Becoming an Entrepreneur
- The ability to adapt is a key characteristic for entrepreneurs as the economy becomes increasingly global and the number of competitors increase.
- Being early in innovating an idea and putting it to market is crucial for one to succeed as an entrepreneur.
- Cultivating a company culture is one of the key steps in ensuring your business and employees thrive.
For entrepreneurship to continue to thrive in Canada, the scale and availability of funding needs to be improved. This funding can come from private financing, government subsidy, or government programs, and can drastically enable entrepreneurs to better realize their vision, build strong teams and and go global.
What is the entrepreneur’s DNA?
It is a lot. First of all, hopefully, an entrepreneur does not need a whole lot of sleep because it is tireless. The thing that fuels you so much is passion. I think at the beginning of every entrepreneurial journey there is an awful lot of passion—the passion for the idea or the project or whatever you are pursuing out there—it is so motivating. I have to always remember it because as a person who gets passionate about our ideas at Librestream, I start talking really fast. That is something that is intoxicating and it really draws people in at times, and that builds that sense of community. That is the next thing that is so big in entrepreneurship: the people, because in terms of the product or technology idea, we are going to be wrong. You are always going to be wrong; it is just a question of whether you are going to be 90% right, 95% right, or even 90% wrong. It is important to have the right core of people and they are all in the boat rowing in the same general direction, and you are all on board and okay with getting better each day and pursuing that common vision. The way you get it right might be a little different and you might not take that original path that you planned. You might take plan B or plan Z. It is really that journey with the people that makes so much of a difference and that is what enables the entrepreneur to be successful: the team and getting the right people around the table to help you out.
What advice would you give someone who aspires to be an entrepreneur?
It is to be humble. I see a lot of companies who have tremendous people, but it is an amazingly talented and diverse world that we are in today, and there are talented people everywhere. The moment you start to become successful, others start to notice. You start to see competition emerge not only from your industry and the companies that may have been on your radar, but across the globe—companies are emerging, and they are trying to take a piece of what you thought was your pie or your market. You have to be willing to go really fast and never be scared of failing. That is one thing that we have to be challenging ourselves in always. It does not mean you are always going to reinvent yourself but you always have to reassess yourself: are we on the right path? Are we using the right measuring stick to validate where we are today and where we are going to go next? That plan is never really etched in stone. It is like sand at the beach: you write something down, a wave comes in, and you have to write it down again. It may be the same thing you are writing over and over again, and that repetition and persistence definitely helps, but it does not mean that you are locked into it. Entrepreneurs cannot be overly wedded to a bad idea or a bad path. Be able to reassess that and look at it and say, “Is this the right thing?” or “Are the market conditions right, are they the same ones right now as they were when I started this venture?” One of the challenging things for an entrepreneur is you have to be really early in the market. Rarely does an entrepreneur come into a well-established market and say, “I am going to disrupt this market and I am going to do it overnight.” You tend to have to be years ahead of a market developing and maybe that is one year, five years, or sometimes 10 years. Being able to evolve and roll with those punches is really critical in a journey. Have that humility as a leader or entrepreneur to say, “Yes, I was wrong, but hopefully I learned from it pretty quickly.”
“One of the challenging things for an entrepreneur is you have to be really early in the market.”
How would you recommend entrepreneurs leverage available technology or digitally transform?
Digital transformation is an interesting one. If you look at Librestream, we are in more of an asset-intensive industrial segment and often technology is not something that has been the first tool out of the toolbox to come solve a problem in the industrial segment. But when you look at the digital transformation market—which is worth a trillion-plus dollars in a couple of years, as predicted by many analysts—and you start to look at what that means, is it that digital transformation is disrupting yourself with digital processes? Why digital? It is because that can scale and this is one of those entrepreneurial tenets of not only thinking about how an idea incubates, gets started, and gets validated. When that idea is at scale, where does that idea either fall apart or breakdown? That is the notion of transformation: think about how something breaks along the process. Maybe it works really great for the first thousand transactions or million users that come into a site, but at some point, every idea might have a little bit of a vulnerability. That is an opportunity to really think about how you can transform that to make sure that you are more efficient and able to handle more of a load.
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How will COVID-19 impact the entrepreneurial journey?
One of the hardest things with COVID-19 is the people continuity side. When you look at an entrepreneur, an early stage company, or a company in the middle stage but still in that startup domain, the culture is what is so important. You have a lot of people working a lot of long hours and putting a lot of passion behind everything they do. Culture is a tough thing to do over a virtual environment alone. Not having that common face-to-face or that hallway culture, the ability to go up to a whiteboard or sit down in a lunchroom and share a meal, or even a beer together, makes it a challenge. When you look at our position, where we have onboarded almost double the size of the company in 2020, the hardest thing is maintaining and growing that culture, bringing new people in not to only learn what business we are in and how to be effective in their role, but to be effective people in the culture that you have established. That is a challenge. When you look at COVID-19, it is that personal continuity: how do you bring new people in? How do you get them effective in their jobs? That is one thing that could be done with training, but how do you make sure you embody that culture that the company is intending to strive to be in every single day? That is a big deal.
“Culture is a tough thing to do over a virtual environment alone.”
We do that in product form in Librestream, because we are seeing more and more that there is a human scarcity. You start looking at the shortfall of workers out there, and it is anticipated that there will be an 85 million or more worker shortfall in a few years. That is tremendous number. A lot more people are going remote and the systems are getting more complex, so the jobs are getting harder and there are less workers out there.
What is the advice you have for entrepreneurs who want to go global?
It is tough. It is very tough if you do it organically or by looking at how to get global or to get outside of Canada. Librestream was founded in Winnipeg and we had a tremendous talent base there. We have continued to bring a lot of great of people in from universities, both local and out of province. As you start to mature, getting the right position defined is critical, and that is where you start getting to this international expansion and partnerships where these new roles become critical.
“Do not be afraid of the feedback; you have created something great and you will create it again.”
A partnership may take a lot of different forms. For Librestream, there were some early technology partnerships that mattered a lot. We were also able to create and extend our board of directors and bring on a couple of people from outside of Canada to help influence and get perspective on other geographies and how other market dynamics were working. This means bringing in other experiences, bringing in people with a technology or business base, understanding what different go-to-market motions may be, and understanding what different funding options may be. It is very much a cliché but it is a small world and everyone is watching. Do not be afraid of the feedback; you have created something great and you will create it again. You will continue to evolve with the punches and you just have to get it out there quickly.
If you had 30 seconds to pitch someone in power to improve entrepreneurship in Canada, what would you say?
One thing that often limits the scale, growth, and capacity of the company is the funding. Bring in people from everywhere. Bring in the diversity of talent and bring in as much as you can get. But entrepreneurs need access to friendly capital to ensure they have an incentive for their management team and for those who have put in an awful lot of sweat. Again, these entrepreneurial journeys are not easy, especially when it starts to scale. Funding really makes a difference, not only for the company and the shareholders, but for the region and the country. Funding becomes an indelible element, and it require financing partners in both private financing, government subsidy and government programs.