Founded in 1972, brothers Mark and Huzefa Tinwala began making custom hardware that included decorative handles, security door chains, and doorknobs utilizing the in-house capabilities that made the company unique. After nearly 33 years of success, the second generation embarked on creating and fabricating stainless steel modular railing systems, and thus VIVA was born. For over a decade, family-owned VIVA Railings has been designing and engineering modular railing systems for clients all across the United States for companies like Beck and the University of North Texas. Currently, we have worked with well over 400 clients and that number continues to grow. With Huzefa overseeing day-to-day operations and continuing to build long-lasting relationships with construction and architect firms, VIVA continues to grow and expand with new railing systems and infill options like the ELLIPSE™ modular railing system.
Tell me about your early career.
I went to engineering school in Mumbai, came to Texas A&M university to get my Master’s in Construction Management, and worked for about five years with various general contractors while traveling/moving to FL, CA, NY, and TX.
How did the concept for Viva Railings come about?
My father and brother were in the decorative hardware manufacturing business, manufacturing door and window hardware. In 2004, I had just quit my job and wanted to do something on my own, and saw a sample of a railing baluster that my brother brought in from our store in Mumbai. I then started looking into this product line and market, spent the first year trying to sell railing parts to various companies (now our competitors) without much luck, and some money drained. Then, we (my brother and I) decided to venture out directly to architects and large general contractors by providing a turnkey solution of Design, Engineering, Fabrication, and Installation.
What was your marketing strategy?
Provide a quality product at a reasonable price, while maintaining an operational model of high margins, and most importantly, operate totally debt-free. We diversified by working throughout the country, and globally.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Several hundred percent to more than doubling revenue thereafter, and always having double-digit growth because of God’s grace.
How do you define success?
Do what you want, when you want to, with whomever you want. There are lots of important things in life besides money, but if you take care of your finances, it solves 98% of life issues; pray for the other 2%.
What is the key to success?
Don’t watch negative news; put your head down and work. Don’t get into debt, against conventional wisdom of leveraging off of other people’s money. Family always comes first.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
I know today more than I did a few years ago…and it continues.
What are some of your favorite books?
The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
The first year, when I was not bringing any money in, my family was supported on my wife’s income as a architect and we had a baby on the way.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
Blessings from parents, prayers, and support from my wife and brother, who is a co-owner of VIVA.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Take a leap early on in life when you are more agile and less anchored down with responsibilities. Give yourself two to three years to make it work, and work hard at it.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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