Category: Business

Taking Your Dreams to the Sky with Firnas Airways

I’m a big believer in the saying that success is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. As my career as an entrepreneur enters its third decade I’ve come to learn the preciousness of that 1% – inspiration can be found in the most unusual places and sometimes its right in front of your face.

I was thus inspired to join fellow entrepreneur and trailblazer Kazi Rahman as the fruit of his years of blood, sweat and tears took the skies with the launch of Firnas Airways. It seemed almost inconceivable to me at first. How on earth do you go about launching an airline?! But the more I spoke with Kazi the more I saw how he has diligently built his company, and assembled a brilliant team of aviation experts around him.

Kazi reached out to me a short while ago, inviting me to an investors launch event. I was touched to learn that he had been spurred on by my journey with SingleMuslim.com and Penny Appeal. I’m reminded that a good entrepreneur learns from their past and a great entrepreneur learns from others too. Being part of Firnas Airways’ maiden flight was a truly uplifting (excuse the pun) and eye-opening experience, not least to be amongst fellow entrepreneur’s and witness someone’s dreams literally take flight.

Launching a business is fraught with obstacles, challenges and risks, not unlike a ride on an aeroplane. You chart your journey, assemble a committed crew who have your back, perform your safety checks, build up speed on the ground and then hit the launch button. The better you prepare for that launch, the more momentum you gather, the higher and faster you will go and there’s nothing quite like that feeling when you first lift off the ground. I could see it on Kazi’s face; a beaming ear-to-ear grin, eyes filled with relief from what’s passed and in anticipation of what’s to come. As much as you prepare, you’re guaranteed to face some turbulence, one way or another, and speaking with Kazi it’s clear he’s anticipated the possible risks and mitigated as much as he possibly can. His leadership inspires trust and vision, you can be sure Firnas Airways is piloted well!

What touched me most from Kazi’s pitch was how he took inspiration from the 9th century aviation pioneer and polymath, Abbas ibn Firnas. Over 1,000 years before the famous Wright Brothers took flight, this Muslim inventor and engineer, born and raised in Spain, is thought to be the first human to attempt flight. Kazi confidently and proudly stands on the shoulders of this fellow European Muslim innovator, albeit twelve hundred years later or so! It’s an incredible thought and an important reminder that we, especially as Muslim entrepreneurs, are building on the legacies of those before us and leaving a legacy for those who are still to come.

Firnas Airways are just at the beginning of their journey, and I feel honoured to have been at the beginning of their story. Kazi has reminded me that no matter how outlandish or unorthodox your dreams may be, if you’re willing to put in the perspiration and ever-ready to take on the inspiration, you can really touch the skies.

Check out my Vlog of the launch above and be sure to share

Adeem Younis

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That’s one small step for SingleMuslim.com, one giant leap for Muslim matchmaking

SingleMuslim.com was created to provide a simple solution to a very complex problem: I needed to get married! Faced with an exotic menu of cousins and ‘connections’ from Pakistan, a country I had never been to (at that time), I knew traditional matchmaking routes just weren’t going to cut it for me. Was it too much to want to find someone who I had more in common with?

My journey really represented the struggle of a generation. How do we break away from traditions that no longer serve us and create new customs that solve the challenges of where we are now, all while staying true to the principles and values of our faith? I found the answer in entrepreneurship and that’s how SingleMuslim.com was born.

Never in a million years did I think 18 years later I would be stood on stage in a room full of industry leaders exploring the latest trends and greatest moves from the matchmaking world. With up to a third of relationships beginning online, the responsibility on the shoulders of those in the online relationship world is immense, and being part of the Global Dating Insights (GDI) Annual London Conference was a brilliant opportunity for the SingleMuslim team to take stock of how far we’ve come and to share our vision for the future.

As I told the audience of industry experts, Muslims are often ignored by mainstream platforms as a ‘niche community’ but what they fail to realise is that there are 1.6 billion Muslims around the world. Not so niche when you put it like that. In fact, Muslim-minority communities and Muslim-majority countries have some of the fastest-growing economies in the world. They also feature young populations who are increasingly more open to the notion of online matchmaking than previous generations when it was seen as a taboo subject. The challenge is how to create a user-friendly platform that is sensitive to faith-inspired cultural proclivities that literally span the entire world. This is what we at SingleMuslim.com have been perfecting for almost two decades: it’s why we have become the Muslim matchmaking platform of choice for British Muslims in all their shapes, sizes and colours.

