By Farzana Bhatty, Director of Community Engagement
Muppies Toronto hosted its first-ever Tech Event this winter, bringing together new and different personalities, themes, and ideas, with a goal of motivating and inspiring our audience members to follow their tech-related passions and break into a new industry.
The venue was befitting of an event about technology, innovation and the future. Ryerson University’s new Student Centre’s vibrant colours, shapes, and layout of the room comfortably housed all 150 Muppies members and guests, who networked over snacks until it was time for the first feature of the evening: a TEDx-style talk with Haroon Mirza (all biographies are included below).
The innovative space at Ryerson University’s Student Centre was inspiring for our tech event.
Haroon captivated our audience with a talk about the myths of getting a startup off the ground. By the time we moved on to our panel, the audience was eager to hear more, and our panelists did not disappoint. Warm, humble, inspiring and informative, our panelists delved into a discussion about their beginnings in the tech world and the transitions that they each made into this area, and shared words of wisdom and motivation.
Here are some of the highlights:
Whatever type of startup you choose to pursue, make sure that your heart is fully in it. Our entrepreneurs spoke about the fields that they were in before delving into the world of startups. While they were quite successful at their day jobs, they felt that they wanted something more or different: Each of them had a deeper passion that they wanted to pursue. Danish reminded us that there will always be rejections and failed attempts, so it is vital to ensure that your heart is fully in the project. Interestingly, Ali said that he looks forward to Mondays now that he is working on his passion, and our other panelists wholeheartedly agreed! Do you look forward to Mondays?
What Is Your Problem?
To get started, our panelists recommend that you start by thinking about a problem that you have, to which you wish there was a solution. What would make your life easier or more interesting? Or, what do you seek out, that doesn’t already exist (or exist in the form that you need it in)? In Jawairiya’s case, she had an itch that she wanted to scratch – literally! And that is how her beginnings as a natural health blogger began; building a startup should be a natural, organic path to pursue what you most enjoy. The benefit of building a startup that addresses an issue that you personally struggle with is that you will deeply understand your target audience, and what value you will add to their lives.
Build It and They Will Come
Once you are clear about where your interests and passions lie, create a vision for yourself. Tariq instructed our audience to come up with a plan. Ask yourself: where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years? Developing a vision will help you focus on what you need to build, and how you will get there.
Building a company isn’t enough – you also need to distinguish yourself, your brand, and your company from the competition. When I asked our panelists how they would distinguish themselves from their competition, they said “build it, and they will come.” Get out there, network, meet people, and make your brand known, but don’t sweat it. Your audience will find you.
Building a company from the ground up requires one significant resource: money. You can’t be shy when it comes to fundraising. For example, Tariq shared his tales about how creative he got when it came time to fundraise: he sent a sample product (a tablet) to Ed Clark, the former CEO of TD Bank, with content already pre-loaded for him to experience, explore and enjoy. Tariq’s creative strategy gained attention and raised funds in a way that a standard letter or meeting would not have.
Money comes and goes, and finances are always a sticky subject. However, what lasts over the long term is a solid relationship, so build a team and develop a network that believes in you and stands by your side through the highs and lows. Ali described his uncertainty at times when he literally didn’t have the funds to remunerate the people on his payroll, and notes that they remained committed to him and his vision regardless. Tariq recommends to also surround oneself with a good mentor or two; their experience and advice can be invaluable when you are taking a journey that is unfamiliar to you.
There was a wealth of learnings from the evening that couldn’t all be summarized here, and our audience left inspired to build something new, and motivated to push ahead on making their dreams a reality.
BIOGRAPHIES OF EVENT SPEAKERS
Ali Asaria is the Founder and CEO of Tulip Retail, the leader in store associate mobile solutions. Ali is also the Founder and former CEO of Well.ca, a leading online retailer of health, beauty and baby products. Previous to that, Ali worked at BlackBerry in various roles and was best known for making BrickBreaker, which was one of the most popular mobile games of its time. Ali attended the University of Waterloo, where he studied Computer Engineering.
Tariq Fancy is the founder of Rumie, which today brings affordable digital education to remote, underserved communities worldwide ranging from Indian villages to Syrian refugee camps. Prior to founding Rumie in 2013, Tariq spent a long career in finance, starting as an investment banker in the Silicon Valley based group that led the IPOs of Amazon, Google, and Cisco, and later as the youngest partner at a New York Private Equity firm. His career and work has been the subject of business school case studies by both Harvard Business School and INSEAD. The firstborn son of immigrants to Canada from Kenya, Tariq studied at four universities abroad — Brown, Oxford, Sciences Po and INSEAD — and speaks four languages.
Haroon Mirza is the Managing Director & Entrepreneur in Residence of OneEleven, a post-seed tech accelerator focused on helping Canada’s most promising, high-growth startups commercialize their technologies and scale their operations. Prior to OneEleven, Haroon was the Entrepreneur in Residence at OMERS Ventures. Haroon graduated from Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business with a Bachelor of Commerce, and completed Harvard Business School’s Program for Leadership Development (PLD).
Danish Yusuf is the Co-founder and CEO of Zensurance, which is leading the technology revolution in the insurance industry, and demystifying insurance for start-ups and small businesses. Prior to Zensurance, Danish was a leader in McKinsey’s Digital Insurance practice, supporting insurance clients globally on defining their digital strategy. Danish earned a Bachelor’s degree in Software Engineering from University of Toronto, and has an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Jawairia Zafar is the co-founder of HomeRemediesWeb.com, a blog focused on providing the latest natural health and wellness tips for everyday health conditions. Her blog was one of the first natural health sites that referenced trusted medical journals and research papers for each remedy, and as a result, the site now attracts over 3 million unique visitors per year. Jawairia is also an Ontario Certified Teacher and holds a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts degree from Punjab University in Pakistan.