Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Millionaire slept in car after business went under

Ferhat Kacmaz, who has run restaurants, nightclubs and gyms, almost lost everything in the pursuit of the Dubai dream

Ferhat Kacmaz, founder of Fit In Time. Reem Mohammed / The National
Ferhat Kacmaz, founder of Fit In Time. Reem Mohammed / The National

They say to succeed in business you have to fail. And Ferhat Kacmaz went from owning restaurants, a nightclub and a gym business to sleeping in his car with the air conditioning on.

The 39-year-old German invested heavily in electric muscle stimulation devices before they were popular and had a host of top Dubai hotels lined up.

“We purchased more machines, brought in certified trainers; we were ready to start once we got our licence," he says.

Deals with Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Group, and Fitness First were all set to commence. But the company's business licence from the government never came. Complications in 2013 and 2014 led to an eight-month delay.

"There were the partners, me, the trainers, the machines: we rented hotels, cars to start the business, but we could not because we could not get the licence issued," he says.

They burned through money and savings and by the time the licence came in January 2014, the company was in trouble. His two partners sold their high-end keep fit machines to recoup losses and returned to Germany.

And only one fitness trainer, Ella Toews, stayed on with him.

The blow was a setback for a young businessman who made his "first million euros" (Dh4.1 million) at the age of 19 in the Rhine region city of Bielefeld.

The nightlife business in Germany is like mafia... either you kill somebody or you get killed or you end up in jail

Ferhat Kacmaz, Fit in Time

He made a small fortune running Deliveroo Editions-style kitchens long before that business boomed, when he realised you only need one kitchen to service six restaurants.

And very few eateries offered home delivery at the time.

“I made different menus with different food for people under different names,” he says.

"If we were late to deliver to a certain customer and he said ‘I will never order again from you again’, I would tell my delivery guy - 'no problem take another menu of ours and put it on his doorstep'.”

“We made each menu with a different design and different prices.

“For students we made it a little bit more cheap and funky. For areas where rich people live we made it nice design and fine dining, and for families, we made family-size meals.”

The ambitious youngster did not stop at delivering hot food to people, and moved into nightlife - which is when things got “very dark”.

“The nightlife business in Germany is like mafia... either you kill somebody or you get killed or you end up in jail,” he says, pointing to a scar on his hand.

“This was from a knife; five Russian gangsters came into my office in the middle of the night.”

He says they stabbed his hand on his desk - like the famous scene from The Godfather - and demanded he pays them money to “be safe”.

Mr Kacmaz soon found himself paying protection money, living an unhealthy lifestyle and significantly overweight.

An instructor takes a client wearing EMS gear through exercises. Courtesy: Fit in Time
An instructor takes a client wearing EMS gear through exercises. Courtesy: Fit in Time

Fed up, he started working out at the gym and eventually came across EMS.

Wearing a black suit with electrical nodes attached, the gym-goer performs controlled movements while their muscles are stimulated with electric shots, to achieve more effective results in a short period of time.

After losing 30kg in six months, he went for a certification in EMS training himself, bought a machine for home and eventually his own studio in Bielefeld.

"And then a second studio because more people kept coming," he says.

But he says Dubai, which he first visited in 2001 to host a nightlife event, "was always on my mind," and in 2013 he decided to leave Germany.

“I sold my nightclub, took all my money and went," he says.

After the licence problem was overcome, progress was slow.

"Nobody had heard about EMS in the Middle East so we needed to introduce the system, to give the people introductory sessions," he says.

"So it was one more year until we could tell it was a real business and we had to invest more time and money until we got there."

Now, his company Fit in Time is a success, winning back early deals with Burj Al Arab, Jumeirah Group and Fitness First. This year were among the winners of the 2019 Business Excellence Awards.

From nightclub to his early setback, Mr Kacmaz says he learned a valuable lesson in life.

"I was the only one who didn't quit," he smiles.

Updated: July 18, 2019 06:26 PM

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