Thursday, September 30, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 32

"Some people regard discipline as a chore. For me, it is a kind of order that sets me free to fly."

Julie Andrews, British born actress-singer, born Oct. 1, 1935

Dame Julie Andrews is 75 years old today (Oct. 1). As the legendary Guenevere in Camelot, Eliza Doolittle, Mary Poppins and Maria von Trapp, she became one of the best-known stars of the 1960s and 70s, and still shines today, despite the tragic loss of her singing voice due to a bungled surgery. I see great similarities between the lives of artists and performers and entrepreneurs, so I felt pleased to find this quote that reminds us all that creativity doesn't have to mean disorganization - and that efficiency actually creates an empowering form of freedom.

A few more nuggets of business wisdom from the woman who won an Academy Award for portraying a character "practically perfect in every way":

"Sometimes opportunities float right past your nose. Work hard, apply yourself, and be ready. When an opportunity comes you can grab it.”

"Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th."

"I would be a fool to deny my own abilities."

"I've learned things about myself through singing. I used to have a certain dislike of the audience, not as individual people, but as a giant body who was judging me. Of course, it wasn't really them judging me. It was me judging me. Once I got past that fear, it freed me up, not just when I was performing but in other parts of my life."
and finally (even if she didn't write this one herself:)

"In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and... SNAP! The job's a game!”

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Dragons' Den Returns!

Dragons’ Den returns tonight with a full season of new episodes. Once again, aspiring entrepreneurs will take on 5 judgmental multimillionaires in an effort to win investment capital for their business ideas.

It’s fun, it’s human, it’s the quintessential challenge of business recast as fasinating five-minute dramas. What’s more important, to me, is that millions of Canadians are getting valuable lessons on business and opportunity with every episode. They're exposed to the vision, optimism and drive of real Canadian entrepreneurs. And they get to see how the marketplace (represented by the five Dragons) welcomes great opportunities and bounces the rest – no matter how earnest, likeable or smart the pitchers may be.

For this season, I hear the deals are bigger and better - and if anything, more complicated. Viewers this season are going to learn that equity investing isn't the only way to go - sometimes a deal that gives the investor upfront income makes more sense for both sides.

I think Dragons’ Den is changing entrepreneurship in this country, for the better. Give it a look.

You can watch it at 8 pm on CBC TV, or catch reruns online.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Big Small Business Debate

So what questions would you ask the Toronto mayoral candidates?

On Friday morning, Sept. 24, I will be moderating The Big Small Business Debate, featuring the five leading mayoral candidates, at the Royal York Hotel.
Organized by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and sponsored by the National Post, the event starts at at 8 a.m. and goes to 10:15 a.m. Admission is free, and includes continental breakfast.

C'mon down to the Royal York and join us.  For more info or registration, click here. 

But first, tell me - what questions would you ask?

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 31

"If you want something, why not ask for it? What's the downside? All they can say is NO."

CBC Dragon, business pundit and one-time software entrepreneur Kevin O'Leary (as quoted in an interview in the October issue of PROFIT Magazine. He was asked how he became so entrepreneurial at a young age).

O'Leary continued:
"I learned early on, if there's something I want, I'm prepared to ask again and again, and try to find the path to getting it. That's also, I think, what defines an entrepreneur. You set a goal, you may not succeed the first time, but you keep trying."

Click here to read the full PROFIT interview with Kevin O'Leary.

GrowthCamp, part II

In the late morning at GrowthCamp today, the 60-something entrepreneurs were divided into groups of 10 to participate in "Idea Exchange" roundtables - where they get to talk to each other, in a confidential setting, about mutual problems and exchange experiences and possible solutions.

The conversation, as I mentioned, is confidential, but here are a few highlights from the session I moderated.

* There were two main topics everyone wanted to discuss: building the sales funnel, and attracting new talent. No matter what business they're in (we had everyone from construction contractors to app developers), they all wanted to talk these two issues.

* One other issue emerged: how you build your team, create alignment around quality, and how you deal with staff members who don't get it. We tackled this issue first, and the group could have spent the entire hour discussing this alone.

The consensus: hire people for attitude. ("Find people who think like owners," said one entrepreneur.) Never hire in a hurry: Take as long as you need to find the right people.

And treat your team like adults: Delegate responsibility and hold people accountable for results. Don't tell people how to do things - but adopt quality assurance standards to ensure you get the outcome you want.

Good stuff, huh?

GrowthCamp brings together the leaders of Canada's emerging growth companies.
Click here for the 2010 "Hot 50" rankings.
Click over here to read about the list and what it means.
And click here to meet the No. 1 company on the Hot 50 this year, Great Circle Works Inc.:

Live from GrowthCamp

I'm live at GrowthCamp in northern Toronto, PROFIT Magazine’s conference for the entrepreneurs behind its Hot 50 list of emerging growth companies. I’ll be sharing a few insights along the way.

Business writer and speaker Jim Harris is giving a great talk called Blindsided based on his book (but constantly updated). It’s all about how change can overtake any company in any industry – you can choose either to be the bug or the windshield.
A few highlights from his talk:

• Blockbuster Video turned down a chance to buy 50% of Netflix to help the mail-order movie service get off the ground. Blockbuster called it the worst business model they had ever seen. Today Netflix’s market cap is 672 times that of Blockbuster (which is down to $11 million.

• Going forward, accessing banking services is essential. Banks themselves may not be.

• When the first energy crisis hit, the Japanese hunkered down and restructured their energy-intensive steel industry to consume less energy. The Americans did not. Result: over the next few decades, the U.S. steel sector lost 300,000 jobs. So was cheap energy a benefit or a trap?

