The Founder of ADILI Asel Adil on How to Quit Your Corporate Job to Start a Business

КАРЬЕРА
As one of the top experts in the financial sphere, the founder and creative director of the ADILI brand, Asel Adil, tells how to launch a brand of Kazakhstani accessories, make it famous and eventually establish its own production in the country.

You can also read this article in Russian (на русском языке).
Gulmira Kussainova
October 2, 2019
Asel Adil
How to open a business during the financial crisis
The idea came about when I was looking for work following my graduation. For almost a year I could not find anything — I just graduated from the university when a financial crisis broke out. I had to do something, so I started working on ADILI.

Initially I studied at KIMEP, after which I spent one year аbroad as part of the Bolashak program abroad, and when I returned to Kazakhstan, my sister and I began to discuss all the possibilities of starting our own business. My first thought was — why not start with accessories? First of all, it was difficult to sew clothes with a national ornament. Secondly, I thought that a better idea would be to make stylish and colorful accessories that could complement the look. Therefore, the first products of ADILI were leather bags and scarves. The first thing that I came up with was a red leather clutch. Then we started making scarves.

The brand name ADILI is named after our father, whose name is Adil. My sister's and my surname also comes from my father's name. We have put a lot of thought into choosing our brand name and looked at a variety of beautiful words in the Kazakh language. Eventually, one night I came up with ADILI.
For the first few years, the process of developing the brand was like a hobby. My sister, Indira, was the financial supporter of the project, while I was fully focused on creating designs. Simultaneously I was also working for a financial company. So essentially, I never had a goal of running a business. My parents worked all of their lives in the civil service in the public sector, and there was no one in the family who would do business and be our role model. For my sister and I, it just happened on its own.

As I was saying, Indira helped provide the start-up capital. A small investment of $10,000 was affordable to many. Accordingly financial risks were small. I was 23 years old when we launched the project — quiet young in my opinion. Nobody would risk to give me a lot of money back then, and I myself would not dare to ask.

For a long time, we did not attract outside investment and were growing financed by our own income. It was organic growth — everything that we earned was invested back into the business again. I never had to take money from the business, since I worked and earned enough.
How to manage a full-time job and business
at the same time
Balancing both was a challenge — at my main work I had long working hours. But when I got married and went on maternity leave, there was more time that I could devote to ADILI. Then we expanded our product range, opened a third store in Almaty. So as soon as the child turned one, I went back to work. Six months later, I realized that it was no longer possible to combine work, business and family.

It was a difficult time when I had to choose between work and business. Business is like a second child. It is very hard to make the decision to close it. At the same time, running the business is much more challenging than to be employed. I decided to focus on my business, but this process was long and morbid. Even after I made the decision, I was worried for a very long time whether I did the right thing, maybe it was not worth giving up stable earnings and growth prospects.
I must say, I still remember the corporate sector. Working for someone for a stable salary is much easier than running your own business. When hired you are given certain tasks, you have clearly defined areas of responsibility. While in business, your responsibilities are vast.

I have been running a full time business for four years. A lot has happened during this time. The most important milestone was when we opened our production. Before making this challenging decision, we studied the market, went to exhibitions, visited factories in Turkey, Italy and China, watched how their production facilities operated, and talked with professionals.
How to launch your own production in Kazakhstan
Outsourced manufacturing is thousands of times easier than getting your own production going. We opened our first store in Astana — it was very small and the product range was very limited. Before opening it, we explored the market — looked at the competitors, went to the village of craftsmen near Almaty and talked with them. At first, we really wanted to produce everything here ourselves, right down to the packaging. We looked at what opportunities there were and got disappointed — at that time there simply were not any production opportunities in Kazakhstan, or rather, we were not satisfied with the quality. Therefore, we began to look for suppliers and factories that would agree to work with small volumes.
In Kazakhstan, very few people specialize in the textile printing industry; everyone mainly sews. This is both good and bad. It is bad because there is actually no one to even consult with. Therefore, before starting our production, we have collected all the information ourselves. I went to exhibitions, and I had a task: to ask as many questions as possible, take notes, collect catalogs. I tried to get as much information as possible from every professional I met on my way.

By the way, I learned this thorough approach from my mentor, the founder of Zibroo, Elena Alexandrovna Svechnikova. I remember how she showed and told me about how her business operated, and said that if she went on vacation for two months, work processes would remain unchanged. These words stuck in my head, and I wanted the business processes in our company to work at such a level.

