Gokul Natesan’s Grind: From Studying Computer Science to Playing Professional Basketball

“I believe that losing the biggest games on the court are the times when I’ve learned a lot about myself. How a person responds when they encounter “failure” is a good measure of their character.” Gokul Natesan grew in a small town sandwiched between Santa Clara and Cupertino, the Apple headquarters and was the first person in the Natesan family to be born in the USA. In college, Gokul had to find the balance between studying software and practicing daily for basketball which was quite a grind. He has played professional basketball since finishing college and currently plays in Finland’s top league.

Growing up in a Tamil household where typically the focus is on academics versus sports, how did you convince your parents that you wanted to play sports?

When I was younger my parents heavily encouraged me to play all sports. They were very big on the importance of extracurricular activities in general as they felt it developed qualities not stressed in a classroom. As a kid, I played any sport that I had interest in but that eventually narrowed down to basketball. 

How did you balance the demands of being in a computer science program and playing college basketball?

It was a big time commitment having to manage these two tasks. Studying computer science, you quickly realize that there are a lot of time-consuming projects and difficult courses. Balancing that with the responsibilities that come with playing college basketball, you have to be extremely dedicated. I felt the biggest thing was to set daily goals and accomplish them so I wouldn’t get behind in my classes. With that being said, there were still plenty of long nights where I would be up late finishing an assignment. 

Any advice for the younger generation who want to be a professional basketball player?

I think it’s important for younger kids to simply enjoy the game and develop their passion for playing basketball. As they get older and have ambitions to play at a higher level, I’d say to focus on getting better every day and putting in the time to improve. 

What are your plans for post-basketball life? 

Ideally, I would be a professional esports gamer but that’s not happening any time soon. The reasonable choice would be to do something in sports or tech given my background. However, I am still unsure as to what exactly my plans are. 

What is a failure you’ve experienced in the last 5-10 years that you’ve learned the most from?

I believe that losing the biggest games on the court are the times when I’ve learned a lot about myself. How a person responds when they encounter “failure” is a good measure of their character.  

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I’m not really too concerned about a personal legacy because if you try to be the best version of yourself, things will turn out just fine.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Cheyanne Ratnam Is A Successful Social Entrepreneur And Survivor Of Sexual Abuse, Suicidality And Homelessness

“Family is not just biological. I am blessed to have biological family but also so many siblings from the child welfare system as well as parental figures. I have a Jamaican mom who has loved me since I was 14. I have a French mom figure and a Jewish dad figure. I had a different upbringing from most Tamil people.” Cheyanne Ratnam is passionate about equity and developing inclusive and accessible spaces and processes. She has dedicated much of her time and expertise in child welfare and homelessness. She is the Co-founder and Executive Lead of the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition. Cheyanne went from experiencing suicidality in grade 5 to homelessness to child welfare to experiencing violent relationships, to still somehow coming up above the water. She is an Expert In Residence with CWLC and is an advocate for Childhood Sexual Abuse and GBV/IPV – being a survivor of both. She is also an independent consultant, engagement specialist, personal development coach, capacity builder, media commentator, public speaker, ambassador of the CAFdn, and partakes in various communities through volunteerism. In 2016, she received the ‘One To Watch’ Alumni Award, one of the highest accolades awarded by her alma mater. In 2017, was recognized by the United Way of Greater Toronto as 1 of 3 Womxn who inspire for International Wom*n’s Day.

I find the work you’re doing with the Ontario Children’s Advancement Coalition (OCAC) very inspiring.  What made you start this organization?

Coming to Canada as Yalpanum Thamizh peoples is already a complex narrative due to the losses, violence and grief that our communities have faced. These experiences can manifest into tensions, within homes in new countries, as well as mental health needs not being met. My mom is the strongest person I know and she raised me on her own until I was about 13. Growing up with this identity and diaspora-focused complexity was one thing, but I am also a survivor of childhood trauma and childhood sexual abuse which was never addressed adequately. This led me to needing respite from the community and my home.

At around 13, I ended up basically being raised by the West Indian community, more specifically the Guyanese Community. I was on the homelessness spectrum couch-surfing and found any reason to be out of the home, and community, because I did not feel safe in it. Shortly after I entered the child welfare system and grew up in the child welfare system. My various identities and lived expertise made me want to be a person who created waves, strengthened tides, and fueled impact in things that were, and are, problematic in the system. Since I was younger I have been involved in raising awareness, strengthening my understanding about what allyship means in different contexts in juxtaposition with diverse intersectionalities.

