Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Art of Giving It Away

My column in this week's Financial Post looks at how entrepreneurs can plan their philanthropic giving so that their charitable donations will be more strategic, effective and impactful.

This is a subject of tremendous interest to so many entrepreneurs I know who are now struggling with their legacies, and how best to “give back.”

The column’s guest experts are billionaire Charles Bronfman (of Seagram fame) and his philanthropic colleague Jeffrey Solomon, who have just published a book called The Art of Giving: Where the Soul Meets a Business Plan.

They wrote the book to solve a big problem: "Too often philanthropic gifts are made out of social or business obligations, guilt or whim, which takes all the urgency out of them, to say nothing of the fun."

My column explores the three part-part plan at the heart of Bronfman’s strategy.
“Bronfman insists successful philanthropy requires a specific plan (what causes grab you? What do you want to accomplish?), rigorous measurement (how else do you know if your money is making a difference?), and a strategy of leverage (if a cause is worth your money and time, you'll accomplish much more by getting other people involved).

Read the rest of the column here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 8

“Brands live in companies, express their companies to customers, and are carriers of vision and values.”

Experience marketing expert Max Lenderman, from his book, Experience the Message: How Experiential Marketing is Changing the Brand World

How are brands related to experience marketing? Says Lenderman in the last chapter, “The primacy of the brand in marketing is over. Brand managers are losing control over them to an empowered and proactive consumer base. Instead of a consumer economy in which success is determined in a large part by name, it’s now being determined by performance. The element of product performance is a key component to experiential marketing campaigns today.”

How is your business planning to use experience marketing to attract the attention of jaded consumers and customers?

Interesting example: Click here to read Max's latest blogpost on how Nestlé recently launched 19 new flavours of its Kit Kat chocolate bar in Japan to reflect the food specialities of specific districts. Since each flavour is sold only in the region for which it was created, they have become limited edition collectors' items!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Be a Dragon for a Day

My column in this week's Financial Post recounts my recent adventure as a deputy dragon, helping to audition entrepreneurs in Toronto who want to pitch their ideas on Dragons’ Den.

The CBC-TV show is now gearing up to tape its fifth season, and there seems no end in sight to resourceful, ambitious entrepreneurs.

But not all of these pitchers deserve funding. Some of their ideas are just bad. How do you help people who have no idea how big their market is? Or who are too shy to call potential customers? Do you become Kevin O’Leary, and forbid them to spend another cent on their ideas?

What’s a Dragon to do?

So my column looks at three of the pitches I heard (revised slightly to protect the guilty), and asks, What would you do?

Ariella, an energetic woman with long blonde hair, wants to create a national franchise that specializes in raking lawns. You'd be amazed how large the market is, she says. Yet leaf-raking businesses tend to be small and unprofessional, with no training and no performance guarantees.
With a nationwide network based on formal training, Ariella contends she can sell consumers on a branded leaf-raking service -- and thus earn fees from franchisees eager to get in on a new service brand. What would you say to her?

You can read the full story here.

Researching your target market

In the wake of my Financial Post column this week urging startup entrepreneurs to do more market research, I got an email the other day from a Winnipeg baker asking where to find relevant information for his planned bakery/pastry business.

Here's what I told him:

Hi, William (not his real name): I suggest you start with your local library's reference librarian. He or she will know what kind of market data their library has (or has access to), and they may be able to make other suggestions as well. Your local economic development office may also have useful data.

You can also do a lot of vital market research yourself. Hold a focus group (call it a party) and serve some pastries. Document everything: which product do they like best? What do they like about it? What do they dislike? How much would they pay for a slice or a full cake? How often would they buy it? Why would they buy it?

If you are going to sell through distributors, get out and talk to them. What are the margins in your market, who are the competitors, how do the distributors/retailers think you should market your product? Listen carefully for resistance, suggestions, and anecdotes about similar products or initiatives and how they worked out.

I also suggest you find a startup group in your area. can help you find small-biz groups in your area. Groups like these can be very useful in helping you uncover unexpected problems and obstacles in your business - and people in these groups may have found solutions to problems you are having now. My mantra is, successful wolves hunt in packs; lone wolves die alone in the cold and the dark.

Good luck!

PROFIT 100 deadline looms

Is your business looking for publicity, praise or respect?

You have about a week to nominate your company for the annual PROFIT 100 list of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies

The PROFIT 100 ranks companies based on five-year sales growth. If your company has grown 100% or more in the past five years, you may qualify for this year’s list.

The PROFIT team will honour the winning PROFIT 100 companies in the June 2010 issue of PROFIT, and at an exclusive CEO Summit that gathers the winning companies from across Canada. Winners also receive local and national publicity.

In my experience, being on the P100 creates lots of business opportunities as well. If you even think you might qualify, it’s a bandwagon well worth climbing aboard.

To enter, click here.

For more information, visit the PROFIT 100 FAQ page, or call the toll-free hotline at 1-800-713-GROW.

