Shapers: Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed

Show aired on 20th May 2017

Transcript

Elliot Moss
That was Nina Simone with Brown Eyed Handsome Man what a lovely title for a lovely song. Good morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I’m Elliot Moss thank you very much for joining me. Jazz Shapers is the place where you can hear the very best of the people shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and alongside them we bring people who are shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers and I say people today because I have two wonderful business shapers in front of me and they are brothers and sisters called Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed and they are the founders, the co-founders of a lovely business called Optibac Probiotics and it is a family business which has been making people feel good for quite a while now. You’ll be hearing lots about their journey very shortly. In addition to hearing from them you’ll also be hearing from our programme partners at Mishcon de Reya some words of advice for your business and then we’ve got the music and it’s a lovely mix today. Tony Bennett is in there, Bill Withers is in there and so is Roberto Fonseca with Family.

That was Roberto Fonseca with Family, new music from his album Abuc. This is Jazz Shapers as I said and my Business Shapers today are a double act. They’re brother and sister. I don’t know if I’ve had a brother and sister, I’ve had husband and wife, I’ve had partners, I don’t know if I’ve had a brother and sister. Maybe this is the first one. Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed and they are the founders, the co-founders of a beautiful business called Optibac Probiotics. Thank you both for joining me. Hello.

Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed
Hello. Hello.

Elliot Moss
Hello, there they are, see there’s two of them. I promise there’s two and here they are. Let’s start with Jalal for any other good reason than I’m looking that way for the moment. Tell me a little bit about how the family got involved with this business. Tell me a bit about the business and then how you roped people in from the family beyond the first two.

Jalal Janmohamed
Yeah absolutely. So we had just as a family growing up a keen interest in health and looking after ourselves and wellbeing and dad was a Pharmacist by trade and we were, I was finishing University, we were looking for opportunities and things to get involved with and get involved with and dad had one of his mates come round, an old Pharmacist friend of his who actually lives in New Zealand but they trained together at Nottingham and they worked together in London and he turns up and pops open his computer and he’s checking the sales that his pharmacies are doing in his absence back in New Zealand and one of the real items he tracks is the sales of the probiotics because there’s a natural link in pharmacy to recommend a probiotic with every antibiotic that is dispensed and antibiotics can cause side effects like diarrhoea and thrush and so on and the research shows that if you take a probiotic at the same then you can avoid those side effects from happening and dad was immediately like interested you know what are these sales, how are you doing them, how many is happening and the guy you know has a joke and says yeah when I’m not there sales drop and when I’m there you know the counter staff are incentivised to recommend them. But it just kind of opened our mind you know we knew Pharmacists, we knew the industry a little bit and probiotics were up and coming. We started doing some research into them and found out that different ones work in different ways and that was how the business was born.

Elliot Moss
And this is what year, what are we talking about?

Jalal Janmohamed
So we’re talking 2004.

Elliot Moss
Wow.

Jalal Janmohamed
So we’re coming up to you know twelve, thirteen years in the business now.

Elliot Moss
And just, and very briefly so when did you get involved Soraya, at what point did you get roped in?

Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed
So I got roped in full-time after I finished University, 2008 but before that actually we were all really involved from the get go and sort of helping out in our holidays while I was at University as well. Just because we’re all really interested in business and really interested in health so the two came together quite naturally for us.

Elliot Moss
And in the early days easy to ascertain who the boss was? Who was the boss Jalal?

Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed
[Laughs]

Elliot Moss
Come on, spill the beans, spill the beans before we go to Tony Bennett, I want to know. I want one word.

Soraya Janmohamed
It depends who you ask.

Elliot Moss
Ah.

Jalal Janmohamed
If you ask our colleagues they’d definitely tell you Soraya’s the boss.

Elliot Moss
Ah ha, there you go.

Soraya Janmohamed
But in a silent, in a silent.

Elliot Moss
The silent and powerful Soraya is actually the boss. Stay with me for the story that is going to unfold about the Optibac Probiotic business. It’s a family business just in case you hadn’t noticed and Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed are my Business Shapers today talking about that. Time for some music it’s the one and only Tony Bennett with The Best Is Yet To Come.

