Abdul Ahmed

CEO of Adesso Man

Abdul Ahmed is Co-Founder and CEO of Adesso Man, a men’s lifestyle brand dedicated to helping men look good, feel confident, and build community. Abdul and his partners Ayaz Raja and Lucas Anderson have built a purpose-driven brand that offers functional, premium products that are affordable and built to last.

Born in Pakistan to a father in jewelry manufacturing, Abdul grew up around the family business, eventually immigrating to Canada. He is passionate about brand and product development, retail, and consumer behavior. He has more than 20 years of retail and fashion experience, working for Guess, The Gap, French Connection, and Mexx.

He received a degree in marketing from Mount Royal University in Calgary, focusing on brand development and strategy. He established Adesso Man in 2016 while still in college and working full-time in retail. To date, the brand has generated more than $2 million in sales, creating 20 jobs in the process.

Abdul’s mission is to help contribute to the growing movement towards conscious consumerism. He uses his platform to build meaningful community relationships that elevate the most vulnerable members of society. His team has proudly raised $50,000+ for various charities and organizations and has helped support 15 small Canadian brands and counting.

In his spare time, Abdul enjoys traveling and experiencing new cultures and is a big foodie and basketball fan.

Where did the idea for Adesso Man come from?

The story of how we started Adesso starts back in 2013/2014. While I was still in university, I created a mock business plan for an idea behind a men’s lifestyle brand and shop that served as a community hub for men’s fashion, grooming, and lifestyle. Business runs in my blood as my father is a generational jeweler and had multiple retail shops. I was always drawn to the fashion and jewelry industry and started my retail career in 2006, working in many management roles. I always felt I would find myself working in the industry long term and, with my desire to own my own business, I naturally used my business plan to conceptualize what is now Adesso Man. I founded Adesso Man with my business partners, Ayaz and Lucas, in 2016 as a passion project to change the landscape of the men’s fashion and lifestyle market.

Adesso Man was born to meet the needs of modern men. We noticed that while the men’s style and personal care trend was on the rise due to the rapid adoption of social media and e-commerce, there remained a significant gap in our hometown, Calgary, and Canada as a whole was behind of the times. We had a hard time finding unique accessory pieces or men’s grooming products that would allow us to express our personalities.

At that time, if you were looking for fashionable, European-inspired, premium quality accessories and/or apparel, the options that existed were few and far between in Canada than in the U.S. We believed that a premium, on-trend, accessible lifestyle brand that offered value and a sense of community to the modern man needed to exist in the marketplace. Adesso Man was born first as Adesso Accessories, an accessory-focused brand, and has since evolved into a multi-faceted lifestyle brand for men who want to feel more confident about how they look and feel in today’s world.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My typical day starts with me waking up around 7 a.m. I take an hour or two every morning for myself. It is important to me as it sets the tone for the rest of the day. I do what feels right for me but could be any of the following: pray, meditate, read, listen to a podcast, do yoga, workout, clean, go through my grooming routine, or make breakfast. I then get to my to-do list that I have usually updated the evening prior, I check my emails and start work around 9 a.m. These days I work from home three times a week and I am in stores twice a week. I have a hard cut-off for work at 8 p.m., and I am also enjoying taking back my weekends. My evenings consist of working out, dinner, spending time with friends and family, reading, watching basketball, cleaning, and watching a show here and there. My goal is to work no more than 10 hours a day and sleep six hours, leaving eight hours to focus on myself.

How do you bring ideas to life?

One word. Teamwork. We have an amazing system and a team that believes in open communication and collaboration. We trust each other and dedicate ourselves to finding solutions for problems that we feel our audience is facing. We can’t make every idea we have come to life, but we do test many things and assess if the ideas bring value to our stakeholders before we look to scale. However, we are not afraid to take calculated risks and often do without fear of failure as we believe failure leads to growth. We also leverage our external networks through collaborations, partnerships, and resource sharing when we feel we do not have all the tools or knowledge to execute on a specific idea or plan that is a viable option.

