Shadia has worked incredibly hard to create the business that it is today, although her children are older now, when they were younger she juggled family and work commitments with nannies and childminders. Today the business is a huge success with the range being stocked in Booths, and Shadia now employing her two sisters and nephew. It’s lovely to hear how Shadia has made this a family business which was one her dreams. For me the best part of the interview is hearing her top tips for success, and how the fear of not doing something (or the fear of regret) is one of Shadia’s business drivers which is a really interesting way to look at it. I would love for you to have a read of Shadia’s business story below….
Tell me a little bit about you, your background, and your business?
My name is Shadia Al Hili. A single mum with two children – my son who’s 23 and a daughter who’s 15. In 2019 I launched a Middle Eastern food brand called CUZENA, which means ‘kitchen’ in Moroccan. Our flagship product is our delicious range of fava bean-based dips, Madamous. For those who haven’t yet tried it, is a bit like hummus’s although it’s a blend of ingredients that can be heated so enjoyed hot as much as a meal rather than a conventional dip!
We offer accessible authenticity of middle eastern food straight to your table, our first range is naturally healthy and plant based.
What were your motivations for setting up your business?
I consider myself to have a life-long entrepreneurial spirit – I’ve worked for myself for over 22 years! It began with a shoe and trainer unit shop in Affleck’s Palace in Manchester, when I found myself ‘jobless’ after the Manchester bombings, which in turn led to launching a clothes shop. For a short time, I was employed specifically in the ancient art of threading providing treatments at shops including Harrods and Harvey Nichols. But having been self-employed in the past, I realised I was not cut out for salaried income. I set up my own beauty business even though I was new to all other practises of beauty. Having experienced the freedom of self-employment that risk taking entrepreneurial spirit kicks in, with a unwavering self-determination of making it work! So I opened a beauty salon specialising in threading and then branched out into different areas of beauty. The growth of businesses acumen has allowed me to enter the food sector again which I had no prior experience in, just a steal focused determination to see a new journey through. Hence me setting up the Cuzena brand.
I have a Middle Eastern background and have loved Ful Madamous since I was a child, and I have always given it to my children. A few years back, on realising that Ful Madamous could not be found anywhere in a barcoded, ready-made format. I had light bulb moment It became my objective to develop a recipe which would suit British taste and textural expectations and to sit alongside current products as an alternative to hummus.
How do you balance the business around your family and childcare?
I don’t have small children anymore, but when they were younger I had au pairs, my family and outside help too, so I could run my businesses without feeling like I was compromising on giving my children the very best upbringing possible. These days we try to plan time together doing activities. They are older so they are forever wanting to spend time with their friends, but in scheduling activities it forces me to dedicate a stretch of time to them, rather than trying to fit in time around other things. And the same goes for them. At the end of January I was involved in a freak running accident, and although I’ve recovered from it, the experience has given me a completely new perspective. At heart I believe health is wealth, but when you are running a new business your health becomes less a priority. The accident reminded me to be mindful of my core beliefs as long as they are healthy, the small stuff doesn’t matter. I don’t worry as much and I make sure I’m there for them more than ever. I’m doing the cooking at home (again) and putting work-life balance first.
Since setting up your business what’s been your biggest success to date?
My biggest success has been seeing our product in stores and knowing that we are the first company to put a barcoded, ready-made Madamous product on supermarket shelves in this country. Now we are in Booths, which is our first major supermarket stockist – but it certainly won’t be the last! These two achievements have been our biggest fundamental successes. Madamous will shortly be available through a nationwide ecommerce site, so watch this space…
I’ve also fulfilled a dream I’ve had since I was young, and that has been employing my family. Now my two sisters and nephew work with me, and I had always imagined having a family business. If you know me, you’ll know that family is number one, always. Anytime you grow your team, you’re responsible for other employees so there is added pressure to make the business a success – after all, their pay is dependent on you! Having a family business is no different, but it motivates me and it drives me to push the business even further and so when things are going right, or on days when everything seems to be going wrong, that keeps me focussed and on track.
What are your top tips for anyone who is thinking about setting up their own business?
I’ve noticed that very sadly a lot of people spend time wondering what would have happened if they didn’t have a certain obstacle in their way. Or they likewise allow fear of failure to stop them pursuing their dreams.
Being an entrepreneur is part of who I am, and I’d much rather be the driver of my destiny, than the passenger in someone else’s journey. I want and need to know the end of my own story.
For me, it’s not a fear of failure that stifles me, it’s a fear of regret that drives me – that I could look back and wonder, ‘what if’. I think for people with an entrepreneurial mindset it’s important to reframe any failures on the journey as growth. If you’re building a business, aspire to ‘fail forward’.
You will grow through the setbacks, the decisions that do not fall in your favour! You may not be the foremost expert in a sector, but you can’t let that stop you from moving forward. Passion will kick in and the money will only be a factor in the grand scale of your dreams. It’s about your strength of character and determination to achieve what you set out to do. I always say that you have to prepared to get uncomfortable before you become comfortable. So don’t expect to be confident in every situation, it’s fine to just learn and grow in your new field that’s the exciting part actually!
Be aware of how you measure success! I don’t believe success should only be measured on whether it was a financial success. If in the long run you don’t achieve the success that you aspired to in growing your business, at least you went for your aspirations and there is success in doing that which is commendable and a credit to your strength of character for taking the leap when so many people do not have the gumption to be the driver of their own destiny….That is success to me but importantly you very well may reach your full aspiration and reach financial freedom that exceeded your expectations (and smash your profit +loss predictions) you will never know unless you just try!
Good luck in all you do, Shadia.
Thank you so much Shadia being part of my series, it has been fantastic to feature you and I wish you all the best in the future.
If you like what you’re reading and would love to be part of my Parents in Business series just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or have a nose at some of the other businesses I have featured in the series: Gray & Greenry, Oliiki, and Sprout.