As an Iraqi whose parents left their home and sacrificed much so that I could have a better life, I have always been hardworking and motivated. I’ve always felt lucky for the opportunities I’ve been given having been born in the UK as opposed to Iraq.
In school I always excelled in mathematics and art. It may sound like a strange combination but for me mathematics is very creative; you start with a problem that seems impossible to tackle, then you take all the information around it, shuffle it about until it looks pretty, and you finally get to a solution. I managed to adapt these skills into the business world where you constantly need to be able to deal with unfamiliar problems. It’s a rough road!
I reached a point when I knew it was time. Time to really focus on something before getting tied up with a family and life in general. I wanted to start my own business since I love working and am constantly thinking of ideas. It even keeps me up at night! It didn’t make sense to waste all that energy and effort on someone else’s company.
The idea for my business, Arganic, came about when a family friend was raving about argan oil and mentioned she couldn’t find it in the UK. I looked it up and found it very intriguing. I had to find out more about this ‘liquid gold of Morocco’. I called a few friends out there and arranged my first trip. It was love at first taste! The nutty oil was delicious and the story behind it even better. The argan tree grows in the South West of Morocco only and can be found nowhere else in the world. It takes approximately 15 hours and 30kg of fruit to produce just one litre. The process involves handwork and techniques that have been passed down among the Berber people for generations. It gets even better because the production of the oil provides jobs for poor and uneducated women; it gives them a chance at independence.
So how to start? There I was, young and inexperienced in business, only going by the fact that I knew I was on to a great idea and I was willing to work hard. I came across the Portobello Business Centre and they put me through to a business advisor. While I was carried away writing my recipe book, he brought me back to reality and showed me where to start. I had to get the tedious legal issues out of the way and check that I was indeed allowed to bring the product into the country. We met about once a month and each time we set new milestones. It’s amazing how many free services there are available in the UK; business related events, courses, and seminars. I made the most of them. The trick is to come up with a plan and then break it down into small tasks. I’d aim to get one ‘big’ thing done each week. I also worked part-time at the beginning to pay for my start-up costs.
Arganic currently supply argan oil to small independent delis, restaurants, and we also supply our raw untoasted argan oil to the cosmetic industry, where it is used for its anti-ageing and conditioning properties. We have a recipe book in the pipeline and will eventually expand our range of products to some unique and exciting cooking treats.
My top tips for a young person thinking about starting a business:
1. Impossible is nothing - You just need to look around you to realise that.
2. Take advantage of the free services available in the UK - You’d be silly not to. In London I recommend organisations like the Portobello Business Centre or equivalent in your area. Also the British Library has a business centre and run lots of free seminars.
3. Listen as well as ignore - Listen to the people you look up to and those who have achieved their own success. Experience is priceless and as a young entrepreneur you need to make sure you learn from them. On the flipside there will be people not on your wavelength, intimidated by your courage, or dwelling in their own failure. These people will keep telling you to get a ‘proper’ job or say things like, you need to gain years of experience working for someone first, or you need an unlimited supply of money to start. Go with your gut instinct and if you feel you are on to something good ignore, ignore, ignore!
4. Get a part-time job – Unless you have access to a wad of cash. It also keeps you from moping around at the beginning.
5. It’s all about networking - Attend events, mingle with people in your industry, and have an elevator pitch. Knowing the right person can help things move on much quicker. Also keeping yourself around fellow entrepreneurs on a regular basis will keep you motivated and remind you why you are doing what you are doing.
6. Protect your ideas – Check that your business name is not already someone else’s trademark, and make sure to protect your company by getting one. The Intellectual Property Office and British Library IP Centre can offer advice on this.
7. Tweet away – Twitter is a very useful tool for business once you get the hang of it. I have been given business tips by Levi Roots, and have managed to attract the attention of other big names like Jamie Oliver who currently follows Arganic’s Twitter profile.
8. Know yourself - It takes a certain type of person to flourish as an entrepreneur. Make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. It is not as glamorous as it is often portrayed.
9. Stop and enjoy - Someone once told me the best thing about being an entrepreneur is that ‘you get to choose which 16 hours a day to work’! It gets tough but you are allowed to take some time out once in a while and enjoy the journey; you must, otherwise what’s the point?
You also have to depend on yourself so your health and wellbeing is very important.
So far my Arganic journey has been exciting, daunting, fun, exhausting, with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. It is pretty surreal watching ideas come to life. We have a documentary and some other exciting things planned for 2012, and one thing is for sure – there is no going back!
Those with questions, or looking for advice based on Dana’s experience so far, can leave a comment below which she will endeavour to respond to. Dana has been nominated for the Best in Britain Start Up award at The Great Exhibition. If a “Great” has reached 100 votes by Wed 1 Feb it is automatically entered into the competition. She will also be speaking at The Future of Fashion Uncovered event held at at Westminster Reference Library on Thu 9 Feb, 6.00pm – 8.30pm. This event is free and open to all. To book a place, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7641 5250.
Photo credits: Philipp Ammon / www.photoammon.com
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