I would say that, from a young age, I always felt like I would be a social entrepreneur – a social impact maker. I have founded and managed/led different initiatives in child welfare, homelessness, and built credibility in these systems. Everything that I have done were steps toward eventually developing a non-profit. In 2018, the provincial government had plans to shut down the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth and this was negatively impacting multiple communities that were engaged and/or supported by this Independent office of the legislature. The negative impact included grief. As a response I messaged a couple of people, who were lived experts, to have a debrief and grieve together; another ally was doing similar and we partnered to make this happen. We ended up in the basement of a community organization and shared our grief, and then I spoke about next steps and what we could do about this. The initial group of about 15 people dwindled down to a core group of about 6 or 7, and we ended up on the lawn of the legislature for a rally.  We partnered with an allied politician and a local university to hold a press-conference in the legislature. The day was amazing. Many people showed up in the cold (it was around November) and we invited all parties to speak at the event as well. It was a show of solidarity and passion. I remember myself and two of the core team members worked through the night planning this – with myself personally having a couple of sleepless nights to plan everything.

After the event was done, we thought, “Ok, we did what we could do and we were great”. Later community members were questioning what happened to the group and at that point I thought, “OK, this needs to become something”. In 2020 we became incorporated as a non-profit and every year since 2018 we have been doing important activities, and continue to do so. This year we signed a contract with the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services along with a partnered organization and trustee organization to do systemic work in the province of Ontario.

What are a few challenges you’ve experienced setting up the organization?

A couple of the issues that I experienced setting up the organization was the time it took, and going through the organic process of figuring out who the core members would be. Often times, for grassroots organizations, this happens organically. Once we figured this out, we needed to figure out some legal items, which we were privileged to have pro-bono legal support. Everything else after that was history. 

I noticed that in addition to the OCAC, you have a few other roles as a consultant.  Why is that?

I hold multiple hats. I have my own independent consulting and services business.  I am a public speaker delivering speaker services, workshops, and do consults regarding Diversity, Inclusion, Equity.  Additionally, I do focus on youth engagement, lived expert engagement, and consults about subjects I have expertise on re: child welfare, homelessness, etc. I am a brand. Since I was a child in elementary school, I understood that I needed to build myself into a brand. I wanted to become a name that people thought about as an innovator, leader, expert, and go-to person for different subjects. I also work at the Mosaic Institute as the Events and Outreach Coordinator where my services previously include supporting curriculum development for high school students and educators, as prsently include curating digital learning events which occur on a monthly basis around different priority topics such as trauma informed practice, anti-black racism in education, Indigenous peoples, etc. I also supervise Junior fellows who are high school students with that work. 

I serve on the Board of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto as 2nd Vice-Chair – Diversity Equity and Inclusion Board lead, a member of the Equity and Inclusion Council of the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada (CAFdn), on the board of Scarborough West Community Legal Clinic and serve on the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario’s Race-Equity Working Group, a By Youth For Youth Advisor at the Housing Outreach Project (Collaborative, and Engagement Specialist Consultant with a Making The Shift project which is in the homelessness sector). I am also an Expert In Residence with the Child Welfare League of Canada and I am also an advocate regarding childhood sexual abuse, gender based violence, and violence against wom*n – I am a survivor of all mentioned. I am the provincial representative on the National Council of Youth in Care Advocates, a Core Steering Committee member of the Canadian Lived Experience Leadership Network, and now serve on the Canadian Consortium on Child & Youth Trauma Community Advisory Committee. 

As a Tamil individual I am passionate about our beautiful community, and being engaged with our community was a goal of mine. I am an advisor to both ISEE Initiative (Tamil organization regarding Domestic Violence) and Kudai Centre (a grassroots initiative that wants to support young girls experiencing housing instability or access to respite and safety in our community). 

Beyond the above, I also do one-to-one motivational coaching, and have been a media commentator, public speaker and a long term ambassador of the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada.

All of this work is part of my passion to be a meaningful addition to different systems.  All of my involvement are due to my own feeling of responsibility and accountability to make sure that future young people do not face the barriers, traumas, oppression, and violence that myself and others have faced. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Stefan Thurairatnam Travels the World as a Luxury Brand Influencer After Quitting his 9-5 Corporate Job in Finance

Stefan was working for a leading financial institution for 5 years when some life altering events gave him a different perspective on life. It allowed him the chance to re-evaluate and reflect on his life; he was given a second chance. He was given an opportunity to become an ambassador for Luxury World Traveler and he decided to quit his 9-5 corporate job and book a one-way flight to wherever his finger landed on a spun globe. That was 3 years ago. Through the help and guidance from Gil Antolin, the founder of Luxury World Traveler, he was able to build up to who he is today. He turned his passion into his lifestyle. Through his learnings and experiences, he has successfully started his own marketing and social media consulting company, LuxVision Media Group.

You have a significant following on social media – how did you go about building that audience?

Building a social media audience is based on understanding what you represent and what you want to showcase- consistency is the key to success. Many face obstacles when they do not know what their niche is, making it difficult to succeed in digital marketing or social media. Having a clear vision of what you want to do and sticking to it will target your audience and lead to an engaging following. My advice is that you know your audience, understand your niche and be consistent.

