Thursday, December 01, 2016

Show off your sales savvy and win a seat at The Art of Sales

Let’s crowd-source some wisdom here.
Here are two of my favourite sales tips. Now you share yours.

If you share two of your best sales tips/lessons/rules of thumb by midnight Sunday Dec. 4, you could win a free ticket to the Art of Sales event in Toronto on Dec. 7.

Submit your best sales wisdom to me be email ( or by leaving a comment below. All those who have responded by midnight Sunday will be entered into a draw for a free ticket valued at more than $400!

So send me your favourite sales tips now.

Here’s mine:

Selling isn’t about convincing customers, but giving them the information to make the best possible purchase.

In selling, trust is more important than price.

See how easy it is? Send me your best tips by Sunday night, and we’ll all learn together.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

One of the coolest startups I've ever encountered

Little Box of Rocks is a Winnipeg company that sells bouquets of rocks. It’s one of the most creative and original businesses I have ever seen.

Founder Kiera Fogg is a stay-at-home mother of three who was looking for a business she could run from home – and hit pay-dirt with her beautiful giftboxes of polished stones and crystals. Featured in gift guides from the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow and Cameron Diaz, Little Box of Rocks now has robust sales to throughout Canada, the US, and Australia, and is
looking at selling through retailers by mid-2017.

Most importantly, Fogg figured out that building a brand is all about telling compelling stories. 

Each of her “bouquets” carries a message – of hope, health, courage, love – that’s pretty much guaranteed to please both sender and recipient. Fogg created every bouquet and wrote every story herself,  reminding all of us that business is an art form, and creativity is an endlessly renewable resource.

Fogg will be appearing on the CBC’s Dragons’ Den on Dec. 7. She is sworn to secrecy about what happened in her appearance, which was taped six months ago. But I’m pretty sure she rocked it.

Monday, November 14, 2016

How to start your startup right

I received a request this week from a financial professional for some advice on how to advise an Internet company being started by a friend. He asked: "Can you suggest some books/blogs etc to help guide me? Any guidance would be greatly appreciated."

So here is my response:

Hi, xxxx. Great to hear from you.

There are so many resources out there.

First, looking at books, The E-Myth Revisited is a classic book on the true role of the entrepreneur: ie, adopting systems so that you are working ON your business, not IN it. 

The Lean Startup (Eric Reis) and The Startup Handbook (Steve Blank) are the contemporary bibles for tech startups.  Both authors have also published many additional articles that are very useful and informative, and are available for free around the Internet or on their own websites. The important point of their models is that startup entrepreneurs must spend much more time testing their ideas with customers and prospects, rather than fiddling with their products or trying to "perfect" them without continuous feedback. 

There are many organizations that can help your friend get off on the right foot. If they live in or near Toronto, they should check out MaRS, Startup Grind AND Startup Toronto. They all offer regular meetings with experts sharing important information, as well as opportunities to network with and learn from other startup entrepreneurs. 

Your partner might also look to rent a co-working space in their community, so they can work side-by-side with other entrepreneurs trying to master similar problems. Entrepreneurs tend to be very open and sharing about the startup process, so you can save a lot of time (and possibly cash) by finding people who are going through the same things you are - or, best of all, went through it only a year ago (so they know what works and doesn't, but their information is still relatively fresh).

Every startup entrepreneur needs a mentor or accountability coach to keep them on track. 

If your friend is under 40, they might find useful resources at Futurpreneur. They offer funding for startups, and, more importantly, they find each startup a personal mentor to work closely with over the next two years or so. I've known many entrepreneurs who didn't need the money, but took it anyway as it allowed them to access Futurpreneur's mentor pool.

I hope that helps. I might also suggest your colleague go to the Financial Post site and re-read my recent profiles of startups. As you may know, my stories focus heavily on the how-they angle: how these entrepreneurs overcame the typical hurdles and challenges faced by most startups. I think he or she will get lots of road-tested advice to shorten their learning curve.

Hope this helps. Do keep me updated on his or her progress!


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Turning Disaster into an Opportunity

I am a proud Canadian. But as the son of a mother from Brooklyn, living one hour from the U.S. border, I share the shame and anxiety so many Americans feel today. The unthinkable has happened: a childish, narcissistic clown has harnessed the worst parts of American patriotism and despair, and ridden it into the White House.

How did this happen? The Democrats got lazy. They thought Hillary was destined to win; they believed the inexperienced, friendless Trump was a dream opponent. For her part, Hillary thought she didn’t have to answer for her Clinton-esque faults: the chasing of money, the association with elites, the questionable dealings around the Clinton Foundation and her missing emails. Her refusal to do press conferences revealed an arrogance that wasn’t far off the far right’s view of her as high-hatted and entitled.

