Since deciding on the name of his moving and furniture set-up business, entrepreneur Yves Burume has not been able to stop saying it. The name serves as a reminder of his daily commitment to the pursuit of excellence.
Yves Burume landed in Ottawa on the day of his tenth birthday. Though originally from Congo, Burume and his family immigrated from Uganda to Canada in the 2000s. His family grew shortly after, and Yves became one of 8 children. In a busy household, the young entrepreneur grew up quickly. He started working odd jobs as soon as he was able, and by the time he was 16, Burume was financially independent.
In the last year of high school in his town of Kingston, Ontario, Burume helped a friend move and was instantly inspired to start a similar business. He launched Student Moving Services, and gave his friends an opportunity to work with him to grow the business.
Burume then moved to Peterborough after school, taking his business with him. Last year, amid COVID19 lockdowns, he then moved to Ottawa, once again starting anew in an unknown city. He renamed his company to Strive First.
Yves dove into the Ottawa community and began to work hard. He volunteered his time to help the less fortunate, including helping to move furniture with Ottawa’s Help With Furniture, a company that furnishes low-income homes for free.
He also met Remmy, who is now one of his team members. Burume also regularly employs students and recent graduates, taking a chance on youth with little to no experience to help them gain confidence and kick start their careers.
Out of all of his accomplishments, it is Yves’ continued commitment to hard work that shines brightest. We sat down with him to discuss his journey to entrepreneurship, and his plans for growing Strive First in Ottawa.
Tell us about your family and your childhood.
I was an inquisitive child, always wanting to understand why certain things happen the way they happen—I guess that’s why I ended up studying sociology at university. My parents always emphasized the importance of education, so school came first in our house. When we moved to Canada, we landed in Ottawa but moved to Kingston for most of middle school and high school. Growing up in a large and busy household, you learn quickly that you must be independent. You have to grow up quickly, which includes getting a job as soon as you can so you can pay for your own activities. As soon as I was old enough to work, I did any job you can imagine, from working at KFC, to moving, to now having my own company. I was pretty much paying for anything I needed by myself by the time I was 16, including trips to USA and Europe as I got older. I grew up with a strong work ethic which has helped me achieve my goals and persevere when that goal line is moved.
How did you come up with your business idea? What is the meaning behind the name Strive First?
I discovered a passion for moving while helping my best friend’s brother. I enjoyed working with the team. Over the next few months, I got so fascinated with the service and wanted to help some of my friends develop strong work ethics and gain experience. Upon rebranding the company, I was trying to find a name that would relate to my personality and the image of the company. Strive First came to me in a dream. I searched the definition for Strive which was “to try very hard to do something or to make something happen, especially for a long time or against difficulties”. It was a sign, that is what I strived (pardon the pun) for with my business model. No matter what, I’ve always done my best and strived for more every day to ensure customer satisfaction.
Tell us about your team. How did you meet? How would you describe the way you work together?
I met Remmy 9 months ago when he was still working at Canadian Tire while I was looking for my truck cleaning materials. He was very genuine and took his time helping me out. We ended up having a long conversation. I was intrigued with his personality and left him my business card in case he ever was looking for a job. 9 months later, I got a call from him.
Remmy is a very hard worker. When we work together, we combine individual strengths to enhance our teamwork. We create a positive working atmosphere while supporting each other in whatever way is needed. We are always listening to each other’s ideas and sharing responsibility.
Teamwork can be very tricky. You have the good and the bad in every circumstance, but when things work, you create a great team. Experience is the best teacher. 10 hours a day with someone, and you’re bound to learn something from them.
Paying it forward and giving back to the community is very important to you. What are some of the organizations and ways that you give back to the Ottawa community?
I moved to Ottawa during COVID and got connected with Help With Furniture (HWF)—a local charity that furnishes people’s homes in Ottawa using donated furniture—by volunteering some of my time to pick up and drop off furniture. Natalie, the Executive Director, really took me under her wing and introduced me to the community which made me feel very much like part of the family. Through HWF, I have worked with various community organizations serving low-income folks, refugees, and other marginalized populations. Giving back to the community really comes full circle because through HWF, I have expanded my network by meeting potential clients.
Through Strive First, you give many students and recent grads career opportunities. Why is this so important to you?
I know what it’s like being young with no real professional experience to help boost you up in society. It is a chicken and egg situation, where no one wants to hire you because you lack experience, but you can’t get experience because no one wants to hire you. I like to take a chance on students and recent grads to let them know their contributions matter. They have skills they bring to the table, so I want to give them that start. Empowering youth is also a big thing for me because I know first-hand how having someone believe in you can boost your confidence and help you strive for greater things that benefit both yourself and the community.
What do you think are essential characteristics of an entrepreneur, or a good leader?
I think there are different characteristics that make an entrepreneur and a good leader. There is no set list. However, from my experience and those I admire, I believe these to be essential: strong work ethic, adaptability, risk-taking, motivation, networking, giving back to the community, and empathy. Among all of them, passion is the key. It’s what drives you to wake up every day and continue to do what you do. You must love what you do or else there is no drive.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received in your career?
It’s hard to choose one but if I must, I think it can be captured by the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Always do your best no matter what. It’s very simple, but the way Don Miguel expressed it captured me and inspires me. My favorite quote is in Chapter 5: “Under any circumstances, always do your best, no more and no less. But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next.”
Sometimes doing your best might mean getting back up when you fall down and that is ok. In fact, it’s more than okay. It is essential.
What’s next for you?
I hope to create more collaborations with other contractors, hone my different skills, and when the time is right, expand. I know there are a lot of sacrifices and sleepless nights still to come, but I am up for the challenge. I will keep striving for my goals (sorry I couldn’t help myself). I am just getting started!