CEO & Co-founder, Quill & Vice President, Eighty-Eight Agency
Fatima Zaidi has had over ten years of experience in Business Development, Marketing, and Strategy. Her expertise in sales effectiveness and partnerships led to her role as VP of Business Development for Eighty-Eight, a Toronto-based creative communications agency, where she’s responsible for all inbound and outbound sales. Prior to Eighty-Eight she was Head of Business Development at retail company Rent frock Repeat (which was featured on Dragons’ Den – Canada’s version of Shark Tank – in Season 7), where she was responsible for the overall management of all strategic business development, marketing, and customer relationship activities nationwide.
Fatima is also a professional speaker with the National Speakers Bureau leading her to keynote on world stages like Web Summit, Haste & Hustle, DX3 alongside speakers like Gary Vaynerchuk, Arlene Dickenson, and most recently Richard Branson. Fatima is a frequent guest speaker, event host, and moderator for organizations including the Retail Council of Canada, and American Marketing Association.
This spring Fatima is also launching Quill a tech software that helps podcasters engage with their listeners. Fatima is a commentator for Global News and BNN, and she contributes to The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, Financial Post and BetaKit. She was named a top 30 under 30 marketer and brand developer in 2016, one of Flare Magazine’s Top 100 Canadian Women, Notables Young Professional of the Year for 2018, and was a finalist for the 2017 Toronto Board of Trade Young Excellence Awards. She also teaches classes on sales and business development at local tech school Camp Tech.
I fell into sales accidentally- how all great stories start. I came from a background in HR and had zero passion for the work I was doing. I finally decided one day I was going to get off the wrong bus, and fortunately found an incredible CEO who was willing to give me a chance to give it a stab at sales for her company. Luckily I was good at sales, found my calling, and fell on my feet.
I’ve had a pretty interesting career trajectory so far and my background includes diverse roles in Business Development, Marketing, HR and Sales. While all my experiences have contributed to my personal growth and development, I think my first big break was taking that (incredibly scary but infinitely worthwhile) leap from the corporate to the start-up world. I’ve thanked my stars may times since then that I made that fateful decision to join the start-up retail company, Rent frock Repeat, as a Business Development Manager in 2014.
Rent frock Repeat gave me my first full-on exposure to what it takes be an entrepreneur and build a company from the ground up. There was absolutely no BD function at all before I started and I had to jump right into the role, ‘sink or swim’ style, and build the department from scratch. Within my first 12 months, I was responsible for a 400% growth in revenue and had increased site visits and member conversion by 110% and 130%, respectively. I was promoted to Director shortly after that and ended up with several teams reporting to me nationwide. I’ll always be incredibly grateful because I learned so many things that you can only learn from hands-on experience—how to be tough and resilient, how to face rejection and come back even stronger, and how to develop a tougher skin. It showed me that entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone, and exactly what I was going to have to do to really “make it” in life, if I really wanted to be an entrepreneur.
After three years at Rent frock Repeat, I was approached by Erin Bury, Managing Director of my current firm, who asked me to join her team. She made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
My new company Quill was born out of my love for podcasts, and combining that with the explosive growth the industry has experienced in the past few years. Podcasting seems to have finally transitioned from a casual gig to a core part of the audio market. There are now over 600,000 active podcasts, with more than 18.5 million episodes produced; moreover, in the United States alone, 48 million people listen to podcasts on a weekly basis. As advertising revenues start increasing in proportion to listener growth, podcasting is building infrastructure worthy of a massive industry.
SALES SALES SALES! I’m inspired by making money! I know that may sound shocking and shallow to some, but at the end of the day, I’m a sales person. If that isn’t your answer as a sales professional, then I recommend finding a new calling! To clarify, I’m not only motivated by making money for myself, but also in a large part by contributing to a company’s bottom line. That’s another reason why I love working at startups, because you can see the fruits of your labour almost immediately. You can only connect the dots looking backwards and my career trajectory has been pretty unsual and non-linear.
In 2016, I was named as one of Marketing Magazine’s top 30 under 30 marketeers and brand developers. During the awards gala, I remember looking around this huge room and marvelling that I was actually here, surrounded by so many brilliant people! That recognition as a 30 under 30 resulted in my being asked to participate in the reality TV show Canada’s Smartest People, although I eventually decided not to pursue it. It was around that time that I realized that my success wasn’t a fluke. I had built my personal brand around something I was really passionate about, sales, and what’s more, I was good at it. All that iteration had been worth it, because eventually all the past rejections and failures had transformed into new opportunities.
Being in sales is always an emotional rollercoaster, especially within the agency world. There are days when I’ve felt on top of the world, with no holds barred, and others when I’ve hit rock bottom and become convinced I’m a failure. Losing huge client deals to other agencies has hit me pretty hard in the past, especially when I looked back and realized exactly how I missed sealing the deal, but I’ve learnt over time to deal with these types of setbacks in a more positive and effective way. People often struggle from a fear of rejection and an inability to put themselves back out there after having hit a roadblock. It can become a hard pattern to break, so that you end up missing new opportunities over and over again.
I trained myself to become a ‘yes’ person and kept putting myself out there even when I would get 100 ‘no’s in a row. I reminded myself not to take rejection personally, and that everyone (apart from the Richard Bransons of this world) will always get more ‘no’s than ‘yes’s. I forced myself to keep being persistent and, eventually, it paid off. My mantra in life is to just say ‘yes’ and figure out how to do it later! One opportunity eventually leads to another, and before you know it, that snowball effect is working in your favour. But you have to give yourself a sense of purpose and set an end goal, and then work persistently to achieve it with great determination.
NO EXCUSES, and Don’t ask don’t get!
I have a lot of inspiration surrounding me in the form of a bevy of strong powerful mentors who all happen to be women. My sister, Sheba Zaidi (Senior Consultant at Proof Agency), my former boss, Lisa Delorme (Co-Founder and CEO at Rent frock Repeat), and my current mentor, Erin Bury, are super smart successful hustlers and all-around boss women! I’m incredibly lucky to have them stand by me, behind me, and guide me. .
Mongolia specifically the Gobi desert, my country Oman, and South Africa
I could not live without my CRM tool- I specifically use Nimble and it helps keep my pipeline moving day to day.
Outside of sales there’s only three things I care about:
It’s a grey area between on the clock and off the clock for me, because I love some of my passion projects so much that it doesn’t feel like actual work. This year, I became involved in sponsoring a family of Syrian refugees, which was incredibly meaningful for me. On a lighter note, I’m also a huge podcast junkie and anything related to murder mysteries is my jam, i.e. Serial, Criminal, etc. The same goes for TV shows (e.g. Riverdale, How to Make a Murderer, and Criminal Minds), but However, I have to say that my biggest passion outside of my work is travelling. Anytime I get a chance, I’ll hop on the plane and fly away and the more exotic the location, the more excited and recharged I feel. A few of my favourite places to date include the Gobi desert in Mongolia, the Cu Chi tunnels in Vietnam, diving into cenotes in Colombia, Petra in Jordan, and my beloved home town of Muscat in Oman.
Among other obstacles, I’ve noticed that women in business are paid less, less frequently hired, and definitely don’t promote themselves to the level that they should. On a practical level, I’ve found that we can end up being our own enemy when it comes to self promoting and self branding. While I acknowledge that the system itself is flawed, I think we can counteract this to some extent by putting ourselves out there and asking for what we deserve, learning to promote themselves and not worrying about coming off too strong or hurting other people’s feeling. Many women put an incredible amount of effort into branding for their clients, while forgetting to also take control of their own personal branding and career. At the end of the day, we are each CEOs of our own brand.