Founded in 2009, Safinah Institute is the leading provider of online & offline English Islamic programmes and events catered mainly for adults between ages 18-45. SMCCI had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with its founder, Ustaz Mizi Wahid where he shared with us how the idea of Safinah came about.
1. What inspired you to open this business?
I always had the desire to start something on my own, I think of myself as more of a creator. I love to create things and the whole entrepreneurship idea came about because of that desire. I was from a full time madrasah and I went to Egypt to further my studies and coming back, the default job would definitely to be an Ustaz, a religious teacher, to work in a mosque or a Madrasah. However I knew I wanted to be different, but in a good way.
When I was still searching on what it is that I was going to do, I fell in love with entrepreneurship and business. I started reading a lot of biographies of great entrepreneurs and business owners, and I became inspired. I knew then that one of the things that I definitely have to do is to start my own thing. It was not immediate though. When I came back from Egypt, I got offered to apply for a job. I was there for two and half years before deciding to move to entrepreneurship.
Safinah Institute came about when I realized that I needed to go back to my true calling. I was trying to run away from doing anything religious related when I started my company but then I realized there was a need and there was a gap. In 2009, there were not many options available for people to learn Islam in English, almost all were in Malay and only one or two were more focused in helping converts. I could then forsee that the demand would grow overtime because young people are increasingly interested to learn about the religion but what made them disinterested was the medium used. And that was what inspired me to start Safinah Institute.
2. What was the first 100 days of an entrepreneur like?
I can say that the biggest obstacle is getting people to know about me and about Safinah because I was still unknown and Safinah was still new. My business idea and concept was pretty much B2C, retail, as we are selling seats or tickets for people to attend my classes and events, I needed to figure out very quickly what works for the company.
In the first 100 days, I once conducted a class where there were only three sign ups. Two people did not turn up so it eventually became a 1-1 coaching session.
I always believe that we should never despise the days of small beginnings. Sometimes those are the seeds, if you continue trusting what you want to do and you believe in the brand and the purpose, then one day, it will reap benefits.
3. How would you describe yourself as an entrepreneur?
I’ve evolved. In the early days I was extremely optimistic. I think a lot of young people can resonate to this if they are self-aware. I was not self-aware fully because I thought everything can be done. I think I’m a lot more balanced now because reality has hit me hard many times, everything from business partners whom you overly trust and people whom you think will back you up but eventually don’t.
4. Proudest moment of your career?
We had our biggest event recently, our Annual Spiritual Summit that had more than 1,000 attendees. Everything starts from an idea then we go to the drawing board, it manifest itself one step at a time. When you finally there at the event and seeing everything that you thought of becoming a reality is something that I’m proud of.
However, I cannot say that I have reached the peak as that will kill the motivation. I do not want to think that I am already there but as of now, that event that we had is my proudest moment.
5. What’s your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Dream big, start small and then scale up. More importantly, find a good partner or a good mentor, someone that has gone through the stuff that you are about to embark on. They will give you the ability to see ahead so that you have a grasp of reality. I made so many mistakes back then because I thought everything will work and that is not always true. It is important to learn along the way and keep an open mind and open heart to take in feedback. Any bad relationships that end along the way, be it a partner, a former colleague or an investor is also part of the learning process. Lastly, to give yourself a break when things do not turn out the way you expect them to be.
6. What are the 3 traits that an entrepreneur should have?
One, humility. Two, hunger. You will keep going if there is hunger in you. The last one would be the ability to be easy on yourself. It is needed when things do not go your way and when you receive harsh feedbacks from people, not letting their words eat you up alive.