As the Trump train gained momentum, Hillary and her handlers responded haughtily, if at all, to these legitimate concerns. At the Democratic convention in July I thought that both Bill and Hillary excelled in changing the narrative, painting a new picture of Hillary as a lifelong crusader for prosperity, equality and inclusion. But after the convention, the Dems went quiet again, refusing to tell their story while Trump gathered coverage day by day with one outrageous lie after another.

Before long, everyone knew Donald’s story. Hillary didn’t have one. Voters had nothing to identify with. Meanwhile, the media elites missed the anger simmering in the ’burbs and the countryside, over disappearing jobs, falling wages, lower home prices (ie, less money for retirement), social change, gun control and immigration. Where these concerns were acknowledged, they were rarely  addressed, but dismissed through the use of selective economic statistics or the pressure of political correctness.

So the passion for Hillary faded, and Trump emerged as an unlikely national champion. His shallow world view, his inbred, ego-feeding business career, his inexperience, his racism and his twisted view of women, are all frightening traits in a chief executive, especially a nation’s moral leader. Today, many Americans live in fear of what will happen next, given the outdated values and opinions that Trump and his team will bring to the Oval Office. In California last month I met entrepreneurs of Mexican descent, children of illegal immigrants, who have no legal status in America. They couldn't believe the rhetoric coming from the Trump camp, and will now be fearing for their futures. These are professionals who employ dozens of people. All they ask is a path to citizenship in the only country they’ve ever known. Trump’s victory will leave them shaking – as it does so many women, blacks, Jews, gays, and others who don't fit the #MAGA mold.

But this is not a time for despair.

Of all the many Republican candidates for president, Donald Trump was the least ideological, the least rigid, the least devoted to sucking up to the Tea Party. He’s a New Yorker, confident and unafraid, allegiant to no partisan principles. He’s self-centered, vulgar and uninformed, but a pragmatist, beholden to no one. I compared him earlier to Toronto’s disastrous mayor, Rob Ford, but Trump is his own movement, not the standard-bearer of a conservative counter-reformation.

He is, in a word, malleable.

So let’s not demonize Donald Trump. Let’s not write him off. Let’s build bridges. Let’s appeal to his better nature and help guide him to wise decisions. There is already tension in Republican ranks over his casual takeover of a party on a serious, long-term ideology-driven mission. The Republicans vote-chasing machine has served its purpose, and Trump is now free to disregard it in the same way he abused and underpaid his suppliers once their products and services were safely delivered to the Trump organization.

At worst, this is a time to re-evaluate and re-emphasize liberal principles. Let’s start by showing that Hillary was right: #LoveTrumpsHate. Let’s continue to show as much kindness and generosity as we can, to those who need it most, to our friends, family and communities, and to our opponents as well. (Edit: I just volunteered to help a struggling organization, and made a donation to Planned Parenthood in Florida.)

Let’s ramp up our commitment to each other. Let’s show Trump Nation what real social and economic progress looks like.

And let’s give Mr. Trump the benefit of the doubt. He is eager for approval. Let’s engage him, and guide him in his unexpected new role. Wouldn't it be ironic if he were the guy who broke the extremists’ hold on the GOP?

Let’s encourage him to be his own man and do the right thing. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get through this.

Friday, November 04, 2016

Learning from Silicon Valley

My recent trip to Silicon Valley resulted in two fun columns for the National Post. 

The first looks at success tips from the QuickBooks Connect conference in San Jose, from both hard-working entrepreneurs and some rather susprising celebrities. By contrast, the second column focuses on failure – as discussed at a “Day of the Dead” event at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.

From Oct. 31:
QuickBooks Connect brought together entrepreneurs, accountants and celebrity achievers for three days in San Jose to discuss growth, collaboration, technology and creativity. Here are 10 tips to help you succeed in the new business era.
Click here for the column. 

Three quick takeaways:
Actress America Ferrara on finding your niche: As the star of "Ugly Betty" struggled to find a new role as a producer, she realized she' would do best by "telling stories only I could tell." She concluded: “You don’t have to stray from your passions to have impact.”

Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps on competition: Commenting on his intensity before  a crucial race this summer in Rio, the winner of five 2016 Olympic gold medals revealed: “When someone makes a negative comment, I make it a motivator. I use it as fuel.”

Dave Alwan, a winning pitcher on Shark Tank: “If you don’t dream big, you can’t think big.”

