As a student at Oakland University, Rochester Hills native Tej Yale stayed busy: coordinating marketing for the school’s cricket club and athletic department, and getting involved with on-campus market research projects, among other activities. Though he graduated in 2013 and received his MBA in 2016, he still carries with him a student’s drive. As the founder and CEO of ThinkImpact, a digital marketing company specializing in marketing research and social media management, Yale relishes the opportunity to meet leaders in a variety of industries and to “learn about their respective startup journeys.” Outside of work, he’s a big Pistons fan — his parents were season ticketholders in the Bad Boys days — and likes spending time with his wife of eight months, Kanisha. (“Her smile is very vibrant and can truly light up a room,” he says. “I am very lucky to have married a very intelligent, kind, caring, warm-hearted life partner.”) Yale talked to the Indian SCENE about running a small business in the big pond of digital marketing and shared his advice for young entrepreneurs.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The Indian SCENE: What is the best part of your career?
Tej Yale: The best part of being an entrepreneur is that I get to interact with different individuals in different industries and get to learn about their respective startup journeys and see what I can learn from that. Some of the proudest moments that I have had as an entrepreneur, include winning the Young 10 within 10 Alumni Award, given to “entrepreneurs who are making an impact in the local community,” and working with a local Detroit-based serial entrepreneur who was hosting the TiECon Detroit-Chapter conference. TiE is an “organization that focuses on encouraging the next generation of entrepreneurs.” I helped market the event through social media and it was great to be able to network with industry-wide experts in different sectors, such as AI, Hollywood, and the local music scene.
IS: What setbacks, if any, did you have?
TY: Initially when I started ThinkImpact Inc., I was trying to get clients and customers so the business could grow — through LinkedIn messages, tapping into the Oakland University alumni network, and attending networking events. Being that digital marketing is a broad field and there are many competitors, there were barriers to entry, especially trying to attract potential clients who could simply go with a bigger marketing agency.
I decided to take a more localized approach, and do some marketing research to see if there was a need for what we offer, while also employing university students to provide them with a foundation in their career aspirations. Part of my marketing pitch to prospective clients was convincing them that we are not “another prescriptive based agency” when it comes to having a set rate, but rather that we are a small business that is very transparent when getting project-work done, is reliable, and produces results while building authentic relationships.
This has led to securing clients within Michigan and outside of Michigan in industries such as robotics, property management, tech, diversity and inclusion, record labels, energy and medical.
IS: How do you and your company stay involved in the community?
TY: I have always believed that when an individual or an organization accumulates a certain amount of profit, it is incumbent on them to utilize it in a practical, impactful way, whether it is giving back to the local community, or helping the people that helped you along the way. With this outlook in mind, I launched a non-profit division within ThinkImpact, ThinkHelping, in July 2018.
I also saw a need within the non-profit sector when it came to marketing-based activities to promote their organization’s mission and storytelling. Being that non-profits are often bootstrapped when it comes to budgets, ThinkHelping approached non-profits within the Michigan community, offering similar services as ThinkImpact Inc, but at a more cost-effective rate.
To date, ThinkHelping works with two of the largest non-profits – Komen Detroit Chapter, and the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan. ThinkHelping managed Komen Detroit’s Social Media for the Race for the Cure event last year in Downtown Detroit and has partnered with the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan on social media related needs, and as a sponsor for their events.
IS: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
TY: Professionally, I see myself growing ThinkImpact Inc. to be a stable, sustainable company and grow to a global level by consistently getting new clients, while also growing the number of employees, and furthering our mission of providing opportunities for the next generation, some of whom aspire to be entrepreneurs themselves.
Personally, spending time with my family and friends, traveling and exploring new cultures, and maximizing it to the fullest.
IS: What advice would you give young people about entrepreneurship?
TY: It is important to always keep up with the latest technologies in your field. This can be done through retooling and adapting as circumstances change, and by listening and reading about experts in your sector and continuing to learn from them.”
IS: Who inspires you and why?
TY: My parents inspire me. They have always supported me in any endeavors that I have chosen to pursue – whether it was picking my major, picking which university I wanted to go to, and my entrepreneurial journey. Their relentless drive, work-ethic and standards to which they hold themselves inspire me to be a better son, businessperson and husband every day.
Being that entrepreneurship runs in the family and my mom has experience working in corporate America, I always get their advice when I am faced with business decisions, on how to handle certain projects, and their perspective on life.
IS: What is the most valuable thing in Indian culture that you hope passes on to future generations?
TY: Regardless of anything that future generations may pursue, there are two traits that, when I think of Indian culture, should be at the core:
Regardless of what capacity this might be in, one should have a sense of pride, humility, warmth, and doing it in an “authentic” manner when participating in something or getting something done, rather than “just doing it.” Have a close-knit family circle that is present, regardless of any circumstances that might come up.
Second, having respect for elders and appreciating their value and wisdom.
IS: When you are not working, where can we find you? What do you enjoy doing?
TY: Hitting the gym – working out, playing basketball, tennis or swimming, hanging out with friends and family, spending time with my wife, Kanisha. I also enjoy traveling worldwide, and trying out local cuisine and then trying to cook and experiment with new dishes and being an avid reader.
IS: Best advice you ever received?
TY: “Always tackle the most complex task, and the rest will sort itself out.”
Favorite book: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Favorite movie: “Les Miserables”
Favorite vacation spot: Bangalore, India