Mohamed Kamal talks about his business background in horticulture, and working with brands like IKEA, and how that led him (and his wife) to partnering up in business to build a startup (tentatively titled Furniture Masters) while studying here at MIT.
Can you introduce yourself?
My name is Mohamed Kamal, I am Egyptian, and I was born in Kuwait. I studied Construction Engineering at the American University in Cairo. After that I worked in the finance industry for five years. It was terrible! I didn’t like what I was doing, and decided in my fifth year to change career. I decided to start my own business, and it was based around growing flowers in Egypt, and exporting them outside the country. As with a lot of startups, it didn’t work out. I borrowed money from my family, and then started growing flowers, and rented the land. I learned about Horticulture, which I had no idea about before. Then, I started exporting the flowers, and failed at many things.
I decided to try something else, I took over production of the flowers that we had been growing, and started drying them, and making potpourri. One day I got a call from a big company, IKEA – who wanted to discuss the product. They wanted to import the potpourri from Egypt to IKEA stores worldwide. The whole thing didn’t go well, because flowers in Egypt are very different to the flowers they have in their stores. However, I went to my godfather, and he suggested that I come up with some other ideas for IKEA. He gave me several ideas, and one of them was coloring in sand and stones for decoration. I felt that this was okay, and doable. I started working from home, and created a lab – I got some stones, and ink – I failed several times, but I was persistent. I found a good formula, and proposed the new product and price to IKEA. They loved it. I didn’t know how to manufacture things, so I rented a factory, and hired a couple of people to take on a trial order. This went very well, and they gave us 10 per cent of what they are getting, then 50 per cent, and finally the whole quota. This was a success between 2005 and 2015. Then we started producing a new technology in packaging called “honeycomb” for IKEA, and then found another opportunity to make furniture from this material, and technology. Through this, I felt at this time that I did not have enough business know-how, with regards to scaling the business, and well as human resources and marketing, and that’s how I ended up at MIT.
What are your goals?
I’m about to begin a new startup here, with my wife as cofounder, and her brother as another one. This startup will be based around collapsible paper furniture, and we hope this will bring about a game-change in the furniture industry. The startup is [tentatively] titled Furniture Masters.
How would you advise that someone take advantage of the Martin Trust Center?
There are many great resources at the MTC. The first is the EIRs who will guide you, and give you good insights – they have huge experience in scaling big businesses. Also, the students! Each person has many challenges, and you can share knowledge.
Can you afford to make mistakes as an entrepreneur?
I think mistakes are a very important part of success. The more mistakes you make, the more successful you will be. You should love to make mistakes! Don’t be afraid. Enjoy life, and enjoy the experience. My father once told me, ‘Whatever you can learn in life, go ahead and learn it’.