I don’t feel like a real entrepreneur. @SKanwar, @DevBasu and @FungMoney are real entrepreneurs – fellow UTSC alumni who left their full-time jobs and immersed themselves in growing their own ventures. On the other hand, I’m growing Splash Effect concurrent to my full-time job at Ryerson. Is it possible to sustain both? Gary Vaynercheuk thinks so. So does Tim Ferris. But unlike the circumstances on which their models are premised, I’m not trying to escape my job at Ryerson (quite the opposite, actually) nor is Splash Effect a muse business. I was recently interviewed by Asha Mullings, an inquisitive young Ryerson student, about my startup experiences. The interview made me revisit just how reluctant I was to to start up in the first place, ultimately forcing me to confront my hesitations about labelling myself as an entrepreneur…
Are your parents entrepreneurs? Entrepreneurial perhaps?
Interestingly enough, I was born into a family of entrepreneurs. On both sides are business owners across various industries including nutrition, trade, real estate, textiles, music, electronics and more. Until recently I was the proverbial black sheep of the family, the first to take a traditional “desk job.”
What was your primary motivation for starting Splash Effect? 
Entrepreneurship has been a recurring theme throughout my life. Whether it was watching the family at work, experiencing the failure of my first company, having “intrapreneurial” elements in all of my jobs or maintaining a freelance career, I always felt that some day I’d start a new venture – and do it right. I was born with the itch. It wasn’t until I grew comfortable with the direction that I was moving in vocationally (digital marketing) and developed a bit of subject matter expertise (higher education) that I felt motivated enough to scratch and pursue a new venture. In the last year, a number of factors conveniently lined up for me, and here I am.
What were the factors that led you to here? When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
The “moment” came way ahead of schedule for me sometime late last year when I realized that my freelance income had outpaced my full-time income. Projections for the subsequent year clearly indicated that I couldn’t have my feet in both places unless I strategically expanded capacity through a business venture. Exciting as the realization was, I didn’t expect it to happen this early in my life. I felt like I still had a lot of learning to do, and part of me was pretty bummed out as I didn’t want my adventures at Ryerson to end, nor did I want to put a stop to the freelance journey. At the time, my business partner Kareem Rahaman, was experiencing a similar reality. And after much deliberation, Splash Effect was set into motion.
What sort of beliefs did you have about employees, partners, debt, etc.?
I came into the venture believing in doing everything on my own, outsourcing when needed, and incurring debt to kick-start the business. Kareem strongly believed in just the opposite – building a team, hiring locally and self-funding the entire operation. After much back-and-forth, I respectfully deferred to his philosophies (which proved immensely successful for Splash Effect) and have since replaced mine with his.
Did you seek to establish a “lifestyle” business, a “rapid growth” business, or what?
Kareem and I sought to build a business that addressed a strong need in the market – higher education as an industry has been slow to adopt digital technology and social media to advance building connections and enhance communications. Splash Effect seeks to help higher education brands make up for lost time and stay ahead of the curve.
What sort of resources (not just financial) did you have when you started Splash Effect?
Kareem and I were lucky to have full time jobs when we started the process. The income offset any need to get paid during the early stages of our venture and also allowed us to inject money into the business when necessary. Our greatest resources however were our combined networks through which we pulled together our rockstar team and opened business opportunities.
What sort of network did you have?
Our combined networks include influential members of the higher education, startup, digital marketing, public service and entertainment sectors. We’re also lucky to have a broad network which includes brilliant young students. Whether down the road that translates into more members of our team or potential clients, it’s a win-win situation for us.
What was your risk orientation when you started the venture?
I certainly brought a great deal of risk aversion to the table. While the likes of Satish, Dev and Derrick were leaving their jobs, I clung to the comfort of a steady paycheque. It was only after testing my earning potential over time, as well as consulting with my mentor circle, that I decided to throw caution to the wind and disassociate myself from that comfort, instead embracing the volatility and unlimited earning potential of a startup.
Did you write a business plan?
We did. A very unconventional one. We simply articulated everything we had for sale, how much it would cost a client and what value it deliver for them. Done.
How have your goals & values changed since starting the venture?
I’ve noticed that my focus on growth for growth’s sake has shifted towards a focus on simply delivering value. One of my favourite quotes from Aamir Khan is: “Don’t chase success, chase excellence. If you chase excellence, success will chase you.” These days I see entrepreneurs focused on earning arbitrarily defined sums of money or on grand exit strategies. At Splash Effect, I’ve learned to stay humble, hungry and focus on nothing but doing excellent work, helping our clients achieve their objectives and working with people/brands that directly or indirectly make the world a better place.
What key mistakes did you make along the way?
I’m huge on team morale and I know all too well how stressful rapid changes in processes can be. Building our processes has been an ongoing process itself, and while our team adapts swiftly  I can feel their frustration at times. For example, we swapped a project management suite and introducing a new content calendar software mid-cycle. It’s not a mistake, per se, as much as it is growing pains for a new company.
What were some of the key lessons learned?
Manage expectations and gradually roll out changes.
Were there some critical points in the development of the Splash Effect when the venture almost failed, or when you found your at a critical crossroads in terms of some vital decision or issue that had to be addressed in a certain way or the venture would have failed?
The initial buzz around our launch resulted in interest from clients from different industries. Despite their lucrative offers, Kareem and I had to stick to our guns and remain focused on the intersection between higher education and digital marketing. We feel that at this point in the company’s lifecycle, straying from that niche would have proven a setback.
What is the your “exit strategy,” or do they have one?
No exit strategy in sight at the moment. We’re having too much fun on the current trajectory of the company. In the next five years however, we do envision ourselves pivoting into an agency with a greater variety of offerings that services a broader spectrum of industries.
What advice, based on your own experience, do you have for a student interested in starting a venture today?
My favourite quote these days is from Robert Greene: “Move before you think you are ready. It is as if you are making it a little more difficult for yourself, deliberately creating obstacles in your path…When you feel that you must work harder to get to your goal because you are not quite prepared, you are more alert and inventive. This venture has to succeed and so it will.”