Archive for : Founder Profile

Dream big and never give up

By Sabiha Ansari and Faisal Masood

Sometimes becoming an entrepreneur happens by accident.

When the World Bank sent one of its employees, Sayed Ibrahim, for higher studies to the US in 1991, the thought that he would never return to Sudan did not occur to him. Due to the political upheaval at the time, Sayed decided to stay on in the US and earned his PhD in Organic Chemistry from Howard University in Washington DC.

Even before finishing his degree, Sayed had been hired by Colgate-Palmolive Company in New Jersey. After working there for a few years and feeling stifled by the corporate culture, he started dreaming of owning his business. But due to strict company policies, he had to ensure that any business he started would not compete with his present position. So Sayed opted to start to a medical transportation company in 2001 and in 2003 transferred to a school bus company. His side business did so well that he soon owned over a hundred buses. In 2007, he left Colgate-Palmolive to pursue his bigger dream by opening up his own Research and Development Lab and formulate his own products.

“While I was at Colgate, I realized that there were segments of consumers that were not being served. Muslims, Jews, Vegans/Vegetarians, and people with Celiac disease needed oral care products that met their faith and lifestyles and big companies were not catering to these minorities since it didn’t meet their business model. In 2015, after completing construction on my own manufacturing facility, I launched Sprinjene, a Halal. Kosher, Vegan, and Gluten-Free toothpaste,” stated Sayed.

Aren’t there already so many toothpastes on the market to choose from?

“Sprinjene is a premium toothpaste for everyone, not only for the specific groups mentioned. It has the best hand-selected ingredients and the only patent-pending toothpaste that is enriched with Black Seed Oil (Nigella Sativa), exclusively made in the USA. I went back to my childhood and remembered how my mother used to clean her teeth. I did my research and made sure that this was anti-inflammatory, anti- cancerous, and anti-bacterial. I made sure to use only natural ingredients and no harsh chemicals. Did you know that a bottle of black seed oil that was found in King Tut’s tomb was 3000 years old and still wasn’t spoiled?” shared, Sayed.

You mentioned patent pending?

“Yes, we are in the process of obtaining our patent in the US, but already have it in Turkey and filed for Europe, Middle East, and Israel. Since our launch in November of 2014, Sprinjene is now available in over 100 stores in 10 states, mostly ethnic and health stores, pharmacies, Amazon, and online on our website. We are extremely competitively priced and are currently in talks with Walmart, Walgreens, and Shoprite to get our products on the shelf. Just last month, we opened up a distribution center in Dubai so our plans to expand internationally have begun as well, “added Sayed.

What creative strategies did you use to fund Sprinjene?

“I was very lucky that my busing company did so well. While I was at Colgate, I already had an income so I was able to pay my employees and managers very well. In fact, many of them stayed loyal and are still with me twelve years later. Continuity, sustainability, and quality of service was what helped me to grow the company and whatever money I made, I put back in the business. At one time I had 100 buses. I sold 40 of them to fund Sprinjene. Recently, I purchased some more and am now at 75. My manufacturing facility in Piscataway, NJ is eleven thousand square feet and Sprinjene currently has a team of 10 people.”


What have been your biggest challenges?

Recently, I was invited to speak at a conference where I was the only Black Muslim among thousands of attendees. It has been a great challenge to break into the “Old White Boys Club”. When I started my company, my bigger goal was to be valued as a contributing Muslim to the American society. We are not  only consumers. We are not only takers. We are givers. We are inventors, we are smart and intelligent and we can do much to be recognized for our contributions to society.”

“Another challenge is not hiring the right people. Trusting an individual without verifying their credentials can be a big mistake,” he added.

But it can’t be business all the time. Sayed lives with his wife and four children in central New Jersey. In his spare time he enjoys meeting friends and travelling. He’s also an avid soccer fan and doesn’t miss an opportunity to play.

What is Dr. Sayed Ibrahim’s advice to budding entrepreneurs?

“Dream big and never give up. Seek advice from others and stay humble…you do not know it all. Be human and treat everybody with respect regardless of your differences with them.”

Haroon Mokhtarzada sells for $117.5 million

By Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari

“I have a lifetime goal to significantly impact the lives of a million people.” states Haroon Mokhtarzada, founder of

Although he humbly adds that he’s not even close to that goal, we beg to differ. Haroon, a 35-year-old Harvard law school graduate turned entrepreneur who sold his first company for $117.5 million dollars, is definitely on his way to achieving his goal!

We had a chance to talk to Haroon about his amazing journey, lessons learned and plans going forward.

After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics in 2001, Haroon and his brothers started a company,, a platform to let people build their own website.

