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How a 17 year old international student thrived in both the service and entrepreneurship worlds in 5 years.

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1) Who am I?

I am Vinayak Mahajan, Founder & CEO of GiftAFeeling Inc. - the only gifting company in the world that educates people on how to find a gift based on research done on human psychology by the top universities in the world like Harvard, UBC, UBerkeley, top streaming platforms like BBC, as well as clinical psychologists around the world.

I’m also a thought leader, who has introduced to the world terms like Giftophobia, which if you didn’t know, essentially is a fear of gift-giving, gifts - the whole process in general. Moreover, I run a team of psychologists and researchers based in University of Toronto, McMaster University, University of Western Ontario, Kwantlen University in Canada, Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherland, and some universities in India, Pakistan, and the USA under GiftAFeeling Research & Development.

Furthermore, I’m a #1 Global Best Selling author for the book - Unearthing the “Gift”, a one of a kind book available today, online or offline, that explains how focusing on human psychology can help you answer this very question of “What to gift”, and help you find a proven-to-be-loved gift for your mom, dad, soulmate or anyone!

Photo of Me

2) From a 17 year old international student to making it big at Canada’s biggest banks:

I moved to Canada as a 17 year old international student and got my first ever job within 3 weeks of being here at a Honda car manufacturing factory as a Quality Inspector; followed by working in a convenience store, Pizza Pizza, and Pizza Ville for 8 months, until I got an internship as a software developer at the Royal Bank of Canada. Not as easy a transition as it may seem, as this was after applying for 200+ internship jobs, 3 rounds of interviews, and securing the 2nd position in Canada and top 20 globally in the Master the Mainframe World Championship, which essentially is a coding competition held by IBM annually, where students from around the world can participate.
This was the beginning of my employment journey where I actually got to work on the skills I had gained while studying textbooks, doing assignments, and writing exams at Georgian College. With a goal to not go back to working at the pizza stores, I took some extra responsibilities at the bank and automated 250+ hours of manual work in my team which got me a part-time position after my internship ended. After working part-time for 4 months while finishing my third semester at the college, my work gained some appreciation from the higher management at the bank, and I was called back for another 4 months internship during the winter break. Alongside came another opportunity that I was handpicked for - I was made the Student Community Leader where I had to mentor 150+ students who joined the bank as interns, and organize events and learning activities for them. Towards the end of this internship, I was awarded the Best Student Networker Award. But there was something more exciting, at the beginning of my second internship, I was made to enroll for an Advanced Digital & Professional Training at Ryerson University for 4 months, held part-time on the weekends while I worked at the office during weekdays. The full fees were covered by the bank and it wasn’t until the last day of my second internship that I figured why I was made to take this training - this training was to suffice for the degree so that I can join the bank full-time upon graduating with a 2-year diploma from the college. I had an education loan and wasn’t in the best financial situation to study another few years at some university and gain my bachelors degree. Thanks to the Royal Bank for not only getting me at par with an alternative to getting a degree, but for also giving me another opportunity to work part-time during my fourth-and-final semester. Moreover, just before starting the final semester at college, I was called for an interview and was made the RBC Student Ambassador for 4 months. My job was to get the bank quality students from colleges and universities as interns, and I ended up getting 3 interns hired.

3) My growth catalyst:.

Before I start to talk about my first day as a full-time employee at the bank, I’d like to reflect back on what I think the biggest catalyst was in my journey thus far. Upon thinking deeply, I think the whole journey of learning to code myself, after I had given up Computer Science in grade 8 during my school time, restarted while I worked for the Honda factory (my first job). The city, Barrie, where my college was located, was considerably small compared to where many part-time opportunities were located; thus, I had to travel 174 KMs to get to the Honda factory located in Alliston, ON; and work at 12 hours/day, twice a week. The travel and the monotonous work at the factory gave me enough time with myself, in solitude, that I began to write computer codes (algorithms) in my head. Such that, everyday before I left home for the factory, I’d create a challenge for myself like coding the game of sudoku, chess, etc, using Java. This got me so excited that I’d come back from work and jump onto my laptop to try out the algorithm I had created in my mind. Very soon, I had learned to code good enough such that I could afford to miss classes and submit the assignment on my own. This later came in very handy when I participated in the Master the Mainframe World Championship where students had to complete coding challenges in the shortest period of time, correctly and efficiently; and after a few weeks I secured the second position in all of Canada and top 20 around the globe. I believe this very skill has made some of the most complex things in IT very easy for me, thus, working at the bank, I never felt stuck or underqualified among my teammates all of whom had at least 15+ years of experience in IT.

