Charith Perera received a million-dollar deal on Dragon’s Den and his company, TDot Performance, is projecting annual sales of $10 million. But the Ted Rogers School of Management alumnus (Finance ’12) says that when he considers his path to success, it’s not the financial gains that stand out. “Looking back on previous mistakes is the most rewarding part of the journey. It’s not the milestones that make you feel good. It’s looking back on the times you failed.”
Among these supposed failures are several entries in the Slaight Business Plan Competition, which Perera entered every year he was at the Ted Rogers School of Management. In fact, the business plan competition is what drew Perera to Ryerson in the first place. A Scarborough native, Perera grew up playing baseball and was scouted by some leading American universities before deciding it would be more practical to study business in Canada. When he learned that Ryerson held an annual business plan competition worth $25,000, he became singularly focused on studying at the Ted Rogers School of Management.
Perera and his friends would meet at the Toronto Public Library and attempt to come up with business plans to win the competition. The team settled on an idea, but Perera laughs when he remembers their early results. In first year, his team missed the deadline to apply. “We were five minutes late,” Perera says, “and we were disqualified from the competition before it began.”
Undiscouraged, Perera and the team managed to hand in their applications on time each subsequent year, and finished in second place in 2010, but never won. Despite their lack of a first-place finish in business plan competitions, Perera says the process helped him build and refine the important pitching skills, which would eventually lead to his recent million-dollar deal on Dragon’s Den.
It wasn’t until his childhood friend (and now business partner) Mubin Vaid came up with an idea to sell flexible LED strips for cars that a winning business plan began to take shape. Perera admits he originally told Vaid it was a “stupid idea” but became convinced to join Vaid’s business venture when he saw a yogurt container filled with cash in Vaid’s room.
The friends then took their idea from business to business along Kennedy Road in Scarborough, offering their cheaper LED strips for sale. They were turned down by every business they pitched to, so they began selling their products onIine through existing websites like Kijiji and Craigslist. Their success there led to an idea to build an e-commerce website and sell their products directly to customers.
The problem was that neither Perera nor Vaid had any experience building websites or money to hire a developer. So they did what they had done with previous problems: they went to the library, where they studied web design and development for three weeks until they were able to build their own website.
That site would become tdotperformance.ca. And that’s not the only instance of Perera turning an obstacle into an opportunity. When one of his best friends was let go from his full-time job, Perera made him an offer. “I told him, ‘Work full-time on our website and live off your savings for a year. If we aren’t making money by the end of the year, go get another job.’” Perera’s offer paid off. “In 2013, we were named to the PROFIT HOT 50. We were the youngest entrepreneurs to ever make that list, at 24.”
TDot Performance has continued to grow and now has 15 employees, many of whom are Ryerson graduates. Perera credits TRSM peers Kurt Ty and Anica Vasic for being critical to starting and growing a business, and says courses like Intermediate Accounting I (ACC 414) taught him skills that are relevant in the day-to-day operation of TDot Performance.
What advice would Perera give to current Ryerson students who are considering starting a business?
“Start now and be persistent. Always remember why you’re doing it, for when those inevitable struggles hit. I’m doing this because I’ve always wanted to support my family. My parents came to Canada from Sri Lanka with very little money in their pockets and managed to give me this great life, so I want to give back to them.”