So, what’s next for us? Having amassed over two million registrations, there are one million messages exchanged on our platform every week and over 60,000 successful marriages so far, and our eyes are firmly set on expansion into new international territories. When I started SingleMuslim most people didn’t even have an internet connection. In fact, many of our first customers introduced the internet into their lives because they wanted to get on SingleMuslim.com! While it seems hard to imagine a society so disconnected from the digital world now, in many parts of the globe, especially Muslim-majority countries, widespread internet access has only recently become a reality. This, coupled with cultural shifts in Muslim communities that perceive digital matchmaking as less of a taboo, mean the market of potential Single Muslims out there has opened up massively.

The potential is huge, and for the first time in our history as a company we are looking outwards for major partners and investors to come on-board and launch our platform to dizzying new heights. Investment might be a small step for SingleMuslim.com, but God willing, it will represent a giant leap for Muslim matchmaking around the world as we help millions more on their journey to a “happily ever after”.

Adeem Younis

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Possibly My Greatest Achievement So Far?

SingleMuslim.com was founded to provide a simple solution to a complex problem. I needed to get married.

As I approached my 20s and my first company began to take off I started to face pressure at home to get married, the only problem was I didn’t quite fancy the candidates that were lined up for me! I quickly came to realise it wasn’t just me. The traditional routes of getting married no longer made sense to the millions of Muslims who call Britain home and who were seeking a life partner who shared their religious worldview. In other words, I didn’t want to marry a woman I didn’t know, from a country I barely knew. I wasn’t alone and thus SingleMuslim.com was born.

Fast forward almost 20 years and our website, which began in a small room on top of the pizza shop I worked in, is now responsible for over 100,000 people finding their life partners, including me!

Earlier this year we passed the momentous 1 million-mark in UK registrations (not forgetting a million more across the world,) a little maths from our tech gurus, and we’ve worked out that that equates to over half of all Muslims in Britain aged between 16 and 60! The market penetration has been beyond my wildest imaginations, with SingleMuslim being the largest Muslim-run website in the country. It’s been this success that was able to drive the phenomenal growth and impact of our global award-winning humanitarian work.

It’ll probably surprise you to know, however, that to date, perhaps one of my greatest achievements so far was standing at the back of a small meeting room in central London at the tail end of last year, listening to a presentation at the annual iDate conference. The speaker was presenting the latest statistics and trends in the dating/matrimonial industry as leaders from across the sector nibbled on biscuits and networked with one another. My interest was suddenly piqued when I saw our SingleMuslim logo on the screen.

At no point were we contacted or informed about the presentation, the speaker had done his research and was simply presenting his findings. Under the heading, ‘Top 10 UK Websites with greatest online traffic,’ there listed as number 8 was SingleMuslim.com! It was a remarkable moment of affirmation. None of the other companies listed on those slides were ‘niche’ services, rather they catered for wide segments of the entire ‘single’ market. Two decades of hard work and our company was making ripples at the highest level of the industry.

Our name came up a few more times and was competing alongside industry-giants such as Tinder, eHarmony and Match.com, despite their millions of funding and hundreds of staff, our small ‘SingleMuslim family’ has been able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best in our technical know-how, user-experience and marketing power.

What stood out to many at that conference was our independence from external agencies. Taking inspiration from Steve Jobs, we ensure that all of our work, design, application development, security etc. is fully managed in-house. It made me very proud to know that our staff were competing and excelling at the highest of levels and knowing how much more we have in the pipes fills me with excitement about the future. It was deeply flattering to later see the big dating-giants praise our successes and talk about their failed attempts to try and penetrate the British Muslim market.

A couple months later with we were further honoured to take home the Global iDate ‘Best Niche Site’ Award 2018 in Miami. On reflection, I’m reminded that ultimately, it is our authenticity, dedication to excellence and perhaps our nimbleness too that has afforded us our industry-leading status.

The success of SingleMuslim.com is rooted in our providing an effective digital solution to a social crisis that still plagues Muslim communities to this day. Through embracing cultural innovation and technology we’ve provided a home for British Muslims who are comfortable with their hybrid identities and furthermore, we’ve proved that anyone can be the change they want to see, even if all you have is a store room above a tiny pizza shop in a tiny Yorkshire town.

Adeem Younis

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The NatWest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year!

For the first time in a long time, I actually felt nervous walking up to the podium this week to collect The Natwest Great British Entrepreneur Award for the North. I was already chuffed to bits having collected the “Entrepreneur for Good” award on behalf of our amazing teams at SingleMuslim.com and Penny Appeal. Before the closing of the glitzy ceremony, the infamous GoCompare opera singer, Wynee Evans, announced there would be an overall winner across the ten award categories and I was left speechless when they called my name out – ‘Adeem Younis, The NatWest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ – I had to pinch myself.

The Great British Entrepreneur Awards celebrate the hard work and inspiring stories of businesses across the UK. Now in its fifth year, with stiff competition from over a 1000 entries nationwide, these awards represent the crème de la crème of Britain’s Entrepreneurial best.