The fabulous voice of Mr Tony Bennett with The Best Is Yet To Come and I hope it is because my Business Shapers today are Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed and they are part of the family behind the Optibac business Probiotics. I’m looking at the packaging here. Health is an interesting thing to be interested in as a family and the business now is almost I think a six million pound business, it’s significant. Why health Soraya? Why is health a thing I mean I care about health you know we all do but why particularly you and your family?

Soraya Janmohamed
So we had the influence of dad being a Pharmacist by profession and also actually when we were kids our mum passed away of cancer actually so I think when she became ill – she struggled for years with it – and when she became ill we obviously all became really interested in health and what can we do to take a bit more control over our health and then after she passed as well it became not an obsession but really a huge interest for us and I think obviously there’s no, there’s never any silver lining when you have a loss like that but if anything positive was to come from that experience I think that really being really, really interested in health and how you can empower other people to take control of their health through diet and lifestyle became a real interest for us.

Elliot Moss
Now I unfortunately have friends who have also lost parents to cancer and at a very young age as well, the wrong age it’s always too soon but they haven’t gone on to set up a business what they’ve done is they may have got obsessed and obsessed is an interesting word I think if we’re honest. They got obsessed about their own health and they’ve changed their diets and macrobiotic or they don’t eat soya because X, Y, you know, all the fads that people talk about. Why do you think there was a drive to convert that obsession and I understand that emotionally into the commercial piece around the business because the two and I often ask people about this because people have good ideas and they do nothing? You have done something about the feelings you had, probably the anger that you had and all those other things but you’ve channelled it, why is that?

Soraya Janmohamed
Well I think business was quite an obvious one for us as well. So dad was a lovely role model, incredibly bright and an incredibly successful businessman and I think that influenced us very early on, it rubbed off and we used to be you know as kids we were those annoying children in the village who insisted on taking a table out to the end of the drive and selling lord knows what to everyone who passed by. We used to make lemonade didn’t we?

Jalal Janmohamed
Yeah.

Soraya Janmohamed
We baked cakes.

Jalal Janmohamed
Potted plants.

Soraya Janmohamed
Yeah mum would come home and go why are there a bunch of holes in the flower bed but we used to, we used to sell god knows what and we did quite well actually. I think that was our first, very first lesson in business is this idea that people buy from people. So we used to try and charm people into buying things. Perhaps they just felt a bit bad for us.

Elliot Moss
Did you always get on well because immediately the dynamic between you two is very good? I mean I’m very close to my sister but I don’t know about working with her. I mean we do work on certain things together occasionally but you do, have you always or did your mother’s passing bring you even closer?

Soraya Janmohamed
I definitely think that was another, I think that influenced the way that we were all so close. I think it helps us to appreciate each other a lot more. We are all very close as siblings and with our father as well so yeah.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for lots more really interesting stuff from my Business Shapers today that’s Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed and their business is Optibac and it’s a family business. All sorts of ways that are now emerging. Latest travel coming up in a couple of minutes but before that it’s another part of our Future Shapers series, it’s someone who is going to be shaping the world of business in the very near future.

You’re listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss and every Saturday I’m very lucky because I get to talk to someone usually an individual but sometimes more than one. Today is more than one. People who are shaping the world of business and we call them Business Shapers. If you’ve missed any iTunes is a really good destination for you put in the worlds ‘Jazz’ and ‘Shapers’ and you’ll find a whole host of fabulous people there. My fabulous people here today are brother and sister who seem to get on very, very well. I’m sure they’ll argue when they leave. Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed and they are two of the four member family at the heart of this business called Optibac Probiotics set up back in 2004. Both of you at that point very young and recently graduated and so on and obviously Soraya you got involved a little bit later. When you’re young and you haven’t set up another business how do you know what to do at all? I mean obviously your dad’s a Pharmacist and Jalal will know the health stuff but there are really some basic things around where do I go for packaging? What do I do to ensure that this is going to be compliant with whatever regulatory stuff there is if indeed it fits into that thing? Where do I distribute? What about the, I mean a million things.

