Happy International Women’s Month! Even though we know that every day is a day in which women are worth celebrating, we are going to just zoom in on a powerhouse. She is motivational, humble, persistent (oh yes, she persisted), extremely successful and an inspiration to women and men everywhere!
With no further ado, Zobaida Falah, Founder & Creator of CURE – the movement to cure world hunger one healthy (and delicious) sesame bar at a time! We did an interview with Zobaida right when things were taking off for CURE last May. Since then, they officially launched 7 months ago and a LOT has changed.
Muslim Girl: Tell us who Zobaida Falah was pre-CURE world domination?
Zobaida Falah: It’s a pretty crazy story. I was working as a Math and English teacher and a Real Estate agent at the same before I launched CURE. But the story starts way before that, going back to when I was 8 years old and I made my first $1,000 selling the coveted “American School Supplies” to my class mates on an extended trip to Jordan to solidify my Arabic and Islamic education. A classmate saw my awesome eraser, she offered me $3 for it, I thought about quickly and then told her that I couldn’t sell it for less than $5. She bought it. It was the beginning of a fun little side project that kept me busy during my trip, I would run out and my Dad would send me more and the cycle continued. I knew then I had a knack and a desire to run a business.
“When I was 23 … that’s when the idea for CURE hit me, but I knew that I needed to cross a lot of things off the to do list before I had the right set of tools to launch it, so I kept it completely to myself.”
Fast forward to my years at University of Cincinnati where I got my degree in Education. My first year, I was studying business but after a year of classes I realized I didn’t need a degree to run a business and I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world, so being a teacher and having the ability to make an impression on young girls seemed like a great path to have that impact. It was, but something was missing.
In the years after I graduated I started many businesses from a prayer bead company, to a macaroon catering company and I even was in the final stages of opening my very own child care center when something fell through last minute. I took it as a sign and kept thinking. This was all about three years ago when I was 23 and that’s when the idea for CURE hit me, but I knew that I needed to cross a lot of things off the to do list before I had the right set of tools to launch it, so I kept it completely to myself. Instead I got my real estate license to save up enough startup capital to launch my dream company. After a year and a half of selling commercial real estate, I had secured enough to get the ball rolling, Alhamdullilah.
I went to my Dad and my Husband and showed them my business plan and told them about my plan and they were all extremely supportive. Together, we did all the things necessary to launch a business like this, including securing investors who shared my vision of get a bar give a bar (our give back initiative to cure world hunger) for additional expenses, getting all the legal work done, etc. I then quit my teaching job but kept doing real estate to keep funding the dream. Then it was time to launch, the dream was finally coming true.
We launched around 7 months ago, and it was so disheartening. The first three weeks, we maybe got five to 10 orders a week, most of which were from friends and family. I was so sad, I had worked so hard and it just wasn’t happening, I could have given up but my faith reminds me to be patient and my Dad reminded me of the ayah: “For indeed, with hardship comes ease.” Quran 94:5.
And still days would go by without a single order. I remained patient because again, I knew and trusted in the wisdom of my faith. Then, on the 28th day of business I opened my Facebook and was sure that I had a glitch, because all the sudden I had thousands of friend requests pouring in. People I didn’t know from all over. Then I opened my email and there were over 300 orders that day. I was in disbelief and extremely grateful. Something had happened, what Malcom Gladwell would call “The Tipping Point.”
An online webzine had done a short one-minute video with me on my bars and in just one day it had gone viral. I finally realized that it was because people didn’t know about my product that they weren’t buying it. The sales kept increasing and increasing Alhamdullilah. Then I got a call from the AJ+ team in California. To be honest, I didn’t even believe it was them when they first called because I was in such disbelief.
Seeing poverty and hunger first hand impacted me and that’s when I first knew helping others is what fulfilled me as a person.
They did an interview and this time the video went viral on an even bigger scale. This was great, this was amazing, a dream come true! Then, about 2 or 3 months after launching we got 10,000 orders in one day and I was still making these bars by hand. I remember being so overwhelmed I would fall to the floor and just cry, but my faith kept me strong. I removed my emotions from the situation and called my investor and reminded myself that as overwhelming as this was, this was my chance to make a difference and be successful. We decided to upscale. We secured a manufacturer to keep up with the orders. Alhamdullilah we were finally able to keep up and after the AJ+ interview, I wasn’t reaching out to people anymore, they were reaching out to me. The interviews just poured in.
