It’s a quandary many young entrepreneurs face: Should you start out with a more tried-and-true business model, or blaze new trails with an original, unproven idea?

Toronto’s Libby Garg, who operates three restaurant franchises and founded her own HR technology firm, is balancing both.

Until a few years ago, Garg, who is Indigenous and grew up in a small town in B.C., didn’t have entrepreneurship on her radar as a potential career path. “Growing up, I didn’t even know being an entrepreneur was a thing. It wasn’t something I could comprehend as a business path for myself,” she says.

As she grew older, she was drawn to the business world and completed her undergrad studies in business, ultimately deciding to pursue law.

Her focus changed in 2014, after she lost her sister Carley due to a weather-related car accident.

“I took a really hard pause – maybe the only pause I’ve ever taken in my life as a very type-A personality,” she says. “I took some time to think about what was important to me, and while I really enjoyed law, I had a deep-seated sense that I wanted to do something in honour of my sister.”

The two had previously thrown around the idea of starting a healthy fast-casual restaurant (“the Starbucks of healthy fast food,” as Garg calls it) and had even begun working on a business plan together.

Though the quick-service sector is now flush with healthy options, Garg says, options were significantly more scarce back then. “We both loved eating out – but we always found we were packing lunches because there were very few healthy options … There was Wrap Zone and Pita Pit, but few places for a nice, fresh salad.”

Once Garg decided to pursue that shared dream in earnest, she began doing market research, ultimately coming across the Freshii chain. Garg’s husband, a fellow lawyer, frequented a location near his work and said it was always busy. “The more I started to learn about it, the more I just loved it,” she says.

The next step was to scope out potential locations – a crucial factor in any business, but particularly make-or-break for a franchise location. “Even being on the wrong side of the street could sink your business,” Garg says. (She adds, however, that the recent popularity of delivery and online ordering has changed the playing field for quick-service restaurants dramatically.)

Futupreneur’s support came into the picture early on, when Garg was exploring her funding options for that first franchise. “I happened to fit in the under-39 age group for an entrepreneur starting a business, and it was an easily accessible loan that provided that additional buffer for starting up in the restaurant industry,” she says, adding many entrepreneurs are unaware of the funding options available to them.

“Restaurants are notoriously expensive to start up, even in a QSR [quick-service restaurant] scenario. It certainly wasn’t everything, but it was that additional buffer that I didn’t have to spend out of pocket or convince a bank to give me.”

Garg says Futurpreneur also helped her sort out “a lot of early business questions” like how to go about getting a business license. And when she entered the mentorship stage, her mentor also provided accountability and advice. Over time, Garg says, they actually wound up becoming good friends: “I was very fortunate in the mentor FP connected me with. Our relationship has evolved – even today, she’ll bring up initiatives she knows I was working on. She’ll often check in and ask how my business goals are going.”

Once Garg got the first franchise off the ground, it became much easier for her to scale the business further – one of the advantages to franchising as an entrepreneurship path, she says. Now, Garg operates three thriving Freshii locations.

But she also became acutely aware of the pitfalls of starting, staffing and operating a new business: “While I had both an undergrad degree in business as well as an upper level degree that teaches you to think through challenging problems, I didn’t know what a business license was or how to set a payroll schedule for my team.”

That knowledge gap spurred the beginning of an entirely different business venture: WorkSolute, an HR technology startup that aims to mitigate those early challenges by offering setup and streamlining solutions for newly-minted entrepreneurs.

WorkSolute also features a staffing program that caters to a range of businesses, from security firms and cleaning companies to clothing stores and restaurants – “anything that has some level of consistent employee turnover.” The program keeps track of employees’ successes to encourage employers to hire them in the future; this pays off, she says, both in terms of higher pay rates for workers and reduced turnover for employers. “In an industry that’s marked by challenges where there’s a lack of transparency for both the work seekers and employees, we provide (that) on both sides,” she says.

Garg concedes franchising and launching a startup are very different: “At Freshii, I know what to do when my rice cooker goes down, when my fridge dies, when someone calls in sick. But the problems you can solve on the pure entrepreneurial route are infinite. A lot of the role as a leader in that capacity is definitely what problems you solve, and on what timeline.”

In order to continue sharing her hard-won experience with young entrepreneurs, Garg says she’s planning to begin mentoring through Futurpreneur – and hopes to mentor a young Indigenous entrepreneur looking to get their start.

Garg says she’s a big believer in the adage “a rising tide raises all ships.”

“I’m very passionate about sharing what I know with anyone who would take value out of it. But I think it’s natural to see people within your community succeed, and if I can illuminate that path that has been so incredibly rewarding for me, or shorten the learning curve for another Indigenous person, it would be very rewarding for me.”

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