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Entrepreneurs Build Brands not Products

by Manahil Zafar

MIT Technology Review Pakistan sits down with acclaimed entrepreneur and philanthropist Tariq Farid.

Tariq Farid is an acclaimed Pakistani-American entrepreneur who is Founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements International—the pioneer and worldwide leader in high quality, artistically designed fresh fruit arrangements.

Started out with a single idea, in 1999, and a small 600 foot store in the United States, Edible Arrangements is today a $600 million business with 1,200+ stores worldwide. The same year Farid also set up a highly successful software house, Netsolace which provides groundbreaking technology solutions for the franchise industry.

Farid recently visited Plan9—Pakistan’s largest technology incubator for startups and a project of Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB). He sat down with us for an interview and we primarily tried to get his valuable tips for young entrepreneurs in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. Of course the interview couldn’t be completed without knowing his success story together with amazing philanthropic work he has been doing through his non-profit corporation—the Tariq Farid Foundation.

On entrepreneurship and startups

When asked what Tariq felt was most important for startups: funding, mentorship and incubation? He was quick answering all three. “I think there is an order of importance. The incubation part is good because they need to have somebody to get their idea to be mature. They have to, number one, become confident about their idea, to be able to bring their idea or their product or their brand to reality,” Tariq says.

“Then, within that incubation you need to be able to teach them how to present their idea, because what’s happening is that every visitor that comes into that room, they are giving a pitch to, so what’s going to happen is that by the time they are going to leave there, they’d have become really good at their pitches. And that’s a great thing because they don’t realize they are doing pitches, they are just introducing their product. But that’s a pitch, so you’re not only helping them build a product, you’re also helping them get ready for funding.”

“And funding is critical. Great products get funded very easily. So helping them to make a great product and present it properly and think it through will help them get funding.”

According to Tariq, funding is available to any and every entrepreneur. However there are ways to tap such opportunities. “You have to first know how to do it. Second, have a product, or a service, or a brand that people will get behind because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who you are what you look like, if you can make people money, they will give you money to double your money. They will give you money, you just have to be positive about it. There has never been more cash available that people are looking to deploy than there ever has been before in the history of the world.”

Tariq believes entrepreneurship is that you look at the opportunities, you’re so excited by it; you validate your opportunity, you align up to your opportunity, and you take the negative out. You keep ignoring the negative, you can’t let that negative fill you up. “I’ve always built my own companies. So from that point, I know what I’ve been able to accomplish. And a lot of the friends that I have that are entrepreneurs who started businesses and are accomplished, are not only creating wealth for themselves or success for themselves, but at the same time creating wealth, success and jobs, for large numbers of people, and we, right now, in my companies employ close to 19,000 people.”

Plan9; an inspiring story

“Inspirational” was the reply when asked how he felt about Plan9. “I think more people need to visit it,” Tariq adds. For him the most enjoyable part was meeting young entrepreneurs.

“It kind of takes you back, to the days I started my first business when I was 17-18 years old. It is very inspirational that, we’re one: supporting them, and second: giving them an area and encouragement. When I see what Plan9 is doing, where you have four people sitting at a desk, you have a future hundreds and hundreds of great jobs. And these are not going to be laborers, these are going to be IT and entrepreneurs that are going to be working in a very successful, very proven sector.”

Tariq feels building business is important and the concept of branding is imperative, because businesses people build a lot of things, they build infrastructure, they build systems, they build people, and they build brands. “Most of the things I saw at Plan9, they weren’t building products, they were building brands. And brands are what we’re all used to, brands are all that we buy, and if it’s a branded product, not only do we feel good about it, but we tell others about it.”

TF2

“Most of the things I saw at Plan9, they weren’t building products, they were building brands. And brands are what we’re all used to, brands are all that we buy, and if it’s a branded product, not only do we feel good about it, but we tell others about it.” Tariq Farid

How Edible Arrangements was built?