What is one trend that excites you?

What excites me and scares me at the same time is the trend towards creating a higher level of transparency and accountability for businesses and industry. We have a higher level of responsibility to our stakeholders, customers, and community at large. Our impact can be significant even as a small business. We have to show a level of openness to how we conduct business, our intentions, and our levels of commitment towards the betterment of society as a whole. I feel that the general public expects this from us moving forward, and even if they don’t, it is the right thing to do. More companies will need to look at their business practices and create systems for internal checks and balances and a strategy to communicate their commitments for transparency and human-focused organization.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Creating a to-do list and keeping myself organized and accountable.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Nothing – I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my younger self.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That I once used to have hair. I’ve been living the bald life for quite some time now.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Have empathy. It is something that I preach regularly. As an entrepreneur, there is nothing more important than to have empathy for the people you serve, and it applies probably even more so in our personal lives.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Our strategy is to build our brand by creating a strong local presence and loyal customer base through physical retail shops, pop-ups, and events. I come from a traditional retail background, with my father owning retail shops and also working in retail. I was always excited about the idea of creating an exceptional customer experience through unique store design and authentic service. Even with the growth of e-commerce, I still felt that to create long-term, loyal customers. We had to develop personal relationships and opportunities for educating our potential customers on our brand and products. We had a unique concept with minimal competitors that seemed to fill in a need in the market. After multiple pop-ups, events, and markets, our brand caught the attention of shopping malls, and we were able to take advantage of increasing vacancies to negotiate favorable rent terms and eventually have a presence in high foot traffic areas of our city. We used this opportunity to build brand awareness and further establish ourselves in the local market. We took our proceeds and invested in content creation, marketing, PR, product development, and building our online presence to drive more traffic to our stores. We will continue to employ this strategy as the world changes and evolves with our customers.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We ventured to Edmonton, another major city in our Province a few hours away from Calgary, for an opportunity to open stores. We saw favorable results initially but slowly started to realize the market and the store locations we had chosen were not right for us. We saw multiple slow months but kept telling ourselves things will turn around and ended up staying there for longer than we should have. We finally cut our losses and moved back to Calgary to operate our two locations and focus on building our brand online. Our mistake was that we had not done enough research and were blinded by the opportunity, which ended up costing us quite a bit in the end. We overcame this setback by really making some personal sacrifices and doubling down on our business. We just were not ready to give up and were rewarded for our patience as we eventually pulled ourselves out of a hole.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Hahaha! Oh, man, I have so many good ones, not sure I want to give any away, but I feel there is a market for more players in the sustainable kitchen utensils market.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Hmm. I bought an external hard drive, and it changed my life. I was able to clean up my laptop, create space for myself, and get organized. It helped my laptop function faster and more efficiently, and everything made me more productive.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Todoist! I use it for my to-do list. It helps me get organized, be on time, and accountable for the important things that eventually help me feel more accomplished and creates momentum.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

This is Marketing by Seth Godin – a game-changer on the philosophy behind marketing and marketing strategy. It teaches you the power of empathy in marketing and how we should all be looking at it from a “how can I or my company/brand/idea serve people and help them create real change towards achieving their hopes and dreams” perspective.

What is your favorite quote?

“Marketing is our quest to make change on behalf of those we serve, and we do it by understanding the irrational forces that drive each of us.”
― Seth Godin

Key Learnings:

  • You can’t do it alone – so make sure you pick the right people to have in your corner.
  • Trust and listen to your team, customers, and community – your job is to serve them.
  • Being organized, setting goals, and being accountable leads to higher productivity and efficiency.
  • Lead with empathy as an entrepreneur and in your personal life.
  • Failure means growth so learn to fail.
  • Stick to what you are good at and stay focused. When you try to do too many things without mastering one, you will not be good at anything.