“It was basically a side business. A free platform with premium optional features that only a small percentage of people were paying for,” he shared.

But after graduating from Harvard with a JD in 2005, Haroon had a decision to make.

“I had a choice between joining a law firm or doing business, so we decided to go all out in the business. I turned down that offer and didn’t take the bar exam. I decided that I’d rather be an entrepreneur than a lawyer,” he adds.

Along with his older brother, who quit his job at the National Institute of Health, and help from his younger one who was still in high school, they launched the company full time.

“At that point, we actually had a million users who had signed up on the site, basically without any marketing because they liked the product and it was free!” he points out.

A year later, they had raised $12 million dollars from two venture capital firms and a few Silicon Valley angel investors. By 2011, Freewebs, now called, was doing extremely well and was acquired by Vistaprint and became their digital arm.

But growing so rapidly doesn’t come without its pitfalls. There were many hard lessons learned along the way.

“We did some things right, but we made a lot of mistakes too. At one point, we almost sank the business,” he says.

In an effort to monetize their users, one of the big decisions they made was to put advertising on the site which wasn’t originally there. This started bringing in a lot of revenue, but it was at the expense of the user experience.

“Users now had ads on their sites and in general our focus became how can we make more and more money instead of how can we make the users happy? It took a lot for us to admit that this was a wrong strategy and that we needed to abandon it. But we did give up all that revenue and shrank for almost a year. We put the focus back on the customer, back on the user, and the people who were really paying us and getting value from our site. This really helped us to regain our foothold and grow again. I learned the hard way that the customer really has to be at the center of the company,” he stated.

Another lesson that Haroon shared is to “trust yourself”. He believes that it’s important to get advice from people who have more experience. “But at the end of the day, the person who has created the business tends to have the best intuition about their company. In certain instances, I wish I had just trusted my own instinct,”

So what habits make Haroon successful?

“I am someone who really enjoys problem solving. So if I see something and it’s a problem, my mind instantly races to “Why is it like this? And how would it be better?” he questions.

So naturally, when this problem solver, who is happily married with three young daughters, had sisters from the community approach him with issues of not being able to get married, he came up with a solution … and his next project. “At the end of the day, this was a data problem. Muslims looking to get married were spread across the country without a way to really connect,” he said. In March 2015, Haroon launched Minder, an app for other Muslims to meet each other, not too different from the widely popular app, Tinder. But he specifically mentions that this is not an Islamic app, it’s just an app for Muslims. “We want to have a cultural shift. Everything else is happening on mobile so it makes sense to remove the stigma of Muslims being online,” he adds.

With 20,000 plus signups, 15 million swipes (number of times profiles have been viewed), 125,000 matches (conversations started), and launches in many countries throughout Europe, this might very well become another one of his success stories.

But that’s not all that Haroon does in his spare time. He’s part of the Global Entrepreneur’s Council at the UN Foundation. He’s also part of a pilot project in Afghanistan, a country where his parents emigrated from and where he spent the first three of years of his life. It’s a private school that subsidizes free education for orphans called “Tolo-e-Shams”, meaning “Rising of the Sun.”

So what’s Haroon’s message to budding entrepreneurs? “Most businesses fail because they never get their first customer. A business isn’t really a business until you have a customer that is paying you. At the end of the day, a business and a product is a promise. And a promise is a very powerful statement.”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer

Rafat Ali blazes travel media trail

By Sabiha Ansari and Faisal Masood

“Rafat Ali is a global soul.”

That’s how the Founder and CEO of Skift, the first and only media brand that covers the business of travel globally, describes himself. And it’s no wonder considering that he’s grown up across three countries (and continents), having lived in the U.S., UK, and India.

We had a chance to sit and talk to Rafat and hear about his amazing career and insights.

“I was never meant to be an entrepreneur, I just kind of stumbled onto it,” he states. Not surprising since he came to Indiana University to pursue his masters in journalism in 1999, with a previous degree in computer engineering from Aligarh Muslim University in India.

Not exactly the path of the classic entrepreneur.

But back in 2002, what started out as a simple blog covering the business of digital media, turned into his first successful venture. He later sold the blog which had transformed into an online media company, PaidContent, to UK’s Guardian Media Group in 2008 for a reported $30 million. Rafat stayed on with them until 2010 before he took off to travel across the world for the next two years looking to find “the next big thing”.

And that turned out to be Skift. So what does the word exactly mean? “It’s an Old English word meaning shift, change, or transformation and it’s now become the word that refers to the change and shift happening in the travel industry,” shares Rafat. “Skift provides news information and data services for the travel industry between all its subsectors- airlines, airports, tourism, hotels, online travel, cruises, some backend tech players and manufacturers. We have a very progressive message. We like to talk in big picture fashion about the changes happening in consumer behavior, the digital technology trends that affect consumer behavior and the future of travel. In essence, we’re the Bloomberg of travel,” he adds.