Moderator Marguerite Gong Hancock with Bill Reichert and iconic sock puppet
From Nov. 7:
Read insiders’ insights into why even good businesses fail –and sometimes bad businesses succeed. Find out why a tablet failed in 1991, and how the founder of messed up his first startup.

The conclusion: “Canadians need to share more collective wisdom about about failure. And why it’s a beginning, not an end.”

Attendees were encouraged to memorialize their favourite failures.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Export Success: Here's why it's a choice

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

From beaver pelts to auto parts and yoga pants, Canada has always been a trading nation. But do we have what it takes to compete in the global marketplace?

In recent years, Canadian exports have been hard hit by declining commodity prices and the shrinking manufacturing base left behind as commodity production shifts to lower-cost countries. Without robust exports, Canadians will be hard-pressed to sustain the economic growth that has made this country one of the world's most prosperous - and most envied - nations.

But here's the good news. Canada's biggest trading partner, the United States, is enjoying robust economic growth. And a recent study by the Conference Board of Canada identifies key opportunities for growth of exports to the U.S. that Canadian companies aren't sufficiently pursuing. Significantly, many of these opportunities don't involve products, but services, meaning that Canadian businesses can flourish in the fastest-growing parts of the economy - the service sector, where brainpower and creativity matter more than labour costs.

The study, entitled "Taking Advantage of the U.S. Economic Rebound," identifies 11 Canadian industries that are well prepared for expansion and competitiveness in the U.S. Of those, the study finds five broad sectors that are best positioned to take advantage of growing U.S. demand:

• Transportation and government services;
• Other commercial services (e.g., wholesale trade and administration);
• Computer and information services;
• Food manufacturing;
• Finance and insurance services.

To learn what it takes to crack U.S. markets, the study, takes a close-up look at three current Canadian success stories: Spin Master, a Toronto -based toy and media company whose top brands include Air Hogs and Paw Patrol; Vancouver-based Global Relay, which provides message-management services for major corporation, including  22 of the 25 top global banks; and McRae Imaging, an innovative digital-graphics printing company based in Mississauga, Ont.

The report notes four key characteristics of winning exporters:

• they have skilled executives with strong vision and a growth mindset;

• they create competitive advantage through a proven capability to innovate;

• they identify export opportunities through their practical knowledge of foreign market;

• and they access support through international contact networks.

So interesting to see that export success isn't based on size, clout, or legacy brands. Market-driven innovation and attention to details makes all the difference. Through doable tactics such as implementing new internal processes and leveraging external partnerships, companies can make the decision to grow.

This encouraging news is especially important today because the Canadian export narrative in recent years has been so negative: shuttered factories, lost jobs, chatter that we're no longer competitive. Combine that with recent protectionist trends such as Brexit and shrill calls to build "walls" between nations, and it's no wonder many Canadians - including business leaders - question our ability to compete.

Studies such as this, which was commissioned by HSBC, prove that export success can be a choice, not a fluke, for Canadian companies that are serious about growth.

Canada has a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem, but only one firm in 10 exports its goods or services abroad. This new study reminds us that other markets are hungry for goods and services Canada can provide. But if individual businesses and entrepreneur don't actively study new markets, and develop the capability to serve them, then potential customers will buy from someone else.

To learn more about how to take advantage of U.S. export opportunities, HSBC is conducting a webinar on "Connecting for Growth" on Oct. 27, 2016. 2 pm Eastern time, 11 am Pacific time.
Register for the webinar here
Visit Sponsors Site

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

How Linamar maintains its edge while planning for an unpredictable future

Linamar Corp. of Guelph, Ont., is Canada's second-biggest autoparts maker and one of our biggest entrepreneurial success stories. Now under the leadership of Linda Hasenfratz, daughter of the company's founder, Frank Hasenfratz, the $5-billion-a-year company prides itself on retaining the spirit and agility of a small growth company.

In my latest column for the Financial Post, I explore two of the key tenets that guide Linamar in its journey. They address two strategic priorities that most businesses face:

1. How do you avoid waste and bloat as your company grows?
2. How do you plan for a future of continuous, unpredictable technology and business change?

In each case, Linamar's solutions are both aggressive and elegant in their simplicity:

1. Linamar has created a culture in which all employees are expected to come up with at least six ideas for improvement every year.
2. Linamar has instituted a 100-year planning process, which helps senior management identify the spots where its capabilities and new business opportunities best intersect.