The deadline is March 31, 2010.

For more info on last year's PROFIT 100, or to download the 2009 list of winning companies, just click here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

BoT's affordable solution for Training and Development

One of the biggest problems facing SMEs is the need to improve productivity and employee capabilities. Yet who has money or time for formal professional development courses?

I’m excited about a plan by the Toronto Board of Trade to address this problem for small business. And I'm taking part in a special webinar on Thursday, April 1 exploring how this can help your business upgrade its competencies, virtually for free, and in less time than you’d expect.

The Board of Trade has teamed up with Ryerson University’s Chang School of Continuing Education to create a new program, Fast-Track Online Learning, geared to the needs of small business. Result: professional courses on hot management topics, revised to meet the time constraints of small business – and available free of charge, any time, to most member firms of the Board.

If there’s a catch, I haven't found it yet.

Once you have completed one of the 8 to 10-hour Web-based courses, the BoT will even make it easy to network with other people who have taken that course – allowing you to reinforce your learnings and expand your personal network at the same time.

To celebrate the launch of the first six courses in the series, I’ll be taking part in a direct-to-your-computer webinar at 11 am (EDT) on April 1. We’ll talk about why businesses need to upgrade their employees’ knowledge base (the growing complexity of business, the demands of the knowledge-based economy, increasing competition and Canada’s productivity gap are a few reasons that come to mind). We'll also discuss the real, bottom-line benefits companies can gain by helping employees succeed.

Also speaking on the webinar will be Aviva Klein of the Board of Trade and Debra Newman, vice-president of “people” for Porter Airlines.

To register for the webinar or get more information, click here.

Board officials say they have received rave reviews from early adopters who have taken the new courses. Produced by academics at Ryerson, the courses emphasize interactivity and videos – no bulky textbooks here. You can access course material from any computer, at home, at work or on the road.

And they have been trimmed to manageable length (under 10 hours) to ensure even the busiest business people can get through them. You even get a certificate at the end.

Courses being offered include Management & Leadership, E-Marketing, Managerial Accounting, Communications in Career Advancement, Project Management Fundamentals, and Project Management Planning & Scheduling.

For more information on Fast-Track courses, click here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Best Entrepreneurial Quotes, Week 7

“The truth is that big thinking is always, always worth the expenditure of energy… The cost of small thinking has skyrocketed.”

Sales guru Michael Port, in The Think Big Manifesto (Wiley, 2009)

With this book, Port is trying to create an influential movement of people willing to think big, in both the business and social spheres.

“With small thinking," he continues, "we cannot grow – intellectually, spiritually, creatively, emotionally, financially. And when we cannot grow, society cannot grow. It cannot advance. It cannot develop. Small thinking is an ultimately autodestructive path.”

For more information, see

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dragons' Den reels 'em in

It's not enough that the CBC's Dragons are ridiculously smart and rich. Now they're some kind of superstars.

The season finale of Dragons' Den on Wednesday night attracted almost two million (1.956 million) viewers.

The Dragons' heartwarming personal stories won the 8 pm time slot, with almost 4.1 million watching some part of the show.

The CBC says Dragons' Den achieved a season average of 1.75 million viewers per episode, reaching over one in three Canadians.

Pretty remarkable for a business show.

The US version, Shark Tank, rarely reached 5 million viewers in a country with 10 times the population. Although it's not very fair to compare a new show with one that's been building for four years.

What do you think? Are you eager for more of the Dragons? (There will be a full 20 shows next year - about as long a season as any show gets these days.) Do you think Canadians are learning anything from the Den? Please leave a comment below.

Don't forget, the Dragons are back auditioning for next season: click here for the remaining schedule. You can also apply online.

And watch Monday's Post (Mar 22) for my column on my day as a Deputy Dragon.

Why entrepreneurs should ask for help

One of the most important things that every entrepreneur (and human being) should learn is to ask for help when it’s needed. As I’ve said before, healthy wolves hunt in packs; lone wolves die alone in the cold.

My column in this week's Financial Post looks at one entrepreneur from Haliburton, Ont., who dared to seek help with a business that was just sort of going nowhere. Thanks to mentoring and consulting from the Innovation Synergy Centre in Markham, Gena Robertson’s “School’s Cool” program is now being sold by a major U.S. educational distributor, and she is now considering overseas deals.

Ms Robertson’s case is also interesting, as she has spent more than 20 years being a “social entrepreneur,” creating new programs and partnerships in the social-services sector. Adopting a for-profit mindset required some serious relearning for Robertson, some of which I tried to chronicle.

To attract investors, Robertson had to figure out what the business would look like, and especially how it would source, warehouse and distribute its wares. It also meant preparing Robertson to pitch her business to potential angel investors. "That was painful," she admits. "When you work in social services, you play down what you do. You share the credit. When you pitch to investors, you have to say, 'This is what we do, this is how great we are.' "

For the full story, click here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Play Ball!: Why Social Media isn't Working

I've been writing and thinking a lot lately about social media. And I think the reason is that, despite all the hype about Facebook and Twitter and blogging and YouTube, none of these things has come close to changing the way businesses market, sell or operate.

