Ali Asghari (Left) and Arash Hosseini with Arlene Dickinson (Dragons Den & Founder of Venture Communications)
By Sam Sawchuk
Ali Asghari and Arash Hosseini are the founders of PilotsFriend Canada and offer a healthy and organic energy tonic that promotes optimal concentration and focus without the adverse effects associated with caffeinated beverages and sugary energy drinks. After proving successful in Europe, the team is bringing the product to Canada. I took the time to speak to the founders about the challenges of bringing a product to market and their vision for the future.
How it all began…
A team of European jet pilots meet for their annual get-together. As meeting goes on, one of them raises the issue that in his last medical check-up due to jittery hands the doctor had warned him he may have his flying license at risk if his jitters due to caffeine consumption continues. As he raised this issue, many others in the room related to this story. He thus volunteered to find a better alternative for the group and after close to a year of research, he couldn’t find any viable alternative. This was the spark: a few of these pilots put their savings together as seed money to fund a research project to come up with a new product to serve their needs.
Q: What are some challenges your team has faced when developing your venture?
We have a lifestyle product that was developed specifically as a healthy alternative to over-consumption of coffee and artificial energy drinks. Yet, there is such a negative connotation associated with energy drinks that we find consumers may be initially resistant to trying PilotsFriend. Our biggest challenge therefore is to relay the many benefits of PilotsFriend to our consumer base through effective but simple messaging, in such a way that consumers can relate to the story of pilots who sponsored the development of this product.
Q: Was there any point when you thought it was over? What has kept you going? and what unique market opportunity have you identified?
The product was developed and is currently marketed in Europe under the category of Bitter Tonic. When we were working on securing various licences from Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, we were told that based on Health Canada definitions, PilotsFriend should be categorized as a Caffeinated Energy Drink. At first, we thought it is over; precisely because this product was specifically developed as a healthy alternative to sugary and synthetic energy drinks and last thing we wanted was for it to be categorized under the same umbrella.
What kept us going was our sheer love of the product; we knew PilotsFriend was a superior product in terms of quality and genuine purpose for its development. We wanted to find its just place on the shelves of all of North America’s favorite grocery stores. We took it on ourselves to provide this healthy alternative to the consumers. As we gathered our thoughts and looked into the market potential of Energy Drinks, we had a spark. We decided to get creative with the marketing side and introduce the product as a healthy and tasty Energy Drink. After all, we thought- we have nothing to be shy about with regards to PilotsFriend; the caffeine in PilotsFriend is from natural sources: Guarana Nut, which provides about 20mg of caffeine as one starts to consumer a can, depending on each individuals metabolism, staying focused and alert for about 90 mins; as this impact starts to fade away, caffeine from the second natural source — cola nut, which acts as a slow-release agent, starts to kick in, providing another 36mg of caffeine for up to 120–180mins of focus and alertness. The research and the science behind the development of the product showed that about 25mg-35mg of caffeine in the system is what the body requires to be at its optimal level of focus and performance (this is about 1/6 the caffeine you get from a cup of coffee- which shows how caffeine is being over-consumed, leading to jittering, stomach irritation and other side effects).
Q: As an entrepreneur how important has flexibility been in developing your venture? Have your plans shifted since you began working on this project?
Flexibility is indeed extremely important; being resourceful and constantly wanting to solve problems through creative thinking is what entrepreneurship is all about. As described above, there was a major shift in our plan from the get-go. Smaller but equally important shifts continue to shape our growth strategies. The major advantage of a start-up such as PilotsFriend Inc. over the more mature, established players in the market place, is its ability to make shifts and subtle adjustments very quickly to take advantage of the ever-changing market opportunities and consumer needs. Thus, if as an entrepreneur cannot be flexible, you are not even taking advantage of this natural edge you have over bigger players!
Q: What was your spark/founding story, where did it come from?
As Calgarians and Albertans, we have been involved with the Oil and Gas industry- naturally! We were looking to diversify our investments and came across PilotsFriend on a business trip in Europe. We loved the story behind the product as well as its taste and sheer quality. The craftsmanship behind the product development and the end result intrigued us. We had found our diversification opportunity!
Q: What is your best tip for entrepreneurs? Particularly those who are in the food/beverage space and bringing a product to market.
– Focus on quality and offer something to your consumer that you’d want to see your own family and kids consume in the future. In a nutshell, offer something that you’d be proud to market and see the society at large consume. Everything else falls in place.
Q: What are your non-work habits that help you with your work-life balance?
Our work schedule is anything between 15–20 hours per day on a consistent basis — with little or no break on the weekends; this means we need to get our energy from a healthy source. We focus on personal fitness by taking part in cross-fit activities alongside our beautiful wives and Ali’s kids — with the help of one of our fans: Alex Gbaguidi, who is a world class sprinter, and a gold-medalist in the Masters Games. He loves PilotsFriend and its healthy attributes and claims the product has helped him in his recent success at the Masters Games in Vancouver. We also use the app “Simple Habit” for small breaks during the day, where we get to sharpen our mind through bite-size but effective meditation techniques. PilotsFriend is really that one friend who keeps you naturally alert and pushes you to achieve your full potential when your schedule is hectic. Organic ingredients in PilotsFriend such as cardamom and ginger promote healthy digestion and cardiovascular health; balanced amount of caffeine is delivered through natural sources of Guarana and Cola nuts. Organic and all-natural orange and apple juice provide immune support and promote heart and liver health. Black carrot juice provides anti-inflammatory effects and promotes eye health. We can continue to list the ingredients and the benefits of each and every one, but really the point is this all-natural energy-tonic was developed for busy pilots who have access to mediocre food at best while flying their planes, and have to fly through the night and keep sharp and focused for elongated hours throughout any one day: thus every ingredient in this elixir helps to promote part of your health in order for you to get on with your hectic schedule: PilotsFriend is that one caring friend who motivates you to do your best!
About the editor:
Sam Sawchuk is an entrepreneur, storyteller, author, and philanthropist whose background launching successful companies and non-profits clearly demonstrate his passion for storytelling, communication, and connecting people. He the Founder & Editor-In-Chief at InTheirShoes … Read More about Sam