Canada Networking Session – Entrepreneurship Edition

On January 27, 2012, a panel of five IBA Karachi alumni entrepreneurs shared their experiences of setting up businesses in Pakistan and Canada with an audience of 40 at the IBA Alumni Entrepreneurship and Networking event. First this year, the three-hour event was held at the RBC Auditorium in Toronto, Canada. Haroon Malik was instrumental in getting the event organized and was a superb moderator throughout the evening.
Guest speakers were:

 

  • Sabir Sami, Country Manager of Yum Foods Canada;

  • Muneeb Ghumman Founder and CEO, Envision Mobile Ltd.

  • Alam Najiullah, President, The Shirt Store and justwhiteshirts.com

  • Ahmad Saeed, President General Trading, Distribution and Wholesale Company

  • Irfan Sattar, Founder and Vice President, Greeniche Natural Health

 

Introduction
All speakers had very varied circumstances that led them to jump into an entrepreneurial role. Alam began by talking about starting from scratch, selling sports magazines at the age of 12. He always had the urge to initiate something new. Muneeb and Ahmed did not intend to go into business, but identified opportunities and were able to capitalize on them. Irfan’s family business gave him the platform and he decided to build on it and take it to a different level.


Risk - taking: the Hallmark of an Entrepreneur?
"Entrepreneurs have a different vision and mindset," pointed out Haroon and panelists discussed the difference in mindset between secure job-holders versus business owners. Muneeb emphasized the tremendous opportunities and remarked that while there is significant risk inherent in entrepreneurship, it is possible to reduce that risk. He further noted that a job holder these days faces similar risks. All panelists agreed that time and personal finances do play into the risk-taking, but if one really believes in the viability of an idea, then it’s important to go for it. The challenge is leveraging your skills to find and exploit the opportunities that exist, which requires a certain passion. Salary is not a motivating factor for many entrepreneurs; several panelists mentioned that they could earn more working in a cushy job, but they chose to pursue something that really excited them.

Irfan warned, however: "Only do it if you're looking for that 'kick'. If it's in you, then you'll know it." Not everyone does, pointed out Sabir, who deals with over 130 entrepreneurs on a regular basis.


On the differences between the Pakistani and Canadian business environment and markets


"With our education and experience, no market in the world is difficult." - Muneeb Ghumman. Both markets present great challenges and opportunities, depending on the specific industry. It was agreed that doing business in Canada is much simpler and rewarding.


The issue of work-life balance was also discussed; with some claiming that being their own boss provided a good feeling of independence and comfort, while Alam stated that "Time is something an entrepreneur never has. Every day is a working day." Some in the audience found an elegant solution to the family problem: working with your spouse. Ahmed mentioned that his wife played a big role in the company's success with her great eye for the product, and went on to cite a number of successful husband-wife teams in businesses.


The audience, which included a number of budding entrepreneurs, was eager to learn about access to financing and business advice. The good news is that while raising seed capital is difficult, it's not impossible. Business advice is also available from a number of advisors, consultants and incubators in Canada. Sabir mentioned that depending on the type of business, different forms of advice are available - franchisees, for example, can often count on significant support from parent companies.


At the end, the panelists shared some major lessons they had learned. From learning not to trust anyone too much to realizing the importance of industry experience, from judging market entry on the basis of education or intuition ("go with your heart") to the fine art of knowing when to cut your losses, this part of the conversation was particularly fruitful.


"Sometimes we get so entangled with what we're doing, we fall in love with what we're doing and it's difficult to run away, even when it's clearly not working." - Alam Najiullah

The session ended with the consensus that IBA alumni in Canada should share ideas and sources of support on the LinkedIn group, and resolving to carry the conversation forward.


The agenda for the evening was simple and clutter-free: the panelists introduced themselves and described their journey as an entrepreneur, after which the floor was open for a Q&A session. This allowed enough flexibility for an interesting conversation to develop, and the moderator ensured that the topics kept revolving smoothly. Haroon's role was quite critical, since there was no shortage of questions. The event began and ended with half an hour of time for networking and refreshments, with pizza, sandwiches, muffins and coffee readily available.


The buzz of conversation afterwards indicated that the participants were tremendously inspired and excited by the session. Certainly, an external audience would have benefited from the knowledge and experience of the entrepreneurs as well.
The IBA Alumni Canada Chapter has set a high bar for future events.
 

 

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