Failure is not an option!
To all women that are hurting, let me be your mirror
By Lela Struga
Zina Sultana comes from a large, loving and supportive family who instilled all of the high value virtues in life. Her siblings are all PhD graduates but sadly Zina was struck with a long-term debilitating illness while at university and had to leave early. She did recover and it set her on a new path, with a determination to never again fail at anything and amazingly at the young age of 27, Zina has already raised £21m in joint venture finance and is a successful property investor. Zina reveals an inspiring story exclusively for Global Woman magazine and provides some insightful advice and tips for entrepreneurs on how to raise finance and attract investment.
How do you view your upbringing and what shaped you into who you are today?
I view my upbringing as one of the main things that shaped me into the person I am today. I feel I was blessed and fortunate in the sense that I had parents who showed me endless love and made every sacrifice possible to ensure that my siblings and I had the best opportunities in life. At the forefront of those opportunities was education. My father came to this country from Bangladesh with a growing family, so he did not have the privilege of gaining an education and because of the importance he placed on education, he can now boast of a family full of PhD graduates, teachers, professors and accountants. Both my parents were born and brought up in Bangladesh so I can only imagine the struggles and culture shock that they faced when first coming to the UK to start a new life and raise a family. Money was not a luxury that was afforded to my family and being the second youngest of 8 siblings of immigrant parents, I saw the struggles that my parents had to go through financially and struggle to support and provide for the family. From a young age this instilled in me the resilience, drive, motivation and passion I have for what I do today and surrounded by the love and support of my family and friends, as well as the fantastic and amazing friends I have made since I started this journey. I know that failure is not an option and that I will and can achieve what I set out to achieve.
What ambitions did you have through your stages of education?
I was your average C grade student all throughout school and college. It wasn’t up until I got to university that I discovered a passion for education and how important it was to do something you love. Many people are aware of the fact that I studied Forensic Science at university. Each time someone asks me, “Oh, what university did you go to? And what did you study?” a little part inside of me begins to ache, and my heart starts pounding. But I do what I do best and put on my infamous smile and say… “I studied Forensic Science at Queen Mary University of London”, hoping with every inch of me that they don’t follow that up with “When did you graduate?” or “What grades did you get?”. To my surprise no one has ever asked me this question! As I am thinking of this, I tremble inside, I am fighting every bone in my body which is telling me to stop right now. This is the one and only aspect of my life that truly disturbs me. I have finally come to the realisation that being disturbed is not a negative, it is in fact one of the best things that can happen to an individual. To feel disturbed and have such pain in your life can allow you to create a drive within yourself which can lead you to extraordinary achievements. This has finally enabled me to tap in to the power of my pain intelligently. Now, very few people know the fact that I suffered from anorexia whilst I was at university.
I had to leave university due to my illness and begin a new journey in my life.
It’s funny how living here in London that the education system can let you down so much. This entire organisation is a huge money making scheme, it’s not about what’s in the best interest for the students. Naturally you would think that presenting the board of education with numerous doctor’s notes, psychiatrist reports and other documents stating the fact that I was not in the right mental state to attend my lectures, would be more than adequate proof of reasons of extenuating circumstances. I had to leave university due to my illness and begin a new journey in my life. To be fair, this was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me, as it has given me the strength and courage to accomplish anything I set my mind to. That was the only time I felt true ‘failure’ and now, failure is not an option!
Who and what have been your greatest influences in life and why?
My greatest and biggest influence in my life will have to be my dad. My father is not only my role model and mentor but also my greatest teacher and he has also taught me the value of honesty, integrity and sincerity, the benefits of hard work, and the importance of striving for excellence. He instilled in me the value of hard work and perseverance. He will always challenge and encourage me to reach higher and to never give up on my dreams. The love he has for his family is unconditional and he is the wisest and most generous soul I have ever known and I am truly blessed to have him in my life. It was my father’s examples of courage, integrity, sacrifice, empathy for those that were less fortunate, and his patience with me while growing up that has had a lasting impact on me. His constant words of wisdom, encouragement, and work ethic grounded me and gave me my wings to fly on my own, knowing that I will always have him to lean on.
