We’re beyond thrilled to chat with Sylvia Chan who is the founder of Creative Genius Art Academy. Tune into our chat as we learn about Sylvia’s journey and tips for founders.
Can you tell us about yourself and how you got to where you are today?
My name is Sylvia. I’m an artist, entrepreneur and educator. As an artist, I paint and I do commissions for people bringing art to beautify home and business spaces. As a business owner, I run an art school called Creative Genius Art Academy that is located in downtown Markham designed to help individuals realize their creative potential. The academy brings art to everyone, regardless of background or experience and teaches students to break out of their comfort zone, explore new mediums and have a great experience creating art! My biggest passion is art and education and I love to see people of all ages create art and find their creative self expression.
I feel like life experiences lead to the next steps of personal growth and development. Back in highschool, I thought I was going to be an artist solely painting and selling art. As I went through my bachelors of fine arts at Concordia University, I started to see how the art world is, and how people can create art from anything. I lost a bit of my passion during my university years because of one particular teacher, that was discouraging. After graduating, I went to the University of Toronto for a bachelors of Education. When I was there, I discovered my second passion which is in teaching, and I decided I would be an encouraging teacher for any students I teach. Given my experience with the discouraging teacher I had, I learnt that is something I do not want to be. And I created the possibility of being a great teacher.
From there, I learnt about business, and how to grow a business through friends and people I met. What I learnt from these past experiences is the importance of grit, self-belief, and of contribution. There is going to be ups and downs in running a business, and having grit is important so when you fall flat on your face, you are able to get back right up. Self belief and confidence is also vital. If you do not believe in yourself, who would? Believe in yourself and many things can come out of that. With the talent and gifts you have, it is to be shared with others, so contributing your gifts and talents can help grow the community and make a difference for others.
Currently, this year because of COVID, we have online classes. We have international students from England, London, Quebec, Brampton, and California. Those are some really exciting things for us at the moment.
How did the idea come about and how do you go about validation?
I actually never thought that I would be like a business owner. Actually I thought I was going to be like a high school art teacher or an artist. How it started is, so I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Concordia University. And then afterwards my aunt especially was saying, oh, Sylvia, you should go into something that has a bit more of a stable career in the future. So she thought an art teacher would be the most stable. She recommended me to apply for a Bachelors of education at University of Toronto. I applied there and I got in. And to my amazement, I actually really enjoyed my courses and learning about the importance of education for young people. So there it sparked my second passion, which is education for people in general, especially with a focus with art.
After I graduated with a Bachelors of education, I was teaching as an art teacher at a private school. While I was there, I had some parents asking me whether I teach after school art programs. Back then, I said I can, and was open to teaching some students. I started teaching students in my basement. And then afterwards because of word of mouth, it started growing into like six people in my basement. And then eventually I needed to use my kitchen living room. And then eventually it became more, and I made more income than teaching at the private school.
So within half a year, I stopped the private school and I started teaching from home full time. And when it gets to like too many students, I can’t fill my basement or living space. I actually have an idea of renting an office space to test out this idea of an art school. So the following year, I believe it was 2015 so I rented my first 1000 square feet office space.
It was called Sylvia Chan art school. So it was me teaching and managing everything: including the website, learning about coding, doing my own marketing, keeping track of finances, and admin work. Literally everything, and it was like very long days. So during that first year of getting the office space, I hired my first employee, Brian. And within that first year, we literally doubled our number of students. And we noticed that there’s more and more students that wanted to have our classes at the office location. So the following year, we decided to have our first commercial location, which is a one right now. With the commercial location, within the first year, we hired around 25 teachers. It was a really big expansion. And now we have 400 students that come weekly to our art school. So this was before COVID. That’s the journey from like teaching in the basement to owning like having the first commercial location. So the next plans and steps I have for the business is we are currently buying a second location to have our classes in.
We’re having a second location November to end of this year, and we’re going to have it open for students January 2021. And we’re going to have both online and in studio classes.
What tips do you have for first time founders looking to get started?
Three ingredients for success: Focus, Passion and Action. Without either one of those, it will not work out. Imaging they are the legs of a chair. Without passion, you would not enjoy what you are doing. Without focus, things don’t get done to its fullest. Without action, there are no results.
I also think integrity is really important for the overall business, doing the things that you say you will do the time that you say you will do it and also communication skills as well with the people that you work with, with your clients and with the parents.
