The salary tables that appear too frequently in all the media tell a tale that cannot be ignored: the BIG money is in hi-tech. It has been like this already for many years and the chasm between those who are blessed with undertanding how computers work and those who only know how to switch one on, is widening. However, despite the intense pull, it appears that not everyone wants hi-tech.
Les had the gumption to ditch hi-tech and chase after a dream. Do you also have what it takes? Let's see!
Les begins his story. "I am a hi-tech refugee. For over 20 years I worked in the field in a wide range of positions and for a long while also as a freelancer. A few years ago I had enough. I decided the time had come to realise a dream." (46-year-old) Saidel's dream was somewhat different, Saidel wanted to open a bakery!
Already at age 13 the ex-hi-techie discovered a love for bread and dough. "My mentor was a Talmud teacher in 6th grade. Aside from being a Rabbi, he was also athletic, and a health nut. One day, instead of teaching us Tractate Brachot, he brought his baking utensils to class and taught us how to bake whole wheat bread. From that day I began to bake and also to run. Baking and health turned into an obsession."
The peak of the love affair was in 2008 when he left the computer field and went to study baking with the San Francisco Baking Institute.
Afterwards he opened a bakery in Ginot Shomron, together with his family and named it (appropriately) Saidels Bakery. At the center of the bakery he built an enormous brick oven, designed by an international expert in the field. The oven is constructed out of 200 year old Belgian bricks, and they are not the only historic feature. According to Saidel "Every single detail in the bakery is designed around baking methods from 400 years ago. Everything is hand made, with an almost total lack of modern machinery. We even grind the flour ourselves. The bread is made with natural yeast (sourdough) and we have a collection of wild yeast cultures from all over the world (Austria, France and even Saudi Arabia).
Saidel is also proud of the method of baking. "We use the artisan method of baking, the age old method of slow kneading, slow fermentation in straw baskets and baking in a brick oven. We are the only bakery in the country that can truly be called artisan in every sense of the word."
Saidel in action. Baking became an obsession.
How do you explain the switching of careers?
"In the dizzying world of hi-tech today, there is a great nostalgia for days gone by, simpler days with a slower pace. There is a trend of returning to one's roots, in the organic market for example, and there is a great demand for what we offer."
At this point he met up with another mentor, a neighbour in his village who prefers to remain anonymous. "When I started the bakery I immediately realized that I had a serious lack of knowledge in business management. While discussing this with a friend, he referred me to this neighbour. I approached him and he devoted countless hours of his time without any thought of recompense, aside from seeing me succeed. He opened a world that was until then undecipherable for me. He taught me the tools and the codes to unravel this world, on a completely voluntary basis and out of good neighbourliness."
What about starting out? Weren't you previously an independent?
"My freelance period in hi-tech did not sufficiently prepare me for becoming an entrepreneur," Saidel continues. "I knew how to manage people, how to galvanize them, but I didn't have a grain of experience in entrepreneurship. I went mostly by instinct. In the beginning I turned to the organization M.A.T.I to check out various options for raising capital. In the end we decided not to take loans, but rather to proceed within the confines of our own meagre private capital, something that subsequently proved to be a mistake."
My instincts told me we had a killer product, all we need to do was start producing and it would take off. The instinct was correct. What we miscalculated however, was the time frame for the product to take off. Only after about 3 years did the bakery really start get going and by then we already had our tongues hanging out, after using up all our private savings. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to take a risk and take a bigger loan in the beginning."
Another error that Saidel mentions is common amongst beginning entrepreneurs. "Although I had dabbled a little in marketing as part of my work in hi-tech, it soon became obvious that I was a production person and not a marketing person. I thought I could do both. That was the second mistake. It is extremely difficult to live in both worlds and do the job well in both. Pretty soon the balance started tending towards the production and the gap between our production and marketing capabilities started to widen. We were left with world class quality products with not enough people to sell them to."
The third obstacle, he says, was lack of knowledge in business management. "We consulted with our accountant, but due to lack of experience we made many errors that cost us tens of thousands of Shekels." Amongst the errors, Saidel mentions starting out as a Ltd. company instead of first as an independent, incorrect analysis of data and inability to weed out poorly performing products.
"Despite the hardships - we hung in there and wouldn't quit, Saidel continues. "There was many a time when things seemed really black and the temptation to go back to computers was compelling, but, mostly out of pure stubbornness, we didn't give up. This attribute is no less important than those I mentioned above, perhaps even more so." Today of course, the bakery is a fully functioning business.
The brick oven he built. "We lost a fortune due to lack of experience."
Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs encountering the same problems?
"You already have a dream,you have the passion. What you need to do now is correctly take advantage of the resources around you. Today there are a myriad resources for beginning entrepreneurs, starting with organizations like M.A.T.I, private consultants, friends, neighbours, even family. King David said 'From all my teachers I have become wise' - never has this been more applicable than to the beginning entrepreneur. Start listening and learn."
What about combining family and business?
"In a bakery such as ours, the dividing line between the bakery and the home is almost non existent, they both intermingle with each other. On the one hand there is the advantage that I get to be with my family all day, every day and I don't miss a minute of their lives. I see them growing up and experience everything I would miss had I been working in an office job in the city. In addition, the kids are exposed to everything in the bakery, they learn values they will never forget, such as successes, failures, work ethic, etc.
On the other hand it is often difficult to separate the home and the work. The equipment and products overflow into the home area and the noise, like the aromas, penetrate every corner of the home. There is an ongoing effort to set limits - on the one hand not to insult the customer but on the other hand preserving our privacy and be a family. It's not easy, it doesn't always work and we are always trying to improve on that."
Your work day, has it changed since becoming a baker?
Saidel, like other entrepreneurs, paints a picture that is far from rosy. "We start very early, we work hard, physically intensive work, more than 14 hours a day, non stop. After that some time in the evening with the family, a little TV and then off to sleep. I must mention however that during the work day I am constantly involved with the family being around, helping with the work, shooting the breeze, joking and singing togther with the oldies music that is constantly blaring in the background."
Finally I asked Saidel what he would do if he had to change professions. The baker answers without hesitation that he would not return to computers. "I would not go back to hi-tech. I would study and work in another profession that is dear to me - dietetics." Extraordinary dreams.
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