Today’s Notable Young Entrepreneurs are Simon Shahin and Alburt Lefebvre, Co-Founders of award-winning construction firm BUILD IT By Design. Located in the GTA, these two are not only business owners but also best friends who have worked together since 2008.
We caught up with Simon and Alburt to find out what inspires them and what advice they would share with other young professionals…
1. Describe what you do in less than 140 characters. Go.
Both: We build some of Canada’s most well-known restaurants and retail spaces. What started out as two guys operating out of a pickup truck has grown into BUILD IT By Design, a construction firm that has designed and built over 500+ completed projects, with a team of over 70 in-house specialists, and expansion plans in the works to take our company into new markets.
2. What was the inspiration for your career route?
A: There’s something so tangible about creating physical things. Seeing people’s dreams become a reality has always inspired us. To be honest, Simon has always really inspired me too. Simon and I are best friends and working with him is a lot of fun – it’s probably one of the most rewarding things about having built a successful business.
S: My father has been incredibly inspiring and motivating. After studying Commerce and working alongside my dad at our family business (which specializes in custom mill working), I saw that there was a need in the industry for a construction partner that could specialize in restaurant builds – and one that could act as a one-stop shop to handle every aspect of a project from start to finish.
3. What is the most memorable milestone in your career so far?
S: There have been so many memorable milestones! For me, the most notable was the signing and completion of two national brands at the same time – our first major Toronto projects, completed in 2009 in the PATH.
A: I’ll never forget the feeling of going up on the construction lift to the 44th floor of Bisha in Toronto. Standing on top of the roof where one of Toronto’s soon-to-be best restaurants will be built, while looking across the skyline at our beautiful city, felt like a very surreal moment.
4. Where do you see yourself in five years, 10 years, 20 years?
Both: In five years, our goal is to be known as Toronto’s top construction firm and to be surrounded by more like-minded team members, while continuing to grow the business together. In ten years, our goal is to be the leading construction firm in Canada. We also believe that it’s incredibly important to provide mentorship – we hope to have helped our team members advance their careers through our in-house training programs. Long term, our goal is to expand into different markets, taking our business model global.
5. Do you have any advice for other young professionals?
S: Be resilient. You HAVE to have a thick skin when you’re an entrepreneur. When you face a challenge it can feel like you’re the only one looking down off the edge of a 1,000 ft. cliff, but you have to continue being positive. Most importantly, go into a business that you’re personally passionate about – success is really a measure of your everyday happiness.
A: Just do it – chase your dreams. Anything is possible if you put the work in! A lot of entrepreneurs experience a failure to launch; they have a hard time getting their business off of the ground because they overanalyze things. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to put your plan into action.
6. Do you support any charities? If so, which one(s) and why is it (or they) important to you?
Both: This holiday season we’ve actually partnered with the Daily Bread Food Bank. We’re putting our fleet of branded Build It By Design trucks to good use by helping Daily Bread transport products to the numerous food programs they support across Toronto.
We also regularly donate our extra supplies and materials to Habitat for Humanity Canada, so that others can have an affordable roof over their heads. One of our team members is involved in a fund called Kick the Crap Out of Cancer. Cancer is a disease that touches so many people’s lives, so it’s incredibly important to support this cause as well.
7. What is one major challenge that you’ve had to overcome in your career? How did you overcome it?
S: Personally, I’ve had to become adaptable and willing to change in order to tackle the challenges we face. As the company grows, the description of what I do in my role has had to change. It’s been challenging to recognize when that change happens and then identify what to do next.
A: My biggest challenge has been learning to delegate. People naturally have strengths and weaknesses, and as a business owner, you need to understand that and celebrate their strengths. Most management tends to focus on identifying a weakness and trying to turn it into strength. I think it’s kind of like a marriage; a great manager seeks to fill in the gaps between a weakness and strength.
