Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur; that is what Ray Taaeb, B.Com. ‘13 believes, after starting his first internet-based job at the age of 13. “I always knew that starting my own business was something that I wanted to do. I just needed to prepare myself first.”
Born in the northern Iraq region of Kurdistan, Taaeb’s family moved to Jordan and then to Winnipeg. Taaeb called Hamilton home as a DeGroote student, and now lives in Toronto.
“I had a great experience at DeGroote and in Hamilton,” Taaeb recalls. “My most memorable moments came from my extracurricular activities during school. I was heavily involved in DECA and it helped me develop as a person and business student. As a student, it’s very easy to become complacent and just go to class and then go home, but I found it to be critical to get involved in groups and activities that could put you outside of your comfort zone. I was one of those students that would go around during Clubs Fest and sign up for all the clubs. Participating in the accounting and finance clubs is great, but you should also explore non-business groups in order to expand your mindset and network,” Taaeb shares.
The DeGroote School of Business prepared Taaeb to be a part of a company, in an accounting and finance role. “The school gave me all of the prerequisites and job requirements that I needed to succeed at KPMG and along the CA route.”
But there was something missing.
The entrepreneurial drive that began as a child was prompting Taaeb to go into business for himself. “It became a matter of doing something that was fulfilling, to make an impact and transform the way we are doing business. It was about solving a bigger problem while I have the chance to do it. So I made the decision to start my own company.”
While straddling his full-time job at KPMG, Taaeb started his company, Casalova. “I have always been interested in real estate,” shares Taaeb. “Trying to find a place to live in Toronto was a terribly arduous and archaic process. Our agent was clueless and our landlord was unqualified. After testing the idea, I quickly found out that I was not the only one experiencing these problems in the rental market, nor was it a location-specific problem. I knew we could develop a new and innovative solution that would simplify the rental process for both tenants and landlords. So I got together with my co-founder, Curtis Layne, who was a software engineer at Amazon at the time. We began working on Casalova every day after work until we both decided to take the leap and leave our corporate jobs.”
Casalova was created to help landlords and property managers speak the same language as tenants in an effort to streamline the renting process. Casalova helps tenants find a place, schedule viewings directly from the listing, make offers by only filling out one rental application, and pay rent all online. Casalova also creates a transparent market with the integration of verified profiles and references. From the landlord and property manager perspective, they can post and manage unlimited listings, review tenant applications online for direct comparisons, screen tenants efficiently, and fill vacancies with minimal effort. The next phase of Casalova is to expand across the GTA and integrate credit reports into the platform while preparing for a US launch later in the year.
It is an innovative and distinctive platform that goes beyond listing properties. Casalova optimizes the rental process all the way from the search to the signing of the lease.
The biggest learning curve for Taaeb has been understanding all the aspects of starting a company while also managing a full team. “We were two people doing the job of eight. Learning all of the functions of a successful company was the biggest priority and continues to be an ongoing learning process. We have since grown to a team of five and are still hiring,” states Taaeb.
Advice for DeGroote students and young alumni:
- Don’t rush into a specialization. Take your time and explore all the options before choosing your career path.
- If you want to be an entrepreneur, find a niche that you think you can improve and innovate, then go out and start testing the idea.
- Don’t be afraid to share your ideas with others and get feedback from someone other than your mom.
- Be resourceful. You’ll never know all the answers or be 100% prepared, but you can almost always find the answers you need.
- Invest in yourself. Read books, go to conferences, stay active. Aim to improve yourself just 1% per day and see where that takes you by the end of the year.
- If you’re not learning something new everyday on the job, it’s time to find a new job.
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