Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A very sad day for Heaven Fresh

We got the shock of our life this morning (January 21, 09) to get the news that Mr. Roy Frankel had passed away.  Roy was 83 years young.  The old adage that 'age is just a number' was coined just for Roy.  Sometimes I wonder that if I get to live for another 50 years, will my vibrancy be even close to what Roy had.

If luck has some role to play in building a successful business then I can say without any hesitation that crossing paths with Roy in the early days of Heaven Fresh was the luckiest break for us. In response to one of our ads in Toronto Star, Roy walked into our office looking for an air purifier.  After talking to us for few minutes, Roy's experienced eyes saw something that we could not.  When I told him that we wanted to make Heaven Fresh a household brand name, his response was that 'I know what you need but you cannot afford me'.

I don't know whether it was his desire to give back to the society or his yearning to stay in the game that he offered to work with us for free. It was an offer that no one in their right mind could refuse. Roy lead us on a path that we did not even know existed. He introduced Heaven Fresh to all the major Canadian retailers. It is the hard work and dedication of Roy that Heaven Fresh products got into the Canadian Tire, Shoppers Drug Mart, Nutrition House, The Shopping Channel, PharmaPlus, Costco and several other chain stores.

Roy had this amazing level of energy and passion for growth. He was like an energizer bunny that did not know how to stop. Even until yesterday he was concerned about all the pending e-mails and wanted to make sure that we had sent the necessary information to Costco for the upcoming promotion. He wasn't feeling well for past few days but I knew that he will be up and running soon as he always did. Anytime he got sick, he bounced back with even more vigor. It was just Roy.

That's why it's so hard to believe that he's not among us anymore.  It makes me sad to think that I will not get another call from Roy early in the morning with some "urgent" matter.  Heaven Fresh will miss him very much. I will miss him very much.

May his soul rest in peace.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Recession and the Micro Multinational

Good Bye 2008.  What a year it was. Every single business move that we made since starting Heaven Fresh in 2003 was put to test in 2008.  With no prior experience of managing a business in an economic downturn,  recession was just an abstract in my mind until recently.  I remember thinking to myself in early 2008 that we must be really good that the so called recession hasn't made any difference to the Heaven Fresh sales.  Then we entered the summer season of 2008 with an expectation of usual low sales volume.  Somehow I managed to comfort myself that as always we would break even in the summer months and would recover from the slow season in September. When I got back from the Middle East office by the end of August, I found out that  our credit cards and credit lines were all maxed out trying to keep up with salaries and operational expenses.

All of a sudden it hit me that perhaps recession was not some made up story by the news channels and business magazines. It was real and needed to be dealt with. By using my old fashioned calculator and the latest snapshot of our P&L reports, it did not take me long to discover that even if we achieved our "normal" sales level in last four months of 2008, we would not be able to get out of the operational debt accumulated over the summer months.  By the end of September 08, it was painfully obvious that our "high season" was not going to be as high and we had to do something about it.  Right around that time, my dear trader friend, Celal Okur, forwarded me this presentation by Sequoia Capital.

Out of this lengthy presentation, the following three slides got imprinted in my mind. We had to save our young company from getting into the "Death Spiral" of the 2008 recession.




Well, we took the solutions presented by Sequoia to heart and made some instantaneous moves based on the suggested solution. Some of them were:

  • Cut the management bonus installments
  • Cut the base salaries of the sales staff
  • Eliminated the marketing expenses that did not produce immediate results
  • Stopped the R&D project and laid off the staff
  • Moved the UK office from London to Birmingham to save on rent (a massive saving for operation our size)
  • Held back the payable invoices, where ever we could
  • Diverted resources to high margin online cash sales
  • Expanded the offshore staff to reduce payroll expenses

As a result of the above steps, we managed to turn cash-flow positive in November and December 08.  As of today (January 06, 09), uncertainty is not over yet. The recession fears still loom and economy is still sliding.  However,  I feel more confident that we are going to get through this rough economic patch. We have also devised a plan to expand sales without increasing overheads. 

As the survival instincts kicked in due to the deteriorating business conditions, our operation in multiple countries and our small size gave us the flexibility to shift resources back and forth very quickly on as needed basis. Thus being micro-multinational became a saving grace. Once the economic chaos is over, this recession might turn out to be the biggest lesson for me on how to steer the ship in choppy waters.