So are they just fancy new toys and timewasters? Or simply cluttered information media (the million-channel TV!!) rather than business tools?

I disagree. Social media offer a fundamental business advantage. It’s just that not everyone (in fact, almost nobody) is ready for what it means.

It’s as if everyone in Canada played hockey, and were suddenly handed a baseball bat. The bat would be too heavy, too short, and no good for slapshots. So everyone would say it was useless.

But then somebody announces, “You don't play hockey with a baseball bat. It’s for a different game.” Then they hand out the gloves, bases and balls, and suddenly you realize that baseball bats are pretty cool. They're just no good for hockey.

Social media is a whole new game. A new way of connecting businesses to customers. To succeed, you have to forget the old skills – slapshots, poke-checks and skating – and work on new ones, like hitting, fielding and base-running.

The old skills of marketing are things like advertising and promotion, one-to-one sales calls, and retail distribution. These competencies still matter, but with social media we need to learn new skills: how to create deeper relationships with customers and prospects; and how to engage them in an ongoing way, win their trust, and win their loyalty.

These tasks have always been doable, but not easily – like taking a penalty shot with a baseball bat. Possible, but not worth doing twice.

With social media, we have to approach our audience differently. Just think of the different meanings of “corporate” and “social.”

Now that you can interact with your customers and prospects one on one, they're not just a "market" any more – they are people who expect to be addressed as individuals. Now that it's possible to address them as friends and partners, they expect to be treated that way.

This means you have to open the kimono: Expose your organization to other people’s scrutiny, reach out, make friends, tell your products’ stories, engage the feedback of your customers, create a user community.

Sounds like work? Nothing worthwhile is gained without effort. To create fans and pump up customer loyalty and repeat sales, you have to master these tools. Otherwise, when summer comes and the rinks are closed, you’ll have nobody to interact with, because your market will all be playing baseball with the cool kids.

It’s not just the ways you communicate that have to change. It’s your whole approach to business, customers, the market, and your employees. It’s a new era of openness, story-telling, relationships and trust. Whoever creates the highest engagement will earn the most loyalty.

How do you do that? So far, nobody’s really sure. So it’s wide open to experimentation, trial and error, innovation and creativity.

And join Twitter. Twitter is the Little League of social media – an easy place to get started and learn to reach out.

After all, how do you get to Yankee Stadium? Practice.

The complicated life of Brett Wilson

Lots of surprises in today’s profile of Brett Wilson, “the Dragon with a heart,” in the Toronto Star. Writer Jennifer Wells describes her interview with him as ”one part business, three parts psychoanalysis.”

• First she hints about a significant other* in his life.

• She explores his disdain for Toronto financiers when he was financing oil and gas deals in Calgary 20 years ago.

• Then she writes about his experience at an addiction research program. "There was no dependency on alcohol whatsoever," Wilson maintains. "What there was, was an inappropriate style of drinking."

• Then there’s his experience with depression. Says Wilson: “I joke about seeing a list of the 12 signs of clinical depression and going through the list and nine of them were clearly me and the other three, well, I was still in denial."

• Wilson stepped down from his company, FirstEnergy, in January, to focus on his philanthropy and private investments, which include a baseball club, a British soccer team, an ad agency, fitness franchise, real estate, and a divorce solutions company.

• He says he’s not as nice as he sometimes appears on Dragons’ Den, because the producers edit out the tough business questions he poses to pitchers. "I've never seen them use the core business question I ask."

• When he auditioned for the Den the CBC told him he wasn't mean enough. He said, “Look, if `mean' means being a prick, don't ask me back.”

• He also insisted on equality among the Dragons in the show’s promotions. "If you look at some of the advertising you'd think it was the Kevin O'Leary and friends show," says Wilson.

Lots more surprises in the story. No wonder The Star saved this profile for last. Click here for all the details.

* The girlfriend? Canadian songbird Sarah McLachlan. “"We spend time together," says Wilson. "Anyone who saw us at the Olympics would know that we spend time together."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jousting with the Dragons

While we're talking Dragons' Den (see previous post re my summary of the tear-jerking season finale), the Toronto Star itself has gone Dragon-happy.

It's been running in-depth profiles of each of the 5 Dragons. The series kicked off last Saturday with Kevin O'Leary, probably since he is the best known and most controversial dragon.

Nobody's better than the Star's Jennifer Wells at digging up info and revealing character. In her March 13 O'Leary profile, she dug into the securities records to determine that he's probably not as rich as you think. When the CBC trumpets about selling his company to Mattel in a $4-billion deal, it doesn't tell you he was just a minority shareholder in what was then a public company.