Tariq always wanted to build a large chain of flower shops. But it would never really work because, according to him, the consistency was difficult. So he built arrangements, and gave it to friends and they thought it was a really great idea. “My father was always a person who needed it validated, so what he did was, he asked a “doctor sahib” friend to visit my first shop. His (doctor sahib’s) first question to me was: “Is anyone else doing this?” I excitedly replied, “No, no one else is doing it. I’ll be the first one.” “What makes you think you’ll become successful if no one else is doing it, and it’s such a good idea so all these big companies, the ones with millions of dollars, why aren’t they doing it?” Tariq recalls he was told to calm down, and to concentrate on his flower shop. He was also asked if he had done a focus group, the term he had never heard of. “Yes, yes, I did one. I made one. I put it on the table, and my mother saw it, and she said it would be a complete success.”

For Tariq the words of his mother were enough. “I was lucky enough that I had my mother who was probably the most amazing entrepreneur in the world. She only completed five grades, because she couldn’t go beyond that because the school higher than that in the village (Sahiwal, Pakistan) was so far away, that she couldn’t go. But she went to the US, and as soon as she got to the US, she continued her education in her forties, and her big thing was not what you couldn’t do, it was always about what you could do. She always talked about how you could miss the opportunity, never to give up, to go do it, and her favorite saying was as long as you had your health, you could accomplish anything.”

“I always quote this as my mother taught us a long time ago to not run after money, because money runs really fast and always to do the right thing. Money will chase after you. And the right thing meant, to take care of your customer.”

For Tariq the most important star on his lapel, that made him successful were his mentors. The ones either he went and found, or the ones who were kind enough to give him their time. “So, there have been many people who’ve gone before us. You know many brands like McDonald is one, Dunkin’ Donuts is another, Starbucks, so these companies have been generous enough as they created these things they’ve shared their idea. That they get together, and you call upon them and say I’m building a brand, and want to get mentorship.” Tariq was lucky enough that the founder of Subway was somebody he could call a friend. He also appreciates the generosity of the people in US saying “When you ask them something they are readily available to help, they love helping people.”

TF1

“As long as you have your health, you can accomplish anything,” favorite saying of Tariq Fareed’s mom.

Culture prevalent and potential in Pakistan

The Edible Arrangements CEO believes mentorship, especially in Pakistan is important because we don’t have a pedigree. According to him we don’t have the culture where we can watch and do other things and explore a lot of the ideas. Because if they talk to their parents, they are going to say, go find a job, how is this going to work. “So you really need accomplished people so they can tell their parents that I talked to so and so who’s accomplished this big a company and he thinks it’s a great idea. So, our parents like the elevation, because “doctor sahib” says that this is going to work, and then our parents, say if “doctor sahib” said it then it’s good (because whether or not “doctor sahib” knows something or nothing), it’s okay because “doctor sahib” said it.”

Tariq adds “I think that is a big cultural shift that happens here, that people will go and tell their mom and dad, their uncle or someone about what they are wanting to do, and people will immediately negate it. Even though they don’t understand it, and for me, nothing crawls under my skin more than that, where I become rebellious at that point and just say, so for me it became a mission for me to show him it would be successful and Alhamdulillah, it was very.”

Tariq takes pride calling himself a Pakistani entrepreneur and thinks we tend to discount ourselves. “We’ve grown up in a society where there are psychological challenges, there are barriers because the majority of the people will tell us about how things can’t be done and how we may not make it. Everything has its test, and if you turn around, even in a job, or career, you’re going to be tested.”

“You know, my mentors, and what they taught me was the opportunity is what you go after and risk is what you mitigate. As long as you’re focused on the opportunity, you will figure out the risk. You will figure out the downsides and everything, and that has always been true.”

About opportunities and mentorship Tariq says there is enough out there. “The world is at the fingertip of anyone who wants to do the research. So if you want to find out how a brand got built, what it took, and what the risks were. People write stories about what they went through, and when you see it, a majority of the people who build brands will tell you how bad things were in the beginning, but they kept going.”

