An Interview With Aziza Khairun, Founder, Food Shelf [FS Student Entrepreneurship Series]

An Interview With Aziza Khairun, Founder, Food Shelf [FS Student Entrepreneurship Series]

Aziza started her venture during her second year of university and today Food Shelf is serving customers all over the Bangladesh

Aziza Khairun is the Founder of Food Shelf, Bangladesh’s first online based organic food store which is also a very good example of how to capitalize on local resources. Aziza is 2nd child of her parents among her four siblings and comes from a upper middle class family rooted in Khulna. She is currently a student of Khulna University studying BA with major in English and an active member of Volunteer for Bangladesh (VBD). Aziza started her venture during her second year of university and today Food Shelf is serving customers, most of them are women, all over the Bangladesh. Initially Food Shelf carried only 2 products, and now there are 38 items in its product line.

Our collective culture is leaned against youth and it sets boundary. And if you are a student many parents even prohibit you from reading books other than your academic one let alone starting a business. Lack of fund and support related to fund are few critical problems to name. But even then there are people who show courage to take risk and walk uncharted path. Aziza is one of those people.

We believe Aziza’s story will inspire you to be more courageous and to take your initiative and also guide you through your ambivalence and journey alike.

One day one of the Apus [sisters] living in Chittagong asked me if I could deliver her some honey as she knew that I lived in Khulna. At that time my maternal uncle was involved in Honey supply business which he still is. So I sought his help and delivered a good amount of honey to that apu in Chittagong.

Tell us how the idea of ‘Food Shelf’ came to your mind.

I started using Facebook in 2007. At that time I was member of different groups which were working for raising awareness of different needs of women. There I came to know many apus, who added me in their networks. This way I had built a strong network with women all over the country.

One day one of the Apus [sisters] living in Chittagong asked me if I could deliver her some honey as she knew that I lived in Khulna. At that time my maternal uncle was involved in Honey supply business which he still is. So I sought his help and delivered a good amount of honey to that apu in Chittagong. Then that apu gave another order which I delivered as well. This inspired me to start my own business and that’s how I started Food Shelf

How do you operate Food Shelf?

Food Shelf delivers organic food products to all over Bangladesh. My extended family is involved in organic food production. So what I do is that I collect orders from customers through my Facebook page and according to the orders I collect the best products utilizing my family contacts and deliver through courier.

Other than you, is there anyone else involved with Food Shelf?

I take help from two other women from Mahila Shamiti to help me with packaging. I also hire deliveryman in time to time to deliver within Khulna. As I said before, I collect the products from my own family production farm. But the online store is maintained be myself alone.

I wanted to do something independently, something which I can handle according to my convenience. So I seized this opportunity to start this business. Since I had the backup from my family and I have access to internet, the idea of Food Shelf felt like a perfect match for me.

Food shelf 02

Food shelf 02

What was your underlying motivation behind starting Food Shelf?

Though I never had faced any economic hardship and I used to get pocket money from my parents, still I never wanted to put a burden on family to provide my daily expenses. So I have always tried to earn on my own to cover my personal expenses. I was involved with some freelance jobs and content writing jobs. But in such jobs there were always a pressure or deadlines to meet up. I wanted to do something independently, something which I can handle according to my convenience. So I seized this opportunity to start this business. Since I had the backup from my family and I have access to internet, the idea of Food Shelf felt like a perfect match for me.

What are the popular products of Food Shelf?

Food Shelf includes not only traditional foods of Bangladesh but also traditional elements used for beauty enhancement. The popular products are:

  • Honey
  • Mustard
  • Coconut Oil
  • Alamond Oil
  • Chandan
  • Atap Rice
  • Betion
  • Turmeric
  • Trifola Powder
  • Bason Powder
Food Shelf Products

Food Shelf Products

What are the unique features of Food Shelf’s products?

Food shelf works for a healthy and beautiful tomorrow. All products are natural, pure and made under personal care of Food Shelf. All of the products are preservative and adulteration free.

Courier Services don’t provide professional service and when they lost or deliver your products to wrong person seldom you can get any compensation. The courier system of Bangladesh is maintained with utter negligence and it seems there is no regulation for them.

What are the problems you face while running Food Shelf?