Jalal Janmohamed
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
Where did you start?

Jalal Janmohamed
Well it’s all a little bit hit and miss and we’re big believers in just trying something and then evaluating it and trying to measure if that worked or not and if it does you go gung ho a hundred miles an hour and really exploit it and if it doesn’t then you try something else. But we were lucky with dad, he had a lot of experience with business and he could point us in the right direction and kind of give us some focus. We joined the Trade Association for the Natural Products Industry and they were very helpful in terms of advice and technical support. You know we talked to suppliers, we’d use the Internet; we’re that kind of generation. But we’re not afraid to ask lots of questions and try and find out from people who have either been there and done it and know better than us and that’s a philosophy we continue even today.

Elliot Moss
And talking about support Soraya who would you have gone to in those early days for support outside of the family? Were there friends, other members of the family perhaps wider or experts? I mean where did you go and how did you find them? Or did you not need to truthfully?

Soraya Janmohamed
I think dad was a huge support for us. Really, really huge support. I remember some of the key advice he gave, we still use it every day. I still ask him questions now but you know some of the key advice was always to focus on sales. Remember he didn’t let us advertise for a long time.

Jalal Janmohamed
Yeah.

Soraya Janmohamed
What are you doing with all of that and you know if it was the days of Facebook he would have said what on earth is that just go, focus on your sales, go and sell the product into the stores otherwise you don’t have a business to run. Something else he tells us always is hire people who are smarter than you. So we’re really doing a lot of that and we’ve got some great people on board and I think that’s fantastic advice.

Elliot Moss
And the focusing on sales thing do you remember the first significant channel that you sold into or partner and if so what did it, when was it and how did it feel when it happened?

Jalal Janmohamed
So the approach we’ve taken was actually to really reach out to the independent pharmacies and the independent health food shops and you can really build a great relationship with the owners of those shops. You can go in their stores and you can train their staff to recommend the products and it’s a real you know, symbolic relationship where both of you are benefiting. So even now the business is spread kind of widely and we’re not reliant on any particular one customer but back in the day you know it was totally normal that we would be very strict you know between 9.30 and lunch we’d be on the phone phoning customers trying to sell the products, tell them about offers or new products or anything. We’d start again after lunch up til 5.00 and it would just be constant you know on the phone getting our name out there. Then you’d kind of like you know get off the phone and go into the back room and pack the orders and prepare the stock to be sent the next day you know, and some of our suppliers or you know, Soraya talked about these magazines and stuff you know they knew they were not allowed to phone us to talk about advertising space until after 5.00 because we just would not take their call we were so focused on getting out there and getting the name out there and we didn’t want to be interrupted.

Elliot Moss
And that’s the way to get your sales up I guess you would say. I mean you’ve done pretty well too. Stay with me for much more from Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed and they are my Business Shapers today. Time for some music right now with some more new music its China Moses with Watch Out.

That was China Moses with the jaunty Watch Out. We’ve been talking here Jalal and Soraya about starting things up and really good advice and all that. When things have got off to a decent start is it hard to sustain it? I mean is it hard to keep reinventing and at what point after X number of years did it become like complacency – I can’t imagine you two would ever be complacent – but when you were probably not challenging yourselves and then you suddenly had to again. Was there a moment when you looked around and said what have we got to do? We’ve got to drive again and if so when was that? Or is it not like that at all?

Soraya Janmohamed
I think because we’re in such an exciting industry its constantly evolving you know every single week some new research comes out on probiotics for a different health condition and that’s our USP is that we’re taking different probiotics strains and targeting different conditions. So actually it’s just been a question over the years of growing the range you know and looking at different areas all the time we’re saying oh maybe probiotics will give the skin health now. There’s a few clinical trials on that so then it’s a question of developing a new product for that angle which we haven’t yet done actually I’m just giving away what we might do in future.

Elliot Moss
Quick take notes, take notes and who does your R&D? Your research and development. Is that in-house or do you kind of use lots of different people in different universities or?

