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How This Daughter of Immigrants Went from Living in a Hotel to Commanding a National Baby Food Empire Worth $150 Million

Happy Family is enjoying success across the country, but getting there wasn’t easy.

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BY Wanda Thibodeaux - 27 Jun 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you had just $200 dollars in your pocket to take care of your family and start a business, could you do it?

That's precisely the backstory behind Happy Family Organics, one of the largest and fastest-growing organic baby food brands. Shazi Visram, the company's CEO and founder, tells Inc. that her parents--originally from Tanzania and Pakistan--immigrated to the United Kingdom and then moved to Canada. Shazi's mother, who qualified as a doctor in Pakistan, hoped to transfer her practice and create a safe, secure life for her family. But when her qualifications didn't transfer, Shazi's mother had to think on her feet and change plans, working as a nurse. Shazi's parents bought a small hotel and shifted Shazi and her brother to Birmingham, Alabama. All they had was $200.

Ingraining the lessons of hard work and determination

With no experience in the hotel industry, Shazi's parents were hit with one challenge after another. But ultimately, watching her parents struggle was positive for Shazi, who says the experience imparted important lessons on her that now carry over into her company.

"[...Seeing] firsthand how my parents overcame almost impossible hurdles is something that has stuck with me," she says, "The financial burden of moving to a completely new country to make a better life for themselves and their two young children, all while running a small business devoid of any prior experience, helped me learn to pour my heart and soul into everything I do, as my parents did."

Shazi recalls, too, that swimming in the hotel pool helped her family bond and lightened the mood. She made friends with the motel restaurant's cook and bartender, and the environment was a happy one.

Inspiration from a real mother's shame launches a brand

The determination Shazi's parents had, combined with tons of effort, eventually helped them expand to owning five motels and other ventures by the time Shazi was ready to start college as a freshman. With their model of hard work still fresh in her mind, Shazi left Alabama for Columbia University, where she eventually earned her MBA. It was then that Shazi reconnected with an old friend and mother, who told Shazi how ashamed she felt at not being able to provide homemade baby food for her twins because of her professional workload.

Shazi immediately saw a chance to fix a clear problem she knew her friend wasn't alone in. "This was the first time I saw an opportunity to assuage guilt and create value for all moms," she says.

On Mother's Day, 2006, Happy Baby officially launched. The initial design, which featured ice cube trays of frozen baby food was simple--in fact, too simple. "After realizing [the ice cube tray approach] wasn't the overall disruptive concept I dreamed of, we pivoted toward new dry innovations and, eventually, the packaging that disrupted the traditional baby food jars--pouched baby food."

That shift was the spark Happy Baby needed, as the pouches don't require refrigeration, are lighter than glass jars, do away with the need for a spoon and are conveniently portable. The brand, which expanded to Happy Family, continues to innovate in that space, creating Clearly Crafted pouches in 2016 that are transparent for further peace of mind about the quality of the food.

Shazi's secret business sauce

Shazi asserts that an honest, responsible business model is what keeps Happy Family on top. "We believe in promising to provide the most trusted, cleanest, organic products possible to parents by doing so in a transparent, socially and environmentally conscious way," she explains. "Increasingly, we are all looking for openness and honesty from the companies that we buy products from. Informed decision making in the grocery store is on the rise as people look to avoid harmful chemicals and toxins and to know not only how their food is made, but why. As a food brand, it is really important to help people make the best choices for their family, and I believe this is what made Happy Family work over all these years; helping parents make carefully informed food decisions."

And the approach is more than working. Happy Family now sells more than 100 products and has more than 100 employees. Flexible schedules, office nursery and paid maternity (12 weeks) and paternity (6 weeks) make the company a supportive place for parents to work, and Shazi's vision and mission is to use her business to positively influence both mothers' and children's health through good nutrition. Shazi recently has launched an Infant Feeding Platform that addresses gaps in the marketplace for that purpose, stressing that her passion comes from ensuring all families can feed their kids healthy foods that, ultimately, leave them better off.

And what does Shazi's family think of her success? "They are proud of me and of our legacy," she says. "We are very humbly grateful being a positive part of so many people's lives and empowering the young minds of generations to come."