How are these bold initiatives making a difference at Linamar? How might similar tactics change the future of your company? Click here to read my interview with Linda Hasenfratz. 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

On its 50th birthday, Star Trek still matters to entrepreneurs -- and the world

So it’s the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.

As the baby boomers grew up and embraced entrepreneurship, I was surprised to learn how many successful business-builders were rabid Trek fans. One entrepreneur even named his company “Star” to honour the show. He, like many others I met, was inspired by Star Trek’s hopeful vision of the future, its embrace of diversity and inclusiveness, and its core values of science, peace and discovery. Entrepreneurs embrace its lessons in leadership, diplomacy, and solving problems using your imagination at least as often as your phaser.

It was easy to be negative in the 1960s and ’70s, as issues such as crime, racism, unjust wars, and the atom bomb hung like black bunting over the world. But Star Trek rejected those petty divisions, and foresaw a universe based on equality, collaboration and optimism – the same values espoused by so many of today’s ambitious tech startups.

It seems to me that today’s geopolitical struggles – right vs left, democracies vs radical fundamentalists – reflect the same division now: between people who see things getting better, and those who see the world falling into decay and despair. A gulf lies between people who embrace and advance societal change, and those who fear the future.

Star Trek was one of the first TV shows to regularly address important issues of race, society and politics. In its message of hope, it echoed that of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Roosevelt went on to describe fear as the “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

If a society does not advance it decays.

What a good word Roosevelt chose: “Advance.” It’s pretty much synonymous with “Boldly Go.”

Trek On, captains and crew, for another 50 years.

In a lighter vein, below is a poster reprising a column I wrote in PROFIT magazine 20 years ago: “Everything I know about business I could have learned from Star Trek .”

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Razor Suleman's Big Ambitions

Toronto entrepreneur Razor Suleman first got in my sights through Snap Promotions, a promotional-products company that started in his dorm room at Wilfrid Laurier University as a supplier of student t-shirts. That company evolved into Achievers, an employee-engagement platform for organizations wanting to boost motivation and corporate culture.

Razor has always been humble, curious, passionate, and driven - the best kind of entrepreneur. Last year, he successfully sold Achievers, and started a new career: as a champion and a catalyst for Canadian entrepreneurship.

My Financial Post column this week looks at how Razor is trying to strengthen Canada's entrepreneurial ecosystem, through his own efforts and through the Next 36, where he today takes up the mantle of CEO. If you've been following my work, you know the Next 36 is an ambitious program to jump-start the creation of high-impact entrepreneurs, and now its mandate is expanding in exciting new directions. 

You'll also learn why Razor didn't mean to sell his company.
You can read the story here: 

Entrepreneur incubator Next 36 hires its first CEO in tech millionaire Razor Suleman

And take 2 minutes to watch the accompanying video, which includes Razor's tips on how to improve your own team's culture and motivation!


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The news you need about the companies that matter

The news you read should always be, somehow, a leading indicator of the future. Since humans started telling each other stories around the campfire, the key question has always been, “What’s going to happen next?”

Coverage of entrepreneurs is scant in the daily press, trailing far behind day-to-day coverage of earnings reports and breathless alarms about commodity prices. But if you really want to know where business is going, it’s the coverage of entrepreneurial companies and their growing ambitions that will better point you the way to the future.

Here are a few of the cool companies I've been chronicling in this summer’s National Post.

* Flixel’s deal with Facebook cements its status as a startup to watch. Its “cinemagraphs” are mesmerizing. Do watch the video we produced to illustrate this story properly.

* Calgary fashion brand TripleFlip has a unique objective – building the self-esteem of tween girls – that is supercharging its push into the U.S.

* Founded in Turkey, Twentify is a serious crowd-sourcing startup being supported by visionary Canadian venture capital. Twentify wants to be the go-to solution for businesses needing instant intelligence, and it’s using Ottawa as a base to expand globally.

* Bridgit is the former Next 36 company that is bridging the gap between the construction industry and new technology. Meet its two engaging founders in our exclusive video.

* When I first heard about online catering aggregator Platterz, I practically yawned. Then I learned more about this Toronto company’s plans for world domination in the B-to-B supply space.

* Needls is helping small businesses find customers in the social media haystack. Maybe they can help you.

Friday, July 01, 2016

"When did the country that produced the CPR, Expo 67 and the CN Tower stop thinking big?"

To celebrate Canada Day, a look back to my Feb. 18 column on the World Government Summit I attended in Dubai.