Tariq sees a great opportunity in entrepreneurship in Pakistan—the sixth biggest population of the world—and says this young population is very talented. He also admires the country saying it has probably the best mastery of English outside of a few other countries.

“And it’s really up to us of what we can make of it. Because we have seen on both sides of us one side India the other side China, that they’ve been able to take nothing and build it up into something. If you want to see real inspiration, look at Dubai, with that, I don’t think anybody should have barriers. I think it’s a great time for people to go towards entrepreneurship, and I love the fact that they will create a lot of jobs and there will be a lot of brands.”

On social media

Tariq Farid thinks social media is not a big thing for business rather a big thing where people are wasting a lot of time on it. “I hate to say this, where I think Facebook may boycott me, but I think in Pakistan people really need to think about how are they using their time, and what are they doing.”

He believes they need to use it as a tool as it is no different than TV, than movies, or going out and hanging out with friends. “So, I think from that point of view, small business owners should worry more about their customers, be more worried about their products, and be more worried about their services. And then let the people tell the world how much they like their brand.”

For Tariq worrying more about compliments than complaints is a successful strategy. “I always tell people instead of having to worry about complaints, you don’t have that many complaints you should worry about how many compliments you have.

He says people should be really careful on how much emphasis they put into it, and how much time they spend. “Every ounce of time, even a minute of your time is an investment. You should see your brand growing, your customer base growing and be happier that your products are loved, and you make more money in the process. And if you’re not doing that, then you’re just wasting your time and time is the most precious thing in the world.”

On giving back, and the Tariq Farid Foundation

Tariq thinks every company, every entrepreneur when they start, they must, from the beginning, plan their giving in the similar way they plan marketing, customer service and branding. “When you give, you are improving the society that in turn is making your business better. So, it goes hand in hand. You can’t go and take from a society, and not make it better. I think it’s very important. Religiously, it’s the one of the five pillars. One of the most important, and I think, your success, that this is shown to be true to even those who aren’t of the Muslim faith that, you see these people who, generously give, be it, Bill and Melinda Gates, and all these people, and Allah SWT, blesses them with a lot of success, and it’s natural. It’s a rule of nature, that when you’re generous and when you are thankful for the blessings you’ve received, you only get more blessed with more blessings, and I am awed every single day with what Allah SWT has blessed us with, we don’t deserve that. I mean, I’m a guy that grew up in the village near Sahiwal, and my parents left with nothing from here, my grandparents lost everything in the partition and then after that, there were all these stories about how the family suffered, and then was able to accomplish something like this in 30 years in the US, and build Edible in 15 years, if I do 10 times what I do now, it still wouldn’t be enough.”

For Tariq time is the most valuable thing while money is the easier thing. “So if I truly want to reward myself, then I should put my time in it. I’m spending a lot of energy, building a brand, and I’m methodical about it. I should have a similar demeanor and approach to donations. We have a hospital in Pakistan where we see about 4,000 patients. We’ll give them medicine, we’ll take an ultrasound, we’ll take some lab work. And our average cost per patient, with medicine, is about a dollar. It’s unheard of, and so when you see something like that then you start to double down, and then you open another one because there was a need.”

On Edible Arrangements plan for Pakistan

Tariq believes his company can make a lot of money in Pakistan. But at the same time he believes the company can’t deliver the experience that it delivers in the US and other markets. “We study it every year, and we will enter Pakistan—this is where the roots come from. We will do something, but, the timing has to be right. Because you only want your brand to enhance, and get better by entering a market, not to, devalue, or compromise your brand then make excuses, to say, oh, there is that problem there, and then you start saying all the dumb stuff and that has nothing to do with the person who’s giving you your money, they expect to get a better experience.”

“From that point, you know, the game isn’t making money, the game is to do something amazing, and for people to leave money behind,” Tariq believes.

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