"Live healthy. Take a hike and get out of your comfort zone. Find the ying or be the yang. Enjoy the sun, the drizzle or the rainbow in between. Life is too short for regret when your potential is enormous. Don’t waste living a life penned by others. It’s never too late as long as you don’t wait too long. Take a deep breath; be inspired. Serendipity involves going places without the fear of getting lost. Persevere and who knows you just might find yourself. Be your own measure of success as you are the ultimate author of your story. Be the nomad not the settler. Raise your bar!”
Raise d’ Bar’s manifesto is a reflection of my own belief in pushing one’s boundaries and not settling for mediocrity. A few years ago that is exactly what I was doing. I was about to complete three years working in a stable job at one of the best telecom companies in Pakistan. The mundane life became all about pushing my way through workweeks with payday being the only motivation to do so. Stability was there; satisfaction was not. The sheer inertia of taking a radical step to leave a cushioned job and do something meaningful was immense. At the onset of the third year
I vowed to myself that in a year’s time either I need to move within the company or unconditionally quit. On September 8th, 2011, I received an auto-generated email from the HR department congratulating me on completing three years. That email was my wake up call. That day I resigned and without a clue, the pursuit of satisfaction began.
After a year of living the life of a career nomad, I finally found my Shangri-La in Gilgit-Baltistan. My eureka moment was a mulberry falling to the ground and going to waste. Gilgit-Baltistan has immense potential of producing dried fruits and nuts. On the flipside, there had been a growing demand of healthier organic food both in the local and global market. Demand and supply both exist but as I realised there were obstacles to their intersection. The success of Raise d’ Bar is all about narrowing in on that intersection of demand and supply.
I returned from Skardu with an awareness of the problem, but without even a vague idea of where to start. I was spoilt by confines of a JD (job description) in the past. Sooner or later you realise there is no better way to learn how to swim than to dive into the deep end. With Invest2innovate as my lifeguard, I took the plunge. As the fear of drowning started to subside, I felt emboldened to carry on my pursuit.
Raise d’ Bar as a product and a brand started to take shape.
"Entrepreneurship is a strange animal. More than as a career choice, I think of it as an attitude. One can either have the personality for it or not."
I made a conscious effort to capitalise on my strengths and searched for a team that supplemented my areas of weakness. A partnership with Kitchen Cuisine enabled me to have access to an experienced team of culinary staff. Next, we had to build a brand that justified the cost associated with value addition to make a nutrition bar. In Hareem, I found a great designer as our aesthetic senses resonated well. Three months of Skype calls in time zones that were 12 hours apart, we finally locked our brand artwork. Nada joined our team as my mini-me a few months ago and has shared a lot of the workload. Having started sales online and in retail outlets locally, we are now doing a due diligence on exports. The challenge of going global is intimidating but once you step out of your comfort zone, there is no turning back.
Entrepreneurship is a strange animal. More than as a career choice, I think of it as an attitude. One can either have the personality for it or not. People who have a knack for identifying problems in their environment and the dogged motivation to not rest until they find the solutions to these problems will probably tell you that their journey is unpredictable, uncertain, wrought with all sorts of obstacles, unconventional and a constant struggle. Yet the lure of entrepreneurship is irresistible.
From the outside the lifestyle appears cool. Your former colleagues envy you for escaping a nagging boss. Your business card reads CEO. Your story is printed by reputed publications and then there is that occasional invitation to be a motivational speaker at young peoples’ events. You are recognised for your courage of having set on unchartered terrain and people removed from your personal life encourage you endlessly on your brave pursuit. On the flip side, at home, your parents, your significant other, her parents, your friends, and sometimes even your pet looks askance at you with bucket loads of scepticism and they all have the same question, ‘have you made it yet? Do you think you can?’
Indeed, the grass is dry and patchy on the other side. To put it simply, your loved ones are more worried than hopeful about your future. The lofty title of CEO doesn’t generate its own money. Managing a workforce of two people doesn’t sound like a burden, but the CEO often has to defer his payday. And quite frankly, sometimes I miss the payday. More so on days when out of pity my friends buy me lunch.
That said, the satisfaction in entrepreneurship comes at a visceral level. It is the satisfaction that comes when you have that moment of serendipity working on your brand with your designer or in any situation that advances your solution, makes it leaner, smarter, more competitive, more useful to the consumer. Nothing beats the feeling of genuine customer satisfaction. It is the same feeling you get when you get an unsolicited ‘like’ on your product’s Facebook page from your mother, who was discouraging of your latest adventure. Inevitably, you draw your own definition of success and the indoctrinated notion of equating success with financial stability begins to peel off. But to reach this point one needs to withstand the pressures that come at the outset of any new venture.
Believe me, the challenges come in all shapes and sizes. The biggest challenge is brokering a sense of harmony between personal and work life. Maham, my ‘significant other’ (intermediary title as I get used to ‘fiancé’ instead of ‘girlfriend’) has been a good sport and a balance beam for me. Maham is part of the team that is currently launching Myanmar’s first ever mass-telecommunication network through Telenor – which is no ordinary task. Our empathy for each other and the respective careers that separate us, has somewhat relieved the pain of a long distance relationship. The last time when our manic calendars coincided, she talked about her 16-hour-long launch day for Telenor while I talked about my forthcoming visit to Gilgit-Baltistan. Indeed, a different brand of pillow talk, but still laced with heaps of passion.
In the latest news, it has been an exciting day thus far. I woke up to a phone call from the ‘lost and found’ office at Gilgit Airport. The gentleman who called said that my luggage had arrived. For the last three days I have been stranded at the PTDC in Gilgit because PIA forgot to load my bag on the plane. In hindsight, I realise that it was a stupid decision to have checked-in the laptop charger in lieu of an additional camera lens.
Anyway, tomorrow morning I will head out to Bagrot Valley and explore the potential planting of Goji berries. The excitement of the trip ahead of me has overshadowed the frustration that has accumulated over the past few days. One minute you are down and the next you are pulling yourself up by the bootstraps – such are the manic twists and turns in the life of most entrepreneurs I presume.
It is a rare moment when personal and work-life meet up and create harmony. I am glad that I am finally having this moment amidst the majestic mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan that are ever so enchanting in the moonlight.
Junaid Malik is Founder/CEO, Nutrinysa Lifestyle (owner of Raise d’ Bar).