Next up in our Meet the Founder series is Randi Barzinji, an entrepreneur who is making a big impact in the e-commerce world in the Kurdistan Region. Read about her journey and her business, shopyobrand, below!
Can you give a brief introduction about yourself?
My name is Randi, I am an AUI-S business & MBA graduate originally from the city of Koya. Right now, I am also pursuing my Doctorate at Paris School of Business. This is my last year of research, and I can tell you it has been one eye-opening journey. I love the business world clearly, and I’d like to pass on my knowledge and experience to young people and my community in the future.
I have mostly worked in marketing and commercial with successful startups. First at X-FM radio station where they first started out, and later with Asia-Hawala, the first mobile money payment provider, for three years. Pretty soon after I wanted to pursue a DBA and do research on Kurdistan’s economy and where it can lead to, and I figured there is a lot of interest in the e-commerce world. So doing research and using so many platforms on a daily basis myself led me to this new path I am on today.
Can you tell us about your business? What inspired you to start it?
In February 2018 I started my own e-commerce website www.shopyobrand.com with little technical knowledge. But that didn’t matter as I had a precise idea in mind for a fun and easy online shopping experience for people in Kurdistan. I wanted to be professional enough to not only use social media platforms for an online business but also to have a creative platform. So since I love shopping myself, and I saw in Europe the excitement of receiving parcels and packages from these diverse online stores, I made shopyobrand.com. On my website, customers can order items and products from their favorite beauty, fashion, kids, home décor worldwide brands including Amazon! Soon local brands too. These orders can be made by just sending the link of the items from the original websites listed on shopyobrand.com already where they can click on the brand and get redirected to the brand’s original online store.
Payments are done from their home, and we have drivers in Erbil and Sulaymani to pick up their payments and hand them an invoice. Once they have signed, we make the orders and deliver it to their home in 2-3 weeks time.
What are some of the challenges your business has faced and how have you addressed them?
Now, there are many challenges with having an online shopping site. Since my target is regular people who love shopping, there is not much familiarity with how online stores are used since it is done with a credit card. Besides reaching and gaining customers as a huge part of my daily activities in the business, I had to make sure people understand how this is done, and how to use the website. Therefore, educating and guiding customers was a big challenge. I had to make sure they find it easy and understand that this is a very easy tool for them to do their shopping from home, and have access to so many items that they can not find in the market at the moment.
So therefore, to address this challenge I made educational videos, and now I do daily updates on our social media platforms to communicate with our customers on how they can order online without a credit card.
What is your proudest moment/biggest achievement when it comes to your business?
My proudest moment was when people, especially my lady customers, fell in love with it and came back over and over again for more orders. Those customers have a special place. It is amazing to see them be so excited about their next purchase, and they make me be more ambitious about shopyobrand.com. It makes me think of the next idea and how I can provide them with more services and offers to add more value and importantly more excitement. It makes me proud to know that I started with no investment, no place but a passion. The proud moment was when we celebrated our one year anniversary. I realized they are part of the shopyobrand family, and feeling their support and presence makes me work harder to make this platform bigger and reach many others to be a huge success. I know now that it doesn’t matter where you start as long as you believe in it.
Can you tell us about your experience starting your business in Kurdistan?
Starting a business in Kurdistan is not easy. It usually need a lot of money, investment and risk. Especially for a woman, since we are usually on our own and it needs time for others to believe our idea in a male-dominated community. However, my experience of starting shopyobrand.com in Kurdistan was not very difficult as I had and still have a vision for it, and I’m confident to where this can lead. It is a matter of knowing what your good at, to be willing to face the challenges with it. The difficult part for me is the regulations to having your own business here especially an online one. Since registering your company is a long process plus very costly. There is not a specific law for online businesses.
How have you supported other women in your community?
After I established this platform, I felt like many others felt like it is okay even if you have the highest degree to do something simple as long as you have the passion and love for it. It is great to do work and be an employee or do something because it pays a lot or it has a high value in the community. But on the other side, if you are not happy or satisfied, you can go for your business; this is what I like to encourage my women community for.
What advice do you have for someone trying to start their own project/business?
My advice will be to sit down for it. If you have a passion or a great idea that you have been having in mind for years. You can still be an employee but fulfill that dream or plan too. It is possible to start with less than 1000$. It is possible to start from scratch, and once you take these steps, there will be many other ways to add on to it slowly but progressively.
Why did you join the Five One Labs Female Founders Fellowship?
Last but not least, I joined the Female Founders Fellowship at Five One Labs because I wanted to meet people who could give me feedback, provide me tools of expanding my business and pass me knowledge to grow my business. I knew I needed help in terms of mentoring, a second and third eye to lay out my business strategies, challenges, activities and so many other things that I needed to keep this platform. I am still at an early stage of my business, but since I have joined Five one labs, I have my own co-working space, a mentor that I can communicate with and a lot of new visions that has added on to my idea. This is only the start, but my direction is heading towards a very fulfilling journey that I can later advice, lecture on to other woman starting their businesses.