Jalal Janmohamed
So around the world there are four or five major players who actually do fermentation, do the research, do the clinical trials and they would make for companies we’re very familiar with like Danone and Yakult and Actimel and so on. So we work in partner with them and rely on their expertise and rely on their kind of like evidence based approach and we’ve, you know we’ve done very well from partnering with those guys.

Elliot Moss
And the invention Soraya does it come from, oh you just mentioned skin, oh let’s look at skin, what’s the probiotic or is it that the guys that are looking at the work scientifically are saying well hold on a minute we’ve just found a new strand it might be good for this or is it, how do you decide where to point the arrow?

Soraya Janmohamed
Both absolutely you’ve got to get that balance haven’t you. What’s the market looking for and what, how much research is there behind this condition and the probiotics for this condition? So we’ve been told by some of these product partners that we do a crazy amount of due diligence you know more than Johnsons & Johnsons of this world they come back to us and like, wow you really are very fussy about the clinical trials and was it placebo controlled and double blind etcetera because it’s important to us that there’s enough research behind something obviously before we launch it rather than just a bit of anecdotal evidence.

Elliot Moss
Yeah rather than the other way around. Stay with me for my final chat today with Soraya and Jalal and we’re also going to be playing some music from Bill Withers that’s after the latest traffic and travel here on Jazz FM.

That was Bill Withers with Use Me. I’ve got a few more minutes with my double whammy great guests here Jalal and Soraya and they are the people behind, along with the other members of their family, the people behind a probiotics business called Optibac and it’s been doing rather well but over a period of time I guess I mean you have grown this from the beginning. It must be fun though looking back and going well we had this idea and now we’ve got almost fifty people working for us. I mean is that, do you think like that the two of you in any way? I’m going to look at Soraya for a minute?

Soraya Janmohamed
Absolutely.

Elliot Moss
She’ll only butt in any way. I’m only kidding. But do you think like that I mean is it a source of pride?

Soraya Janmohamed
Oh absolutely. I think well my favourite thing about the business is knowing that we’ve got a product we truly believe in and so you know we talked about it earlier that we’re still really excited when someone says, oh I take a probiotic and you narrow it down well what brand are you taking. Do you put it in the fridge, no you don’t. Oh and it turns out to be ours and that’s still a really exciting conversation for us.

Elliot Moss
And talking about the belief thing because I wanted to take about values. It strikes me that at the core of your family forget the business has a set of values and how you manage yourselves and being ethical is important, being kind is important I’m sort of making it up but I feel that’s right.

Soraya Janmohamed
That’s perfect.

Elliot Moss
I think there’s respect for elders. It strikes me the way you talk about your dad is the way that I hope my kids talk about me one day. Pressures like that I’ll write in and tell you if that happens. But seriously there’s a very, there’s a sense of who you are as a family and I believe that you give money, I think 1% of your turnover to the Aga Khan University Hospitals Patient Welfare programme. I want to talk about this Women Kind Worldwide stuff that you do as well. It seems really important and it’s not lip service. Is that just because these values are easily transportable into business?

Jalal Janmohamed
I think that what we’ve seen over the last six, seven, eight years since the financial crisis is that Governments are struggling right? There’s huge national debt and so on and we feel it’s only right that business takes its fair share of kind of supporting and there’s all the fancy terms of corporate social responsibility and so on but actually you know we believe in having colleagues who are paid well and supported and kind of feel part of the family frankly and are all pulling in the same direction. We love the fact that our customers are taking a product which is going to make them feel better which is really great but also if we can actually use the business to do some wider good beyond you know our direct sphere around us and giving to charity and supporting you know some amazing charities out there then you know that’s incredible and it makes us go home and sleep well at night and feel good about ourselves why not.

Elliot Moss
And that strikes me as enough for you Soraya as a family or have you got other ambitions? Is this business going to be fifty million and are you going to sell one day?

Soraya Janmohamed
I’m not sure about selling one day but…

Jalal Janmohamed
What would we do?

Elliot Moss
I mean that’s the thing though is this a lifelong passion do you think? Do you think this is what it is about and it’s just a question of iterating and make sure that you grow the revenue and that you carry on being able to impact is that enough?

Jalal Janmohamed
For me absolutely.

