Fahad Awadh is co-founder of YYTZ Agro-Processing, a Tanzania-based cashew production company that focuses on exporting high-quality nuts.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
I have faced many challenges on my entrepreneurial journey. My modus operandi for dealing with setbacks and challenges can be summed up by this quote from Marcus Aurelius: “Our actions may be impeded… but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt.
“The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
I am an avid reader of Stoic philosophy and the work of Seneca. Stoicism is a great operating system for the entrepreneur as it teaches you to see opportunity in your setbacks and focus your energies on moving through rather than feeling paralysed by dwelling on the circumstances.
It is the undying belief in your vision and your goal that will always push you through any obstacles that arise. On the entrepreneurial journey, you must expect setbacks and challenges. By knowing this, you will be prepared to always find a way through. Each of these obstacles is an opportunity to practise some virtue and improve your condition as a result.
Throughout history, great individuals are those able to transform weakness and setbacks into strength.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
We have a farmer programme in Singida region, one of the poorest regions in Tanzania. We are empowering rural smallholder farmers to start growing cashews. We provide them with training on Good Agricultural Practices, agronomy advice and all the tools to ensure that they are successful.
We have taken a group of farmers for training at the Agricultural Research Institute. There they learned about cashew production, establishing a nursery, planting seedlings and disease control and prevention. By teaching these farmers how to fish, rather than giving them fish, we have supported them to establish a cashew nursery in their village.
The Cashewnut Board of Tanzania provided us with the best hybrid seeds. The government then buys the seedlings from the farmers; so they have now created their own business. This season, through this nursery, we will distribute 67,000 seedlings to farmers in this area.
Once the farmers begin harvesting we will build our second Cashew Farmer Processing Centre in this area. Farmers will have access to storage units and will be able to use semi-automatic shelling machines to add value to their own crop. We then purchase the semi-processed cashews from them at a higher price. We are helping farmers to participate in the value addition and, as a result, earn more income.
To join our programme we ask farmers to fill in a registration form, where we also ask for feedback. Some of the feedback we get from farmers is they want to join the programme because they feel they will be able to improve their lives and those of their children.
This is why we are in business.
The “why” for us starts with the smallholder farmer: we are building a cashew value chain that includes smallholder farmers. Our goal is to uplift farmers [and]… to export a finished product that offers traceability to consumers and provides value to rural farmers. I want you to visit Singida region in four to five years and see a change in the livelihood of the rural farmers.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
As an entrepreneur starting and growing a company, each stage will require a different set of skills. As your company grows you will need to recruit the best people to join your team. These are skills that I didn’t have.
I have been able to learn new skills and best practices by reading and then implementing these lessons into my business. The Economist calls unsuccessful hiring “the single biggest problem in business today”. Hiring the right people as you grow your company becomes even more important when you’re a start-up. “Who: The A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart, is an excellent book on how to hire the right people.
I derive my reading list from “The Tim Ferriss Show” podcast. Tim interviews world-class performers to give listeners insight into their habits, routines and books that they recommend. The guests include tech billionaires, venture capital fund managers, professional athletes and Tim himself.
I am constantly reading about great companies and their leaders; these include Toyota, HP, GE, Nike. I take lessons from these companies and apply them to my business. In order to build a great company, you need to learn from the best.
I am currently reading “Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results” by Mike Rother. A great book that takes lessons from the world’s greatest manufacturer and provides actionable tools to build continuous improvement into your business.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
I disagree with the conventional advice that business isn’t responsible for improving the society in which it operates. I believe that business has a responsibility to make a positive contribution to society – a business is a functioning part of society. In addition a business must make profit, this will allow it to invest and sustainably grow as it continues to positively contribute to society.
I often get asked the same question: “How does it make business sense for you to do so much for the farmer?” My answer is I have a responsibility to build a value chain and a responsibility to that farmer. I must treat that farmer better than I treat my customers, I must offer him/her real value. Without the farmer, I don’t have a business. My business must improve that farmer’s life, that is my contribution to society.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
I thank God for everything.
I started my entrepreneurship journey when I was 12 years old. I grew up in Toronto, Canada. At the age of 11 I was accepted into an International Business and Technology programme. We were taught marketing, entrepreneurship and accounting from that age. The next year, we had to develop a product and build a business.
Our exam was to sell our product at the District School Board Trade Fair. My business partner and I made scented candles and we sold out at the trade fair. This experience lit the entrepreneurial flame inside me: I have been on that journey ever since. The journey has been incredible and I have learned many lessons – and I continue to learn more every day.