Solve Problems That Exist

Solve Problems That Exist

Afifa Siddiqui

Devin Miller
The Inventive Journey
Podcast for Entrepreneurs

10/16/2020

Solve Problems That Exist

Try solving problems that exist right now. And always make sure that someone is going to pay you to solve that problem, or else you don't have a business. 

Right? So solving problems is what I do, naturally, but I can only do that if someone is gonna to pay me to do that. That's how I measure that I have a business idea that actually has legs or not.


The Inventive Journey

Starting and growing a business is a journey. On The Inventive Journey, your host, Devin Miller walks with startups along their different journeys startups take to success (or failure). You also get to hear from featured guests, such as venture firms and angel investors, that provide insight on the paths to a successful inventive journey.

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try solving problems that that exist right now because if and always make sure that someone is going to pay you to solve that problem because then you don't have a business right so so solving problems is is what i do naturally but i can only do that if you know if if someone's going to pay me to do that because that's how i measure that i have a business idea that actually has legs or not hey everyone this is devin miller here with another episode of the inventive journey i'm your host devin miller the serial entrepreneur that's grown several businesses to seven and eight figure businesses as well as the founder and ceo of miller ip law where we help startups and small businesses with their patents and trademarks and today we have another great guest on the episode and i'm sure i'm going to slaughter her dave so fifa is it close that's right devin it's a fifa siddiqui all right as good as i could get so i'll think of that as a good compliment so a fifa i still feel like i'm saying it wrong but i'm trying um but you've ran run three different companies one of which you focus on is canadian payroll services and kind of uh also have some software companies or in a similar industry um prior to that if i remember our conversation a bit before you graduated from engineering school wound up working for power and energy and electricity and all those doing some engineering projects and then switched over throughout your career through a few different ones moved over to specializing in recruiting and then bringing you up to today where you're doing now um with more of the canadian payroll services so there's a very brief overview i'm sure it doesn't do you justice but with that welcome to the podcast right thank you and that was a great introduction and you know what i say about my name it's it's like bob you could say it backwards the danger of that is when i say it people start calling me bob well i'll try not to at least call you bob i can't promise i'll say your name right but i will not i will not call you bob so no problem with that i gave you a brief introduction but uh give us a bit more about your background a little bit more about your journey and let's hear what brought you to where you're at today well you know i'm uh there's this question are entrepreneurs born or made and i think they're both but i gotta say i feel myself like i am a born entrepreneur because i've always always been doing something that that is entrepreneurial on the side you know i was i had a little side gig going before that was a thing to have and uh you know my journey my entrepreneur's journey is you know it's a lot like what you've described but one thing kind of pivoted into the next and i think that word pivot is is i mean it's something we use now in the tech space an awful lot but pivoting is what entrepreneurs do you know we we pivot into solving a variety of problems so that's kind of what i've done uh you know out of engineering school i i had a business even when i graduated that i a lot of people don't know i i was uh doing all kinds of things but it was based on the tech of the time which was fax machines so how did so did you start the business while you're in school or did you have the idea once you graduated you started the business or starting at that part of your journey how did you how did you get a business that you graduated well so i was actually even i had a little side thing going on even in high school i would sell things that again got me in front of people in in talking so i'm kind of a native to trying things out and experimenting and this is kind of key to me and and i'll only speak for myself but i'm pretty sure a lot of entrepreneurs are like this that that we are always experimenting i'm sure you have an element of this to your personality that uh when i was in in high school i i always kept reading in in on top of what is the tech coming out and how you can do things differently to make them better uh you know things i would always look at is efficiencies and then how to make money and how to save money really those are the three things that even today you know factor into all the experiments i i do in looking at what's next on the horizon for for my business so coming at a university in engineering school i started what was then called the surplus brokerage and you know back then we had fax machines and yes i'm dating myself but literally you know it would send out these side these blasts is ironic so and i know it's a complete side note and interrupting your journey but i so i i mentioned i i do miller i p law where i focus on patents and trademarks the only time and so i i do a lot of technologies i've done everything from wearables i've done medical devices i've done software i've done stuff for intel and amazon and list goes on right and you think that it with patents or patent attorneys you work the law of technology the uspto or the patent and trademark office would be up on technology that have great systems a lot of they are the only ones i ever abused the fax machine so even until this day every so often i'll get a examiner patent and trademark office that wants to use an old school fax machine so it as much as you might think