She figures he owned about a million shares (about 1% of the total?), which would have meant a $33-million payout. Kevin says he owned more shares than that, and probably did. But that's still a long way from Billionaire Acres.

Wells' article concludes with this happy quote: "I have a very simple objective in life," says O'Leary, relaxing now into his second glass of Tignanello. "I want to go to bed richer than when I woke up. It's that simple."

Sunday's story on Arlene Dickinson reveals a little more about her working life, including the fact that three of her children work for her, that her firm Venture Communications has about $45 million in gross revenue, and that her business is based on telling brand stories.

The article also reveals the secret of the white streak in Aelene's hair. But you'll have to read the story itself for that.

In yesterday's article on Jim Treliving, we learn why this 68-year-old is still a babe magnet. Which this blog won't go into.

Today's story goes to town on "The Nice Dragon." Writer Francine Kopun probes some of the disparities between the growing legend of Robert Herjavec and the real story. What did he pay for his mansion? How much did he get for selling his first company? Does he really own his own island? Nice to see a celebrity story that doesn't skirt the tough questions.

Best moment? After probing Robert's $7.5-million purchase of his Bridle Path home with indoor pool, which marked him as a Torontonian to watch long before Dragons' Den, Kopun gets poor Robert to admit, "I'm nuts. Nobody is ever going to pay that kind of money again for this house."

Tomorrow: Brett Wilson gets the Star treatment.

Read these profiles yourself:
- O'Leary
- Dickinson
- Treliving
- Herjavec

Dragons' Den Season Finale - Exposed!

Okay, I am live-blogging a sneak preview of Wednesday night's season finale of Dragons' Den. Thanks to the CBC for the preview copy.

I am just going to write down my thoughts as the show goes by. This could be a long post.

Thought 1: It's a special flashback episode exploring the Dragons' roots. Sounds good. The title? The Road to Riches. Seems a little banal. Unless that's all their individual journeys were about - and I'm pretty sure that's not the case.

Brett Wilson: Energy Maverick: Starts out with Wilson's annual garden party for charity. Calgary's "creme de la creme" turn out - can't the CBC writers think in anything but cliches? Now Brett is showing off his "priceless" collection of Canadian art. Then we're off to his hometown of North Battleford, Sask. "We grew up in a province that was built by entrepreneurs," says Wilson. We meet his parents, and Brett chokes up as he tells how his dad gave up a lucrative job in the oil patch to stay closer to home with his young family.

Brett then shows us his dorm room at the University of Saskatchewan, where he was delighted to find a whole roomful of "geeky brain kids" like himself. There "he became a top student thanks to his knack for numbers." (Cue a clip of him ripping apart a hapless pitcher on Dragons' Den. ) Wilson took a job brokering oil properties in Calgary, where he says he and his partners were "in the catbird seat." He was soon making $150,000 -- a month.

But now Wilson admits he neglected his family in those early years, working all the time and pretending it was for them. "My father did it right," he says. "He was around for his family." In 2001 he and his wife divorced. And on the same day he learned he had prostate cancer.

Brett beat the cancer, but he says the diagnosis was his wake-up call to straighten out his priorities. Now a committed philanthropist, he says he's learned that wealth "can create opportunities to change people's lives."

Next, we go back to Zbjeg, Croatia with Robert Herjavec, east of Zagreb. We meet the aunt and uncle who raised him on a farm. "We were poor financially, but we were never devoid of spirit or love... what a great way to grow up."

At 8, his family fled to Italy, then to Canada. We see Robert tear up at seeing his childhood apartment again in Rexdale - a place his wife has never seen. "This country is a great place," he sniffs. "You really can be anything you want. It's incredible."

As we visit his Bridle Path mansion, he says that "my favourite part of being wealthy is the sense of worth and self-confidence it gives me - not just for me, but for my mom and dad, for the sacrifices they made. I feel good about what my dad went through to get to this country." Then the family plays a game of Monopoly.

Part III: Jim Treliving, "Franchise Baron." The ex-Mountie head of Boston Pizza got to the top through hard work, and shows us he still knows how to make a pizza. We go back to Virden, Man., where his father was a barber, and "being a cop is about as big as a boy could dream."

We also visit the house he grew up, where he used to sneak out the back window at night and come back in the same way. At 19 he joined the RCMP: "For nine years Jim moved constantly, policing gritty small towns in the West." (Cue clips of Jim thowing pitchers out of the DD studio for crimes against business.)

Then one day Jim ate at an Edmonton restaurant called Boston Pizza, where he watched young people throw money around and figured the owner earned more in a week than he did in a year. He told his dad he needed a hand to buy into the restaurant; his dad said "No you don't, you need a psychiatrist." We then visit the site of his first restaurant, in Penticton, BC. "After we closed at 3 in the morning, I scrubbed the floor... we never had a day off for two and a half years."

Jim was still living hand to mouth when he met local accountant George Melville , who brought "needed financial discipline" to Boston Pizza. They've now been partners for 40 years. And they still share the same office. "George and Jim eventually bought the entire company and turned it into a billion-dollar empire," says the CBC narrator.