As Skift celebrates its third anniversary on July 30th of this year, Rafat is quite confident in the direction it’s headed. Based in New York City, with currently 18 people on his team, he sees his company steadily growing in the next few years. “We’re a boutique media information business and although we’re a venture backed company, we’ve only raised $2.5 million dollars and we like it that way and don’t want to raise more, he states. “Some of these other companies have raised tens of millions of dollars, but investor money can come with too many strings attached and you don’t want to sell your soul. For a media company, brand and reputation is extremely important,” he further adds.

When asked what habits make him successful, Rafat laughs and says “A delusional sense of belief in yourself that you will succeed! You will hear a hundred no’s before you hear one yes.” He also adds that it’s important to focus and have a sense of balance, learn to say “no” to a lot of things while keeping your head down and working and “brutally” managing your time the right way.

But the start-up world can come with its own unique challenges. What keeps Rafat awake at night, we asked? “Building the right culture inside of the company” he shares. “Hiring the right people is a great challenge, but it’s only half the battle won. Keeping the people happy inside is the next phase of the battle.”

In a recent memo to his team, Rafat shares, “We work hard during the hours of 8 am to 6 pm, and that’s it. We don’t want people in the office after 6 pm, we don’t want people working on weekends. We want to build a humane company that wants the best out of our people in the hours they give to the company and build a more balanced life outside of it” And he has followed through with his words with two exotic off sites for his entire team in the past two years, Iceland and Medellin, Columbia.

So what does Rafat do in his free time to relax and recharge? “I read, travel, and play with my six month old son. I met my wife while I was traveling during my two year trip, so travel is of course a big part of our lives. I’m also very connected to my Indian roots. It keeps me grounded in many ways while being in America,” he shares.

Rafat’s parting advice to budding entrepreneurs- “Be prepared as best as possible in whatever sector you’re focusing on and do your research. Have a high risk tolerance and be comfortable with this uncertainty at all time. And action over intent, always.”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer

Female entrepreneur blazes trails in Alabama

By Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari

Silicon Valley, NYC, or L.A. usually come to mind when you think of a classic tech entrepreneur, but if you live in Birmingham, Alabama, chances are you’re well aware of dynamo and serial entrepreneur, Tanveer Patel. Many of her ventures have been in the tech sector including her current one as co-founder and CEO of ConcertCare, a company that provides integrated technology solutions in healthcare.

We had the pleasure of speaking to Tanveer about all that she has accomplished and her views on entrepreneurship.

So why healthcare?

“I already had such a good understanding of the industry. It was my area of expertise,” she shares. Tanveer’s previous company CircleSource, which she started and grew to 100 employees and sold in 2010 was in the healthcare services industry.

On starting her latest company Tanveer said, “My current partners and I are all IT people and most of our family members are in the medical field, so it just made sense to blend the two and develop a product,” says Tanveer. ConcertCare’s focus is on changing the landscape of healthcare by enabling physicians and patients to connect seamlessly through the use of technology.

But Tanveer is an avid entrepreneur so she’s always on the lookout for an opportunity. So along the way, when the chance to purchase an Indian grocery shop came along, she couldn’t pass it up. “I’m Indian, I love to cook and I love spices, so my husband and I decided to buy it,” she says.

Ever the techy, Tanveer wanted to really change the face of the traditional ethnic store. So of course, she brought in technology to harness the productivity by making sure all products were coded and digitized, she added an internet café, and gave it a trendy and hip feel to it. “Patel’s Spice World” became quite a staple in the small Birmingham community and the local mosque. When a couple in the community lost their jobs and were looking for business opportunities, they approached Tanveer. “It’s really such a beautiful story, “she says. “The wife came to me and said she wasn’t interested in buying a convenient store or anything similar. She wanted to have a halal business and ours was the only one she knew of and asked would we sell her our store? My husband and I talked about it…and we thought for us this store is a hobby, but for this family, this could be their source of income, so we decided to sell it.”

After putting in so much passion and effort, how did she feel about selling it?

“I love buying, building, and selling!” Tanveer states.

So what habits make Tanveer so successful? “I’ve always tried to model myself after how our Prophet Muhammad did business in a just and fair manner. He always talked about a win-win strategy for everyone. Have good contracts in place. Be persistent. Have a positive outlook and don’t let problems stop you. Find another way.”

Tanveer is co-founder and president of the Birmingham Venture Club and serves on the boards of many other businesses and non-profits, including Alabama Helping Hands, environmental group Solid Earth, Tech Birmingham and the Birmingham International Center.

