The Yes-Men

Cesium cofounders Sanjay Bakshani (left) and Vicken Kanadjian.

Cesium Telecom’s cofounders don’t take “no” for an answer, nor do they expect clients to

When you’re a small wireless distributor and Canada’s largest wireless carrier tells you it needs 30,000 chargers and several thousand cases for the launch of a device that will set the new standard for smartphones, you can’t refuse the business—even if you have less than 30 days to deliver.

This was the challenge Sanjay Bakshani and Vicken Kanadjian faced just weeks before the iPhone’s Canadian launch in 2008. Only in its sixth year of operation at the time, their company, Cesium Telecom, Inc., had a chance to prove itself if the products reached store shelves in time for the iPhone’s launch.

However, the night before Rogers Communications would host its press conference to launch the Apple device, the accessories arrived not at the flagship store but on Cesium’s doorstep. So the company worked through the night processing orders and shipped out products via same-day courier to ensure the accessories arrived in time for the press conference.

Through the Years

2002
Bakshani and Kanadjian cofound Cesium Telecom

2004
Cesium signs its first big vendor contract with Sony Ericsson

2005
The company adds Nokia to its portfolio

2006
Rogers becomes the start-up’s first carrier client

2008
Cesium signs a contract with Bell, Canada’s largest communications provider

2009
The company makes Profit magazine’s list of the fastest-growing companies in Canada for the first time (and lands on it again in 2011 and 2012)

2010
Cesium moves to a new 20,000-square-foot facility in central Montréal

2012
The company’s staff expands to 50 employees, and for the second year in a row, Bakshani and Kanadjian are finalists for the Ernst &Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award

As executives and media browsed the inventory the next day, there was no trace of the legwork it took Cesium to deliver—save for the absence of the products promised by the original distributing partner, whose size and rigidity delayed their shipment by a week.

“It was a real milestone for us,” Bakshani says. “No matter how big we get, we always want to maintain that level of service.”

Cesium was born when Bakshani and Kanadjian, two university students with computer science and engineering backgrounds, won two $5,000 loans from an entrepreneurship program at the Business Development Bank of Canada.

The first few months, the pair started out in a friend’s father’s office, buying small batches of Sony Ericsson phones—one of the first wireless devices with a colour screen—and selling them on eBay and to local retailers. Quickly realizing they’d entered a rapidly growing and evolving industry, the duo pursued their first carrier contract and, in 2006, signed an accessory-distribution agreement with Rogers. “We’re a very young and aggressive company,” Bakshani says, “but we always say we’re lucky to be in an industry that’s growing.”

Seven years after that first Rogers contract, Cesium has grown to 50 employees, another milestone for the company, and the co-owners are sticking to those small-business practices that earned them their reputation. A year after they were nominated for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, Bakshani and Kanadjian implemented what they call the Cesium core values—honesty and respect; entrepreneurial spirit; a passion for delivering a great experience; and think big, think positive—which were developed with the input of their team.

Their collaborative effort is another indication of the company’s humble roots and a quality that Bakshani says makes running the business interesting and rewarding. “I’m still continuously learning and involved,” he says. “If I worked somewhere else, I’d be a master of one area. Here, I interact with almost everyone and learn from everyone.”