Monday, April 24, 2017

The Best Advice I Ever Got

I was interviewed recently by You Inc., Arlene Dickinson's young-entrepreneur site. It's part of the publicity push for an event Wednesday in Toronto that I am co-hosting for ScotiaBank.

One question asked me to recall the best advice I was given when I started out as an entrepreneur. However, as regular readers will know, I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur; I started as a writer.

First I wrote for a general newsweekly in Edmonton; later I became a business writer with the Financial Times of Canada. That job in particular introduced me to cool young entrepreneurs in technology and retail (whom my editors NEVER wanted me to write about). So that in turn led me to PROFIT, The Magazine for Canadian Entrepreneurs – the publication that turned me into a modest intra/entrepreneur and a national champion of entrepreneurs.

I don't often get the chance to reflect on how my career developed – or to credit the people who guided me along the way. So I welcomed the question from You Inc., and enjoyed answering it in a way that weaves my journalistic and entrepreneurial threads together.

Here’s my response to: What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting out as an entrepreneur?

Classic Ted Byfield
Rick Spence: "I started out as a business journalist, and gravitated slowly to entrepreneurship, as I began to learn that just writing was not enough – you have to market the heck out of your work and build networks and alliances to keep your platform strong. 

My first editor, Ted Byfield at Alberta Report, told me to verify everything I thought I knew – which is excellent advice for entrepreneurs. 
And my next editor, David Tafler at the Financial Times of Canada, taught us all to answer the question: “Why is this here?” Which is to say, when you write a story (or do anything new and creative), you must very clearly indicate what the work is about, what purpose it serves, and why it really matters to its intended audience. New products and services have to over-communicate."

Friday, March 24, 2017

The following stories are all about you

I continue to find incredible value in exploring new startups. I hope you do, too.

The startup stories I write in the Financial Post aren't really about the entrepreneurs whose stories I am profiling. What I try to do is draw key moments out of those entrepreneurs’ stories that relate to game-changing decisions that every entrepreneur faces. And how building a global business, while always hard, is getting easier over time.

So while one of my stories may seem to be about a 29-year-old entrepreneur with a breakthrough product idea, they're really about how you or I or anyone can build a better business: from identifying opportunities to building a product, hiring staff or communicating with customers. Or simply developing resilience in the face of setback after setback.

If I did my job right, in these stories below you will find lots of great ideas for building your business, refining your product, and re-connecting with prospects and customers.

You’ll find inspiration, too. I hope these stories will fill you with pride in our new generation of entrepreneurs, and the spirit to pursue your own goals with greater passion and confidence.

How a teacher- musician and tinkerer is trying to change how – and where - electric guitars are played. A story of vision, partnerships and reaching out.
And also: the benefits of raising capital. “The more clout you have, the more you can put your foot down (with a manufacturer) and say, ‘No, that’s not the component I want.’”

Is phytoplankton the healthy juice of the future? This entrepreneur hopes so
A story of incredible persistence – and how entrepreneurs and big businesses can work better together.

“My job is to strategically find a way to let Canadians know this amazing plant has the potential to change everyone’s lives,” says David Hunter. “If we do it right, this could be a global brand.”

Not just a story of a woman entrepreneur succeeding in a traditional male industry (defence). Also a story of partnering with customers and learning to listen to mentors.

Early collaboration with key stakeholders ensured OMX’s success, says Verkindt: “They felt that it was their platform, not ours.”

How a pro hockey player became a penny-pinching tech entrepreneur.
“I knew the odds of getting to the NHL were slim. To succeed, I had to look past the bumps and stay focused on my goal.”

A Toronto tech company has pivoted to curating channels full of Internet video that may save US cable companies from extinction. A classic example of finding a big problem to solve for deep-pocketed prospects.

Meet the Toronto startup that’s fuelling Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of eliminating all human diseases. An unusual story of angel investors who didn't cut and run when times got tough.

Friday, February 24, 2017

From Steve Jobs, on his 62nd birthday

Apple's onetime boy wonder,  Steve Jobs, would have been 62 today. 

To celebrate the life and spirit of one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, here’s a selection of his most inspiring business quotes. Adopt one and make it your own.

On Innovation
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn't build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren't going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.”

“It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I've done that sort of thing in my life, but I've always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don't know why. Because they're harder. They're much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you've completely failed.”

“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem.”

On Strategy
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

“I've always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do.”  (2004)

“[Success] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”  (2004)

“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

“The reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”

“Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes' or Porsche's in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?” 

On Apple:
“Each year has been so robust with problems and successes and learning experiences and human experiences that a year is a lifetime at Apple. So this has been 10 lifetimes.” 

“It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans.” (On lawsuit from Apple following his resignation to form NeXT, 1985)

“The products suck! There's no sex in them anymore!” (On Gil Amelio's tenure, 1997)

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”

“It wasn't that Microsoft was so brilliant or clever in copying the Mac, it's that the Mac was a sitting duck for 10 years. That's Apple's problem: Their differentiation evaporated.”

“iMac is next year's computer for $1,299, not last year's computer for $999.

