Yaser Jafar |  Autokeypro

As told to Jess Baria

Providing locksmith services for cars in much of the GTA area. Services include lost keys and lockout services, diagnostics, automotive key cuts, ignition repair, Smart FOB programming and damaged remote repair

My background

I immigrated to Canada in 2004, after graduating high school. I completed my electrical engineer and management undergraduate degree from McMaster University.

After Graduation in 2010, at the age of 25, I got a job with Texas Instruments as a technical sales engineer. In November 2012, they had to reduce their sales team and I was among those let go. This happened just months after my marriage and house purchase! As I look back, I joke that the layoff came as my Christmas present for the year!

How I came to be an entrepreneur

Seven months into my job loss, one friend suggested that I should look into the electronic car key business which I had prior interest in.

I studied the market further and found that there was not much competition or a leader in the electronic car key servicing sector. Car dealers in most cases charge hundreds of dollars for basic chip keys, and I had the ability to offer the same level of service at competitive pricing!

Some extended family members and friends encouraged me to search out another 6 figure salaried job, as they felt that the risks of starting and running a business were too great. But I held my course, and went through a month of intense business training with Biz Smart, an organization in Hamilton that helps candidates start their own business.

Challenges to my new business

I registered Auto Key Pro in May 2014 in Hamilton and rented a 150 square feet location on a high vehicle traffic Main St address (961 Main St E). Website development was critical to attract the online searches for emergency services and I had a website up and running the same month.

I started off as a one-man-team and was able to service only 40% to 50% of car key related requests. I dealt with pretty much the same challenges most new entrepreneurs face -- limited capital and the inability to hire help.

Support from Ignite Capital

I heard of Ignite Capital from one of my coaches at Biz Smart. So I entered the competition under the Immigrant Entrepreneur category, pitched my business case, and won first prize!

The competition process was clear and direct. One of the requirements of the process is to present the business plan, which I did fairly easily. I had a very clear idea about what I wanted to achieve with my prize money, and how.

I also liked the pre-pitch workshop. It exposed me to a network of people, consultants and experts. In fact I was even approached by an investor who expressed interest in investing in my business once it gained a degree of traction

How I presented my business plan

Auto Key Pro was already operating for a year when I pitched to Ignite Capital. So it was relatively easy for me to demonstrate my business model, supported by proof points.

I was able to explain the main services I offered, presented my future plans along with the rationale. For example, my proof points were: Everyone has cars, car keys are getting more complex, and we need 24X7 service in case we have an issue with our car keys.

I think that the panel could relate to the services I was providing, because almost everyone has lost their car keys, or know of people who did.

Moreover, my business had already garnered 35 positive reviews on Google at the time, which was further proof that my model was successful in Hamilton. I was able to show them that my plan to expand my business into Toronto and Vancouver were viable.

Experiencing business growth!

The prize money gave my business the financial push it needed. Three things happened: I was able to get a trainee on board, I was able to buy special tools and equipment, and I was able to invest in a van.

As I mentioned, previously I was able to service 40-50% of service requests. With the new resources, I was able to scale up to the 80-90% mark, and expand into servicing luxury cars such as Mercedes.

With the new van, I was able to expand my market– which was first centred on Hamilton – into Toronto.

Today, Auto Key Pro is experiencing 40% year-on-year growth. I now have three trainees, of which  one person is expected to join me full-time soon. Thankfully, I have now reached a stage where I have control of my current business, which gives me space to think beyond. I would like to establish Auto Key Pro in every major city in Canada. After all, cars are everywhere, and all cars require keys!

Entrepreneurial lessons I’ve learned

Don't let the negative stop you from pursuing your business idea. If you have the right idea, the correct mindset and the expertise, you will eventually find success. It is always hard in the beginning, but in the end it is pretty satisfying. Once you are able to grow your business, you will have more time on your hands to do other things that matter to you. Keep at it, and eventually, you will get it right!