Rahim Mitha

Ep. 3: Suroosh Alvi & VICE

Rahim Mitha
Ep. 3: Suroosh Alvi & VICE

It is astonishing to think that VICE, now valued at $4 billion dollars and extremely well known across the world was started by a recovering drug addict with no background in journalism.

Suroosh Alvi, fresh out of rehab and living in his parents basement was determined to tell authentic stories and create a magazine. From a small little office in Montreal, Suroosh grew the magazine into a publication that has completely shaken up the journalism world and developed an incredibly strong following. The story behind VICE is far from conventional and it was refreshing to see how Suroosh's naivety and lack of experience turned out to be one of his biggest advantages.

Favourite Quote:

"We were bootstrapping it because we couldn't afford to have debt, we could't get a loan. So we just printed copies based on how much we were selling and advertising and it was what we called Punk Rock Capitalism. Be really aggressive, be really ambitious and you can't have debt, those are the rules we lived by."

5 Key Lessons:

  1. Don't be afraid to be the black sheep. Growing up as the son of immigrant parents who were academics, Suroosh was expected to become a doctor or engineer. However, he chose to follow his passion and take on a career in journalism instead.

  2. Rock bottom is a solid foundation to start building on. He was a recovering drug addict and living in his parents basement when he started VICE.

  3. Action and doing is the solution. Suroosh fell into the role of creating a magazine called "Voice of Montreal" and had no idea what he was doing initially. But he stuck with it and found his groove.

  4. Create your own luck. VICE was in need of investment so in an interview, Suroosh made up a story that Richard Szalwinski was interested in investing. Szalwinski read the article a few days later and was so curious that he brought in Suroosh for a meeting and ended up buying 25% of VICE.

  5. Mistakes are the best learning experiences. On his journey creating VICE, Suroosh admitted to making plenty of mistakes. But, those mistakes were essential to both his own and the magazines development; without them, VICE would not be what it is today.

Most Surprising Thing I Learned:

While completing his undergraduate degree in Montreal at McGill, Suroosh was not the best student. In fact, he had developed a full-blown addiction to heroine by the time he graduated. He travelled across the world trying to escape the drug and his addiction but all to no avail. Five years later, still addicted to drugs, he returned to Canada to pursue a graduate degree in psychology at The University of Toronto where he ended up dropping out and admitting himself into rehab.

Wrap Up:

The story behind VICE is a testament that both prerequisites and experience are not essential ingredients in one's quest to build a business. Recovering from his heroine addiction, Suroosh was barely able to tie his shoes when he dived into the world of journalism. What he lacked in experience, he made up for with his hard work and unique take on telling stories. I learned a great deal from this episode and was overcome by a feeling of endless possibility. Today, VICE reaches more than 8 million unique visitors per month and produces some of the most interesting and engaging content in the world. This was all created by an outsider who's start in the field began with a scrappy underground magazine in Montreal.