“What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think 'outside the box,' people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”

On Design
“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design.”

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

“That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them.”
(on Mac OS X's Aqua user interface, 2000)

“I want to put a ding in the universe.” (“Ding” was often replaced by “dent.”)

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” (The pitch he used to lure John Sculley as Apple's CEO)

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me.”

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

Life Lessons:

“I'm the only person I know that's lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year... It's very character-building.”

“I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

“My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith.”

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
“It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy.”

On Leadership
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.”

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.” 

“I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

Monday, December 19, 2016

Now is the time to export to the USA

This post brought to you by HSBC Bank Canada. The content and opinions expressed below are that of Canadian Entrepreneur.

As economic growth lags in Canada, businesses are increasingly being urged to export their goods and services. Simply put, Canadians have special access to major markets such as the U.S. and Europe. Companies that don't take advantage of these special trade relationships are leaving money on the table – and possibly even risking their futures by clinging to a slow-growth economy.

But trading across borders isn’t easy. You need new capabilities and contacts to make the most out of these opportunities. The good news is that once you master these tools and relationships, you’ll be miles ahead of your stay-at-home competition – and ready to take on the world.

At a seminar in Toronto in November, HSBC assembled its top trade experts to meet with entrepreneurs and business executives to explore the opportunities and challenges of selling to the U.S.

Why head stateside? HSBC’s chief U.S. economist, Kevin Logan, foresees strong growth for the U.S. economy, stemming from low unemployment, a robust energy sector (which, unlike Canada’s, can make good returns on prices of US$60 per barrel), and the prospects of higher infrastructure spending promised.

To take advantage of U.S. growth, exporters will have to be innovative, responsive, and aggressive, according to HSBC’s chief Canadian economist, David Watt. He noted that being just two days’ drive from most markets means Canadians can serve U.S. clients faster and more efficiently than competitors in Europe or Asia. “Speed to market” can be a Canadian brand.

To help you hone that advantage, here are a few export tips from HSBC’s trade experts:

  • Make sure you develop the right business relationships. Successful exporter need talented advisors to help them understand local market conditions and master the required banking, legal, and tax issues.

  • The U.S. is a huge market, with significant regional and local variation, so you also need to have the right distributors and sales agents on the ground. Cate Luzio, HSBC’s New York-based executive vice-president, said many foreign companies come to the U.S. expecting they can tackle the whole country at once.

  • Start with your own relationships and work out from there. Ask your banker, lawyers and accountant about best practices and required resources in the markets you're eyeing. And leverage your contacts in other industries, too – they may have ideas that will give you an advantage in your niche.

  • Financing your U.S. activities can get very complicated, so leverage your domestic resources as much as possible. As one HSBC banker noted, you can borrow against your Canadian assets to fund expansion in the U.S. That should get you a bigger loan and better rate than going to a U.S. bank, which will likely treat you as a stranger with no track record.

  • Be patient. As one business owner in the audience advised: “Establishing a U.S. presence is going to take longer than you think.”

  • All the same, be ready in case you're an overnight success. “Often customers trip up because they take on too much business early on,” one banker warned. “It’s a big market. So watch what you wish for.”

  • Planning to do business in the US? Watch this free Webinar replay here for additional tips and insights.

    Visit Sponsors Site

    Tuesday, December 06, 2016

    Meet the 2016 National Startup Canada Awards Winners

    “Congratulations to the 2016 Startup Canada Awards winners, each of whom have been recognized by their peers as strong role models for Canadians of all ages and entrepreneurs across all sectors for championing a culture of entrepreneurship. Each recipient is driving impact in Canada and globally, and represent the greatness and diversity of Canada’s entrepreneur community.”

    - Brenda Halloran, Chair of the Startup Canada Board of Directors
    Click here to read the full press release. 
    Watch the 2016 Startup Canada Awards Video
    Outstanding Impact and Enduring Legacy in Canadian Entrepreneurship

    Randy Yatscoff is an entrepreneur, community builder and mentor who has been instrumental in building Edmonton into a thriving entrepreneurial city. 
    Randy is committed to mentoring and supporting the growth of early-stage companies, and has mentored 500 companies since 2009. Over the years, he has helped technology-based companies raise more than $250 million. In 2010, Randy formally joined TEC Edmonton, where he is now the Executive Vice-President of Business Development.

    "This award is a recognition of the support of my family and all the colleagues who I have associated with over the years. Without their support this award could never have happened." - Randy Yatscoff, winner of the 2016 Adam Chowaniec Lifetime Achievement Award
    Watch the Video
     Advancing The Environment and Culture for Entrepreneurship in Canada
    "I believe it's up to me, and to seasoned entrepreneurs like me, to give back. This award shows me I'm not alone in this belief, that our national startup community recognizes championing others to success as a valuable form of leadership." - Meredith J. Powell, winner of the 2016 Startup Canada Entrepreneur Promotion Award.
    ENTREPRENEUR PROMOTION AWARD |  Meredith J. Powell, Vancouver, BC