Sure, that's a bit counter-intuitive. But they say you learn more about your country by leaving it for a while than by staying home. Travel gives you a more personal frame of reference for understanding how things work, or might work. You break free from home-grown conventions and assumptions, and realize that other societies may have ideas, approaches and solutions that your home country can learn from.

Dubai is an eye-opening place, a bizarre mix of traditional Bedouin culture and architecture straight out of The Jetsons. Yes, there is money to spare, money for show, like a permanent World’s Fair meant to impress other people with how far you've come. Yet unlike most enclaves of the rich, there is a tangible yearning among the Emirati in Dubai to be part of the world – to help figure out how we should live, here in the 21st century.

The World Government Summit tackled problems like decision-making governance, infrastructure, technology, energy and climate change, poverty, philanthropy, economic development, city planning, education, and so much more. They invited experts from all over the world to share their ideas and success stories. The United Arab Emirates don't pretend to have all the answers – but they are vigorously seeking them out.

It made me wonder why Canadians – representing a common-sense approach to life, a mid-Atlantic philosophy of building a safer, more just society – isn’t doing the same thing.

Canadians should be global thought leaders in livability, civil society, architecture and infrastructure, diversity, communication, sustainable energy, and so much more. We have valuable knowledge and experience to give the world – and the wealth and global connections to attract and identify the best ideas, the movers and shakers, to make us a true epicenter of best practices and professional inquiry.

We need only vision and will. If they can do it in Dubai, just a generation emerged from the desert, we can do it here.

Here’s that column, in full:

How Canada and its entrepreneurs can ensure they are part of the race to innovation
National Post, Feb. 18, 2016

At WGS, awards for innovative governments around the world
Last week, I wrote about the three key trends for the future that I took away from the World Government Summit earlier this month in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. But there were also a few individual “moments” I feel offer takeaways for Canadian entrepreneurs and leaders who want to own their own future.

The daring of Dubai: In the first presentation of the three-day summit, Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum and the Davos summits, congratulated Dubai “for having the courage and the foresight to transform a meeting into an ongoing international organization.” That was the first I’d heard that the four-year-old summit will become a permanent think-tank, based on Dubai, researching and promoting improved governance for an increasingly uncertain world.

It’s a gutsy move, given that this event is not yet a global institution. Although it boasted attendees from 125 countries, at least 80 per cent of attendees were UAE citizens, as you can’t mistake their national costume: the dashing white robes of the men and the black robes of the women.

Summit attendees got a preview of  Dubai's next state museum
Clearly, Dubai’s leadership harbour enormous ambitions and think long term. More Canadian leaders should do the same. Dubai’s population is only 2.5 million, about the size of greater Vancouver and half that of Toronto. When did the country that produced the CPR, Expo 67 and the CN Tower stop thinking big?

The Arab advantage: Arab scientists developed most of what we now think of as mathematics. That’s just the start. Jim Al-Khalili, an Iraqi-born physics professor at the University of Surrey in England, reminded the summit that from the 8th to 13th centuries, Islam led the world in science, astronomy, medicine, engineering and geography. Just one example: Ibn-Sina’s Canon of Medicine, written in 1025, remained the world’s standard textbook on anatomy and medicine for more than 500 years.

Museum exhibit suggests telepathy could soon be a product...
In Islam’s Golden Age, “science was encouraged for the purpose of learning and discovery,” Al-Khalili said. “Science wasn’t a construct of the West, ever, although that’s the narrative being taught in Arab schools today.” Even the Renaissance, was founded on Arab science, he said. The telescope and microscope would never have been invented had Arab scientists not figured out optics 500 years earlier.

Today, Al-Khalili said, Islamic countries spend less than 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product on research and development (Canada spends 1.6 per cent; the U.S., 2.8 per cent). He sees promising pro-science initiatives in wealthier Arab countries such as UAE, Qatar, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, but said there’s a long way to go.

“There need to be changes in the whole infrastructure, from education to R&D. And one way of encouraging this is to get the message across that this spirit of rational inquiry, that transcends religion, culture and language, was alive and well here in the Golden Age… There is nothing, whether in their culture, their faith or their politics, that stands in their way.”

Canadians, too, need to stand up for science. The Conference Board of Canada gives us a “C” for the percentage of university students studying science, math, computer studies and engineering – just 21.2 per cent, behind a dozen other industrialized countries, including Finland (32 per cent) and Germany (30 per cent). Women especially are underrepresented in engineering and computer science. The Conference Board also hands us a “C” for business innovation, urging companies to invest more in innovation, R&D, and commercialization of new ideas. Canada’s resource-heavy economy will see no renaissance without more science and discovery.

