Featured case: Desert Farms: Dromedary Dreams

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The case

Who – the protagonist

Walid Abdul-Wahab, founder of Desert Farms, the first ever US-based camel milk company.

What?

Nomadic people have used camel milk medicinally for centuries, but it was not until 2005 that a study published in the International Journal of Human Development reported the positive effects that camel milk consumption had on people with autism.

image of cells

Other reports said that the milk’s powerful immune system components meant that it was especially beneficial to people suffering from diabetes, allergies and autoimmune disorders such as Crohn’s disease.

Why?

Before the launch of Desert Farms, people in the United States, particularly those who knew of the milk’s medical benefits, would have to contact camel farmers and herders and have camel milk shipped directly to them. Because the process was informal, it would often take weeks for the shipment to arrive and shipping costs would be extremely high, often as much as $80 per shipment.

When?

While studying at the University of California in 2012, Walid made a visit home to Saudi Arabia and went in search of organic raw cow’s milk, a drink he enjoyed back in the States. None could be found, and his father offered him raw camel’s milk instead. Walid had never tried it before, but immediately fell in love with the taste. This would lead to the launch of Desert Farms in 2013.

Where?

By 2015, Desert Farms was the only company in the United States selling camel milk in the retail market and the only brand that was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the US Department of Agriculture.

Key quote

‘We only had one business phone and we were getting so many calls that we didn’t expect. I would have to wake up at 4.30am every day just to make sure the orders were ready because there were so many to keep track of.’ – Walid Abdul-Wahab

What next?

Walid faced a number of challenges and was unsure what the future held. Should he stick with a single supplier or diversify? Did the company need to bring in new team members to help with long-term strategy? And was it a good idea to concentrate more on becoming an ingredient supplier to other major companies?

 
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The authors

authors

Paul Orlando and Megan Strawther

Paul and Megan discuss their experiences of writing the case.

Universal dilemmas

dried camel milk powder ‘I had never heard of consuming camel milk before, so I was immediately interested in working on this case because the product was so unique and different. And yet the dilemmas Walid faced as the founder of a successful startup enterprise were very universal. I knew it would be a case and a story worth sharing,’ says Megan.

Word of mouth success

‘Desert Farms made no health claims, but buyers had sought camel milk for various ailments for years by the time Desert Farms started,’ says Paul. ‘The strength of Desert Farms is in enabling these customers to access milk that is professionally packaged, available in grocery stores or via shipping and in various formats (pasteurised, raw, powdered). That was something the health communities never had before.’

child drinking milk Says Megan: ‘Walid initially marketed the product to Middle Easterners in the US as more of a nostalgic drink – one that had been readily available in their homeland and had been consumed by their ancestors.

‘It was the parents of children with autoimmune diseases that sought Walid out, without him making any sort of health claims. The reason the product was so successful was through word of mouth and the inspiring stories that customers shared, which is the free publicity that every business aspires to.’

Steadfast and diligent

‘Based on the entrepreneurs I have interviewed and the cases I have studied, I think it is usually a good thing for the founder to be a bit of a “control freak” in the early stages of the venture,’ says Megan.

‘When you have a vision for your enterprise, you need to be steadfast and diligent in making sure things get executed in a timely manner, and sometimes the only person you can rely on is yourself. However, it is also incredibly important to remain accepting to feedback and criticism from as many “devil’s advocates” as possible.’

Says Paul: ‘There are so many ways to build a business and so many ways to be a leader. Walid’s style has worked so far. He’ll now need to keep an open mind as to whether his company will need a different style for more growth.’

About the authors

Paul Orlando is Incubator Director and Adjunct Professor at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, USC Marshall School of Business.
e porlando@marshall.usc.edu
tw @porlando

Megan Strawther is a Case Development Fellow at the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, USC Marshall School of Business.
e strawthe@usc.edu
tw @megstraw

 

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