Wow, amazing and powerful to hear all the emotion in your story. It sounds like an incredible journey. So what motivated you?
I’ve always had that passion for business, since I had that school supply “business” when I was 8 years old. It never left me. My parents always instilled in us the importance of giving back, so I knew that whatever I ended up doing with my life, that had to be an integral part of it. I was involved in Project Downtown growing up where every week we would gather to make lunches then go disperse to hand them out in the downtown area of where I grew up.
Their responses and gratitude from receiving a simple lunch was heartbreaking, but extremely insightful. Seeing poverty and hunger first hand impacted me and that’s when I first knew helping others is what fulfilled me as a person. That was the variable that differentiated CURE from all my other business/career attempts. With CURE, I’m able to encourage healthy living and clean eating by offering a product that is wholesome and nutritious — but that alone wasn’t enough. I wanted to be a symbol of giving back, and I know that my bar for bar program isn’t going to cure world hunger alone but I’m hopeful it will ignite a movement and others will follow suit. I want to be a symbol of giving back. If every big business did this, we could solve so many problems that plague our world. And again my faith reminds me with the hadith where The Prophet ﷺ said, “The most beloved of deeds to Allah are those that are most consistent, even if it is small” (Bukhari and Muslim).
Who are some fellow female entrepreneurs that have been your role models?
Oprah, from a personal brand perspective. She has always emphasized the importance of giving back and through everything has stayed true to herself.
Also Jessica Alba who started the Honest Company. She has created an empire with the intention of bringing honest products for our children and no matter how big her business gets; she stays true to that original goal of keeping things natural and safe. The more I read about her, the more I love her.
Honestly, any entrepreneurs that stay true to themselves and what they set out to do while understanding their responsibility to society. There are so many more.
What can we expect to see next from you?
I’ve been doing motivational speaking on the CURE Your World Speaking Series and I’d like to continue to focus more on that. I am extremely satisfied with the work I’m doing with CURE, but I derive even more satisfaction when people tell me that I’ve inspired them to achieve greatness and reach their goals. Growing up, I didn’t have any American Muslim Female role models. At one point I was pretty convinced that my family was the only Muslim family in America (lol). So, having the chance to be a role model to high school and college students is extremely important to me. I want to always encourage them to break those barriers and go after whatever it is they want to do in life. I want them to know that being Muslim should never be something that limits them from their dreams. I am Muslim and I will NEVER let that limit me.
How has the new administration and all the changes it’s brought about, challenged you as a Muslim Woman Entrepreneur?
We can’t be blind and pretend it doesn’t exist. At the same time, we cannot allow it to get to us. The real thing to remember is that this racism and Islamophobia has always been there, this administration has just brought it to the forefront and normalized it. In this era of darkness, I am choosing to be a light. I won’t give into their darkness and I won’t let it be an excuse to stop me. In business meetings, there have been a few times when I’ve felt that the response was tainted by the fact that I was Muslim, but I never let that linger too long before deciding to focus on how I can improve instead of allowing myself or anyone else to let my faith be an excuse for not succeeding.
I am extremely satisfied with the work I’m doing with CURE, but I derive even more satisfaction when people tell me that I’ve inspired them to achieve greatness and reach their goals.
Also, I think it’s extremely important to remember that this isn’t new, we have always been strangers in this country. Our faith tells us this in the hadith where The Prophet ﷺ said, “Islam began as something strange and will revert to being strange as it began, so give glad tidings to the strangers.” So, I’d say to others trying to succeed in these times, remain optimistic and don’t let your strangeness stand in your way of breaking those barriers and always say Alhamdullilah and know Allah is the best of planners.
What’s next for CURE?
We have a lot of big things in the works but we are keeping that under wraps for now. However, I can tell you that we are working on hitting the mainstream markets and branching out of just selling our products to Muslims. We are also working on going global with CURE, which is something we’ve had a lot of interest in since launching.
Where can we get our hands on some of these by the way?
Any final thoughts?
Don’t ever be intimidated by what you don’t know. Sometimes this can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else. In whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly with full conviction and learn from the inevitable mistakes that you will make along the way.