Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mesh on the March

The Mesh conference on Web 2.0 and social media is up and running again for its second day.

If you’re like me and tied to a desk today, you can get a feel for what’s going on by following the Mesh newsblog. It provides updates on some of what’s happening, as well as attendee comments and links to a photostream on Flickr.

Most interesting item, to me, so far: two of my favourite Canadian Entrepreneurs, Ron Dembo and Austin Hill, are launching an open-source program to help computer users save energy – and then brag about how much they're saving to their friends. Talk about nailing it!

Click here to keep up with the Meshinations.

And for more, check out co-founder Mark Evans’ Tech Blog.
Or visit arch-rival and cofounder Mathew Ingram's blog.

Rethink your business

The remarkable Donald Cooper, a Toronto manufacturer turned retailer turned business speaker and consultant, published a newsletter today with lots of great insights. The best bet is his lead article, “Does your business model need a reality check... before it's too late?”

“If your fundamental business model is defective, tired or no longer relevant, you're in big trouble," Donald writes. "You could be doing lots of other things right, but if the basic premise and operating model for your business is wrong, the end is in sight.”

He then cites several examples of companies that have reinvented their business to meet changing needs. Among them:

* On May 24th, Dell announced it will sell two computers through Wal-Mart – altering its longtime formula of selling directly to users.

* Toronto-based Barrymore Furniture did the opposite shift. It went from selling through retailers to selling to consumers. “They created a showroom in their factory and promised to make your sofa just the way you want it,” says Donald. “You're in charge...and their business is thriving!"

* Donald met recently with a financial-services client that has upended its business model, moving away from the traditional practice of offering clients free advice and charging sales commissions. His client now charges “a fair fee for good financial advice” and doesn't charge commissions. “This puts the focus on the client and eliminates any possible conflict of interest.”

The key link in these examples? Putting the focus on how your clients want to do business.

Is it time to reinvent your business model? As Donald says, “Is what you sell, how you sell it or how you do business the way of the future...or a relic of an irrelevant past?”

You can read his full newsletter here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Death of a Legend

Fire up your turntables and play a sad LP. Sam the Record Man is closing again - and this time probably for good.

Canadian Press reported at 11 pm last night that the flagship Toronto music store will close on June 30, a victim of slow music sales in the new downloading era.

Shopping at Sam's was a rite of passage for Canadian youth in the '60s and '70s, with more than 30 stores across Canada. And founder Sam Sniderman was an industry legend, as famous for creative retailing as he was for supporting Canadian talent.

Then came the 90s, the Internet craze, and the unravelling of the empire. But Sam, now long retired, remains unbowed: when I talked to him a few weeks ago, he was looking forward to a court case where he was hoping to get his own back against the advisers who had recommended bankruptcy in 2001 as the best soution for his company's woes.

Sam's sons, Jason and Bobby, managed to reopen the Yonge Street store in 2002, but things were never quite as zany - or as profitable - in the iTunes era.

Sam was kind enough to read a preview copy of my book, Secrets of Success from Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies. He called it, "An invaluable piece of work." I could say the same thing about his store. And in fact about Sam himself.

The Sniderman brothers, in their announcement, say the store's legacy "will forever endure and perhaps, other opportunities will arise for us to develop the brand in the expanding delivery of music."

I hope so. The Snidermans are not only great entrepreneurs - they are great Canadians.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 34

Here's your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your week off to a roaring start.

"Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand."
Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian and essayist, 1795-1881

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"99% of your problems come from 10% of your people"

Smilin' Clive Beddoe, founder and chair of WestJet, made an odd choice in his speech Thursday night to the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, which had just presented him with a lifetime achievement award (see previous post).

As you might expect, Beddoe credited WestJet’s success to the hard work of its “six thousand passionate employees.” He urged the entrepreneurs in the audience to “create passion in your people. Give them a reason to care, and they will have a commitment to you that's unbelievable. … The processes you adopt for bringing these people into your world will make you successful.”

But then he went on to point out that you have to weed your garden before it can bloom.

99% of your problems will come from 10% of your people,” he said. “Just remember that. What you do about that is up to you. It’s not too difficult to figure out.”