She has also founded a non-profit, Red Crescent Clinic of Alabama which serves more than 700 patients without insurance. “Every Sunday, my husband and two sons, ages 23 and 17, volunteer there. It’s a great way for us to spend time together while serving the community,” explained Tanveer.

Tanveer also credits her success first to her father and then to her husband. “My father was an entrepreneur and he always taught me that if I wanted to make a difference, I had to be at the head of the table where I can influence decisions.” At the age of 19 while she was still in college, she had an arranged marriage and immigrated to the US from India. “My father also made the best decision of my life in choosing my husband for me. Twenty four years later, my husband has been my best friend, guide, mentor, and the best teacher. I’ve learned so much from him and he’s been at my side all along,” she fondly adds.

Thoughts that keep Tanveer up at night, “As a leader, it is always at the back of my mind, that you are responsible for so many people and their families. I’m always thinking how can I help my employees, my partners, and customers achieve their goals individually and within the company. Think about others before you think about yourself. Servant leadership is so rewarding,” she adds.

Tanveer’s advice to budding entrepreneurs, “You should always do something where you make a difference. Don’t run after money. Solve problems, do the right thing and money will follow you. Think of how you can be game-changing, disruptive and different. Change the way people operate- that’s very cool!”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer

Muslim Marriage is Mobile

This is a guest post by Shahzad Younas, Founder & CEO of Muzmatch.

After a long successful career as a Trader at Morgan Stanley, one of the large American Investment Banks, I decided to leave the world of banking behind and start my own venture. I had been itching to be my own boss, and be more in control of my destiny. I wanted to do more to actually help others and have some more meaning to my life. I wanted to be even more successful – both in this life and Inshallah in the next.

From my time in Finance, I had many opportunities to network with other similar Professional Muslims in that field across various banks and Institutions. It was here I realised that many Muslims were single, yet despite their success in their careers and chosen field, many of them really struggled to find their other half. I spoke to many ladies and gents on this topic and I realised it was a big problem.

In my later years at Morgan Stanley I started muzmatch. It was a Muslim Marriage website which focused on quality – quality profiles and quality service to its members. Plus it was very affordable and operated on a Pay As You Go model.

Alhamdullilah it was successful and led to over 4 marriages (that I know of!). However from running the website I realised that many users found such web based services to be slow, expensive, inaccurate and very disappointing to use. It was a long process to search for someone, then to message them and then to wait for a response (or none at all). Furthermore there were too many people who used the anonymity of websites to portray a false picture of themselves.

At this time mobile apps were gaining real traction and western style “dating” apps such as Tinder were proving very popular.

Looking at Tinder I could see some positives from its mode of operation – firstly that it would show location based matches, as more importantly that before any conversation can take place, both parties must show mutual independent interest first. I thought, if I could take the good from this, whilst combining this with more Islamic principles, I could really create something which would genuinely be useful, convenient and safe for Muslims worldwide.

I felt passionate about making a real difference and creating something of real quality. I decided to leave Morgan Stanley and pursue a career as a Tech Entrepreneur. I spent the next month learning how to design and build apps for Apple. Four months later the muzmatch app was released! Another month later I learnt how to build Android apps and then released it for the Android platform.

I focused on making the app as Halal, safe and private as possible whilst also catering to the diverse range of Muslim’s that exist – from those who are moderately religious to those who are very religious. I made the focus clearly for Muslims seeking Marriage, whilst particularly paying attention to the needs and sensitivities of Muslim ladies.

Firstly ensuring that ladies can set their photos to be fully private, and only show them as and when they feel it is suitable to do so. Also all members can add a Wali/Guardian to their account, who will then have the ability to watch over all conversations taking place. The principle of mutual interest was key – specifically as it prevents the barrage of messages many ladies will acknowledge receiving from hundreds of men when using traditional Muslim Marriage websites.

Some technological features of mobile phones really lend well to making muzmatch more secure for our members. Firstly we show you other single Muslims who are actually nearby (using your phones GPS). This cuts out those who purport to be from different countries as is often the case with normal marriage websites.   Also we recognised that many people wished to remain private and not connect such apps to their Facebook or other social media, hence we verify each member using their actual phone number. This allows us to permanently block any unsavoury characters as well as to ensure that each person only has a single muzmatch account.

Feedback thus far has been incredible – many of our members love the app and love how it operates. We are constantly tweaking and improving things along the way but Alhamdullilah our growth is testament to the real need there is by Professional Muslims.

We see the process of finding someone for marriage as a real cornerstone of our deen and so we aim to keep this service free to all. We plan to really market the app further and grow our userbase so we can play our role in bringing Muslims together for marriage.

