Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Dan Shaikh, Co-Founder of Speaker Slam, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
I am the co-founder of Speaker Slam, a speaker development agency that helps speakers get booked & paid. We give mission-driven, heart-centered speakers, authors, coaches, and entrepreneurs, a platform to create powerful, inspirational, and transformative performances so that they can build their brand and make a massive impact.
We are best known for creating North America’s Largest Inspirational Speaking Competition. Our Inspirational Speaking Competition features ten competitors going head to head and heart to heart to deliver inspirational speeches based on a theme with a chance of winning prizes valued up to $5000. Our speakers have gone on to get paid speaking gigs, TEDx talks, documentaries, book deals, press, and more.
The beautiful thing about Speaker Slam is that the story is the great equalizer. We have had professional speakers and first-time speakers going head to head. We’ve had toastmasters, corporate speakers, entrepreneurs, and professionals, as well as students and housewives, all throwing their hats in and tackling the theme of the month. The one thing all of our speakers have in common is that they are heart-centered and looking to make an impact with their voices. Every speaker is on their own unique speaking journey. We'll meet you where you’re at.
Tell us about yourself
I’m an Event Producer, System Strategist, and an Entrepreneur. Though my journey to becoming what I am today was not straightforward. I was a shy immigrant kid from Pakistan that couldn’t speak the language. At the age of 19, tired of living a sheltered life. I did what I did best. I googled my problems. I stumbled upon a blog about regrets. I thought I had found the map of life. I had felt directionless up until this point. Reading those regrets gave me a path to follow.
The first regret I read was about staying inside your comfort zone early in life. “If you don’t explore the world and take risks, you will get complacent over time. As you get older, responsibilities will take over. You just double down on the way you have lived your life. Why take unnecessary risks later in life?” This regret blew my mind, and I knew I had to live differently.
I booked a tandem skydiving trip after that. This was something no one knew I was capable of doing. Not even me. I was the guy afraid of rollercoasters. Yet the thought of regret lingered. If I could skydive now, what would my life look like later?
I made the leap, and that kick-started a lifestyle I never thought possible for me. I was going to live an inspired life. I opened up an Excel sheet and began listing all of the things that are on traditional bucket lists. I would do them. I would make up for the life I missed out on in my early years. I would live a life of peak experiences to catch up. I made it a mission to finish my bucket list by 25. It was ambitious and frightening. In order to finish such a task, I decided to take small steps. I challenged myself to do five new experiences a week. They could range from picking a new item on the menu to taking a new direction home.
I hopped on Groupon, and I got to do all types of classes: Improv, Standup, Muay Thai, Dance classes, Self Defense, etc. I did the things that were common, but I had never done them. I went go-karting, bowling, paintballing, laser tag, etc. I learned new skills like driving a boat, photography, dancing, etc. And I did the big things like bungee jumping, flying a plane, hang gliding, solo skydiving, white water rafting, and traveling solo a lot. I ended up making an around-world trip in 30 days.
When I finished my goal, I was left with the feeling that I had done all these external activities, but I did not feel fulfilled. I wanted to create something that would honor my immigrant family and their sacrifices to give me the life they never had. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I began volunteering. I threw myself into personal development. I began to say Yes to anything that was new and outside my comfort zone. This led me to join a personal development course called Landmark.
It was the first time I heard people talk vulnerably. I thought I would never talk about this part of my life. It would die in secrecy. I didn't want to be the messenger of this, and yet it is the very reason I do what I do. They say your message is in your mess. I discovered a life-changing belief that had been running my life. I was living with a victim's mindset. I made it my mission to overcome that belief and seek help. The moment I leaned into vulnerability, my life changed. I had dimmed myself through my most formative years because of shame. Talking about it opened a new realm of possibilities. What would my life look like if I took my power back?
Speaker Slam happened really fast in my life soon after. I booked a corrective surgery to remove a part of me that caused me a great deal of stress, anxiety, and shame.
Fast forward to today, I now run North America’s Largest Inspirational Speaking Competition. I went from a guy who didn’t have a voice to a guy now giving people a voice to share their own stories of adversity in hopes of inspiring others who are also struggling like I once was.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I’m the visionary behind multi-angle speeches at Speaker Slam. I have managed videography teams to help capture the speakers powerfully. I’m passionate about getting the best possible footage for our speakers. I have personally edited over 500 multi-angle speeches and know what makes speakers look good on stage and what makes them look nervous. I made it accessible for emerging speakers to start their speaking journeys with these videos that would have been otherwise difficult to achieve.
I took the speeches and partnered up with viral media companies to make our speeches go viral across the globe. We achieved over 500 million views across social media. I was able to secure our speakers on the following websites: Goalcast, Power of Positivity, Ashton Kutcher’s platform Aplus, Inner Light Media, and many more.
The videos had a direct correlation to the success of our speakers thereafter launching their speaking careers, getting paid speaking engagements, and getting on the press. Documentaries, books, and awards followed that progression.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
The challenge of being a business owner is the constant doing. There is no one out here that will save you. There is constant improvement and creation of things. There will be days you work non-stop. You have to love the process.
The mindset of being in a 9-5 will not work here. You have to create value, so you can grow your customer base. The more you build value for others, the more you can take to build out a team. Documenting processes and leveraging systems will be the key to escaping the grind, but long term, it will be worth it.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
Find a community you are passionate about. Get involved with what they are doing, and then find out how you can support that community with your gifts. Use your unique talent to solve problems. When I started with Speaker Slam, I had no experience in the industry of speaking. I was just a passionate Toastmaster and stand-up comedian.
What I had thought was a very special set of skills. I was a business analyst by trade, and video editing was a hobby of mine. I combined these two things to give myself an edge. Technology and video production became my assets. My youth and hunger to learn marketing set me apart from everyone. We leapfrogged the competition quickly.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I’m a Toronto-based entrepreneur that is giving people a platform to speak their stories all across the world. We helped normalize conversations people face. You never know what someone is going through. Our events are a celebration of overcoming the challenges we are given. Together we can discover personal growth by giving people an opportunity to experience empathy.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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