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How I turned a hobby business into a multimillion dollar company in two years

I guess you could call me an accidental entrepreneur. Growing up in Scotland, I always wanted to be a lawyer, so when I enrolled as a solicitor in 2011, sometimes appearing in 16 procedural hearings in one day, I loved it. During that time, I met a Canadian guy. One thing led to another, and by 2015 I was married and living in my new home – Canada. As with most professions, I had to requalify to practice law here. While this was a time-consuming endeavour, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Staying at home and studying gave me ample time to pursue other interests. My husband had a hobby business selling cellphone accessories from home, so I decided to help him out and list a few products on eBay in my spare time. Well, the products started selling – and fast. Suddenly, that steadfast goal of continuing my career in Canadian courtrooms was wavering as excitement of the idea of building my own business completely took over. To my surprise, it didn't take long for me to decide to put my law requalification on hold to concentrate on becoming a Canadian entrepreneur.

Our first customers were all local retailers. We sold headphones and cellphone cases. As the market for cellphone accessories grew, so did our competition. We needed to diversify our sales channels, so we set up our own website and seller account on eBay.

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As a consequence of building a wider consumer base, our purchasing power grew and we passed on the savings to customers. As our orders grew, we wanted to build a relationship with our suppliers in China. My husband and I decided to visit China and build a relationship face to face. This was daunting as neither of us could speak the language but it was worth it. It allowed us to understand the buying and shipping process fully, start to finish. We now visit China every year to build on our relationship and expand on our knowledge of products. As a result, we are able to offer competitive pricing, which in turn has helped grow our sales.

Before long, our online sales gave us enough growth to warrant hiring staff to help manage sales. So, at the end of 2015 we moved our operations to two Toronto warehouses – one for selling products to wholesale customers and the other to sell to customers on eBay. This allowed us to tap into local traffic while simultaneously accelerating our online business. Our walk-in customers keep us abreast of market trends, whereas our eBay store gives us a platform for selling a wider selection of products.

One of our advantages is the amount of research we do before introducing products. Products that are new tend to offer higher margins so we rely heavily on stats and analytics to anticipate market demands. Each year, we visit factories in Shenzhen, China, hoping to catch the next big thing. Last year, it was VR glasses and the year before that it was selfie sticks.

Revenues for the business have been climbing rapidly, and we now have several full-time employees, who are all new to Canada.

Over the next year I hope to increase our international presence by setting up a warehouse in the U.K. I would also like to help new e-commerce sellers with a course or workshop. And although it's taking me longer than I thought, I still want to sit for the bar exam in the fall, just to leave the door open in case I ever want to return to my previous career one day.

Looking back, I would have never thought that I would quit law to sell stuff online, but as much as I love law, I enjoy running my own business even more. It is exciting to work alongside an amazing team to realize the opportunities for growth that present themselves each day.

Nadia Shuaib is co-founder of Budget Electronics, a Toronto-based cellphone accessory vendor

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Video: At age 22 and 23, these sisters have both founded their own startups
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