“Starting a business as a Pakistani in the Netherlands is not easy,” says Anjum Khokhar, an entrepreneur who has been living in Groningen for the past three years. He has created a cleaning services startup that has already expanded to other Dutch cities and his next goal is to open his own vegan restaurant in Groningen.
“I ended up here by chance”, Khokhar tells the Northern Times. “My partner was living here for 15 to 20 years, so he asked me to come and start a business here. He said, ‘since you’re working in retail, why don’t you come here and start something?’”
Since moving here, Khokhar has already started a service connecting businesses with professional cleaners, and his next venture is a vegan restaurant in the city of Groningen. He says that his integration into Dutch society was rather easy due to his years of experience of working with people from different nationalities, but relocating to another country always comes with difficulties, such as the language barrier. “Many people speak English, but it’s not enough. You need to learn Dutch as fast as you can”, he says.
His own boss
Khokhar completed his international business degree at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences and decided to become his own boss. He started researching the market to try and identify needs that he could cover with his own business ideas. “I could see a problem in the cleaning industry in the northern part of the country”, he says. The problem was especially with the standards: he says that most cleaners in the area were amateurs. “Opening a cleaning company is not easy. You need to be standardized, qualified and certified. You can’t just pick up a mop and a bucket and start cleaning”, Khokhar explains, especially when it comes to hygiene standards for restaurants, hotels and businesses.
He met with with Niek Huizenga, the owner of the Launch Café to discuss his business plan and soon thereafter, Cleaning on a Click was born: “The startup aims to create an eBay for the cleaning industry to connect restaurants, offices and individual cleaners with cleaning companies”, he explains. Cleaning on a Click tracks the hygiene levels and once they are down the user gets notified and can contact a professional cleaner. The company offers cleaning services for cars, bars, homes, sofas and rugs, mattresses and restaurants.
Creating a company can be challenging, as you find yourself responsible not only for your future but for your employees’ future as well. “Your startup needs to be innovative. You have to create a socially responsible company, to contribute to the economy and to pay taxes, of course”, he says. Having an idea is not enough: to be successful, you need to start small and think big, Khokhar says. And this is the reason he chose Groningen and the Northern Netherlands as the starting point of his career. He sees the future of Cleaning on a Click expanding in the biggest Dutch and European cities: the company is already available in Haren and Utrecht as well.
His entrepreneurial vision is not limited to the success of Cleaning on a Click. “Because you always have to generate sources of success, I don’t want to stick to one business,” he says. To him relying on only one business idea can bring failure and success at the same time. “If one business fails, you turn to another one”, he explains. His new business idea is to open a vegan restaurant in Groningen. “It’s difficult to find a restaurant with only vegan food and the demand is high”, he says. He came up with his new idea after researching the policy of the restaurants that offer vegan food in the city. “If you say your food is vegan then it should be vegan, don’t let chicken or meat in your restaurant”, he explains.
Khokhar’s decision to launch his companies in the north is a deliberate one: he says that it can be difficult to start a business in cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam without having a platform. “You cannot jump into the sea without knowing how to swim. You need to learn the market first, to learn Dutch and then you can expand to bigger cities”, he says. Another reason that he has chosen not to move to the Randstad is the standard of living. “I don’t like crowded places. We will go as a business there, but the north is a better place to live. There is nothing like Groningen”, he says. To Khokhar, the north of the Netherlands is the land of opportunities for internationals who want to start their own businesses as the “market is large and the economy healthy”.