Entrepreneur | Cultural Enthusiast | Content Creator
Making God Laugh Brought Me To My Purpose.
They say if you want to make God laugh, make plans. Well, God must have been in stitches watching me in early 2020.
Remember 2020? It felt like the world was ending when the pandemic first started. I’m a helper by nature, so I knew that I wanted to be of service in some way. The pandemic hit us all so unexpectedly. Threatening people’s health, no matter where they lived or what language they spoke. We were all vulnerable, and I knew that the only way to get through this scary new world was to bond together.
I moved to Toronto for school in 2015 after growing up mostly in Bangalore, India. I watched as Covid hit my hometown so badly, and around me there was a constant shortage of necessary supplies. My loved ones near and far were hurting. I wanted to help. That’s when I started making plans. Big plans. I designed a hand sanitizer dispenser - manufactured in India and shipped to Toronto, thereby making a positive impact on people in both of my home countries. I spoke with people and had customers lined up for my new product. I was excited about providing employment in India while meeting a growing demand in Canada.
Starting a manufacturing and shipping business at the beginning of a global pandemic… what could go wrong?
Turns out, everything.
The 1200 units I ordered got packed up and put in a shipping container. The day it was supposed to reach Montreal, the port authority went on strike. My shipping container got offloaded halfway across the country in Nova Scotia. I didn’t hear anything about my container for the next 3 months. Those 3 months were a critical time of the pandemic, and the solution I thought would really help people was stuck on the east coast. My potential clients had no choice but to buy from other companies.
I felt like it all was all over for me. My first ever business was already a failure. I lost my clients, my time, my capital, and for a moment I thought everything was coming to an end.
God was still chuckling.
There is an old proverb - necessity is the mother of all invention. I like to put my own spin on it and say that scarcity is the mother of all invention.
When I finally received my shipment 3 months later, I had a choice to make. I had 1200 units and no customers, no plan.
Scarcity, meet invention.
I decided to go door to door and try to sell them. Hello ma’am, may I talk to you about your sanitizer needs?
But as each new person opened their door, something unlocked inside of me. It reminded me of my early days in Canada when I was an Uber driver. Every time someone got in my car I got to meet another interesting person. I was able to experience the world through the people I drove.
I started to realize that a thread has weaved through my whole life.
Bangalore is known for its cultural diversity. So is Toronto. Both cities have universities and colleges that accept international students, meaning it was easy for me to meet people from around the world. Every new person was an opportunity to explore a new culture and learn about new types of food (my favourite part). This insatiable desire to connect with people has always lived inside me. It drove me to learn 5 different languages that I still speak to this day.
But of the thousands of people I’ve met, and the 27 countries I’ve travelled to, the people who have made the biggest impact on me are my Nigerian brothers. After meeting new friends and picking up some new words, the Nigerian community welcomed me. It turns out that I don’t just love their language, but their music and food too. Their joy and exuberance matched my own. We had so much in common, much more than people realize.
When my shipment was delayed, I thought everything was over for me. But going door-to-door opened up another opportunity for me. I realized the way I serve the world didn’t have to be through a tangible product. I could offer what comes so naturally to me: my curiosity, my love of people and culture, and my love for life. Many of these traits I share with the Nigerian community. I eventually sold the dispensers. But looking back, if I hadn’t faced that delay, I would never be where I am now. Thank God for those 3 months.
When I started my social media account, JollofBiryani, I started making content that I knew my Nigerian brothers would appreciate. Highlighting the similarities of my Indian background and my African friends struck a chord with people. My account’s popularity started growing and hasn’t slowed down.
The name JollofBiryani talks about two iconic cultural foods from two continents (every country in West Africa has a version of jollof rice, and biryani rice is a much loved Indian dish.) I want to use my account to build a bridge between these two special places by enlightening people about food, cultures and also show the similarities among them. To spread joy and love to all people and to show the world the beauty of both Africa and India.
With my growing audience, I want to introduce the world to the incredible talent of many Nigerian artists. I want to help bring their work to an international stage, and support sustainability and small business while I’m at it (two other causes that have always been important to me). Culture tells a story, and I want the Nigerian story and way of life to be widely known.
Your advice to an upcoming youth or talents locally and internationally?
When people ask me for advice about building a social media following, I always tell them to act in love. It doesn’t matter what kind of content you’re making. It could be anything. What does matter is that you act from the heart. People can feel it.
Don’t get me wrong - making cross-cultural content is not always easy. I never want to misrepresent the people that I love so much. Thankfully I’ve learned so much from my Nigerian friends, and my followers on social media are continually teaching me.
Through this journey, I’ve learned how uniting it is to eat and laugh together. Laughter is rooted in recognition. That we both understand an unspoken aspect of life. When you eat something delicious, your smile crosses all language and cultural barriers. There is nothing better than sharing a meal with someone, especially when you’re bringing the best of both cultures with you.
I hope you join me on my journey of sharing the similarities between two unexpected places. Follow along with me at @JollofBiryani. Maybe we’ll share a meal and a laugh sometime.
Social Media Handles:
Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat @JollofBiryani