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The Disruptor: Harvest 2 Home

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.

Mr Thomas’ knowledge of, and love for, agriculture in its many forms is evident by the way he speaks about his produce, farming-culture, and the need to reduce Trinidad and Tobago’s TT $6.1 billion food importation Bill. Mr Thomas wasn’t always sure of this path that has now seen him quickly growing to become the country’s number one produce delivery service, but coming from the community of Toco, known for fishing and farming, his rise to the top of this field is no surprise.After attempting to launch several other businesses, the young would-be entrepreneur started Harvest 2 Home Premium Produce in 2014, as a wholesale business. He stopped six months later because of “poor structure and lack of business acumen,” he said.
But he wasn’t calling it quits with this business. He was just hitting pause, and he was determined to see this one through. He returned to the University of the West Indies to study Project Management, and earned himself a Masters Degree. “This opened my eyes to the extent of where my business could grow, in terms of selling,” he said. “You realise, when you get in agriculture, the opportunities are endless.” Armed with his new-found knowledge, he relaunched Harvest 2 Home in 2018, not as a wholesale business this time, but as a retail business. This revamped business took off, marketing fruit and vegetable packages with free delivery directly to homes across Trinidad. The produce in the boxes “changes weekly to keep things interesting,” Mr Thomas said. With a vibrant social media presence which boasts 10.6k followers on Instagram – Harvest 2 Home‘s primary platform for taking orders – and over 6,000 followers on Facebook, his business quickly amassed great reviews online and offline.

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.”

Papaya (pawpaw) getting ready for packaging and distribution. Image: Harvest 2 Home FB page

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.”

This type of interaction, he said, was passed down to him by observing how his parents and the elders in the community communicated with others. Even young children would listen when they were scolded by someone who was not their parent. He remembered those lessons when he formed his business, and rejected a conventional management hierarchy. “I apply the same structure [in my business]. I don’t really have an organizational structure. Everybody on the same level,” he said. “I work as hard as somebody I hire. They could send me out, they could tell me ‘go and pick that up’ and I will listen.”
Akeel Thomas taking a break from deliveries. PHOTO: Ezra Bartholomew​
Mr Thomas sees himself as having an easy-going and respectful nature, and those who know him agree. They say he balances that ‘always-ready’ smile with a drive to maintain high standards and keep his clients happy. “I’ve never heard any complaints about him,” said Kelton Francis, his childhood friend. “No one ever said he was late or his goods wasn’t good. He always brings quality goods always on time. Even if he has an issue, he always calls ahead and explains. Even if his goods are smaller than the previous month, he always makes up for it by adding more in the next delivery.”Mr Francis said his friend’s tenacity and seriousness towards his business are what contributed to his success: Mr Thomas’ determination to take what he has learned in life and in business brought him to the place he is today. “He actually used to travel to drop goods for people before he actually got his vehicle and started to deliver,” Mr Francis said. “He always used to travel to different parts of the country, hire different drivers and to take him around. That more or less shows his drive and his willingness to stick with something even though it was difficult. A quality you rarely see in young people today.”

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.”


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