How I built a global business on a budget of just £7,500

From humble beginnings in a small Indian village, to owner of a global consultancy firm
Rafaat Rahmani
Rafaat Rahmani

It was 2004, and I vividly remember staring at £7,900 - our entire budget for starting the company – as I sat at the kitchen table, wondering how we were ever going to make this work. Nearly 20 years on, I am thrilled to be the owner of Lifescience Dynamics, a global consultancy company working with the world’s top 25 largest life science companies, without external funding, partnerships or loans. 

Success, however, has not come easy and it was this year, as we arrived at the gates of Buckingham Palace to receive The King’s Award for Enterprise that I couldn’t help but reflect on where I started - a small village in Bihar, India – and where I am today.

My childhood could not have been further from the luxury of Royalty. My grandmother used to send me and my cousins to school with dry-roasted corn or chickpeas in our pockets; they were roasted in sand because she couldn’t afford cooking oil. We would watch our classmates eat their lunches and we had to make do with our pockets of dried grains. Being dyslexic, schoolwork was a struggle. The teachers would hit me with a ruler when I got something wrong and no-one knew about dyslexia in my school back then.

After learning basic arithmetic and English, I moved to the United States at 17 to study business which led to marketing roles for McDonalds and Pepsi. I then headed to the UK to complete an MBA before joining Eli Lilly & Co as part of their country General Manager development programme. Later, I joined Double Helix, a consulting firm, as vice president of their consulting practice.

At the turn of the millennium, the internet boom opened up new possibilities and inspired me to build my own company. Unfortunately, my initial first two ventures failed, and ironically it was my third – a traditional consulting firm, not focused on technology, that took off.

Be a problem-solver

All start-up businesses face obstacles and setbacks in the early days, and Lifescience Dynamics was no exception. As an immigrant who did not have a formal education until the age of 12, my struggles were also magnified by the fact that I was a complete outsider. At the time, our problems seemed insurmountable.

It was my wife, Ayesha, who helped me build the business from the ground up. When we first started out in the U.K., we struggled to break into the pharmaceutical and biotech industries with our consulting services. Getting a meeting with potential clients was impossible with established companies. So many doors were closed to me in London.

Entrepreneurs, however, thrive on solving problems. If we could not make headway in our own backyard, then we would export our services to the U.S, Japan, and other parts of Europe. We also built a division of subject matter experts by going outside of England, and hiring business analysts throughout Europe who also could not get their foot in the door of the establishment.

Another lesson learned – remain flexible and adaptable because you can turn adversity into opportunities. By going around the system, you can find your niche, and in some cases, receive an invitation to meet royalty.

Take advantage of every opportunity

Leadership is a continuous journey of growth, and the lessons you have learned from your upbringing can be powerful tools in your leadership toolkit. Always keep an entrepreneurial spirit and seize opportunities when they present themselves.

Serendipity definitely played a hand in one of the biggest moments of my life. After the first Gulf War, I was living in the United Arab Emirates with my family, and they were arranging a marriage for me to a girl in London, who I couldn't afford to travel to meet. At the time, the airline industry was struggling to bring back air travel to the Gulf region. British Airways was raffling off two free tickets and my niece asked if she could enter my name because she was not old enough to take part. We won the two tickets and, dressed in a British Airways T-shirt, I boarded the flight to London to meet my future bride and business confidante. I still have the T-shirt.

If I had not won a seat on that plane, I would not have met Ayesha, and I certainly would not have had the support and encouragement that founding Lifescience Dynamics has demanded at every turn.

Life experiences can play a significant role in shaping your leadership skills. Overcoming challenges and navigating different social environments can provide valuable insights and skills that can be applied to leadership roles. For me, it has been a long road from growing up in abject poverty to meeting The King in Buckingham Palace. I would not change a thing.

Written by
Rafaat Rahmani
Written by
January 15, 2024