In October 2020, BBTV (BroadbandTV)—a brainchild of Shahrzad Rafati—made headlines as one of the top ten tech IPO listings of all time on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The fact that it was the largest listing across all sectors with a sole female founder & CEO was yet another remarkable feat. As an immigrant entrepreneur who spent her childhood and early teens in Iran, the move to Canada wasn’t an easy one, but it proved to be the launchpad for Shahrzad’s entrepreneurial spirit. Currently, BBTV is one of the largest media-tech platforms worldwide and the company boasts success, not only on financial factors but also people, social, and environmental factors.
Read on to see what Shahrzad has to say about her entrepreneurial journey so far, the future for BBTV, how BBTV strives to be an employer of choice, and her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.
Tell us about the journey from being a young immigrant in Canada to becoming the first sole female founder & CEO to have taken a tech company public in the biggest IPO on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Growing up in Iran, access to popular content was rationed. Inequality was an everyday reality. We only had access to a handful of TV channels—but I could see the power of content even at that small scale. When I was 17, I moved to Vancouver by myself with just one suitcase, no computer skills, and very little English. My passion for math and tech drove me to pursue computer science in university. Content again played a big role in my life, helping me learn the language and exposing me to new cultures, and suddenly there was so much more of it. It was around this time I built the business model for BBTV.
The model came to me when I first visited CES [a global tech event by the Consumer Technology Association]. I wanted to play a pivotal role in the democratization of content given my background. And that’s part of the reason why I started BBTV. I always knew, from the time that I was a young teenager, that I wanted to build a global business. This was what really opened up the possibility of building a quadruple bottom line business where we measure success based on people, social, environmental and financial KPIs. Because it really starts with you. We all play a role.
Experiencing inequality firsthand creates a desire and a passion to be a positive agent for change. It brings me back to my favourite quote from Gandhi, which is to “be the change you wish to see in the world.” That’s why I moved to Canada to have access to more inclusive and equal opportunity.
You had to make some early pivots in your entrepreneurial career to take BBTV to where it is today. What entrepreneurial traits would you say are crucial in your story?
BBTV has consistently broken new ground and done things for the first time. When I started BroadbandTV in
2005, we were one of the pioneers that was defining and advancing the media tech space, empowering a new generation of storytellers and transforming entertainment and the ways that content was being produced and consumed.
Creator monetization wasn’t defined, and we were defining the space and had to truly listen to our customers to understand what they needed. We also had to understand the industry trends and how it was evolving, but ultimately, we had to have a vision that aligned with where it was heading and pivot to capitalize on the opportunity. It was then a case of educating many of the content creators to help them understand the value of working with BBTV, and their own audiences in a different way. We had to remove the risk factors to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.
This was possible through heavy innovation to deliver tools and services that solve real industry issues, and through a business mantra of “quick failures.” Today, I encourage “quick failures” across the business, with the understanding that you need to fail fast and learn from your mistakes quickly.
BBTV has already achieved phenomenal success, being a media-tech company with the second most unique monthly views worldwide. What do you envision for the future for BBTV?
When BBTV became the largest player in our space globally, it was huge for myself and the amazing team here at BBTV because then you say, “Now what?” Then you have to do everything else the right way and define and really advance the space while inspiring to achieve excellence across all levels of the organization. We truly believe that we are just getting started as there remain many more opportunities and challenges in our industry to tackle [and] transform the creator industry as we know it.
Ultimately, we’re focused on helping content creators monetize their IP and become more successful. With creators ranging from individuals to global “me” brands, we are continuing to provide a comprehensive, end-to-end solution to increase viewership and drive revenue powered by its innovative technology, while allowing creators to focus on […] content creation.
Tell us about the ways in which BBTV seeks to be a workplace of difference, not just counting financial performance as a measure of success but also employee, social, cultural and environmental KPIs.
It comes down to setting goals, measuring them, and reporting on them. We also make sure that we have the right processes, pipeline, incentives and systems in place to make those goals become a reality. We also create short- and long-term plans for all our KPIs, budget for all our bottom lines and apply the same attention to detail we give to our financial goals, as they all contribute to a healthier and more successful organization.
Just like any business pillar, building a quadruple bottom line business requires the willingness and desire to be accountable to progress. We treat all our quadruple bottom line KPIs with the same level of accountability, whether we’re looking at our revenue results, gender pay, our carbon footprint, or our community hours.
What would your advice be for anyone who has entrepreneurial ambitions?
There are a number of key pieces of advice I often pass along to entrepreneurs. First, go after large pools of opportunity and don’t solve a small problem if you can solve a larger one. It can take the same amount of time and effort to get there. Second, follow your passion, work hard, set a clear vision, and don’t be afraid to pivot as you will never get it right the first time. Also, surround yourself with amazing people as you’ll need supporters to keep you on track. And, last but not least, keep a positive mental attitude and keep moving forward.
Arslan Ahmed | Staff Writer