The U.S. doubles down on innovation: As head of the U.S. delegation, Under Secretary for International Trade Stefan Selig delivered a rousing defence of the need for innovation in both business and government. “Governmen will be judged by how well it enables its citizens to achieve the gains posed by the innovation economy,” he said.

... or you can just share a few select dreams.
For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now has its own venture capital fund. It hands out innovation awards and supports entrepreneur-in-residence and innovator-in-residence programs. It’s also developing models for rapid testing of new service and payment solutions.

When did the country that produced the CPR, Expo 67 and the CN Tower stop thinking big?
Canadian entrepreneurs offer endless solutions for boosting the efficiency and effectiveness of institutions and other businesses. All businesses must insist customers, and especially governments, adopt more innovation-friendly cultures and purchasing policies. You need each other.

The world is getting better: Last year, the rate of extreme poverty around the globe dipped below 10 per cent for the first time ever, Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, said. “This is tremendous progress. In the past 15 years, one billion people have been lifted out of poverty,” he noted.

This should remind Canadian entrepreneurs that around the world, their prospect list continues to grow. Emerging economies and middle classes want what the West has, and need the products and services you create. Seek out Export Development Canada and Global Affairs Canada (the new name for the country’s international trade ministry). Join trade groups and international chambers of commerce. Talk to business colleagues about how they assess new export markets. The competition is fierce, but the rewards are huge.

In light of the conflict in the Middle East, Kim feels an urgency to act that could also inspire entrepreneurs preparing to go global: “This is a time for urgent and positive action,” he said. “There is such a thing as being too late.”

Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Meet the new Small Business Minister

The previous post refers to our new Small Business Minister, Bardish Chagger, but you might not know anything about her yet. She's a ridiculously young 35-year-old rookie MP who combines youthful spunk with seriousness of purpose.

She's very different from the more staid individuals who have occupied this post in past governments. Yes, I have high hopes for her.

Here's are a few things you should know about Minister Chagger:

Chagger comes from a working-class Sikh family that immigrated from Punjab, India. Her grandparents and father worked in a Waterloo carpet factory when they came here in the 1970s... 
Chagger's family lived through ugly racism at first, including rocks thrown at their house and graffiti spray-painted on its walls. But they always kept their eyes on that better life for which they came to Canada.
See more at:

She represents Waterloo, that vital city of can-do technology and entrepreneurship. Her official bio reports:

Prior to becoming MP for Waterloo, Bardish Chagger worked at the Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Centre, an organization that assists new Canadians as they transition to full participation in our community’s life. As the Special Projects Coordinator, Bardish planned and coordinated the annual Kitchener-Waterloo Multicultural Festival in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, bringing together community, cultural and business groups in Waterloo Region. She also worked with other agencies to offer an annual Global Skills Conference to introduce foreign-trained professionals to related professions and to find meaningful employment.

She loves Twitter:

Her mandate includes: 
  • Support the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development in launching an Innovation Agenda to expand support for incubators and accelerators, as well as the emerging national network for business innovation and cluster support. In addition, work with him as he clarifies innovation and business development programs, including the Industrial Research Assistance Program, and new programs, to ensure we are world leaders in clean and sustainable technologies and to ensure that our programs are supportive of small businesses that are seeking to become more productive, more innovative and more export-oriented.
  • Work with the Minister of International Trade to prepare and execute a new Canadian international trade strategy to ensure that programs and approaches are supportive of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).  Specifically, work to make it easier for SMEs to take advantage of government financing and export-oriented supports.
  • Work with the Minister of Finance as the small business tax rate reduction is implemented to ensure that it is used to support small businesses, rather than used to reduce personal income tax obligations for high-income earners.
  • Engage provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to create as much alignment as possible with complementary programs delivered by other governments to support SMEs.
  • Work with your provincial, territorial, and municipal counterparts to promote Canadian tourism and strengthen the Canadian brand abroad for tourists.
  • Support your Ministerial colleagues as they seek ways to reduce the administrative burden on small business.

Pushing Back against Bureaucracy

At Startup Canada's Startup Day on the Hill last month in Ottawa, a number of entrepreneurs had a chance to sit down with senior members of the federal government to push our own specific ideas for new policies to support small business.

Most of the proposals involved new ways of funding investment in small business. That crucial gap being well covered, I took a different focus. I pushed for Ottawa to keep pushing back on bureaucratic regulations and red tape that hinder business dynamism and growth. The previous Conservative government was quite diligent on this file, but the Liberals had seemed to take their eye off the ball.