especially if you talk with the people the patent office well you know interestingly people ask me well what are other opportunities out there sometimes it's not forward looking it's it's backwards looking so i actually always keep one number in in any of my business designated just purely for fax machines because there are so much there's opportunity especially with governments like our cra that they stick with faxes and there's entire municipalities and so if businesses actually keep some old tech it becomes new again it's just one thing that i've learned along the way right yep so but i and i interrupted journey so you started out with selling stuff in high school then you got into fax machines as you were getting uh graduating from uh from yeah school yeah but it like for me i look at it as as what problem am i solving so with this this particular surplus brokerage i called it i literally just crafted a template uh here's my offering i will buy anything that you have that's sitting on the shelf that you don't know what to do with don't put it in landfill i'll pick it up even it was it was just a very basic you know i want to know what businesses are doing and i'll give you an example i i once picked up these little uh pens the hp plotter pens they're they're very at the time they were used in making blueprints uh you know for architectural offices and and you know basically little little pens and i was at this uh weird uh fair one day uh they were um where they they were mapping out using these specific plotters to do your your palm print and it was like one of those astrological palm readers and so i got talking to this guy and rea and he said to me oh god i wish i had these little pens and i'm like oh my god i i saw this in a dumpster so literally i'm out of you know i'm just coming out of university i don't even have like my own address i ran over there picked up all these pens they gave me 2 000 and he gave it to me i'd have to buy them so this is you know it's an entrepreneurial uh knack to look at here's a problem a company's having they're going to throw away something and another business here sitting there looking for that something and so being in the right place you know i'm telling this story because this has happened to me over and over again like being in the right place and being able to connect the dots so you know that is that is a um something that that i think if you have uh the if you're open to being in the right place like these are like i used to think that i'm very lucky and i am i am very lucky that these opportunities come but i think it's placing oneself in the path of luck or in the path of an opportunity no and i completely agree and i'll give one more side and i usually don't interject this much with dirty other than i think it's interesting um so so i went to i did undergraduate byu in provo utah and then when we my graduated i did went out and did a law degree as well as an mba degree out in case western um and cleveland ohio and one of the things just talking about almost getting things you know out of the garbage you're finding things that people no longer use is during law school i would so they would have uh what are called tree lawning which basically is they if you wanted you'd have things that were picked up that you didn't no longer want you could put them out for garbage and some of them were perfectly good things um they just didn't want them anymore so you just put them out on the street and either people could come by grab them get them for themselves if not they would um get you know put them in the garbage and pick them up but i remember during law school and i said nobody else i don't share this very often so you get the special story i remember law school both me and my wife would find it fun on the tree lotting day when they put it all out i'd go around and find the things that people didn't want that i still would have value i put it up on craigslist and i would probably make a couple thousand dollars a month just taking things where people are getting rid of putting it on craigslist but i got to the point i wouldn't even i didn't deliver i would make them come to me so yeah literally just walking around finding things of value posting it and then making a supplemental income during law school for something that took me half an hour a week yeah see you and i have a lot in common and and i guess this is part of the whole entrepreneurial phenomenon right you you got you actually had craigslist you know when i started looking at this again none of this was around there's no online internet was just starting so you know at the time there was fax machines at the time they were like you want you had a car you got in and you drove neighborhoods right but again that's a start and you know right away i got a job i got into my actual field i was a protection and control engineer and i did that for a decade you know in a variety of different roles uh in my engineering career and then uh you know just to get back on track to to how i actually started i started my first company where you know i something that that i built to uh quite you know it is an operational business i ended up with at the high point 15 staff and i was quite proud of where we got to but it was a very up and down journey and that was the recruiting company and you know just to actually go back i didn't start it as a recruiting company i actually started it's called chronos consulting group and it was set up as an engineering consulting company because i was um project managing uh different projects and here's it and this is not something i actually speak about a lot because at that time i was quite young and of course you can see i'm i'm a a brown person so my gender my ethnicity and my age were all working against me as i had started launching this uh company and you know very quickly it i had to pivot to use the term and it turned into a staffing recruitment company because i still was building teams i was pulling people together to get projects to work on but i couldn't actually sign off or have the credibility to do those projects as a professional engineer so