Ahmed says he has always had a budding entrepreneurship fire inside him. Little did he know that making chicken nest boxes would ignite it – and Africa.
While at university, he sold phones, flash drives, laptops and even cars. He knew he wanted to do business but never knew what. After university, he got a job at a hardware store in Lusaka as a sales rep.
“The pay was very low and conditions just as bad but I needed a job desperately and had no other option. Our family was going through some tough times back then due to my father’s business collapsing and at one point we were completely broke where my mom had to sell her jewellery just to [buy] the family groceries,” he says.
While working at the store, he noticed a lot of bankers came to the shop. He secretly started handing out his resume to every banker that came in and within three months, he got a job at Access Bank as a corporate relations manager. He was only 21 years old at the time.
Within another year and half he was offered a job at a company in charge of steel works at Levy Junction shopping mall in Zambia. Here, he discovered his passion for steel structural engineering. Two years later, he left to start his own steel structural company.
“Unfortunately, I was living an expensive lifestyle at the time and ended up with almost nothing in savings when leaving. I had $500 saved in my bank, a laptop and a diary with my name on it.”
He used to sit at a local café and pretend that was his office. After a lot of trying, knocking on doors, failing, trying again and again, he received his first job – making 10 chicken nest boxes for Hybrid Poultry Farm.
“I didn’t have a single machine to my name and so I asked for an advance payment, bought very small machines from town, hired someone’s small workshop in the compounds and made these 10 chicken nest boxes.”
He later found a small yard filled with junk cars that had a small workshop with no tiles, windows or ceiling. It was his first office.
Four years later, Arete Steel has a 3,000-square-meter workshop space, state-of-the-art machines from Germany and Japan worth more than $150,000, three 20-ton trucks, one crane truck and three five-ton canters, employs over 80 people and turns over $700,000 a year.
All thanks to a chicken box.