Poor logistics is the main challenge of running Food Shelf. Courier Services don’t provide professional service and when they lost or deliver your products to wrong person seldom you can get any compensation. The courier system of Bangladesh is maintained with utter negligence and it seems there is no regulation for them. It happened with Food Shelf that Courier did not deliver the product on time or delivered to the wrong person. Moreover, often products get lost, stolen and are delivered to the wrong address. Since I do not use any preservative in my products, the products get rotten due to the delay of the courier service. I have to take the burden of all these losses as customers usually pay me in advance and I am bound to serve them.

There were a few incidents of fraud from the customers. But most of my customers are honest and sincere so I don’t take it as major issue.

Did you face any unwanted situation for being a woman entrepreneur?

Unfortunately, yes I did. There are many ill-mannered people in Bangladesh who love to cause trouble to women without any reason. I sometimes receive foul calls and indecent Facebook messages. It causes stress.

What is biggest risk you took for your Business?

Once a woman asked for my help to get a good amount of product on credit. She was suffering from family issues so she wanted to do something on her own. She ordered products for re-selling in her area since she needed to do something to earn her livelihood. Food Shelf is not backed by a huge amount of capital. I run it in very lean way. So giving away a huge quantity of products on credit wasn’t a wise decision. But I took the risk and decided to help that woman. Eventually my decision turned out to be right. The women paid me for the whole lot within a short time. She was very grateful and I was very happy for her.

What is the biggest complement you have received so far?

I receive a lot of compliments in my Facebook page every day for the premium products. Once an Apu called me “Aladdin’s genie” because I was able to deliver every item she wanted me to deliver! That’s the biggest complement I have ever received.

Besides, one of my customer’s mother, an aged person, called me and said that Food Shelf’s coconut oil is so pure that its fragrance reminded her of her mother. She thought this kind of pure products became extinct decades back. She never imagined she would be able to experience such pure product again. Hearing this made me feel really proud.

Any Regret regarding Food Shelf or anything that you would do differently if are given with another chance?

I have no regrets, but there is one incident that I wish I could do differently. Once a customer wanted to order ‘Kalizira Oil’ for her mother, who was suffering from cancer. At that time, Food Shelf was not offering that product.

So I made arrangements to procure that product as soon as possible and then called the customer to deliver the product. But she informed that her mother had already died. I felt really bad. Though her death had nothing to do with my product but I wish I could have procured it sooner.

I want to establish my own country farm. I have a lot of interest in farming. Now I have to rely on my extended family’s food production house for getting the products. But in future I want to produce in my own farm and maintain my own supply system.

What is your future plan for Food Shelf?

I want to establish my own country farm. I have a lot of interest in farming. Now I have to rely on my extended family’s food production house for getting the products. But in future I want to produce in my own farm and maintain my own supply system. Besides I also want to expand my business from Facebook to an E-Commerce website. Due to some legal issues I can’t do that right now.

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Tell us a bit about yourself.

There’s a reason why I am running a food business! I am an extremely foodie person. In my leisure, I love to cook, recite poems, engage in creative writing and spend time with children. I volunteer as  a teacher at “CHHAYABRITTO” a voluntary school run by Students in my campus. It is for the deprived children in Khulna University Campus area and surroundings. I am a really lazy person though! I always look for a shortcut way to do any job. So the quote of Bill gates “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it” is very much appropriate for me!

What do your family think of your business? Is your family supportive of what you are doing?

It’s very positive! My parents are very proud of my work. In many times of distress I could talk to them and get motivated. I am very much grateful to my extended family like my uncles. Without their help, Food Shelf couldn’t have existed.

Any Advice for Future Entrepreneurs?

Almost every business is based on trust. My advice to future entrepreneur: Trust people and be trustworthy.

There’s a reason why I am running a food business! I am an extremely foodie person. In my leisure, I love to cook, recite poems, engage in creative writing and spend time with children.  I volunteer as  a teacher at “CHHAYABRITTO” a voluntary school run by Students in my campus. It is for the deprived children in Khulna University Campus area and surroundings.

Credits: Interview by Maeesha Tahsin | Edited by Nezam Uddin | Image by Food Shelf | Thanks Nazmul Hasan Darashiko

Note: Our New Series, FS Student Entrepreneurship Series, brings provocative and inspiring pieces and stories of students doing extraordinary things and taking brilliant initiatives from all over the Bangladesh. If you know someone who is doing extraordinary thing-a business, a non-profit or a voluntary organization please let us know. It has not to be big initiative but it has to be something he/she is doing with glittering eyes full of passion. We believe school is the best place to start chasing your dreamEmail us: [email protected]

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