Taking home the most coveted prize of the night meant more to me this time than ever before. My social media erupted with commendations and congratulations flying in from all over the world. One of the phrases that filled up my notifications was “role model” another was “trailblazer” – big words that I hadn’t really reflected on before.

A role model is ultimately someone you hold in esteem that you also can identify with. When I was young, the only people I identified with, in so far as a business role model, were taxi drivers and restaurant owners and if you were really successful you might be a taxi driver who owned a restaurant! With my father passing away when I was young, God have Mercy on his soul, and my mother just about making ends meet, real commercial success was hardly something people of my generation aspired to.

Whilst I never got around to driving a taxi, unless carting the kids around counts, true to my inspirations in my early 20s I set up my own restaurant and even pioneered Britain’s first ‘Chocolate Curry,’ which went down as well as it sounds. (Not very well!)

What made a huge difference for me was having the courage to step out of my own comfort zone and into the unknown. Through opportunities at Wakefield College I ended up doing an internship at ITV Studios in Leeds.

Through hard work and determination that internship became a job where I picked up essential skills and the confidence to start my own business, SingleMuslim.com – you guys know the rest of the story!

Winning these awards and stepping up to that podium, having been acknowledge by veteran Judges from the CEO of JustEat.co.uk to Toni (from Toni&Guy), felt like breaking through another glass ceiling. To have a British Muslim of Pakistani extraction recognised at this level, with a company that couldn’t be more overtly Muslim, is a big deal, not just for me, but for our communities too. Just like Tony and Ron at Wakefield College, who set up that internship for me, there are people outside our communities who recognise potential and can help open new and exciting opportunities.

We’ve come a long way with SingleMuslim, even further with Penny Appeal and I know we’ve got an even longer way to go. But when I think of the young British Muslims in their teens or 20s, maybe even reading this now, instead of their bar being set at taxi drivers and restaurant owners, perhaps now they might aspire to be the ‘Great British Entrepreneur of the Year’ and if they dare to grow beyond their comfort zones? They’d trump all I might hope to achieve and I couldn’t be prouder for them.

Ultimately a role model is someone you look up to and someone you hold in high regard. If I’m ever worthy of that title, I can only hope to be a springboard for even greater successes, so that those who come after us might be able to do more, serve more and become more than we can ever imagine.

Adeem Younis

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When the Dragon Visits Your Den

People sometimes ask me, what gives me the drive to get up every morning and take on the world, the answer is days like this.

It’s what I live for as an entrepreneur, the exhilarating experience of translating a chance encounter into, insha’Allah (God Willing), a lasting, fruitful partnership bringing together the best of the business and philanthropic worlds.

Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart famously once said, “The most effective way to do it, is to do it!” Although he’s not solo-piloting a plane around the world, I couldn’t help but think of these words having hosted James Caan, a pioneer of different sorts, in our Wakefield HQ last week.

After our last meeting in Monaco, James showed a keen interest in the SingleMuslim and Penny Appeal journey and true to his word a few short weeks later I was waiting to receive him and two of his trusted senior aides at our Wakefield train station.

Following a whistle stop tour of our offices, James and I, alongside a handful of our colleagues locked heads exploring potential collaboration. We started with a blank slate and high hopes and we finished with a mission, a plan and by the end of the meeting already trawling through LinkedIn for potential recruits (we’re looking for a solid investment manager based in the North of England, is that you??)

James came to my den but he reminded us he was the real dragon. Watching the cogs turn in his head was like watching a magician, it’s no surprise he’s built all that he has. His style was collaborative, open and reflective, inviting his own ideas to be challenged, scrutinised and built upon. He spoke back and forth with his colleagues as partners, not subordinates. He quickly and brilliantly digested all the stories and figures we threw at him and synergised our vision with his passion for making a positive impact through the power of entrepreneurship.

The penny dropped (so to speak) when he looked up and casually remarked “Penny Appeal is on track to raise £22 million this year for those most vulnerable in the world… I think we can double that.” – I literally had goose bumps.

One of the gems I took from this interaction was how seamlessly James moved from planning to action. He didn’t waste time. Once we were all on board, he led us into execution mode, starting very intentionally with looking for the right people to hire, after all, team work makes the dream work!

Our new combined effort takes a whole new approach to transforming small change into a big difference. There literally isn’t anything like it in the humanitarian sector and the more our teams unpack its potential the more I’m so honoured to be on this journey with James and his colleagues.

I’m certain together we can be greater than the sum of our individual parts and I’m so excited about what we’re planning to launch – watch this space, we’re going to need your help!

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Top 10 Lessons learnt after meeting James Caan

A couple weeks ago I had the genuine pleasure to spend some time in Monaco with the inspirational business tycoon James Caan, an individual I’ve looked up to for many years. Cruising along the French Riviera, James generously hosted my wife and I in his stunning private yacht, sharing a lifetime of lessons over a hearty lunch.