Elliot Moss
They’re nodding furiously.

Soraya and Jalal Janmohamed
[Laughs].

Elliot Moss
They look like they’re not selling.

Soraya Janmohamed
Sorry you can’t see us can you.

Elliot Moss
No but they’re nodding furiously and yes I think it sounds like you’re very happy.

Jalal Janmohamed
Its enjoyable you know, you get up every day, you go to work and it doesn’t feel like hard work its good fun and it’s exciting and you come and do things like this and you meet people like yourself Elliot and it’s a new challenge and it’s something…

Elliot Moss
You must have had a bad morning, doing well.

Jalal Janmohamed
…constantly learning.

Elliot Moss
No, that’s brilliant. Listen really good luck to both of you. I think it sounds fantastic I kind of want to come and work for you because it just seems like a happy and nicely focused and incredibly well-mannered family. It’s really lovely to see it. It means that you know you can be a good person and do really well in business as I often say to that people it’s always a nice surprise to get that. Just before I let you both go what’s your joint song choice and why have you chosen it?

Soraya Janmohamed
Well I think it had to be We Are Family by Sister Sledge.

Elliot Moss
Easy peasy here it is just for you thank you very much.

Jalal Janmohamed
Thank you.

Elliot Moss
That was Sister Sledge and We Are Family the song choice of my Business Shapers today Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed the founders of Optibac Probiotics. A business that came to being because of a very strong personal reason for the family. A business built on some really simple foundations sales are important and a business that continues to flourish because they really fundamentally believe in important principles and those are the things that are underpinning their continued success. A really, really good story. Do join me again same time same place, that’s next Saturday 9.00am sharp for another edition of Jazz Shapers. Meanwhile stay with us because coming up next here on Jazz FM it’s the one and only Nigel Williams.

Jalal and Soraya Janmohamed 

Jalal, Soraya & Farah Janmohamed are siblings and co-founders at OptiBac Probiotics, a 14 year old company specialising entirely in friendly bacteria supplements. Jalal studied Business at the University of Nottingham; he finished on the Friday and, eager to get going, started the company on the Monday. His sisters worked remotely until joining full time in the following years – Soraya with a first class degree in Languages & Marketing, and Farah with a first class in Natural Sciences from Durham University. Today Jalal acts as MD, Soraya as Director of Marketing & Communications, and Farah as Business Development Director. Growing the company together in a flexible manner has meant that the siblings have each worked in all parts of the business – from packing in the warehouse to representing the brand on the road – giving them a great understanding of the business & industry. Today, the business employs over 50 people. The OptiBac Probiotics range is regularly featured in the national press; is stocked in over 1,500 health food stores & pharmacies across the UK & Ireland; and exports to more than 10 countries. Jalal, Soraya & Farah are proud of their products’ quality – offering some of the most researched probiotic strains in the world – and ethics; the company donates over 1% of turnover to charity.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

“We had the influence of dad being a Pharmacist by profession, and also when we were kids our mum passed away of cancer so when she became ill we obviously all became really interested in health”

“As kids we were those annoying children in the village who insisted on taking a table out to the end of the drive and selling lord knows what to everyone who passed by. We used to make lemonade didn’t we?”

“I think our very first lesson in business is this idea that people buy from people. So we used to try and charm people into buying things. Perhaps they just felt a bit bad for us.”

“We’re big believers in just trying something and then evaluating it, trying to measure if that worked or not. If it does you go gung ho a hundred miles an hour and really exploit it, and if it doesn’t then you try something else”

“Something Dad tells us always is hire people who are smarter than you. So we’re really doing a lot of that and we’ve got some great people on board and I think that’s fantastic advice”

“The approach we’ve taken was to really reach out to the independent pharmacies and the independent health food shops and you can really build a great relationship with the owners of those shops”

“We’re in such an exciting industry, its constantly evolving. Every single week some new research comes out on probiotics for a different health condition.”

“We’ve been told by some of these product partners that we do a crazy amount of due diligence… more than the Johnsons & Johnsons of this world.”

“We love the fact that our customers are taking a product which is going to make them feel better.”