This article is supported by CGU Insurance, who are celebrating the migrant small business owners building Australia.
The first time I met Zed Nasheet was at my cousin’s wedding. He was setting up an electronic drum kit while the host was reciting love poems. The host surprised the audience by introducing a new Afghan pop band that was gaining notoriety; the Nasheet Brothers. They were refugees who had migrated to Australia, and everyone was talking about the new-wave Afghan wedding singers that played “disco music”.
The old guard were suspicious of the Nasheet boys because they were breaking tradition; they were too modern, young, wore tight shirts with suspenders, and replaced the harmonia and tabla with synthesisers and electric drums. Traditional Afghan wedding singers sing slow love ballads; the Nasheet Brothers filled the dancefloor with an ecstatic array of bright synth sounds, strobe lights, and drumming that felt like techno. They veiled the horror everyone had left behind in Afghanistan and offered, in their lyrics, a party that celebrated Afghan culture.
But that’s not how the rest of Australia met Zed Nasheet.
Zed created a real estate empire when his property videos went viral on YouTube. He would reenact his favourite movies and music videos on the properties he was trying to sell. People may have been laughing at him, but they were eagerly anticipating his next move. Whether it was comedic relief or marketing genius, his business boomed. And as he sat behind the wheel of his new bright yellow Lamborghini, young Afghan migrants across Australia are inspired to be like “ZED! ZED! ZED!”
VICE: You’ve been nominated by the Guinness World Records as the fastest-selling realtor in the world, is the secret these cringey videos?
Zed Nasheet: I was doing alright before the videos, but they just elevated my brand into a whole new level. I’ve made about 400 real estate videos. I was trying to be the most ridiculous [real estate agent]. I was trying to create a character like a real estate rock star. I’ve done some stupid ones, funny videos, and high production, really professional ones. I’ve reenacted The Wolf Of Wall Street and The Godfather. These videos were my sales pitch, they were my point of difference. I was really different.
Photos never did justice to the properties. You need to have people interacting with the property, buyers need to see that. I wanted to show the humour of the property, the lifestyle of the property. I wanted to engage the imagination of my clients and have them think about the possibilities of the property. I could add value by playing on their imagination in a fun way.
How did people first react to the videos?
I showed my bosses the videos and they all laughed at me. They were all against it. They said it was unprofessional and that I was becoming a joke. Then everyone in Melbourne started laughing at me. My friends and family were laughing at me. But they were all talking about it, and that’s all I wanted. I was like James Bond, I had different personas but the real Zed was cashing in cheques while making people smile.
Which Zed decided to buy a Lamborghini, the rockstar or the agent?
When I was in high school a yellow Lamborghini was my dream car. I used to see it in movies and think “What is that thing?”. Coming from Afghanistan we never saw anything like that. It amazed me. I printed out a poster that I sticky-taped to my bedroom wall. I never imagined owning one.
I’m not materialistic at all. But the world is. They judge you. If I show up to a businessman’s house in a Holden Barina, they will judge me. But if I rock up in a Lambo they judge me in a nice way, they either think you’re arrogant or they think you’ve made it. Unfortunately, it’s a statement that makes people listen to you.
Tell us about your struggle to get to Australia.
My family left Afghanistan when I was about six months old. We migrated to Pakistan and lived there for about eight years because the bombing from the Soviet War tore our village apart. We were refugees. We lived in camps. My parents really went through a lot.
For the first few years, the Pakistani officials were only giving access to rich people or people who had connections to cross their border. So we were starving in the camps with thousands and thousands of desperate families. After a few years of hardship, we were lucky to finally be accepted into Pakistan and started the process of getting sponsored. We had a one bedroom apartment in Pakistan and there was six of us living there. The conditions were dire.
I’ve seen the bad side of the world, everyone seemed hungry back then, begging for food was normal because the government wouldn’t allow Afghans to work. Just like all Afghans, and all migrants, we’ve all gone through a tough life. The War forced us into foreign cultures and it wasn’t easy.
What was life like when you moved to Australia?
My Aunty who was living in Australia agreed to sponsor us. When I was sixteen I got a job selling hot dogs out the front of nightclubs in Prahran, just trying to make whatever money I could to survive. Music was always my passion. I learnt to drum and with my brothers I started a band to earn a living playing at Afghan weddings.
Did you always want to get into real estate?
Our parents’ mentality is set out. You have three options when you graduate: doctor; engineer; or accountant. These are the only three options you’ve got. Nothing’s up for discussion and there’s no such thing as a hobby. Making your passion your pay cheque doesn’t exist in our culture. That’s a big problem in our culture, we love showing off to other people. We always live for others, we never live for ourselves. It’s a common hang-up for Afghan people.
But my dad was different. He basically said, "They [people] will always talk shit. The society will always talk shit whether you do good or bad. So start living for yourself. So if you want to become a dancer, be the best dancer in the world. Because Australia is the land of opportunities.” My dad really believed that. It was my job to prove to him that it was true. I aim for the moon, because even if I lose, I still fall on the clouds. Can’t remember where I read that, but it’s a good one.
So how did you go from selling hot dogs to becoming a real estate magnate?
I applied for part-time work at Telstra straight after Year 12. I really had to hustle for that job, I applied fifteen times to Telstra at Fountain Gate and I hustled the sales manager daily until she eventually turned to me and said, “You know what? I give up!” She gave me an opportunity as a casual and I quickly made it to the top 1% of retail sales in the company. When I was about 19, I served a real estate agent who came into our store to complain about a service. I turned the complaint into another sale. She offered me a job on the spot.
How did you find it at first?
I really struggled for the first three years. In the first year, I only made about $7,000 from real estate. But I treated my first three years as a kind of education, to gain knowledge in a field where I literally had to start from scratch. Everyone in my family told me to quit real estate, they all told me I needed to leave and get a real job.
How did you turn it all around?
I went back to the community I was tied to. The communities I had been serving and I had been raised in. I sold residential properties in Narre Warren and I pitched my sales to the people I knew best.
But I feel like no matter where you work, you should never be smarter than the boss. And where I was, I was making more money than the boss.
I was at Pancake Parlour with my assistant and she said, “We should go with our own brand. Fly solo and take all the risks.” There and then, I rang my older brother and we hired him because he was the top salesman at his agency. He is the director of Zed Real Estate, I do all the selling and listing. Within a week, I bought a shop and put the wheels in motion to grind on my own.
It was all about going back to my roots. I made videos the way I wanted to. I employed two Afghans from my community. I’ve got a Romanian working for me, a Spanish guy, and an American. Oh, and a few Australians too. And we don’t care about being judged, we care about following our instincts.
What does the future hold for Zed?
The lowest point for me was when I could only afford to put $4.50 worth of fuel in my Holden Barina and I had a really uncomfortable hole in my left shoe that I was forced to endure. I told myself I would never go back to that. I want to build my company so I can help my countrymen. There’s a lot of bombing still going on and I want to help. That is the fuel behind the hustle.
We're opening a charity in Afghanistan for women's welfare and urge everyone to do every little bit they can to help. It will provide them with basic services and maybe make you sleep a little better. I just got back from India and saw the happiness in rural communities that don’t give a shit about materialistic things like we do. We have an opportunity to live happily and seize our dreams. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to work hard and add value into other people's lives while you’re at it.
This article is supported by CGU Insurance. You can find out more about them here.