Online community shopping forums where consumers can learn from each other’s shopping and product experiences, and where they can consolidate orders to save money will continue to grow. These forums will also produce valid online videos and tutorials that will create more awareness and information about any product or service.
As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Darab Ali.
Darab Ali is a serial entrepreneur who takes a very positive and inspirational approach to his business ventures. Born and raised in a small town (Saharanpur, India), Darab and his family immigrated to Canada in late 90’s and settled in Scarborough where he attended high school at Dunbarton High School and then went on to Australia for further studies. Today, Darab and his very young family reside in Vaughan, Ontario and run a number of businesses based in the Greater Toronto Area, including Better1.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Becoming an entrepreneur wasn’t something that was by design for me. In fact, upon attending university, I enrolled into a Pre-Dental course with the intent of becoming a dentist. Some people have a very clear idea from a young age as to what they want to do as their profession, but I think many might not have that early clarity. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you are honest with yourself. During my first years at university, I discovered that my interests were much more people-oriented, and I was always more engaged when I was dealing with others in very dynamic discussions and projects.
So in my view, taking the path towards dentistry was not a wrong path. Really it was the road that gave me a chance to read the sign-posts that pointed me in the direction in which I was really interested. That destination was business, and it has further led me to where I am today, and becoming an entrepreneur.
Now having said that, knowing that I enjoyed business wasn’t enough. After trying a few businesses that taught me a lot about grit and determination, I reflected again on my interests, particularly in people. They say that “Business is an action taken after thinking” so that’s what I did, and I decided to get into the people business.
I started my career in human resources and recruitment industry 11 years ago with zero experience in that area. Zero is not a good number to use when mentioning your experience but if the will is there, you can soon add many zeroes after any digit in terms of your days of experience. You just have to stick with it and never give up if you believe you have a good business proposition. Today, I am fortunate to have a thriving placement agency business run by a very strong and capable team of professionals.
I now have more time and resources to look at other ways to interact with people. In particular, I see how technology is changing how we do things, and see so much opportunity to apply many innovations to improve the day-to-day lives of consumers. I recently put a team together to build an app with smart and innovative products for smarter living. While the idea has been further developed since its initial inception, with the help of my team, we created the Better1 business, an online destination for Canadian consumers to discover, learn and buy innovative products that best fit their needs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I first started my business I had no customers, no phones ringing, no emails and no experience around how to run the organization. All I had was just a few credit cards in hand and some personal savings to keep the business afloat. For 6 months or so, it was all about doing door-to-door sales on my own everyday while learning about the industry and business.
I was trying to get an appointment with the HR head of a company one day and after a few unsuccessful calls, I tried just visiting their office location. As I was just entering the building I bumped into a gentleman who was on his way in as well and he asked me what the purpose of my visit was. I told him what the agency did and quickly pointed out some of the key benefits that we could bring. It was a brief conversation, maybe three or four minutes, but he essentially said “that’s great, and by the way, nice pen” and I said back to him “Thanks, but here, please keep the pen, it’s a company promo, and I want you to have it”. I figured, that was the end of the conversation and we would each just move on with our days. He simply smiled and asked me to follow him inside. Turns out he was the owner of the company and he arranged for me to present to the HR head that same day. All went well and I was able to gain a very important client in those early days. I know it wasn’t the pen, but more because I was so rehearsed in my elevator speech and so passionate about what I could bring to a customer, that he eventually made the decision to have me meet with his team. I still have the pen, and my company does have promotional pens, but more important is what the pen stands for, and the passion and belief we have for what we can do for our customers.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
It’s funny when I look back now on the situation, but back when it happened, it was a bit stressful. I knew that advertising and exposure was important to building a business so when I first started my human resource placement agency business, I quickly placed banner and signage advertising up as soon as I secured my 200 square foot office space. With no other employees, and not even pen and paper yet in hand, candidates began to call and show up that very first day! I had to scramble to neighbouring offices in the building for office essentials and made due with a very progressive open-concept office setting! I learned quickly that your infrastructure and back-end processes are just as important as the front-end.
Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?
