As founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements, 41-year-old Tariq Farid has a simple idea of turning random pieces of fresh pineapple, strawberries and cantaloupe into flower-like masterpieces, and it has transformed both his life and the lives of countless franchise owners who share his dream. Farid’s career began at none other than his local McDonald’s restaurant. “McDonald’s was the best job I ever had,” says Farid, who came to the United States from Pakistan at age 11. “They had systems for everything, from the way you would smile to how the burgers should be flipped. It taught me much about business and how things should run.” One day, Farid’s father came across an ad in the local paper for an East Haven, Conn., flower shop that had closed down. After borrowing $3,000 from a family friend and taking a cash advance for the remaining $3,000, Farid’s father handed the shop over to 17-year-old Farid. “My parents were always a strong pillar of support, so when my father came to me with the idea, I was too young and too stupid to say no,” Farid says with a laugh. “The business was mine, and it was going to be up to me to see it either succeed or fail.” In just four months, the $6,000 startup loan was paid off, and Farid’s “little flower shop that could” was growing quickly. After a brief stint in college, Farid opened Netsolace, a software company specializing in technology solutions for the franchise industry. But, in the back of his mind, he had a dream to open not one, but many, franchises of his own. He had this odd idea for creating arrangements out of fruit instead of flowers. Farid says he headed straight to books such as Franchising for Dummies and the International Franchise Association (IFA) hotline to grill consultants on how to get his franchise idea off the ground. “I had no money and a crazy idea, but I would sit on the phone with them for hours at a time,” he explains. “With every question I asked, I learned something.” Alongside his brother Kamran, who is now COO, Farid opened the first Edible Arrangements store in 1999 in East Haven. Now, with more than 900 locations operating or coming soon worldwide, Farid admits being surprised at the growth of the company in recent years. “I was delivering fruit in a van seven years ago, and now I own a company with revenues of more than $300 million,” he says. “I pinch myself every day.” Farid sat down with SUCCESS to talk franchising, marketing and starting a new business with no money. SUCCESS: Fruit designed as a bouquet? Tell us more about the moment when this idea popped into your head. Tariq Farid: We had three flower shops at the time, and we would always watch young children come in eating fruit. Sometimes, we would make the fruit into flower shapes and send it home with friends. People started asking for it more and more, and I ended up bringing the idea to a professor friend of ours, who asked me point blank, “Why would anyone want to buy this?” He then asked if we had done any sort of feasibility study. Unfortunately, my feasibility study consisted of my mom, who loved it. I also recall going to the bank and having them laugh at us, since we didn’t have any sort of business plan whatsoever. I never did receive that loan. And it probably was the best thing to happen, because if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have had to work as hard. Looking back, I was young and stupid, but at the same time I had an enormous amount of energy to succeed. What sort of challenges did you go through before opening Edible Arrangements? TF: Of course, I experienced a fair share of challenges. One of the biggest challenges was the sheer risk of embarking on an idea that no one had ever done before. It also was hard to hear so many people chuckle at the idea of “fruit in a basket.” Yet, through it all, I had a true passion for the idea and loved the business. Why did you decide to go the franchise route? TF: Our first official franchise location opened in Waltham, Mass., in 2001. I remember helping our first franchise owner open their storefront and literally getting down on my hands and knees to help them lay his tile floor down. I wanted to see him succeed. Franchising was extremely attractive to me, since I knew there were people out there who could work in the store and have the same passion about Edible Arrangements as we did. How has Edible Arrangements utilized social media to spread your company’s message? TF: Marketing is critical. It’s all about understanding your customer and sticking to your guns. I remember the first direct mail campaign I did. I spent so much time just trying to decide which paper style to use. We have always wanted our marketing efforts to demonstrate the soul of our product. I’m always on Facebook and love being able to sit there and get instant feedback. If something comes through that’s negative, we are right on it. How has Edible Arrangements overcome a struggling economy? TF: I remember going through the first recession in 2000, but I would venture to say we never really felt it because we weren’t carrying heavy debt. Nothing makes you lose sleep when you don’t owe anyone. Plus, we have always focused on the details and making each and every product as if our children and wives were going to eat it. Despite troubles in the economy, people still want to celebrate the special occasions in their life. What tips would you give other entrepreneurs? TF: Planning ahead is important, even though I am not the type who writes and follows a solid plan. I do plan things out in my head and am willing to make a bunch of adjustments along the way. I have always felt that the biggest risks will reap the biggest rewards. I also come across many people who come up with a great idea and instantly think the next thing to do is get money. I had no money, and no one was about to give me any when I began. Being handed money makes people get lazy, and they don’t put the sheer hard work into it.