Leaving medicine for the world of art design

This article was originally published on The Muslim Observer. Edited by Mahvish Irfan.

How many doctors do you know would leave behind a lucrative career in medicine and start an Islamic art company instead?

We know one such person.

Graduating from Cornell, completing medical school in upstate New York, and an added internship at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), Jontie Karden did just that.

“Throughout the whole process, I had misgivings. By the time I went through residency, it became clear that this wasn’t what I wanted to do,” he explains.

But with all the years he had invested in his education, Jontie still wanted to give his medical career another shot. He spent some years working in clinical research, but here again he faced a dilemma. “I saw some moral and ethical issues that were inappropriate and I didn’t want to be a part of …so I left.”

One day while sitting with his wife, Kunk Pik Liu, he contemplated, “What do I do? Where do I go from here? I know what I don’t want to do….but what is it that I want to do?”

Jontie had created a piece of art for his home some time back. “My wife Pik pointed to the artwork and said, “Why don’t we do that? I’m a designer and can design the artwork. We could create a whole line of products and that could be our business!” “

Hence in 2009, Sakina Design was founded by a creative husband and wife team, Jontie and Pik.

Although we have known them for many years, it was such a pleasure to sit down with this delightful couple and discuss their journey.

At first glance, you can’t help but notice their diverse backgrounds. Jontie, although born and brought up in upstate New York has a unique Circassian background. His parents fled the Caucasus Mountains to Golan Heights and later immigrated to America. Kunk Pik Liu, or “Pik” as everyone knows her, was born and brought up in Hong Kong. She came to the US in 1999 to study graphic design at the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).

One of the first Muslims she ever came across offered her some books about Islam. She put them away. But, she did decide to challenge herself to try fasting. “I thought a quarter of the world’s population does it, why can’t I?” The first year she drank water while fasting, but the second year, she wanted to fast exactly like everyone did. “I just felt wonderful afterwards, a kind of peacefulness.” But the true clincher came in her second year at FIT when her instructor assigned a design project that could be based on anything, even religion. So Pik chose do it on Islam and after two months of extensive research on the religion, she was ready to take her Shahadah and convert.

So, how did these two totally different people from the spectrum meet? A matrimonial site of course! “I am a very practical person,” says Pik. “I knew that if I wanted to practice my faith the way I wanted to, America was the best place to do it. I couldn’t go back to Hong Kong. Another convert friend of mine had found her spouse online so I decided to give it a chance as well.” In the summer of 2003, they both were married.

“For both of us it’s important to have meaning in our lives and have a cause that we’re striving towards. So the concept of creating a product that melded our Islamic and western identities was very appealing and sharing that with Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Sakina Design’s focus is on home décor and gifts that reflect the rich spirit of Islamic art from around the world. Our hope is that our unique designs create contemplation and sakina – tranquility – while offering timeless beauty. We believe in building bridges, Pik comes from East Asia, my family comes from Caucasus Mountains, we’re in America, we’re Muslim, we have this global perspective of trying to connect people to each other,” shares Jontie.

What makes Sakina Design unique? “What differentiates us from others is we have a certain aesthetic. We’re minimalists. We try to bring things down to its cleanest and simplest form while still retaining its authentic origin,” states Jontie.


But that’s not all, the husband and wife duo believe living responsibly is an integral part of their faith and business. They try their utmost best to ensure that their products and packaging utilize resources wisely, minimize waste and pollution, and even have a Sakina GREEN label to show products that have been produced from eco-friendly and sustainable materials. “We’re Americans and the U.S. has some of the best labor standards, so our goal is to support local businesses and create as many products here in the US as we can,” expresses Jontie.

But as any entrepreneur will tell you, owning a business does not come without its challenges. With all this buzz of the “Islamic Economy”, Jontie and Pik are still trying to understand their market. “It’s so young and diverse and it’s definitely not a homogeneous community,” says Jontie. While most of their customers are based in the US, they have seen increased interest internationally from Canada, Asia, UK, France, and the Middle East.

Jontie and Pik’s advice to budding entrepreneurs, “Just do it! Don’t let fear stop you. It prevents you from experimenting and understanding the market. Go out and try with good intentions. Don’t be content and always look for ways to improve and grow yourselves. A business can’t grow unless the owners grow and that is what we have always strived to do.”

Halalifying your investments

Post by Faisal Masood and Sabiha Ansari. Edited by Mahvish Irfan.

How many of us have wondered about the “halalness” of our investments?

With 6 to 7 million Muslims in America and a buying power of $100 billion, Islamic finance is still in its infancy in the U.S.

We sat down with the perfect person to discuss this matter, Naushad Virji, founder & CEO of Sharia Portfolio, a boutique asset management firm specializing in Sharia-compliant investing.


