An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Don’t try to perfect the process from the start — In the beginning stages of a startup, you have to do things that don’t scale. Early on in starting Makeship, I always found it frustrating when we didn’t solve a problem we are facing in the most efficient way possible. However, things are never perfect, and if you want to grow fast, you might have to do things relatively inefficiently before you can reach the point of scaling it.

As a part of our series called “Making Something From Nothing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rakan Al-Shawaf.

Rakan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Makeship, a crowdfunding platform founded in 2018 with the mission of helping the world transition to the creator economy. Rakan is a Syrian-Canadian entrepreneur with two successful startups under his belt. His passion for creating value through efficiency and supporting new, innovative ideas threads all of his experiences together.

Rakan was born in Toronto but spent time living in different places around the world, learning from each new location and experience. While at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Rakan carved a new path for himself — taking a gap year in Shenzhen, China and starting his first venture, logistics company Ryno Global. By helping e-commerce stores manage and streamline their supply chain logistics, Rakan grew Ryno to an 8-figure revenue with more than 20 full-time employees.

Rakan founded Makeship just a year later, and has since helped hundreds of clients launch their own products, build their brand and make a living. Under Rakan’s leadership, Makeship has seen significant growth year-over-year, doubling its profits in 2020–2021 alone. Rakan has mastered sourcing, logistics and branding over the years, and is passionate about the endless possibilities in entrepreneurship.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I was born in Toronto to Syrian immigrants who had only recently arrived in the country. I grew up as the middle child of seven kids and moved around a lot growing up. We lived in Jeddah, Hamah, Dubai, Hangzhou, Mississauga and Riyadh before I went to Kingston, Ontario to attend Queens University. The constant moving around shaped me as a person. I grew accustomed to making friends quickly around the world. I wasn’t afraid to put myself out there and meet new people wherever I was.

My dad is a serial entrepreneur and his experience and teachings was the inspiration I needed in my childhood to become interested in business. He lit that spark in me. I like to think I earned an MBA level degree just from my dad talking to me about his experiences and watching the ebbs and flows of his career.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A year from now you’ll wish you started today.” — Karen Lamb, author and lecturer.

This is one of my favorite quotes because it helped me navigate through goals that, in the beginning, always seemed insurmountable.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari.It’s a book that explores what it means to be human — as the title suggests. It traces the origins, mechanisms and effects of human progress. From the days of hunters and gatherers to the twenty-first century, it unravels how mankind came to be and what the future might look like.

This book had the greatest impact on my life and I find myself referring to it often. My biggest takeaway from it is that every person’s behaviour, beliefs and values can be better understood if you take the time to learn more about them. It helped me develop an immense amount of empathy for people of all kinds. It also helped me understand the incentives that drive people to be passionate about working for a company. It gave me the foundational knowledge I needed to really understand why the world we live in is the way it is. The mechanics of the book is actually quite beautiful, and I now use this lens in all my decision making.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. Can you share a few ideas from your experience about how to overcome this challenge?

Ideas are all around us and you can find inspiration from so many different places. The real tangible aspect of ideas coming to life is execution. In the case of building a business from scratch, execution comes down to being able to iterate — doing something again and again and again — and doing so consistently.

To me, the key to turning an idea into a business is to just start. Don’t judge yourself, don’t judge the speed at which progress is happening, or how much progress is happening.Every single company we admire in the world today started as an idea. That idea was the foundation and it took time, and intention, to create a full-fledged business. It comes down to mindset. Anyone itching to turn their idea into action should adopt a “failure is just learning” mindset with everything they do. Most businesses aren’t successful on the first try. It requires many failed attempts before it works. You should view failures not as shortcomings of your skills, but as an opportunity to learn.

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

Most ideas that you will come up with are not going to be novel. An idea worth pursuing because of the market dynamics is an idea that is probably already being pursued by someone else. But don’t let that deter you from trying it out. A pool of different factors need to come together to make a business successful and the initial idea you’ve come up with is only one of those factors. There are many others that can come together to lead you to success or position you above any competition. That said, some basic market research will spare you the trouble from starting an idea in a market that is already deeply saturated.

For the benefit of our readers, can you outline the steps one has to go through, from when they think of the idea, until it finally lands in a customer’s hands? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

I believe in stress-testing your idea as much as possible before trying to invest time and money into it.

Entrepreneurs should think about their product in a minimum viable way. You want to make sure you’re targeting the right customer base. The best way to do this is to create mockups or a “smoke and mirrors” version of your product. It might not be fully fleshed out, but it gives you an opportunity to talk to the demographic you want to sell to and bring them a physical example. You could even do this through online testing — targeting potential customers via social media or search marketing, seeing how many people click “buy” and taking them to a page where you capture their email and interest. This is just one simple example. The ultimate goal is to provide demand for your product — and provide evidence. If the conversations or tests show you a different path, or that your idea isn’t going to work, switch it up!

