Bilal Ahmed, Zehra Quasim, & Ahmed Ramirez, Founders of Blacktop
Today we hear often, “You just have to know someone” to help build connections and excel in our own respective fields. Most times? We don’t always know the right people. Three students from York University decided to tackle this issue by creating an application to bridge the divide between talent and opportunity in the Basketball Industry. Founders Bilal Ahmed, Zehra Quasim & Ahmed Ramirez are changing the pick-up game landscape through their application, BlackTop.
Blacktop is an award-winning platform that gamifies casual pick-up games. It is a way to find and create pickup basketball games through an enhanced user experience. Players create a profile, challenge and compete with others, check game availability, and have the opportunity to rise on the leaderboard. They aim to help remedy the issues that pick-up players face; whether it be from the organizing aspect, to the variation in competition. It provides players, coaches and recruiters a system of validation, reputation and additional data at any given moment.
Founder Bilal Ahmed realized the issue in the lack of opportunities through the story of his personal friend who had to constantly travel far away, spend quite a bit of money and look for recruiting opportunities elsewhere. Bilal reminds us of his inspiration for this application, as he says “They’re sick players in small areas, and I wanted to recognize them to take them to the next level.” Blacktop acts as a bridge to alleviate those without “connections” and look within local communities for talented individuals.
Gaining support and traction, the application is currently in its’ developmental phase. Enactus, through York University, is a non-profit organization that brings students and business leaders alike to build on entrepreneurial opportunities and skill sets while improving the quality of life for others. Blacktop works under this realm by inviting computer science students from both post-secondary and high school institutions to come together and further develop the application.
We got the chance to catch up with all three founders and get their ideas on the process of developing an application, staying motivated, and other little tips & tricks!
Creating and executing an idea is harder than it sounds. Often, doubt creeps into our lives more than we’d like. This group of individuals studied in fields outside of computer science, namely accounting and media. They recall looking into many courses for computer science, asking for advice and understanding that the learning curve exists.
Ahmed reminds us that the,
“Learning curve is slow but over time you just have to do it. There’s always going to be a learning curve, especially when you’re doing a service-driven application. Learning from people who’ve done it before is very helpful. It’s like bouncing around ideas. You have to be very flexible, knowing that your application or your venture can change.”
We asked the team, how do they deal with self-doubt? Bilal summed it up perfectly,
“When doubt creeps in, that’s when everything breaks down. You’ve got to believe in yourself. Even if there is doubt, you still have to push through...You have to be open-minded.”
Brought together by the opportunities presented by the Entrepreneurship Development Association at York University, these three individuals are driven by their ambition, work ethics, and belief in their idea.
We asked, “What would be your advice for people who are looking for a co-founder?” They each had a perspective to share.
“My advice? Go out to the startup community, go to events pitching your ideas, see who’s excited about it, see who comes out and speaks to you further about this. Even reaching out to people you’ve already worked with and that really shows how they work, and you know what their work ethic is.” - Zehra
“Vision has to be aligned...co-founders should bring different skills to the table.” - Bilal
“Look for Co-founders closer to home; people who have the same mindset or in the same field.” - Ahmed
The team aspect is an important part of their journey. They emphasize the importance of a supportive community and being empowered. They let us in on how they deal with getting past the fear of failure and rejection while staying driven.
“Fail fast if you need too, and pivot your ideas, maybe come up with other ideas and pursue those. It’s okay to fail. I think that’s something people don’t realize, that it’s fine to fail. Before you do fail there’s so much opportunity, to get mentorship, get some advisors …Being a part of a team where something like an accelerator allows you to get advice on a weekly basis, gives you a bit of topics every week to look into. For example, we have a branding workshop that helps us look into our branding.”
Bilal and Ahmed draw attention to “having a goal” as it drives them as a team and provides a boost of motivation.
During our conversation, the team reminded us of the value of validation during their journey.
Zehra broke it down and let us know,
“Validation allows you to see what your actual problem is. What you’re trying to solve is an actual problem. Maybe you need to change up the problem a little bit...even if your solution is the best solution for that base. It takes time to do validation, you have to have the right questions, the right plan to go in and see what their issue is. It’s so important. You don’t want to be solving a problem that doesn’t need solving. You don’t want to have a solution that isn’t really ideal to that base...It will never be perfect...it allows us to discover new customer bases.”
Tried and true, Blacktop’s founders remind us that growth is essential and helps to further the goals set in place.
Balancing school and a company is no easy feat, but as full-time students they remind us that self-discipline and scheduling is a must! The team reminds us that time-management is key.
“Once you literally write down your goals, you’re more inclined to do it. That really helps.” - Bilal
“Planning ahead. Plan the month before...See what you have planned, tweak what you need to tweak…” - Zehra
“Be consistent with your studies. Set one or two hours for your business, which is not a lot, we have 24 hours a day.” - Ahmed
Final advice? If you’re looking to get started, “play the long game” says Bilal and take advantage of all the resources financially and/or mentorship that are available municipal and provincially.
And remember, “Always be humble, always be open to learn. Give back and something will be given to you.”