Co-Founder of Splash Effect, Hamza Khan sat down with CanadianSME to discuss what inspired him to launch his business, the biggest challenge he faced as a business owner and his advice on what he wished someone would have told him in the beginning when he first got started.
Hamza is making waves as the co-founder of Splash Effect, a digital agency which helps clients in the education sector to make connections and enhance their communications. He has worked with leading institutions and forward-thinking brands such as the Rotman School of Management, Restaurants Canada, Ted Rogers School of Management, HootSuite, and the Credit Institute of Canada.
What are some of your recent achievements which you would like to share with us?
I was recently appointed as the Managing Director of Student Life Network, Canada’s largest and most comprehensive resource hub dedicated to helping millions of students. It’s an exciting opportunity that allows me to leverage a decade of marketing and education experience to help students successfully transition from high school through post-secondary and all the way to their dream jobs. I also self-published a bestselling book, “The Burnout Gamble: Achieve More by Beating Burnout and Building Resilience”.
How much importance do you adhere to personal branding from an early age?
Unlike the social media savvy digital natives of the present day, I didn’t have an adequate vocabulary nor a nuanced understanding of personal branding when I was younger. However, my parents thankfully instilled in me the fundamentals of personal branding from an early age. Except, they called it “reputation”. I was taught that my reputation was everything and that I should uphold it by being kind, helpful, truthful and generous. That particular blend of a personal brand is one that I still strive to uphold to this day, but in a much more intentional way.
What are the core elements that have helped you in becoming what you are today?
There are three core elements. Firstly, I’ve achieved a level of mastery in my craft (marketing, speaking, teaching, writing, etc.) that have unlocked the level of success that I enjoy today. That came as a result of years and years of focus, dedication, overcoming adversity and receiving mentorship. Secondly, I invested disproportionately in the development of my soft skills. I pride myself in having a highly refined array of essential skills—empathy, listening, creativity, communication, productivity, resilience and much more. This combination of technical skills and soft skills have helped me become who I am today. Thirdly, people. Friends, family, colleagues, partners, mentors, etc. All my life I’ve been surrounded by incredible people who’ve wanted nothing but the best for me. In that way, I consider myself very, very lucky.
What are your views on the current education system and its contribution to creating market experts?
The current education system is essential. However, there are many cracks in the system. In fact, as an undergraduate student I nearly fell through one of those cracks. Reports from both the industry and the government are confirming what we’ve sensed to be true for quite some time now: that students are being inadequately prepared for the realities of the modern, rapidly evolving and fluctuating economy. The education system needs to double down on becoming more agile, fluid, tailored, personal, flexible, attuned, and market-focused. In its current state, I believe the education system is doomed to a slow death by gradual mass exodus. Unless the system evolves, students will arrive at the conclusion that they can fashion together a curriculum comprised of quick and affordable online resources to help them become prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow, not yesterday.
Do you feel that innovative ideas die once the kids grow up?
Yes. The older we get, the more crystallized our neural pathway becomes. We notice fewer new things because we’ve had so much time to receive input, process information and create patterns that compose our worldview. Children, on the other hand, are experiencing a sensory overload, which when combined with adequate education and reflection, can be distilled into innovative ideas. Therefore, it’s important for adults to always remain open to new ideas and to structure time into their lives to process those ideas, reflect on them and make a meaning out of them. Frankly, we should try to intentionally get bored so we can give our brains a chance to rest, recover and arrange new and innovative ideas.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
A combination of market demand and a desire for more. While heading up an in-house creative agency at one of Canada’s largest and most innovative universities, I received multiple offers to replicate my work at other institutions. Not wanting to leave where I was currently situated, I instead began to offer freelance consulting services. Soon, the demand grew to the point where I needed a co-founder to scale. , on the other hand, entrepreneurial success inspired me to want more. I believed that if I could deliver results for one institution, I could deliver it for two, three, four…and eventually a hundred.
How has digital media forwarded thinking?
Many people today consume more information in just a few scrolls on their phone than people reading newspapers in the days of analog media. The entire history of the world—indexes of endless information—are available to us at the tip of our fingers and at the speed of now. As digital media becomes more accessible, more organized and more user-friendly, so does the process of thinking. We have fewer steps to go through in order to produce complex, informed ideas. With just one voice request to Alexa for example, we can bypass what would otherwise be a trip to the local library, a conversation with the librarian, a walk through the aisles, a selecting of books and poring through its pages.
What has been your biggest challenge as a business owner and how did you overcome that challenge?
My biggest challenge was, as I imagine it continues to be for others, scaling. To truly scale, a business model has to be measurable, predictable and repeatable. In an agency setting that is heavily dependant on people and creative thinking, that can be tough. Implementing processes that simplify the spontaneous, serendipitous and innovative work that’s done in boardrooms and whiteboards, is far from easy. To grow from a 2-person, 3-client operation to a 10-person, the 50-client operation took years of tinkering, iteration, blood, sweat and tears (literally).
What’s the most exciting thing on the horizon for you/your Company?
At Student Life Network, the most exciting thing on the horizon for our company is the development of an application that will help us make a quantum leap in terms of how many students we can reach and how personalized each of their experiences can be. I believe that will be a game-changer for us.
Where do you envision your company in 5, 10, 20 years?
5 years from now, I believe we will have perfected our business model. 10 years from now, I believe we will have replicated our business in major local markets. And 20 years from now, I envision us as a true global entity.
Do you think machines can replace face-to-face marketing?
Yes, I believe they can. When you get down to it, humans are very measurable, predictable, and repeatable. Which means that we can have. Which also means that we can be automated. Of course, it will be a long time before we can code every possible variable that would generate true spontaneity, creativity, bravery and other “human” traits. But if you give the machines enough time…they are, by design, faster learners than us. And by the time they catch up, I have a hunch that any reservations we have about interacting with machines in our everyday life will be long gone.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs and business owners? What do you wish someone would have told you at the beginning?
Early on, invest in a good lawyer and a good accountant. Don’t wait and don’t cheap out. Both professionals will save you a lot of time, money and hassle in the long-run.
What is your definition of success?
Doing well by doing good. I don’t believe that doing well is mutually exclusive from doing good. It’s possible to generate considerable wealth and freedom by doing work which directly or indirectly makes the world a better place. At Student Life Network, I’ve found a sweet spot where I can see myself working for the next 20 years.
What is your take on competition and competitors?
Competitors, especially ones that are wildly successful, are, on the other hand,. They give us something to aspire to and something to chase. But becoming fixated on a competitor and obsessed with them is dangerous. It can lead to blinders, which could very well spell doom. Maintain a healthy perspective when electing competitors. And be careful how you change in response to them. Otherwise, with enough editing, you’ll eventually get erased.
Anything else you’d like to comment on while we have you?
This is one of the best times to start a business. Entrepreneurship has always been, and always will be, difficult. But the barriers to access, thanks to the internet, have never been lower. Even if you’ve got a great full-time job as an employee, consider starting up something on the side and/or behaving like an intrapreneur within your organization. Ride the wave.