At just 17, Raja Khanna set out to see the world. He usurped part of his student loan to pay for a plane ticket and flew to Scotland, along with his best friend and his parents' blessing. The pair worked at pre-arranged jobs until they saved enough money to travel around Europe. As young, inexperienced backpackers they were promptly mugged and had "all their stuff stolen" but also experienced "generosity in its truest sense" from families who took them in.
"I think that my travel experience was critical in shaping who I am," says Mr. Khanna, 37, who today is co-CEO of Glassbox Television, a multi-platform broadcaster targeting 18- to 34-year-olds. "Coming from a suburb, it was key for me to get a broader perspective of the world."
Mr. Khanna, who grew up two minutes from the company's 17,000-square-foot studio in Mississauga, Ont., set off travelling again at 20 and yet again when he was a bit older, taking a year off from law school to go around the world.
"From a business point of view, you become more open minded and able to understand different perspectives," he says. "Everybody's different and they all have something valuable to offer."
He started his first company, the digital-media firm Snap Media Corp. (Snap Interactive back then), in 1994 while he was still finishing his law degree at York University's Osgoode Hall. He had already decided he didn't want to be a lawyer and was looking for something else to do.
"There was no venture capital - just a $5,000 loan from my dad to buy a computer," says Mr. Khanna. "Eventually my sister joined the company and we built it together."
There was no turning back. He loved innovating and the excitement of being in the game. "We had some great early successes and some colossal failures," he says. "So I learned a lot at an early age."
He attributes surviving the dot.com crash in the late nineties to pure stubbornness and a refusal to fail.
"We went from 50 people to 16, but we readjusted our model, got it back to profitability and sold it."
In 2004, he co-founded Quickplay Media, a mobile technology company that played a key role in introducing the first mobile video services to the North American market, taking it through three rounds of venture funding (and raising more than $30-million).
He left in 2008 to partner with Jeffrey Elliott on Glassbox, a company Mr. Elliott had founded in 2001 but that Mr. Khanna had invested in back then. Their first channel, BITE Television, is four years old and their music channel, Aux TV, was launched a few months ago. Aux is believed to be the first Internet broadcaster to be converted to an actual television station in Canada after being created online.
"I haven't had a real job since I was a retail sales person when I was 16," says Mr. Khanna. "This is my third company. I get to do what I love doing, which is building things from nothing and having the challenges and successes that go along with that."
One element that's been the same throughout every company is how Mr. Khanna works with people - by giving them "a ton of freedom" to do whatever they want.
"If you give people a sense of ownership, everyone feels that they're not coming in to a job, but something they can lay some claim over," Mr. Khanna says. "My rule of management is macro-management. My job is to create a vision and clear objectives, then to get out of people's way, remove hurdles and that's it."
He also likes talking to as many employees as possible on a daily basis, simply by wandering through the office and hanging around people's desks.
"I don't know if it annoys them, but I learn a lot that way," says Mr. Khanna. "Decisions come out of these wanderings, where you just stand beside someone's desk and say, 'What's up?' "
Making quick decisions is something Mr. Khanna believes is essential to startups, because the ability to move quickly is often the sole advantage over larger, established companies.
"It's okay if we're wrong because we're small enough to react and change quickly as well," says Mr. Khanna. "If I never made mistakes, that would mean I'm being way too careful. So I'm very proud of the mistakes we all make in our company. We learn and grow from them."
His advice to entrepreneurs is to make no negative assumptions.
"Don't assume the incumbents can't be rattled, don't assume you can't make a difference and don't assume there's no capital or support out there," says Mr. Khanna. "Just go for it."