Q&A: How Sarah Selhi is adapting to a new normal.
The Founder & CEO of SpaceiShare shares her strategy and advice.
Sarah has over 25-years experience in sales, management, marketing and operations including General Manager at start-up Mainstream Media, which brought linear television online with a social media platform. Sarah worked in executive management in Fortune 500 companies before launching SpaceiShare. Her passion for the environment, tech and the disruption of traditional mindsets fuels her tenacity to create the world’s largest space-sharing platform. Sarah completed Mergelane, the 12-week accelerator in Boulder, Colorado and was the top graduate in her cohort at Founder Institute in Toronto with SpaceiShare being part of Founder Institute’s “Select Portfolio.” Sarah discusses how SpaceiShare is navigating the pandemic including how she remains positive and her advice to fellow entrepreneurs.
What area of your business is getting your most energy and focus?
SpaceiShare started the year off strong with some new opportunities and clients coming our way. However, once the pandemic hit, decisions were put on hold. SpaceiShare has taken the down-time in our business to focus on the product. We currently have our development team implementing some key features and upgrades that will really define our vision further. We are also working on a new project that we feel is truly going to help Canada’s most marginalized communities.
What is the most important problem you are trying to solve?
A few years back, my aunt put all of her belongings into self-storage. After finding out that she would be shelling out over $12,000 over the two years she was away, I realized the enormous opportunity for neighbour helping neighbour. Since that time, our mission is to help people who need space, find people who have space. Our goal is to help make space finding simpler and protect users with legal documents and user reviews.
Since the pandemic hit, SpaceiShare immediately became involved in two great organizations, both looking to assist front-line workers. Working with them illuminated the extremely difficult task that people were having in finding somewhere safe to stay whilst they were working in hospitals, plus the PPE required to keep people protected.
It was that initiative that moved us forward to work with our long-term partner Aangen: A Community Service Organization. For years and years, housing agency workers have had extremely limited information pertaining to housing units available to their clients. Through ongoing meetings with our partner and other housing agencies, we’re working on a solution for them that will be far superior to anything they’ve used before.
What has been your most successful solution so far?
So far, I think what we’re working on over these next two quarters will have big payoffs for us in the future. We have been working with some of Canada’s largest property management companies and the feedback we’re hearing is that their under-utilized spaces need to be monetized. We’re also building technology that will make it easier to share space for multiple properties. While our new solutions are something we know people need, it’s the P2P sharing, the community money-making opportunity that we feel is going to help people earn additional money each month.
It’s truly amazing to see entrepreneurs step up and adjust, pivot and adapt to fast changes.
How have you been staying connected with your customers and employees?
Our team has all been working remotely since day one as many are located out of the country or even different parts of the GTA. Much of our communication is through tools like Slack, Zoom and Gdrive so we’re all connected that way. After the pandemic hit, I felt it was important to reach out to all of our customers, supporters and investors and let them know about what new initiatives we had on the horizon. Overall, however, I’m keeping our “pandemic” speak minimal. I feel there’s far too much emphasis on COVID-19 and I’m about looking forward to a future where we resume our way of life.
What financial resources are you tapping into?
We have received support from the BDC and are in the process of applying for a government grant that would assist us tremendously in moving the new initiative forward. We were also the recipient of OCEs SmartStart seed fund plus other grants that have helped us hire great staff.
What has surprised you?
This year, what’s most surprising is the amount of people coming together to help others during the pandemic. It’s truly amazing to see entrepreneurs step up and adjust, pivot and adapt to fast changes. So many of us felt helpless a few months back but the entrepreneurial tenacity kicked-in and we made lemonade out of lemons.
How far ahead are you planning?
We are looking at the next two quarters as more of a build and learn vs. scale and grow. From there, we are looking to launch our new initiatives and go full-on with promotion. We are expecting a lean year so are keeping our costs low and hope to have a year’s worth of runway to get us through. From a vision standpoint, we have expectations of where we’ll be up to 5 yrs. from now.
What keeps you positive?
Definitely my family. My husband is a great motivator and positive person so he’s always helping me get through any tough times. My two daughters – aged 8 and 11, are my bright lights. They are lovely, charming and funny characters who are always positive, no matter what.
Add to that my amazing team of dedicated, passionate and smart people, and I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such a great group. I love it when my team is galvanized to work on something and come back to me with such great work.
What message do you want to share with entrepreneurs right now?
There’s a LOT going on in the world right now and many of us don’t know the whole story. It’s important to conserve as much cash as possible and prepare for a possible long-term downturn. (The Head of Founder Institute, Adeo Ressi, suggested that we should have at least a one-year runway, if not two). With that in mind, entrepreneurs are the ones leading the way for how a new world might look. Keep your vision alive, don’t get distracted or upset by what’s going on in the media – in fact, pull the plug completely. Mindset, balance and inner peace should be your guiding principles. Lastly, if it “feels” right, don’t let others dissuade you from your vision. They don’t walk in your shoes and their objections are theirs alone, not yours. It doesn’t matter if it’s a family member, a mentor or someone you admire. Be your own navigator.