When Mehdi Mahdavi, President and Co-founder, at Zodiac Light Waves Inc., created his company he never expected it to become a family business.
In the 1980s, Mehdi finished his education in physics in Iran when he joined the Laser Research Centre as an optician and quickly moved up the ranks to the Head of Optics.
“I realized that I could start my own business because in a government organization I didn’t have enough freedom to do whatever I want,” he explained. “At that time it was the war between Iran and Iraq which had destroyed all the hospitals which, at that time, weren’t equipped to purchase parts, do repairs, or even communicate with the outside world.”
It was due to this realization that Mehdi became inspired to repair and sell medical laser systems to hospitals across the globe, resulting in the birth of Zodiac Light Waves inc.
At this time, Zodiac had entered the market not as a total wireless solution, but as an international company serving advanced medical laser systems.
However, in 1997, Mehdi and his young family moved to Canada where he put Zodiac on hold to continue his graduate studies at Simon Fraser University, in the summer of 2000 he joined JDS Uniphase as a Research Scientist.
Night Vision started after JDS Uniphase and soon optical wireless communication was added to the Zodiac portfolio and telecommunication became their main line of products.
Unfortunately, after a year JDS Uniphase laid him off.
“I remember clearly when he was laid off,” said his son Hesam Mahdavi, Vice President and Co-founder of Zodiac Light Waves Inc. “I came back from school and I saw a box at the door and he was in his suit behind the computer and said ‘I’ve decided not to work for anyone anymore.’”
ENTREPRENEUR SINCE BIRTH
During the time period when Mehdi was reigniting Zodiac, Hesam was in the middle of his tutoring career.
“By Grade 12 I got so busy that I had my weekends full, I had all the evenings booked early in the morning and started taking kids from other schools,” he said. “I realized it was a business, so I established my tutoring business in the first year of university.”
Not long after he began university, JDS Uniphase Corp. and Nortel went down causing thousands of people to get laid off, which is when he saw an opportunity.
“I started giving them job offers right on the spot to hire them as my tutors. It got really busy because I started advertising to the University of Ottawa, Carleton University, and Algonquin College,” he said. “By my second semester, I had to take a leave of absence from my university, because I got so busy I couldn’t really do school and run my business.”
Mehdi noticed that Hesam was taking time off and encouraged him to complete his education so he could have a solid background.
“Hesam showed interest in the business and I saw the talent. He was selling everything and anything to anybody; he had this capability to sell a goat as a pet,” he said. “So I pushed him to finish his education because you always need to update yourself and get certificates so people can trust that you can do the work.”
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
After graduating from university Hesam had joined Zodiac Light Waves Inc. with his father, who at the time, was exporting Canadian manufactured fibre optics and components to the Middle East and the United Kingdom.
“Hesam clearly told me that after two trips to the Middle East and international exhibitions that he wanted to focus on the Canadian market and that he wasn’t interested in the international market,” explained Medhi. “So I said ‘You can start on the Canadian market and I’ll do international’ then he started selling CCTV systems, security systems, and locks.”
It wasn’t long after that when the Mahdavi’s neighbour inquired about their business.
“I told him we are focusing on the Canadian market now,” said Mehdi. “He told me that he was building a new retirement home and wanted to know if we could do some of the security for it.”
THE FIRST CCTV INSTALLATION
“I started looking into camera systems and access control when my father’s neighbour asked us for a price for his cameras,” explained Hesam. “So, I started researching and I found cameras and how they connected to the DVR. So, I bought 20 cameras from China, went on eBay and bought a DVR card for $300 and smashed them to get a DVR camera server.”
Hesam shared that a DVR typically costs between $4-5k but he spent $600.
“So I went up the ladder, installed the cameras, came down, and put them together. As soon as I turned on the DVR machine to see the cameras, it worked for five minutes and then crashed,” he said. “So I called the DVR company from Montreal and I said ‘Hey guys, your card keeps crashing, and this was the model number.’ and he told me, ‘You bought the fake version from eBay’. So now I’m $6,000 in the hole and I already sold this to the customer for $1,000 and I made $400.”
