Monday, April 24, 2017

The Best Advice I Ever Got

I was interviewed recently by You Inc., Arlene Dickinson's young-entrepreneur site. It's part of the publicity push for an event Wednesday in Toronto that I am co-hosting for ScotiaBank.

One question asked me to recall the best advice I was given when I started out as an entrepreneur. However, as regular readers will know, I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur; I started as a writer.

First I wrote for a general newsweekly in Edmonton; later I became a business writer with the Financial Times of Canada. That job in particular introduced me to cool young entrepreneurs in technology and retail (whom my editors NEVER wanted me to write about). So that in turn led me to PROFIT, The Magazine for Canadian Entrepreneurs – the publication that turned me into a modest intra/entrepreneur and a national champion of entrepreneurs.

I don't often get the chance to reflect on how my career developed – or to credit the people who guided me along the way. So I welcomed the question from You Inc., and enjoyed answering it in a way that weaves my journalistic and entrepreneurial threads together.

Here’s my response to: What was the best piece of advice you were given when starting out as an entrepreneur?

Classic Ted Byfield
Rick Spence: "I started out as a business journalist, and gravitated slowly to entrepreneurship, as I began to learn that just writing was not enough – you have to market the heck out of your work and build networks and alliances to keep your platform strong. 

My first editor, Ted Byfield at Alberta Report, told me to verify everything I thought I knew – which is excellent advice for entrepreneurs. 
And my next editor, David Tafler at the Financial Times of Canada, taught us all to answer the question: “Why is this here?” Which is to say, when you write a story (or do anything new and creative), you must very clearly indicate what the work is about, what purpose it serves, and why it really matters to its intended audience. New products and services have to over-communicate."

Friday, March 24, 2017

The following stories are all about you

I continue to find incredible value in exploring new startups. I hope you do, too.

The startup stories I write in the Financial Post aren't really about the entrepreneurs whose stories I am profiling. What I try to do is draw key moments out of those entrepreneurs’ stories that relate to game-changing decisions that every entrepreneur faces. And how building a global business, while always hard, is getting easier over time.

So while one of my stories may seem to be about a 29-year-old entrepreneur with a breakthrough product idea, they're really about how you or I or anyone can build a better business: from identifying opportunities to building a product, hiring staff or communicating with customers. Or simply developing resilience in the face of setback after setback.

If I did my job right, in these stories below you will find lots of great ideas for building your business, refining your product, and re-connecting with prospects and customers.

You’ll find inspiration, too. I hope these stories will fill you with pride in our new generation of entrepreneurs, and the spirit to pursue your own goals with greater passion and confidence.


How a teacher- musician and tinkerer is trying to change how – and where - electric guitars are played. A story of vision, partnerships and reaching out.
And also: the benefits of raising capital. “The more clout you have, the more you can put your foot down (with a manufacturer) and say, ‘No, that’s not the component I want.’”

Is phytoplankton the healthy juice of the future? This entrepreneur hopes so
A story of incredible persistence – and how entrepreneurs and big businesses can work better together.

“My job is to strategically find a way to let Canadians know this amazing plant has the potential to change everyone’s lives,” says David Hunter. “If we do it right, this could be a global brand.”



Not just a story of a woman entrepreneur succeeding in a traditional male industry (defence). Also a story of partnering with customers and learning to listen to mentors.

Early collaboration with key stakeholders ensured OMX’s success, says Verkindt: “They felt that it was their platform, not ours.”




How a pro hockey player became a penny-pinching tech entrepreneur.
“I knew the odds of getting to the NHL were slim. To succeed, I had to look past the bumps and stay focused on my goal.”


A Toronto tech company has pivoted to curating channels full of Internet video that may save US cable companies from extinction. A classic example of finding a big problem to solve for deep-pocketed prospects.

Meet the Toronto startup that’s fuelling Mark Zuckerberg’s dream of eliminating all human diseases. An unusual story of angel investors who didn't cut and run when times got tough.
  

Friday, February 24, 2017

From Steve Jobs, on his 62nd birthday

Apple's onetime boy wonder,  Steve Jobs, would have been 62 today. 

To celebrate the life and spirit of one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs, here’s a selection of his most inspiring business quotes. Adopt one and make it your own.

On Innovation
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.”

“We think the Mac will sell zillions, but we didn't build the Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren't going to go out and do market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It's not about money. It's about the people you have, how you're led, and how much you get it.”

“It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them.”

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”

“I have a great respect for incremental improvement, and I've done that sort of thing in my life, but I've always been attracted to the more revolutionary changes. I don't know why. Because they're harder. They're much more stressful emotionally. And you usually go through a period where everybody tells you that you've completely failed.”

“Innovation comes from people meeting up in the hallways or calling each other at 10:30 at night with a new idea, or because they realized something that shoots holes in how we've been thinking about a problem.”


On Strategy
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.”

“I've always wanted to own and control the primary technology in everything we do.”  (2004)

“[Success] comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don't get on the wrong track or try to do too much.”  (2004)

“A lot of companies have chosen to downsize, and maybe that was the right thing for them. We chose a different path. Our belief was that if we kept putting great products in front of customers, they would continue to open their wallets.”

“The reason that Apple is able to create products like the iPad is because we've always tried to be at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts.”

“Apple's market share is bigger than BMW's or Mercedes' or Porsche's in the automotive market. What's wrong with being BMW or Mercedes?” 


On Apple:
“Each year has been so robust with problems and successes and learning experiences and human experiences that a year is a lifetime at Apple. So this has been 10 lifetimes.” 

“It is hard to think that a $2 billion company with 4,300-plus people couldn't compete with six people in blue jeans.” (On lawsuit from Apple following his resignation to form NeXT, 1985)

“The products suck! There's no sex in them anymore!” (On Gil Amelio's tenure, 1997)

“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”

“It wasn't that Microsoft was so brilliant or clever in copying the Mac, it's that the Mac was a sitting duck for 10 years. That's Apple's problem: Their differentiation evaporated.”

“iMac is next year's computer for $1,299, not last year's computer for $999.

“What is Apple, after all? Apple is about people who think 'outside the box,' people who want to use computers to help them change the world, to help them create things that make a difference, and not just to get a job done.”


On Design
“In most people's vocabularies, design means veneer. It's interior decorating. It's the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design.”

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

“That's been one of my mantras - focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you'll want to lick them.”
(on Mac OS X's Aqua user interface, 2000)


Inspiration
“I want to put a ding in the universe.” (“Ding” was often replaced by “dent.”)

“Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?” (The pitch he used to lure John Sculley as Apple's CEO)

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn't matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we've done something wonderful, that's what matters to me.”

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”


Life Lessons:

“I'm the only person I know that's lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year... It's very character-building.”

“I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.”

“My favorite things in life don't cost any money. It's really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith.”

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it.”

“Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
 
“It's better to be a pirate than to join the Navy.”


On Leadership
“Great things in business are never done by one person. They're done by a team of people.”

“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren't used to an environment where excellence is expected.” 

“I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”