How did you decide to leap working for RBC to start LuxVision Media Group?

I worked for a leading financial institution for five years when some significant changes in my life occurred. It gave me a chance to re-evaluate and reflect on my life; I was given a second chance. I was given an opportunity to become an ambassador for Luxury World Traveler from Gil Antolin. I decided to quit my 9-5 corporate job and book a one-way flight to wherever my finger landed on a spun globe. That was three and a half years ago. Through the help and guidance from Gill himself, the founder of Luxury World Traveler and anyone I have met through there, I built myself into who I am today. I turned my passion into my lifestyle, and I decided to start my own company using my expertise and network to help others with digital marketing and PR.

I decided to transition and branch my line of business into social media marketing to help micro-influencers realize their vision. When I gave my corporate career an entire investment in my passion and led it into a career, I had a minimal idea about this line of work. Over time, I have picked up many strategies that have boosted my career and concepts that have allowed me to think outside of the box and break those walls and let my mind wander. I genuinely believe I have only scratched the surface of the social media influencer game. Each influencer, no matter their niche, runs their own business; it is self-taught and self-employment. We are in charge of the amount of content we produce, the reach it gets and the quality of work. 

The strategies I have acquired along the way are what created the influencer I am. My goal is to teach as many as possible what I have learnt to set them up for success. Being a social media influencer is a career choice, not merely a lifestyle choice. 

What has been your favourite project to work on?  Favourite country or place you’ve visited?

My favourite project I must have worked on has to be with Heineken Canada. It was a surreal atmosphere, and it is one for the books to represent your country internationally and be part of one of the most significant sports events internationally.

If I had to choose a favourite country right now, it has to be the Maldives—a country with 1,100 islands so small on the map, yet so picturesque. No property is the same, no matter how many times you go.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

How Thad Jayaseelan Became The Go-To Barber For Athletes And Celebrities Like Drake And Big Sean

Thad Jayaseelan started cutting hair as a hobby and left it as that for awhile. 7 years ago, he got back into cutting more seriously.  Leveraging social media, he’s travelled all over Europe teaching, leveraging those photos on Instagram to styling athletes and celebrities including Drake, Big Sean, J Balvin and teams like the Toronto Blue Jays, etc. “I want to be remembered as someone that dedicated his life to be the best I could be at a craft that wasn’t respected as a viable career in my culture.”

What made you decide to become a barber?

I decided to become a barber in my young teenage years when someone gave me the chance to start working in a barbershop. I was surrounded by great cutters which allowed me to build my confidence, particularly in fading and clipper work. 

How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?  Did you have any doubters?

My parents allowed me to cut hair while I was in high school, but of course, didn’t want me to make that a career. I went to university to satisfy my parents but it was completely a waste of time in my opinion. I think I doubted myself, to be honest. Since we’re the first generation, it was a struggle to make anyone understand that cutting hair could be a career, more importantly, respected.  I felt that everyone looked at it as a hobby and I started to believe that too. I kind of forced myself to get out of it. So I stopped cutting hair for a long time only to get back into it 7 years ago. 

What has the impact of social media been on your various ventures?

Wow, it’s been amazing. I got to meet so many other barbers and hairstylists all over the world because of social media. My first class in Barcelona was put together on Facebook. I’ve been invited to teach all over Europe because people get to see my work and then get me to come over and teach the craft. I’ve got to cut a lot of athletes and celebrities based on my Instagram photos which then leads to building great relationships with them. These relationships have led me to cut people such as Drake, Big Sean, J Balvin, and teams such as the Toronto Blue Jays, Montreal Canadians, New York Rangers, etc.  Social Media has also led me to be noticed by L’oreal which then led me to become the National Ambassador for their education team. 

Do you have any mentors that have helped you in the progression of your career?  If not, who would be somebody that you would want as a mentor now?

My mentor was Lebert Blackstock who gave me the opportunity to work at his barbershop at the age of 17.  He taught me all the tricks and tips that led me to pick up the art of cutting a lot faster. Lebert taught a few others that are doing very well in the industry right now.  When I first starting cutting hair 2 years ago, I moved to the UK to attend Vidal Sassoon Academy (the pioneer of women’s hairdressing). All of my teachers there are my mentors. They can practically cut with their eyes closed, haha.

Where do you see yourself in the next 3-5 years? 

I’m always going to improve my haircutting skills so that will never stop.  However, for the last 6 months, I have been working on my own brand: GRADIENT. It’s a combination of products and education. In 3-5 years,  I see myself growing the brand globally. I want to provide the education and products to as many people as possible to groom their hair. My goal is to make people look and feel good. 

What is one piece of advice you would give other entrepreneurs?