Having dipped into his autobiography, witnessed his unique charm on screen (and at a variety of community events) and now finally enjoyed quality 1-2-1 time with James in his own environment, I have listed below 10 lessons I have taken to heart from his incredible journey.

1.    “Different, not better”

It was humbling to hear James praise the strong team of leaders he has assembled around him. He rejoices in fact that each of them out-skill him in their areas of expertise. As the leader he doesn’t feel the need to be better than everyone else, rather each of them are the best in their fields and each offer something different. James provides the unique vision that holds them all together and his career is a testament to the success of this.

2.    “Success in Failure”

It’s been said before, and it can’t be said enough. Too often, especially amongst Asian communities, we’re taught failure is a terrible thing, but James is clear it doesn’t have to be that way. Failing does not make you a failure. You learn in failure lessons you can never learn in success. James has taken each of his failings as moments for him to introspect, learn and anchor himself ready to launch again. My time with James has moved me to better accept mistakes as an essential part of one’s journey.

3.    “Keep it simple and stay focused”

James reflected on some of the most successful businesses in recent times; Uber is not a complicated or confusing thing. It’s a taxi service. Likewise, AirBnB has a simple business model and yet these companies are worth billions. Sometimes we get caught up in complexity, when more than not simplicity and ease win the day. As entrepreneurs, we need to be careful not to fall for fluffy words and complex business plans that in reality can hinder your success

4.    “Quality time”

The quantity of our time is limited, but the quality is something we can work to improve. James attributes much of his success on making good decisions and you will make your best decisions when you are in your best form. Physically, emotionally, spiritually – James has always struck me as an incredibly composed and centred individual. He surrounds himself with quality people, in quality environments. He oozes confidence and never strikes you as an individual on edge or imbalanced. James reminded me to not forget to enjoy life, celebrate the small things, value family time and remember that success in your professional life should go hand in hand with success in your personal life too.

5.    “Something from nothing”

As entrepreneurs it’s in our DNA to see something when others don’t, to create connections where others can’t, to bring into life that which doesn’t yet exist. To many people that doesn’t make sense but this is a gift that entrepreneurs have, an instinct. My time with James has inspired me to trust that feeling, to feed that vision, to dare to try, take risks and crucially, buck the trend (See point 9!)

6.    “Know you limits”

No one person can do everything. Whilst an entrepreneur’s skill may lie in envisioning and creating something from nothing, more often than not it’s our egos that stop us from taking our companies to the next level. We have to know our limits and our strengths. James conceded he’s strongest in establishing companies but to see them mature into their fullest potential he knew there are other people who can do that better than he ever could and he hired the best in the business to take his companies to the next level.

7.    “Share the rewards”

James works with people who are passionate and believe in his vision as he does. One of the ways he encourages this is incentivising other people’s work, so they will reap the fruits of their hard work not just James. I was moved by how James believes in, trusts and empowers others. It’s hard to do this at first, your business is your baby and it can be difficult to trust others with looking after it but a smaller slice of a bigger pie is always worth more than a big slice of a small pie.

8.    “Find your Passion”

People will make excuses not to work but passion is what keeps the dream alive. If you love what you do you will find the sweetness in the struggle. The sleepless nights, burning the midnight oil, squeezing every drop that you have in you; that’s where the magic happens. Sometimes it can take a while to discover what really drives you. James is a man of passion and it’s infectious. It inspires others and draws them to you. If you have passion, you’ll always make the time. Don’t have the time? You don’t have the passion.

9.    “Against the grain”

Buck the trend. This is one of James’ secrets. You might find success doing what other people are doing, but there’s almost certainly someone who can do it better than you. His advice, inspired by his father, is to innovate and master your own space. For real success, you have to believe that you can be successful and thus craft businesses that have a wide reach and scalability. This doesn’t mean doing something different just for the sake of it, but rather finding the gaps in the market and offering something unique.

10. “Role Model”

Reflecting on my times with James I was touched by his genuine generosity of spirit. He offered up his time, invited me into his space, listened to me and imparted honest sincere advice, all without asking for anything in return. It was humbling to witness and reminded me to always make time for others. The truth is, whatever I have managed to achieve with SingleMuslim.com and Penny Appeal; the dozens of countries we work in, the hundreds of staff, tens of thousands of marriages we’ve helped set up, the millions of pounds raised for the neediest, it pales in comparison to the impact James has achieved in his career. A true role model inspires you to do more and be more and I can’t be more grateful to James for reigniting the spark of possibility within me.

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Adeem Younis

Adeem Younis

Founder of SingleMuslim.com and PennyAppeal.org