As part of a new series looking at the people behind the companies on our platform, we sat down with Mohamad Sawwaf, founder and CEO at Manzil. The company is a breath of fresh air in the financial space, offering halal financing and investment solutions for ethically-conscious people. Smart, exciting, and interesting, much like Mohamad himself. Check it out!
First up, tell us a little bit about your background in the financial industry.
I've worked at some of the largest Financial Institutions here in Canada, specifically in wealth management and retail banking for over ten years. I held multiple roles spanning from advisory to leading a team of 35 people who managed $1.6Bn of wealth assets within a particular region. I have been directly serving the needs of individuals and families by providing financial products and solutions for the Muslim demographic and Canadians at large. I've been certified as a Financial Planner (CFP) and hold two master's degrees (MBA & MSc.) and currently finalizing my doctorate in Islamic Finance.
And what was the inspiration behind Manzil?
Manzil has been a culmination of the last ten years of professional and academic background. In 2014 I became the Teaching Assistant and Co-Lecturer of the only graduate-level Islamic Finance Course In Canada. Throughout the course, we would always get asked who is actually doing this here in Canada, of which no one was doing it at scale with a sustainable model. I just got tired of not being able to help a community that wanted financial solutions that abided by their religious beliefs. So I decided to take it head-on myself. Through the previous startup I worked for, I met my co-founder Sam. When I shared this idea with him, he encouraged me to execute and move forward with the business.
What's been the most surprising thing about setting up your own company?
It has to be the unity we've created amongst a community that, at times, has been fragmented. The amount of ambassadors and advocates that we have created by sharing our story has been phenomenal. There is no shortage of fans that want to share the Manzil story. Furthermore, we have been able to educate the masses about the fact that there is a whole community out there that is underbanked. Creating awareness about Islamic Finance through education has been a critical element to our success.
And the most challenging?
There are many unknowns and obstacles you face in the startup world. From dissolving partnerships to ensuring that you are continually complying with the ever-changing legal and regulatory environment, you can never be prepared enough. As a startup, you need to be agile, make quick decisions (and live with the outcomes), and the team needs to be of the mindset that we need to be moving forward continually. The only way to do that is by overcoming everything that gets put in your way. Otherwise, you stay stagnant and end up going down a rabbit hole, thinking that what you're trying to create maybe impossible.
Working in a startup is pretty full-on. What do you do when you're not at the office?
There is never a shortage of work, and you can keep yourself indefinitely occupied twenty-four-seven. You have to force yourself to stop; otherwise, you find yourself missing out on the pleasures this life has to offer. I spend most of my time off with my wife and two boys. Although, to be honest, my mind is often held hostage at Manzil. I wish I could spend more wholesome time with them because I owe it to them, and they most definitely deserve it! I also love to cook; it helps me blow steam and unleash the creative in me. Plus, it provides a sense of accomplishment. I also try and squeeze any time leftover to finish my doctoral thesis.
Had you tried to raise money before using FrontFundr?
Yes, we have. We were fortunate to raise a $1.15M pre-seed investment round from friends, family, and angels. This money enabled us to create these products and get them onto the market and make halal income investing and mortgages accessible to an underbanked community for the very first time.
How did it go?
If you think it's hard, well, it's actually harder. It was long, arduous, and painstaking. Never underestimate how hard it is and how long it will take you to convince strangers that what you are trying to create is the next big thing. I pitched over a hundred times, but when you finally get that one "yes," it makes it all worth it; all the pain immediately goes away. Fundraising is a full-time job and doesn't end; I started raising my second round the day after we closed our first.
Why are you launching a crowdfunding campaign now?
The focus for Manzil has always been on creating products that our community has been seeking for decades. The benefit of crowdfunding is that you can attract this same community to be part of the culture you are building through your platform and products. We genuinely feel this model will only succeed via this peer to peer model approach we are taking.
We are very impressed with the investor community that FrontFundr has captured. We also love that they focus on companies trying to solve complex problems while making an impact. It's encouraging when another company has bought into your mission and vision, and they truly and genuinely want to help you achieve it.
What do you hope to achieve as a result of your campaign?
The purpose of this raise is to attract investors into our Halal Mortgage Fund - and no, you do not have to be Muslim to invest in our fund. We have many non-Muslims that have invested on the basis that our fund achieves their socially responsible and ethical goals. The Muslim demographic here in Canada has the lowest homeownership rates in the country, and it is not because of their household financial balance sheet. This fund solves this accessibility issue by providing the appropriate capital that allows this community to finance a home purchase for the very first time while keeping in line with their religious beliefs. It's the first step in the journey to create long term generational wealth.
Where do you see Manzil in 5 years?
We want to be the premier Islamic Neo bank of North America serving Islamic and ethically conscious individuals of all backgrounds. At that point, we'll be offering a plethora of financial solutions through our technology platform.
Manzil's campaign is now live on FrontFundr. Head over to their campaign page for all the details!