He maybe known among his social circles as an introvert, but CEO and co-founder of food start-up company Palm Bites, Mustafa Al-Siaudi is certainly a force to be reckoned with in the business world. Palm Bites is a gourmet confectionery company specializing in boxes of hand made dark chocolate-covered dates.
The Iraqi immigrant who settled in Canada as a young boy with his parents started his business in 2019 as a three man band together with his dad and wife Elaine Cagliostro and has since built the company to over 50 employees at a 1000 square foot flagship store based in Mississauga, despite COVID-19.
Al-Siaudi spoke to Immigrants Life about his voyage as a small business immigrant owner.
Tell us about your life as an immigrant growing up in Canada
The first six years was tough watching my parents struggle to ensure my sisters and I had all the necessary essentials to succeed. My dad would would eep in a motel throughout the week just to gain Canadian experience while my mom did all sorts of jobs to make a living.
I recall asking for a Domenick Hasek hockey jersey once as a birthday gift to be like the other kids at school. My mom saved up all year just to get me that jersey.
I still have vivid memories of our struggles 20 years later. l am however, grateful that our path led us to Canada where there is plenty of opportunity and support.
What was the inspiration behind the idea of Palm Bites?
In 2017, my dad was forced to retire after 20 years at his company due to his age. He was devastated, as work was his life, and he had very little hobbies and activities outside of work. After applying for several jobs, he began losing hope.I hated seeing my father, someone I looked up to all my life, feel unwanted and unworthy of work.
This is when my wife and I began looking for a business opportunities with my dad in mind.
Then one day, we had my in-laws over for coffee. We didn’t have any snacks to offer, so I began looking in the cupboards and found a pack of dates. My mother always had dates with peanut butter as a snack after a meal, so I decided to serve it to them. Everyone loved it!
The next day while I was in the shower, I was craving the dates with peanut butter – that’s when it occurred to me that this was the perfect business idea. A million ideas ran through my mind.
Thereafter my wife and I began researching the industry. A month later, we rented a commercial kitchen in Oakville, Ontario and we were able to get my dad involved and get him working again. Seeing his smile makes it all worthwhile.
As an immigrant businessman in Canada, what were some of the challenges you had to face when starting a business and how did you overcome these challenges?
The biggest challenge was the lack of industry knowledge and experience which resulted in some teething issues. With determination and learning from our mistakes, we preserved. My philosophy is always try something – if it fails, learn from it – If it succeeds- do it faster and more efficient.
The second challenge was financial resources. I then learnt of the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), which is a crown corporation with the purpose to help small businesses grow. We probably would not have been able to grow as fast as we are without the support from the BDC.
What or who do you believe is the secret to your success for PalmBites and why so?
The secret to success in Palm Bites is the passion and energy we put into our products, along with our amazing staff. We have built a family business, were we consider our employees to be family, which is evidently in the love and care that we take in making our products.
You have a full time job working at Shopify? How do you balance your time and how does it compare to owning a business? Which do you prefer and why?
I love working at Shopify. It has given me texposure to other entrepreneurs and business owners. I’ve learnt so much from my time at Shopify, and have an amazing team that supports me. Balancing a business and full time job is always challenging but when you are passionate about what you do, you always find time to do it. But that does mean very long days, working weekends, and sacrificing time with friends and family or on hobbies. I love both jobs because they allow me to exercise my skills in different ways, and what I learn from one job I can always carry over to the other. I’m super blessed to be working at Shopify which actually encourages staff to open their own business in order to build merchant empathy.
With Canada being one of the most diverse, immigrant-friendly countries in the world, how much does understanding of the local culture has on one’s business?
With Canada being so diverse it is crucial to conduct market research – collect data on your demographic before investing significantly. The Canadian culture is built on immigrants, there is no “one” culture or tradition here, so we have the opportunity to target a diverse group based on different festivities and events.
If you had to describe being an immigrant businessman in three words, what are those three words and why?
Dedication: It takes effort and dedication to start and run a business, especially as an immigrant, we don’t have the same network or connections that we would have back home, and you NEED that dedication to keep you going through the tough times.
Passion: This is imperative for succeeding in one’s business and needs to be shown in the final product.
Support: Support rom family, friends, and the community is what keeps every business alive.
What advice do you have for immigrants who would like to start a business in Canada?
Just do it. Take action, take risks, and don’t let fear hold you back. You may not succeed on your first try. Leran from your mistakes and try again. Don’t give up when it gets hard, think about the purpose and motivate yourself.
IMAGE CREDITS: Palm Bites