you know again i i knew i was going to do something on my own in my own industry i was in the electronics business at the time had been sort of outsourced out so i myself was looking for work and i think i remember telling you in our in our pre-chat there that i was looking for work for for myself at the time i would go to these interviews in the interviews i'd discover you know this is not really the role for me but you know i can tell you who you should be talking to and from that was where we we kind of stepped into like i'm gonna now do this for for a business um but again i also because i think that's interesting so walking through you you graduated you did the fashion machine for a period of time you worked as an engineer and worked on various projects and then you started kronos recruiting but if if i understand i'm not trying to put words in your mouth but you would as you were going into just working as an engineer applying for different jobs you would actually say oh i'm not right for the job but i know who it is and that happened enough times you're saying there may be an opportunity here that i can actually go into recruiting help to match make or align those people with the the people the employees are looking for people with the people that are needing a job absolutely absolutely and you know there's there's a lot of recruiting businesses out there and you know nobody graduates thinking i'm going to be a recruiter i'm going to do this for a living everybody that i've spoken with falls into it and so that's that is how i fell into it and you know at that time i really had never been headhunted well i had been called by recruiters but you know i've only ever at that time been had one good experience that that i would call that recruiter back so i said i want to to be recruited the way that i would feel good so at that time and this was not a term then the candid experience mattered to me so i wanted to be you know uh using my network and approaching people on a very professional level and talking to them about what was actually good for them as opposed to them fitting the jobs i had and you know it was different at that time remember this is like 25 years ago no no and i agree so one and i have a follow-up question about one question so how did you make how did you go from hey i'm applying to jobs to and you know look i'm not the right candidate applied another looking but i know who is how did you make that to hey i've got an opportunity here that i'm going to start a business and actually build something around it you know how was that just a hey it looks like you know after the third time you referred someone or was it over a period of time or did you it was actually after the fifth time that happened to me so i'd be sitting in the interview like i'd be across from you you'd be speaking and then you know i'd be telling here's the things i would do and they they're asking all their questions but you know whether i'm suited for the job or not i often knew hey you know i in my own network i have somebody who who else you should you should meet because this is a part of my nature like if i'm not right for something or if i don't want it i'd rather provide it to someone else and that's the networking effect and i think that's why my network is so strong because you know people do out of the blue even call me for for info because i'm not going to hold back because i actually believe there's lots of competition room right i can i can even give leads to my my fellow uh recruiting competitors which is actually how i met my partner and also my husband you know i didn't know much about recruiting so i had a number of these jobs because i was doing these interviews and then i said okay i should really figure out structurally what's the best way to do this so you know i'd met a few people that said both of them gave me dale's card and dale's you know who who i approached and i asked him hey why don't you help me with this and then over the next year i kind of lured him to come work with me and that's how chronos consulting group launched that hey kudos both provided it was a connection for business and for love so what more that's right that's right now you've been doing kronos for 20 years and if i remember right it's still an active business you still participate in and still do stuff with is that correct that's correct um now one thing i do okay so i have a personal belief that i can choose to move into businesses and add on add-on but the choice of dropping something is also a legitimate way to be an entrepreneur so i have legacy business that's that's continuing and that's particularly in the nuclear space i have a number of contract workers that i i payroll and manage through chronos but i'm not actively building and working in recruitment anymore and that business so what what happened is about 10 years ago you know i've been watching this whole industry change and and it's so fast technology comes in and you know pushes things technology drives you off markets drive you up and down you know every single market that i entered i didn't know much about except you know when i was in the power sector we we built it from scratch our mining division we built from scratch the renewable sector getting into nuclear but it was every time you have to learn a whole new business a whole new and this was happening over and over again and it's not a bad thing at all but you know it's tiring so trying to come up with something here's what i have i have chronos in my back office is an asset my database is an asset my people who work for us their assets so what can i do and that's where my experimentation started so about a decade ago i started uh looking at other avenues to either to something else or to start other businesses and so current uh my current baby canadian payroll services was that was started out of chrome to delve more into the payroll end of it but we are even nichier than just payroll we are an employer of record service which is a very specialized thing to do in canada you guys in the us know a lot more about peos uh professional employee organizations it's not a