It was no overnight success, says Jim from his two-story penthouse with the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Vancouver's North Shore mountains. "It took us probably 10 years to get to where we started to see some actual money that we could hang onto."

"You have to jump onto an opportunity when you see it. Take a ride and see what happens."

Part IV: Arlene Dickinson, "Marketing Maven." We meet Arlene by the pool at sunset at Casa Dickinson, overlooking the ocean in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. "It's a lifetime away from Arlene's frugal days as a single mother," says the narrator.

Arlene was born in Germiston, South Africa, near Johannesburg. Her father moved the family to Canada for a better life, but she says they grew up poor. "We had absolutely no money because my parents had given up everything that they possessed in order to emigrate to this country." She takes an emotional trip back to her parents' first home in Calgary, where she lived till she left home at 16.

Dickinson says she bought into the 60s notion of husband, house and kids. "I really did believe it was all about getting married and having children, which was really a goal for me. It was all I really ever wanted." She married at 19, had four kids by 27, and then became a single working mom following her divorce. With no formal education and few skills, she took on a series of menial jobs.

"There's a lot of despair when you're a single mom and you're trying to take care of your children and take care of yourself, and you don't really know how you're going to do that.... How am I going to be able to manage this?"

Her big break came from getting a marketing job with Venture Comunications, later becoming a partner, then sole owner. "Material things are wonderful to have," she says now, "but at the end of the day, nothing matters more than the people you love. Nothing."

"Money is so not the solution to everything," she says. "Knowing who you are, that's the solution to everything."

Part Last: The Dragon King, Kevin O'Leary.
How did Kevin O’Leary become the fearsome dragon? We see his childhood home in a middle-class Montreal suburb, and home movies of his mom and a birthday cake. After his father died, his mother married a management expert who took the family all over the world – to Cambodia, Tunisia, Cyprus, Switzerland.

The stepfather also urged the teenage Kevin to put down his guitar and pick up a book. “Kevin was unpredictable when he was a teenager,” he says now. “We spent many sleepless nights thinking about his future.” Great picture of his mom’s car after Kevin totaled it.

We also visit a shopping centre where O’Leary got his first job scooping ice cream. And where he was fired for refusing to scrape the gum from the floor. “I could buy this place now and bulldoze it if I wanted,” he says. And he means it.

“I have never ever in my life worked for someone again,” he says. “No one has ever had control over me, ever, and never will.” He reaches for a Kleenex to dry his eyes.

Then we see the Toronto basement where Kevin started his first software company – Softkey – with a $10,000 loan from his mother. That journey ended by selling the resulting company to Mattel for $3.7 billion. (By then I had already put O’Leary and his then-partner on the cover of PROFIT Magazine in 1992, kicking off his rise to media superstar, but that somehow got overlooked on the show.)

Finally, we get to see Kevin’s giant Muskoka cottage as he purrs, “Welcome to Fantasy Island.” We visit his wine cellar and see him climb into the hot tub overlooking Lake Joseph. “You have to find a business you fall in love with,” he says. “Because I don't believe entrepreneurs ever do things they don't want to do.”

The show ends with Kevin opining that money gives him freedom, and freedom is power.

Verdict on the show: Fascinating gossipy stuff. Not much about how they achieved their business success, but “Must” viewing if you want to understand where these Dragons are coming from every day.

Few multi-millionaires (or any Canadian TV personalities) tolerate the personal media exposure that Dragons’ Den requires, so the five Dragons have probably become Canada’s most famous and best-known rich folks, ever. (What did any of us know about E.P Taylor beyond his racehorses?)

The Dragons are human enough to fuel any emotion you want: envy, contempt, respect and pride. What you think about the Dragons probably says more about who you are than who they are. And knowing who you are is the solution to everything.

Cheers to next season! Auditions are now open.

Best Entrepreneurial Quotes, Week 6

"It takes courage to stand up and speak. But it also takes courage to sit down and listen."
Winston Churchill

Sir Winston wasn't always a very good listener; while others were speaking he, like many of us, tended to be planning what he was going to say next. Still, this quote is appropriate for all leaders, in business or otherwise.

Listening honours others. It helps us understand their hopes and their needs. Listening offers unique potential for resolving disputes and creating consenus for moving head.

When would you be better served by speaking less and listening more?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Young Canadians for Haiti

Yes, it came out a bit late, but here are the Young (Canadian) Artists for Haiti performing their song for Haiti: Wavin' Flag. The song was recorded last month in Vancouver.

Great to see young artists getting into the awareness and hope business for their generation - hopefully they have also donated a lot of money as well. (Proceeds go to War Child Canada, Free The Children, and World Vision.)

I recognized Drake (my kids would be so impressed), Avril Lavigne, Nikki Yanofsky, Justin Bieber, Nelly Furtado and Sam Roberts. That's about it. How many can you identify?

