Simon Chamaa is an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Melbourne, Australia, and founder of Strata Plan, which provides building management services designed to take the hassle out of managing spaces with shared ownership and strives to inspire amazing living spaces for those who inhabit them. We asked Simon about his unique entrepreneurial journey. Here's what he shared.
Did you always know you would be an entrepreneur?
Not exactly. I always had a strong work ethic. I grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood and didn't finish high school. I delivered newspapers, worked in cafes and then started working in my family's printing business.
When the opportunity to manage a building came my way, I was excited by the prospect but didn't know anything about the industry. I looked at other management companies for inspiration, but found none. I saw the same old problems wherever I looked. That's when I knew it was up to me to disrupt the status quo and bring building management services into modernity.
What was the low point in your entrepreneurial journey?
I partnered with a knowledgeable realtor to open our company. We struggled for two years with only two clients--one was my brother-in-law--and then my partner left the business. I didn't have any money or much industry knowledge at that point.
I remember one particularly dark night when I had a total breakdown at 2 am in our living room. My wife was pregnant with our second child; we were living in a house without central heat and were on the brink of defaulting on our mortgage. I felt like a total failure as a father, husband and businessperson.
I thought to myself, "Well, you can sit here feeling sorry for yourself or you can get up and do something about it." Desperation lit a fire in my belly that motivated me to work hard to provide for my family. I still think back to that moment in times of difficulty.
How did you find inspiration in the giant moso tree?
When I was a child, a family friend told me about the giant Chinese moso bamboo tree. It doesn't exhibit any growth on the surface for its first five years, yet you must water and nurture the tree during this crucial period as it lays a strong foundation and grows healthy roots. It requires great patience and a belief that the tree will one day grow.
Then after five years--five years!--it grows at an extraordinary rate: from just 12 inches to more than 90 feet in four weeks! And because of its strong root system, even gale-force winds won't topple it.
Our company is like a moso tree because we spent years developing strong roots. We started in a back corner of my family's printing factory with two desks. We hired good people, got our structure and systems just how we wanted them and worked hard with patience, resilience and perseverance. Now we manage 800 buildings and serve 20,000 clients with a staff of 45 and 2,000 contractors. It didn't happen overnight; it took patience, a belief in our business model and tenacious work that nobody could see. We are the proverbial moso tree of building management!
What strategies helped you gain business expertise?
When my partner left, I had a huge knowledge gap. I read everything I could find that was even remotely pertinent. Then I consulted an expert: I'd meet with a business lawyer for one hour per month. Before our meetings, I would compile a list of questions about business, industry and the laws that govern them. For that one hour, I would ask as many questions as time allowed to educate myself.
However, I was frustrated by the struggles of entrepreneurship and had no one to talk with who was confronting similar challenges. A friend referred me to EO, where I've found other entrepreneurs facing similar struggles as they lead their companies. Sharing these experiences has brought valuable business insights and changed how I think about personal matters including my health and family.
I also learned to meditate: I am blown away by the impact meditation brings both personally and professionally.
What do you hope to do in the future?
Our company culture is one of caring for one another, treating people as people, being empathetic and not jumping the gun. Success comes as a result of the efforts of our people. We're finally in a place where we're building momentum.
My goal isn't to become the biggest property management company, but rather it's to make a positive contribution. I'm inspired by the idea of making an impact on our industry and contributing to fulfilling the dreams and aspirations of the people on my team.
I'm working toward the point where the company becomes self-sustaining and I can step back into an ambassador type of role where I'm working on the business rather than in it.
I'm full of hope for the future: I think our next five years of business will resemble a moso bamboo tree growing 90 feet high.