After graduating with a degree in Business Administration from University of Florida, Naushad began his career in setting up a small hedge fund. “My focus at the time was only to invest in companies which I believed to be halal. I didn’t want to go outside of my comfort zone which meant no alcohol, pornography, tobacco, gambling, or weapons manufacturing”, he shared. “It was an exciting time for me because I was able to invest yet avoid areas that didn’t conform to my personal values and still do very well. Our initial return was 20% per year. I was happy and my clients were very happy.”

When his wife started United Muslim Foundation, a non-profit organization focusing on establishing unity through community service, Naushad became more involved with the local Muslim community in the Orlando area. In discussing what he did for a living and specifically the avoidance of non-halal investing, he realized there was a great interest and appeal in what he was doing. People kept asking him to invest their money. It dawned on him that with all the various regulations pertaining to a hedge fund, he would have to switch to setting up an investment advisory firm and therefore in 2005, Sharia Portfolio was officially launched.

Why the name Sharia Portfolio? With all the negative connotations attached to the word and increasing use of the phrase “creeping sharia”, did that affect his business in any manner? Surprisingly it didn’t. “I decided on this name because in one word it described the company. Originally, we started with a team of three people and we couldn’t keep up with the demand. There was an email that an anti-Muslim group sent out that spoke out against sharia compliant investing and mentioned Amana Mutual Funds, Azzad Investments, and a few other companies, but we weren’t mentioned at all. Frankly I was a bit offended!” laughs Naushad. “I joked with my staff that maybe we should contact them and complain that we weren’t on that list.”

Today Sharia Portfolio, has grown to a team of 10 financial professionals with a total asset management of approximately $40 million. “We hope to be at about $100 million by the end of the year. Our average rate of return over the last 10 years has been about 11 percent, and in the last 3 years, since the market has done very well, it has been about 14.5% to 15%.”

With regards to halal investment growing in America, Naushad is extremely optimistic. “According to a statistic released by DinarStandard, over 80 % of Muslims believe alcohol, gambling, and some of those areas are wrong and haram, but less than 20% actually avoid them in their investments. So that gives me a pretty big market,” he states. “What differentiates us from our competitors is that we see ourselves as financial advisors and consultants and our focus is more heavily on individual stocks as opposed to mutual funds,” he adds. But Naushad isn’t the only one with his eye on this huge market. According to him, four of the large major financial firms have reached out to him to buy out Sharia Portfolio in the past year, but he has no plans to sell.

With Naushad’s diverse background, being born in Italy, brought up in southeast Florida, and raised by parents of South Asian descent, family is an integral part of his leisurely activities. They try to spend as much time as possible together. “We’re going to blink one day and our kids are going to be gone, and when that happens, I don’t want to have any regrets,” he reflects poignantly.

What is Naushad’s advice to budding entrepreneurs? “Be determined, focused and think long-term. Have a clear vision of where you want to be and take the necessary steps to get there. Don’t expect to make your first million right away, my first year when I started my hedge fund, I only made $112!”

This post was originally published on The Muslim Observer.

Patchi USA’s chocolate road to riches

This post was originally published in The Muslim Observer.

Two years ago in Ramadan, we received a surprise gift package from a dear friend. Upon opening, we discovered an elegantly branded box wrapped with a uniquely designed fabric ribbon. Attached to the bow was a thin small square wrapped in silver paper topped with a small delicate white flower and a tiny silver “Allah” shaped medallion. There was only one word to describe it. Beautiful!  Inside were individually wrapped chocolates of different flavors. What company made these strikingly luxurious products we thought?

Patchi? … never heard of them!

As founders of AMCC, we’re always on the lookout for unique products to bring to the attention of Muslim consumers, so we did what everyone does when they want to find any information…we googled!

Patchi, we discovered, is a family owned business started 40 years ago in Lebanon which currently boasts 140 retail boutiques in 32 countries situated primarily in the Gulf and Middle East. Their signature style with focus on detailed artistry and premium natural products have made them a household name when it comes to luxury and gift giving in the region.

Ziad Elkurjie co-founded Patchi USA with his wife Soheila Elkurjie in 2008 and led the build out of the online commerce and brand presence of Patchi International, which is still privately held with a revenue of over $250 Million.

We sat down with Ziad to discuss the Patchi brand and what his personal story is.

He was born and brought up in Beirut, Lebanon and came to the states to attend college. After settling here, he took a trip back to Lebanon after many years to visit his family in 2006. Much rebuilding had been done in Beirut after the advent of the civil war. In the heart of downtown, Ziad noticed a beautiful flagship boutique of Patchi chocolates. Memories from his childhood resurfaced as he reminisced the taste and the presence of the chocolates throughout various holidays and special occasions growing up in Beirut.