Here's the full list of contributors, according to the Young Artists' Facebook page:
K'naan (who wrote the song), Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Sam Roberts, Pierre Bouvier (Simple Plan), Tyler Connolly (Theory Of A Deadman), Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black, Josh Ramsay (Marianas Trench), Jay Malinowski (Bedouin Soundclash), Chin Injeti, Jacob Hoggard (Hedley), Red 1 (Rascalz), Lights, Deryck Whibley (Sum 41), Serena Ryder, Emily Haines (Metric), James Shaw (Metric), Hawksley Workman, Drake, Ima, Elisapie Isaac, Pierre Lapointe, Esthero, Corb Lund, Fefe Dobson, Jim Creeggan (Barenaked Ladies), Tom Cochrane, Kevin Parent, Lamar Ashe, Colin James, Nikki Yanofsky, Suzie McNeil, Stephan Moccio, Aoin Clarke, Kathleen Edwards, Jim Cuddy, Shiloh, Stacey McKitrick, Jessie Farrell, Colin MacDonald, Justin Nozuka, Hayley Sales, Matt Mays, City & Colour, Arkells, Pat Kordyback (Stereos), Dave Faber, Brandon Lehti, The Canadian Tenors, Justin Bieber, Torquil Campbell (Stars), Broken Social Scene.

(Some are not so young...)

Kudos to producer Bob Ezrin, legendary Canadian-born music producer known for his work with Alice Cooper, Kiss and Pink Floyd.

You can order the song from here for $1.29:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Flirt with RickAlert!

I just sent out a copy of my weekly RickAlert, and was delighted to get a BlackBerry-powered fan letter from a subscriber a few minutes later saying: "Hi Rick! I just love your news letter!!!"

It's sad, but writers live for this type of spontaneity and passion.

Since I haven't been very good at promoting the RickAlert, I thought I would mention again in case you want to love it, too.

The RickAlert is a free weekly summary of my column in the National/Financial Post (and syndicated across Canada by the Canwest newspaper chain). Each newsletter contains just enough details for you to decide whether you want to click through to the Post site to read the full column.

So it's a great way to stay in touch with the Canadian entrepreneurial/business scene without the hassle of actually subscribing to a newspaper.

I also occasionally plug my other writing, such as my columns in PROFIT Magazine. But there's no advertising, and the mailing list is shared with nobody.

If you would like to subscribe, just sent me an email and I'll sign you up. ( rick (at) Or let me know if you'd rather see a sample first.
Please put RickAlert in the subject line so I know it's you.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Startup Advice: "Commit to Making Decisions"

I'm working my way through ReWork, a book about no-frills startups. It’s by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the founders of 37Signals (which developed Basecamp, Backpack and other no-frills software).

You can download excerpts from the book here.

I’m now halfway through the book, and a bit disappointed that it reads like a primer on startups. Some of it contradicts conventional wisdom (“Learning from mistakes is overrated”; “Why grow?”; “Embrace constraints”), and some of it is insightful and motivating (“Planning is guessing”; “Make a dent in the universe”). But not a lot of meat on these bones.

Still, here’s one part I really liked. “When you put off decisions, they pile up. And piles end up ignored, dealt with in haste, or thrown out.”

The authors’ solution? “Commit to making decisions,” they write. “Don't wait for the perfect solution. Decide and move forward.”

I have met many entrepreneurs who got hung up on non-essential details – the company name, someone’s title, the color of the prototype. You can't know what works best until you try. So make the best decision you can, and move on - staying prepared to fix it later, if necessary and when convenient.

“Long projects zap morale,” say the authors. “The longer it takes to develop, the less likely it is to launch. Make the call, make progress, and get something out now – while you've got the motivation and momentum to do so.”

Now that’s pure gold. And not just for startups, but for any business that aspires to innovate, change or lead.

What decisions are holding you back?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

How to get my staff to do what i need

A visitor from Fairfield, Ct. (not far from my mom's family's old home in Westport) found their way to this blog yesterday by searching for information on the topic, "get my staff to do what i need." I find something sad about that question, including the writer's insecurity about capitalizing the "I".

Anyway, a post on this blog from August 2008 popped up as the second result in the visitor's Yahoo search. It linked to an article at the PROFIT magazine website (now called CB Online, but I still call it PROFITguide), in which a handful of people answered a similar question from a Canadian business owner on "How can I encourage my team to be more entrepreneurial?"

I reread the post and found it pretty good, so why not take a look? If you'd like your employees to go the extra mile for you, check out my 2008 post here.
Or visit the original PROFITguide article here.

A quick excerpt to wet your appetite:
To get your people to be more entrepreneurial, you need to answer a simple question for them: “What’s in it for me?” Sounds harsh, but it’s true. If you expect your people to stay late to get the job done, they need to share in the success.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 5

No one is in greater need of discipline than an entrepreneur. The discipline to continually do the right things; and the discipline to stop doing the wrong things. Only will can help you.

"Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it every day, and at last we cannot break it."
Horace Mann
, 1796 – 1859

What habits should you start breaking now?

Horace Mann was a Massachusetts politician and lifelong education reformer. As a child he paid his own way through school by braiding straw, never attending more than six weeks a year; yet he was named class valedictorian upon graduation from Brown University. In 1837, as secretary of the first Board of Education in the United States, he became a forceful champion for public schooling, non-sectarian education, and professional teachers.

As president of Ohio's Antioch College, he urged the graduating class of 1859 to "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." That message has been repeated to every graduating class since.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Dragons Sighted Over Canada (again!)

I'm looking forward to auditioning Dragons’ Den prospects tomorrow. Auditions for next season (being tape this spring) began earlier this week in Saskatoon, and continue till April 17 in Ottawa. This year the producers will hit 40 cities in their search for wacky inventors and doable deals, so click here for the audition schedule.

The first of two Toronto auditions goes tomorrow, at CBC Toronto, from 10 till 6. You can register online here, or just show up sign in and wait around. There will also be a second Toronto audition on April 10.

The CBC’s expecting a big crowd tomorrow, so get there early or come in the afternoon. In past years, the line has been pretty much gone by 3 pm.

I will be helping out with auditions for the fourth year in a row. I’m no Kevin O’Leary, but I would be glad to harangue you on his behalf if you drop by.

As always, prospective pitchers are encouraged to: explain your business plan in 20 seconds, know the size of your target market, and be able to sum up your competitive edge in a comprehensible, compelling way. If your product or business idea already has sales, let us know first thing. That’s what separates the dreamers from the doers.

Oh, and there’s still two episodes to go for this season. Watch for cool deals on March 10, and then for the season finale on March 17, which will focus on the background stories of the ever-loving Dragons themselves. Sounds like must-see TV. I have been given an advance peek, and I will blog about it soon.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

How to Build a Personal Brand

Everyone knows how important it is to manage their personal brand, but how do you do it and where do you start?

You’ll find seven great approaches from the pros in a new article by Dan Schawbel at
Here’s the gist:

Own Your Google Results, says author David Meerman Scott. (He did it by using his middle name.)
Stand Out from the Pack, says marketing guru Seth Godin. Champion unexpected ideas and insights.

• Get People Talking About You, says Tim Ferriss (author of The 4-Hour Workweek). Learn to create buzz, online and off. Online content never disappears!
• Attach Yourself to a Bigger Brand, says Steve Rubel. As a senior VP for Edelman Digital, he leveraged that brand to become a prominent media pundit.

Focus, Focus, Focus, says John Jantsch, who stuck his Duct Tape Marketing brand on all of his blogs, books, columns, and workshops.
Be Nice to Everyone, says Gary Vaynerchuk of video blog Wine Library TV. His personal credo, Be kind to everyone, has generated a large following.

• Give Before You Receive, says Keith Ferrazzi, author of the networking book Never Eat Alone. Instead of asking people for favors, ask, “What can I do for you?”

Read the full story here.

I would add a few more points. Don't push your brand too explicitly. Share. Give other people plenty of credit. Network and cross-promote with other people and aspiring brands, but don't compromise your quality or your principles. People will judge you by the company you keep.

Want to know more? Dan Schawbel publishes on online periodical called Personal Branding Magazine.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Innovation Nations: It's a Smart World After All

The Christian Science Monitor has published a cool article on how 5 countries are encouraging innovation. It of course views this phenomenon through an American lens - omigosh, more competition for America!

But even the Monitor recognizes that competition in trade is good for America - which is mighty good for Canada and the rest of the world.

Dartmouth College business prof Vijay Govindarajan notes that "The United States can be competitive in the next 25 years only if we embrace globalization 150 percent... Globalization is like gravity. You can deny it only at your peril."

Here's a preview of the startup action in 5 countries.

BRAZIL: A major government-backed effort to support start-ups includes a growing array of university-based incubator programs. Entrepreneur Andre Averbug, who develops software for mass-transit services, notes that, "A few years ago, Brazil was seen as a commodity country," he says. (Sound like any other country you know?)

SINGAPORE: Its startup experiments run from subsidies for ventures involving targeted technologies to putting up public money alongside venture investors who come to the city-state.

INDIA: If anyone doubts India's ability to innovate, consider the build-it-yourself automobile. At a price below $3,000, the Tata Nano is providing affordable wheels and generating jobs for people who specialize in assembling the boxed parts into vehicles.

ISRAEL: The military is a huge stimulus for innovation, says Saul Singer, coauthor of "Start-up Nation." "The Israeli military is smaller at the top than most, and it forces more authority down," he says. "The sense of improvisation comes from being stressed and short on resources."

CHINA: Besides leveraging its huge market potential to lure technology partners from overseas, China is expanding its ability to generate new ideas using a self-created array of research universities. "China's blend of sheer demographic scale, bottom-up commercial drive, and top-down planning may be rewriting the development rule book."

