In 2007, Faraz Ramji co-founded Norda Industries Ltd. in Nairobi with the mission of creating growth and opportunity in East Africa by providing consumers with quality, innovative and fun products. In the last 10 years the company has been manufacturing snacks and has several well-known brands such as Urban Bites, Urban Stix, Bitez and Tamu Tamu.
He has also been running a non-profit organisation (Les Enfants de Dieu, French for God’s children) for former street-children in Kigali, Rwanda, since 2002. In 2014 he founded a UK-registered charity called Marafiki Africa Foundation, which aims to support well-run, sustainable initiatives across East Africa.
What are the key considerations for a young person who wants to succeed as an entrepreneur?
Take your time to make sure it is really a good career fit for you. Entrepreneurship looks sexy but the reality is often far from that. Invest time in really knowing who are and what you want to get out of life. If you decide to go ahead, then be ready for a bumpy ride and learn to appreciate the whole journey, the ups and the downs. We often grow more from our failures than our successes.
Why did you make Kenya your base, (given that you are originally from Rwanda and educated in the UK)?
Kenya is the best country in the world! It has a charm that I cannot quite explain. The people are not only warm and friendly, but also smart, dynamic and driven. There is huge potential here in almost every field just waiting to be tapped. We saw that opportunity and realised that Kenya was a natural hub for the East African region with relatively good infrastructure.
Do you mentor young people in entrepreneurship? What is the greatest mistake most start-ups make?
Not formally, although sometimes I am asked to speak at universities such as Strathmore – I enjoy doing this as I end up learning more from the students than they learn from me! I don’t think I can zero in on one particular mistake; some start-ups are overly ambitious, others too cautious. Some overspend others do not invest where necessary – all these factors, and many more, can lead to failure. Mistakes are not necessarily bad; sometimes they contain vital lessons or even expose a new business opportunity. I have made several mistakes in the last 10 years and continue to make them! The key thing is to learn from your mistakes and avoid making them again.
Are there any opportunities for young people to learn, train and work in your industry and what do they need to get in?
We are working on developing an internship programme through a foundation that we have setup, Marafiki Africa Foundation (www.marafiki.org.uk) to support grassroots projects that provide opportunities for youth across East Africa. We would like to make it easier for young people (graduates of high school, university and techno-vocational training programmes) to get practical training and exposure as well as permanent employment in companies such as ours.
What is the best way of getting into entrepreneurship for young people who just have the passion but little understanding of the field?
Do not be shy; talk to entrepreneurs, call them, e-mail them, convince them to allow you to shadow them for a week or two. Entrepreneurship can be described as “solving a problem” rather than a field, so you get to choose which particular industry you are passionate about. You are far more likely to succeed if you are passionate about your product or service. So ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” and then “How can I best serve society doing what I love?” If you find a need to fulfill or a problem that desperately needs solving, then you might naturally find yourself an entrepreneur or a social entrepreneur.
What do you look for in an employee? Which is more important to you between education and talent and why?
Depending on the position, either might take priority. For example, if hiring an accountant then education and training are very important but if hiring a sales person, then experience and talent are more relevant. However, the most important attribute we look for in an employee is attitude. Almost any skill can be taught to nearly anyone but it all depends on the mindset of the person.
You studied international development at university and then got into entrepreneurship. What would you say is the role of [your] education in this kind of practice?
My degree was in international development and this might not seem directly linked to entrepreneurship. However, As an entrepreneur, I believe business is all about making a positive impact.
What lesson(s) did you learn from your first major loss in business?
In June this year, our factory burnt down because of an electrical fire. All production lines and stock were destroyed. It was a huge loss. We have been off the shelves for the last five months but we hope to be back by January. I remember watching the factory burn as firefighters battled the flames and feeling blessed that no one was hurt. I was also extremely humbled as I realised that what took 10 years to build could be destroyed overnight. The days, weeks and months that followed were extremely challenging but full of great lessons. First, be humble and realise that there is something much bigger than you and your business out there. Recognise the impermanence of all things – this will help you prioritise and focus on what’s really important in life.
Secondly, be resilient; do not give up when times get tough. In life there will be challenges but you have to face them with courage and you will come through immensely stronger.
Thirdly, relationships are what really matter in life; it’s your friends, family and colleagues who are worth living for. The days after the fire we had hundreds of phone calls and messages of support from customers, suppliers, friends, and even competitors. This moral support gave us the strength and motivation to pick up the pieces and restart our operations.
There is a campaign on healthy eating, and snacks like those you make have been cited as causes of obesity because of their nutritional value. How do you feel about this? Do you think your industry has any responsibility in this regard?
We use the freshest ingredients and best hygiene practices in our industry. Our products do have nutritional value and are best consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. We have just launched a healthier corn puff snack called Tinga Tasties, which is baked rather than fried, and is also gluten-free. It is also free from artificial colours and additives such as MSG. We will keep developing healthier and more nutritious products, as long as the market demands them.