Mohamad Sawwaf

Take the risk. Start sooner. Just jump on it.


As the CEO of Manzil, Mohamad Sawwaf brings over 10 years of financial services experience to Toronto. After obtaining his MBA from the Rotman Business School at the University of Toronto, he is now half-way through his doctorate with a focus on Islamic finance.

Manzil began while Mohamad Sawwaf was doing some research on the financial regulatory environment in Canada. He was looking to answer the common question of what types of services or products are available for the Islamic community in Canada. He found that there were basically none. There were some great efforts, but not all were compliant.

Being the Teaching Assistant for the only Islamic finance class at the Rotman Business School allowed Mohamad Sawwaf to see that this area could be created. It didn’t seem as though anyone was taking that risk to fill that need, so Mohamad took it upon himself. He shared this idea with a friend and things were set into motion.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Listening to people in the community asking me about Islamic finance practice and products. During my experience at the business school as a teaching assistant we got into questions like “What do these structures look like?” and “Do they apply within the Canadian context?” Knowing that there’s a need and demand and that it could be done, I began working on making this a real thing.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I spend a lot of time strategizing with my team and finding solutions together. There’s also an administrative aspect to my work. I am in contact with investors and clients by phone or in face-to-face meetings; catching up on emails and handling inquiries and requests from potential clients.

How do you bring ideas to life?

It’s all about execution. Either you know what it takes to make it happen and you do it. Or you don’t know how to do it, but you find out by asking people and then make it happen and bring it to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Actually, one is in the alternative lending space. Because there are so few banks in Canada when it comes to options, alternative lenders are coming to light. They have a number of different solutions that appeal to the demographic.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

10,000 steps, that’s just a thing for me, always. I walk as much as I can. I don’t like a lot of down time during the day, so meetings are back-to-back. When I do find myself with down time, I’m catching up on emails, writing articles and staying busy. Basically managing my calendar to be efficient.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Take the risk. Start sooner. Just jump on it, knowing what I know now.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

My optimism and positivity are not seen as reality to some. I have an optimism that results happen, I really believe in that. A lot of people are naysayers with that.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Following the four rules of credibility. Always show up on time, always do what you say and say what you do, and always say please and thank you. It builds relationships quicker because they are first impressions that can make or break.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

A missed opportunity for a lot of people is networking. They don’t see value in it. I want to know more people because you never know what someone else may bring to the table. I don’t pass up meeting people. You never know when you will make a connection that can help in your business.

What is one failure you’ve had as an entrepreneur?

Your inner self-confidence is what it comes down to. The start-up world is lonely. I’ve failed myself many times by thinking I can’t do this. Managing emotions will help.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Maybe launching a subscription model for textbooks. Spend a monthly amount instead of $100 to $500 for a book that you may only need for one semester. I think there would be a market for that.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Air pods. I don’t know why I didn’t buy them sooner. Free from wires, it’s great.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Evernote, it’s my end-all tool. My days are so busy that I have to write things down or I will forget. I can organize my thoughts and I can integrate it with other apps to make sure I’m getting things done.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Everyone should read the Elon Musk story. His work ethic and his vision are things that make him a person that I look up to. Dedication, hard work, managing everyone’s expectations. Doing things on the go, like the make-shift assembly line outside the factory. He’s a CEO who rolls up his sleeves and gets things done. That’s one story that really inspired me.

What is your favorite quote?

Quoting my favourite visionary Elon Musk, I would say: “When something is important enough, you do it even if the odds are not in your favor.” And “The first step is to establish that something is possible; then probability will occur.”

Key Learnings:

  • Ideas could include being open to all possibilities, taking the time to really think about why we are doing the things we do, sharing knowledge with one’s team and the community at large etc.
  • Your inner self-confidence is what it comes down to.
  • You never know when you will make a connection that can help in your business.
  • Always show up on time, always do what you say and say what you do, and always say please and thank you.