My proposal: that federal civil servants and regulators be mandated to review all new rules and legislation with an "entrepreneur-first" orientation. Any components that would stymie or slow entrepreneurial activity, I posited, should be shipped back to committee for overhaul.

You can read the details below.

(Note: Towards the end of Startup Day, I had the chance to speak with Small Business Minister Bardish Chagger, and ask her about the status of her government's war on red tape. She said the commitment is still there, but they're working on a new way to frame it. So let's keep the pressure on!)

Below, you'll also see my related recco: to raise the threshold for GST/HST participation to $60,000, up from the current $30,000. Let's not burden startups by making them all tax collectors!

You can also read my Financial Post article on Startup Day: Four key things Ottawa could do to improve startups’ odds.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Advantages of Entrepreneurship

A reader on a previous blog post left an intriguing question in the comments box: 
"Are the advantages or the disadvantages of entrepreneurship more important? Why?"
I love the question, and offered the following reply:

Great question!

The advantages of entrepreneurship are many and varied:
• Self-reliance.
• Confidence.
• Independence.
• Accountability for one’s own obligations and mistakes.
• Fiscal discipline.
• Evaluating risk.
• Develops strong communication skills, as well as vision, creativity, strategy, planning and leadership.

Communities of entrepreneurs invariably develop additional strengths, such as collaboration, mentoring, coaching and partnering. They create bottom-up solutions based on personal passions and fiscal responsibility. Other forms of economic activity (reliance on big government or big business) encourage imposed, top-down solutions, and individual conformity, dependence and social/economic passivity.

What are the disadvantages of entrepreneurship?

• Occasionally, bad actors create companies or products that rip people off. The solution is 2,000 years old: Caveat Emptor!
• Many people are not cut out to be entrepreneurs, preferring to be followers rather than leaders. Solution: entrepreneurs create jobs for people who are not entrepreneurs!
• Elites (companies with market dominance, established interests, monopolies, and governments that prefer to concentrate power in themselves) are often discomfited by the changes and disruption created by entrepreneurs’ hustle and innovation. Solution: They change and adapt, or they buy up the entrepreneurial solution – thereby freeing the entrepreneur to go out and start again!
• Sometimes entrepreneurs achieve market dominance themselves, and then behave selfishly or arrogantly. Solution: Other entrepreneurs will find new ways to create value for customers in that market, and will cut arrogant producers down to size. Entrepreneurship breeds its own solutions!

Friday, March 18, 2016

We Make our Own Luck in the World

Here's a column I wrote for PROFIT magazine more than five years ago.

Hard to believe people were complaining about only (!) 2% growth!

But the message of innovation and global competitiveness is the same. Except more urgent now, because we are five years closer to being surpassed in knowledge, research, innovation and marketing pizzazz by what used to be known as "the developing world."

(The photos are from my trip last month to Dubai, the UAE city that wants to own the future.)

