More and more young people are delving into the world of entrepreneurship in lieu of a corporate lifestyle.
Entrepreneurship allows freedom, innovation, and control. It also comes with a unique set of challenges including finances, mentorship and ironically – control. Meet Waseem Messer and Ben Tian, cofounders of My Auto International, an international trading and distribution company specializing in luxury vehicles and commodities. The duo has acquired phenomenal success with 2.5 million in sales revenue with only 6 months of activity. However, their success has been no easy feat. After a disastrous falling out with an older business partner and a pivot in their business plan, the pair had to bounce back after being kicked out of their original business – one which had accumulated an impressive 4.5 million sales revenue in their first year. Despite their hardships, they learned incredibly valuable lessons along the way. We sat down with them to talk about the ups and downs of being your own boss.
“We’ve been best friends for a long time.” Waseem, co-founder and CFO of MyAuto gushes, “After graduation, we worked in the financial industry for 5 years before leaving to start our own business.” Waseem knew entrepreneurship was his path, and when Ben was presented with an intriguing business proposition from a family friend, Waseem convinced him to take the plunge. “His passion for entrepreneurship rubbed off on me, and the timing was right.” Ben admits. The businessman knew that there was an opportunity for cars in the trading industry. He was rich and successful, which caused the pair to place blind trust in him. “This was a mistake we made.” Waseem admits, “Seeing how successful he was distracted us, we were very eager to learn from him. He took advantage of our passion, and didn’t make us get the partnership in writing.” When starting a joint venture, it is essential to have some kind of stakeholder agreement which outlines the percentage each party owns of the business and how tasks are divided. “He was successful, and knew that these documents were necessary, but because we were so eager he never told us this was the first step to take, which made it easy for him to take the full company from us.
Once their company took off and started making a lot of money, their business partner couldn’t believe how lucrative it became. When Waseem and Ben wanted to expand further, and look into an international trade instead of just Canada, their partner discouraged the growth. This was the first of many red flags that Waseem and Ben noticed. “Our partner invested in several projects, and when his other investments failed he took everything from us. Even though we said it was 50/50 when we went to a lawyer we learned that unless you have a written agreement, he could take it all.” Which is exactly what he did – as a result of his previous financial success and years of knowledge in the industry, he was able to afford lawyers that helped him take the majority of Waseem and Ben’s company. “We took whatever money we could get and completely restarted”.
After a messy dispute, Waseem and Ben restarted with MyAuto International. The first thing they did was go to a lawyer and get an agreement sorted out. After traveling to China to learn about the opportunity for international trade, they returned to Toronto more motivated than ever. “Always keep learning and upgrading yourself and your skills.” Waseem advises, “We didn’t let our failure discourage us, we used it to motivated our new venture.” The loss of their first project ended up being the key to starting MyAuto international, “Our operation completely stopped for 5 months, it was a stressful time. But sometimes from tough times you can recalibrate and rethink the whole process.”
After a rough start, MyAuto is on an upward trajectory. They have recently launched new offices in Montreal, Calgary and Mexico City. The duo is excited about growing even further. Their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? “Learn things outside of your regular skillset. Ageism is a very real problem in entrepreneurship. Challenge it by bettering yourself to match their skills.” Waseem recommends. Ben agrees, and also notes the importance of treating colleagues with respect, “Value the people you work with. Always motivate the team. Be open to questions, think positively and stay motivated. Make sure you treat your team right.”
Waseem laughs and makes sure to chime in with one vital last piece of advice for new entrepreneurs, “Make sure you always get a shareholder agreement!”