Mustafa Koita, the owner of Koita Foods, says he has more time off now that his company is past the startup phase
Milking the good life as an entrepreneur
When Mustafa Koita gained a new boss he did not gel with, he knew he would either eventually resign, or be fired. So he left and took the opportunity to launch his own food company, Koita Foods, a venture he had been considering for some time. The business, which launched three years ago and was initially a trading company and then distribution, now also produces its own milk brand, Koita Milk. For Mr Koita, who formally worked in aviation at Boeing, it was an 180-degree turn for his career. Mr Koita, 43, who grew up in the US but is of Indian origin, says he was inspired to set up the company, which produces its organic UHT milk in Italy, after spotting a gap in the market here. Here he talks to The National about his working week.
My days are never the same. We are a growing SME, so the only things that are regular are my 6am workout and my 6pm dinner with the kids. Everything in the middle is pretty much up for grabs, because we are in growth mode right now. We are growing very fast. We are developing a new website where you can have a subscription milkman model, which is really cool. We spend a lot of time doing that. Then, later in the day, usually on Sundays, I try and do one-on-ones with all our department heads. There are also fires that come up; container [issues] that come up at the port, or this customer who usually has a three-day delivery wants it tomorrow or we have stocked out somewhere. So there is a little bit of firefighting that happens on Sunday.
A couple of Mondays ago we met with a few social media influencers. In fact, we like to invite them to the office so they can meet our employees. We had one come in at 9am and another who came in at 12pm for lunch. The latter part of the day we were doing interviews for an admin and a sales person for a certain vertical.
The milk product we produce is a long life milk. A big misconception is how can it be organic and UHT? But we use a process where we heat the milk up, we cool it down and it goes into an airtight aseptic pack. So there are no artificial preservatives. It is just the heat treatment process that preserves the milk and keeps it fresh. We are launching three new products: organic almond milk, two cooking creams and then we will also launch another flavour. We had a meeting when we were launching it with all our department heads. Everybody had some space – sales, marketing, operations and finance. I might also have had a meeting with a distributor. We are expanding into new markets right now. We are in Saudi, Kuwait, Bahrain. We are in Jordan and the Philippines now. Most of my revenue comes from overseas.
We do a lot of CSR [corporate social responsibility work] and there is a friend of mine who started a school called the Modern Academic Education School, and basically her son has a mild disability. These kids have never played basketball, so a really good friend of mine, who is also an entrepreneur, donated a basketball hoop and 10 basketballs. On Tuesday night at dinner he said 'listen man, I need an assistant coach.' I love basketball, so I said 'let’s do this'. I ended up kind of screwing up my schedule and I just went straight to the school. We taught them how to dribble and shoot hoops. We lowered the hoop really low, and I brought a bunch of chocolate milk for them all, so they really loved that.
A lot of people see our marketing and PR and how we are selling, but really 70 per cent of the business is forecasting and operations. So we produce and forecast our milk 90 days before it gets here. So we have very detailed forecasting meetings; for example for November and December, we say 'here’s the amount of milk we think we will sell, but in December, people are going to take off on the 15th and not come back until the first week of January, so sales will probably be a little lower, but it’s also a colder month so people drink more milk, so the coconut water [we distribute] will be less, because that’s more of a hot weather drink'. That meeting is important because if you buy too much milk you’re going to waste it, and if you buy too little, you will be out of stock and your customers will get very upset.
At the beginning, when I was starting three years ago, I worked a lot of weekends and it was really tough on my wife and three kids. When you are starting something and funding it 100 per cent on your own, you don’t have a choice. You have to almost sacrifice your weekends for at least the first year. Then as we grew bigger, I was able able to hire more people. Now I have amazing staff that give me a little bit more free time. So I would say this year is the first year where I am starting to enjoy my weekends with the family.