Beddoe then said you can't fire people too soon. If they're in the wrong job or have the wrong attitude, you have to unload them or give them something different to do.

Don't let them drag you down,” he said. “Give them an opportunity to succeed somewhere else. Because in their current position, they're set up to fail.”

Good advice? Absolutely, and it’s a point I’ve made many times in my own presentations to entrepreneurs.

But appropriate after-dinner speaking fodder for a feel-good awards evening? I thought Beddoe focused unduly on the negative. Maybe he'd just had a bad day.
What do you think?

Friday, May 25, 2007

Cereal Entrepreneurs

Congratulations to Geneviève Gagnon, owner of La fourmi bionique Inc., which won the 2007 National Best Business Award at last night’s gala awards banquet of the Canadian Youth Business Foundation (CYBF).
LFB manufactures handcrafted granola blends containing natural and organic ingredients. They are distributed to retail and high-profile institutional markets, including some of the most prestigious hotels in Québec, as well as the Ritz Paris hotel.
In her acceptance speech, Geneviève (at right, we think) thanked her twin sister, Valérie Anne, for her support and inspiration.
Montrealmirror.com describes the company and its products this way: “the finest organic granola cereals and scooby snacks this side of the Gatineau. A quintessentially local operation initially launched out of Geneviève’s apartment—involving months of painstaking research developing the tastiest, healthiest, organic granola one could ever hope to ingest—la Fourmi Bionique has since grown to the point where the sisters’ products are now widely available 'partout au Quebec.'”
CYBF is a non-profit association that provides loans and mentoring services for qualified young entrepreneurs (under 35). Last night’s awards event recognized the top businesses from each province. They’re an eclectic bunch, including a Gastown bar, a book-publisher from Alberta, an Ontario giftware wholesaler, a first-aid training firm from New Brunswick, a Nova Scotia company that helps people sell stuff on eBay, and a Saskatoon firm that provides a swimming pool for dogs, for exercise and post-surgical rehab.
Other award winners last night were all-star entrepreneurs Rob McEwen, CEO of US Gold Corp. and Lexam Explorations Inc., and best known for growing Goldcorp into a world-class producer of shiny metal; and the much-lauded Clive Beddoe, CEO of WestJet. They each received the 2007 CYBF Lifetime Achievement Award, “for their outstanding contributions to the entrepreneurial spirit of Canadians.”
Here are the regional winners:
Six Acres, Vancouver www.sixacres.ca
Focused Student, Calgary www.focusedstudent.com
Bay's Waterpaws Canine Aquatic Center, Saskatoon www.waterpaws.ca
Harmony Naturopathic Health, Winnipeg www.harmonynaturopath.com
Kerri'd Treasures Unique Gifts, Toronto www.kerridtreasures.com
La fourmi bionique Inc., Montreal www.lafourmibionique.com
HELP Group Management Inc., Saint John www.hgmi.ca
Zold Online Inc., Halifax www.zoldonline.com
Paradise Physiotherapy Ltd., Paradise, Nfld.
Ink Isle, Charlottetown, PEI

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Entrepreneurial Manifesto

PROFIT Magazine this month published its 25th anniversary issue. To help mark the event, they published my essay on the roots of Canadian entrepreneurial culture, Entrepreneurial Nation.

Canada, the faithful colony that didn't rebel, wasn’t a predictable home for an entrepreneurial explosion. But take one recession, mix with low commodity prices, and stir in a demanding new generation of well-educated baby boomers, and you have a recipe for magic.

The result was an entrepreneurial revolution that changed the face of Canada—and just in time. The past quarter-century has seen shock after shock, from recession to NAFTA and globalization, from the PC to the spreadsheet to e-commerce. By pioneering innovation, new market niches and lower-cost ways of doing business, entrepreneurs helped the Canadian economy adapt to tough times and keep on growing. Since entrepreneurs shine in unstable environments, it seems likely that Canada's entrepreneurial revolution will keep right on churning. With advancing technology, new competition from China, India and other "tiger" markets, an aging population and a tightening energy supply, Canada will face many challenges—but its entrepreneurs, if history is any guide, will lead the way by facing them first.

The story cites 10 key factors that led to revolution.