huge thing in in canada but um you know it the niche is that we we service non-canadian clients who actually hire canadian workers so again i fell into it out of you know a need to or a desire to diversify and uh literally launched a whole separate business which is actually our most successful business so far okay no i i think that so that's business number two right so one is still going right now a lot of time and effort certainly goes into canadian payroll services and then i think you mentioned you have one other business which is so it's it's called career leaf and it is a white label job board software and that too was my need or my desire to experiment and so there's an interesting thing with with curly i was actually the the lead investor so as i started experimenting i wanted to invest in technology i didn't know a heck of a lot about it i had built our own software that powers chrono so you know this is also a huge asset i built a an integrated applicant tracking system crm and digital marketing tool and it's all wrapped into one i call it telnet talent network but this again was because at the time there were no big linkedins you know that there was no taleo and and this is pre all of that so we and we're still using this tool and literally you know if i wanted to have something like this i i'd be out you know quarter million to a million to to integrate something to use so i still rely on our old system and uh actually surprisingly people call and ask if they can you know take a look at that it's really ugly but it's super functional oh my god i have yet to find something as functional really pretty but it doesn't do much which is the typical software so engineers are saying i don't care what it looks like but it has to do what i wanted to do so just uh yeah certainly yeah the background but but career leaf is kind of interesting because you know i invested in it i did see a lot in it but you know it didn't it wasn't able to generate revenue uh after the first few two years three years and then um i was on the board of that company and you know the board then we decided that you know we need to change the model so they actually brought me in to to turn the pivot or make the pivot into a b to b instead of a b to c and i actually went a little bit further it's now a b to b to c so it's actually a platform uh service um and literally it's sold across across the world like it they actually um it's at a point right now where i hired somebody who runs it manages it day-to-day and he does a phenomenal job he actually used to run um i don't know if you're familiar with workopolis niche networks he used to run the workopolis niche networks in canada they're like monster they're like in in canada right yeah but but it was like it's it's just like another uh experiment that was quite successful outside of other experiments that weren't so successful it takes a lot of experimenting to find the right ones so so now as we you know talk through all of your journey you look for you know do things you like to experiment you have three different businesses you know that you're at least involved with some of which you know more actively you know there's other people running and you help them to manage but what do you look in looking out now for the next six months six to 12 months what do you see is the direction or going or what's the next experiment you're headed towards so right now cps is is the focus it's doing well knock on wood but the reason it is is again i i think i was a little lucky here too where remote work is now the you know covert driven opportunities right remote work is what everybody's looking at and you know frankly cps has been a remote first company for six years so you know we we've built this practice because all of our workers are all across canada you know and i could say that uh i used to think this was a negative that i had only ever met you know 10 of our of our workforce because they're so geographically widespread and you know at the time i've only met one percent of our clients because they're you know either overseas or you know in the us so these used to be to my thinking a negative thing they're not anymore this is actually us being ready for you know taking up advantage of the kovid pandemic and i think that so this is this is a key learning people are now trying to look around how can i repurpose and pivot and and i think something that that i i do naturally i'm always looking for what's the silver lining every problem has to be solved and and i think that's where entrepreneurs live so the problems right now i'm looking at is how do you make remote working more efficient more effective because this is no longer an if it it will it is here to stay and you know i know a lot of people don't agree with that they think that once you know we have like a vaccine things will go back to normal i don't think so i think both workers and clients now have a taste of how you can actually run businesses very effectively and now i'm talking about you know professional services you know um work that doesn't necessarily need to be face to face right in other bricks and mortar businesses like restaurants and the food industry they have different kind of problems to solve but even those problems you know i was very excited to hear i'm sorry i go off on these tangents but but it's relevant there's a couple of uh golf courses my husband belongs to this golf course and he was um talking to their their kitchen now two years ago their kitchen uh had you know they've made something like uh 30 40 grand of revenue in there by selling food this year now you'd think all restaurants are struggling but that's not true this restaurant at this golf course had tripled its revenues because people are not coming in to eat but they're all ordering out as they pass through they have their their games they all pick up not just one meal but the the meal for the family maybe for the week so there's opportunities for all kinds of businesses if they're ready to to change and pivot and look for those silver linings and i think it's very hard to do i mean i don't want to sound like it's easy