The Art of Marketing is all about You

Today I’ll be at The Art of Marketing conference all day – six cool speakers, and 1500 eager marketers hanging on their every word.

If you can't make it, enjoy my column in this week's Financial Post, which covers my interview last week with marketing guru Seth Godin, the keynote speaker at today’s conference. Godin was his usual whirlwind self, pulling together different threads from all over to create a tapestry of new insights into marketing and business – which he sees as essentially the same thing. Your business, your career: it’s all about marketing, and it’s all about building your brand.


Succeeding at work today isn't about following rules; it's about leading with heart.

Similarly, marketing isn't just what you say about your product any more; it's wrapped up in what you want your business to stand for. (Look at Apple, Godin says, where the company's rebel designer chic persona is the company.)

Both these strategies can easily lead to failure. If your company represents itself as something that it's not (let's say you're a car manufacturer that's found to be less committed to safety than it claimed), social media can chew you up. If you mistake leeway for licence and merely confound your colleagues, you won't last long in the workplace.

But embracing these opportunities is the best way to stand out, and discover where your future awaits.

Read the full story here.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Best Entrepreneurial Quotes, Week 4

"The goal of many leaders is to get people to think more highly of the leader. The goal of a great leader is to help people to think more highly of themselves."

J. Carla Northcutt.
professor and curriculum developer, Marietta, George

(Personally, I think there's a crisis of leadership in Canada. We have no shortage of people who like to tell others where to go, but too few leaders who get out and push.)

Final Olympics notes on Closing Ceremonies

My sporadic coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Winter-ish Olympics concludes tonight with a few thoughts on the closing ceremonies.

I loved the mime hauling up that reluctant fourth leg of the Olympic flame, Catriona Le May Doan’s welcome redo on lighting the torch, Neil Young’s solo rendition of Long May You Run as the torch expired, and even the speech by VANOC ceo John Furlong (Was there ever a worse public speaker? And his French is a national disgrace!). I also liked that he subtly, quietly, thanked Jack Poole.

By the way, I was pleased there was a much higher Quebec and French-language presence in this event than in the Opening Ceremeonies. The Olympics aren't just about BC.

I also loved the artistic and technological boldness of the Russian tribute, and even the giant Mounties, table hockey players and flying moose of Michael Buble’s big Busby Berkeley number.

There was big thinking there, and a tremendous sense of humour and irony. Although using O Canada over and over in an over-the-top takeoff seemed out of place.

The comics, however, from Bill Shatner to Michael J. Fox, were woefully underscripted (as Dragons’ Den stalwart W. Brett Wilson, at left wearing his moose hat, noted in his Twitter feed). They were painfully un-funny. (Is Canada really the ‘Final Frontier”?)

Besides, I was hoping the comedy would address and respect the global audience that waited up so long to watch – not just dig up old in-jokes that only Canadians would care about. (NBC signed off at 10:30 and shifted to Jerry Seinfeld.)

And the random bands getting one song each – I dunno. Not enough for those who love them, and too much for those who don't care for rock and rap. And why no boffo, emotional ending? Suddenly there were fireworks and it was all over.

It would also have been nice if a few members of the Canadian men’s hockey team could have made it to BC Place to join their fellow Olympians. According to CTV commentators, they were celebrating “quietly,” “with their families.” (Although they did say captain Scott Niedermayer tried to make it to BC Place, but no one seemed able to spot him.)

A few random remarks from folks on my Twitter feed:
startupcoach: RT @AdeleMcAlear: After the high of winning hockey gold, I hang my head in shame at the worst closing ceremonies ever. I'm so sorry ...

startupcoach: Agreed! RT @DavidLutzy: Ohhh yah! ... Closing ceremonies are over! .. we all deserve a gold medal for watching!
KevinGaudet: so much for a big ending.

MFBazzo: Il est temps que Stephen Harper proroge la cérémonie de clôture des JO!
KevinGaudet: There are audience members over 30, right?! country fans too...

WBrettWilson: Energy in the stands is slipping to the point people are leaving early. I was the biggest fan of the show until it became a random showcase.
derekhat: RT @gresco: This closing ceremony is why Canadians drink so much.

SusanDelacourt: Ok. Bring out Harper, let him play another Beatles tune and let's be done with this.
derekhat: I get the impression that a thirtysomething middle manager was given the job of selecting the performers for #van2010 closing ceremonies.

SusanDelacourt: Cdn host rules: hog good stuff, play music meaningful to only us, do comedy only ironic if you live here. And force ppl to eat seal.
rayluk: Oh no! Nickelback. Those poor Llamas

Overall, the Olympics were a huge success, and the performance of Canada’s athletes should make us all proud.
But I believe the city and people of Vancouver were the real stars. Friendly, efficient, world-class, and smiling through the rain.
Congratulations from a jealous Torontonian.