Young Money is our ongoing series chronicling young Canadians and the lessons they learned making big financial decisions. Read more stories here.
What would you do if you were about to graduate university with a heap of debt, but you also had a six-figure employment offer from a Silicon Valley tech giant? Most people would probably take the job, right?
Not these three.
Zain Manji (pictured above, left) is a software engineer and one of the three co-founders of Fiix, a Toronto-based startup that promises to revolutionize the way we maintain and repair our vehicles. Fiix connects car owners to independent mechanics online — allowing those mechanics to come service vehicles right at your home. Manji said no to a steady gig at Facebook to focus on growing his own company and in under two years, Fiix is now making more than $1 million in sales annually and has become an exciting Canadian startup to keep an eye on.
Before the company’s quick rise to success, Manji and the other co-founders had to make tough financial decisions at very young ages. Starting a career as a young adult has never been more complex than it is now. More often than not, young people are forced to bounce between odd jobs or pick up a side hustle even when they’ve got a main one. All three of them were fortunate enough to have secured steady full-time work at major companies in their field, but all three decided to choose passion over a big paycheque.
To me it was never about the money, and it’s still not about the money.
“To me it was never about the money, and it’s still not about the money. We pay ourselves peanuts. But it was like… ‘What would I love to be doing?” Manji told me when we sat down for a chat in Fiix’s main HQ. With only seven employees, one long table in a downtown Toronto co-working space is all the office the company needs right now. None of the employees look a day over 25, and it only takes a single glance to see they love what they do. They’re there because they want to be there, not because they have to be.
Choosing a career has a huge impact on your life both financially and otherwise. Your job will shape everything from your finances to your mental health, family life, and more. It’s a snazzy operation they’ve got going now, but how did Manji and the other two co-founders, Arif Bhanji and Khalil Mangalji come to decide their own business would be a better choice than working for Fortune 500 companies?
It all started with winter tires
Manji (22) , Bhanji (25), and Mangalji (27) were longtime friends with similar interests and skillsets, but never expected to work together. Everything changed December 2015, when Bhanji tried to book an appointment at his local Canadian Tire to get his tires changed. With snow already starting to cover the roads, it was a huge risk every time he took his car out of the driveway. Unfortunately, Canadian Tire was backlogged, so Bhanji had to turn elsewhere to get his tires changed. He looked to the internet.
He found an independent mechanic on Kijiji.ca who was willing to come to his house and change his tires right there in his driveway. After how good his experience with that was, Bhanji and the others whipped up a quick web page called Tire Swap advertising for just tire changes with the single mechanic. They got 80 bookings just from their personal networks, and that’s how they knew they were onto something.
They soon learned that a skilled mechanic can do 80% of a car’s maintenance service by themselves on a driveway. So why not offer that service to as many people as possible? They came up with a new name for their website and set off turning it into a real company.
Transforming into a startup
With a solid idea in mind, the trio still had a long way to go before the service would be ready. Luckily for them, their idea was an easy sell. The company was able to win two pitch competitions and was even accepted into the Y Combinator accelerator program — the same program that helped hone Reddit, Airbnb, and Dropbox into the tech giants they are today.
The approximately $50,000 they received from winning the Velocity Fund Waterloo pitch competition, as well as the Y Combinator fellowship program, helped them hire initial staff and get their company officially started. But they also had a good business model to start with — operating costs were low, because there were no brick and mortar shops to take care of. There are no tools or training to purchase either, since Fiix only uses experienced mechanics and makes them responsible for bringing all their own tools.
This allows the Fiix team to concentrate on optimizing the service to make it easier and more attractive for both mechanics and drivers to use versus say, an auto shop or dealer. Part of this is the simple convenience of having at-home service, the other part is making the prices competitive and paying mechanics more than they would at a shop. The trio already has more than a dozen mechanics as partners, and are handling about 80 to 100 jobs a week in the Greater Toronto Area — while offering more than 300 services as part of their platform.
One of the major boons to their success was winning a pitch competition on popular app Snapchat, where they took over Twitch co-founder Justin Kan’s snapchat and introduced his followers to Fiix. The success of that takeover helped get them into the Y Combinator program and guide them to where they need to be, eliminating much of the struggle other young startups might face when they don’t have experience running a business.
This is only just the beginning for the company, as well as Manji’s personal and financial life. “I just paid off my student loans,” he told me — an impressive feat at 22.
And unlike working at Facebook, Fiix let’s Manji stay in his hometown of Toronto, close to family and friends — though the flight to Silicon Valley isn’t too far if he needs to be there. Manji feels he is growing intellectually and as a person by starting his own business. Instead of simply joining a team and being given tasks to complete, he is responsible for managing people, planning growth — all on top of coding and contributing to the actual technology the company needs to run.
It’s not an easy way to live, but for Manji, it seems like the right way. He’s a perfect example of how following your passion instead of a paycheque can be not only fulfilling, but lucrative.
Manji isn’t one to deny the fortunate situation he found himself in. Many young people would not have been able to afford to turn down a steady job to start their own business. But he hopes his story will serve as encouragement for anyone out there right now who wants to do what he did, but is having second thoughts.