We found a consultant who helped shape the budget for our needs and helped find the right equipment — we wanted a small printing house. It took us a year and a half to get a loan, to purchase and install equipment that was all prefabricated. In 2018, we launched production in the Almaty region.

The equipment was mainly handled by my spouse, who is actually not from this work field either — he is a financier, but, as it turns out, with good technical skills. Engineers from two different countries came to us simultaneously to install and set up the equipment, and since at that time we did not have a technical worker yet, the engineers taught us everything. We absorbed new information like a sponge — we took notes, made videos, and in the evening we tried to review all the collected information to prepare questions for the next day. We followed this routine for two weeks. When the experts left, we created a small library with detailed technical guidelines that specified how often we had to change the paint, what the room's temperature and humidity should be, and even which buttons to press.
Outsourced manufacturing is thousands of times easier than getting your own production going
How to solve the staffing problem
In the textile industry, most companies face two problems — the lack of raw materials and human resources. I believe that staffing is not the biggest problem. There are some difficulties, but they are not the top priority. Personnel can be trained. The main thing is to understand the processes yourself, how and what is being done, in order to teach others about them later.
For instance, Kazakhstani educational institutions do not specifically train designers for textile design. We solve this problem on our own — we order specific reading materials (mainly in English), create a small knowledge base within the company. Because what else can we do? I work in finance, and so I had no formal art education. But there was always a desire to make something with my own hands. I learned a lot on my own. Nine years ago, it was hard to find lessons on YouTube, so I searched everywhere for books on graphics and design.

In my opinion, if you have your own vision of the business, you can choose the right people and train them. In fact, we would not be able to open our production if we were not capable of understanding every detail ourselves. People tend to come and go. But knowledge should stay in the company.

I can not say for sure that if I had to be in charge of printing or processing right now that I would be able to do everything. But I can always give instructions to someone.
How to run a business partnership with your sister
I have always had the support of the ones close to me. From my sister, who supported my idea financially at the very beginning, to my parents and family. Without their support, I would not dare to open anything. I always listen to what they have to say.

I can not remember any specific difficulties occurring at the start of the project — I knew that everything could be solved. I had no fear because I was young and did not really know what I might face and what difficulties could lie ahead. With age, a person begins to analyze and calculate more, and it becomes more difficult to start something new. You rely on your knowledge and experience, and sometimes that can really get in the way.

My sister also worked in finance for a long time, and has literally just joined the business last year. She took over many administrative tasks, while I became mostly involved in production.

At first, my sister and I did not have any assigned responsibilities. And only recently, we began to determine who does what.
You rely on your knowledge and experience, and sometimes that can really get in the way
Now we produce home textiles and accessories. There are leather products, but they are made in smaller quantities. There is a lot of work ahead: we need to finalize our website, manage social networks and build communication with our consumers. We are often shorthanded, and sometimes we lack the expertise of employees.

Today it is not important where you manufacture your products. Intellectual property is what is important. Labels such as "Made in Italy" are no longer as significant as the design is. Therefore, it is worth talking more about the brand. Yes, we have established the local production, created jobs — over the past two years our staff has grown from four to forty people. But it is much cooler to realize that such manufacturers of brands like ADILI technically do not even exist in the Kazakhstani market.

Unfortunately, intellectual property is not particularly valued in our country. Therefore, we try to patent all our prints. But even this does not protect us from the fact that others copy us, sometimes without even changing the color scheme. They not only copy our prints, but also some of our original ideas.
Business tips from ADILI brand's founder Asel Adil:
When starting your business, it is important to understand — by offering a certain product or service, do you solve your own problem or the problem of humanity? Most of the time people open their own business with the following thoughts: "I can not find this in the market, so that is something that I need to produce!" But if you only want to satisfy your own needs, your business will not work.
Before launching your project, it is worthwhile to conduct at least a little research. It is essential to carry out a survey among your friends and acquaintances to find out how interesting your product or service would be to them. The second point is to see how much the potential market is already filled with other manufacturers or service providers.
If there is no unique selling point, it is not worth starting your business.
Of course, you can open a beauty salon and just let it exist. And basically try to keep your business afloat. The question is, what do you really want — something unique or just something to do? I think if you want to start something, you need to bring something new to the table.
When you stand still, you are actually moving backwards. Meanwhile the rest are moving forward.
Photos were provided by Asel Adil
Translated by Aruzhan Akhylbekova
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