- Entrepreneurs must have a drive to improve the world and people’s lives, without dwelling on their own risks.
- Broadening your reach for talent through remote hiring is beneficial for a company’s growth and allows for a wider talent pool.
- Immigrants not only serve as a valuable talent pool, but also as customers for a country’s growing infrastructure.
Canada should have a goal to further expand its population. A bigger population will allow for a more diverse talent pool, development of innovation, and can help Canada with infrastructural growth. Helping these immigrants integrate better will be key for attracting more skilled persons so that Canada can reap the benefits of immigration.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem and how can it be improved?
The ecosystem is thriving and alive. I am very proud of how far along we have come, especially in the past few years. With success stories like Shopify and Lightspeed, it is making a lot of entrepreneurs a lot bolder and more risk-taking, and that is helping us a lot.
For strengths and weaknesses, the biggest strength we have here is the Canadian brand itself. The Canadian brand is perceived as both competent and respected. When it comes to moral and ethical views, the world respects Canada. At the same time, people respect the Canadian product as being competent and not subpar, and that is something really important to highlight as a strength and that helps Canadian entrepreneurs.
One weakness of the Canadian entrepreneurship ecosystem is how low-key Canadian entrepreneurs and founders are. I used to think that this was a media problem, but it is not as much a media problem as it is the Canadian modesty of the entrepreneur, not wanting to be on media and speak up. It is a compliment to be modest and humble but sometimes being too humble is not ideal because we need more success stories to be told and shared. There is a lot of pain and struggle in what you go through to help inspire others to experience the same growth journey to take a company from an idea to being worth 1 billion dollars. It is good to tell the story more and be less low-key than we are in Canada.
How can key stakeholders support small and medium-sized enterprises to access support?
For Canada to maintain its competitiveness in the world and for us to maintain our G20 status, let alone G7 status, we need to bring a lot more people to Canada. We need to have growth. If you think of just the area of the country, Canada is one of the largest countries in the world. To support that kind of growth and the infrastructure that is needed from things like airports and roads to 5G networks, we need a lot more customers. I am not even talking about bringing in an experienced talent pool, I am talking from just a customer perspective. I would love it if Canada could have a bold vision to have a population of 100 million people in 2050. That would be my two cents to the government.
I would love it if Canada could have a bold vision to have a population of 100 million people in 2050.
For other stakeholders such as academia, we need to focus more on case studies. Case studies are big in business schools but even in medical schools, they learn a lot through case studies. There is a lot to learn through case studies and we need to emphasize more on case studies. Engineering schools, media schools, and other schools can focus more on case studies and learn from their successes and failures because that is going to shape the skill set of these students as they are learning. It is not just about what you learn academically but what you learn from the life experience of others.
From an investor perspective, we need to focus less on milestones and more on bold visions and the passion for where we are going. Milestone-driven objectives or investment criteria are making people focus more on the quarterly results than on the long-term vision of the business. This is something I appreciate with the Canadian Business Growth Fund (CBGF), our institutional backer. For example, when we talk about the exit options for Paystone or our initial public offering plans, they say let us focus on building a great business and these plans will figure themselves out, and I love that. Focus on the culture, vision, and building and scaling a great business, and there will be a lot of options on the table.
What is in the entrepreneur’s DNA?
In every entrepreneur’s DNA, there is drive. They are driven to change the world and make a difference. For what you go through as an entrepreneur, there is no reward immediately. You are not making money or working less, and there is a lot of sacrifice. Unless you have that drive in you to take that risk and put a lot at stake, you are not going to be a successful entrepreneur. You need to be self-driven.
Unless you have that drive in you to take that risk and put a lot at stake, you are not going to be a successful entrepreneur. You need to be self-driven.
When I look at my story and my upbringing, I felt like I always had nothing to lose. In Libya, I was not a citizen, I was an expat. In Gaza, I was a refugee. When I came to Canada as an immigrant, it was the first country to make me feel like I belonged here. I had the nationality and the passport. I am very grateful to Canada for that. Most entrepreneurs do not think of the risk or what they have to lose, they think of how to make the world better and how to improve people’s lives. They always think of the outcome and the greater good as opposed to the risk, sacrifice, and what they have to go through. That is something that holds true for every entrepreneur and definitely applies to me as an immigrant and as somebody who came from nothing.
If you were to start your entrepreneurship journey over again, what would you do differently?
I would do something different big time. I would focus outside of our local area. I was really big about maintaining proximity to the office and hiring local, and I struggled with the local talent pool in our area in London, Ontario. Before COVID-19, we had some acquisitions that came from out west and from Montreal where our HQ2 is now located. Expanding outside our local area broadened our scope and ability to attract talent and look beyond what we could get in London, Ontario. With COVID-19, it made this even more so. Right now, we can tap into the talent pool across Canada and even across the world, but we like to focus on Canada. Anywhere in Canada becomes your backyard and hiring remote allows you to broaden your reach for talent. That is something I would do differently.
What would you pitch to a person in a position of power to strengthen Canada’s entrepreneurship ecosystem?
I will pitch all of Canada and I would say we need to think of ways of growing our population because that will maintain our current competitive status as a nation, a G7 country, and a G20 country. Bringing more people to Canada and focusing on skilled workers will support the next 100 years of infrastructure this country needs. We need millions of more people in Canada so that this country that started a few hundred years ago but has a great brand in the world can continue to lead the world on many fronts.
Bringing more people to Canada and focusing on skilled workers will support the next 100 years of infrastructure this country needs.
The Liberal government is doing a good job on immigration but we can do more, and what we can do more of is not just in the numbers but also the integrations. Once we enhance the integration process of immigrants in Canada, we can attract more skilled workers because they will feel more confident about their ability to succeed.