Naseem Saloojee’s journey from Toronto to becoming a key player in the world of e-commerce is a testament to the power of seizing unexpected opportunities and learning from personal challenges. His unique perspective, shaped by his South African-Canadian roots, has instilled in him a deep appreciation for opportunities and a sense of responsibility to pay it forward.
Naseem’s venture Carbon6 has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Mount Nebo Capital, Kale Investment Fund, Benevolent Capital, and MidCap Financial.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Embrace unexpected opportunities and be open to unconventional paths in your journey.
- Mission-driven work brings purpose and meaning to your career, driving long-lasting impact.
- Personal challenges can lead to transformative discoveries and inspire meaningful ventures.
- Financial discipline and strategic focus are crucial for the survival and growth of any business.
- Surround yourself with mentors and advisors to gain valuable insights and perspective.
- Empowerment of e-commerce entrepreneurs requires holistic support and innovative tools.
- Adaptability and resilience are key traits for navigating the dynamic landscape of entrepreneurship.
For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here).
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About Naseem Saloojee:
Naseem Saloojee has an extensive work experience in a variety of roles. In 2006, they began their career at McKinsey & Company as a Business Analyst and Social Sector Fellow.
Naseem then moved up to Senior Associate and Engagement Manager at McKinsey & Company in 2011. In 2014, they joined Top Hat as SVP of Sales, where they achieved 10X growth and won multiple awards, including Canada’s Startup of the Year Award.
In 2018, Naseem was appointed Chief Executive Officer at Globalfaces Direct, a PE-owned outsourced services provider to nonprofits like UNICEF, The Red Cross, Plan International, and SickKids, where they achieved over 100% growth in two years.
In 2019, Naseem became a Member of YPO/WPO Canada (Young President’s Organization/World President’s Organization). In 2020, they were Co-Founder of a Stealth Biotech Startup and Advisor and Managing Partner at Noetic Fund.
Currently, Naseem is the Co-Founder of Carbon6 Technologies, an ecosystem for marketplace e-commerce, which is simplifying success for online businesses around the world.
Naseem’s education history includes a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Harvard Business School, which they completed in 2011, and a Bachelor of Commerce (B.Com.) from Queen’s University, which they completed in 2006.
Their field of study was Business Administration and Management, General for both degrees.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So we have a really exciting founder today you know founder that has done it all. You know a operator investor you know now really riding a rocket ship. So. All in between so all the good stuff building scaling finance and you name it, you know other stuff that we’re going to talk about is how to use m and a you know to really lead to a gross strategy. What happened you know when he came to fundraising in 2021. How things are comparing to now. Ah, and obviously you know like everything else that you can think of about you know, operating and and building up something meaningful so without farther. Let’s welcome our guest today Nasim Saloji welcome to the show. So originally born in Toronto.
Naseem Saloojee: Great to meet you thanks for having me.
Alejandro Cremades: To emy grandparent give us a walkthrough memory lane. How was life growing up.
Naseem Saloojee: Life was great. Um, yeah, grew up in Toronto happy family life folks immigrated from South Africa so I heard heard lots of stories of um, you know where I came from background. Um. Ended up spending a lot of my youth back and forth went to school there a couple of times moved there after after university so consider myself ah very much a south african canadian um, and yeah, it’s been been. Great.
Alejandro Cremades: And how is it like to be the child of immigrants. You know, do you think that dame going there to give you guys a better tomorrow. You know, maybe you know that has inspired you and shaped who you are today.
Naseem Saloojee: I I think it’s definitely given me more drive like I I feel a sense of appreciation for the struggle that my family had to go through to to get to get me to where I am to get me to to have the opportunities that I’ve had and so there’s almost so it’s a responsibility to. To pay it forward so to speak that you know makes me want to to work harder makes me want to take advantage of all the opportunities that I have that previous generations didn’t so most most definitely.
Alejandro Cremades: So obviously you know like in your case you were interested into business. You know we see that you know on what you ended up studying in undergrad you know doing your Nba too. So what do you think that interest you know towards business you know came from.
