A few years ago, Pirouz Khakzad was living a good life. He was working within a large technology company and had all the benefits associated with that. The work was interesting, he was a valued team member, and was being compensated accordingly. He started work at 9 am, ended at 5 pm, and had full benefits. His lifestyle was balanced, and he was able to enjoy his weekends with hobbies, or just relaxing. By any measure, Pirouz had a successful career and a comfortable life.
However, he had a feeling of “wanting more.” One day, feeling burnt out, he realized that at the end of his life, he didn’t want to tell a story about his career in a cubicle. He recognized that he wanted to build something of his own and change the narrative of his life. He knew that the place that he was currently in was scarier than what was ahead and that’s what pushed him to go out on a limb & to make a change.
Today, Pirouz is the CTO of Moduurn Mobility, a start-up that is working to provide restaurants and retailers with mobile ordering options. The company was founded based on the idea that service & retail-orientated businesses, such as restaurants, should be able to compete with larger corporations who have the budget to build custom solutions. Pirouz and his team are empowering many local brands in Victoria, BC, where they are based but for Pirouz, it was a long journey to get to this point.
Pirouz has never been one to shrink away from fear and risk. At the age of fifteen, he left his family and his home in Iran to attend school in Canada. At such a young age, he was put in a unique position - he was in charge of his decisions, in a way that not many teenagers are. It was up to him to ensure that the trajectory he chose for himself was the one that set him up for success. In his words,
“I didn’t have anyone to offer that guidance to me, or to tell it to me straight. At that point, my parents were a long way off, and I really had to forge a path that made sense for me.”
He majored in Chemistry in college, a subject area he excelled in. In his last year of school, he realized that it wasn’t for him.
“I was sitting in a fourth year class, at eight in the morning, with a few of my classmates and I realized that chem is not at all what I wanted to do. I was two weeks away from graduating, which was inconvenient timing - at that point, I was ready to be done, and pivoting in my education wasn’t something I was interested in.”
He remarks that in hindsight, taking some time off and really getting to know himself may have been beneficial.
“Perhaps, I should have allowed myself to look at other options. I just took it and stuck with it, and maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do for me.”
Priouz graduated in the early 1990s, during a recession. He worked in bars for a while, trying to figure out what came next for him, a graduate with a chemistry degree that didn’t want to pursue a position in the subject area he majored in. This is not uncommon, and like so many others, Pirouz decided that he wasn’t afraid of taking a leap and finding a career that suited his interests rather than settling for a job that matched the piece of paper that said he had a degree in chemistry.
This was the thinking that led him to get into social work. He worked in Qualicum Beach with at-risk youth, doing mediation and trying to get them back into safe home situations.
From that point onward, he progressed through his career, enjoying a variety of different positions. He worked in the public service, started and sold a start-up in the early 2000s, and then moved into the private technology sector, as well as consulting on the side. During his time in tech, he was approached to start a company, one that would work to empower local businesses. It was called Moduurn.
“Right before Moduurn came along, I had a cushy, nine-to-five job that I didn’t really like and I just decided one day that I needed to leave it. It was perfect timing, because this opportunity to work on a new start-up had just popped up, so I went home, talked to my wife and two weeks later, I was done with my comfortable job and had moved into something more risky.”
As anyone in this position can tell you, it is a brave, risky thing to go out on your own. Pirouz acknowledged that he had heightened risk; he had obligations and a family to think about. He was saying goodbye to stability, and wagering a lot on an idea that could have failed.
“I risked everything. Start-ups are constantly in a default state of failure. Everything is an emergency, and there isn’t much security. One month, you can be doing fine, the next, your business is done. It can happen that fast, there is a lot of turbulence in the beginning stages, and maybe for someone who is young and doesn’t have a lot to lose, that’s okay. But for me, someone with an established career, & a family and responsibilities, I had to put everything on the table. I could have come out of it as a failure, with even less than I started, wasting a lot of time and other people’s money. Looking back, it’s crazy. I’m glad I did it, but if it hadn’t worked out - I don’t know what I would have done.”
Start-ups are often dominated by young people based on a blatant fact: there is a chance of losing everything. It is easier to make those leaps when you’re young and have little to lose, in comparison to later in life, when you are not just risking your own fate and well-being, but your family’s too. Pirouz’s advice to middle-aged professionals who are thinking about starting their own business?
“Don’t!” he laughs. “Don’t do it unless you have properly considered what you are willing to part with. This is not an easy path, and chances are, there will always be people better than you. But if this is something that you want and you have the courage to chase it, I can’t advise against that. The runway of life is too short. As I said earlier, the place I was in was scarier than any potential loss ahead, and if that is a position you are in too, then leap. Change your story.”
Pirouz’s leap of faith paid off. Moduurn is growing rapidly and fulfilling its mission: to empower local businesses. Its clients, such as Red Barn, have seen increased sales, better service flow, and higher efficiency as a result of adopting the app. The Moduurn team ensures that their platform fulfills every need of the businesses they work with, and that has taken on a new meaning with the COVID-19 pandemic. The circumstances for many of their clients has changed in the last few weeks, and proved that a solution such as Moduurn’s can truly make a difference.
“We have been working with a public company that focuses on ridesharing. They have these high-end scooters, and were using our platform to facilitate their services. But due to the current circumstances, they couldn’t have people touching the same bikes and sharing helmets and all that. In other words, they were in some trouble. They could use our platform to pivot and become a delivery services company for the time being, making it easier for them to ride this out and not see a complete loss of revenues. It’s great to see that Moduurn can offer that kind of empowerment and flexibility for our partners.”
Pirouz’s advice to budding entrepreneurs?
“The team is key. You get a lot of your drive and innovation from working with people who are risking equally, and who are just as driven to succeed.”
“Discipline is huge. Discipline in every aspect of the business and your life. When pursuing ventures like this, you just can’t afford to waste anything - time, money, ideas. You just really have to be very self-aware and disciplined.”
“Another thing - before investing in any of your ideas for the business, test it out. It’s like a high when you work for a start-up - opportunities come from all over the place, ideas are everywhere. If you try to adopt it all at once, you run the risk of losing yourself and the focus of the business. Create a minimalist plan or model, and find a way to prove isolated concepts. You will save yourself a lot if you take the time to test the minimal out and not get wrapped up in every idea that comes your way. The best thing you can do for your business in some cases, is saying no to certain opportunities, the ones that aren’t a right fit.”
“You have to have failures and the battle scars to prove it. Don’t be afraid when you do fail. Just be ready to learn from it and to apply that knowledge.”
His last words of wisdom?
“Stay focused, do not lose yourself and keep it real. Don’t be afraid of the truth. You have very little margin of error and this is a challenging space. There is so much that you don’t know when you start. Just be patient, have the discipline and really know yourself.”
You can find out more about Moduurn here: https://moduurn.com/