Young Muslim Entrepreneur:
What She Did the Day She Skipped School
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
MY youngest sister Hanan (aged 9) was staying over with me and didn’t want to go to school (because she was crying the previous night missing our mom who was travelling). In the early afternoon she got bored and wanted to do something else after spending the morning sketching and doodling. I randomly recalled a Dennis the Menace cartoon where Dennis and Margaret sold lemonade in their neighborhood and said to her:
“Why don’t you make a lemonade stall and sell lemonade?“
Now that was totally off the top of my head because:
- I was completely out of ideas to entertain her after almost a week of doing everything else possible AND
- NOBODY, ESPECIALLY not girls, sets up lemonade stalls on ANY corner of ANY neighborhood in Saudi Arabia. ESPECIALLY not in front of a mosque.
Within 3 hours, we brainstormed, set up, launched and sold out our lemonade business!
Hanan and Ahmed (my 6 year old brother-in-law) learnt some incredible lessons that school would take years to teach them.
The plan was to set up the stall at the mosque right opposite the house, right before Asr prayer ends so the stall is ready when people leave the mosque and the juice doesn’t get warm by being out too long. So before the prayer ended, they ran across the road and placed the table, glasses and their stall’s sign.
Just as she was about to leave the house gate holding the jug of lemonade, her end product, she panicked. Her face was pale and she was frantic and nervous, insisting that I should come along (she was out of her mind literally because there was NO WAY a woman in Saudi Arabia stands in front of a mosque when male worshippers are about to leave).
She said: “Nannu I can’t go alone, no no you have to come with me! All the men are coming out, how can I go now??! Ahmed! Ahmed! Nannu, Ahmed is lost in his own world, I can’t go alone!“
“Hanan there’s no way I can come with you, either you go or you scrap the whole thing and just come back. You have the jug in your hands, are you sure you don’t want to go now? Go Hanan!”
“I can’t Nannu! You have to come with me!“
“Hanan all the men are leaving, you won’t have anyone to buy your juice! GO!“
She suddenly mustered up all her courage and crossed the road, jug held tightly in her hand and went to place it on the table they’d set up.
I couldn’t believe it. I realized that I was as nervous as her, and I’d sent her out into an all-adult, all-male space that I myself would cringe from inhabiting as the sole female. She was breaking taboos and so many conventional barriers by taking that one leap of faith!
Both of them were nervous, the sign kept falling, despite them testing how they would prop it at home (supported by a tissue box and a pencil box).
They’d lost half their customers when Hanan had got the jitters just when she was supposed to complete the stall by taking the lemonade. Here they are, waiting for their first customer.
And he came! This guy strolled by, most probably came out of the mosque and put his hand in his pocket even before figuring out what was on sale.
This mad idea was totally unseen and unheard of in KSA. And this guy had already decided to support it just by seeing kids doing something revolutionary. And so Hanan poured her first glass of lemonade!
This is for the record: don’t ever forget your first customer.
No sooner did the first guy leave did they get their second customer!
Here they are happpily discussing their first sales!
“Who will buy your juice? No one will buy your juice“, an adult in the family had told them when they were looking for glue to make their sign.
Often, discouragement, ridicule and lack of support of our dreams and potential starts right from home, where our confidence and capabilities should actually be groomed. Guess how many people bought their juice?
Here’s a very excited Ahmad looking at me clicking away from the window while trying to make sure I’m hidden.
Here’s another customer
Hanan and Ahmed’s revolutionary lemonade stall: 2 riyals for a glass of freshly squeezed chilled lemonade!
Here’s someone they’ll never forget. This was their first anonymous donor. He paid them for a glass and told them he’ll come in a while to collect his lemonade. He was smiling so widely. He never came back, despite the kids waiting.
Lesson: People you don’t even know will support you in ways you never expected, just because you made them so happy by your effort, ideas or intentions. Unlike alot of people you know and are supposed to be your well-wishers. So Allah sends support from where you least expect, even when your own don’t believe in you.
Things are looking up!
Elder brother in law showing support for the family venture
Attracting a crowd: the kids from next door all wanted a glass of lemonade!
They managed to get the curious girls out of the house too!
Who wants a glass of fresh lemonade?!
When the steady stream of customers began to slow down, Ahmed suggested to Hanan to close shop because no one was coming. She said “Let’s wait some more.” Just then, their next anonymous donor walks by.
He passed on his support and encouragement and walked away.
Lesson: there will ALWAYS be people who believe in you. Just keep going.
We thought this was going to be their first drive-through order, turned out to be a drive-through anonymous supporter who handed them 7 riyals and drove off!
Almost sold out, but also the lowest point of their business. No one seemed to be coming anymore. So I suggested to them to change their location and make their stall more visible by turning it around to face the road. Yet, no one seemed to stop and buy a glass. Guess who came then?
Lesson: You can prepare, advertise and position your product in all the smart ways you know. Still people will pass you by and not be interested. Your sustenance will come to you only if Allah sends it to you.
Happy customers always come back! The next door neighbors wanted more lemonade
Lesson: what matters most to customers is what you have to offer. Make your product and service your primary focus and don’t compromise on either. Tailor it to suit your environment and your customers.
While preparing to set up the stall, there was lots of fuss about how to prop up the sign, what kind of paper to use. “How can we use A4 sized papers taped together Nannu, that will look horrible!!” “How can we make the sign stand without sticks, we don’t have sticks, we don’t have big paper, our stall’s going to look so bad!“
I told Hanan she had to make her stall with whatever material was available, so she doesn’t end up incurring alot of cost and making a little profit at the end of it. Eventually, the major chunk of prep time went into trying to hoist the sign on wooden sticks which totally failed. We had 10 minutes to make the juice before prayer started. I’d instructed her earlier to keep water in the fridge so it’s cold when we need to make the juice, so that was ready. We quickly squeezed lemons and added sugar, kept tasting, and kept adding lemons and sugar till we perfected our juice. It was ready in the nick of time and we had time to put it back in the fridge!
When it sold out, we learnt that people don’t care all that much about how perfect everything ‘looks’, but how worthwhile your actual product is.
They bought the last glasses of Hanan and Ahmed’s lemonade
After a long (hour) of work, Hanan and Ahmed closed shop after having successfully sold out!
Jubilant Hanan and Ahmad, exhausted and back home with an empty jug and a pouch full of cash! I asked them both what they learnt from their first experience of doing business:
Hanan: “That you should always keep change. And you should work in a covered area. You should be prepared at the right time, or else you’ll lose a lot of customers. And you have to wait patiently sometimes.“
Ahmed: “I learnt how to say things in Arabic!“
They made a total of 42 riyals! They sold 14 glasses of lemonade (which got them SR28) , and the remaining SR 14 was a show of support by so many wonderful people.
People didn’t just leave them with their first earnings, but a great sense of confidence, achievement and support. And lessons they’ll remember for a lifetime, inshaAllah!