Coming to my first day at the bank as a 19 year old full-time employee and a new graduate with a 2 years diploma and a few IT certifications, this was the first time that I felt content; not because I was proud of myself, but now I had all the independence to get involved, volunteer, and enroll for as many tech events happening in Toronto as I could without having to worry about getting a full-time job or returning home early to complete assignments or go to a class. Soon while taking on the responsibilities of a Db2 Systems Programmer which was my job, I started to broaden my horizons by taking training and courses of other technologies like Cloud, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, and soon got involved with the teams at the bank who work on these technologies. After a year working full-time, I started to juggle two jobs simultaneously - one which I was paid for, Db2 Systems Programmer, and second that I was working for free, doing POCs for new technologies at the bank. This kept going for 2 years and 5 months, when I got interviewed for a team lead position in another bank (which also defeated RBC to become the biggest bank in Canada in the same year). Within a month I took 5 rounds of interviews, and despite my age and short experience in the IT industry, I was selected for the position where I was supposed to lead the innovation pillar of the bank’s core IT infrastructure. Although I had led 150+ students in the past, managing full-time employees with 15+ years of experience was a completely different experience. I wouldn’t call any specific phase of this journey a success as I had enjoyed every single second of it which for me is the biggest success!

4) From the banks to entrepreneurship:

After completely being submerged in the organized and structured world of the service industry, switching to entrepreneurship was a slow process. I always believed in getting my basics right, similar to how I strengthened my coding skills when I started; I needed a mindset shift to think like a business person. Thus, my first step was reading books like - “Marketing Management by Phillip Kotler” and “SPIN selling”. And then I just put the books aside and observed the world around me - how things are being marketed on the bill-boards, banners, online, and on TV. Reading the case studies of brands, people who’ve done big in business, etc. After doing this for a few months, one thing that really stuck with me is “solving problems' - entrepreneurship is not about becoming a millionaire, but it’s about how you make people’s lives easier by providing them a practical solution to their biggest problems. And I had done it before by solving problems using technology for the bank. The challenge, however, was what problem to solve. As I looked around, I constantly kept getting ideas of what I could turn into a problem-solving business. So I picked up a pen and paper, and started to write about the biggest problems that I have faced in the past and if a third person could come & give a hand; and that third person would be the service-provider, the entrepreneur. It was after a couple of days that I figured that the biggest challenge I had faced was choosing a gift for a retiree colleague when I worked for RBC. And as I surfed the internet, I found two things - false-perceptions and research papers. There were many websites with no authenticity ranking on Google for keywords like - “Best gifts”, “Perfect gifts”, and “Top 10 gifts for abc”, and on the other hand were complex research papers from psychologists around the world. However, there wasn’t any interlink - nothing to bridge these two extremes, the theory and the trustable practicality.

As a result, I decided to build this bridge, and started looking for researchers and psychologists in the industry who were conducting research on gift giving. As the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and everything switched online, I started to spare some time to research online and connect with some psychologists researching these topics. Soon, a few psychologists and I gained some momentum and got to the root cause of this question - “What to gift”. Our goals were the same - solving this problem and helping people, so we started off educating people on these through various means including Zoom conferences, writing blogs as well as utilizing all social media platforms. Although my other mates were fully focussed on sharing just the content, I kept debating if we have really solved the problem. Eventually, this is what everyone else has been doing - educating through blogs and then ordering from Amazon. I had been through this before when buying a gift for a retiring colleague where there wasn’t any interface between the content consumption and the practical application. Thus, I decided to create a platform to bridge this gap between learning and buying and this was the beginning of “GiftAFeeling”. However, a short note to break this thought cycle of what many people think what GiftAFeeling is, which is “it’s a gift e-commerce store”, I would rather say that it’s a learning platform where you can learn the practical psychology behind proven-to-be-loved gifts via edutainment (education + entertainment). And as I always say - I never tell people to buy from GiftAFeeling because I don’t believe anyone can ever get someone to buy from us. I understand that there are a lot of companies out there investing fortunes into their marketing strategies to snach every single penny out of the customer’s pockets, but it only takes one badly received gift vs. all their promises that would mark the downfall of these companies. However, what I believe in and recommend to people is to get educated through GiftAFeeling. Learning the science behind gifting is of utmost importance, not only to gift well, but to also refrain from falling prey to these other giant companies with their fake promises of “Best gifts”.

With the ​​vision to leave zero questions in the mind of people when they are gifting, my goal is to make gifting as easy as grabbing coffee; no over-thinking or questioning. And this I believe is what I call a success being a solopreneur, not the sales, but how many lives I can impact - afterall gifting is all about sharing emotions and strengthening relationships, and today, post-pandemic, we need it the most!

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