Since the need to take care of a family outpaces any other need for most young men in rural areas, a primal hunger for success comes early. Hard work, therefore, comes naturally to men from the countryside. Born and raised in Toco, Trinidad, Akeel Thomas, 33, knows of this lifestyle all too well as he builds a successful produce delivery business while working full-time as a Research Assistant at Namdevco. “My day starts at 2 a.m every day and it finishes around 11 p.m. and I WORK!” he said with a laugh.
One post read, “I must say that I recommended you all to many of my friends. This is definitely value for money and the produce were fresh and clean,” Tabatar Nurse-Adams recently wrote on the company’s Facebook page. “Keep giving us great quality products and service and you have a lifetime customer.”
For Mr Thomas, after years of failing businesses, and learning the hard way that “working for someone else wasn’t paying the bills,” his business today, is a dream come true. Taking care of his family has always been his top priority and owning his own business helped to steer everything in that direction. “I need to ensure my sister goes back to school, I need to ensure my mother has something on the table when the day comes, and I need to make sure that the people around me could come up,” Mr Thomas said. “You can’t do that working for somebody else. So I have to be the person to create it or bring it for them.”
Mr Thomas’ business grew from being a one-man operation where he did everything himself – including sourcing produce, packing and making deliveries, to hiring eight workers in the past two years. An integral part of his business model was providing employment to ambitious young men like himself. “At the end of the day everybody want to self-actualise, everybody want to live their best life, everybody want to live in their greatness,” he said. “I always wanted to own a business and I realised that if you want to get to the top, the best thing is to help people along the way.”
“When you think back to the people who did great things, they always have some greater calling than their self; than just their own selfish reason,” he said. He used his Toco upbringing as a ‘guiding principle’ for his business. Having been raised in a close-knit community, Mr Thomas said that the first quality one needs to exhibit is respect for self and others. “Respect will take you so far. Just respecting yourself, respecting somebody, respecting somebody else space, somebody else property,” he said sternly. “You have to be respectful. So you carry that into anything you do, into your business, the way you treat your workers.”
Mr Thomas is also willing to mentor young people striving to achieve their own goals, especially those who work in his business. He’s ready to see more people in rural areas, including his hometown Toco, develop themselves by utilising the natural resources at their disposal. “You come out here [in the city] and see people packaging sea moss and selling it. Why can’t we do that? The things we take for granted, we have free right there in the north coast. Today, you see people packaging these things and selling them,” Mr Thomas lamented. “When you go to areas like Manzanilla, where there was once acres of estates of coconut now nonexistent, and then you go down to the CARICOM wharf and you see hundreds of bags of coconut coming in. It begs the question, why can’t we go back to that? — Why do we have to be spending so much on importing produce?” His passion extends beyond wanting to see people in his community do well, but he wants his country to look at the agriculture industry with a sharper lens as an intentional step towards food security.
As for how other young entrepreneurs can position themselves to build their own business? It’s all about hard work. When he speaks to aspiring entrepreneurs, he lets them know the reality of the business acumen. “Show me how you spend your day,” he said, “and I will tell you a lot about what is going to happen to you in the next six months to a year.”