Born Into Entrepreneurship

Here's a conversation with Faheem Moosa, a serial entrepreneur with an MBA who had a short stint in Corporate life although he was born into entrepreneurship. His family has had a business for generations---120+ years to be exact.  Despite that background, Faheem shares how he still had to invest in learning new things because he, like many entrepreneurs, was missing the essential marketing and sales skills.

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Host - Monique Mills:     [00:00]   

People feel as if those who are entrepreneurs don't really know what they're doing because they don't have that business experience.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [00:07]         


Host - Monique Mills:     [00:07]   

And actually, some startup founders feel that way as well. They feel like, “I would know more, or I would be further if I had an MBA.” And having done both and having an MBA, I tell them that's not true because they don't teach you how to be an entrepreneur in MBA.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [00:21]         

I agree. Yes.


Host - Monique Mills:     [00:27]   

Many say that startups equal the unpolished MBA. Anyone who has built a business from an idea can attest to the fact that the experience is another level MBA, and there's nothing quite like it. Since you must be extremely resourceful and scrappy as a startup founder, quite often doing many things unconventionally, the conventional corporate MBAs considered the experience unpolished, but is it really?

Honestly, having been on both sides as an engineer in corporate, and then as a startup founder with an MBA, I'd have to agree with those who say that you don't need an MBA to be a startup founder. In fact, I think you learn more on how to build a company as a startup founder than you do in a structured MBA program. In fact, you certainly earn an MBA while on the job, building the company piece by piece. “Build the plane on the way down”, they say. Well, that's exactly what it is. But there are lessons to be shared to help both sides learn from each other. The Unpolished MBA podcast will be the sharing of candid conversation related to topics on both sides of the fence. One is not better than the other, just different. Let's jump in.

[02:00]     Hi, I'm your host, Monique Mills, and in my work, I get to have great conversations with a lot of smart and interesting people. Today, I'm sharing a conversation I had with Faheem Moosa, a serial entrepreneur in the consulting space. You see, he came from an entrepreneurial family that's been in business for generations, over 120 years. Yeah, you heard me right, 120 years. So he has a different mindset about stepping out on his own after having a short stint in corporate life. As he said, “Great experience, great company, but I wasn't the right fit for that type of environment.” One thing we dig into as we speak is how most entrepreneurs step out on their own but don't have any marketing and sales skills. That is a big issue. Take a listen to the rest of our conversation.

[02:54]    All right, so let me take you through the fast questions. The fast questions here. Just to give everyone some context as we start talking, are you an entrepreneur or a corporate employee?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [03:04]         

I am an entrepreneur.

Host - Monique Mills:     [03:06]   

MBA or no MBA?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [03:08]         


Host - Monique Mills:     [03:09]   

Okay, how did you arrive at entrepreneurship? Tell me a little bit about that because I watch your videos, I see your posts, and you talk about a lot of things that make sense for both entrepreneurs and corporate. So tell us a little bit about that.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [03:24]         

I was born into an entrepreneurial family. I come from a family that has had a business for 120 years.

Host - Monique Mills:     [03:32]   

Wait a minute. What kind of business is that? I'm trying to think what have we used for 120 years?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [03:38]         

Well, it was a clothing business started by my great, great grandfather, or probably my great, great, great grandfather, I don't even know. But it's been around for 120 years; it's still around. So, my family started off as wholesale merchants - textile, wholesale merchants - and then every generation improved upon that and we got into retail clothing manufacturing, and so on, and so forth. So that's how I got into entrepreneurship. I was born into it. So I've seen my grandfather and my father run our family business. And as a child, we had a retail store, and weekends we used to go there and hang out and watch what went on there. So…

Host - Monique Mills:     [04:32]   


Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [04:32]         

…I mean, that’s how I fell into it.

Host - Monique Mills:     [04:34]   

So, I mean, Faheem, you actually have a competitive advantage. This is what I talk about all the time to people who want to start businesses. Being born into an entrepreneurial family is such a big deal. You know things that those of us who haven't, even with formal education. If I hadn't have done it myself - creating something out of nothing - there are just things I just would not know, that you know and seem very natural. It's kind of matter of factly. And so, in entrepreneurship, and when you did decide to venture out and create something of your own, what was that? And how easy or - it's hard either way - but how was the process just getting set up? Did you know how to do certain things right away? How did that go?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [05:23]         

Well, first of all, yeah, you're right, I'm pretty lucky to have been born into an entrepreneurial family. And the good thing about family business is that family business owners are natural, most of them at least, natural salespeople. They have an entrepreneurial spirit. They’re not risk-averse, so they've got risk in their blood. So, I was fortunate enough to watch my grandfather, my uncle, my father do business and pick up from there. So yes, I've been pretty lucky that way. And the second part of your question, what I started, fast forward many years from the time I told you about going into my father's retail store and hanging out there, in 2009-- And you asked about my MBA as well. So, working in my family business got me really interested and I wanted to learn more about business, so I decided to get an MBA.

