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Starting Over In a New Country - Meet Toomaj Freydouny, CEO Of KUMMUNI

Toomaj Freydouny is an originally Iranian marketing consultant and scholar and serial entrepreneur from Berlin who has been encouraged by many other experts & academics on four continents. Tom is an ex-corporate consultant and served more than 60 well-known brands such as NICO, Toyota, Hyundai, Silicon Power, and Irancell MTN. In 2013, Trade World Magazine- Iran titled Tom “the most capable marketing person in the Middle East.” In 2014, Al Ries addressed him as “one of the few marketing people who have a complete understanding of marketing.” Currently, Toomaj is the CEO of KUMMUNI. KUMMUNI is a Berlin-based real estate Tech startup. The company with the help of technology, not only have overcome discrimination.

Hi Toomaj! Please introduce yourself!

I was born in the midst of the Iran and Iraq war in the south of Iran, a few years after the Islamic revolution. Due to the escalating conflict, my parents made the decision to relocate to the center of Iran. At that time, families like ours were often referred to as war refugees.

At 19, I moved to Tehran to work on my second startup. It was my second experiencing immigration. However, before that, during my teenage years, I became a political activist, joining resistance movements that advocated for the separation of religion and politics. We believed in restoring the norm that existed before the Islamic revolution, and we wanted more.

No surprise, my activism led to my arrest for opposing the regime.

In 2013, I faced new troubles again for speaking my mind about politics instead of staying silent to protect myself. As a result, I needed to make the difficult decision of leaving Iran and becoming a refugee and immigrant for the third time in my life. This time, I found myself in a different country, starting anew once again.

Leaving everything behind was not an easy decision. It meant leaving behind not just material possessions, but also the people and memories that meant the most to me. My parents, my family and friends, my beloved dog - all left behind in Iran. Despite having a good life and being respected in my industry and society, starting anew was the only option. It seems that being a refugee and immigrant has been a recurring theme in my life!

Germany has become my new home after over a year of being on the road. It was here that I met my wife, and our new life together began. However, adjusting to life in Germany has not been easy. I have had to start from below zero, facing the challenges of a new society and unfamiliar norms. The stereotypes and judgments based on my appearance, particularly the color of my hair, have made it difficult for me to express myself and share my ideas.

Rebuilding my career in Germany was a challenging journey. However, amidst the difficulties, I was confronted with another obstacle: a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. This debilitating condition left me reliant on a wheelchair and stripped away many of my abilities, including speech. Even the simplest tasks, like opening a bottle of water, became a struggle. Thankfully, I had the unwavering support of my wife, who stood by my side throughout it all.

In the early stages of being diagnosed, I experienced a significant shift. Despite my belief in my knowledge and skills, I found myself unable even to write or speak without difficulty. This illness was undeniably impacting my life. However, I refused to succumb to it and decided to embark on a new venture, determined to overcome the odds once again. So, I started a new company, because I can’t simply sit and wait for what dreams life has for me!

Looking at MS from a positive aspect, it's important to note that most of the symptoms are temporary. While it was rough at the beginning, I am currently doing better. In essence, MS doesn't have me, I have MS!

What is your business name and how do you help your clients?

In late 2019, I named the company I now lead as the CEO. As a freelancer and branding strategist, I thought I had the right vision. Unfortunately, the company faced bankruptcy in its first year. However, I was given another chance to lead and turn things around.

In January 2021, I was appointed as the CEO of KUMMUNI. There were numerous changes that needed to be made. From redesigning the logo to revamping the business plan, there was much work to be done. Most importantly, I had to redefine the mission of the company.

KUMMUNI you see today, was born out of my personal understanding of what it means to be an immigrant and my own encounters with discrimination. I knew from the start that this company should be a place that welcomes those who are far from home, feeling homesick, and seeking a fresh start. It is a safe haven for those who are eager to contribute to society but have faced rejection for various reasons.

Our business model revolves around our mission of offering fair chances to people. We have integrated a strong Zero Discrimination Policy into our software and company culture. This mindset is not just a concept in a textbook, but a fundamental aspect of our operations. Our slogan, "Start your story with us and make it home," reflects our commitment to providing more than just apartments; we offer individuals the opportunity to create a true sense of home.

We understand the importance of personalization, which is why we are proud to be the first and only proptech company that allows tenants to choose the furniture for their new apartments. After all, how can someone truly feel at home if they don't even have a say in the furniture that surrounds them? We wanted our fully furnished apartments and CoLiving spaces to truly feel like home, and that is why we introduced the Choose Your Style program!

You have been recognized as a highly capable marketing professional, with titles such as "the most capable marketing person in the Middle East" by Trade World Magazine in 2013 and acknowledgment from Al Ries in 2014. Could you share more about your journey from your early career as a door-to-door vendor to becoming a renowned marketing expert?

Growing up in an Iranian household, I was familiar with the stereotype that Iranians are either doctors or engineers. While not everyone in our community follows these career paths, it was always encouraged by my parents. My father, in particular, had his heart set on me becoming a doctor and continuing the family tradition. However, I had different aspirations and dreams.