You don’t have to be an expert at everything.  It’s okay to ask for help and delegate tasks to others to reduce your workload so you can focus on the big picture.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Vithusayni Paramanathan, The First Tamil-Canadian Singer Featured On AR Rahman’s Film Score, Also Co-Founded a Burgeoning Production Company

Vithusayni Paramanathan is the first Tamil Canadian Singer to be featured on an AR Rahman film score, after singing the song Maathare. She is trained in Carnatic, Hindustani, and Western Vocals from AR Rahman’s KM Conservatory. She is the Co-Founder of Isai Empire Inc, a Toronto based production company; their most recent concert was D Imman Live in Toronto. As an Independent Artist, Vithusayni has released many Tamil and English original songs. She has even won the Best Debut Playback Singer at the Edison Awards 2020 in Chennai, India. Aside from Music, Vithusayni is a recent Criminology graduate from Western University. She continues to pursue her career and passion for music side by side. “Honestly, there are some things that you don’t even dream about in your wildest dreams – this was one of those things. Not only was I able to debut into the Tamil playback scene on an AR Rahman film score, but this was also an Atlee-directed movie starring Ilayapathy Vijay and Nayanthara.”

You were the first Tamil Canadian singer to be featured on an AR Rahman film score.  Tell us more about that experience?

Honestly, there are some things that you don’t even dream about in your wildest dreams – this was one of those things. Not only was I able to debut into the Tamil playback scene on an AR Rahman film score, but this was also an Atlee-directed movie starring Ilayapathy Vijay and Nayanthara. This was no simple step into the industry, this was a huge project. Recording at AR Rahman’s studio felt so surreal – everyone was so professional yet so welcoming and encouraging all at the same time. AR Rahman sir himself, lyricist Vivek, the sound engineers, all made sure I was comfortable and confident enough to deliver to their expectations. 

In addition to managing school (Criminology graduate from Western University), you’ve been running Isai Empire.  Tell us what your company does.  How did you come up with the name?

Isai Empire was a passion project that stemmed from performing in Toronto for many years. I had been performing as a local talent alongside International artists since I was a kid but always felt like there was no opportunity to really let local talent shine on a grand stage, that’s exactly what I wanted to create. Our first project was in 2016, Toronto Tamil Artists Night – a show dedicated to featuring 100+ singers, dancers, musicians, and even emcees on one stage together. Isai Empire became a production company focusing on creating quality artistic events featuring Canadian and International artists. We strive to promote, encourage, and motivate Canadian talents by providing them with grand platforms. 

The name; Isai means music in Tamil.  We are dedicated to uniting Canadian and International artists as one group with the aim of making each one brighter and a bit more magical – and that’s how Isai Empire came to be! We recently even collaborated with D Imman Sir to host D Imman Live in Toronto with 25+ musicians from Chennai and 100+ artists from Canada. 

What has been the impact of social media on both your entrepreneurial and singing careers respectively?

To be quite frank, social media wasn’t as big as it is now when I started singing. A lot of my early music career consisting of performing at live shows every weekend – that’s how people came to know who I was and what Isai Empire was too. Of course, now everyone including myself has been leveraging the power of social media to expand our reach, but I definitely think most of the success of my entrepreneurial and singing careers came from real-life experiences. 

What path are you going to focus more of your time on, your business, your singing or a career leveraging your Criminology degree?  And why?

For at least the last 10 years now, I have been managing school, music, business, extracurriculars altogether, and I plan on continuing with this for as long as I can. I think when you are equally passionate about multiple things, you figure out a way to balance it all. As much as I love music, I still love what I studied and I have goals that I want to accomplish there too. I don’t see myself ever leaving my career to solely focus only on music, but also never plan on dropping my musical career either. So we’ll see how long I can pull this off for! 

How have your family and friends supported you through your journey?  Did you have any doubters?

I have been blessed with family and friends who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging throughout my entire journey. In a world where parents tell their kids to focus only on studies, my parents have always pushed me to work on my music too. I always say that my parents are more interested in my singing than I am! However, my sister probably works harder than me to make sure that my music career grows. Whether it is co-founding Isai Empire or connecting me with various opportunities, she’s always the first one to make sure my voice is heard. 

Of course, there are people who doubt my talent and I, but I have way too many people that have my back to care about the ones who do not!

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

How Award-Winning Chef Narayanan Krishnan Gave Up A Promising International Career To Feed The Poor In His Hometown Of Madurai

Narayanan Krishnan is a social worker and philanthropist who is most famous for being hailed as one of CNN’s Heroes of the Year in 2010. Narayanan is the founder and current head of the Akshaya Trust, a non-profit organization focused on feeding the homeless, poor and mentally ill, giving them free haircuts, and providing homes so they would not need to stay on the streets.  Living as a successful chef who was on his way to international notoriety, Narayanan chose to give all of this up so that he could focus on what truly mattered—serving the poor and the hungry. He faced a lot of pressure in giving up his successful career as a chef, but he never let the pride of life blind him from helping the people that really mattered.