Naseem Saloojee: Um I think it was luck actually like I when I was growing up I learned to be a politician um I think I and I thought that I wanted to go to law school and you know it just so happens. You can’t go into law school in Canada out of high school so I went into a business program because I heard that. You know the school that I was was going to was a good school and that people got great jobs afterwards. So I figured well you know if I if I don’t get and to law school then at least I have a backup plan built in and um, when I was there I ended up walking into a presentation from a consulting company. Talking about how you know there were these 22 2 year old kids who were flying around the world and going cool places and so I ended up you know taking a job with with mcinsey out of school and and traveling the world and kind of forgot about the law thing and and never looked back.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case, you went to South Africa you know to to work there on Mckinsey you know one of the things that I see a lot is people that end up becoming entrepreneurs I find that the background in consulting is very useful because it helps you to.
Naseem Saloojee: I.
Alejandro Cremades: Break down, you know, big problems into smaller problems and then you tackle them in a different way. There’s a different perspective and approach to problem solving. How do you think that the experience of my kids see helped you when it comes to problem solving right.
Naseem Saloojee: Definitely gives you the ability to take a big problem disaggregated into component parts and then also communicate very clearly right? So You know the key drivers or breaking your message down into the 3 main messages or whatever it might be.. It’s It’s really helpful right? that that pyramid principle of communication is very very Helpful. You can imagine no matter where you end up.
Alejandro Cremades: So being able to travel you know there to South Africa then you know as part of that experience. You were also in places like Kenya Pakistan. Also your worldview being able to travel so much. You know what kind of ah. Perspective. It gives you about things. Okay.
Naseem Saloojee: Makes me very appreciative. Um, and so it’s humbling it makes makes you appreciative of for me, it made me appreciative of things that I had um the places that I went I was able to meet such incredible people but I was also able to see um such disparities in the way that people lived. And so it made me appreciate everything that I had it made me appreciate my opportunities and it to made me want to make a difference and so I think a lot of the work that I did back then? um and and always have done has been mission-driven. So my work at Mckinsey was social sector oriented a lot of the companies that I built or been part of. And I connected closely with the mission of that company. Um, and yeah I think that’s that’s been the the big contribution.
Alejandro Cremades: So 2009 that’s when the Nba comes knocking. You know why did you thought at that point 2009 it was the time to shift gears.
Naseem Saloojee: Ah I Wish it was like something that I thought was you know, Um, like I had this I wish I had this big insight or or something like that. But really it was that I was lucky I got into a good consulting company and they they told me that they would pay for me to go to business school. You know. And so I said okay, well if if you’re willing to to pick up the tab then I’m going to you know I’ll I’ll go wherever I I’m able to get in and so I went to Hpss and I think my my worldview Widens significantly when I was there like I was never thinking about you know, becoming an entrepreneur. Um I. Really just thought I was going to get a nice corporate job and and move along and when I got to business school I Met people of all sorts of different backgrounds who’d followed you know very different paths to my own and the ah kind of questioned I. I Felt like I shouldn’t have really needed to have somebody. You know offer a pay for me to think about you know going to somewhere like hps like ah the opportunities that it created for me and the people that I were able. It was able to Meet. Um I think that you know. Taking on a bit of debt and and have done doing it differently would have been something that you know if I I would have told my my old self don’t don’t worry about having somebody else do things for you can make your own opportunity. Um, but I think being around people who had that mindset and wanted to make their own opportunity gave me the confidence that.
Naseem Saloojee: You know I could do it too one day.
Alejandro Cremades: So then you finish the program Obviously amazing network that you build there but then eventually you know the world of startups comes knocking So how did you get into the eventual world.
Naseem Saloojee: But.