The skyscrapers of Dubai
Our economy is going nowhere. Unemployment remains high, inflation is rising and interest rates will climb, too. And don’t even think about taxes; Ottawa has spent $50 billion deferring the full impact of the recession, and the bill is coming due.
I recently endured a presentation by Scotiabank chief economist Warren Jestin that painted a dismal picture for 2011 and beyond. He predicts several sloppy years of 2.5% growth in North America — “not the 3% we used to think was normal.” He thinks growth in Europe will average just 2%, and Japan will shuffle along at less than 2%.
The good news is that the U.S., Europe and Japan don’t matter like they used to. Global economic clout is shifting, and new economic powers such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia will set the tempo. “The world will become less U.S.- and Europe-centric,” says Jestin. “It’s going to be more balanced.”
A balanced world is a good thing. Unless, of course, you’ve become used to having more than your fair share, which is Canada’s problem. Once, we legitimately belonged to the G8 group of dominant world economies — although we were let into the club mainly because the Americans wanted a friend in the room. Since then, the economies of Spain and Brazil have leapfrogged ahead of Canada’s, and India and Russia are about to overtake us. Thanks to our half-continent full of natural resources, Canada has always gotten by more on luck than pluck. Now that per capita incomes worldwide are growing to measurable levels, we must find a new role for ourselves.
We must make our own luck. Or, as Jestin put it: “Sticking with the familiar over the next decade is probably a losing strategy.” Now is the time when Canadians — no slouches at hauling ore out of the ground or grinding up forests — have to prove they can add value in a changed world.
By Canadians, of course, I mean you. “Canada” — the sum of our parochial governments and hidebound intellectual elite still lamenting the fall of the Auto Pact  — is locked in paralytic anomie, like a dysfunctional family fighting old battles while the house burns down around them. Change must come from our entrepreneurs.
The good news is that this transforming world offers more opportunity than ever. Gleaming new cities are rising in China; newly sophisticated middle classes in India and Latin America are clamouring for better goods and services; and new factories in Africa need engineering and logistics help from people who’ve been there. Jestin’s new “balance” is the world’s most promising economic resource.
But these opportunities aren’t like the old ones — rivers to be dammed, oil wells just waiting for the drill bit. We have to go out and win these opportunities. We must meet these customers, adapt our solutions to their needs and sell them on our capabilities, experience and willingness to serve.
There’s nobody better prepared than Canadians to do this. Our entrepreneurs are used to thinking in niches. Our workforce hails from around the world and speaks all its languages. Our communication and transportation links are as good as any. Best of all, we have experience trading and winning in a modern economy. We can introduce the new members of our co-prosperity sphere to the luxuries of a consumer economy — maple candy, Beaver Tails or President’s Choice cookies — while helping build their infrastructure by selling our expertise in areas such as engineering, environmental controls, information technology, housing construction, finance and business management.
But there’s one thing most entrepreneurs aren’t good at: purposeful innovation. To succeed in these competitive world markets, you have to become much better at adapting your products to specific markets. Off-the-shelf solutions won’t do. You have to create more focused products and services that outpoint the competition and fit customers’ varying needs. I like to think that innovation is simple; it’s all about doing more of what you do best. This is how you conquer the new economy, step by step:
  • Analyze what makes you great. Which of your products or services inspires your workforce most, produces the highest margins or wins the most customer raves? This is where you should focus your efforts.
  • Target your markets. Which new markets need your solution the most? Who will pay the most? Which of these markets do you know best, or where can you create your own openings? Dodge the competition. Where are your competitors strongest? What are their weak points? How can you leverage your strengths against their weaknesses?
  • Work closely with your prospects to fine-tune your new products or services to meet their needs. Offer discounts to those willing to become co-developers, beta testers or early adopters. Create a customer advisory board for each market segment to stay in touch with their needs.
  • Remember that innovation is as much about process as product. While you upgrade quality and functionality, keep improving your production and distribution processes, create more pricing options and find new ways to attract and keep customers.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

The Best Business for You?

I got an email today from a reader in a rural area asking what business opportunities I might recommend him to pursue.

Sadly, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The industry you choose, the product you sell and the niche you approach are all dependent on you, your personality, your experience and your network.

So this is what I wrote back. 

Hi, Phil (not his real name). Thanks for your note.

I would not presume to advise you without knowing a little more about you. What work experience do you have? What are you best at? What do you most enjoy doing? Do you enjoy working with people? How much money do you have to invest in a business?

These are all crucial questions that can help you or others hone in on what business is right for you.

I'll let you know  if I hear from him again.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Happy 11th birthday, Canadian Entrepreneur!

Next week marks this blog’s 11th anniversary – which is pretty old for a blog.

Canadian Entrepreneur launched on Feb. 1, 2005.

Since then, we've written 1,369 blogposts and attracted 833,214 pageviews. Our busiest year was 2007, with 270 blogposts, about one every business day. Of course, that was before Twitter and YouTube and Facebook came along to reduce national productivity, shrink our attention spans and erode blogs’ already questionable “cool” factor.

You can use the Blog Archive tool on the right-hand side of this page to go back as far as you wish on this blog. But that involves way too much scrolling, so I did it for you – grinding all the way back to Feb. 1, 2005.

Here’s my first post:

TITLE: Today I become the 30 millionth blogger on the Web (more or less).

I will be posting here occasionally to share some of my adventures and learnings in my new career as a totally self-employed entrepreneur. It's fun, scary at times, challenging and difficult to explain. 

If you follow along, I will try to post some entrepreneurial wisdom from time to time. I like to think of business as a team sport.

To inaugurate this column, here's a Time Tip I received today in an e-newsletter from time management guru Harold Taylor. If you read between the lines, it will tell you why having a home office (or at least an office door you can close) is the best solution to workplace stress.

According to Matthew Edlund, in his book, The Body Clock Advantage, short naps of 10 minutes seem to do the most for promoting alertness at work, especially in the mid-afternoon 

Here’s to the next 11 years! And more nap time.

My official portrait as a home-based business owner. 
Beard colour may no longer be exactly as shown.

Chart of first-year traffic patterns on this blog show the importance of computer analytics, as far back as 2005. 
Clearly, success would be geometric in scope.