The call of entrepreneurship is heard by many, but not everyone is cut out to follow the path. Learn how a local entrepreneur shares his insights for small business success.
Local Entrepreneur Shares Insights for Small Business Success
For many individuals, it is not uncommon to fantasize about going into business for oneself after dealing with less than stellar conditions in the workplace. Some people hear the call and take the plunge, but do not have the savvy to keep their dream afloat. Some people hear the call, take the plunge, and find that they can actually swim—very well. Local entrepreneur, Fasil Tesfaye, of Durham, NC, proved with his years of accomplishments that he possesses that necessary insight.
“know when to hold’ ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, [and] know when to walk away….”
Fasil is a true businessman, and throughout his life, he has found positions with low barriers of entry, maximized them, and left them with much more value than when he started. In the words of country music singer, Kenny Rodgers, Mr. Tesfaye seems to “know when to hold’ ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, [and] know when to walk away….” As simple as it seems, not everyone has this sense, and it has carried Fasil from his childhood years in Ethiopia to surviving in Washington, DC, San Francisco, and finally in Durham, NC. Fasil has experienced a number of business ventures, and now currently finds himself as the proprietor of several Big Island Smoothie Kiosks that serve as refreshing oases in Durham’s Southpoint mall and Raleigh’s Crabtree Valley mall. No matter the business venture, he seems to have a true operation manager’s spirit in that he can take whatever he has to work with and optimize it.
From Ethiopia to Our Nation’s Capital
Imagine for a moment, if you would, that you are a coming-of-age individual in a country where there is a long history of civil war and violent conflict. After you graduate high school, it is likely you will be selected for military service in a cause that you do not necessarily support. You have several options— you can stay and fight against your will, or you can start a brand new life abroad in an unfamiliar country. For Fasil, his father and mother did what many loving parents would do and sent him off to the United States in 1990 to reunite with siblings in Washington, DC and start a new life away from the conflict in Ethiopia. Fasil would come to adapt, and his journey to becoming a businessman began.
Striking Out On His Own
After coming to the U.S., Fasil found work as a manager at a local Cinnabon in the food court of a large mall in Washington, DC. He later discovered that this job would serve as his entrepreneurial training ground. Fasil recalls that the experience provided him with the basic knowledge of how a business operates on a day-to-day basis. He came to understand how to handle employees, handle the paperwork involved, pricing and cost determination, and ultimately what to expect in daily revenues.
As a young man, Fasil was a successful manager, and it wasn’t long before he received a unique invitation to be a senior manager of a Cinnabon on the other side of the country in sunny California. After receiving another promotion, Fasil started to realize that he could either go down the long road of management with the company, or he could branch out, go into business for himself and start making a better living. Something inside him guided him toward the path of becoming an entrepreneur, and he knew that he ultimately had to go into business for himself.
When trying to figure out how to strike out on his own, he discovered the hard reality that many businesses require very high startup costs. After some quick research, Fasil determined that the possibility of starting his own limousine business was well within his reach. With one car, he could hustle the streets, work towards finding more stable clientele, and grow the business; he saw the opportunity to take an opportunity with low startup costs, fulfill his business vision, and then expand. While many people get hung up on the overwhelming nature of starting up a new business, Fasil decided to jump in head first and use the opportunity as a learning experience.
Within eight years, his company, Bay City Limo, grew from that one car to six owned cars and 20 contracted vehicles, and served over 5,000 people annually. Fasil found stable business from Wells Fargo employees, hotels, and a very strong group of referrals: 90% of his business was coming word of mouth from being a trusted name in the community. Also, with the beginning of the dot-com era, Fasil’s company had the distinct advantage of being one of the first websites for a limousine company in the San Francisco Bay area.
Fasil enjoyed learning from the people he met along the way, and enjoyed his time in the limousine business. After a while, even with his company expending, Fasil saw a lot of his money getting tied up in expenses. After employing his smart business sense and exercising proper analysis, he decided it was time to sell his company in 2004. Fasil mentioned that the sale was one of the greatest rewards of his career: taking something that started from nothing, and selling it as a tangible entity with a lot of value. Fasil was very proud to say that the limousine company he started in the mid-nineties is still in existence today.