PEOPLE: Growing up in an environment of boundless confidence and economic progress, baby-boomers first enjoyed the fruits of a burgeoning consumer culture—and then started pushing the barriers.
DEREGULATION: As old business models slowly changed, entrepreneurs such as Max Ward (Wardair) drove stakes through the heart of the old economy.
CONSUMERS: As post-war affluence and immigration exposed Canadians to a wider diversity of cultures, styles and ways of life, consumer tastes changed forever, and "white bread" producers of commodities struggled to keep pace.
OUTSOURCING AND THE DECLINE OF BIG BUSINESS: The first seven decades of the 20th century witnessed the growth of massive, integrated companies that centralized all production and control; the last 30 years saw the decline of corporations that try to be good at everything.
SOCIAL CHANGE: Shifting family structures, the rise of environmentalism, demands for daycare and the aging of the boomers are just a few forces transforming society and creating entrepreneurial opportunities.
TECHNOLOGY: Entrepreneurs thrive in volatile marketplaces, and technology has disrupted them all. On another level, the rise of affordable technology tools enabled many small businesses to compete with bigger rivals for the first time.
WORLD MARKETS: As global trade barriers fall, many companies have foundered, but others have thrived.
IMMIGRATION: From Asian emigrants such as ATI's K.Y. Ho to Roots; Budman and Green (from Detroit), citizens-by-choice have applied their entrepreneurial energies to Canadian business.
NEW BUSINESS PROCESSES: The endless need for greater efficiency and innovative business practices creates a constant flow of entrepreneurial opportunities.
THE AGE OF IMAGINATION: The leaders of the entrepreneurial revolution grew up in an era of Disney, Expo 67, Star Trek and the Apollo moon landing. To them, nothing was impossible.

Based on factors such as these, do you see any reason to believe the entrepreneurial revolution is over?

Read the whole story here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 33

Here's your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get your new week off to an inspirational start.

Since Canada is celebrating Victoria Day today (although in Quebec it’s also called Journée nationale des patriotes, as well as Fete de Dollard by some), we thought we would recognize the Great Lady herself, the longest-reigning monarch of Great Britain (1837-1901).

In the blackest days of the Boer War, in 1899, Queen Victoria showed bullheaded, entrepreneur-like confidence when she said:

"We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat. They do not exist."

The British went on to win the war.

Since Victoria Day really celebrates the birthday of the current monarch, let’s also consider another quote from Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter, Elizabeth II. While not so tinged with bravado - after all, Elizabeth's commonwealth is quite a bit smaller than Victoria' empire - it contains a lesson that's also essential for entrepreneurs: knowing when to walk away from something that's not working.

“We lost the American colonies because we lacked the statesmanship to know the right time and the manner of yielding what is impossible to keep.”

Friday, May 18, 2007

Small Business Big Thinking conference

If you're in or near Montreal, don't forget the Visa Small Business Big Thinking conference being held June 4 at the Palais des Congres. We'll have the country's best entrepreneurs and business speakers, in both French and English (simulataneous translation available for those who need it).

Among the highlights:
* New York author Donna Fenn (Alpha Dogs) will be talking about how ordinary businesses become extraordinary;
* Kraig Kramers will imprve your effectiveness with his top CEO Tools;
* HEC's Michel Nadeau will talk about forming advisory boards;
* Michel Neray on marketing yourself (a huge hit at last year's SBBT conference in Toronto);
* a technology panel chaired by Montreal wunderkind entrepreneur Austin Hill;
* Entrepreneur of the Year Charles Desourdy will talk about the incredible turnaround at his family business, Ski Bromont.

And Rick Spence will be speaking on "Lessons from Quebec's Fastest-Growing Companies," using the latest material from PROFIT Magazine's survey of Canada's Fastest-Growing Companies.

Don't miss out. For more information, visit http://www.visa.ca/bigthinking/

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Sales vs Marketing, in two sentences

Many entrepreneurs still have trouble distinguishing between sales and marketing.

I just ran across two sentences that explain the whole thing. Here’s Toronto marketing consultant Eric Gilboord, in his 2001 book, Just Tell Me What to Do.

Marketing researches the opportunity, prepares the strategy, produces the tools to inform the prospect, and places the potential sale on the table.

