ApplyBoard’s Martin Basiri reflects on his immigrant-entrepreneur journey in Canada
Martin Basiri arrived in Canada in 2010 from Iran, all set to study engineering at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. For several years now, he’s been making headlines as the CEO and co-founder of ApplyBoard, an international student Edtech platform based in Kitchener, ON. ApplyBoard is run by Martin Basiri and his brothers Meti Basiri and Massi Basiri. It is one of Canada’s fastest-growing tech businesses and helps international students navigate the application processes for thousands of schools across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland.
Martin delivered the keynote speech at the 2022 edition of our Immigrant Business Expo for aspiring immigrant entrepreneurs in Canada. He reflected on his story as a co-founder of ApplyBoard, the barriers he overcame, and the early days of his entrepreneurial journey before success came his way. The inspiring speaker also shared his advice for newcomers – international students and immigrants in Canada.
Excerpts from Martin Basiri’s speech at Immigrant Business Expo
On the origin of ApplyBoard
“In the years when we [Martin Basiri and his brothers] were international students, we were helping other students with their applications and stuff. Years passed by, and we graduated and were doing different things. In 2015, we decided to do something. We thought why don’t we automate the application process to the level that we can so we can help more students? We had learned lessons from the obstacles faced in our own student journeys. And ApplyBoard was founded! We got accepted into a program we applied to, which at the time was called AC Jumpstart. This was through Conestoga College [in Kitchener, Ontario] but we faced several rejections before this, from the University of Waterloo, the Y Combinator in Silicon Valley, and an incubator in Cleveland, Ohio. At this program in Conestoga College, where we got accepted, one could work beside other entrepreneurs. [As part of our office], we had four chairs, one desk, and access to a free printer and also, free coffee! That’s how it all started.”
“You are not limited to what has been done before. For me, my lack of knowledge, my ability to think outside of the box, and my questioning the status quo are some of my biggest strengths… my superpowers!” – Martin Basiri
On overcoming obstacles in Martin Basiri’s journey and how you can do it, too
- The language barrier: “We come from Iran. Our first language is Farsi. I didn’t understand English very well when I was growing up. So, English was probably the biggest obstacle we had. We learned as much as possible; still are learning because it’s another language, with a different structure, so it’s kind of cool learning it. If you are like me and English or French isn’t your first language, that’s your biggest obstacle. When you start a business, you’ve got to communicate with your customers, with your employees, with your investors, basically everyone! with. So, if you’re a student right now or you want to start a company, spend a lot of time learning the language.”
- Lack of knowledge of how things work in Canada: “Many things in your country of origin were probably different from how things are in Canada. This country is completely different, the culture is different, the laws are different… so you might feel that you really don’t understand what’s happening here and how to do things like open a bank account, start a business, incorporate your company, etc. But this can also become one of your biggest wins because it forces you to think outside of the box. You are not limited to what has been done before. For me, my lack of knowledge, my ability to think outside of the box, and my questioning of the status quo are some of my biggest strengths… my superpowers! So, don’t be afraid.”
- Absence of a network in a new country: “When you’re new in Canada, you don’t know anyone. Your uncle doesn’t work in a top bank that can help you with your line of credit. Your classmate from school doesn’t work in that venture capital that can open a conversation for you. You have to build a network from scratch. So start doing that as early as you can. In a way, this lack of a network and knowing that you’re in a high-risk scenario and starting from zero without any protection or backing can be a big advantage for you because there’s nothing to hold you back from trying to realize your dream of entrepreneurship. I came to Canada with $6,000. In a way, I was starting from level zero so I would think that if I fail, I could always start again from scratch.”
- Negative mindset and the fear of the unknown: “You’re not alone in Canada. Yes, you’re an immigrant without a network, friends or family at the beginning but this is a country of immigrants. Most people arrived here from somewhere else in the world at some point. Some people will tell you that it’s harder for immigrants to grow and succeed. Don’t let this negativity hold you back. Is your journey going to be harder? Maybe. Maybe not, because guess what? You know another language. You have another way of doing things. You can adopt techniques from back home and access talent from back home. Don’t say that I need to work for five years to save money and then I’m ready to follow my dream… Get a mentor, join a lot of programs, network a lot, and hustle your way up. This is the land of opportunity and everything is possible for you. My brothers and I started ApplyBoard many years ago [in 2015], and now we are more than 1,500 people in over 40 countries. We help over 300,000 students. We have a very cool tech platform. So, it’s possible. And we worked hard for it.”
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