After getting off the phone with the DVR Company Hesam understood how difficult it was going to be.
“I told the customer about the mistake I made but never charged him a penny more than what I would’ve agreed on,” he said. “That was the cost of learning and it was my first project, but they’re still here for 15 years now and I was able to get more business from them after that.”
RECOGNIZING ISSUES IN RETIREMENT FACILITIES
After the first installation, Hesam quickly realized that there was chaos throughout the retirement building.
“The phone wasn’t talking to the nurse call system, nothing was able to talk to the resident phones and access control and so they had 5-6 trades coming in and out and nobody could figure out how everything could work together,” Hesam said. “So I said ’Hey if I introduce a company that will take care of all of that so you just deal with one person, one company, and they come in and just do everything for you. Would that be of interest?’ and he said ‘Yeah give me the phone number’ when I explained that it doesn’t exist yet, but that’s what I want to do.”
For the next six months, Hesam catapulted himself into conducting proper research to ensure that he could set everything up properly, avoiding purchasing equipment from eBay, contacting vendors, and going through the proper channels.
“After six months, I came up with my total solution, which had the wireless nurse call system, WiFi and of course a proper camera system,” he shared. “There was a lot of learning, but it worked out great. After that, I kept adding on to the portfolio because I realized that there were issues with their TV providers and fibre optics. So I contacted Rogers and Bell and became resellers and the customers were happy because they didn’t have to deal with Bell and Rogers, they only had to deal with us.”
THE MANTRA OF ZODIAC: THE THREE HS
Since the beginning, the core founding factors of Zodiac was and always is the customer service as followed by the three Hs:
- Hard Work.
“We are humble to everybody, even our competitors. We’re honest to our customers, even if we lose the business. We’re not going to lie to you, and we will do the hard work,” said Mehdi, expanding on the three Hs.
“Our business is not only about making money or signing contracts, it’s also about living together. It’s not only about customer service, but it’s also the human behaviour that we adopted and we are going to continue our relationships with our customers to provide better service for them.”
Hesam shared that no matter someone’s race, religion, or gender identity, Zodiac is a proud supporter of diversity and inclusion.
LESSONS LEARNED AS ENTREPRENEURS
When Hesam joined alongside his father at Zodiac, he expressed that he had very difficult days in the beginning — especially since he had recently gotten married and needed to work more hours in order to support him and his wife.
“I was working on Zodiac and at the same time doing wiring jobs as a site. I learned a lot of lessons, but the main one is that if I go back in time, I would definitely go work for another company for at least a year because I’ve never worked for anyone.”
Hesam shared that he has been an entrepreneur his whole life, never worked for anyone other than himself, so when he joined his father he found that a lot of things were very new and that he’s still learning even to this day.
“I get bored of doing the same thing every single day. I like to invent and I like to create, whether it’s creating an opportunity, or creating a product, so since I joined Zodiac I’ve created nine different products that were introduced to the market. And I like to have my own voice, my own ideas, my own way of doing things. And I must also say that people who want to start a business, their life partners have to be on board as well and to remember that you’re working to live, not living to work.”
– Hesam Mahdavi, Vice President, Co-founder of Zodiac Light Waves Inc
THE FUTURE OF ZODIAC
The future at Zodiac is bright as the father and son duo continues to grow their team and expand their services and products across Canada.
“In business, you have a strategic plan for the next five years, and normally what happens is that it never goes in the direction that you want, and ends up somewhere worse or better,” shared Mehdi. “You just need to be vigilant to take the right action, at the moment that it needs to be taken. What is important is the quality of the service you provide to customers, the quality of the product and I believe with hard and smart work, we get to the right place.”
For more information on our wireless nurse call system click here
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