Naseem Saloojee: So I I was leaving consulting and um I knew I wanted to do something I didn’t really have an idea. Um I think another kind of lesson I think in life is you know if you don’t have an idea you can just. Swim around and find one like ah and just follow your passion as you can do it? Ah but um, yeah, given that I didn’t feel like I had an idea I decided to to join a startup with people that you know had one and had had a vision and where I could kind of hop in and and be helpful. Um, and ah. So I met some guys that were building a you know tech company here in Toronto called topapp I ended up popping on board to to help with business development within my first month or so we let go of our our head of sales and I took on the sales team and so did bd and sales and and ran the revenue function there for for a few years and a great learning lesson. Like I’d never been ah, really a manager like ah in consulting you manage people. But you know you’re not really managing you know when you’re in in a you know Mckinsey type environment you say jump and people say how high and you know it’s that specific type of person. Um I think when you are kind of building a larger team it it teaches you. How to relate to people a little bit better. Um, how to get more out of folks and so I think I started my journey um of my learning journey there and it was a great opportunity and fortunate that the company we were able to scale up quite quickly while I was there. So I think we grew about tenfold um during my time at top at kind of startup of the year
Naseem Saloojee: Um, and so yeah, it was. It was a great kind of opportunity to to learn and grow.
Alejandro Cremades: And for those that are interested. You know you can go and check the episode with motion. You know the co-founder with a top hat. So I guess you know being able to ah be part of a company like top hat raised two hundred plus million you guys got it to over 40000000 in a r r. Like what is the difference from being you know, perhaps in the in the in the operation you know in a Vc backed company like top hatt versus maybe like a you know p backed company like the one that you were running you know right? after a global faces direct I mean what? what is what is really the difference between one another.
Naseem Saloojee: Close to under him.
Naseem Saloojee: I think that being in a venture type environment encourages and encourages risk takingking because there’s a um, a venture capitalist is chasing outside rewards. They know that they’re going invest in 10 companies and or x number of companies out of a given fund. You know the the first the the highest performing company is going to return the entire fund the next performing company. You know will will do reasonably well and they’re they’re writing off a number of them at the end and so it creates you know an incentive structure to really chase outsized wins and that’s the kind of the dynamic and that’s that’s what you set up. That’s what you’re at you know. Working for when you’re part of a venture back startup when you’re joining something that’s ah, a private equity back company. It typically it’s it’s more a refinement game at that point right? like private equity doesn’t invest with the idea of of losing. It’s you know it’s far more willing to accept. Singles and doubles rather than go you know for home runs like you might produce the same output in with both approaches. But it’s ah it’s a different way of of making the soup and I think what I learned about myself was that I’m very much an early stage guy like I like I like the thrill of getting something off the ground I like the idea of. Launching things I like the excitement of of doing deals and see I focused my last few years on um, launching businesses and you know and kind of really going from from 0 on upward.
Alejandro Cremades: So talking about launching businesses. You know what really pushed you in that direction was some headaches that you were dealing with you know what? what was going on.
Naseem Saloojee: So I um I had cluster headach I’ve had cluster headache since I was around twenty years old so if you don’t know what cluster is it’s it’s kind of like migraine only instead of getting 1 long migraine attack I um will get 3 4 or 5 short duration headaches. Um. A day for you know month and a half a year um and super debilitating I was fortunate the first time it hit me I was at university so it was fine next time hit me was kind of I just started work my first job pretty scary. Um, and you know each time they just resolved. And I went back to doing what I was doing the third time it hit I was able to go to an expert neurologist who had finally was finally able to diagnose me with cluster put me on medication and so for around the next decade or so I was fine I would just roll on and off these meds really some of them. You know like prednizone super hard on the body. So I didn’t so like I enjoyed going on to these meds. But you know they did the trick. Um, and I found that you know a number of years later. So my early thirty s the the meds that I was on had stopped working I was looking for new solutions. A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the research happening on psilocybin. You know at the time you know it was a little bit less. Well-known than it is today but you know groups like yale for example, I have had clinical trials for my my condition you know now for the last couple of years. Um, and ah yeah I took a plunge I used so psilocybin to to treat my headaches brought about a 3 year remission um you
Naseem Saloojee: I’m now kind of in a place where you know with ah a little bit of help from from those kind of interesting molecules I I no longer kind of suffer from from clusterster at least not the same way I used to before. So yeah, it inspired me to can do something in that space met a couple of others and um. You know made a series of investments out of a venture fund in a lot of the early moving companies in the space and together set up a little biotech company that we raise some money into and um, yeah, the the biotech company could quite compelling like ah it actually looks at. Non-haucinogenic versions of psychedelics a guy named named Brian Roth out of the university of North Carolina did some fantastic research. You know, got ah a grant from Darpa so from the us government for for nearly $27000000 um to to study this stuff. Um produced. You know some ground-based breaking stuff. So. And we we licensed his work and you know through a consortium of universities the work of some others as well and so kind of a huge kind of library that we’ve got access to in that business. Um, and ah you know I’m not I’m not a biotech guy so I was just doing this as a passion project so we brought in some other folks to help you know and and build that out. And at the same time. A good buddy of mine from business school along with our other partner. We’re looking at what we’re doing at carbon 6 and they had seen and and been looking at the aggregator space in Ecommerce. Um, and you know saw that.
