Overcoming challenges to follow his sugary dream of chocolate making

Nature has bestowed upon every human being with some special talent. While some people are good at academics or business others become good artists or doctors. Only thing is that it is for a person to find what he is good at.

If a person is not doing well in academics, it does not indicate that he/she cannot succeed in life; it is only the matter of finding his passion and talent.

The story of 29-year-old Safiullah Sufi is a bright example of how one can explore the right kind of talent and work for his passion to succeed in life. An underdog in academics, Safiullah navigated through bitter challenges to pursue his passion for chocolate making.

Describing himself a ‘below average student’, Safiullah worked hard to make it in academics and above all never gave up on his dream of chocolate making. His story of facing the odds to do what he always wanted can inspire everyone who is told that he cannot do anything unless he is an ‘A Plus’ student in academics.

“After graduating from class 12 in 2009, it took me almost 6 years to finish BCom due to continuous backlogs, I knew I’m not good at academics but I never gave up, neither on studies nor on my passion for chocolate making. The continuous failures that I faced made me more stubborn on not giving up,” says Safiullah.

While Safiullah was struggling with his studies, he pursued professional chocolate making course from Delhi. Knowing where his heart lies, he started to improve himself. Despite listening to a lot of criticism and suggestions to leave studies midway, Safiullah kept going and pursued postgraduate diploma in business entrepreneurship from Kashmir University and BBA in retailing through IGNOU.

Safiullah says that in Kashmir where every next person is a baker or a restaurant owner, he wanted to spread happiness through handmade chocolates so that he can do what he loves and earns from it as well.

“By the end of 2017, I was fully papered to start my business, I first started experimenting with different ingredients and flavours to make chocolates and distributed them among my friends and relatives. I got good feedback which encouraged me to start,” he said.

In early 2018, Safiullah finally started his dream project with the name ‘Shalimar Chocolates’ from a small room of his home at Solina, Srinagar. “I asked my parents to spare a room where I can start chocolate making, they were very encouraging so they allowed. I wanted to start from zero without being completely dependent on my family so I borrowed money from my friends and bought raw material and equipment,” he said.

Realising the power of social media and knowing that he does not have any physical outlet, Safiullah created pages on Instagram and Facebook and earned hundreds of followers in a short period of time. It was social media where he started taking orders and began his startup journey.  He says that social media helped him to get people to have a look into his work through the content that he uploaded. It also helped him to get first-hand feedback from people and to reach them with a single click.

“I started taking orders on an individual basis and it started very slow. In the beginning, I was in losses but I kept going. My first customers were mostly my friends and relatives but soon the word spread and I started getting more orders for chocolates. I wanted to be unique and concentrated on quality and niche products. So I introduced 3D chocolates, flavoured chocolates, dry fruit chocolates, customised chocolates, themed chocolates, and gift chocolates to cater to people of different age groups and taste,” says Safiullah.

He experimented with different ingredients to give people something different from what they usually get from market. He says that he took full advantage of Kashmir’s dry fruit wealth and introduced handmade chocolates with Kashmiri dry fruits which became very popular and still are among the range of products he produces.

“Usually during Ramadhan season such business run slow but I rather than stopping in Ramadhan introduced chocolates made of dates and other dry fruits which people can enjoy during Iftar time, the product got very popular and soon many retailers wanted to buy from me,” says Safiullah.

 From giving away chocolates free to selling them to a handful of friends on a trial basis, Safiullah is now delivering chocolates to many major departmental and retail stores in the Srinagar city.

“After tasting my date chocolates and other products a city departmental store placed many orders, despite having less resources and no manpower I did not turn the offer down and stayed up for nights to complete my first order, after that there was no going back,” he says.

As soon as Safiullah’s business accelerated he first repaid all his debt, “I soon crossed the breakeven point and also succeeded to place me in safety margin.”

Safiullah says that the journey has been very bumpy but he managed to sail through and is getting better with each passing day.

“In all the criticism about my academics and continuously listening that I cannot do anything as I’m not genius in academics, it was my mother who believed in me and encouraged me at every step of my life,” Safiullah says, adding that he gives credit of his success to the endless prayers of her mother who never stopped believing in him.

Safiullah is now working to expand his business by introducing new products in his chocolate making business.  He is planning to introduce sugar-free chocolates for diabetic patients with an eye to cover more market and at the same time help in taking care of health.

Safiullah says that he believes in learning and getting better each passing day, he continues to learn by participating in international food festivals, recently one such was held in Delhi where he participated as a chef.

“I feel if one keeps himself updated with the taste of the market, it helps a lot in covering more market,” he adds.

His journey is yet another example of the following passion and believing that everyone has a talent and its only matter of time when you discover your talent and start working on it.

“Almighty has given me this talent of making chocolates and it would have been foolish of me to try becoming a doctor or engineer because I would not have succeeded and even if I had succeeded, I could never be good at that. One should pursue his passion and give his best despite criticism from people around. It is all about following your heart and keep going on against all the odds,” he says.