8. What does the word ‘notable’ mean to you?
S: It’s something relevant, conversation-worthy and different than the norm. To be notable means that you stand out in a crowd.
A: I think it equates to relevancy. To be relevant is to be notable. When it’s all said and done, if you’re not remembered, then what’s the point?
1. Where is your favourite place to wine/dine in your city and why?
S: I have a few – it’s no secret that we build restaurants because we love to eat! I’m a huge fan of Terroni’s spaghetti with sausage ragu and black truffles. Lee is a given, their slaw is healthy and delicious. For a quick bite, I’ll drop into Basil Box or Paramount Fine Foods for healthy food on the go.
A: I’m also a huge Terroni’s fan. Their Price St. patio is unbeatable and I’m pretty faithful to their tagliatelle a la Bolognese.
2. What’s the most visited website on your Internet browser? The most played song on your phone?
S: It’s a sad truth, but it’s our project management software. I’m on it 24/7! I’m also on a house hunt, so these days I’m constantly browsing MLS. Kickstarter comes in a close third, I just found a handsome handcrafted Filippo Loreti watch on there – it’s the most funded timepiece project in crowdfunding history and I can see why!
I’m not a big music guy, but I have two albums downloaded onto my phone: Biggie Smalls’ Greatest Hits and Bob Marley and the Wailers. I also wake my wife up every Sunday morning by blasting loud music. I’m sure she loves it.
A: Google news! I’m constantly checking the feed. In terms of music, at this moment in time, I’m all about our homegrown hero Drake. Despite his personal ups and downs, Kanye is a fan favourite – ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing’ always puts me in a good mood.
3. Who’s one person you think everyone should be following on social media?
S: Sir. Richard Branson is an entrepreneur that has become incredibly successful and has still maintained his humble persona. David Copperfield is another – he’s ‘pure magic’ and one of my personal idols because he’s quietly become one of the most successful people in the world.
A: I’m a big fan of cars, so naturally I have to go with Josh Cartu (@JCartu), a Canadian-born pro racecar driver (for Ferrari) that also happens to be a very successful tech entrepreneur.
4. What’s your favourite country to visit and why? And what’s the next one you plan on travelling to?
S: I haven’t found it yet. One of my lifetime goals is to locate the world’s nicest beach and it’s a challenge that may never be fulfilled, but it motivates me. I’m thinking that my next trip will be to Indonesia and Bali, with a stopover on Phi Phi Leh Island, where ‘The Beach’ was filmed.
A: Capri, Italy, for the incredible food, culture, and fashion. My next trip will have to be to the Maldives.
5. What gives you the greatest FOMO?
S: I experience a lot of FOMO. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices in order to run a successful business. But missing out on some personal enjoyment to further my career just means that I’m sacrificing in the short term, but gaining more in the long term.
A: Being irrelevant.
6. What’s your guiltiest pleasure?
S: A good meal accompanied by a good drink is one of life’s best pleasures. Everything in moderation, but I’m a big fan of the Crêpe Suzette. I also secretly enjoy a good old-fashioned all-night video game session, although it doesn’t happen very often these days.
A: Sugar cookie dough!
7. What’s something you wish you didn’t spend so much money on? What’s something you wish you spent more on?
S: I’ve been called frugal. Most of the time my spending goes toward travel, but I think that I travel smart. It’s so tough to find a house in our city, but I believe that spending more on a great family home is well worth the investment.
A: I wish I didn’t spend so much on international travel and I wish I spent more on local travel. I’d love to explore my own backyard, especially B.C. and the East coast, more.
8. And finally, what does success look like to you? Work, play, or otherwise…
S: A measure of success to me means that as a business owner you’re happy, even when you have to do what others won’t to take care of your business. I think that’s something any entrepreneur can understand and identify with. And of course I want to see more of our branded BUILD IT trucks on the road – they’re bright blue and hard to miss.
A: Success, to me, means having everything that you need and some of the things that you want.