Naseem Saloojee: $15000000000 had been put into rolling up the brands so brands that were selling on Amazon and I had no idea that the scale of this market like you know I knew but obviously Amazon’ ‘ is big but the fact that there were you know brand aggregators that were reaching such high height so quickly we saw names like thracio and perch and others. Now names that would no longer be seen in the same light as they were. You know a few years ago like ah, but at the time you know every investor was was looking at these as the they they were the investor darlings right? and so we were a little bit late for that business model and for various reasons didn’t love the you know the idea of brand iregation but we did when we peeled into that. Business. Um, and the businesses that were selling to the aggregators saw that they were using between 8 and 15 different tools to to automate their businesses and Amazon had grown from 60 to $600000000000 in in revenue and it’s it’s kind of ecommerce marketplace over the past Decade and at the same time there was just huge consolidation so you know the top 15000 sellers were representing 50% of third -party sales volumes and um, you know we didn’t see anybody that had built a go-to solution for that market. There were myriad individual tools solving individual jobs. But there was nobody. You could look at and say this is the hub for the professional seller for the large seller and we saw a wedge in the market and we said well you know there’s an opportunity for us here to use m and a to to get a head start and.
Naseem Saloojee: Launch a business that could be you know a category changer and so for me, you know because was was kind of wrapping up the the day-to-day work on my biotech. Um, and it was too exciting an opportunity to pass up and so it’s what I’ve been up to now for the last over two years
Alejandro Cremades: So for the people that are listening to get it what ended ended up being carbon 6 You know how? what’s the business model. How do you guys make money.
Naseem Saloojee: If.
Naseem Saloojee: Um, so if if you sell on Amazon so you’re you’re a seller on Amazon you have to do a series of jobs right? So you have to in some cases figure out which products to sell right to which products to to to launch in in all cases you have to figure out which keywords to rank for to. You know, maximize your you know odds of success and in Amazon search algorithm. Um, so keyword research you have to manage ads right? So you know like ah Amazon has a huge ads business like it and you need to. Be able to kind of you know, optimize your ads programs on the platform to manage your inventory right? So you have to think about inventory forecasting inventory management. Um Amazon leveres a series of fees to sellers. Um, so and and there’s a whole lot of recoverable opportunity. So there’s a whole category of fba reimbursements. Where you know things are missing kind of on the way kind of missing inbound shipments in Amazon’s warehouses loss damaged etc in the warehouse things like customer returns. Um, you know where your you’re basically your money is sitting with Amazon as the seller and you need it recovered. Um. And you know there’s there’s financial dashboards. There’s pricing tools, etc. And so you know the opportunity we saw was to bring a number of these together under 1 banner and bring together a lot of the smartest minds. So because if if we were able to acquire a series of tools that had you know, really bright folks leading them.
Naseem Saloojee: And then raise a pool of capital to allow us to engage which would help get us to scale and engage a lot of the smartest minds in this community. We felt like we could build something that was was truly brit bleeding edge and so that’s what we we set out to do.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in this case, you know how much capital Also you know to be able to um to make it happen. You know where you guys say did you guys raise for this. Okay.
