but somehow he got me.

Jesse: The seeds of love in Isla Vista.

How would you describe your time spent at UC Santa Barbara?

Jesse: It was everything I hoped the college experience would be. I transferred from the University of San Francisco which was a very residential town compared to Isla Vista. I wanted to be a student, an athlete, but also a person. UCSB created those social memories in addition to getting my education and playing basketball. UCSB gave me the chance to have the complete college package which was very important to me.

Emaan: In high school, I visited the campus for a week and knew it was my dream school from there. I transferred from community college, and my time at UCSB was magical. It was everything and more that I expected my experience to be. I enjoyed my classes while maintaining a healthy social calendar. The campus connecting to IV fostered a community spirit and it was a transformative experience because I discovered who I really was there.

What were you involved in at UCSB that still impacts you today?

Jesse: I was on the men’s basketball team throughout my time at UCSB. College gave me more free time than I ever had in my life. Even though I had practice for four hours a day, athletes were offered a layout to our classes that were following our preferred schedule. In high school, the days as a student-athlete lasted 12-13 hours. College allowed me to schedule at my own pace. I was fortunate to concentrate on school and sports and I really enjoyed it. It never felt burdensome.

Emaan: I worked at Sandbar while also interning at ABC News in Downtown Santa Barbara which kept me quite busy along with schoolwork. I was also a student resource for the TAG program to help transfer students make their way at UCSB. I would wake up for my internship at 4:45 am, which was horrible. But I strategically planned out my schedule with everything else on my plate, which UCSB allowed me to do. It was challenging but fun.

What is one UCSB tradition or lesson each of you has implemented into your lifestyles?

Emaan: Besides wine tasting? What I enjoyed was they made these moments happen. Every season, there was something to look forward to like Floatopia and Extravaganza and the Undie Run. As a student, it is having that balance to earn and maintain your spot in university. Santa Barbara rewarded you for hard work as they threw events to enjoy with your friends and create those rewarding memories. It taught me to always have events to look forward to, hang out with friends, and just live.

Jesse: The biggest thing for me was balance. I learned life is meant to be lived 360, and not just a siloed perspective on one path. We both worked very hard in college but at the same time, we made time to make memories. I still have the perspective of “all of this matters”. The whole experience matters, and not just the cause and effect outcome. We work our jobs but still remember to make memories and live in the now.

Living in Dubai for so long must have its adventures. What led you to move here?

Emaan: I was an avid follower of Huda Beauty while working at Sephora. I was visiting Dubai with my coworkers and I asked if we could stop at the Huda Beauty offices. I ended up spending a day with the founder, Huda Kattan, and a month later, I asked for a job. So she plucked me out of the states and offered me a job to work in product development. We were never afraid to move around or be elsewhere but on the other hand, we never expected to move across the world. I mean, within our first few months of living here, we visited numerous countries and we would not have those opportunities living in the states. It is a sacrifice to be away from family and friends but we make our time worth it.

Emaan, what first initiated your passion for the cosmetic world?

I have always been passionate about beauty ever since I was a kid. I was always digging into my mom’s makeup stash. But when I graduated, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to get into, especially graduating amidst the Great Recession. I didn’t know what my passion was, but I knew I wanted to help people. As I worked through different jobs, I found myself in the cosmetics section with Target and Sephora. I do not think I fully realized my passion for the cosmetic world until my job with Huda which allowed me to create and formulate products. Bringing products into the world and seeing others fall in love with it makes me feel like I had a part in creating others’ happiness or passions. 

Jesse, how did you get into the storytelling industry?

That story, itself, started at UCSB when I had a knee injury during my Junior season. During that time of recovery, I started asking the bigger question of what I want to do and how I want to contribute to society after graduation. When I did that soul searching, the passion for telling stories to young audiences was always there as I wanted it to be a legacy I paid forward. My apartment in Isla Vista had Disney posters as decor, not basketball. It was a reflection of what I enjoy. I couldn't shake what was on my heart.

With the traditional jobs I had before storytelling, I never lost the connection for it so I found myself drawn back to it. I also wanted to create spaces for other diverse creatives. I wanted to expose children to creators who don’t look like most of the writers and illustrators being celebrated in publishing and introduce them to issues and perspectives they might not often find on the shelf. I believe this authentic exposure in storytelling is just one way to help grow more empathetic and sympathetic humans.

Jesse, you are currently helping everyday people author & produce their work via your company, Jesse B Creative Inc. What led you to want to help other authors and creatives?

I think it was born out of necessity. I always wanted to help creatives but never saw myself as an editor or a creator of a non-profit until I saw the necessity to expand. When I was in a bind professionally I knew I could wallow or see how I could lift someone else up with what I’ve learned. I hit some hard spots in my journey, and it helped open my eyes to my existing skills and how they could help others.

My mom has been writing for 20 years and has a few New York Times Best Sellers. How can I use this generational knowledge between our two careers to shorten the learning and success curves of others? Learning more about the business side of publishing showed me so many systemic problems in the industry. I wanted to play some small part in creating better pathways and a better system in publishing.

My mom told me this story about a lady who retired after working for 35 years. The lady talked about her goals during retirement to travel and spend time with her family. Unfortunately, she retired that day and passed away the next. This lesson sprung her into her career, causing her to quit her job to write. Now, I try to consider how I am spending my time and if I’m doing what I can to create something better for others. Even if you have to walk or crawl toward the path of your purpose, I believe it is worth it. In the end, living in your light is about more than just you.

Emaan, you work with one of the most competitive industries of social media, beauty. What is the experience like working in this market?

It is a fast-paced, high-pressure environment. I have been fortunate to join a brand at the early stages. When I first joined, Huda Beauty just established itself in the states. It's been a crazy, wild ride to see the business go from selling lashes to stretching out into the global cosmetic realm. I am very fortunate to work so closely with such a genius founder who has grown in front of my eyes.

In regards to the industry, I think we are at an advantage because of our location. Most brands are in the states; either Los Angeles or New York. Dubai takes off the local pressure and competition a bit. We are on our little island. Although there is a pressure to always make the best formula or most amazing packaging compared to other brands, Huda has always taught me that you become successful by being authentic. If you cannot fall in love with a product and share the love, then it will not sell. So I would say it is high pressure, but having authenticity is the end all be all. No product is made out of the pressure and competition of the industry. And our products have been very successful which is a testament to that.


Jesse and Emaan are believers in pursuing your path no matter the odds. Every life event can be a means of getting to where you need to be, it just so happens their life events and choices were lucky enough to land them in Dubai! The detours are part of the process but, living in the present and enjoying what is happening now is essential for sustained happiness.

Click here to find out more about Jesse’s publishing company


Connect with Jesse on LinkedIn