Your story is so inspiring (I mean they made a movie after it)!  What specifically made you turn down a prestigious job opportunity in Switzerland and focus your life on feeding the homeless and mentally disabled in your hometown?

The sight of a very old man eating his own human waste to satisfy his hunger left me in shock. This incident made me stop and take stock of the poverty and the pain that my fellow human beings were experiencing in my own home town of Madurai. On seeing this sight I had purchased some idlis from a nearby restaurant for him and within seconds, the old man ate the idilis.  The satisfaction I saw on the old man’s face upon consuming food was the single most important event that transformed my life and made me decide to take up “Helping the helpless” as my mission.

It was a silent revolution of self realization which made me think – “Who am I? and “What am I doing?”.  These questions are still so powerful that they drive me to continue this journey and pursue the joy of giving.  

Tell us about the Akshaya Trust and what you’re doing here.  How do you raise funds and what kind of impact is the organization having if you provide some kind of numbers (ie. number of people served, etc.)? 

The Akshaya Trust rescues mentally ill, elderly, sick and roadside destitute people who are been left uncared on the road sides of the Madurai city. 

We rescue such people in our ambulance and bring them to our Akshaya Home campus to attend to their basic hygiene and rehabilitate them with proper medication and love.  Our hope is that this will give these people the dignity to live.  Akshaya’s work is constant (for 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week, 30 days a month and 365 days a year) where we feed, give baths, provide nursing care, rehabilitation and counselling for all our residents.  We currently have 475 residents in our campus.  We raise funds through public donations.

Can you describe what a typical day looks like for you?

Schedule:

  • The Akshaya team wakes up at 4 AM in the morning to start preparing tea for our residents. 
  • At 5:30 AM, our residents area waken up with tea and the team gives a bath to all the residents.
  • From 6:30 Am to 7:30 AM – we provide physical training & yoga sessions to the residents.
  • From 7:30 AM – 8:00 AM – the residents walk around the campus as part of the daily physical fitness regime. 
  • At 8:00 AM – breakfast is served to the residents.
  • From 9:00 AM to 10:00 AM – our residents are engaged in skill-training activities.
  • At 10:30 AM – tea will be again distributed to all our residents. 
  • From 11 AM – 12:45 PM, all residents participate in vocational training activities. 
  • From 1 PM – 2 PM – lunch is served to all residents.  
  • From 2 PM – 3PM is designated rest or leisure time for residents.
  • From 3 PM – 4 PM, we provide recreation time for residents.   
  • At 4 PM, tea is again distributed to all residents. 
  • From 4:30 PM to 6 PM –  physical training and counselling sessions are provided to residents. 
  • From 6 PM to 7:45 PM – residents partake in entertainment which usually involves watching television.  
  • From 7:45 PM – 8:45 PM – dinner is served to the residents.  
  • The day closes at 10 PM with the doctor prescribing basic medicines to residents. 

I know your parents were initially skeptical of what you were doing until you brought them with you one day to see exactly what you were doing and your mom was especially moved by this.  Did you have any other doubters that still continue to doubt you today because you’re helping people without thinking about money? 

There were some major challenges faced.  My parents’ didn’t know that I had quit my job and given up my career for good until my colleagues from Europe had called them. They were shocked and did not know how to react. They had spent so much resources on my education and the dreams of me becoming a great chef someday was shattered.  My parents wanted me to consult a psychiatrist and even went to the extent of thinking that the family had been struck by black magic by a relative and requested me to go to Kerala.

I strongly believe in pursuing what we want with the blessings of our parents, without which the entire pursuit would not be enriching.  I persuaded my parents to ‘live’ a day of my life. Towards the end of the day, after we had delivered the food packets, an old lady worshipped my mother’s feet and said, “It is because of your son that I am being fed thrice a day.” Moved by this event, my mother told me, “Krishnan, you continue to feed all of these people and I will feed you till my last day.”

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Tamil Brothers Ruban And Mayan Rajendran Built Viral App Twelve70 To Help Men Dress Better

Mayan Rajendran is a menswear designer and a visiting lecturer at Cornell University with over a decade of experience in the fashion industry and his brother Ruban is a full stack developer, who together, came up with the vision for a “style calculator” to help men dress better by teaching them what to pair with various basic items of clothing. “Our motto from the beginning has been to create an educational destination so men can learn more about their options when it comes to presenting themselves without feeling like they are going through an intervention or make-over.”

I heard about you guys after I saw an article in Men’s Health talking about how your app went viral on Reddit.  Did you do anything on your part to make it viral or was it completely organic?  

