A Founder Friday speaker explains what getting an MBA and a stint on reality TV taught her about starting up.
By Wahiba Chair (Founder, CarrotLines)
How many of you have had an idea and struggled with how to make it a reality?
After completing my computer engineering degree, I started working as a computer scientist but didn’t enjoy sitting behind a desk and programming with little human interaction. So, one of my mentors recommended I pursue a business education. I was fortunate enough to find the one-year MBA program at Simon Fraser University quite a fit to my needs and goals of starting a business one day.
My mom, a nutrition-savvy medical doctor, who always made sure we had a healthy meal growing up, combined with the obesity epidemic I witnessed when I first moved to the US, sparked in me an innate passion for healthy living.
I knew that I wanted to combine my business and technical skillset with my passion, but figuring out what that may look like took some time. I needed a specific project or idea. Through my MBA program, I learned about the challenges consumers were facing vis-à-vis food labels. And it was also a time when smartphones were becoming more prevalent. So I thought to myself: “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could scan the barcode and it would tell you instantly if the food is good for you?”
This is how CarrotLines was born. And, the journey has been organic ever since.
The compilation of my MBA degree was a business plan and a project recognized by the BC Innovation Council. Then I embarked onto the surreal journey of “Stars Of Science,” a global reality TV series where entrepreneurs get to develop their ideas with the help of experts and mentors.
I came out of the show with $10,000, exposure, and confidence to pursue what I believed in.
But that was not enough. I was still naïve and idealistic and little did I know what I was getting myself into.
Raising money was still impossible – especially as a woman in technology and business. It was just tougher to build that level of credibility.
So, stubborn as I was, I decided to find other options. I leveraged my network and took part in every business competition possible to raise awareness, and funds for the venture.
With my team, we raised over $300,000 in government contributions, business competitions, and sponsorships, all of which helped us to catapult our healthy eating app to a top 10 listing on iTunes (Health & Fitness, 2011/12), build the largest Canadian foods database (TheFoodWiki.ca) and engage an audience of over 100,000 decision makers and influencers.
Starting up, we would also never have dreamed of securing the country’s most famous fitness trainer, Tommy Europe, as our in app celebrity feature.
And, the story continues at Wavefront, Canada’s Centre of Excellence for Wireless Commercialization, where CarrotLines is proudly located. But if I had to pick the top three things that I learned, they would be:
ALWAYS HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN
Not only do things take more time than they’re supposed to, seldom do they turn out the way you expect them to. This is not to shed a gloomy light on your dreams, it’s just so you are ready to choose a different route. In 2010, we had an investor commit on a handshake and then back out after months of due diligence and all the paperwork had been drafted. It was devastating but it taught me to always have a “what if” plan.
LEVERAGE YOUR NETWORK…
…and make it a part of your story. Whether you are currently in school or in a business accelerator, build relationships and make these people and organizations a part of your story. They will appreciate it and in turn amplify what will be a win-win for both parties. For instance, I have maintained great relationships with SFU Business, Stars Of Science, etc. and served as a success story for their audiences.
UTILIZE THE POWER OF SOCIAL MEDIA
This is a cost effective must in today’s day and age, but it has to be strategic and consistent to drive results. Use it to reach out to a prospect team member, investor, or customer. Much of CarrotLines’ success to date can be attributed to social media – another true love that I discovered and led me to my new company, MediaTouch.ca.