Azam Kassim has always been captivated by travel, cultural experience, and education; however, his tenacity and drive have been for business! Born in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Azam completed his primary and high school there until the age of 16 when he moved to Johannesburg, South Africa. He lived there on his own for two years to pursue further education before moving to his now-home, Melbourne (Victoria) in 2006. It was there that he put down roots and completed his degree in Business and Economics and pursued a Masters of Aviation of Industry Management at RMIT University in 2008.
After graduating, Azam looked at getting into the Aviation industry, however, his gut was telling him to start his own business. With a strong history of family businesses in tow, keeping this tradition alive was important and natural next step for him as he entered the workforce.
Azam launched Hab Shifa in 2010 and despite the challenges – sometimes sleepless nights and the stresses of trying to juggle a healthy work-life balance – the journey has been one that Azam has never once looked back on.
When he’s not captivating the Australian supplements market, the father of four is spending time with his busy and active children (ages 10, eight, five, and three) who like to dabble in everything from martial arts to horse riding. Adding to the mix, Azam’s fifth child is their dog named Mila – who is the caretaker of their livestock – sheep, chickens – and their two pet camels!
When Azam’s not spending time with his family or overseeing Hab Shifa operations, he’s volunteering with his local Country Fire Authority (CFA) group during fire season. A high-risk and high-reward role that he’s been a part of for four years, Azam takes pride in being able to offer physical support where needed to help save homes from being destroyed as well as protect the natural flora and fauna in fire-impacted zones.
Azam’s faith is his drive and compass for everything he does – both in his personal and professional life. When conducting business, Azam and his team operate on the fundamentals of integrity and honesty with each and every transaction, and Azam views the challenges that come in business as an opportunity to learn and grow.
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ValiantCEO sat down with the founder of leading Black Seed supplements manufacturer, Hab Shifa for an interview to discover the power of Black Seed and the impact it’s having on Australians. Azam, can you tell us a little about yourself and your brand Hab Shifa?
Azam Kassim: I started Hab Shifa with my wife Shakira, back in 2010. With a Bachelor’s Degree of Commerce and Economics under my belt and a clear idea of how I wanted to market Black Seed to Australians, we set about bringing Hab Shifa to life.
I’ve lived and breathed all things Black Seed for as long as I can remember. I’ve grown up listening to stories of Black Seed and what it can do for your health, so it was a very natural move for me when it was time to start my own business, to start one that revolved around Black Seed.
From very modest beginnings – working from my home office and with a budget of just $10,000 – we worked to increase our product range and market interest over time. Some might have thought we were crazy, but when you have passion, research to back you and a willingness to adapt, you’d be surprised what you can achieve!
Much like any new business or start up, I’ve worn all hats and played all roles within the business. However, once we started building up a team, this freed up a lot of my time commitments to be able to focus on our distribution networks, export markets and ongoing product development.
How has Hab Shifa evolved over the last 12 years?
Azam Kassim: In the span of a year from launch, with just a single product listed on our website, we attracted the attention of a national distributor who was intrigued by the unique nature, offering and story of Hab Shifa. I’d say this was the turning point for our brand. By 2012, demand was increasing and I was slowly running out of storage space at home, so we secured our first warehouse in Hallam.
In 2017, we received some funding by an investor, which had a flow on effect and boosted sales significantly. This contributed to our exponential growth year-on-year, allowing us to expand our product range to the 25+ products we sell today.
We are now a humble but impactful team of just 12. We’ve always intentionally kept the team to this size to maintain the essence of our brand and what we stand for; fortunately, it’s not impacted our ability to grow our customer base or our brand. In fact, I think it’s enabled us to perform and succeed as we have. Hab Shifa products are accessible nationwide, with stockists including, Go Vita stores, and select independent pharmacy chains and health food stores across Australia.
We have also grown our distribution network to include new local distributors and export markets every year and have also made some significant achievements in the science space, including a successful project with CSIRO in 2020 – this scoping review examined 61 reports of clinical trials that tested potential health effects of Nigella seeds (Black Seed)) and its derivatives.
We also export to 10 other countries across the globe, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Singapore, Dubai, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Japan.
What would you say has been your greatest challenge, as both a small business and health supplements brand?
Azam Kassim: Like many other companies across Australia (and the globe), we were impacted by COVID in several ways. Our supply chains were disrupted for a number of years and availability of staff was affected. Coincidentally, and quite unfortunately, one of our interstate warehouses also caught fire around this time, resulting in the unforeseen loss of a large proportion and much anticipated supply of stock at the time!
On a more positive note, the demand for Hab Shifa products skyrocketed during COVID. There were numerous research papers released around this time citing the efficacy of Black Seed Oil in boosting natural immunity (amongst other things). Given the range of products we offer and our reputation for being leaders in the market for Black Seed, this led to an unprecedented demand for our products.
Ongoing, Hab Shifa still faces a general lack of awareness, as many Australians are unbeknownst to Black Seed itself. This is partly to do with Australia’s stance on modern medicine – where we face an ongoing education process regarding naturopathic treatments – but also that Black Seed goes by a number of names across the world including, Nigella seed, N. sativa, and black cumin seed, just to name a few.
As a category challenge, we are also bound by regulatory bodies limiting marketing activities, as are other health and beauty brands. We are restricted by what we can say about the product to ensure we are within TGA guidelines, even if there are ongoing, valid scientific studies that are being conducted on it.
What do you expect to see in 2022 and beyond for the supplements arena?
Azam Kassim: As COVID-19 stays top of mind for at least the rest of 2022 and maybe 2023, we will continue to see a demand for immune health products, though the consumer may shift from products or ingredients that are designed to acutely support immune health (i.e., fending off current immune challenges) to products that provide immune support year-round.
With this shift, consumers will also become savvier in terms of recognising other health factors that contribute to a healthy immune system, such as stress, sleep, energy, and other areas. They will continue to look for products that support these areas of health along with immune function.
I also expect consumers will continue to focus on supplements as a key component of their self-care. During the pandemic, usage of dietary supplements—and trust in them—has increased.
What’s next for Hab Shifa?
Azam Kassim: Hab Shifa is constantly striving for innovation and expansion. Right now, we are working with CSIRO on a new study relating to the phytochemical compound, thymoquinone (TQ) found in Black Seed Oil. The study is still underway, but our hope is to be able to use the results to help with new product development and continue to innovate in this space, as well as better understand the health benefits of TQ more specifically.
In terms of latest developments, we are also working with agricultural seed technology and development company, AgriVentis to produce the first commercial crop of Black Seed grown in Australian soil. We are thrilled to be innovating in this space and have teamed up with a farming group in regional NSW to ensure premium grade, organic certified seeds can be grown. With harvest expected in just a few short months, there are hopes for expansion following this first trial run.
We are also looking to expand our stockists, with the availability of products in 3,000 health food stores and pharmacies across the country.
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Azam Kassim for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Azam Kassim or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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