We just posted it to Reddit to see if our theory around the human insight of “honey, what do I wear with this?” was in fact true. The rest was completely organic. We began to receive emails & messages from people all over the world thanking us for creating twelve70. Some were color-blind, others were curious about menswear – all of them simply wanted to learn more. 

Both of you spent 4+ years working on twelve70 – why are you so passionate about it?  How did you come up with the name?

The two of us have worked in the fashion industry in some capacity for almost a decade & we found how underrepresented the South Asian community is. Even as one of the fastest-growing demographics here in North America, it wasn’t until recently that we became a targeted demographic. Working in the fashion industry here in New York, I often found myself being discredited due to my ethnicity. The irony is that so much inspiration for the West does in fact come from India when you look at our color palettes, fabrics, and styles – they resonate on so many different levels with people. Ruban and I knew that we had an understanding of fashion and colors early on. This was our way of helping others who may have issues with putting colors and outfits together. I have worked in retail, as a stylist, as a designer, and an educator. This project brought together all of the things I have enjoyed in my career onto one platform, without any fuss or prejudice.

The name comes from an old project I started for my MA Fashion thesis, which saw me traveling around the world to interview different figures in fashion to get a better understanding of what the term “streetwear” meant. Ruban met me in Honolulu, which was the last stop of my journey. A few hours before he arrived, my rental car was broken into and all of my camera equipment was stolen. The name of that project was 1270 because I visited 12 countries in 70 days. I learned a lot about how clothing works as cultural, personal, and individual signifiers within our community. That project fed into this one. 

Why is twelve70 different from any fashion-related apps?  Why should somebody download it?

I would say we are different because we are not trying to re-invent our user. We’re simply guiding them to make the most of their existing wardrobe. We realized men were not being serviced for a very clear problem. They knew what they liked but didn’t know how to grow from that initial point of interest. 

We also created a very simple to use inventory management system when you sign up. It keeps track of your wardrobe without asking you to take photos or surveys. Simply log-in and add items to your DIGITAL CLOSET and click to add all the items you own. You can also keep track of your FAVORITE OUTFITS, plan your week with the CALENDAR, and see what colored items you could purchase that work well with your wardrobe. We have implemented an OCCASION feature to allow you to plan your outfit accordingly. All in all, it takes less than 15 seconds to put a look together. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

Serial Entrepreneur Turned Angel Investor, Mohan Markandaier Is Helping Other Founders Grow Faster While Making Less Mistakes

Mohan Markandaier is a serial entrepreneur with multiple successful exits. He co-founded Pulse Voice in 1996 which was acquired by Enghouse in 2009. Leveraging the financial freedom and over a decade worth of operator experience, Mohan co-founded Good New Ventures to help promising companies accelerate their growth with both money and mentorship.

Tell us about how the idea for Pulse Voice came to be, how the founding team came together and how you grew the company before it got acquired.

The four founders are long-time friends (all engineers, all Tamil) working in the Telecom industry. From our work experience, we realized that building voice applications on existing platforms were extremely complex and very expensive. We decided to build a platform based on a PC and Windows operating system that enabled developers to easily build and deploy voice applications from a user friendly graphical interface that significantly reduced the total cost of ownership for our customers. We started building our platform in our basement in 1996, designing them specifically to one of our customer’s requirements and got our first installation in Europe. As conservative engineers, we bootstrapped the company to grow organically based on cash flow and managed to be profitable every year. Sometimes I wonder if we had raised outside capital and invested heavily, would we have grown faster and become a leader in our space. On the other hand, our organic growth allowed us to survive and even thrive during the dot com bust in the year 2000 and the financial downturn of 2008. At the time of our acquisition by Enghouse in 2009, we had customers in 40 countries and also happen to be the best year financially since we founded the company. 

How did the acquisition by Enghouse come to be? Also, tell us what the experience of getting acquired looks like briefly.   

Three years prior to our acquisition, we realized the need to bring on external advisors and mentors to help us to scale our company. We established an advisory board with accomplished senior executives from our industry. These executives brought extensive outside perspective that not only helped us triple our revenue but also enabled us to explore new opportunities for growth. We contemplated raising capital to grow the company ourselves, or alternatively merge with another company and become a more dominant player in the industry. As luck would have it, the Chairman of our advisory board ran into someone at the airport, in the washroom of all places, and that conversation led to us having a meeting with the CEO of Enghouse with the rest being history. The process of being acquired was certainly exciting but involved some anxiety as well. The partners and I were excited, as this is something we had planned for the company sometime in the future and it was becoming a reality. The anxiety was predominantly around how the integration would work – who would stay with the company and who would be moving on. Overall, the decision was the right one and we were able to celebrate the achievement and have no regrets.

What made you decide to sell the company (Pulse Voice) that you had been building with close friends for over a decade instead of continuing to try to grow the company?

