Edgar Chibaka and Jamal Tahlil co-founded First Response Group, a security firm based in the United Kingdom in 2007. The duo started their firm with a single laptop out of a “cold, run-down office” above an internet cafe in Leeds.
Fifteen years down the line, the company has 80 laptops with sales of $33 million and more than 500 staff.
According to The Telegraph, the “company offers a range of services, from security guards and keyholding to CCTV and fire alarm installation, to high-profile clients such as Axa Insurance and HS2 infrastructure developers.”
But it was tough in the beginning. “We were new to the country, and had no friends or family in the business world – you need those contacts to help you get started,” Tahlil, who was first to quit his job to launch the business, told The Telegraph. “That was really nerve wracking, especially as I had a very young family at the time.”
The duo first met when they were working as security firms for their separate organizations. They would discuss conditions at work whenever they met. It was through the regular chats that they realized that their employers faced the same challenge — their employers didn’t care about what their employees were doing and who they were as a people.
Chibaka and Tahlil thought they could be better managers and so they were hoping to climb the corporate ladder but they had no one to encourage or support them.
“I said to Jamal: ‘we can do a better job if we do this on our own’ – so we took that gamble,” said Chibaka, who comes from Malawi.
Starting a successful security firm was not easy for them especially being immigrants but they persisted. “We had so many doors closed to us because we didn’t have the client references back then. But you keep going. Just because one door is closed, doesn’t mean they all are,” Chibaka said.
In October, they were crowned businesspeople of the year at the Black British Business Awards, an annual event that celebrates the achievements of some of the UK’s leading bosses and business owners.
“We are absolutely thrilled to have been recognised for our combined achievements at the Black British Business Awards. To win Black British Businesspeople of the Year, the top prize, is simply incredible,” Tahlil, who is from Somalia, said at the time.
For other aspiring entrepreneurs, Chibaka and Tahlil’s word of advice to them is to be vigilant and stay focused.
“Being an entrepreneur is demanding. It’s really hard – it’s stressful,” said Chibaka. “Add to that all the nos and knockbacks and it’s easy to get stressed and depressed, so have some self-care and protect your mental health.”