Can you tell us a little about your family life, and your personal interests outside of business?
I have 5 sisters and 2 brothers. I am the second youngest. All of my siblings are married with children. I have an amazing relationship with my family. They are the reason why I do what I do. My family mean the world to me and there’s not a single thing I wouldn’t do for them. They are also my biggest supporters; no one cheers my name louder or with more pride than my family. My family are highly educated and the majority of them are in the education industry. I have nineteen nieces and nephews in total, and the majority of them are young girls. So I want to ensure that I am a strong role model for them to look up to. I want to give them hope for a better future for women in general. I am in a very fortunate position in my life and career right now whereby I can schedule my work around my family as and when needed. I am practically a carer for my dad. Unfortunately, over the past few years his health has deteriorated and he has a condition called ‘Pure Autonomic Failure’ which is a dysfunction controlled by the autonomic nervous system. His blood pressure is dangerously low and he can collapse at any point. He has had many incidents where he has collapsed around the house, in the bathroom, the garden and even down the stairs at one point and has seriously injured himself.
My family mean the world to me and there’s not a single thing I wouldn’t do for them.
Along with other medical issues, he has several doctors and hospital appointments on a monthly basis, so I make it my priority that I am the one by his side with each of his appointments. Outside of business is my time… it’s very rare that I get time to myself. But the few moments that I do get I make the most of it. My passion in life is fashion, beauty and travelling. Over the past six months alone, I have been to Dubai twice, Turkey, Greece, Spain and Orlando. I’m actually happy to stay put in the UK for a little while now. I love shopping, some would say I have a shopping addiction, I would say that I appreciate beautiful things and collecting as many items as I possibly can. Okay, maybe I do have a shopping addiction! Nothing gives me greater joy than a new purchase. My success is measured by the amount I am able to give back, not only to women but to a few charitable causes that are close to my heart, such as breast cancer research, children living in poverty and women in need from third world countries. I am also looking to launch my own fashion line in the very near future…. This is a huge passion of mine.
You are only 27 years of age and have already raised over £21m in joint venture finance. How did you achieve that and what is your secret?
What’s my secret? It’s simple. Surround yourself with the best and never give up. For me, failure is not an option. I am a prolific networker. In the beginning I would attend on average 3 to 4 Business Networking Events every week. I would attend every single property networking event in London, as well as independent business events and private social events. I made it my number one priority that whichever event I would attend; I would be noticed one way or another. The key to any networking event, is to stand out and be known, become the go-to person in your industry. You must always add value to your investors first and foremost. By adding value to them, you have presented yourself as the expert and will soon become the go-to person. I know it’s a cliché to say that it only takes one deal, one opportunity, to make a difference. But that’s exactly what happened with me.
How and why did you go into property investment?
I got involved with property by pure default. A few years ago I was stuck in a 9-5 job, which was driving me insane. The most difficult thing to do is to leave a full time job to start a career of your own. Unfortunately, at the exact same period, my mum had developed breast cancer. I left work immediately to look after her. She’s fine now, thank God! I was unemployed out of choice for six months. As fate would have it, I met my business partner (Ansar) through a mutual contact of ours. He’s been involved in property for over 15 years, buying and selling properties for himself, friends and family. Ansar wanted to start a development company and he wanted me to come on board as the ‘Business Development Manager’. So I guess that meant I had to grow the company somehow? The company in a nutshell is a development company, specialising in flips, buying and selling properties. Essentially we would buy anything we could add significant value to, ranging from small refurbs to conversions to large developments.
Surround yourself with the best and never give up. For me, failure is not an option.
