“My mom will never lack money”. A story about an NU alumni who launched a startup with $1 million turnover per year
Ayan Birimzhan is an alumnus of Nazarbayev University School of Sciences and Humanities, cofounder of the healthy food service “HEALTH PROJECT”, entrepreneur, a 25 year old charismatic, extremely fit young man, responsible son, caring brother and an eligible bachelor.
Today’s startup “HEALTH PROJECT” is a chain of healthy food canteens with $1 million turnover per year, a team with 55 employees, and thousands of thankful clients.
Now the details.
Ayan, how did the idea of creating “HEALTH PROJECT” come to you?
Well, in the beginning of our interview, I want to share my observations on how to launch a startup:
1) If you like doing something or have a hobby, it is in this area that you should open a startup.
2) If you do not have any hobby, but you see a social problem in society and know how to solve it, you should definitely open a project in this area.
In my case, both factors combined: I loved what I was doing and saw the solution to a social need in providing healthy food for those who did not know how to get it. I mean, I love bodybuilding, taking care of my health and food I eat, that is why I chose this kind of project. Moreover, it all started with the fact that it was difficult for me to cook for myself or ask my mother, and I thought it would be wonderful to have such a service, through which healthy ready meals were delivered daily. When I got the idea, I felt as if I had learned the secret of the world! I did not tell anyone. After a couple of weeks, I finally shared it with my mom, and she supported me.
“I promised myself that I would endow not only myself but also my parents with everything they need”
When did you launch the project?
The reason for launching this project was the lack of money in my family. There are five sons in our family and I am the fourth. My parents worked hard and our family never had any financial problems. However, in 2015, my father took two loans to build a house and the biggest part of our monthly income was spent to pay them off. Only once someone got paid we went food shopping. One day when I came back home after a sports training (that time I was actively preparing for competition), I saw that the fridge was full of meals and all kinds of food, although it was not payday. When I asked mom, she answered that she did not have money and so she pawned a precious ring, my father’s present.
For me, this was a turning point.
Being a third-year student of Nazarbayev University, healthy and strong, say safe-and-sound, I realized that I was busy with various useless stuff like watching videos on Youtube and entertaining with friends, but never thought about taking the responsibility for my family. I then promised myself that I would endow my parents with everything they need. I did not really know how to do that, but I had a desire to launch my own project.
“You either do something or leave things as they are”
Now when you had idea and desire what did you start with?
When you have the WHAT FOR, you always find the HOW. That is why when there was the WHAT FOR and for WHOM I do everything, the tools of HOW to do this also appeared. Without clear understanding of what to do, I understood that I needed to do something.
Well, actually together with mom we started cooking food in our kitchen following recipes that I found on the Internet. I wrote to my relatives, friends and classmates: Do you want your body be as fit as mine? I will cook your meals with my mom at our house!
This was the start of the «Natural» project, the main idea of which was to achieve a certain result (good physical shape) with the help of proper nutrition, without chemicals and anabolic drugs.
At that time, I was in great physical shape thanks to active trainings and bodybuilding competitions, and people trusted me. My first clients were two of my elder brothers. They gave me 50 thousand tenge each. I spent them on products, my mother got up at 6.00 a.m. and cooked until 7.30 a.m. and then I took the order to my brothers. Then the orders came from friends and others. When more orders for food came from outsiders, we started thinking about expanding.
“The project was then renamed “HEALTH PROJECT” with the idea to create something global, not only healthy food, but also a brand of clothing, gyms, etc. But this is all in the future!”
My brother’s friend had a plant and a cook, he was interested in my idea and we became partners. I was lucky because I did not have to pay the rent, and we split the net profit in half. We worked together for a couple of months, and then our paths diverged. He went into business in another area, and I decided to stay in the sphere of food service and continue the project.
It is important to remember that 80% of your success depends on where you are and with whom and whether you are there at the right time. The will of chance plays a very important role in our lives. If I had not been an NU student I would have never known about possibilities of my own projects.
What did you get from NU?
I have experience in studying in both KZ and foreign universities. Therefore, I can say that the methods of teaching and books are in a way the same. Though there is a key point that everything depends on the student himself, who either studies or not. Education at NU gave me a lot, personally. First, enormous international experience, thanks to the NU international staff. Second, the ability to survive in fierce competition, as all the students to be enrolled to NU pass hard exams, thus you are surrounded by the keepers of “Altyn belgi” and the winners of various Olympiads. This makes you study hard and motivates you to be successful, indeed. Third, the skills that I currently use in my business. One of my closest friends, a successful businessperson, once said, “If you studied Econometrics at university and you don’t know how to use this knowledge in your work in the sphere of food service, it is your problem and it doesn’t mean that the university didn’t give you enough. It means that you do not know how to use the given knowledge”. Fourth, networking and environment, which shaped my personality as an ambitious and good young man. Fifth, NU taught me to rely on myself, as the demands for all students are very high and strict, it is not allowed to cheat, cut corners, etc.
“HEALTH PROJECT” is a project of healthy meals, so how did you design the menu?
Indeed, we pay special attention to the menu, trying to diversify it in every possible way. We have invited diet specialists and nutritionists to create the right menu. This year, together with the Association of Chefs of the capital, we managed to significantly improve it. Now there are more than 50 different dishes on the menu. On the website, you can calculate how many calories per day you need and make an order. In addition, all our customers have the opportunity to visit our nutritionist and after the consultation to choose the necessary menu.
What are your plans?
In the nearest future, we plan to launch several coffee islands and vending machines for healthy food. A kind of new format that we plan to launch in Nur-Sultan and Almaty.
In addition, I would like to share my experience as a startup founder and entrepreneur, to share, not to train. I think it would be useful if the subject “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” were in our schools. I am glad that National Chamber of Entrepreneurs of Kazakhstan “Atameken” has already launched a series of guest lectures in several schools, and I believe that high school pupils should be taught a culture of entrepreneurship.
“There is an axiom in bodybuilding. The more stress you create for your muscles, the more muscle growth will respond. Yeah, it’s harder for an athlete, but once he crosses that threshold, he can get stronger”
Do you still do bodybuilding?
During my studies at NU, I had active trainings; every day when I woke up, I was wondering about how many exercises I would make on the bar during my training. Five times, I participated in competitions and took first place. Now I no longer have such ambitions, but I try to stay in shape.
M.K. Did you buy back the Ring?
A.B. Yes, almost in a month, my father bought it back himself. However, there is still debt left in my family and I will do everything so that my mother does not lack anything. A year ago, I bought my father a car! There’s only one thing I’m sorry for doing it only at 24, not before.
In addition, five secrets of Ayan?
- You can open a cafe without being a chef.
- 80% of your success depends on where you are, with whom and if you are there at the right time.
- If there is WHY you will always find out HOW.
- You choose whether you do something or live with what you have.
- Choose the strategy you are going to follow. No matter what decision you make, it will always be the right one.
“I don’t just believe that anyone can dramatically change their life for the better, I know that because I know people who have already done it and they are an example to me. I know for sure that I will succeed, because it’s important for me, for my family and my loved ones”
- Details of Nazarbayev University’s admissions and academic programs can be found here.