By Quraisha Dawood
As a beach bum, I am used to seeing weird and wonderful things colouring Durban’s Golden Mile. From human towers to riotous rickshaws and sand art, every beach walk brings with it a new exciting sight. But recently, there has been someone creating lifelong memories on our shores, conjuring the ultimate romantic date out of sand and sea and proving that love and romance is very much alive in our city. I had the opportunity to meet the man behind the magic, Zain Moosa, the professional wingman behind ‘I’m the Guy.’
While the word wingman may conjure up an image in one’s mind of the notoriously suited-up Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother, Moosa is strikingly humble and unpretentious. In fact, he sees himself as a third wheel or the best friend, who plans every detail of a date to perfection that all the couple has to do is show up. Pictures of his uniquely crafted dates, from dreamy seats and tables carved in the sand, to candles framing the couples names and personalised dates at nature reserves have become a hit on Facebook, making ‘I’m the Guy’ a household name. But it all started with a favour to a friend and Moosa literally ‘winging it,’ on the beach last Valentine’s day. ‘It was two days before Valentine’s day and I wanted to do something really special for them. I was just testing the waters,’ he says. To his surprise, a picture of that first venture received 900 likes on Facebook. In no time, pictures of the second date received 13000 likes globally. Moosa, who also runs a social media marketing company says laughing, ‘it was like witnessing real-time marketing. Everyone started asking who had planned and executed these dates and I kept replying that I’m the guy who did it…and so ‘I’m the Guy’ was created.’ The business has since grown exponentially and boasts uniquely themed romantic events, catered by a professional chef with 10 years of experience, an artist who offers a painting of the couple, hand-crafted décor and memories that will last a lifetime.
As a former salesman with no tertiary education, Zain Moosa has many voyager miles under his belt and has learnt the art of observing people from his travels. ‘Over the years I have learnt that you can’t sell your vision to other people, you have to understand what they need.’ This is the thinking behind the personal touch he offers as ‘I’m the Guy.’ After being married very young, moving to Johannesburg and then returning to Durban single, he recalls having to start from scratch, with no job and no car. But it seems this only motivated this dynamic entrepreneur to work hard and create something beautiful out of a niche market we didn’t even know existed, let alone needed. His love for books also motivated him. ‘I used to sell the Invisible bookshelf at the Stables market, and opposite my stall was a second hand bookstore. The owner used to let me read books from there and that became my library and it motivated me to do more.’ Among his favourite books are the Alchemist and The Forty Rules of Love. While talking to him, I was reminded of a quote by Mark Twain which reads, ‘I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.’ Moosa seems to embody this line, as his life experience extends beyond the rigid parameters of maths and words into another world where romance comes alive and boundaries don’t seem to exist.
But realistically in this daunting economy, Moosa admits that barriers to entry are hurdles to any business. ‘There is a lot of pressure on me to create the perfect date and go above and beyond the client’s needs. I don’t spend much time on myself. Sleep and gym are things I have to sacrifice, but the ultimate pay-off is a happy client. I don’t need a good review, I just need to see a smile on their faces and get a text saying that they were satisfied with my work. Once we had two proposal events on one day.’ The biggest challenge however, is the weather. Wind and rain have sometimes forced last minute changes on Moosa, in terms of redesigning the seating which is sculptured from sand, or lowering gazebos which are at the mercy of the wind.
At times, rain has dictated the date be moved to an indoor location and he is forced to ‘wing it.’ But to date, all his experiences have been successful (and he has proved that some men can multitask). His clientele range from nervous poppers-of-the-question to couples celebrating their anniversaries and his popularity is growing among the Muslim community. ‘As someone who has studied with moulanas and memorised a few chapters of the Qur’aan, I am always Shariah compliant in my business, although some people will always critique something. I make sure people are aware that alcohol is not served and that some clients would not like pictures or videos taken. In some cases, clients request a purdah facility because onlookers get very curious and want to take pictures, so I have moved my events from North beach to a more private location. But I try to cater to the Muslim community as much as possible because we have never had this option offered with our unique needs in mind.’ With the current media portrayal of Muslims as serious, ‘un-fun,’ political hotheads, these experiences show that Muslims want to create special memories too and can be romantic with their partners. Whether he realises it or not, Moosa is a game-changer in showing the world through thousands on his Facebook page that love and romance is very much alive within couples in the Muslim community.
However, with such social media coverage, as well as recent articles in print media, it becomes difficult to protect one’s creativity and intellectual property. ‘People can steal my creation, but not my creativity,’ he says, explaining that people may copy the work that he has done already, but they cannot imagine what he will do next. As each date is created to suit the preferences of the couple and the décor is hand-made, Moosa’s experiences will remain original. That doesn’t stop copycats from trying though. A few days after our interview, it was found that someone had used his copyrighted pictures as their own and advertised the same service. His loyal followers reported the page, commented that the pictures had been stolen and the perpetrator has since removed them. This is what is unique about ‘I’m the Guy’- his loyal following. Also loyal to him are those he collaborates with. Not only has he created something spectacular out of nothing, but he has created work for other such as the sand sculptors. ‘Right now I am not concerned so much about making money, but rather about building my brand and ensuring loyalty. So I have told them that if they take my ideas elsewhere I will hear about it and not employ them again. Of course I pay them very well too.’ As a peoples’ person, it is clear that he attracts love from those he works with and those he inspires. ‘People work so hard these days and don’t have the know-how, so I make it possible to do everything they imagine they want to do for their someone special.’
Despite running his successful social media marketing company, MDigital, and the roaring success of I’m the Guy, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Zain Moosa. He is already expanding to Johannesburg and Cape Town and setting up teams to create the perfect date for many couples after being inundated with requests from clients country-wide. It is only a matter of time before he extends these dates into uniquely personal local and international honeymoons and intimate family reunions. I walk away from our time together inspired, certain that I would invest in him if I were a shark on Shark Tank and even more certain that I’m the Guy will make a success out of any endeavour we will be fortunate enough to witness.