Taking the tech industry by storm
Sonya Gill has achieved the impossible: She is one of the first South Asian female entrepreneurs tackling a predominantly male field of tech and social media, has self-published a book and launched Canada’s first social media magazine and get this, she’s done it all before turning 33. Born in BC and raised in the Northwest Territories, Sonya is no stranger to the world of entertainment. From a young age Sonya’s parents, a retired electrical engineer and retired academic, fueled her passion for entertainment and ensured she found the spotlight she desired. Armed with nine years of experience in Journalism and Social Media, Sonya has worked for television and radio stations like: The Weather Network, ATN, India Abroad, BBC/Worldband Media, Sahara One, Jiggy TV, TV Asiana and The Food Network. The ex-radio host conquered television to publicize her personal brand and now is embarking on the next episode of her career with her social media agency Youzus, which now has 12 employees and clients from all over the globe. All this and she has time to write an e-book, too.
How did you get started with Youzus? What motivated you to start your own company?
I was working another blog because starting Youzus, it was called ‘The Young and Sassy’ and was geared towards women, encouraging them to live their best lives. When I was in NYC I transitioned my old blog to Youzus, meaning ‘use us,’ as I found there were a lot of people contacting me to leverage my blog to review their products or write reviews. It was also during this time that I was well into my career in radio and television, so not only was I leveraging my blog, but I would leverage my Twitter account for brands that were looking for more exposure. I thought about it, everyone seemed to use me to help increase the profile of their brand, so it was natural progression to turn this into a business. In 2011, when I began teaching new media for television and radio at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, Youzus took an even bigger life form as I was doing a lot of client facing. In 2012, I quit my job in television and decided to dive in feet first. I relocated to Toronto a year later to pursue a position with the Food Network, and soon after was cast on a new show produced by elleFactor where I am a coach and mentor. The rest is history. I think the motivation was creating a life for myself that I had control over, as most entrepreneurs will tell you. A life that I could live on my own terms and affect individuals in the way I envision society changing for the better.
• Sonya was nominated as Emerging Entrepreneur of The Year by Toronto Board of Trade, and placed in the top 5.
• She wrote and self-published her own publication called Keep It Super Simple for Social Media: How to build your brand online which is available for purchase on Amazon.
• Was deemed a ‘woman to watch out for’ in 2012 by Advantage Magazine
• Nominated for RBC’s 2012 woman entrepreneur of the year award
• Launched Canada’s first ever social media magazine, called The Youzus Report
You chased your dream and moved to NYC. What was the experience like?
When I first moved to NYC it was right after my best friend had passed away. It was a really low time in my life, but also a time of deep reflection and definitely a time where I understood that life is not guaranteed to anyone. So I had a lot of fire under me during that time. I moved out to NYC with a mission to conquer the South Asian television industry as a TV host (yes, you can laugh, but don’t forget about that fire;)). And I almost did just that. Looking back on that journey still gives me goose bumps to this day. I think every person in their life time should travel abroad, and mine just happened to be NYC – the most exciting city in the world, in my opinion. I cannot even begin to describe the energy in that city. It’s just so electrifying, motivating and inspiring. It just keeps you going every single day, non-stop. Everyone that lives in NYC is a ‘hustler’ – so to speak – and is there to achieve and accomplish a dream. It is truly a city of dreamers, but also a city of movers and shakers. When you want something and you go out to get it, you’ll actually meet someone who will know someone who will know someone else which leads to a process of unveiling your potential. But then again, I hear L.A. is like that as well, just with better weather!
What are some roadblocks that you encountered throughout the years?
You know what’s funny, now that I look back on everything I have to say that for every time I thought I was hitting a roadblock I was actually being re-directed to something better. And I know this sounds cliché, but it cannot be any truer. But trust me when I say that there were definitely a lot of them.
What is your motivation that keeps you going? Is there an end goal in mind?
My motivation is proving to myself that it can be done. The more I keep accomplishing goals and checking them off my list and my vision board, the more it motivates me to keep adding to that board and list. My team motivates me, because I know the places they see us going and it’s up to me to make sure those things happen. And of course my family motivates me, especially my parents. They are truly my biggest inspiration. I’ve seen where they’ve come from and what they’ve built, and so on days where I ‘don’t feel like it’ I think of my 65 year old mother, for example, who still gets up at 5am every morning because it’s what she does. As for an end goal, I can’t say I have one. But I do know I want to leave a legacy behind and until that happens, I can’t rest.
Well for starters, this next year is most likely going to be one of my biggest (and possibly toughest) years yet. Youzus has only been in business for a little over a year and already we have serviced close to 80 clients worldwide, published a book, created Canada’s first social media magazine and in a few weeks we are launching a tech project called SocialWu (www.socialwu.com). One of my goals in the coming years is for Youzus to be known as a global marketplace. A one stop shop for social media experts and brands combined. So to say there is a lot of work to be done would definitely be an understatement!
Who is the most impressive celebrity that you’ve met?
I have to say Bikram Choudhary – although it was just a phone interview. But just to listen to his journey and how he established ‘Bikram’s Yoga’ and then turned around and patented an entire movement?! C’mon, that is just genius. He was definitely thinking ahead of his time.
Where do you get your inspiration?
It really depends on the day. Sometimes it’s at the gym, sometimes it’s in the shower or when I’m talking to a friend. But almost always it comes from a book, more specifically from biographies.
What led you to write your first book? Is there another book in the works?
When I was first establishing the business, we were so new that it was tough to find clients to trust that we were going to deliver what we said we were going to deliver. So it was a very natural step in the growth of the company. It’s just something I knew I had to do to prove myself as an ‘expert’ in my field. As for other books, maybe down the road, but nothing is in the works yet.
Don’t give up. There will be many sleepless nights and lots of anxiety as you launch your business, but keep persisting. It gets better and when it does, it’s amazing.
Don’t do it for the money. Do it for the vision, the passion and the mark you want to leave on the world. Money will eventually follow, it always does.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, your parents who want you to get a ‘side job’, your friends who don’t see your vision, or society that tells you need to have your ducks in a row before pursuing your dreams.
Why aren’t there many South Asian women in the technology and social media sector?
To be honest, I don’t have an answer for this. But I do know that I really want to see more South Asian women kicking butt in the tech and online space. I want to see more South Asian women gracing the pages of Forbes or Inc. magazine with a new app they started or a new tech business they launched. There are just not enough of us. There are a lot of Indian males, but not enough females in this industry.