With the turn of the century and subsequent strides in technology the world of entrepreneurship has become more accessible than ever. Once thought to be an occupation fraught with risks and debilitating losses, it has now (for some) transformed into a glamorous occupation filled with hopes of self autonomy and financial freedom. To put it simply, entrepreneurship is the new cool.
Thanks largely in part to the development of social media and the emergence of internet personalties young people are more motivated than ever to start their own projects, and with devices in the palm of their hands there is nothing but apprehension to stop them. However, among the wholesome tales of financial success there are somber tales of the very opposite.
We recently had the opportunity to sit down with somebody who has done it all, from flipping homes in the early days to a portfolio that stretches from gyms, to clothing and digital media; it’s fair to say Azam Jaafri has had dug his fingers in a fair share of pies.
In the inaugural quarterly of Bahath’s ‘My Career’ edition we sat down for a chat with Azam to learn all about the world of entrepreneurship.
what is your job title and what does that entail?
So, I am a serial entrepreneur. I own multiple businesses, I have built multiple companies over the past 20 years, I love building brands. I love creating solutions to problems, I love serving peoples needs. Typically what entrepreneurs do.
In the early days I started off in the property business, I started buying cheap houses, renovating them and selling them for profit. I then moved into larger scale property development; so I am still involved in the property industry.
I then moved into online retail as I discovered an issue with the way that I was buying products for my building sites; I found that you couldn’t buy stuff online the way you could buy shoes online for example, so I moved into the building products market. I then developed multiple e-commerce businesses. Fast forward the last 10 years or so I then launched a couple of Halal food brands in the supermarkets and acquired an agency which now works for some of the biggest brands in the world. That agency covers everything branding, strategy, tech and digital.
Most recently I have moved into the fitness space so I launched a gym brand which we are expanding now.
What makes something a product you would invest in as opposed to starting yourself?
If I have an idea myself I will develop that idea, if there is an opportunity for me to invest it makes more sense for me to invest if all of the boxes are ticked. If the person is the right person, the team are the right team, the products is right, the infrastructure is right and my added value would boost that business. Going into multiple markets by yourself is pointless.
What has been your biggest business failure?
There have been lots and lots of failures. Part of business is failing, you just have to except that we are human beings and that we are fallible, mistakes are your teachers. So, I couldn’t pin point a specific one as the biggest, because each one until this day, you learn from.
You get up, you brush yourself up and you see what you need to do next to make things right. But, that’s kind of how it goes.
Entrepreneurship is a lot about taking risks. how did you get over the fear of failure?
My faith allows me to leave so much with Allah and to know that I am in little control of this outcome. Ultimately, we have to have faith in his plan, a failure to me is potentially a redirection of where I need to be going. All of what I would consider failures were a necessary part of getting to where I am now. I get over failures knowing it’s God’s will and realising that there is something that I need to take out of this experience. Take that lesson and do better.
How does your faith help you with your work as an entrepreneur?
In terms of faith, there are multiple aspects. Our Prophet ﷺ and his wife were successful entrepreneurs; business is something that is encouraged within our faith.
I also believe each one of us is blessed with certain skills, some of us have the ability of oration, some of us have the ability of being artists, some of us have the ability of being entrepreneurs. Not everybody is an entrepreneur and not everyone is cut out for it. But ultimately through my faith I believe I have a role in society to do more as an entrepreneur than just make money.
As an Asian Muslim business leader particularly in the industries you work in you are a rare phenomenon. How has that experience been like over the years?
Something important to understand is knowing your value. If you have value to bring everybody will appreciate that, I have never felt discrimination because I have made myself relevant. If I sit in a meeting with a t-shirt and a hoodie and everybody is wearing suits it’s probably because I am the guy who is in the position to wear whatever I want. It’s about being confident in who you are and what you represent, having this concern or “inferiority complex” opens the doors to being a victim of some of those issues sometimes. You have to be firm and confident in who you are and know the value you bring.
