Miraz Manji knows how tough it can be to complete university studies; he graduated at the top of his class, amassing three degrees along the way. So he set out to establish a business to provide tutoring services to help others in their studies.
In the fall of 2005, he opened The Learning Achievement Centre Inc. (TLAC), leasing space near the downtown University of Toronto campus. To fund the business, he borrowed money from his father's retirement savings.
"We couldn't afford to make a mistake," he recalls.
He garnered a trickle of students but business did not pick up fast enough to meet his monthly overhead expenses. "The students came in, but I had misjudged the market."
By October, he was out of money.
He turned to CYBF, which required he work with a mentor. "I never really thought too much of having a mentor. I had a lot of good people around me," he says. But looking back he admits "a lot of people who had rallied around me were telling me what I wanted to hear."
With money enough to continue, Mr. Manji needed to quickly build up revenue. He found while there was a market helping students put together their thesis, they also needed to print them. So Mr. Manji decided to augment his business with printing and copier services.
He bought some equipment but during Christmas, the university closed. "I was relying too heavily on the university. We needed other clients."
He ramped up his marketing and when the students returned in January, business boomed. "I realized that what the goal should be is to make a profitable printing house and use that momentum to support the tutoring," he says. Soon after, he landed some big printing contracts and business was looking up. However, Mr. Manji was realizing the new stream of business in printing was beyond the purview of his expertise.
At the same time, he came to the decision his mentorship was not working out. "He didn't really have the time to come down and see us," he says of the first mentor he was assigned. "I think he may have felt that he wasn't really contributing much."
He requested a new mentor, preferably one with skills in space management. "We needed to lay out the space properly to keep it efficient," he says.
Adnan Yousuf, an engineer with a Masters in Business Administration, was assigned to work with Mr. Manji. Together, they developed a plan to maximize the print shop's efficiency. "He wanted to improve the workflow so he could accomplish as much as he could within a small space," Mr. Yousuf says. "We focused on minimizing movements across the building."
Mr. Yousuf also advised Mr. Manji to relent from engaging in price wars with the bevy of competing printing shops that are located on the same street. "When I met Miraz he was in the midst of a price war," Mr. Yousuf says. "In the very short term, it brought in foot traffic but for the long term, it wasn't a viable strategy. So I told him he had to find a way to exit that."
Mr. Manji valued the insight and quickly complied, instead striving to beat out competitors with personalized services. "He would keep saying don't worry about them, keep focused on your business," he says of his mentor.
"He didn't tell me what to do so that the business would be a success. Instead, he lent his experience to entertain different ideas with varying outcomes. He gave me an atmosphere in which I could bounce my visions around. This way, I could re-examine my plans and focus on what my priorities were."
TLAC has emerged as a leader, counting among its print clients the Ontario government, large law firms and brand-name manufacturers, which provide the bread and butter for the tutoring services.
And Mr. Manji has changed that side of business, built on the correlation between his tutoring service and the assistance he received from Mr. Yousuf. "The tutoring business has now turned into a mentoring business," he says. "We don't give students the answer we give them coaching and support."
He's glad the worst is behind him. "It was very difficult," he says about launching a business. "But when you're young, go out and do it, you've got absolutely nothing to lose, no mortgage, no children. And if you fail, it looks good on you that you tried."