[06:29]     I went to the Richard Ivey School of Business up here in Canada, and from there, I was exposed to a lot of people, different types of businesses, and so on, and so forth. And I got really interested in-- What I learned about myself was I wanted to learn about different types of businesses because at that time, I'm talking 2005, 2007, we’d just come up. The dot-com boom was just taking off at that time and lots of new businesses, the internet wave was taking off, lots of new types of business models, e-commerce, etc. So I really wanted to immerse myself in different types of businesses. And so what I did was my first entrepreneurial venture was starting a consulting business, a management consulting business in 2009. I did work in corporate for a bit after I graduated, and I started the consulting business--

Host - Monique Mills:    [07:29]    

How was that?  

Guest - Faheem Moosa:    [07:31]

Well, it was a good company to work for. It was a consulting firm, great people, but somehow or the other, I wasn't the right fit for that type of life because I'd come from an entrepreneurial background and I was always used to doing things for myself - coming up with different ideas, running and managing a company. So, it was a great experience to be among lots of successful people in the corporate world where I worked, but I did that for some time, a couple years I think, and then I struck out on my own.

I wanted to be on my own. I was excited about starting my own consulting company, and just meeting and helping different types of entrepreneurs in different industries. I'd come from a clothing industry background. So for me to go out and talk to and help various different types of entrepreneurs, technology entrepreneurs, other types of family businesses, nonprofits, I ended up working with over 100 clients in like, 30 plus industries, and that was very diverse. My business was industry agnostic. I wasn't focused on one industry. So it was really an eclectic mix of different businesses and I just love that.

Host - Monique Mills:     [09:06]   

It kept it interesting, right?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [09:09]         

Absolutely, yes. And they were all entrepreneurs. And so that was interesting as well because I like to sort of be in contact with entrepreneurs because they're a different breed, right?

Host - Monique Mills:     [09:25]   


Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [09:27]         

Think differently, the way they operate is different, lots of creativity, and yeah, lots of fun.

Host - Monique Mills:     [09:35]    Absolutely. Well, let me ask you this. Have you ever thought about going back to corporate in any capacity?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [09:41]         


Host - Monique Mills: 

In any capacity?

Guest - Faheem Moosa: 

Well yes. I mean, in a consulting capacity, yes but through my own business, but not as a full-time employee. No.

Host - Monique Mills:     [09:54]   

Yeah. So what's the aversion to that?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [09:58]         

Going back to corporate?

Host - Monique Mills:     [10:00]   


Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [10:01]         

Because I love what I do now.

Host - Monique Mills:     [10:03]   


Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [10:03]         

There’s no other reason.

Host - Monique Mills:     [10:04]   

Yep. And I mean, that's the thing I think a lot of people don't understand, even with the ups and downs it's almost like-- I always say I compare it to being on a roller coaster. I'm like, “Some people actually enjoy riding roller coasters. They like the drop of their stomach when it goes down and the excitement of going up” and nothing can beat or compare to the experience. And also, being in control of how you work, who you work with, and the projects you get to choose, right?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [10:40]        


Host - Monique Mills:      [10:40]  

So in the work that you do now, right, what is it, and how do you help entrepreneurs? And I know you said before, you were industry agnostic? Is that still the case?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [10:53]         

So I ran my consulting business for about 10 years, okay? It was a management consulting business, and a large part of my work was directed towards academia. I worked with research commercialization departments within universities, and then who, in turn, we’re helping researchers and inventors within the universities to commercialize their inventions and businesses. So I used to work with a lot of those folks, that was my primary market, and then in the summer, because universities were closed, I didn’t have any business, that's when I went after a different market - small and midsize businesses - to help. So, I did that for about 10 years and then I realized that the biggest challenge I had, at least in the early days was marketing and selling.

Host - Monique Mills:     [11:48]   


Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [11:49]         

Typically, any entrepreneur, when they start a business, they have a technical background - they are an expert at something, or they have an idea - and most of them, they lack marketing and sales skills. And so too in consulting. Consultants would start businesses like I did, my business was focused on strategic planning, business planning. I was very good at that, but I had no direct experience with selling and marketing professional services. It's a whole different ballgame.

Host - Monique Mills:     [12:21]   

That's right.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [12:22]         

So it was challenging at first, and then I had to invest in myself. I had to read a lot, I had to hire coaches, and sort of attend lots of seminars, and put in a lot of effort to really understand how to grow a professional services company. And then I realized running this company for so long, a lot of people have this challenge. So over the last couple of years, what I've been doing is I've been helping management consultants to consulting business owners, either independent consultants or owners of boutique consulting firms, targeting businesses - the B2B segment. I've been helping them land clients and grow their businesses.

Host - Monique Mills:      [13:06]  


Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [13:07]        

And yes, to answer your question on industry agnostic, yes, I take on any type of business consultants or management consultants, like whether they're strategy consultants, operations, project management, HR, etc.