The salesperson works with marketing to confirm the opportunity, contribute to the strategy, use the tools to inform the prospect, and move the opportunity off the table and into the cash register.
It’s a great book. You can download the first chapter (or buy it as an instant e-book) here.

Monday, May 14, 2007

FOCUS!

Every entrepreneur struggles with the problem of focus: What should my business be doing? What should it not be doing?

Build a better mousetrap and you’ll quickly be asked to produce mouse-hunt accessories, licensed disposal bags, rat poison and tiger pits. You can't possibly do it all.

Are you in the mouse business or the trapping industry? Are you in innovation, manufacturing, distribution or marketing? All you know for sure is that customers, dealmakers and would-be partners will pull you this way and that.

It’s a strong entrepreneur who can stand up to the pressure and say: “This is what we do. And only this.”

One such CEO is Mike McDerment of FreshBooks, the Toronto-based Web 2.0 invoicing service I have written about before. In a post last week on his “Fresh Thinking” blog, he makes a strong case for sticking to your knitting.

You can’t serve everyone, and we’re not going to try,” he says. Mike then cites a note from a customer who thinks FreshBooks is great, but that it should be tweaked to better serve “product sellers” – not just the service companies it has always targeted.

Most entrepreneurs hate saying “No” to a client, but McDement pulls it off. “FreshBooks was, is, and continues to be designed for service based businesses," he says.

Why stay so narrow in our focus? For one, there are millions of service-based businesses that need to spend less time managing their invoices and less time collecting their money from clients. For these businesses, FreshBooks is there. Also, by staying focused on designing solutions for businesses and business process we know intimately, we are able to design a better experience for our customers and their clients.

"Why? We know their pain…and as you will see in the coming months and years, we will develop groundbreaking ways to deliver value to service-based businesses.”

Kudos to Mike and the FreshBooks team for knowing their market and staying focused on their target. If only more entrepreneurs would do the same.

Read Mike’s full article here.

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 32

Here's your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get the new week off to a faster start.

This week, a message for underdogs everywhere:

"Big shots are only little shots who keep shooting."
~Christopher Morley (1890-1957)

In this vein, I also like the motto of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business: "We never give up and we never go away."

Friday, May 11, 2007

Good news for those who believe in competition in professional services

Released this afternoon:

BDO DUNWOODY LLP AND GRANT THORNTON LLP ANNOUNCE PLANS TO END MERGER DISCUSSIONS

Toronto, Canada: BDO Dunwoody LLP and Grant Thornton LLP announce today that their respective Boards have agreed to discontinue merger discussions. BDO Dunwoody LLP and Grant Thornton LLP are both national accounting and advisory firms with offices across Canada.
No specific reason led to the decision to cease discussions; however, both firms recognized that despite the potential of the union, a merger of this nature also presented significant challenges. The due diligence process had proceeded amicably and with the cooperation of both firms, but despite best efforts the two firms were unable to overcome the challenges, and therefore were unable to complete the process to the satisfaction of all involved.

For further information please contact:
Gilles Chaput, CEO, BDO Dunwoody LLP (416) 369-3050
Media contact - Gordon Lee

I talked to a partner at one of these firms this morning, who told me to watch for an announcement this afternoon. She didn't sound too disappointed.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Know Your Trends

U.S. publication Beverage Digest is reporting that, for the first time ever, Americans drank more bottled water in 2006 than milk.

The industry newsletter says Americans last year drank nearly as much bottled water as beer. And if the trend continues, in a few years they will be drinking more bottled water than tap water.

Yep. In these troubled economic times, consumers are happily paying for something they used to consider – and can still get – free.

Beverage Digest publisher John Sicher cites portability and health as the key reasons for bottled water's popularity.

But I think there is more to it than that – and this should interest every entrepreneur. Bottled water's popularity springs from the intersection of several different trends: the growing sophistication of consumers, rising concerns about health, wellness and the environment, and increasing willingness to spend more on personal conveniences.

Kudos to Pepsi, Coke, Nestle and others who saw this trend coming a decade ago and bought up their own water companies. For once, the people who brought you New Coke and Pepsi Clear actually guessed right.

