Former bodybuilder creates million dollar business from his mother’s kitchen

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Mr Birimzhan started Health Project in 2015, when his family ran into financial issues that saw most of their income being used to pay off loans. His mother resorted to selling the ring his father gave her to put food on the table. The former bodybuilder knew a lot about nutrition and healthy living long beforehand and decided to use his knowledge to provide for his family, simply by cooking meals with his mother and selling them to relatives, friends and classmates in his final year at university. 

While most businesses slowed during the COVID pandemic, Health Project grossed a revenue of $1million (£731,000) in 2020 and has furthered operations into restaurants, canteens and ‘coffee corners’ with the hopes of going global, but it wasn’t always this easy for the founder.

Health Project is a catering business which started as a way for Mr Birimzhan to give his family a better life by using the knowledge of nutrition and healthy living he already had from his professional bodybuilding career combined with his university studies in economics.

“In 2015, we did not have a stable profitability. But in April 2017, we made our first big revenue with a net profit of 990,000 Kazakhstani Tenge (£1,695) with a profitability of 33 percent.”

While the profit margins started out minuscule, the entrepreneur preserved with resilience and continued to educate himself on the business of catering to help Health Project grow to the million-dollar business it is now.

“Now, our company has become much larger, and our revenue is from 35 to 40 million tenge (around £60,000-67,000 per month) per month. Also, the profitability decreased from 33 percent to 20 percent, making a turnover of $1million (£731,000) per year.

He explained that the most valuable topic in the book for him was creating a minimum viable product, and after getting feedback on this from customers he realised the business had an incredibly high demand in the area.

“However, we noticed that the demand and market were limited and it was decided to focus on developing the restaurant for the establishment of a marginal product, and now we possess about 30 percent profitability.”

Mr Birimzhan started Health Project as a third year university student at Nazarbayev University, majoring in economics and credits the teachings from his course to helping the business not only effective but learning how to maximise the effectiveness of the resources he had.

In the beginning it was hard going to get the business on its feet: “My mother helped with the cooking and I worked as a courier. My mother would get up at 6am and I helped with the delivery. Then, we decided to rent a small workshop from my friend and from this point the serious story began.

“The main reason why I started my entrepreneurial path is that my family had several loans. After realising that my mother had sold her ring to a pawnshop to help pay these loans, I realized that I couldn’t wait to start my project and so I officially created my own business called HEALTH PROJECT. For me, it was important to help my family,” he explained.  

Mr Birimzhan added that finding good workers were just as important as creating a good product: “Even if your product is not so good, a strong team will allow you to improve this product. On the flip side, if you have a strong product, but a weak team, then no one will be able to clearly implement this product.

“I took the conviction for myself that my task as a leader is to unite the efforts of all and achieve more together than individually.

“It’s important for me to find the potential of each employee, and so I began to focus on not creating the perfect product, but on paying attention to the development of the whole team.”

Mr Birimzhan is looking to launch Health Project as an IPO in the next five years and make the transition from traditional business to the IT sector.

“It is still difficult to say how we will go to the IPO, but I definitely believe that we will really be able to do it if we make efforts in this area,” he added.

The first-time entrepreneur shared some advice for those going through the motions of starting a business: “A little advice for beginners – begin.

“At the initial stage, it is always scary, especially to start when you are in the zone of uncertainty. If you acquire knowledge and still believe in yourself, then you will make certain mistakes, but at the same time you will gain invaluable experience. The most important thing is to start.

“It is not necessary to create a large company immediately. A recommendation for those who want to create a business in the field of catering: read the book ‘It’s Not About The Coffee’ by Howard Behar.

“For those who want to create a business not in the field of catering, I advise you to read Alice in Wonderland. In fact, it is important to travel, find new opportunities for your development and go your own way,” he concluded.
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