Shah Imran Hasan/New Delhi
Breaking the stereotype of a company chief, Srinagar’s Asif Sheikh, a school dropout, is the CEO and founder of Thames Infotech, a Manchester-based company with a turnover of Rs 5 crore! He has just turned 28.
“I believe that a person who works hard, with dedication and honesty is always successful; he can never give up even when many a time one loses the courage to carry on. There were setbacks and at the time I did seem to lose courage, but I did not give up,” Sheikh Asif told Awaz-the Voice in a telephonic interview.
Asif’s success is extraordinary given his poor educational background and reaching a position that many persons with degrees from top-end colleges aspire to.
Besides being a successful entrepreneur, Asif is also a professional web designer, developer, graphic designer, digital marketer, and writer. He also gives back to society by giving free tuition to students from all over the world.
Sheikh Asif’s work profile is interesting: he worked with a tour and travel company, sold medical equipment for a company, and with telecom companies like Airtel, Vodafone, and Aircel.
Sheikh Asif deliving a talk on business
In the year 2000, Sheikh Asif was 8 years old when his father's health deteriorated. His father was a head constable. Due to his father's illness, the family was reduced to penury. Sheikh Asif says that his father's illness remains a mystery as the family consulted experts and eminent doctors but nobody could diagnose it.
Sheikh Asif told Awaz-the Voice that his mother sold most of the household assets and took loans to pay for his father's treatment.
Recalling those days, Asif says that he can never forget one particular day when he was studying in the eighth grade and was to write his exam, but he had no pen. “I was leaving for the examination hall and was worried. My mother came to know the reason for my worry, she sold a copper dish from her kitchen to buy me a pen.”
He says that his mother often sold household goods for the family, especially to meet the needs of the children.
The conditions at home were not conducive for Sheikh Asif to continue his studies. He left school and started working to support his family.
“I went against my mother's wishes, as she wanted me to become a doctor most parents in Kashmir do, but I gave up my studies to support my financially broke family,” said. He was 15 years old in 2008 when he started earning for his family by doing odd jobs.
Sheikh Asif was always fascinated by computers and spent a lot of time on them. Due to this, he got his first job as a data entry operator with a local tour and travel company at the age of 16. He earned a salary of Rs 1500.
Sheikh Asif said seeing his interest his father took a loan from a bank to buy him a computer. The turning point in his life came as he watched an interview with Microsoft founder Bill Gates on BBC.
He took full advantage of his computer and yet the challenge was the lack of a high-speed broadband facility in Kashmir. While the rest of the world was running 4G internet, in his locality only 2G internet was available.
He left his first job within two months and started working in a local shop as a salesman for four years. Here he honed his skills and learned all the basics including graphics designing, web designing, etc.
Again there was a rough patch in his life as in the 2014 Kashmir floods, his house was washed away. He used all his savings in rebuilding his house. The family had to start from scratch as all their household belonging had got damaged and washed away.
In the year 2014, he quit his job and started his business, but it turned out to be a year full of troubles for him.
Sheikh Asif's Srinagar office
However, fortunately, the next year Asif got an opportunity to work in Delhi, and the exposure there opened his mind to a bigger canvas.
"The 2014 flood severely damaged our house and we had to repair or renovate it periodically for four consecutive years after the flood and finally had to sell the house in 2018," he said.
In the meantime, he worked with OLX from April 2015, and from there he was offered a job at Trimax Printing and Graphics, a UK-based company owned by Tajinder Singh. He was working for the company Hayes Harlington. The company runs an online general store and it had no element of graphic designing till then.
Sheikh Asif told Awaz-The Voice: “I worked for Chanda Trimax Printings & Graphics. Meanwhile, the killing of a militant in Kashmir saw the valley under lockdown for nearly three months. For this reason, I left for Delhi.”
When he met Tajinder Singh in Delhi, the latter was facing issues with his business. His business was suffering due to low sales. Having seen his latent, Tajinder Singh offered him a job at Hayes, Harlington, UK, where Tajinder's brothers were already working.
Sheikh Asif says he consulted his mother before picking the UKL job. He signed an agreement to work for 18 months and an assured return flight ticket to India.
“They told me that they had changed the name of Trimax Printings & Graphics to Thames Infotech on June 6, 2016,” Asif said.
He set foot on foreign soil for the first time in the first week of November 2016. However, the business did not show positive results there either, thus Tajinder's brother advised him to find a part-time job in the UK to meet his expenses.
“When I was looking for a part-time job, I met Rizwan, a Kashmiri man originally from Baramulla district in North Kashmir, who came to Manchester in 2000 and now runs a restaurant, Riz Spices.
Sheikh Rizwan offered him a space in his restaurant to set up a part-time business. "Two months later I met another man, Hamza Salim, a senior software engineer at Google, who asked me to build a website for his tech company, on the condition that only if he liked my work I would be paid," he said.
After approving his website design, Hamza Salim offered him 50 percent equity in his firm.
Sheikh Asif teaching students online
During this time, Asif meet many people including natives and others, and kept looking for opportunities.
One such person was Rudrigo Ruiz Karvajal, who frequented the restaurant. He offered me a place that was quite conveniently located. He told me that his father had started his business from there.
“I got my first order for a logo for which I was paid 500 pounds and I was only expecting 30-40 pounds. They gave me another order to build a website for which I was paid 7000 pounds.”
“I was wondering if it’s a dream. Never expected such high remuneration. This order was from the largest food chain in London called Zabka.”
On June 9, 2016, Asif took over the Thames Infotech Manchester UK company which has a current turnover of Rs 5 crore.
It has an office at Advent Colony in Naugam, Srinagar, Kashmir. He employs 35 locals including 32 in UK and 3 in Kashmir for website designing and development, digital marketing, graphics designing, personal branding, social media handling, etc.
Sheikh Asif told Awaz-The Voice that our company is a leading web designing company and has won the 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020 awards as the Three Best Rated UK, and Best IT Service Provider Award 2018, 2019 organized by Top Developers USA, he claims.
Sheikh Asif said that he received the first award in the year 2003, less than one year after his launching of his company.
So far, Asif has trained around 1000 students, helped 40 businesses through the Covid-19 pandemic, and has published three books - Digitization In Business, Online Business Idea, and Start a Business.
Sheikh Asif was named Entrepreneur of the year 2022 by The Fireboxx. There he was honored by Google as a Digital Marketing Expert in 2018.
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To the youth, Sheikh Asif says they must never lose hope and always keep their focus on business. Secondly, they must avoid drugs. They shouldn’t waste their lives by getting immersed in romantic liaison and heartbreaks; these are temporary phases of life and not a goal. “Your personality is your work,” he says.