- One of the biggest challenges in entrepreneurship is how lonely the journey is – which is why mentorship and co-founders are incredibly important.
- There are many government programs to help entrepreneurs, but they must do the work to discover which programs are the right fit.
- While funding has historically been channelled more the B2B companies, the time is right for Canadian B2C companies to boom.
For Canada’s B2C ecosystem to grow, both entrepreneurs and wider industries must be curious and open-minded to pursue new, innovative ideas. Canadian companies have the ability to become large, global B2C companies, but not without the support of wider industry and investors.
Tell us about yourself and Felix Health.
I am a serial entrepreneur. I have been an entrepreneur for as long as I can remember. My mom would probably tell you that I was an entrepreneur when I was a small child. Felix Health is the third startup venture that I have been lucky to be a part of. Before that, I co-founded a company called Mantry, which was in the food space, and we were food discovery monthly boxes that were curated and helped people discover the best craft and small-batch food products made in the world. In 2018, I started to work on the concept that ultimately became Felix. Felix has been a real innovator in the healthcare space in Canada, in that we were really a first mover in bringing the concept of virtual or online healthcare to the masses.
The category that we believe we are defining is on-demand treatment for everyday health. What that means is that we are one-part online doctor and one-part online pharmacy. We help people get the care they are looking for, from the comfort of their homes or from their phones, by enabling online connections with doctors for the purposes of getting a diagnosis and prescription. We also deliver that medication directly to your door to make the experience extremely seamless. We describe Felix as an end-to-end fully-integrated healthcare experience where we are the doctor, prescriber, pharmacy delivery, ongoing care provider, renewal provider, and all of those things baked into one user experience.
How did you overcome the challenges you faced as an entrepreneur and in trying to grow Felix Health?
Most entrepreneurs have this perpetual curiosity that is constantly driving and fueling them. But on the back of that, there are also a lot of common challenges to deal with. I could probably read off a list of 100 different challenges you might experience at different times throughout the journey.
“Entrepreneurs need to create networks of folks who they can go to, talk to, and get help from.”
If I were to highlight a few, I would probably start with loneliness or a lack of support. Being an entrepreneur can be a very lonely journey and you feel like you are on an island. Tennis is a great sports metaphor to give here. You can just feel totally isolated, alone with your own thoughts, and unsure of who you can turn to. This really demonstrates the importance of focusing on establishing really strong networks. Entrepreneurs need to create networks of folks who they can go to, talk to, and get help from. This also speaks to the importance of mentorship, which can be challenging to find, but it is something that entrepreneurs should always be thinking about and trying to procure to the best of their ability.
Another potential solution to that loneliness is having co-founders. I have never been involved in a business where I did not have at least one co-founder and I always have found it to be unbelievably helpful. I would always encourage entrepreneurs to think about finding co-founders who can provide a complementary skill set. You need to be very careful when you select a co-founder. They need to complement your skill set and be aligned with you on the work that is going to be involved.
Building this type of support network is really important. Do not be afraid to call people or reach out to people randomly to ask them for help or to establish a relationship. You would be surprised to see how often those calls can lead to developing a strong network or finding mentorship.
“It is better to find product-market fit and demonstrate proof of concept in an expandable but narrow niche than to try to do too much at once.”
Another challenge that entrepreneurs face is a lack of confidence. This relates a little bit to the loneliness problem. Oftentimes, you might figure out very quickly that the business will not work the way that you thought and that things are not necessarily going to plan. That can create a lot of doubt and lonely moments, and in some cases, lead to a lack of confidence. My advice here is always the same: obsess over the customer first and foremost. Try to narrow your market. It is better to find product-market fit and demonstrate proof of concept in an expandable but narrow niche than to try to do too much at once. That is inherently more valuable than trying to do way too much at once and ultimately constantly running into resistance or failure.
The last note I have on this one would be domain knowledge. I have now been a part of three startups, all of which were in totally different industries. You do not always have to be an expert in the subject matter to start a business in a space. There may be cases where you might have product expertise but no marketing expertise and you are trying to figure out how to bring the product you built to market without understanding marketing. Those can be challenging moments, for sure.
This is where you really want to be able to surround yourself with really smart folks, whether they are part of your network or actually advisors to your business. There are ways to incentivize people to become advisors for your business. This is a good reason to work with freelancers or contractors so that you can try to supplement areas of weakness with more expertise. This is also where a complementary co-founder or co-founders can be really helpful.
What is the state of healthtech entrepreneurship in Canada?
Capital will always follow innovative companies. As long as we have people who are innovating and working hard to demonstrate concepts that are valuable and working well, there will always be capital available to those types of businesses. I have seen a tremendous amount of support on the software and digital side. There are many companies in the healthtech space that are really well supported within the Canadian infrastructure.
The most important thing is for companies and entrepreneurs to be very knowledgeable about how tailwinds and headwinds are unfolding and how they can coexist within those confines.
There is also a responsibility on the entrepreneur to do the work to figure out where opportunities for support are. There are a lot of programs that you can get into and you can figure out how to get capital and support from them in a scrappy way. But these programs are not necessarily just hanging off trees. The entrepreneur still needs to do the work to figure out what those support programs are, because they exist and they are plentiful. The government is doing a great job there.