Each of the four partners intrinsically had different strengths that we brought to the table. We also had very different personalities. Together, we had agreed to a unified commitment to identified goals and a willingness to work together to achieving them without compromising our friendship. Certainly, we had our share of healthy debates and arguments during strategy sessions, nevertheless we focused on ensuring open communication among us and all decisions were made in the best interest of the company. Having worked together for more than a decade, an opportunity was presented to us that not only afforded us financial freedom but also provided an avenue to explore other possible ventures based on our individual aspirations. After the exit of Pulse Voice, the four of us continued to work together in other business endeavours and remain good friends to this day. Looking back, we all agree that the first exit paved the way forward for all of us to explore different paths and opportunities, each would agree that we are extremely happy with our choices and our lives as a result.  

In recent years, there’s been a glamorization in the start-up world around raising money and growth at any costs, how do you feel about this?

I am a strong believer in start-ups and in entrepreneurship as I believe it leads to innovation that pushes boundaries of the status quo. Taking big bold risks supported by vision and investing heavily both emotionally and financially in an environment where there is a high rate of failure, takes true courage and resilience. I may be biased but entrepreneurs of start-ups need as much support as possible as what they are endeavoring to do, is an extremely difficult thing to accomplish. With respect to raising capital, measuring the success of a company on how much capital they have raised is an incorrect barometer. Instead the focus should be on how effectively the company is solving a problem in a specific market and how well they are addressing the needs of their customers to attain market dominance in that space. In order to accomplish this fairly quickly, start-ups need capital at various stages. Capital from investors can be extremely valuable for product development, validate product market fit, and increase market share, all of which requires companies to continue to invest cash during these stages and it is the nature of any start-up. 

How did Good New Ventures start and how do you differentiate yourself in the marketplace where companies (especially the good ones) have the leverage because getting money is not a problem for them?

Having been an entrepreneur for years with some successes as well as many failures, I always wanted to work closely with entrepreneurs by investing capital and providing mentorship wherever possible. I joined a not-for-profit Angel group out of Markham called York Angel Investors with the goal of meeting other like-minded Angel Investors to leverage their expertise and share the risk of making investments. This is where the Good News Ventures (GNV) partners met – at that time, all 3 partners combined had invested in many start-ups as Angel investors with few successful exits. Since we were all doing investing full time, we thought we should get together and start a fund. GNV fund was more of an evolution for us – where we can leverage our capital along with outside investors’ capital to invest larger funds in pre-seed and seed stage high growth tech companies predominantly based in Canada. We believe our key differentiator comes from our operator backgrounds with experience in starting a company from scratch and successfully exiting. With an entrepreneur focussed mindset, we support our companies, championing and cheerleading them so that they can increase their chances of success during the high risk stages.  We leverage our Next Level Program where our network of partners help our founders network and establish connections, discuss strategies and receive guidance in dealing with specific challenges. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

TikTok Stars, Twin Sisters Kiran And Nivi’s Infusion Of Carnatic Melodies With Pop Music Draws Fans Like Shawn Mendes

“Shawn Mendes started following us on TikTok and Sia shared our cover of her song, “Snowman” on her instagram story which was really amazing. We were shocked to see that they both even knew who we were.” Fraternal twin sisters Kiran and Nivi went viral on TikTok and other social media platforms with their mashup covers with songs infusing Carnatic music with songs from artists like Sia, Jason Derule and Coldplay. They recently introduced the world to some of their original self-produced music including “Is There Peace?”.

Shawn Mendes, Jason Derulo, (saw the collab with him which was very cool!) SIA are fans which is amazing! How did they discover your music? Have Shawn Mendes and SIA reached out to you in some way and are there future collabs coming up?

Shawn Mendes started following us on TikTok and Sia shared our cover of her song, “Snowman” on her instagram story which was really amazing. We were shocked to see that they both even knew who we were. We are just grateful for all the love and support we have been receiving! 

You guys have a huge social media following on both Instagram (150K+ followers) and TikTok (1.2M+ followers)! How did you go about building your following?

We found TikTok by sheer luck and Nivi had the idea of posting singing videos. We started posting our first video which got 1000 likes in a day and we were pleasantly surprised by that.  This gave us the motivation to continue to do more videos. I would say posting consistenting helped us build our following.  

Usually as you grow in popularity, the majority of comments & interactions you have with followers is generally positive, but there’s always that small vocal group of negative followers. Is this something you’ve seen and if so, how do you deal with them?

Yes, there have been some negative comments, but we don’t really take it to heart as everyone has their own opinions about things and what’s important is to do things that we love and believe in. Our fans love us for our music and we feel that that is a very pure relationship that makes us forget about the negativity, not only from social media but the tragic events that have happened in the past year. 