A lot of it is like people skills, if you can relate and like have conversations with the parents, that relating to like the kids and how they can benefit from like your business services, then that’s really good to have like, so be communication skills, being able to relate to people and to know what their needs are and how your services can help them.
What mistakes do you think founders should avoid in the early days?
Jumping into things too quick, without actually analyzing things first. I like to take steps where I can see it growing. Testing your ideas is also important. I find that it’s really important to plan like early and not later because if you like planning, it’s things are going to happen that you unexpected to happen and then you’ll have to adapt to it. So I personally like to plan things ahead of time. I have everything on my calendar to make sure there’s, if there’s any hiccups, it gives me enough leeway and time to problem solve those.
Another tip is actually hiring people hiring the right people. Hire the wrong people, they really affect your business. So I remember I hired someone because so a friend recommended the person. But because her performance was not to the standard I was looking for. Just because friends recommend you people doesn’t mean that it’s always the right people.
And also, when they are making too many mistakes, it’s best to fire them early than later on, just minimizes the impact that has on your business. Yeah, so my, my main thing now is if someone I hired is making like two to three mistakes that and and they’re not willing to learn from it or grow or change, then and they are definitely going to be like, that’s not good for the business.
Do you have any other tips in terms of team building?
Having an environment where there is open communication, where people feel included, and respected is important foundation to have. I talk to my teachers in terms of like when they come into the studio or they’re online, so I like to stay in touch with the teachers making sure that the classes are running smoothly, but there’s always like a form of communication respect, respecting their time.
With me and my teachers, we were very very straightforward, very blunt. I do tell them if there’s anything that like I do that is bothering them or anything like their turn, like they can always open up and tell me and for me, I like to listen to what’s matters to them because like they are so one that’s on my team. So whoever’s on my team, I make sure they’re well taken care of.
To build culture we share we like to share our students artwork and their individual artwork to so we touch with like. For example, if I finish an oil painting, I posted up on Instagram and then that’s our group where we can like share artwork, because I feel like besides us like being teachers, we also have a passion in the arts. It’s like a nice way of us to kind of relate to each other. That’s where we find a common ground where we can have like deeper calm communication with things that really matter to us.
How do you stay motivated?
I love what I do so it doesn’t feel like work. I am also very efficient. I like things done in the most efficient way. And I do take action and making sure things are done.
So for me to not have a burnt out, I have a lot of hobbies. I really enjoy. My hobbies is breaking. In the media term is breakdancing. So, like breakdancing. It’s like another art form where I can like express myself. Besides I do regular painting, I go to a gym often for any stress reliever, so gym is great.
And also being connected with your friends. So I know there’s a lot of entrepreneurs there’s get so focused in what they do, especially in the beginning of a new like startup. But I find that for our own for my own mental health, it’s good to like connect with friends and telling them if there’s anything that’s bothering me, they will be my my goal to to listen.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
One of my mentors, he runs his own music company. So the advice I got from him that stuck with me ever since I started my business actually, is the three ingredients for success in any successful business. So imagine that chair, so it has three legs. So the three ingredients, imagine one of the leg is focused, so being able to focus on on the given task and making sure it’s complete action, which is actually doing the work. And then the third one is passion. So having loving what you do is also really important, so if any of those are missing in the chair, it will collapse. So if you’re, for example, you’re not focused, then there’s not going to be a lot of results. If there’s no action, like that. That’s also the results. So for a passion, if passion is missing, whatever you do, it’s going to feel like it’s, it’s not so meaningful to you. And you’re just doing it for the sake of it, but it’s not something you really enjoy doing. Yeah, so that I take that with me everywhere I go. So if there’s something I need to do, I make sure action is there, I make sure I’m very focused. And I make sure that passion is there. So that my energy and enthusiasm is is in the in the task.
I feel like that’s like part of self discovery, finding what you really enjoy doing. So I know for me, I love art, like painting drawing. And I also love working with young people and mentoring them and communicating with them in any way that would help them like it for their future.
I find that when you find something that you really love to do and being able to have it in the business. That’s like the best combination. So for me, I run an art school. It’s like I love art education, working with young people. So my passion is already in my business. The rest is focus and action.
Where can our audience learn more about your business?
You can find us on Facebook. Creative genius Art Academy and then Instagram you can also find us and our website is https://creativegeniusartacademy.ca/
You can find Sylvia on sylviachanart on instagram.