“I had the idea when I was 18 years old. I was a big fan of Canadian politics and I like writing, comedy, and satire.”
Simren Sandhu started the True North Times, an online political satire publication, in his first year at McGill in 2013. “I found in Canada, in particular, we don’t have a truly satirical outlet,” he says. While there are some comedy-news sources, like the Rick Mercer Report and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Simren says they just use politics as a premise for comedy. “I wanted to comment on politics, do something else, and make it funny.”
In the beginning, Simren put only his own time and money into the project. “I very much believed in the project and thought it had real potential,” he says, stating he gave 100 per cent commitment to the launch of the project.
Now, he has 25 contributors across the country from every province writing for the publication, including a core staff of four.
In the beginning, Simren had trouble getting people to take the publication seriously. “I would come to people with the idea and they would say this is just a kid with an idea that’ll probably fall through and there’s nothing really substantial there.” Once he brought them a full, detailed proposal, showing the strength of the project, he began to change people’s minds.
“Working toward our launch, the hardest thing we had to deal with was people mistaking us for parody, like the Onion,” he says. “They do political humour and they’ve done a great job, but what we’re trying to and make clear is we never make [our stories] up because it’s all real stuff that is happening. We want to actually talk about real issues we’re facing; Canadians are notoriously apathetic and doing fake news seemed like a cop-out for us.”
Because he is still a student, Simren and his colleagues have a unique work style. “Since the school year has started and because most of us are still students, we all work independently,” he says. “Obviously we’re always keeping each other up-to-date daily, but the editorial team will do their own thing, marketing will do their thing, and we’ll touch base.” He says they’ve built systems so that teams can be self-managed, following procedures, and everything is straight-forward and efficient.
As the founder and CEO, Simren dabbles in every aspect of the business. He also focused on the over-arching vision and long-term goals for the True North Times, deciding where he’d like to see it in the future.
“I see us continuing what we’re doing but just on an increasing scale,” he says. “We want to expand into different forms of media like video, podcasting, and interactive storytelling. We just want to keep doing what we’re doing but on a bigger scale.”
As a new entrepreneur, Simren’s advice to young entrepreneurs is focused on drive and passion. He says ambition is very powerful and should not be ignored. Early on, he experienced a lot of rejection, and asked himself what was the point of approaching others if it was obvious they would say no.
“I find that when you actually take the time to ask anyone for help and just give it a shot, what’s the worst than can happen? More often than not, you’ll actually see people stepping up that you wouldn’t think would and you’ll start getting some big names on board with your project; that’s what I found. It’s been really huge to our fast growth.”