• “If every car in North Africa got the same fuel efficiency as my Prius we would have to import no oil into North America.”

* "The only thing worse than training people and having them leave, is not training them and having them stay."

Keeping the Faith at Research in Motion

What's the matter with RiM? Its latest quarterly results blew the roof off last week, yet the stock went up just a few pennies. It looks like iPhone-phobia is choking off Canada's best high-tech success story.

But Canadian value investor Saj Karsan has another perspective. In an article this weekend entitled "Six Reasons You Should Buy Research in Motion," he points out some of the company's enduring strengths that Wall Street may be overlooking.

Among his points:

RIM has very high Return On Capital - its trailing 12-month return on average equity is 38%! "To put it in perspective," writes Karsan, "Google, Microsoft and Exxon, three very profitable companies at the moment, generate returns on equity of just over 20%."

* There is Safety in RIM's Financial Position: The company has no debt, and sits on a couple of billion dollars of cash. 
* New Products: RiM's current earnings reports include costs associated with products not yet on the market (such as the tablet company the company is reportedly releasing later this year). RiM now spends $300 million per quarter on R&D, but the profits from these new products are of course not reflected in the current statements (although the costs are). "As such, the company is even more profitable than it appears."

* Buybacks: Believing its shares are cheap, RiM is reducing its outstanding share count. In the first half of this year, RIM spent $2 billion buying back shares. This buying pressure supports the stock price even as it reduces the number of shares between which profits will be shared!

You can read the full article here (registration required).

Full Disclosure: Yes, I own shares in RiM. Doesn't everybody?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

And how was your sunrise this morning?

Nothing better than a Vancouver harbour sunrise. The cruise ship entering the harbour was a nice bonus.
In town to talk to Telus dealers about the small business market. Great way to start the day!

Monday, September 13, 2010

12 technologies that changed the world

What are the top world-changing technologies of all time?

IT World Canada has a geeky but fun slideshow listing the top dozen of these game-changers, from Sputnik to the Slammer Worm to iTunes and ...  Pong? Yes, Pong. Literally, a game changer. (I remember playing it when it came out. It really did rock your senses. At the time.)

You can see the entire list here.

Startup doubts, approaching your bank, low-cost marketing, and more!

I was interviewed recently on a long list of small business topics by Donna Martin for's blog, How's Business. I opined as best I could, and it looks like they ran the whole darn thing.

Click here to read the interview.  We cover the following issues:

* I have a great idea brewing for a start-up. How do I overcome those doubts hovering in the periphery?

* How do I need to prepare before I approach a bank with my idea?

* I’m about to launch my business. Are there ways of advertising to the general public without incurring huge fees?

* Can you suggest some actions I can take to help me better learn and understand the needs of my target market?

* My day is busy enough as it is. How important is it for me to devote time to exploring social media?

* Are there a few key strategies I can use to take my business from good to fantastic?

* What is the most common learning curve that small businesses tend to encounter?

* Is there a really great entrepreneurial quote you’ve read lately?

* What is the one piece of advice you would like to share with others thinking about starting a business?

As an excerpt, here's my take on social media:

If you are a natural writer or communicator, you can make friends fast through new channels such as Facebook, blogging, Twitter or YouTube. But if you’re a busy entrepreneur who would rather meet clients and customers face to face, social media may not be a first priority.

Do yourself a favor: explore Facebook. Figure out what you think it’s good for, and what your prospects might expect from a Facebook “page” (or mini-site) for your business. Then think through whether you have the time and talent to create new business-related content that would engage customers and prospects and help build stronger relationships.

Statistics show that more and more people every day (300 million on Facebook alone) are relying on social media for news, relationships and all kinds of decision-making. But unless you have access to good content and marketing skills, you may find social media a lot of fuss over nothing.

Here's the funny thing about Staples' blog. I was in there to see them about 5 years ago to tell them they needed to start blogging to their small business market. It took them about four years to get to it (there were various reorgs and restructurings in the meantime.) But hey, they did it. Still, one of the things I told them they must do was promote it heavily in their home page. Of course, they nodded, of course.

Sadly, if you go to today, you have to look awfully hard to find the link. I know space is limited on the home page, but come on. A major customer-relationship tool like this deserves better placement. Which is why I link to their blog in my right-hand margin, under "Best Outside Links." 

Someone has to save big business from itself.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Best Entrepreneurship Quotes, Week 30

“Governments never learn. Only people learn.”

Milton Friedman, American economist

As fall begins and many Canadians (not to mention Americans) get swept up in election fever, what could be more important than to remember that government is just an abstraction. In the end, government is just the sum total of numerous anonymous decisions, and incremental activities more concerned with damage control than with effectiveness.

Unless you'd like to discuss this point in the Comments, below.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Seth Godin on taking responsibility

In most organizations, there is intense competition for recognition and promotion. Everyone wants "Authority."

Seth Godin, the irrepressible writer on marketing and the new economy, suggests taking a different approach. In a recent blogpost, he wrote:

"It turns out you can get a lot done if you just take more responsibility instead. It's often offered, rarely taken."

Accept accountability. Volunteer to get things done. Take responsibility for organizing, planning, monitoring, quality control, and meeting deadlines. Other people will shy away from such responsibilities, so you'll get your chance to shine. Leaders are looking for you.

One other tip from Seth:
"You can get even more done if you give away credit, relentlessly."

Seth tends to be a bit of a utopian, but I think he is right in this. Some people will always get ahead through politicking, but many more will succeed through attitude and accepting accountability.

Happy Labour Day! Leaders are looking for you.