Since creating his first business venture at age 19, Mr. Shafin Diamond Tejani has launched 40 start-ups in 24 countries, employed more than 350 people, and generated over $100 million in annual revenues through his company, Victory Square Labs. Despite this and the long list of accolades (including Canadian Angel Investor of the Year, Top 40 Under 40, and Prime Minister’s Volunteer Award and most recently BC Tech Person of the Year Award), Mr. Tejani remains humble and down to earth.
Starting a company may seem like a stretch to many, but to Mr. Tejani, who grew up among business owners, it didn’t seem like something out of reach. After emigrating from Uganda, his father managed a pharmacy and his uncles opened an electronic store, where Mr. Tejani spent much of his childhood, learning from and working for them at their respective businesses. His own entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen began to materialize at age 10. “When my family would go to Bellingham I would convince my parents to stop at the fireworks store and buy several boxes of bottle rockets. I worked out what I needed to sell each individual package to make a return and brought them to school to sell to the other kids,” says Mr. Tejani, who went on to do the same with baseball and hockey cards. Then, in high school, he started to throw parties. “At the time, there were issues with kids hanging around the local 7-Eleven and getting into trouble,” he remembers. So Mr. Tejani rented a hall, hired a sound and lighting company, secured a DJ, printed tickets, and went to each of the high schools in the North Shore and convinced them to sell $10 tickets on his behalf for a commission. “I was getting up to 800 people out twice a month, and making $15,000 a month; it was as if I was the teen night club owner!” In university, Mr. Tejani ran iFluRtz out of his dorm room, a matchmaking service for students; it got hearts racing across Canada and the U.S., attracting the attention of YTV and CBC, bringing sweethearts together that would eventually marry, and also (unintentionally but somewhat unsurprisingly) igniting a scandal.
Most recently, Mr. Tejani launched Victory Square Technologies [CSE:VST]. Although they have been likened to venture capitalists or angel investors, Victory Square offers start-ups an unprecedented level of engagement. “We are venture builders, meaning that we don’t just invest in a person financially, but we actually bring that person into our ecosystem and provide them with all the additional resources they need to be successful,” Mr. Tejani explains. “If you give a 23 or 24 year old $100,000, they probably don’t have the experience to spend that and get things done well. Instead of them going abroad for developers, marketing, legal assistance, or accounting, or not knowing the quality of the work they’re going to get, we provide those services for them internally.” Today, Victory Square currently focuses on six different verticals—film, blockchain technology,(a digital ledger primarily utilized by cryptocurrencies to record transactions), gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality, personalized health, and artificial intelligence – and are currently engaged with 17 entrepreneurs within these spaces.
Victory Square receives thousands of inquiries, applications, and pitches every month. But to make the cut, you have to have more than just a good idea. “The secret sauce is the operator—the entrepreneur,” Mr. Tejani says. “My team can provide funding, resources, mentorship, and a great environment to build a business, but you need someone in that car seat to drive it. So we look for characteristics like passion, drive, a strong work ethic, a good moral compass, and leadership qualities—that’s almost equally if not more important than the idea itself. So for us, the operator is where we’re making the biggest bet.”
Recently, Mr. Tejani started a new journey into fatherhood. “It was only until I started a family that I had to truly reflect on where my strengths lie, and where I need to improve,” he explains. “If I can focus on the things that I’m good at and surround myself with a really strong team, we as an organization will flourish faster. So, when we work with entrepreneurs, we instill that same idea: what are you good at, and how can we help you? And together we’ll make things happen.”
Mr. Tejani joined Terminal City Club in 2013 initially so that he would have a quiet place to work out. “But there are so many other aspects that have become a comfort. If I ever wanted to get out of the office but I wasn’t ready to go home yet, I would go to the Club; it’s literally a third home for me. Peter [Jackman] is amazing—if I’m here at lunch, he’ll come by and greet my guests. It’s that level of personalized service that adds so much value to membership,” he says.
Over the years, Mr. Tejani’s idea of success has changed. “At 23 I realized that material goods were very temporary and didn’t make me consistently happy, so I started to look at what my purpose was,” he says. Mr. Tejani’s parents were forced to leave their home in Uganda during the military coup in the early 70’s. “What seemed like one of the worst things to happen to my family, ended up being a blessing in disguise, thanks to my family being granted asylum in Canada. When I was growing up, we didn’t have a ton of money, but my siblings and I were so fortunate to have amazing parents, and to grow up in Canada, with a stable government, universal healthcare, and a great education. I started to think: there are a lot of people born into circumstances they don’t choose. I’m blessed with so much, it’s my duty to pay it forward. Canada welcomed us here and invested in our family, my community, myself. So I feel like I have a responsibility to do what I can. As a member of the Ismaili community, giving time and helping others is integral to our way of life, and from a young age I’ve been surrounded by examples of giving back. I believe that to be one of my greatest social inheritances.”
This past June, Mr. Tejani made a personal donation of $500,000 to Variety – The Children’s Charity of B.C. But through Victory Square Labs, he and his team have contributed 10,000 volunteer hours and raised more than $88 million for school programs and community organizations including KidSafe and Athletics for Kids, over the past 20 years.
“I love sports. When I look at business, I look at it as a sport—I’m trying to win. I love to compete, and rally our team to successfully execute our game plan and win,” he says. “The rewards are twofold: I’m helping entrepreneurs realize their dreams, but the financial payoff also allows me to do more good. That’s how I define success—to effectively utilize those dollars to make a positive impact in my community.” Suffice to say Mr. Tejani is hitting it out of the park!
Mr. Tejani is married to his beautiful wife Minu and have two children, Kayden (5) and Aria (2).