Naseem Saloojee: So we’ve had it. We raised a series of rounds over time a mixture of of debt and equity a little more equity than debt to founders round a seed round a series a yeah on the way to the series. A. We’re actually raising. Ah, we were going to look to raise us. You know. Ah, friends and family around and ended up getting introduced to a couple of venture investors. Um, and you know a group called white star capital asked us to preempt our series a. So we said okay sure um, let’s let’s do it we. We actually weren’t we weren’t sure that we were ready at the time but they they took a bet on us and we appreciate that. And so we we ended up closing our series a in April we we kind of got the investment from white star in April of 2022 now. Um, if we’d raised in 2021 I think we’d be a very different business today. We would have raised a heck of a lot more than we did than we have um.
Naseem Saloojee: Kind of closing the series a right when the markets were already on the way down in 2022 and then getting a little bit of debt. Um, you know entering q four so in September of of 2022 so really interesting time to be raising because you know as we’re having our conversations with our lender and the markets are going further and further down. So really interesting time to start. Negotiat negotiating a debt facility as a tiny startup where it it was once a formality that ah yeah, yeah, a saas company that was venture backed was going to get venture debt and then that that melted away and seeing kind of what what happened in the markets. It was I think you know we’re very fortunate. Have raised when we did a because we were able to secure capital but b I think the fact that we raised um at the time in which we did and raised less has forced us to get more disciplined about our operations faster than I think a lot of other companies who focused on m and a early would have. And we’ve we’ve transitioned from being m and a focused with m and a kind of as our core business model to you know it’s to pureplay organic growth saas company where you know we used m and as to push off but you know over the past you know number of months we’ve doubled the size of the business organically and um. That’s really our focus is how do we get more organic growth. How do we? you know ensure that our products are are truly going to meeting the needs of our customers in ways that others don’t um, how do we build something truly exciting and I think that the pressure of a.
Naseem Saloojee: Ah, really difficult difficult financing environment in which you know we thought we’d have raised a series B already like when we set out to do this. We thought we run. Ah, ah you know, ah a treadmill of of raising and buying and raising and buying and as soon as the the markers for what success looked like changed. We were forced to Adapt And. I Think we’re we’re a lot better off for it.
Alejandro Cremades: And then also a you know you guys had to make some hard decisions too along the way you know, cutting deep and being a laser focus. So what have you learned around that.
Naseem Saloojee: Yeah, like um, we we were we were spending you know an outsized amount relative to our size back. You know a a year and a half ago right? a year ago um and you know q 4 of last year we looked at ourselves in the mirror and we said you know. You guys are we’re being too generous here to a point where we might not have a business anymore like ah we we literally we we acquired a series of companies. We kept the we kept the founding teams in place. We kept the the entire employee bases in place and then we built a core central. Of staff base of carbon six which we knew was going to be critical for the scaleup. But um, you know, incurred a large large burn in doing that and I think what we we realized was you know ah ah a saas company that was burning a million dollars a month ah might have you know, been been abled to raise and be successful in 2021. It definitely was going to cut it in 2022 2023 2024 and so we we radically shifted and so over the past number looks literally starting from from November last year to this summer we transformed from a business with. You know, virtually 0 growth who acquired all of its revenue. Um and and was burning cash significant amount of cash to one that you know crossed the line became cash flow positive in the middle of this year um was growing over 100% per year organically. Um.
Naseem Saloojee: And now was positioned to to write our own destiny. So you know there’s no pressure on us to raise at any given time like we you know we can choose to raise when we want to raise um we’ve we’ve grown the business substantially like we’re about 3 x larger than we were twelve months ago and um you know we we think that this guy’s the the limit now. But if we hadn’t cut deep twelve months ago or or eleven months ago um we wouldn’t be able to have this conversation today. So really, it meant refocusing around a small number of top priorities of the business being. Kind of ruthless around. You know what was going to serve those priorities and also being really disciplined around making sure that you know we understood our culture and values articulated our values. You know, very clearly um and. And looked at every person in the company and said you know are are the folks that we have here. Um, you know the right folks based on our leadership principles and um I think that exercise became the foundation of you know what? we’ve transformed into over the last you know. Last year and a much strong stronger company because of it.
Alejandro Cremades: So now obviously you know like towards employees that you brought in and then also towards investors vision is a really big one. So imagine if you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of carbon six is fully realized what does that world look like.