What my faith should do is enhance my character, make me a better person to be around and make me a more valuable asset to society. I don’t see myself as different to anybody else, I have never walked into a meeting thinking “I’m Muslim these people are going to look at me differently”. I just bring the value to the table, the deal is what people are concerned about if you bring that much value how are they going to turn you down?
What does success mean to you?
Ultimately success is pleasing Allah SWT. My hierarchy of success is pleasing God, being a good family man, making sure that my children are happy and making sure the people that are around me can trust and rely on me. Doing things that you love and adding value, that for me is success.
Money doesn’t bring success. I tell everybody the same story, when we grew up as young boys we had this image in our mind of cars and “success” and you know most of us had a poster of a Ferrari in our room.
I remember when I went to buy my first Ferrari and we went to the dealership, I bought the car and was thinking ‘something is going to happen' I drove into central London and thought to myself ‘something is going to happen’ I drove the car home, parked the car in the garage and went to bed, I couldn’t sleep I was really irritated so I came back down opened the garage door and talked to the car and said to the car:
“Do something! Because for my entire life since I was conscious of what a car is I have been programmed to believe that you are the greatest achievement and you are going to make me feel something that nobody else has ever felt, and I don’t feel anything”
I had really been sold a dream that isn’t real and I had been told things that weren’t true. Success for me is ultimately being content.
There can sometimes be a "24/7 hustle” mentality in the world of entrepreneurship, how do you avoid burnout?
It’s very important to balance your time. I am not talking about having loads and loads of time off, but as human beings we need a break. So for me personally I have a certain amount of time allocated to family, and a certain amount of time allocated to training my body, and a certain amount of time allocated to taking a break and collecting my thoughts.
Networking is a crucial part of most careers, what are your top tips for networking?
You have to be very specific. What I mean is that you have to be specific with the type of people you are networking with so you don’t just network with anyone. You first must know your goals and understand where you want to go. Then you try and find the appropriate people to network with who can bring value. From that initial group you then need to filter through those people to identify who is actually valuable from that group.
Network with people who are useful, network with people you have done your due diligence on. Be smart about the time you are allocating on networking as well, you could spend all day networking and it doesn’t add any value.
You’ve got to know what you are looking for, when you know what you are looking for it happens quickly. What are you trying to network for? What are you trying to achieve? What is your end goal? Who can help you? These are the questions you need to ask.
From our experiences there are a lot of ‘get rich quick schemes’ that are popular within the Muslim community, what is your advice for people heading down this route?
I am fully aware of some of the issues that exist within our community. There is no shortcut to success and you will either end up losing money or losing your life. Anything that seems too good to be true is often exactly that. If you want to make money it requires patience, consistency and ‘real business’. One thing that I encourage for people specifically from our community is to look at your grandparents and parents who came to this country and couldn’t speak the language; in some cases, who didn’t know the culture, and they came and worked hard and provided a platform for the next generation. Take inspiration from those people, look back at the people who are your real heroes.
There is no short term, play the long game and you’ll see long term results.
What are some of your top tips for somebody who is interested in being an entrepreneur?
First and foremost identify that this is your burning desire. My grandmother tells stories of when I used to hustle as a little kid, I used to love it! So make sure it’s something you truly want.
Be ready to make sacrifices because it’s not going come straight away.
Be realistic about whatever you want to get into. Is there a need for it? Are you just copying someone else’s idea? Make sure you find something that you feel you can add value to.
How do you set achievable goals?
Know yourself and know your capacity. I know that I can work 18 hours a day no problem and I know the speed at which I work but I also understand what I am not capable of.
What I also recommend to beginners is to first set challenging but achievable goals and then keep upping the game. The way you do things that are achievable is that you focus on you, the moment you start focusing on everybody else you’re going to fall on your face.
Special thanks to Azam for taking the time out to contribute to our series you can stay up to date with his work over on his Instagram account: @azamjaafri
This November we will be sharing the stories of Muslim professionals who work in unique industries around the world. From sporting professionals to angel investors stay in the loop with our content by checking out the page below and following us on all our social platforms