From Limos to Smoothies
After being out in California for nearly a decade, Fasil had a strong desire to move back to the east coast where his siblings were, and work towards starting a family of his own. After settling in the bustling area of Durham, NC, Fasil found a job at a strong LED light company in the Research Triangle Park called Cree. He knew that he wanted to continue his entrepreneurial endeavors, but needed to become established in the area and get a sense for his surroundings.
During this time, Fasil was directed to an ad on craigslist’s by a friend and discovered a man who was interested in selling his small smoothie business in the local mall. Something about the business model appealed to him, and he started to envision its potential and ways to improve it. He recognized that with fairly low barriers of entry, he could have a business with established infrastructure, lots of potential customers and high visibility real estate. In 2007, Fasil opened up in the Southpoint mall, and then started up two other kiosks in the Triangle Towne Center mall and Crabtree Valley mall. Fasil envisioned a product that focused on simple refreshing drinks made with real fresh fruit and without any unnatural additives. These simple, island-inspired drinks with superior color and taste have been the main attraction of Fasil’s business, and have kept the customers coming back for years.
Since he decided to get into smoothies, Fasil found high-volume success at Southpoint, and growth with the kiosk in Crabtree. However, around the economic recession of 2009, Fasil noticed that the Towne Center kiosk wasn’t flourishing, as overall traffic was down. Instead of garnering extra losses, Fasil had the good sense to withdraw before things went downhill, and focus on the higher earning stores. His careful monitoring allowed him to weather the storm of the recession and keep moving on strong.
Attributes of Success and Words of Wisdom
Through Fasil’s entrepreneurial career, he humbly recognizes a variety of things that contributed to his ongoing success. He was always inspired by the stories of others and how folks coming from adverse backgrounds would use their creativity to make a better life for themselves. He had the support of his family, including eight siblings, and is very thankful that they were always there.
For helpful advice to other business owners, Fasil says to focus on the work and on the business and how you want to grow it. Understand when to spend, and when not to spend. Do everything to the best of your ability, give it your all, and everything will fall into place. Fasil also urges to always plan for an emergency or a backup plan. “Keep your credit in place, because you will need it in the hard times,” says Fasil. “Always keep an emergency fund – anything can happen.”
“It is important to have people manage your accounting and create a space for yourself to actually manage your business. There is a cost, but it allows more time to actually be hands on with the business. It is important to know when to delegate and not be so absorbed with some of the administrative matters.”
Fasil also mentions the importance of his support staff. He discussed how critical his supervisors and part-time employees are, and how important it is to find the right people to represent your business. He was also very appreciative for the support he receives from his local accountants at Padgett Business Services, of Durham, NC. “It is important to have people manage your accounting and create a space for yourself to actually manage your business. There is a cost, but it allows more time to actually be hands on with the business. It is important to know when to delegate and not be so absorbed with some of the administrative matters,” says Fasil.
On the Horizon
After years of maximizing the hands he has been dealt, Fasil Tesfaye wants to continue by expanding his smoothie business and building it into a franchise. He would like to see the Big Island Smoothie name continue to grow and maximize its value, so that one day he can look back with great pride, as he did with the limousine business, and sit in satisfaction at everything he has accomplished. While keeping the details and his inner thoughts a secret, Fasil also envisions a new business venture in the heart of downtown Durham. Given Fasil’s history, it is likely that this next chapter in Fasil’s entrepreneurial story will come to pass, as soon as the right opportunity presents itself.
PADGETT’S 3 WISE QUESTIONS:
If you could bake a success pie what are some of the key ingredients?
“It would include managing your money, your part-time employees/selecting quality people, and knowing when to delegate. More key ingredients would be knowing when to cut your losses and move forward, and putting your all into what you are doing. Also, never burn your bridges – be on good terms with everyone.”
If you could go back in time to the beginning, would you do anything
“I don’t like regrets; I take the lesson and move forward. The hardest times are the best for me because I learn something. You make a decision with the knowledge you have at the time. You learn and then come up with an idea of how to do it better. I am happy to live with what I did.”
If you could have lunch with anyone (living or dead) who would it be, why?
Definitely, Bill Clinton! The way he engages people fascinates me.
Find a delicious smoothie at his two locations at the southpoint mall in Durham
6910 Fayetteville Rd
Durham, NC 27713
919 641 6892
Crabtree Valley Mall
4325 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27612
919 641 0836