“What we can do is seed the entrepreneurial spirit earlier in people and that can be done at the school level.”
I would encourage more improvement on the education side. Again, capital and support will always follow innovation. People who are coming up with great concepts and starting interesting businesses have a kind of entrepreneurial, relentless spirit, and capital and support will always find them. What we can do is seed the entrepreneurial spirit earlier in people and that can be done at the school level. Throughout high schools and universities, we should be really teaching and encouraging entrepreneurship as much as we can.
How can we improve the funding ecosystem for entrepreneurs in Canada?
There are two tracks for growth in entrepreneurship and funding does not always have to be the track you go with. When you start a business, you need to figure out early on whether you are building a business that actually requires funding for your vision to come to life. It is really important to be purposeful about that. Funding is not always the answer. In fact, there are a number of amazing companies that have been able to bootstrap and grow without funding. I have done that in a previous company where we did not take any institutional funding. There are pros and cons to both paths, but they are both viable.
“Many entrepreneurs and founders have demonstrated over the last few years that building really big B2C companies at scale is actually possible in Canada.”
The funding environment in Canada heavily favours B2B businesses. B2C companies like Felix Health have been a bit less successful on the funding side. However, that is starting to change, which is something we should all be excited about. Historically, there has always been this doubt that because Canada’s a small market, we should focus on the B2B space and international expansion. But many entrepreneurs and founders have demonstrated over the last few years that building really big B2C companies at scale is actually possible in Canada. You can look at companies like Wealthsimple, Knix Wear, Shoretex, Neo Financial, and KOHO. This is something that I get really excited about and Canada should continue to invest more in these kinds of B2C companies.
Why did you choose to accept investment from the Canadian Business Growth Fund?
My and my co-founder’s philosophy on fundraising and choosing investment partners has always been fairly simple, which is to always choose people over terms. We have always made a point of choosing investors we enjoyed working with. We view it like a marriage. When you decide to involve investors in your business, you need to remember that these are people who are not only there to support the company, but they are also people that you have to work with for an extremely long period of time.
We love the people at the Canadian Business Growth Fund (CBGF) and really enjoyed getting to know them. They really understand the Canadian market, which was important to us, because healthcare in Canada is very unique. Having investors who intuitively understood the Canadian market and what healthcare means to Canada was really important. We also respected and liked the fact that CBGF has a responsible operating mentality in their businesses. They do not have a growth-at-all-costs mentality, which other investors can have sometimes. We have always been interested in wanting to operate an efficient and responsible business instead of just growing no matter what.
What is your advice to young Canadian entrepreneurs who are looking to launch or scale their companies?
I am a big proponent of trying to validate your idea as quickly as possible. I have often found that sometimes, entrepreneurs can spend way too long trying to perfect a product or a service before they bring it to market and get real-world feedback. You need to get something in the market as quickly as possible so you can learn from real users and iterate from there. That is not always possible depending on the company – Felix Health is a good example of that. It was very difficult for Felix Health to come to market with a super lean version of the product because what we are offering is very complicated. We are handling people’s health care and doing prescriptions online. Still, we tried to get to market as quickly as we could. We are not overly proud of the first version of our product, but I think that is the way it should be.
“You have to really ask yourself whether you are prepared to drop everything and go all in into your business.”
There are also values or attributes to live by. Be curious. Find a way. When you are working on innovative concepts, be prepared to go all in. You have to really ask yourself whether you are prepared to drop everything and go all in into your business. If you are not, then you should not do it, because you cannot just start a company unless you are willing to dedicate your entire being to it.
When it comes to scaling your business, you need to focus on establishing good economic fundamentals as early as possible and not push off monetization as something you will figure out later. New companies can succeed at acquiring a lot of customers while still losing a lot of money. Considering the economic climate we are in, I think those days are behind us. Focus on your fundamentals and make sure that you have a revenue model that makes sense. It comes down to efficiency and efficient growth, not growth at all costs.
My last piece of advice is to be patient. Over the last several years, we have all been a little bit impatient in the sense that we have developed an expectation that unicorns can be built in two years. The reality is that great businesses are not built overnight. They take time, so do not be afraid to be patient.
What does the healthcare and life sciences industry need to do to support entrepreneurs in the space?
Continue to be open to change. When we talk about innovating in any space, whether it is in fintech or healthtech, we need to remember that the wider industry is heavily regulated and dominated by incumbents. The industry must push itself to be open to how things can be better. There needs to be an air of curiosity there. I have brought up the value of curiosity multiple times. If we are all curious to see how things can be better, we will all be in a great spot.
My encouragement to industry would be to stay open-minded, continue to be curious and think about new ideas and concepts, and make change in a way that is beneficial to the country.
How can investors or funds better support entrepreneurs?
They need to keep doing what they are doing. Investors like CBGF and institutional investors of all kinds are sometimes the fuel that makes these companies grow and scale. The B2C companies that we talked about in this interview have become part of the daily lives of Canadians and they rely on those products. Many of these companies would not exist without investors. Investors play a critical role in our innovation economy. Keep doing what you are doing, keep finding awesome and interesting companies, and keep supporting them as much as you can.