Naseem Saloojee: Um, so the kind of short to medium term vision is if you’re a seller on Amazon you should need to log in to nothing but your Amazon seller central account and carbon 6 and so everything all of the tooling that you need to be successful as an Amazon seller. You can access through carbon 6 and you know the great thing about producing software for Amazon which are quite different from from shopify actually is that you know with with shopify you know their ideal customer profile their ideal customer is the merchant right? So their customer is the merchant they’re serving that merchant. Um, they’re building tooling for the merchant. There’s always a question if you’re building tools for shopify around like what is what’s the elephant going to do right? which way is shopify going to go are they going to want to build the same tooling that I’m building etc with Amazon every incremental product decision made relating to its marketplace about how to get folks like you and me. To spend more to to do more there to shop more there right? Um, and to you know to? um, make sure that they you know grew their ads program etc. As a result right? and so given that orientation they really just opened up their apis. They made them very accessible. Um to third-party folks to build on the platform. Um, and so there’s just an immense amount of opportunity for companies like us to to really play a part there and I think Amazon’s become you know very open and and friendly with the software ecosystem and in terms of opening up programs for us to to do more with them. So ah, that’s the vision there um like over time I think um.
Naseem Saloojee: And look we’ve accessed a really interesting group of of customers so the customers that we serve the s and bs and the midmarket companies that have really grown through Amazon and also a lot of the kind of larger brands that have now started selling on Amazon and and growing the business on Amazon. It’s it’s a pretty compelling channel and this customer cohort we have is increasingly thinking about well how do I go on each channel. You know how do I set up a Ddc business. This customer channel is now needing things like financing and insurance and etc and so. Ultimately as we grow. It’s about serving the needs of that customer that e-commerce business more effectively right? But we know that in the western world Amazon is the number 1 place the number one destination and so we’re starting Amazon -centric we also know that the the market is so huge that we could be focusing our next few years on building only for this marketplace and scale substantially like there. There will be. You know there’re going to be category changing but a number of category changing businesses in this space like ah it’s a multibillion dollar software ecosystem alone here. And so yeah, there’s a lot of headroom in amazon though you know overtime we’ll we’ll continue to serve our customers in other ways as well.
Alejandro Cremades: So Obviously here we’re talking about the Future. So I Want to talk about the password a lens of reflection imagine I was to put you into a time machine and I was to bring you back in time to maybe that moment that you were coming coming Out. You know of the private equity back the firm and and that you were running and basically. Having the opportunity of having a child with a younger self before really going at it as an entrepreneur and let’s say you had the opportunity of giving that younger self one piece of advice for launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now and I him.
Naseem Saloojee: Um, go talk to people that have done it before um and like pick three five people you respect and then ask them questions whenever you do something um, like anything of consequence like when I would have asked them questions about the way we set up. Shareholders agreement with with my biotech company I would ask questions around the structure of our financing realms you know should I be using a safe here should I be using a convertible note you know how should I think about you know the the partners that I’m bringing in how should I think about my round construction. Um, yeah, like. Talk me through your approach with different business partners. Um I felt like so I’m an optimist. Um and I genuinely believe that you know things are going to work out and and we’re going to find a way to be successful and when I think I needed to have people in my corner that were checking me and. Also giving me the benefit of the the learnings and failures that they’ve had in life and so I think that’s what I would be actively thinking about is how do I how do I a surround myself with people who whose strengths complement my weaknesses and vice versa and how do I you know get a board of advisors on. Every any right topic like you know a member of ypo I’ve got my like forum group who’s like a personal advisory board I think that like more technically from like ah like a startup founder perspective like get a group of founders together and they’re going to be people who you know.
Naseem Saloojee: Probably know things that you don’t on virtually every topic or have solved most of the problems that you’re trying to solve and then go to them when you’re doing things and chances are your answer is going to get a lot better.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it now same for the people that are listening that will love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Naseem Saloojee: Ah, drop me an email and nasim and a S E E M at carbon six dot Io It’s the easiest one I on my tool.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing! hey, easy enough. Well I same thank you, thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Naseem Saloojee: Thanks a bunch.
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