And that's where you come in. The popularity of bottled water demonstrates the ongoing power of new and even unlikely niches – if they fit with emerging trends. And when they sit right at the convergence of several trend lines – such as wellness, environment, convenience, and, yes, the growing fear of public infrastructure (much more prevalent in the US. than in Canada) – well, that’s a bright green light saying “Go for it!”

Know your trends. And bet on the intersections.

Just the Stats: Beverage Digest's says average per-capita consumption of bottled water grew from 11 U.S. gallons to 21 gallons between 1996 and 2006. Consumption of milk dropped from 22.7 to 19.5 gallons over the 10-year span, while beer consumption held steady at 21.8. Soft-drink consumption dropped from 52 gallons to 50.9.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes: Week 31

Here's your motivational Quote of the Week, personally selected to get the new week off to a faster start.

“Not since Mary Shelley’s novel about Frankenstein have mobs been so empowering"

- Sean Wise, venture capital expert and now author, Wise Words: Lessons from Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital.

This is a great line from Sean’s new book, collected from his Globe & Mail columns. In January he dubbed 2006 “The Year of the Mob” due to the rise of Internet-related business models that aggregate the power and wisdom of communities, including concepts such as crowdsourcing, the wisdom of crowds, the Tipping Point, and the Long Tail.
Check it out at http://www.seanwise.com/.

To order the book (or download it and read it right away), click here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dragon for a Day

I spent another Saturday today as a deputy dragon for CBC’s Dragons’ Den show. (See previous post for my first outing.)

My job was to help the Den’s VC consultant, Sean Wise, audition Toronto-area candidates who want to get on the show. In all, 80 people auditioned today, which represented the biggest turnout DD has ever had.

As usual, the candidates had just one minute to make their pitches, with two minutes more for the Q&A with the deputy dragons. The pitches were better than last time, but most people still botched it, by talking too long about their beloved product or service, and not giving enough (or any) time to outlining the opportunity, the market, or why the Dragons should consider investing in their firms. Remember: investors rarely care what your opportunity is until they know what kind of return it’s likely to generate.

And too many people were unable to provide sales projections when asked. Note: If you're ever raising money for a venture, and a potential investor asks you how big this opportunity is going to be, please don't say, “Really big.” It doesn't sound very professional.

(And don't say what one person said, either, which is: “Well, Canada has a population of 93 million, and 5% of them love camping…”)

There were, of course, some great pitches and great opportunities, but I can't tell you about them – you’ll have to watch the show next fall.

One more caution: Angel investors, venture capitalists, indeed any kind of investor (except maybe Aunt Mary, but you can bet she’s thinking it) will demand evidence that what you do is competitor-proof. If you don't have some secret sauce that prevents others from duplicating what you do, why should they invest in your business? If they think your idea has potential, they could just cut you out and start their own venture.

So my most common question to the pitchers was: What advantage do you have that will prevent someone else from duplicating or undercutting what you do?

Here are some of the answers I received. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which ones the investors most want to hear:

“Because I think I can be first to market.”
“Because I've been working on this idea for 18 years.”
“Because I have exclusive rights to distribute these products.”
“Because we have a patent.”
“Because we've applied for a patent.”
“Because we've got clients tied to exclusive contracts.”
“Because the two partners have really great chemistry together.”

(If you really want to know which ones work and don't work, leave a comment below).

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ask a Real Pro

A recent post directed you to PROFIT Magazine’s “Ask the Legends” feature, with its interview with Miles Nadal, the former sports photographer who built his own communications empire through Toronto-based MDC Corp. The neat thing is that all the questions have been asked by PROFIT readers (or web visitors).

Now I’ve learned that the truly legendary John Forzani will be featured in an upcoming Ask the Legends column.

For anyone who doesn't know, Forzani is chair and co-founder of The Forzani Group, Canada’s biggest sports retailer. And he is also a former offensive lineman for the Calgary Stampeders (in the best Gretzky and Lemieux tradition, he is now a co-owner of the team). He’s a winner of the Entrepreneur of the Year Award, the PROFIT 100, and the Distinguished Canadian Retailer of the Year Award.

Want to know how to go from one store to 100? How to hire better people, how to sell more, how to pick the right locations? These are tough times in retail. If you want help, ask a pro: John Forzani.
Send your questions this week to legends@profit.rogers.com.