Host - Monique Mills:      [13:20]  

Right. One of the key things that you and I-- I mean, it sounds like you've said this a lot of times as well and I know I say it at least weekly, how once you have a product, everything else is sales and marketing and that's where everyone falls short. Like they think, “Oh, I can do this, and I can do that for clients.” But then the question is, how do potential clients know you exist? And how are you going to close the deal? So you mentioned having a technical background, right. And my background is engineering and so I know that most technical people don't know how to sell. That's not something you learn in school or learn in any capacity. You mentioned, “Hey, I paid for coaches, I did training, I read”, those kinds of things. Have you found that people prefer the shortcut of just like, work with you? That's how they find you because they don't want to do all of that work, you know, you provide a shortcut for them?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [14:25]        

So the way I work is that I don't do the work for them. My core philosophy is that business owners, founders of businesses must learn marketing and sales because it’s so fundamental.

Host - Monique Mills:      [14:35]  

Oh, I agree a hundred percent. It’s fundamental. Absolutely.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [14:40]        

It’s so fundamental to business, right? I mean, you don't have to do all the other stuff like the operations or head finance or anything. You don't have to learn corporate finance concepts, but you definitely have to learn marketing and sales concepts because it's so fundamental to business, right? So what I do is, I don't do the work for them. I'm not an agency, but I teach them how to do it and I hold them accountable. I'm more like a mentor to them, and I have a process that I take them through. I have them learn marketing and sales specific to growing a professional services firm, especially using new media and all the new techniques that are out there to acquire clients and grow your business.

I think it's not a “set it and forget it” type of thing. You can hire somebody to do it, yes, but then things keep changing - economy changes, markets change, industries change. So founders need to know what the process is, and even if you're a technical founder, you mentioned that technical people don't like to sell. Yes, but then when I teach sales and marketing as a process, they get it. When they don't like to sell the fact is that most people don't like to put themselves in front of people and try and convince them or try and make them do something against their will.

Host - Monique Mills:      [16:06]  


Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [16:06]        

That’s the icky part, right?

Host - Monique Mills:      [16:08]  


Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [16:08]        

But then it doesn't have to be that way.

Host - Monique Mills:      [16:10]  

That’s right.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [16:11]        

People think that salespeople, marketing people, they’re pushy, and you got to be pushy, but you don't. At the end of the day, marketing and sales are both processes. They are process functions. And when you teach it as a process, people get it, and especially consultants. Consultants are very process-oriented. So when you teach it as a process, and also make them realize that it's not about being pushy, it's about being authentic, and it's about solving a problem. That's all it is. That's all you're trying to do.

Host - Monique Mills:      [16:47]  

Yeah. Wow, you hit that right on the head. So have you ever come across a client who refused? They get the process, but they refuse to actually do it because they can't get over their fear of basically rejection. Because that's what it is. They're afraid of being rejected. They don't like how that feels. Have you had any clients who you maybe had to fire because they didn't want to do the work?

Guest - Faheem Moosa:      [17:14]        

No, I didn't have to. I mean, yes, in the sense that I've come across people like that because I've worked with several clients, and there are people like that, like how you described. I didn't have to fire any clients because the way I work is that I work with them until they get results. That's the model that I have. And, yes, there are people that still don't like to put themselves out there and find it hard to do the work.

People are different. There are different types of people, they process things differently and they execute things differently. Some people will execute really fast. Some people would like to have things sort of simmer in their head, and they execute slower, but still, they're also pretty effective. And there are others who would just simply wait for perfection, and never get anything done. So depending on the type of client I have, I need to change. What I've found is changing the way I mentor, changing the way I teach is imperative so that the right person gets the right sort of direction, and kind of progresses and meets the objectives and then gets results. So yes, to answer your question, yes, there are people who still find it hard, but that's what my job is, right? My job is to make sure that they get all the knowledge and the support and the accountability in order for them to get results.

Host - Monique Mills:      [18:49]  

That's awesome. I love how you said that you continue to work with them until they get the result. So that's commitment, and it also shows that you enjoy what you're doing. You don't get frustrated with the process.

Guest - Faheem Moosa:     [19:02]         

Right. And also, it gives me a filter as to who I take on to work. So I'm very choosy about the people that I work with and I'm very clear that unless you're committed to doing the work, then what I'm going to teach you won't make any sense for you and you'll be wasting your money. If you're committed to doing the work, I'll give you the framework and the plan to get results. So that's how I succeed at my work. I only work with a certain kind of individual or consultant to has the commitment and the time set aside to take direction, to try new things, to try different technology, to try different processes, etc. and follow instructions and then get results.


Host - Monique Mills:      [20:04]  

Okay, that's it. Faheem talked about a lot of things in this episode, like how he's very choosy when selecting entrepreneurs to work with in his consulting practice because he's committed, and he wants committed clients so that they can achieve the results they want in the whole reason why they hired him. I can't tell you how many entrepreneurs are looking for a magic bullet, but honestly, there isn't any. As you've heard Faheem say, even after coming from a long line of entrepreneurship in his family, he still had things to learn. So he read, hired coaches, took trainings, and just about anything necessary to become successful. That's the part that people don't see from the outside looking in whenever they see a successful entrepreneur. There's always more to learn, know and do. It's a journey.

If you have questions, go ahead and send us a message using the link in the show notes. Your questions may be incorporated into a future episode, and if it is, we'll notify you. The Unpolished MBA conversation continues, and you can be a part of it by going to unpolishedmba.com. Thank you for listening.

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