- Competition is generally less in Canada than in other countries, making it easier for new business to focus on the fundamentals of their growth.
- Many Canadian entrepreneurs lack a grand vision, which causes Canadian business to fly under the radar.
- The funding environment in Canada is still not as robust as that of the United States, making it difficult for streamers to achieve their goals.
Canada needs to do more to integrate entrepreneurship into the school system, not only by thinking about how to encourage innovation, but also in how to retain the international students who come here but then return to their home countries after. The success of Canada’s future economy will depend on current students, so it is fundamental to start providing them with the tools to innovate.
What are the fundamentals of an entrepreneur’s DNA and why were you motivated to become one?
To me, the fundamentals of an entrepreneur’s DNA can be summarized into three powerful words: vision, ambition, and persistence. First, vision: entrepreneurs are already living in the future and slowly walking their teams to the present so that they can take them to the vision and the future as it is unfolding. We need to almost have an unreasonable, unbelievable vision for the future, and sometimes people look at me as things go on in my head and say, “What planet are you from?” Vision is really important and it is important to keep that.
“The fundamentals of an entrepreneur’s DNA can be summarized into three powerful words: vision, ambition, and persistence.”
Second, to me, is ambition: the obstacles we come across can be so incredibly complex, so you need to overcome them. You need drive, grit, and resolve—all of those things are really important. Lastly, it is persistence: not giving up, using creativity, and using resourcefulness to do what might seem impossible, because nothing great comes easy. Those are the three things: vision, ambition and persistence.
How would you describe the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem, its strengths and weaknesses, and areas for improvement?
Let us start with the strengths first. The greatest strengths that we have in the Canadian ecosystem is the incredible diversity. It should not be as difficult to address some of the systemic racism that exists in the US as in Canada. CEOs and entrepreneurs put diversity first and that is an incredible strength that we have. Another strength is that competition is generally less, so you have more time to work on the business fundamentals rather than worrying about the competition in the early stages, but we cannot let that make us complacent; we need that pressure to be able to always strive for higher.
“The greatest strengths that we have in the Canadian ecosystem is the incredible diversity.”
In terms of weaknesses—I do not think we think big enough. We are apologetic; it is a bit of a cliché but it is true. Canadians entrepreneurs are apologetic, we do not think as big and we do not have grand visions so it is very Canadian to fly under the radar and that has to change. In this sense, entrepreneurs need to change as well and not fly under the radar but come out with bold, grand visions to announce how amazing we are and proclaim that. We need to inspire confidence in this world so that we can build the capital and other things that are required to achieve the grand ambitions because it does take capital and it does take a team to make those things happen.
“We need to increase investments in seed stage businesses and help entrepreneurs scale their ambitions.”
Another weakness is perhaps the funding environment in Canada. It is not as large as it is in the US and we all know that. We need to increase investments in seed stage businesses and help entrepreneurs scale their ambitions, and trust that entrepreneurs will overcome all the obstacles. We need more money to be able to make up for the time that we can potentially lose in terms of how we can get to scale up.
What are the three main challenges you have faced as an entrepreneur in Canada?
The cultural aspects is absolutely the number one thing, as is being able to come out and say here is my vision and not having to apologize for that vision.
The second is the funding ecosystem, being able to say here is my vision and it is going to take $100 million to fund this and saying we will figure it out and make it work. The third and an important one is VCs and others being able to trust that entrepreneur and say, “Yes, I am going to write this check and he will figure it out,” without having a detailed plan, detailed projections, and detailed everything. There are going to be ton of obstacles that we are going to have to overcome but trust that that will get figured out.
What must key stakeholders do now to address the biggest challenges Canadian entrepreneurs face?
Entrepreneurs are a funny breed; we do not ask for help—that is probably another weakness. We do not ask government and put up our hands and say I need help. Governments should go out of their way to make it clear to entrepreneurs that they are there to help, because the one thing that entrepreneurs hate the most is paperwork, bureaucracy, and all the things that need to happen in order to get government help, and I know there are lots of programs out there.
The regulatory environment needs to be aligned to not create hurdles for entrepreneurs to be able to access those programs. Protecting consumers and employees is of course extremely important so we need to have the governments keep that up, as well as the support mechanism that came into place extremely quickly during the COVID-19 days. We did not make use of those benefits but clearly, we do not operate in a vacuum. We operate in this greater ecosystem of businesses, individuals, families, children, and all of these things coming together, so we really appreciate how fortunate we are to operate in such an incredible country where the government takes care of its citizens. That needs to continue to happen.
“We are attracting great students into our amazing institutions but after they graduate, we need more support integrating them into the workforce.”
With governments, there is so much support and they do make it easier to get foreign students into the country, trained in Canada, and for them to stay in Canada. We pride ourselves in attracting these students because when you go into the universities, it has such a great mix of cultures—it is incredible, but when you go out to the workforce, you wonder why it is not as diverse as what we see at universities and colleges in Canada. There is something missing there. We are attracting great students into our amazing institutions but after they graduate, we need more support integrating them into the workforce. That is a bit of a thing—we need to prevent that brain drain of them going back to wherever they are. Obviously, they need them to go back and help their economies and countries as well but we could be doing more to keep them in Canada.
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What does the future of Canadian entrepreneurship look like to you?
We have some incredible entrepreneurial role models in Canada that are household names and globally known like Shopify—what an incredible role model that is, so we need more of those. We would like to see a Tesla, Google, or an Amazon come out of Canada, and of course, I am hoping the company I am running, MaxSold, is going to be one of those companies that is going to have that global presence. We service 20 states in the US, so people assume that we are an American company for some reason, but we are a Canadian company and we just have a presence across North America and now, we want to expand globally as well.
What advice would you give young Canadian entrepreneurs and startups starting out on their own journey?
The advice I would give myself, knowing what I know now 10 years ago when we started MaxSold, is know what the vision is and go at it at a larger scale, and it comes back to not being apologetic and be able to tackle the bigger problems.
If something is working, double and triple down immediately, and for anything that is not working, figure it out way quicker than it took for us to figure it out because there are so many resources and support out there from incredibly smart people. All we need to do is ask, “Hey, I am stuck with this problem, how did you solve it?” Getting access to those networks is what I would say as the advice I would give myself 10 years ago. How do you get faster building those networks so that we can solve problems faster, and we can also go at the problems we are trying to tackle at a much larger scale so that we can be bold about the bigger picture and the resource requirements that are needed to get there, and it all comes down to execution, which is the hardest in the world.
Entrepreneurs are masters at getting things done without excuses and that is what it takes at the end of the day. The advice is simply, knowing what I know now, that as an entrepreneur we are a unique breed of getting things done and just going at it, to make things happen at a much faster pace.
What would be your pitch to improve the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem?
Who I would like to pitch—it would be to everyone and everybody in power. I know that is cheating because it is not very specific, but I want to make it about innovation, entrepreneurship, and more of the environment we operate in. It is a fragile environment that we are in and people are starting to recognize that.
“Before this, if somebody said that the environment is so fragile, we would not have believed it.”
When COVID-19 hit China, it is incredible how quickly it spread and how it did not matter if you are talking to somebody in Italy or somebody in Australia, they were all going through the exact same thing. Before this, if somebody said that the environment is so fragile, we would not have believed it, we would have said, “You are crazy, that is not going to impact us and it is completely fine.” It is good that it has heightened the awareness.
I want to make the message about four things: innovation, entrepreneurship, environment, and making it more part of the school system. How do you bring those three things and apply it to our education system? It is now the future of Canada and globally, it is affected by people who are going through the school system right now, so they are the ones who we need to start to influence.