I was thrown in the deep end. Ansar mentored me along the way. I attended my very first networking event three years ago at Maidenhead, called the ‘Berkshire Property Meet’. That was one of the largest property networking events, with over 200 people. I remember my first time, I had no idea what I was doing, lost in the midst of the crowd trying to keep myself to myself. I quickly discovered that everyone there was very forthcoming and open to newbies. As the night went on, I grew a little confident and started speaking to a few people at the event. This term is known as ‘NETWORKING’. Who knew that just by speaking to people and connecting with the right individuals you can raise millions of pounds?! However, that was not the case for me that evening. I soon became a prolific networker. Through trial and error over the past three years, I have developed the key steps I needed to take to raise finance from investors. Over the past eighteen months alone I have managed to raise over £21m in pure JV (joint venture) finance to fund my development opportunities in London. I will forever be grateful to Ansar for giving me this opportunity. Not only is he a serial entrepreneur, he is my business partner and friend and also one of the most trusted individuals in my life.
It still seems that in your field, it is male dominated. Is that the case and if so, what do you believe needs to happen to change that?
I think the majority of the industries are male dominated. It is a challenge at times for me personally, as I feel as though I have to continuously prove myself. You have to ensure that you are very competent in your field and have all the facts and figures needed to close the deal. Men are simple creatures, all they care about is numbers. My advice to women is simple, women need to start supporting one another and empower each other, as opposed to fighting against each other.
What advice and tips would you care to share with readers about raising finance and being a property investor?
You must always find a way to impress your investors, as people are always looking for reasons NOT to do business with you. I always believe in ‘Dress to impress’. However, that will only get your foot in the door, that’s all we need. Our foot in the door. Once you’ve got your foot in the door the rest is down to your competency levels and whether you can present yourself as an expert or not. I have spoken with many of my students who do not have a track record or would not consider themselves an ‘expert’. If you do not have a track record, then JV with someone who does have a track record and leverage off their experience and expertise. Essentially, you need to become ‘Investor Ready’. Being investor ready simply allows investors to conduct their due diligence against you as an individual or a company. Individuals or companies who are not investor ready are less likely to be successful in attracting the finance needed. In order to become investor ready, typically investors want to know and understand; What does the company do? How does the company make money? Who is running the company? How do they invest? How do they safely exit their investment?
Once you’ve got your foot in the door the rest is down to your competency levels and whether you can present yourself as an expert or not.
Companies and individuals also need to have some sort of a business plan or an investor precis, which is a document explaining to investors your business and strategy. The following elements are usually included: Business overviews; Business strategy; Marketing plan; Operational strategy; People; Financials; Use of funds; Shareholding structure. Always add value to their business first. By adding value to them first, you are able to present yourself as the expert. Become a risk manager, instead of focusing on how much money they are going to make, protect the downside first. If and when possible, always provide testimonials and case studies of existing clients and projects you are currently working on. Potential new investors are always interested in knowing the following; Who have you successfully done business with in the past? How much have you raised or borrowed in the past? And what’s your personal success rate with respect to businesses you are involved with? There are two ways to raise more capital. One is to find more and more investors, which means that you have to manage a larger number of clients, their needs, expectations and maintain that client relationship. Secondly, you can simply increase the transaction size, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. Instead of asking for £500k I ask for £1m, instead of asking for £1m, I ask for £5m.
You are the founder of ‘How to Raise a Million’. Tell us more about that and its purpose.
The number one question I get asked on a daily basis is, “Zina, how do you do what you do, where do I find investors and how do I secure the funding?”. Why is it so important to be able to raise capital and leverage other people’s money? To make a profit, of course! It could be the fact that you’ve run out of your own personal funds, or you want to become more of a successful property investor in order to create financial freedom. So I created ‘How to Raise a Million’ which provides you with the tools and tactics you need to go out there and source your own investors. This will save you the thousands of hours of trial and error, which may lead to frustration and then eventually to give up. Raising finance is a life skill. With it, you’ve got the knowledge that’s going to serve you for life, and gain potential new business partners for life.
What are your goals for 2017?
- I want to help as many people as I possibly can to raise finance, creating as many success stories.
- Help women achieve their ultimate goals.
- Create my Wealth Academy to provide a platform to learn life and wealth skills.
- Increase my investor base internationally.
- Double my property portfolio.
- Become a platform speaker, sharing my message with the world.