To find a great manufacturer, I personally believe in going in-person and feeling things out. When I went to China, where our supply chain for Makeship is based, not only did I visit each factory myself, I also partnered with a local man — Wang Tao, who ended up becoming a co-founder of Makeship — to launch the business so that I can ensure someone who understands the landscape has skin in the game.

For distribution, I recommend you try your best to go directly to your customer instead of going through a retailer. You want to be able to own the data and have a closer relationship with your customers. This allows you to iterate on your product more effectively and figure out new service/product lines.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started Leading My Company” and why?

Don’t try to perfect the process from the start — In the beginning stages of a startup, you have to do things that don’t scale. Early on in starting Makeship, I always found it frustrating when we didn’t solve a problem we are facing in the most efficient way possible. However, things are never perfect, and if you want to grow fast, you might have to do things relatively inefficiently before you can reach the point of scaling it.

Be more bold with spending — Being a bootstrapped startup founder, I always found it anxiety-inducing to spend money too fast. Each dollar we earned was a battle, so I knew we needed to make sure we spent it effectively. At some point I did fall into the trap of spending money too slowly and missed out on some growth opportunities as a result.

Focus on what you can control — It is easy to get caught up in what could go wrong when you are building a venture. I found that in the early days, I was very worried that the economic situation would deteriorate to a level that would not allow for Makeship to thrive. But I learned that my energy is better spent on finding solutions to daily problems!

Product market fit is the most important aspect to company success — It trumps everything else. I wish someone had told me that most of the mistakes that I made wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, because the ultimate factor we needed to get right was product-market fit.

Having a balanced life can actually support your company in a positive way — I definitely burned the midnight oil quite often and was living an unsustainable routine throughout my startup journey. More recently, I’ve learned the value of physical and mental health, as well as quality time with my friends and family. I’ve found that focusing on a more balanced life has actually helped me professionally and has helped Makeship and my employees do the same.

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

I would actually start with why. Why do you want to create a product in the first place? Why do you want to be an entrepreneur and go down a relatively uncertain path? Bringing something brand new to the world is hard work, making it a profitable enterprise is even harder. You first need to understand your motivations and make sure you are doing it for the right reasons.That way, when things get tough, you’re still passionate, driven and interested in pursuing your product/startup.

Once you reckon with your “why,” I’d look at it in a few steps:

  1. Define the problem you are solving and be able to explain it really clearly. This will take many conversations (for me, I’d say it took 100+ at least) with people you believe face that problem and will benefit from your idea. Understand why they struggle, what they have tried before to solve their problem, and why they still believe it affects their life in a negative way.
  2. Create the minimum viable product that you can go out and “sell.” I put “sell” in quotations because you may not be in a position to actually exchange money for product/service at this point, but you can still sell your idea and gauge the level of interest in it.
  3. Finally, keep iterating until you find a minimum viable product that resonates with your customer base.

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I recommend you go at it alone, because you will learn the most this way and fully own the resulting product/service. This will best support you as you then scale the business and bring in more outside support (employees, mentors, etc.).

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

I believe that if a business has the mechanics to be bootstrapped, it should be bootstrapped. Once you’ve proven incredible interest in the market, you may want to raise funds to add fuel to the fire, so to speak. But if you are building a non-capital intensive business, try bootstrapping!

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

First and foremost, we are focused on building a company people are genuinely excited to be a part of. As we grow, we are constantly improving the overall employee experience at Makeship and are very focused on our culture and HR practices. Since we’re a fully-remote company, fostering this level of support and culture is all the more important for us.

When starting Makeship, it was also important to me to be ethical about our products and output — as it should with most, if not all, new startups going forward. We’ve made it part of our mission to use only re-usable and compostable packaging for our products and started a partnership with Forests International to carbon offset the production and fulfillment of our products. For every product we manufacture, we make a donation to Forests International for the recapturing of carbon dioxide through the plantation of trees in Canada and Zanzibar.

In addition, my co-founders and I take on as many mentorship opportunities as possible for early stage founders that are just starting out.It’s important to share the wealth, just like my father did with me.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would really encourage more people to experience the values and benefits of meditation. As I started to steer away from that “burning the midnight oil” mentality and making my personal health a priority, I turned to meditation. It’s impacted me massively. My sense of balance and focus has improved and I know that it translates into my success.

While this is already a movement — and one that’s growing — I would love to see more people take it up and see what it can do for their lives, too.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to meet Naval Ravikant. He is a brilliant thinker and one of the most successful angel investors out there. There are many podcast episodes of his that I’ve listened to — probably five times or more! I believe there is so much value in the way he thinks and I would love to have even just a moment of his time to ask some questions and learn from him. If you haven’t heard him speak — you should!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Making Something From Nothing: Rakan Al-Shawaf Of Makeship On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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