“Amazing … it has developed into such a well-done brand. It’s beautiful!” he thought. “Chocolate is very much a universal brand … it’s for anyone and everyone! … it’s like fashion,  if you wear denim, you wear denim wherever you are.”

An idea occurred to Ziad. With his degree in computer science and economics from University of Toronto and his many years of experience working in technology startups in Silicon Valley, he wanted to introduce this brand to a larger audience. With just a few more days left in Lebanon, he reached out to Patchi Group Worldwide headquarters and set up a meeting.

E-commerce had matured in the US, but was fairly negligible in the MENA region. This is where Ziad’s expertise came in.

“Technology can be harnessed to reach general consumers’ habits, interactions, and lifestyles, Ziad pitched. “ It has come on board as part of your day to day life, no matter where you live, how young or old you are. An evolution is occurring of how consumers are interacting with the world around them as far as products and consumption habits”

Ziad laid out his background and business plan and proposed a test run in the US with no big commitment or risks. Patchi was sold on the idea. Two years later, in 2008, Patchi USA had its online soft launch around the different seasons and holidays.

“Using technology we were able to leapfrog the brand introduction in the US, a vast market in terms of geographic size and population. Obviously, there are people who reside in North America that have familiarity with the brand, but there are a lot more people who have never heard of it and that’s where the opportunity lies.”


Within a short time, Patchi USA achieved significant growth and sales grew by 300% in less than two years. While the clientele is mostly females and Muslims, the consumer base is steadily expanding across the board among American consumers, especially with the acquisition of various corporate accounts such as the Four Seasons Hotels and Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group. The most important brand ambassadors of Patchi are the 75% repeat customers.

Today, Patchi USA has a 10,000 square foot warehouse and offices situated in Santa Barbara, CA with a local team of 10 people. But as they’re part of the larger Patchi Worldwide Group, they have support of the international team behind them.

In his free time, Ziad likes to spend time with his three kids and explore nature. They make frequent visits to the beach, go hiking, and discover new foods and flavors at local markets.

He credits his father as undoubtedly the greatest influence on his life. “My father was a businessman, entrepreneur, and family man. I saw his business affected by the long civil war in Lebanon, but he and his partners would reassemble, restructure, rebuild, adapt and grow. And then do it all over again,” he shares. “This is our faith”, my father would say, “there is always something better to come, you have to be on the lookout and you have to work for it really hard.”

So what is Ziad’s advice to budding entrepreneurs?  “Challenge your assumptions more often, even at the cost of rebuilding. Build a team of believers who are passionate like you early on and pay attention to all your data. It speaks volumes.”

Ahmed Irfan Khan founds booming halal food business

This post was originally published in The Muslim Observer.

After graduating from one of top business schools in the US, would you prefer to work for a Fortune 500 company or run a slaughterhouse? For Ahmed Irfan Khan the choice was very clear. After a brief stint at Bank of America, when the opportunity arose to purchase the only remaining USDA certified slaughterhouse in Chicago, Irfan was quick to take the plunge. Hence, in 2009 he became the Founder & CEO of Barkaat Foods.

When you first meet Ahmed Irfan Khan or “Irfan” as he is known to family and friends, the first thing you notice is his genuine warmth and charm … old world Hyderabadi charm, a city in India where his family originally hails from. So when we were privileged to visit his pristine facility last summer, of course he had the traditional Hyderabadi biryani and Taaza2u lamb steaks waiting to be served to us for lunch. Now that’s hospitality!

Recently we sat down with Khan to have a heart to heart discussion of what his journey has been like.AMCC

The purchase of the slaughterhouse was born out of fulfilling a personal need. “My family and I were always looking for authentic hand-slaughtered Zabihah meat,” Khan said. Many times he, along with his family members would head off to a farm in Wisconsin, personally slaughter the meat themselves, and rent a truck to bring it back to Chicago. He initially bought the slaughterhouse with funding from family and friends. Today, Barkaat Foods is a 40-person operation that supports Zabihah Halal slaughtering of 1,500 heads of lamb, goat, and veal daily. The facility is currently being expanded to include 500 heads of beef weekly as well.

But navigating a business is certainly not an easy task. Khan says he has learned from initial mistakes where he went the traditional route of supplying his products to mom and pop shops. He realized that timely payment was a big issue working with small retailers and ethnic stores. Therefore in 2011, similar to, he launched Taaza2u which specializes in customized, marinated meats and ready-to-cook products delivered directly to customers. They later added the popular “We Grill, You Chill” option in which the Taaza team comes to your home, office, or designated venue and take care of all the preps, cooking, and cleaning while you as the host and guests enjoy. Today, Taaza2u has over 7,000 customers. So far, his effort of targeting South Asian Muslims has been successful. His focus on authenticity and a niche market are the key to his business model. He hopes to replicate this model to expand to twenty major US cities with a sizable Muslim population and target other ethnic groups such as the Middle Eastern and African-American markets.