it's not and i don't ever want to sound to other businesses that that hey you know you know i i don't know better i just have this on my own experience no and i'm in agreement i think that the anytime there's a change in the marketplace it introduces opportunity meaning when you have change in the marketplace it introduces chinks to our weak spots and other people competitors or in your own business and you can either try and just wait wait it out or you can react to it pivot and use it as a place say hey if all everybody has this how can i now adapt and be different than everybody else take advantage of it so well there's a whole lot more things i'm sure would be fun to talk about but as we as we start to wind up this part or this episode i always have the two questions i always ask at the end of the podcast so maybe with um excuse me in that vein well uh we'll go we'll uh do jump to that uh jump to that now so the first question i always ask is um what was the worst business decision ever made well i'll give you a bad decision maybe not the worst because you know i've made some very embarrassing so i like being a an early adopter so when i was uh running chronos the voip you know the voip phone systems had just come on the market and i decided in my glorious wisdom that we're going to be one of the first to use these voip phones i got that the system had it implemented and in my stupidity i had my normal analog phones ripped out and we installed them they didn't work right this is early on in this space so i literally shut my company down without having backup for two whole weeks while we then had to get our old phone system back yeah i know it's it's like it's something i did it's embarrassing but you know i learned a lot from that that that yes you can i can experiment um and and my cfo my my at the time was telling me don't do this i did it anyways hey that's a great lesson to learn from and uh a mistake mistake that that's interesting to make so awesome so the first thing so that's the first question i always ask second question that we'll jump to is if now you're talking to someone that is just getting the startups just getting into small businesses what would be the one piece of advice you'd give them i would say try solving problems that that exist right now because if and always make sure that someone is going to pay you to solve that problem because then you don't have a business right so so solving problems is is what i do naturally but i can only do that if you know if if someone's going to pay me to do that because that's how i measure that i have a business idea that actually has legs or not no and i agree and i think that the the trouble some not all good idea or not all good ideas are ones people are willing to pay for me you may have a great idea and i mean the market or people are not either ready for or just don't want to pay for and so just because say hey i have a great idea doesn't mean you should build a business around it but rather make sure people are willing to pay for that and then you can save got a good idea that people are going to pay for and then you have a good product or a good business yeah well i've had a ton of failures like that where i built it and nobody came so i don't do that anymore i completely agree that's i think that's a lesson it's a good lesson to learn and a lot of times see if people pay for it build that pipeline of people that are wanting it and then develop the product and get that feedback as you go along so yeah actually devon have one more story this is actually something you might appreciate so uh early on with curly as some of the experiments i i actually did get a a trademark on a a version of the tool called apply better and you know it trademarked it i was just so excited because there was this tool that i only i guess we were all so excited it was called tracklit and what it would do is that would go follow you around and fill applications for job job applications for you but the trick was you had to have your profile set up first in order for this tracklet to to follow you around on the web and so you know that apply better with the tracklit i thought people are gonna love this no it's been a year building the thing anyways that is funny and it's it's it's lessons i think everybody learns in from some form or fashion is just because it doesn't mean everybody will come sometimes well i just yeah i just remembered because i got this notice in the mail hey do you want to keep this it was a bad idea i'd rather not remember yeah yeah well as people as we wrap up people want to use your service they want to find out more about it they want to reach out to you they want a job they want to invest they want to do any or all of the above what is the best way to connect up with you you know the best way is to contact me on linkedin and i do accept the majority i will sometimes look people up but i do accept the majority of connections and uh you know one thing we always do and i say this to everybody who's ever worked with us you always have time to have a 10-15 minute chat because if there's something that you can give back you should no i think that's great advice and appreciate that and i'd certainly encourage people if they're wanting to find out more or connect up with you to reach out to you on linkedin appreciate thank you appreciate you coming on the podcast and for now for those of you that are listeners that have your own journey to tell and you'd like to apply to be on the podcast feel free to go to inventivejourneyguest.com and apply to be on the show and love to hear your journey if you're a listener make sure to click subscribe so you can get a notification of this and all the other new episodes coming out and uh lastly if you ever need any helps with patents or trademarks feel free to reach out to us at millerip law and we're always here to help well thank you again for coming on the podcast it's been a pleasure fun to hear your journey and wish your next leg of the journey even better than the last thank you and good luck to you too thank [Music] you 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