I personally view social media in a positive light.  I see it as a tool that can be used for good or bad (similar to a car). Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Yes, definitely agree. Social media can be good and bad. One example of the positives is that it has helped us gain a following that we wouldn’t if it weren’t for social media. One of the negatives is when people are negative to one another on social media. However, overall we feel like the good outweights the bad.   

At what age did you get into creating music?  What was the spark that got you excited about music?

We started composting at around 15 or 16. When we were young, we were trained in Carnatic music and listening to our favorite musicians sparked an interest in us to practice 3-4 hours a day. The passion incremently increased from there. 

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***

From Civil War To Corporate Success, Roy Ratnavel Shares His Story Of Overcoming Adversity And Pain

Roy Ratnavel has a classic rags-to-riches immigrant story. While he’s now a successful Bay Street executive at a global asset management firm, it’s pure grit and resilience that got him this far. After being forced to leave war-torn Sri Lanka and immigrating to Canada, Roy started as a mail clerk at CI Global Asset Management and over the span of 30 years, has made the leap to Executive Vice-President at CI Financial as well as the Head of Distribution for CI Global Asset Management.

Tell us about what life was like for you in Sri Lanka, to your journey here in Canada.

As a teenager, growing up in northern Sri Lanka I never thought I would live to see my twenties. My scarred memory is still full of incidents and experiences living in Point Pedro — whose inhabitants were frequently bombed and shelled to oblivion, during the height of war. Most nights during the heavy bombardment my brother and I used to lay on the floor of our ancestral home. The cracks made by the incendiaries as they landed; the shock-waves from high explosive bombs, preceded by a seismic wave that was felt as we laid on the ground and the subsequent haunting screams of those poor souls who got caught in it. 

Then 1987 rolled around and ‘Operation Liberation’ was activated — a military offensive carried out by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces to recapture part of the territory in the Jaffna peninsula from the Tamil Tigers — which included my hometown. When the soldiers came — I was arrested along with many of my friends at the age of 17, for being Tamil, and I was sent to prison. After my release, sensing that there was no future for me in Sri Lanka — my father decided to send me out of the country for a better and safe life and thought Canada might be that land of opportunity. It was on April 19, 1988 — when I was 18-years-old, that I landed at Toronto Pearson International Airport, by myself. Three days after I landed my father was shot and killed. 

You have been at CI Global Asset Management for over 30 years which is very much unheard of today – where somebody stays at a company for that long. Tell us how you got your first job there and what made you stay that long with the same company?

My father’s untimely death left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people. I thought — if I did well enough in life, somehow, I could make up for the life he should’ve had. At first, I got a daytime job in a factory — and, then at night I would clean office buildings. On weekends, I had a third job as a security guard. But I knew I had to get out of this routine, if I wanted to achieve my goal. My roommates and I used to buy the Toronto Sun newspaper, which we never planned to read — but, just for the Sunshine Girl on page 3. But one night, I flipped through the job listings, and there was one that said ‘Office Help Needed. $14K.’ I applied — even though I didn’t even know what ‘K’ meant.” 

My offer letter for a ‘mailroom clerk’ dated February 16, 1989 — thirty-two years ago — now hangs in a frame on the wall in my office. CI was a very tiny, privately owned asset management company back then with a few million dollars under management. I stayed at CI for this long not out of loyalty, but because no one else would hire me. Kidding aside, when CI went public in June 1994 —I bought as many shares as I could afford in the initial public offering (IPO). Since then I felt like an owner and saw CI as an extension of myself. As a result, I did what others would not do — because no one washes the rental car. I behaved like an owner and took genuine ownership and pride over my work here. Now, I can’t quit on myself. 

What does your typical day look like? Managing teams is a difficult endeavour, what is your approach?

Morning routine is vital to me. I wake up every morning at 4:30 am, have a double espresso shot and check the headline news from around the globe. Then hit the home gym for an hour. By then my report card comes in the form of an overnight sales email. Even when it’s positive, it’s not a glorious euphoria — because I’m relieved and then thinking of how to win the next day. I try to get to the office by 7:15 am. 

Once in the office, I pour over the overnight sales report to gauge the inflow and outflow of assets. Then I get in touch with my direct reports for clarifications and thoughts — if necessary. My usual day consists of many management meetings and team meetings to create sales strategies and initiatives to utilize CI’s diverse lineup of investment mandates for financial advisors.

I believe that most managers fail to comprehend that their jobs are not about personal achievements, but instead about enabling others to achieve. Leadership can be so stressful that most people internalize their stress to make themselves insecure and self-centered to a point where they cannot properly support their teams. As a result, the team will lose trust and the person will be seen as someone in authority and not as a leader. To overcome this and project confidence, I delegate tasks for others to accomplish. Delegation is not an abdication of responsibility. Although sometimes a leader must take charge and drive change forward, the best leaders often take a back seat and build talent by delegating the team to do the driving.

***Read the rest of interview at TamilCulture.com.***