One day, my dad approached me with a proposition! I was 16 back in the day. He offered to send me to Canada and cover all the expenses if I agreed to study medicine. It was a tempting offer, but I knew deep down that my passion lay elsewhere. I wanted to pursue a career in a tech-related business. My dad made it clear that if I chose this path, I would have to become independent and pave my own way.

Growing up with Iranian parents can be tough. They have high expectations and often push their children to pursue certain goals. So, if your Iranian dad proposes that you become a doctor and he will pay for everything, or pursue your own and be on your own, remember that it's not a bluff.

Somebody needed to pay for my college, my startups, and basically almost everything in my life. And who else could it be in that situation except myself? So I started to work as a door-to-door vendor, offering small shops business cards and printed marketing materials. This experience allowed me to learn how business really works, understand people's mindsets, and develop resilience in the face of rejection. Frankly, I am grateful for the push towards independence that my dad provided in my early years, as it turned out to be the biggest support he could have offered.

I had a busy life, juggling studying, working, and learning simultaneously.

Unfortunately, my second startup failed due to my premature marketing and PR efforts, before the product was fully developed. This setback inspired me to delve into the world of marketing.

A significant turning point occurred when my dad visited me in Tehran and stumbled upon a book at the airport bookstore. Intrigued, he purchased it as a gift for me. The book was titled "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.” I reached out to Al Ries, one of the writers, via email. I requested permission to translate his book and share each chapter as a blog post. To my surprise, he agreed! This encounter with Al was truly inspiring. He became my source of motivation, encouraging me to explore my untapped potential.

I was fortunate enough to have Al as my mentor, who not only taught me about marketing and branding but also instilled in me valuable skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Al's guidance helped me learn how to approach every question with a thoughtful mindset and how to analyze information effectively. Thanks to his teaching, I was able to develop the necessary skills to excel in my studies.

I began my daily journey of learning about marketing and branding, eager to expand my knowledge. Along the way, I felt compelled to share my newfound wisdom with others. This led me to start writing for small magazines and taking the stage at intimate conferences. As time went on, my expertise grew, and I found myself with a regular column in well-known newspapers. The pinnacle of my journey came when I was given the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of people. It was a humbling and exhilarating experience.

At the time faced a situation where my credibility was questioned by a journalist before an important conference. They expressed doubts about my claims of being in touch with Al Ries. To avoid any negative publicity, the conference organizers reached out to Al for confirmation. Al responded affirmatively, stating that he believes I am the most capable marketing strategist in the Middle East. This endorsement from Al Ries garnered attention from the media, ultimately leading to my recognition as the most capable marketing professional by Trade World Magazine.

Could you elaborate on the importance of having both practical experience and academic background in marketing, and how this combination contributes to your effectiveness as a marketing consultant?

Knowledge is not solely acquired through reading and studying, nor is it solely gained through experience and practice. It is the combination of both study and practice that truly fosters knowledge. While some may argue that studying is a waste of time in today's world, it is important to recognize that being an expert in a field requires a deep understanding of its literature. By combining the theoretical knowledge gained through study with the practical application gained through practice, individuals can truly develop a comprehensive understanding of their chosen field.

In my experience, the success of a business is greatly influenced by the education and experience of its people. It is important for individuals to be both well-educated and well-experienced in order to increase their chances of success. While universities are not the sole source of education, it is undeniable that they are the best.

You find yourself immersed in the dynamic worlds of both marketing and real estate. Given the opportunity to alter a single aspect within these industries, what specific change would you make and, more importantly, why?

Currently, I am involved in two different industries.

On one hand, I continue to work as a marketing strategist. However, I have noticed a significant shift in the perception of marketing, particularly with the rise of social media. Many people now believe that social media marketing is the only form of marketing that matters. This has led me to wonder how a new entry-level social media manager can have such a significant impact on a brand's destiny. It is truly fascinating to witness the power of social media in shaping the success of a brand.

For expanse, many brands, are being labeled as racist due to the mismanagement of their social accounts by inexperienced and poorly educated individuals. These brands have posted commercials that have offended many people. This is a clear consequence of not thinking before taking action. It is important to recognize that thinking is a skill that can be developed through experience and knowledge.

In the marketing industry, there is a mindset that I believe needs to change. It is important to recognize that digital marketing is a part of marketing, not the other way around. Marketing encompasses both strategy and tactics. As one gains experience in this field, they acquire more knowledge and understanding. It is crucial to respect the veterans who have been practicing marketing long before I was even born!

By KUMMUNI, I also became involved in the real estate sector and housing. One issue that I actively fight against is discrimination. Recently, I was informed that a relative of someone I know is unable to find an apartment in Berlin solely because he is deaf. I find it difficult to comprehend how someone's hearing impairment could possibly be relevant to their right to have a place to live!

I strongly believe in the importance of changing the mindset that allows landlords to discriminate based on appearance or disability when selecting tenants. It is crucial to challenge this wrong perception and promote inclusivity in the rental process. By advocating for fair and equal treatment, we can create a more inclusive society where everyone has the opportunity to find suitable housing, regardless of their appearance, sexual orientation, religion, or disability. I want to bring about this positive change and ensure that everyone is treated with respect and dignity when seeking a place to call home.

While it may seem daunting to change an entire industry, I can still create a fair and inclusive culture within the company I lead!

Follow Toomaj on LinkedIn and visit my website for more info!



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