Episode 10 : Strategically Grow With the Flow



Get inspired by the story of this born and raised Montrealer who became a successful entrepreneur by being proactive and strategic. Sanjay Bakshani always wanted to build a business, so he made that happen with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck. See how he overcame the lowest points and scored the biggest wins during his never-boring entrepreneurial journey in the ever-evolving technology industry.

Sanjay’s Growth Story Book Title: 

“The Broken Hockey Stick”

First, Sanjay loves hockey. But what he means is that, in his business, the years that they had the most sales were not necessarily the most profitable years. When something is broken, it won’t perform as it should, and you have to fix it before you can grow again.

What you’ll learn:

  • One of the biggest challenges of starting his own business was financing it and being able to support himself and his partners financially.
  • When their business first started making extra money, they took their first paycheck which was of $25/week.
  • Sanjay and his partners hired Cesium’s first employee to help with shipping and delivery. After that, it was a person in sales. Today they are over 50 employees.
  • How the iPhone changed the telecom industry so much that it’s one of the main reasons why Cesium went from selling mostly cell phones to exclusively accessories.
  • How the decrease of retail is already and will continue to be a challenge for Cesium in the next few years.

Notable quotes:

  • “There are two leaders now on the market: Apple and Samsung. I don’t think that’s going to change soon.” – Sanjay Bakshani on changes in the telecom market. 
  • “There is definitely an element of luck. Every year or so, we look back and say that this has been our best year yet. We’re lucky that happened, but it’s a lot of work.” – Sanjay on how he feels so lucky to be successful but also knows that every business naturally starts to plateau at some point.
  • “We didn’t have that 5-year business plan that we learned about in school. We didn’t stop to make that, we just tried it to see where it goes.” – Sanjay on how they started their business small and grew it by trying things out.
  • “By age 12, the kids are the only ones of their class without an iPhone, what are you supposed to do?” – Seeing parents are getting pressured very early because the kids have cellphones very young now.

Show notes: 

00:45 – Sanjay Bakshani started a telecommunications accessories business called Cesium Telecom.

00:55 – David mentions being on a panel for the EO Accelerator program.

4:04 – Cesium is a distributor of all kinds of accessories for smartphones and tablets selling to retail stores such as Rogers, Bell, across Canada.

5:00 – Sanjay was born and raised in Montreal, Cote-Saint-Luc.

9:30 – Sanjay was exposed to entrepreneurship from a very young age as his father and uncle ran a business together and also shared a big house with both families living in. A strong majority of his family members were also entrepreneurs.

10:17 – Sanjay always knew he wanted to have a business. In university, he met friends who also shared that goal so they would spend lots of time at the library studying and thinking about business ideas.

11:54 – Sanjay went to high school at Centennial Academy in NDG, Montreal. He was very into sports, he played in the hockey and basketball teams.

16:30 – During university, Sanjay got interested by working in consulting at a company like Accenture or Deloitte. He got into Accenture Student Leadership Conference, but things weren’t going as fast as desired.

17:00 – Sanjay and his partners were working on their business part-time while in school and it was starting to grow into a full-time job. By the time they graduated they were to the point of hiring an employee. And then he got a job offer from Accenture, but he was already hooked on entrepreneurship and turned it down.

18:33 – Sanjay was working at Motorola during university with his co-op program.

20:20 – Sanjay and his partner started by ordering phones from overseas and selling them to shops in Chinatown here. Some of them wanted to pay cash and avoid taxes, but Sanjay and his team never wanted to go down that road.

21:00 – David mentions the MVP strategy, referring to Sanjay’s approach of starting small and growing things by trying them out.

22:05 – Sanjay and his partners created an e-commerce store to sell their products, it was a “Yahoo store”, very popular at the time in 2002. They were also selling on eBay. It was before Amazon.

24:20 – To be able to order the phones, they had to use their own economies, low-interest credit cards, and the BDC summer loans program for young entrepreneurs.

28:07 – Their first big client was a chain store called Tele Plus, they had 15 stores.

32:15 – They were selling product from Asia, from the US, and it was “grey market” at the time, but they didn’t even know it was.

35:15 – Until 2007, Cesium Telecom was selling about 80% cell phones.

35:40 – In 2007, the iPhone was launched in the US. Preparing for the Canadian launch, Sanjay and his team jumped on the occasion and signed right away the biggest iPhone accessories fabricants in the US like Griffin, Iskin.

42:45 – For a few years they were three best friends from college running the business. Around 2006, one of the partners, Cherif Habib, left the business went to do his master in Intellectual Property Law in Italy, was offered a position at McKinsey, and moved to Geneva, something he always wanted to do. He left on very good terms and they are all still best friends.

50:50 – Cesium has been on Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies list for 6 out of the last 7 years.