“Having an organization like Futurpreneur was so important for me. They were my first support. It’s been a wonderful journey and, I think, their services, their resources are more important than ever for the next generation of entrepreneurs”
When renovating her own condominium in Vancouver in 2016, Mai Eilia saw the potential for creating a customer-focused interior design and home renovation business that took the time to listen attentively to people’s ideas and dreams for their homes.
But, with a background in marketing and advertising, Mai had never considered starting her own business. As she points out, “I was from the corporate world and into the corporate setting. Owning my own business just wasn’t something I had thought about.” Then a confluence of circumstances made her think twice. First, it became clear that there was a romantic spark between Mai and the contractor she had hired for her condo renovations, Yosef Pharaon. He would eventually become her husband and valued business associate. His wealth of knowledge and experience in home renovation and construction gave her confidence about breaking into a new sector. Second, as she considered her options, it dawned on her that, “You do have dreams. You want to be your own boss. You want to do it your way.” After a pause, she adds, “I thought I had it in my character to start something on my own.”
Undertaking in-depth research into the local design and renovation sector, Mai developed important contacts and a network that convinced her that her own business was something that she could and, more importantly, wanted to take on. Her experience in the corporate world provided a critical backdrop to her new aspirations. As she points out, corporate work had given her “discipline and analytical thinking. It demands top-notch customer service and I knew I could apply that in my business.” Within less than a year of her own renovation project, Mai was well on her way to establishing what became Magnum Construction Services in 2017. Only three years later, her company was named one of the top five companies in the 2020 BC Small Business Awards.
While Mai’s entrepreneurial success involved hard work and a sharp learning curve, she was not unaccustomed to challenges. Having lived in several cities, including Dubai, Mai arrived in Canada in 2013 as an immigrant from war-torn Syria. She understood what it meant to start over. Able to bring her parents and siblings to Canada, she had the comfort and support of family and a community. As she recalls, “You need that, right? It’s a big part of success. When you have your circle around you, it makes things a lot easier. I am blessed.” As a well-educated and bilingual woman fluent in two languages, Mai was able to find employment and begin a new life in Vancouver. Resilience in the face of difficulty became her watchword. It would prove invaluable in starting her own company.
With her research complete and resolve entrenched, Mai began to cast about for help in getting her business idea off the ground. Online searches led her to Futurpreneur’s website and its array of services. As she points out, “I was a newcomer to Canada and I was trying to find resources. When I reached out to Futurpreneur, I only wanted money to be honest, but then I realized what other resources they offered. It was incredible. They had so many ways to learn. And they offered a mentor.” After her initial contact with Futurpreneur, Mai was impressed. “They were very supportive, genuinely supportive. It’s not like they just say ‘go for it.’ They really care for you.”
Having prepared a business plan over a period of several weeks, Mai applied to Futurpreneur for access to capital and mentorship. When she received a phone call from Futurpreneur’s Vancouver client relationship manager to let her know that she had been approved, Mai played it cool. “I thought to myself, ‘Really? It’s me? Really? I got approved?’ But I didn’t say that. I didn’t want to give her any reason to doubt my resolve. But I did say, ‘thank you so much’ because it felt so good. It felt like it was supposed to. It was emotionally satisfying.” Immediately afterward, Mai called her mom to say, “This is getting serious.”
While Mai concedes that the initial months were hard work, she never regretted her decision. The support of Futurpreneur through her first loan, access to a mentor, and help with her financial accounting needs provided the fundamentals to get started. Anchoring the business on her principle that honest, direct communication with clients is essential to establishing trust and building a client base, Mai assembled a team with more than 20 years of experience in home renovation to demonstrate client responsiveness. She points out, “We genuinely care about our clients. We want to achieve what they want to dream or envision about their homes. That’s my passion.” In the process, always cognizant of her own journey, Mai is committed to assisting young immigrants to Canada through her business. Since Magnum’s launch, she is proud to have hired immigrants from troubled spots in the world, including individuals from Syria, Iran, and Somalia. As she says, “I know these people, I know how they feel. I’ve been in their shoes. I understand the struggle. And I believe that when you do good things, good things will come to you.”
Only a little more than a year after launching Magnum, Futurpreneur saw how effective Mai was in delivering on her customer promise and developing her business. In 2018, she was selected for special recognition by Futurpreneur Canada, in partnership with Trushield Insurance, in their celebration of inspiring young Canadian female entrepreneurs. The following year, Magnum was nominated by Small Business BC for the Immigrant Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Mai attributes the recognition to her unshakeable commitment to keeping her clients happy: “We really try hard to make sure our clients know everything, every single detail of their job and how it’s going to be accomplished. That gives them satisfaction.”
When asked if, after four years, she now sees herself as an entrepreneur, Mai is unequivocal: “I love it. I love the freedom. I love the possibilities. As a business owner, you wear so many hats, but I love the learning and the building. That’s what excites me every day.”