Interview with Entrepreneur and Philanthropist Sanjay Shah

In this excerpt adapted from an exclusive interview, Sanjay Shah talks about how he succeeds as an entrepreneur and shares some tips to help others start and grow their businesses.

Shah is a philanthropist and entrepreneur who lives with his family in Dubai. With a background in London’s financial sector, Shah discovered his true calling when he combined his love for music with his passion to help the less fortunate and founded Autism Rocks in 2014.

You’re an entrepreneur and philanthropist. What would you say is your biggest motivator?

Sanjay Shah: Passion is what motivates me, whether it’s a passion to assist those who need help or a passion to see an idea through. If I don’t feel strongly about a new business venture, it’s not going to happen. Passion, along with focus, is the difference between success and failure.

Autism Rocks certainly came out of passion. How did you come up with the idea?

Sanjay Shah: When my youngest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), my wife and I, of course, headed straight to the Dubai Autism Centre to see what treatment options were available. We were shocked by what we found. The centre was completely overwhelmed with requests for services from families who could not afford to pay for them. We immediately donated two minibuses to help transport families to the centre but knew we needed to do more. I was no stranger to giving to a variety of causes, but now that I had firsthand knowledge of what it’s like living with and raising a child with ASD, here-and-there giving was no longer enough. Our financial situation was sound and my wife and I decided then and there to come up with a way to help.

After a meeting with Snoop Dogg in 2013, the idea came to me: Why not combine my love for music and my passion to help others to create a way to raise money and awareness for autism? Autism Rocks was born.

Why do you think Autism Rocks is such a success?

Sanjay Shah: There are a lot of reasons, but I couldn’t have done it without the help of some very gifted people. I was fortunate enough to persuade Prince to perform for Autism Rocks at an invitation-only event in London and from that point on, performers such as Lenny Kravitz, Ricky Martin, Mark Ronson, Michael Bublé, Justin Bieber and Drake have agreed to perform. It’s important to note that many people, celebrities included, have family on the spectrum. It’s a widespread disorder and funds are desperately needed.

What do you do to stay focused and productive?

Sanjay Shah: One strategy I’ve found that works for me is to keep everything compartmentalised. For example, when I’m with my family, I am with them mind and body. I’m not thinking about my next business venture or stressing out about a deadline. The same is true when I work—I am totally focused on the tasks at hand.

That’s not to say I’m not flexible. Much of my work is done from home, so I have time in the morning to take the children to school and, because of the time difference between Dubai and the U.K., where I conduct much of my business, I have plenty of family time in the evenings. It really is a win-win scenario for both my family and my business endeavours.

It sounds like your days are full. As an entrepreneur, how do you stay on course?

Sanjay Shah: I figured out long ago that I’m a big-picture guy. I don’t like dealing with a lot of small details but am more productive if I can look on the end goal. With that mind, I make it a point to gather a great team together on each and every project. My team members are professionals who know what they’re doing and are much more knowledgeable about their specific areas of expertise than I. By trusting the team to handle the day-to-day detailed happenings, I can stay focused on what I do best.

You’re a seasoned entrepreneur now, but what advice would you give entrepreneurs who are just starting out so they don’t make the same mistakes you did?

Sanjay Shah: Mistakes are essential to learning and I certainly made some. Probably the biggest mistake I made was losing money investing in businesses I knew nothing about. I didn’t take time to do the research and I handed money over to strangers. I learned never to do anything without a complete understanding of the processes as well as the people involved.

What recommendations can you offer entrepreneurs to help them toward a path to success?

Sanjay Shah: There are several. First, every day scour the news headlines for ideas, openings, trends and events. I tell entrepreneurs to read two books: “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. Both are great business philosophy resources. And, each morning, reflect on your long-term goals and think about what you have to do to achieve them.