Well, Better1 is brand new! We’re very excited as we just launched in late June, 2020 and currently building our exposure and business base. Better1 is all about helping consumers live better through today’s innovative products. Technology and innovation work hand-in-hand. We see so many new products being introduced to the marketplace and many of these products can really help to improve the day-to-day lives of consumers. Better1 is all about making today’s great products and innovations accessible to our customers. As an Ecommerce platform, we curate, sample and review products and then display those products in a uniquely immersive and familiar setting to help consumers find, understand and purchase innovative products that fit their needs. In a nutshell, we offer “better products for better living”.
I’ve got a few other projects underway, but one of them is an advanced Human Resources and recruitment project which will enhance simplified solutions for temporary, permanent and contract placements in day-to-day recruitment needs with a centralized platform that any business, agency candidate can use. This is still under development and more to come on that in the Fall.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I think you’d have heard this before, but I truly believe in its importance. Always do what you enjoy doing, not something that you don’t. The more you don’t enjoy the work, the quicker and easier for you, your colleagues and employees to “burn out”. If you enjoy the work, and you allow your team to be creative and have meaningful input, they too can enjoy their work, and working hard becomes much more destination driven. What I mean is the team becomes much more productive and charged to get to achieve their goals. Working hard in a start-up is pretty well a given, but if you have a team that is enjoying their work, your chances of finding success are significantly greater.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My Father, who is himself an entrepreneur, has had a huge influence on me. He’s always appreciated me and gave me the freedom, motivation and support to explore and experiment with different aspects of life. I am very fortunate and grateful for this. I’ve learned the importance of good values such as remaining humble, taking care of your employees and customers first. Our relationship allowed me to adopt these strong values early in life and in my career. I believe doing so is critically important for any successful business.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I think Better1 is an example. With the help of my business ventures and as an entrepreneur who has a passion towards technology, I am hoping to make smart and innovative products more accessible to consumers so that they can simplify their day-to-day lives and free-up time in their busy lives to spend it in more meaningful ways. I truly believe that there is a gap between the products that can make a difference in helping people live better, versus the number of people that should be benefiting from these. I would like to see Better1 play a bigger role in helping consumers as we continue to grow and find more innovative and unique products for them.
Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main question of our interview. Can you share 5 examples of how retail companies will be adjusting over the next five years to the new ways that consumers like to shop?
- In my opinion, retail change will continue to accelerate. As I said earlier, technology and innovation go hand-in hand, and as new technology arises, products and services in retail will continue to evolve and consumers will continue to change how they shop. I believe most retail companies will be moving towards using A.I., robotics, automated kiosks, augmented and virtual reality platforms as part of the continued growth in online shopping, rather than retail stores and outlets. While the recent pandemic certainly has accelerated the use of online shopping, I believe that consumers see inherent benefits as technology improves and costs continue to fall.
- Online growth will increase the direct Business-to-Consumer (B2C) channel as brands can access and interact with consumers more directly and intimately via all of their technology touch points (PCs/laptops, touchpads, Phones/PDAs). This will further pressure intermediary (middle-man) businesses unless they bring true value to the product-to-consumer process.
- The prevalence of social media advertising and digital marketing including YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat will increase, as will the advent and proliferation of new social media channels. Additionally, influencers and social media celebrities will become a larger voice as consumer advocates and reviewers of brand and product value, versus traditional mass media approaches.
- Smart shopping options with the use of online reviews and ratings will accelerate. Consumer validated information will increasingly become the currency by which products are viewed. While brand owners and product manufacturers will always need to have a voice, consumer reviews will continue to evolve into a more prevalent part of the purchase process.
- Online community shopping forums where consumers can learn from each other’s shopping and product experiences, and where they can consolidate orders to save money will continue to grow. These forums will also produce valid online videos and tutorials that will create more awareness and information about any product or service.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think my answer reflects on my people background as well as my passion for technology in people’s lives. If I could start a movement, it might be one where there is one common global talent platform where people could post their skills and services. With technology, so much can be done to allow all countries and economies to benefit either from providing talent, employing talent or both. With such a platform, technology and best practice standards could be readily shared across borders and so much could be advanced, whether that is technologically, economically or socially. I realize of course there is the reality of political factors , but I also believe that nothing is impossible, and to achieve the impossible, all we need to have is the will and the persistence from talented individuals acting as a team. Just like a start-up, but at a much larger scale!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You can always follow my LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/darab-ali/
And follow Better1 on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/better1.store
Darab Ali of Better1: The Future of Retail Over The Next Five Years was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.