Hafiz MItha just wanted a tennis partner. He wound up with a fast-growing business instead.
When he moved back to Calgary after selling his shares in the software business he helped create, Hafiz wanted to take a year-long sabbatical to unwind and figure out his next move. He also wanted to finally learn to play tennis.
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The trouble was, despite living right next to some tennis courts, he couldn’t find anyone to play with.
“Around the same time, apps like Bumble and Tinder were really taking off,” says Hafiz. “So I figured why don’t we jump on that bandwagon and start something similar, but for activity buddies?”
Hafiz recently sat down with ATB Entrepreneur Strategist Dustin Paisley to discuss how that idea turned into PlayCity, a digital app that brings people together and creates community offline.
Here are some highlights from their conversation.
On the best part of being an entrepreneur
As a seasoned entrepreneur, Hafiz has come to love being uncomfortable.
“My favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is the opportunity to grow as a person,” he says. “You’re forced to grow.”
“The old adage of jumping off a cliff and creating a rocket before you land, that’s true. Today you’re a mechanic, tomorrow you’re a pilot, the next day you’re marketing.”
On the value of keeping ideas secret
Some new or would-be entrepreneurs like to keep their million-dollar ideas secret. Not Hafiz.
“I think keeping an idea secret is a sign of being a little green or a little risk averse,” he says. “No one is going to steal your idea. It is hard as hell to execute anything, so I wouldn’t worry about it.”
In other words, ideas are the easy part. Bringing ideas to life is the hard part.
In fact, keeping your business idea under wraps is not just unhelpful, Hafiz says—it can handicap the growth of your business.
“The earlier you talk to people, the earlier you might find a business partner or an investor or a customer,” he says. “I say share and share and share. Share wide.”
On the importance of market research for early-stage startups
Hafiz knew he was onto something with PlayCity before he’d raised a single dollar in investment, hired an employee, or launched the app.
That is because his first step after having the idea was to get out in the community and talk to people.
“Before we started making the app, I wanted to validate that the problem was worth solving,” Hafiz says. “My goal was to ask 150-200 people if they had a problem finding people in the city.”
To find people who might be interested in the app, Hafiz hung out at ground zero for his idea: tennis courts and other recreational facilities. He’d approach anyone waiting for a partner and strike up a conversation.
These talks not only provided market validation of his idea, they also gave Hafiz ideas for product development, like including skill level in PlayCity’s matchmaking.
“By interviewing these prospects, I got the idea that skill was a really huge piece we had to include in the platform,” he says. “A lot of people said, ‘Yeah, it’s cool to meet someone to play tennis, but if they’re not my skill level, I don’t want to waste their time and I don’t want to waste theirs. It’s not fun. I want to have a competitive match.’”
On staying enthused
If you’re an entrepreneur, the odds are you’re going to hear one word an awful lot: “no.” Hafiz certainly has.
“This is my third company; when I was selling our initial company I would go door-to-door or meet all types of CEOs I was selling our software to. You hear ‘no, no, no,’” he says. “As soon as you hear one “yes” it expands everything.”
“It’s a game of patience and tenacity. The thing is keep going.”