But Khan doesn’t take being authentic lightly and continues to use Islamic principles to run his business. When he needed 2 million dollars to expand, instead of borrowing money from the bank on interest, he worked with a boutique investment firm to structure a Sharia compliant financing deal. This transaction was recently covered on a USA Today article, “Sharia Financing Growing Popular in the West”.

Khan credits his success to his faith, his parents, and his close knit family. “The barakah comes from them.” From his father, who himself was a CEO of a major company in India, he has taken in advice and lessons learned. In his daily life, his brothers keep him grounded. “They are the “yin to my yang,” he states. In spite of their busy respective schedules, the family still takes time out to relax and play cricket together regularly. They even have an official Taaza2u team that is part of a summer league.

As a father of four, the current climate of Islamophobia makes Khan feel “uncomfortable and threatened”, but his advice to budding entrepreneurs is “if you’re passionate about something, then go ahead and take the risk. Be passionate not only about your business, but about being a positive change in the community. We as entrepreneurs and business professionals need to reach out to fellow Americans and educate them about our faith and principles and set a good example.”

According to Pew Research, with the US Muslim population projected to double in the next 20 years, Khan believes, “Halal is definitely here to stay. The younger generation, the upcoming western educated scholars are taking the conversation to another level.” The term Halal is moving beyond just food and is developing into principles that affect the daily lives of American Muslims.

THIS Toothbrush wants to revolutionize the Miswak industry

It all began when I threw away an empty tube of toothpaste. My grad school professor had asked us to redesign the first object we threw out after class and there I stood that evening staring at my trashcan, tasked with reimagining one of the most mundane objects known to man.

Frantically, I went online and began to research: Where did this seemingly universal routine come from? How did people around the world brush their teeth? What was the history behind it?

Eventually I came across an article about the health benefits of the Miswak, and was immediately intrigued. Although I had spent most of my life in the Middle East, I wasn’t very familiar with the Miswak or its medicinal qualities and was particularly fascinated by its anti-addiction effects on smokers, its proven ability to reduce plaque and tooth decay and the natural components in its bristles that help strengthen enamel.

Over the next week, I sketched out ideas and created prototypes of a product that would re-introduce the Miswak to the world by making it easier to cut and peel as well as carry around on the go- and the first version of THIS was born. I presented the project to the class and put it up on my online portfolio, thinking I would never go back to it.

About a month later, THIS accidentally went viral when a popular industrial design blog featured it online, sparking a series of articles and coverage in various publications, blogs and social media outlets. It was eventually voted #27 on The Dieline’s Top 100 Package Designs of 2011, and won the semifinalist award at the Adobe Design Achievement Awards in 2012.

Soon after, I began receiving emails from around the world from curious investors, distributors and supporters asking where they could get their hands on the product. I realized that there were millions of Miswak users who had been waiting for a modern solution to carrying and cutting their miswak, and lots of non-Miswak users who were fascinated by a healthy, natural alternative to dental hygiene. By the time I finished grad school in 2012, my inbox was still flooding with emails from around the world. I decided to take a leap of faith and set off to make THIS a reality along with my partner Omar Farha, a fellow Lebanese entrepreneur based in New York. We revisited the design, ran a successful crowdfunding campaign to raise money, filed our patents, found the right manufacturers and suppliers, and launched our bilingual brand and website.

We’re excited to share that our first product, the Cutter Case, is finally in production and is expected to launch in early 2015. It features a signature auto-lock cutter cap with two blades that allow for easy cutting and peeling, as well as a transparent tube that keeps your Miswak fresh and clean. Each Cutter Case comes with two all-natural Miswak sticks, with the option of purchasing refill packs of our Miswak whenever you run out. We’ve also partnered with The Miswak Foundation to launch a special campaign that distributes Miswak sticks to people in underprivileged communities with little access to clean water and dental care.

The road to creating THIS has not been easy, but it has been an exciting and rewarding journey to say the least. We hope to become the leading brand for Miswak and Miswak products, and to celebrate this sacred tradition by making it relevant and accessible in our modern age. We want our products to elevate the experience of regular Miswak users, and raise awareness among non-Miswak users about the natural and organic benefits it provides. In our fast-paced world, we believe it is important to value the knowledge of those who came thousands of years before us.

To learn more, visit our website, or Like us on Facebook or email us at