    Meredith Powell is the co-founder of Vancouver-based non-profit The Next Big Thing, which empowers youth with the tools they need to succeed as entrepreneurs. 
    Launched in 2013, the incubator has had more than 50 entrepreneurs go through the program - raising nearly five million dollars in seed financing and creating more than 80 new jobs. Powell is also the founder and CEO of Powell and Co., a company that specializes in bespoke startup strategy and rapidly scaling early stage organizations.
    Watch the Video
    ENTREPRENEUR SUPPORT AWARD |  North Forge Technology Exchange, Winnipeg, MB

    North Forge Technology Exchange is a collaborative innovation network in the heart of Winnipeg. North Forge is home to Canada’s largest non-profit fabrication lab and provides entrepreneurs with world class mentors, subject matter experts and a multi-stage startup program. 
    Watch the Video
    POLICY PRIZE Brad Woodside, Fredericton, NB

    Brad Woodside is the former Mayor of Fredericton, and the city's longest-serving mayor. A long-time advocate for innovation who led the city through two major development strategies - Vision 2000 and Vision 2020, Brad Woodside Championed Fredericton as a Smart-City with a bold vision of becoming the Startup Capital of Canada.
    Watch the Video
    STARTUP COMMUNITY OF THE YEAR | Startup Fredericton, Fredericton, NB

    Startup Fredericton is an essential leader in creating a collaborative culture locally and across the Atlantic Region. Startup Fredericton, in partnership with Ignite Fredericton, and more than 20 entrepreneur support organizations created Taskforce Fredericton Startup Network with a mandate to steer the entrepreneurial direction alongside grassroots entrepreneurs and business leaders.
    Watch the Video
    Entrepreneur-led Businesses Demonstrating Excellence
    "We see the Startup Canada Global Entrepreneurship Award as a testimony to our extensive work in bringing our nurse-inspired Canadian innovation to internationalhealthcare markets, and we hope that this award will inspire other Canadian entrepreneurs to look beyond our borders for expansion." - Tony Abboud, VP of Business Development at Surface Medical Inc and winner of the 2016 Startup Canada Global Entrepreneurship Award. 
    GLOBAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP AWARD | Surface Medical Inc, Calgary, AB

     Founded in 2010, Surface Medical is dedicated to creating innovative products like CleanPatch to reduce the transfer of infection and facilitate the safe administration of healthcare for the benefit of practitioners and patients. 
    Watch the Video

    iBIONICS is the creator of the Diamond Eye - a state of the art technology that uses a microchip solution to restore vision. As a 1-year old startup, iBIONICS punches above their weight in their R&D, robust commercialisation and global drive. Their bionic eye solution will potentially impact the lives of hundreds of thousands of people afflicted with degenerative retina diseases.
    Watch the Video
    SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AWARD | Aki EnergyWinnipeg, MB

    Founded in 2013 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, this Indigenous-owned social enterprise partners with First Nations communities to ensure renewable energy systems are cost effective, and provide positive return for the community. Aki Energy is responsible for installing over $6 million in renewable energy systems in First Nations communities in Manitoba, leading to over a quarter of a million dollars in annual bill reductions to date.
    Watch the Video

    Founded in 2007 in Kamloops, British Columbia, iTel Networks offers one of the fastest and most reliable business internet and telecommunications networks in Canada. iTel Networks has quickly become one of Canada’s fastest growing telecom companies - a fierce competitor with revenues and employees growing over 20% annually.
    Watch the Video
    Exemplifying the Spirit of Canadian Entrepreneurship 

    "The award is an affirmation to me that even a person with obstacles ranging from a verbal impediment to being a young ambitious person can be recognized for their pursuit to change their communities and country." - Swarochish 'Swish' Goswami, winner of the 2016 Startup Canada Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
    ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR AWARD | Dax Dasilva, Montreal, QC

    Dax Dasilva is the founder of Lightspeed - a cloud-based point of sale and inventory management software system that is transforming the restaurant and retail industries. Dax is also the founder of Never Apart, a Montreal-based non-profit organization bringing social change and spiritual awareness through cultural programming with global reach and impact. Through Never Apart, Dax has launched various special projects including Colour by Icons - a colouring book and gallery exhibit showcasing historical figures in the LGBT community.
    Watch the Video
    WOMAN ENTREPRENEUR AWARD | Nadia Hamilton, Waterloo, ON

    Nadia Hamilton is the founder of Magnusmode, a Waterloo-based technology company that provides tools and applications to enhance the quality of life of those with developmental disabilities. Nadia is both an entrepreneur and a life-long advocate for families impacted by Autism Spectrum Disorder. 
    Watch the Video

    Eli Fathi has built, scaled and exited many great companies in the National Capital Region. Currently, Eli is the CEO of MindBridge Ai. The company's mission is to augment human intelligence with a powerful Ai to help professionals detect and prevent employees from committing fraud.
    Watch the Video
    YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR Swarochish ‘Swish’ Goswami, Calgary, AB

    Born in Singapore and raised in the Canadian Prairies, Swish is a 19 year-old University of Toronto student who started his first business at just 7 years old. A serial entrepreneur and innovator, Swish built seven high-impact ventures including World Youth FundThe Next Foundry, and Rafiki Media.