By Tyler Mikitka
Hafiz Mitha is a “social entrepreneur on a mission to help remove barriers, increase real and diverse relationships and have fun in the process.” He is the Founder and CEO of PlayCity App and the Founder of Entrepreneurs Anonymous, with an extensive entrepreneurial background of over 15 years in the software and technology industry. His notable accomplishments include being the winner of the Radius Slingshot: Health Promotion Lab 2019 pitch competition, a Startup of the Year 2017 finalist, the 2011 Emerging Enterprise of the Year presented by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, and a TEDx Calgary speaker discussing How To Build A Better City Through Play. Vertical Motion and Hafiz share a goal to support entrepreneurs and founders alike as they face the challenging obstacles that come with starting and building a business. We invited him to tell his story and dive into the topic of mental health and how it impacts the entrepreneurial community.
Vertical Motion (VM): Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background?
Hafiz Mitha (HM): My name is Hafiz Mitha and I am a first-generation Canadian. My parents both immigrated from East Africa in the late 70s to build a better life and I am eternally grateful for everything that they have been able to accomplish. I grew up in Calgary and really have only ever lived here, except for a short stint I did in SE Asia with my former company. I have a degree in Political Science, love to play hockey, tennis and golf, and love to work within the community to bring people together.
VM: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced as an entrepreneur as it relates to mental health?
HM: I believe the biggest challenge we face as entrepreneurs is the pressure we put on ourselves to succeed. The trade-off when you start your own business is the “stable, consistent” lifestyle that your parents want for you. So going off on your own to see how you can do on your own terms is a daunting task when you know that everyone is watching, judging, and sometimes even waiting for you to fail. The hardest part for a long time was comparing myself to friends who were working at great companies, bringing in big salaries and “progressing” with their lives based on traditional definitions. Bigger houses, nicer cars, fancy vacations, while I am and have always been learning how to do more with less, going against the grain and reprogramming myself to live a life of minimalism. I don’t know if that is a survival tactic or just me selling myself on the notion but what I do know after being an entrepreneur for the last 15 years, it takes time and the journey really is the reward. Overcoming these thoughts of not fitting in, inadequacy and really feeling like I was maybe better off working for a firm has been replaced by the mission that I align with, value-added work that speaks to what I want to be spending my time pursuing and the fact that having more money to spend it on more stuff isn’t for me. Of course, I am not discounting the power of having funds, but they are now aligned with the ability to further our reach and do more good than for any vanity-driven reason.
VM: What inspired you to get involved in supporting other entrepreneurs with their mental health battles?
HM: We have heard it a million times. Leaders eat alone. Entrepreneurship is lonely. It’s not for everyone. Being a solo founder, I got most of my support from other entrepreneurs who were working out of coffee shops and out of co-working spaces. If you speak to any entrepreneur, feelings of imposter syndrome, inadequacy, fear of failure (and success) are common. These things are never talked about because of how being your own boss has been romanticized. If you aren’t hustling, grinding or making moves at all times of the day – you aren’t pushing hard enough. I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by a variety of people and most importantly, social entrepreneurs. These people are so driven by a mission that they have found ways to push through the first or few years of the uphill battle that comes with trying to change the world.
I started to see a psychologist in 2020 and it was the best decision I ever made. We hold so much in and just speaking about it can do wonders for our sanity. It is actually quite astonishing that when I would talk about the problems or issues that were keeping me up, as I was talking them through, often I would find solutions right then and there. Having a third party that was there to support me gave me the tools to come back to the present moment and not spiral into a tornado of disarray. I am very grateful for the push from my physiotherapist to start seeing the psychologist who has been a tremendous help in me being more compassionate and kinder to myself.
VM: Can you tell us a little bit about Entrepreneurs Anonymous? How it started? Where it is now?
HM: When the COVID pandemic hit, and we were pretty much forced into our cages (apartments, basements, etc.) it became very clear that there needed to be a space for us to chat about what was actually going on in our minds, how we were coping and allowing people to speak freely in a safe and judgement-free zone. Not everyone can afford to spend $200/hour with a psychologist and many aren’t even aware that they have any issues at all. There were days that I didn’t want to get out of bed. I thought it was over, for my business and potentially for myself. But the more I had open and honest conversations with others who were in the same boat, I felt less alone and the more we chatted, the better I felt.
The cool thing about a community that comes together based around a shared interest, is that the level of vulnerability encourages others to share and the group as a whole wins. I knew that I needed this so I created it.
VM: What advice would you offer to new entrepreneurs and founders when it comes to mental health? What can they expect to face in the entrepreneurial journey as it relates to mental health?
HM: I have been preaching the same messages ever since my first company that I founded in 2007 and left in 2014.
- Work on something that you love and have a bigger purpose as your driving force. If you are only driven by making money, you will burn out and having a north star will help you remain steadfast on the goal – regardless of the terrain that comes along the journey.
- Spend the time to get to know yourself better. Having more awareness will help build trust in your own intuition as you dive deep into the unknown. Meditation is a great way to start to quiet the mind and really listen to what else is going on within. When we can clear the chatter, we realize it’s mostly outside influence that causes the stress.
- Health is wealth – physically and mentally. Do the work to make sure you are giving yourself the best shot to succeed. This took me years to really dive into but today I don’t drink alcohol, sleep is my number one priority and I am very aware of how different inputs make me feel. This could be what I eat, what I listen to, who I talk regularly with – all of it. The less you numb and the more you lean in, you will find the true gems within yourself.
- Find a community that you can lean on for support. These people become your confidants, cheerleaders, potential collaborators. If you can’t find it, build it.
VM: Tell us a little bit about what you are working on now and your PlayCity app.
HM: PlayCity was developed after I was tired of being isolated and physically inactive. Similar to the situation many are in today, I had moved back from Asia and wanted to spend my time learning how to play tennis and meet others in the new neighbourhood that I was living in. After repeated attempts, I decided to take what was working in the market and adapt it to finding activity buddies who were in the same skill, same location and available to play around the same time. PlayCity was born in 2016 and we are on a mission to connect people through technology, offline – using play as a medium. Our ultimate goal is to battle social isolation, loneliness and physical inactivity while introducing people to others who they would not regularly meet. These conversations that happen are the real gems – allowing us to discover new people from various cultures while being active is a beautiful thing.
VM: Finally, if our readers want to learn more about Entrepreneurs Anonymous, PlayCity, or yourself, where should they go?
HM: If you are an entrepreneur who would like to meet with others, we meet as a group every Wednesday at 1 pm MST. You can learn more and sign up at www.e-anon.com. PlayCity is a free app that can be downloaded from the app stores or at www.playcityapp.com. I am also on LinkedIn and Instagram. Feel free to follow along and come along for the ride.