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When Teja Edara Arrived from Hyderabad, India, at the Sauder MBA program, he already had a successful start-up experience. In 2009, in Hyderabad, he formed Green Ads, with the aim of providing eco-friendly mobile outdoor advertising in the fourth-largest city in India using tricycles as advertising platforms. By the time he sold the company to an investor, he had grown it to 250 part-time employees and 25 full-time staff. But he learned some painful lessons.


“I was 21 and I just didn't have the experience and insights to scale the business properly,” says Edara. “I made many good decisions, and the business was a success, but I also made poor ones, too, that hurt our finances.

“I decided it would be best for our employees if I sold the company and gained more experience elsewhere.”

After a stint in the Mumbai office of CapGemini, a consultancy, he decided to pursue a Sauder MBA—though not before co-founding another start-up in India that sells organic mangos using a digital marketplace, a growing business that Edara still co-owns and advises.

When he arrived in Vancouver in August 2014 to begin studies he had the germ of an idea for a new start-up. Justgreet would be a greeting card company where customers could order and send physical greeting cards, designed by Vancouver artists, to anyone in Canada and the US for a flat rate of $5, with local brands paying for space on the card.


His problem was that he knew nothing of the Canadian market or even the Vancouver business environment.

“I started looking for people who could advise me informally,” says Edara. “I really did not know where to turn, but I had heard of Praveen Varshney, and knew of all the support he and his family have given Sauder. So I took a chance in November 2014, contacted him through LinkedIn, and asked if he would meet me.”

Recalls Varshney: “Of course I said yes.” A Sauder graduate, and major investor in technology, real estate and mining, Varshney has often met young entrepreneurs for a “walk ‘n’ talk” to advise, give guidance or a contact. “And Teja immediately struck me as a passionate, hungry, hard-working entrepreneur with an interesting concept.”

Varshney came onto Justgreet as an informal advisor to Edara, a role formalized a few months later when he became an investor in the business.

Fraser Hall is another Vancouver seed investor and graduate of Sauder, who is also an informal advisor to Justgreet. According to Hall, it is no accident there is such interconnectivity between the Sauder entrepreneur program, students, recent grads and the Vancouver venture capital/angel investor community.

“Vancouver is generally referred to as a small market city and in many respects it is, however, when it comes to entrepreneurs we have a deep bench,” says Hall. “For the Sauder community, there is a sense of acknowledgement and trust that brings us together and help to cut through the noise.”

“I like investing, and so does Praveen,” continues Hall. “And we investors don’t feel like we are competitors. When we work with entrepreneurs, the relationship extends beyond capital to include both expertise and network. A combination that I hope extends the founding teams’ runway. It is a very collaborative space. We are just trying to help each other. Both Praveen and I mentor a lot of start-ups that we have nothing to do with—we just want to see the ecosystem grow.”

Edara also approached newer Sauder MBA graduates to mentor him, including Mark Proudfoot and Jay Rhind who, coincidentally, were also being mentored by Fraser Hall. The two entrepreneurs had met in Sauder’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship track and turned their class project into their first start-up.

“By design, the MBA programs have a lot of group work,” says Rhind. “You quickly identify who you want to do group work with. Within the first few months, Mark and I realized that we worked very well together, and we have very complementary skills.”

“Jay and I were classmates,” says Proudfoot, now COO of Justgreet. “I made a decision I wanted to do a start-up and figured I should partner with the smartest person in the room. And I saw some of his presentations and decided Jay was it.”

Both turned to Paul Cubbon, lecturer and leader of the entrepreneurship track at Sauder, for advice on who could mentor them. Since they were developing a real estate crowdfunding platform, Cubbon circled them back to Fraser Hall, whose investments include real estate development, for consultation. The project failed, though Rhind notes it was good that it did so quickly and taught them they wanted to work together. They moved onto another start-up together as employees #4 and #5.

But Proudfoot was intrigued by Teja Edara’s Justgreet concept and, after Praveen Varshney’s investment, joined as COO and co-founder.

“Teja came to Jay and me asking for advice about his financing and model, and to let us know what he was up to. I had no expectation of becoming super involved. But I really liked him. He is one of those guys who has tons of hustle and an attitude that success is inevitable.

“At the time, I was working with an incredibly complicated financial technology start-up that was going to take a really long time to get to market,” says Proudfoot. “Justgreet is just the total opposite of that. I loved Teja’s concept, and its simplicity, and how quick we could get it out to the market and try it out. We liked how scalable it is. And it was easy for me to see how he could make it work. More importantly, I saw Teja needed a partner, and we have complementary skills. So it all just made sense to go work with him.

This article by Allan Jenkins originally appeared on the Fall 2015 issue of Viewpoints magazine.