Bringing brands and talent together to create authentic, original promotional campaigns is not easy, but Ismail Ahmad, founder of ISH & CO, has become an expert in doing it. A well-known sales, marketing, and business strategist in downtown Brooklyn, Ismail leads his multifaceted creative agency to offer his clients marketing execution, software, talent management, public relations, consulting, product development, design, and the agency’s ecommerce stores. His reputation has grown so much that Ismail is now highly in-demand.
Ismail first became successful in the ecommerce space when he started a handful of small stores before co-founding Rastah, a fashion brand. Rastah has been featured in mainstream publications, including Vogue, Forbes, and Hypebeast, and has been worn by celebrities, such as French Montana, among others.
Ismail’s agency is also known for creating and licensing custom software, which led to much of his success in early 2020. Ismail said, “We literally had to triple our staff due to the demand we had for our marketing software. This was a pivotal factor in converting it into an invite-only platform to make the workflow be more manageable.”
Surprisingly, Ismail does not have any computer science background. He attributes his success in software to having a knack for creating excellent user design/interface and platforms with a flawless user experience. “I try my best to create a customer-centered culture at ISH & CO, especially when it comes to creating software.”
Ismail is proud of what his agency has achieved in light of the 2020 pandemic and recession. “We employ over forty people across three countries. In 2020, during a global pandemic, we had our greatest financial year by pivoting to create software and platforms accessible to the average business or general user. We kept going when so many other businesses were unfortunately hit by the recession because we were willing to innovate and try new ideas. All of that has paid off, and thankfully we have continued our steep growth. In fact, I feel this is just the beginning of our success in software, and I’m excited to see how we can improve.”
Ismail continues to provide a variety of services and products at ISH & CO, but it is clear that the company will have a seat at the table when it comes to marketing automation software.
As we head into 2021, Ismail has thought a lot about the future of the marketing industry. “I think the marketing industry will continue to change and adapt as larger corporations try to move online to get a piece of the digital pie. However, I still think the most important thing will be being able to create authentic brand experiences; we have to try and scale the seemingly unscalable, such as one-on-one unique online customer experiences with brands. People are hungry for that, and the more you give that to them, the better the long-term results will be for your company.”
Like most young entrepreneurs, Ismail has not always found success easily. Despite his achievements as well as his positive attitude, Ismail has had to overcome many challenges. “Personally, the biggest challenge for me has been getting people to take me seriously, as I’m often taken as a child in the eyes of the corporate world. Working with larger corporations and sitting in rooms littered with Harvard MBAs and corporate lawyers has definitely given me my fair share of imposter syndrome. I’ve learned, though, that value is value, and once they see that, it’s generally smooth sailing from there.”
While Ismail’s days are busy as he works hard to ensure success for ISH & CO, he does have a vision for the company’s future. “In five years, I see myself continuing to expand my agency across its different avenues, but I want to shift my focus eventually to create a singular piece of software or perhaps a platform that I can scale globally across all industries and niches. I want at least one of my products or software to be a must-have tool for any brand trying to succeed digitally.”
For entrepreneurs who are just starting on their own journeys as business owners, Ismail has advice for them. “Focus on providing value first. Everything else should come second. No matter how well you may do other things, it won’t matter if you don’t come to the table with some level of measurable value from the start. I have seen too many companies focus on the bells and whistles and fatally neglect the reality that people generally just want value first and foremost.”
Ismail is a unique figure not just because of his business success but because of his personal journey, which he shares freely to help those that are in a similar situation. “Believe it or not, I used to be a medical student who was studying to become a physician. I was enrolled in medical school just a couple years ago and graduated with a BS in Biology/Chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. Then my life took a few twists and turns, and now I spend each day doing a lot of different things and with a broad set of business endeavors. I’ve truly cherished every moment of this journey and have learned to thrive in a self-inflicted state of chaos. When I made this drastic career change, I was met with swift and harsh criticism for my decision. However, I went for it, and I’m so passionate about helping others make similar difficult decisions.” Ismail has since then helped hundreds of graduate students transition out of the chase of careers they are no longer interested in. In fact, Ismail has personally trained and hired many of these individuals who were interested in starting their own business, providing a start and insight into the startup world. Ismail tells us, “It’s honestly an incredible and surreal feeling. To help individuals that I can so clearly see myself in is unmatched by any amount of personal or financial success I could ever wish for.”
Ismail’s ability to use his own success to help others is a driving force in his life. “It is a major factor in how I approach each day. I don’t do any of this for the money. The money is nice, of course! But really, if you took the money away and told me that I would still be able to impact people’s lives, I would still feel successful. I would still be satisfied with where I am in my life.”