I started writing this as an email to a fellow business owner who told me her journey to get where she is today. I have been re-reading one of my favorite books of late called “The Emyth Revisited” and it speaks about the business owners mindset and why most small business fail.
My own journey to get to where I am today, I don’t think is that unique, but i think that building a business properly so that it operates without its owner and lives longer than its owner is something that truly is unique.
This blog is something that I recently launched as a means to help chronicle many of my thoughts, which I previously have found scattered in many places, from my computer, to my various notebooks. So I suppose that this being one of my first posts in this blog is a suitable topic; How i got to where I am in business today!
I started my internet marketing company TechWyse in 2001, not because I knew what I was going to do but because I grew up as the baby in my family (by a lot) watching everyone work in the family business (a printing company) and then later seeing my siblings split off to start their own business.
I sat through dinner after dinner listening to business talk about the family business. They say you shouldn’t bring your work home with you but in an entrepreneurial family, that is simply not practical. While as an 8 year old I tended to hate the constant talk about the family business, I suppose I learned a great deal and gained an appreciation for the psychology of it all through osmosis.
As a guy that was going to York University, and partying with my guy friends quite a bit through the 1990’s, while I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I knew that one day I would have my own business.
So in 2001, after coming back from a year long visit to Australia (which I decided to take to adventure somewhere else other than Canada as a reward for finishing school), I just decided I was at the age to start ‘something’. Time to grow up.
So I took a 9 month course in IT where I somehow believed that at the end of it, I was educated enough to begin an IT business. (The word – I.T -being a very ambigious word – the business was started as a guy that would do anything to do with computers and nothing at all to do with internet marketing).
Over the next couple of years, I took some other jobs along the way. Directly after finishing my IT diploma, I thought that I craved that childhood idea of working in a big office in downtown Toronto so I took a job in the eCommerce department of Mackenzie Financial. Here I managed to despise all of the people working above me because I felt like i had so much more to give. (ofcourse I was an entry level employee watching people the same age as me float through their day) So I became frustrated, and underperformed as well until the company decided not to ‘renew’ my contract. I was devastated at the time.
Then deciding I was done working in a ‘job’ and not entirely believing I could run my own company ‘TechWyse’ fully I decided to get a job doing something that I felt I truly belonged doing. I decided I needed to do something I was passionate about! Something in either sports or music.
I decided since those were pretty difficult to just step right into and get paid that I would volunteer or intern somewhere. For anyone passionate about something I always recommend getting valuable work experience simply by offering for free! Its the best thing you can do to get into the field you want. As luck would have it after calling the local OHL hockey team Brampton Batallion, I then called the Mississauga Ice Dogs. Wouldn’t you know it? Jerome Dupont, Director of Hockey Operations was interested in me because of my computer background.
After one month of working for free, (wouldn’t you know it) I was offered the position of marketing coordinator for the brand new hockey school they decided to start. I was even given a salary of 12k/yr plus some incentives! I was thrilled! I was responsible for EVERYTHING. I went to every home game, went to local hockey arenas to promote the school to kids every weekend and even dressed up in the IceDogs mascot uniform at malls!
I loved it because I was my own boss and had responsibility. I was moving up fast and felt I was well on my way of my ultimate goal of becoming the GM of a professional franchise. (seriously) In May of 2003, Chris Pronger and Mario Forgione bought the IceDogs. I went to the OHL hockey draft that year and was in charge of being the person to draft the players. (I didnt make the choices, but I helped with research and clicked the DRAFT button when the scouts told me who to pick)
My stay at the IceDogs ended, however, when the new ownership decided to cancel the hockey school program and then offered me the same salary to be a seasons ticket sales person. Something I felt didn’t fit my goals. The new owners did not take the time to learn who I was and what motivated me and lost a very passionate and loyal employee.
This is when I became a real business owner.
In June of 2003, I quit the IceDogs with only my side business at TechWyse in the horizon. I had gotten a few clients over the years and decided I had enough savings to last me until September (if i was careful). So I decided to really give TechWyse a go. I decided that if by September of 2003 I wasn’t paying my way, I would get a job serving at The Keg to get by. In fact, in August I even went to an interview in anticipation of needing the work. But when September rolled around, I realized I didn’t need to. I was making enough money on my own! My skills were best left to building TechWyse.
In business, one thing I hated doing though was knocking on peoples doors – ‘begging for business’. This was my identifying the area of work I was not good at. I thought there must be a way to get people to come to me. So I figured out how to get my company ranked high on search engines. Once I did that, I wasn’t getting calls for IT stuff anymore, I started getting people calling me that wanted to know how to THEIR COMPANY ranked high on search engines. Infact, at one point you could type the word “Toronto” into Google and TechWyse would come up!
Bingo – I suddenly had a hot little service that people wanted and best yet, very little competition because the service was so new. So people were willing to take the advice of a young little hotshot that worked in his pajamas at home all day. (well they didn’t know that!)
Then I realized once I started getting business that doing the actual work wasn’t exactly my calling. I liked setting the vision – so I hired some people to do the work. And that was great. It freed up my time to focus on what I did well and what made me happy.
But then there were people working for me and I realized I had to develop this thing called Managerial skills.
Ummm… I found managing people compelling at first but then realized it wasn’t really where my time was best invested to help my little company grow. I was an ok manager but there were certainly better people at this than me. So I hired (and continue) to look for people that enjoy ‘managing’ so that I can spend my time doing what I do best – which is strategy, innovation and motivation. That is right, I finally figured out what I’m best at! I realized early on that focussing on what you are best at makes you happier at work and more productive at your job.
So that is where I currently sit on the dawn of December 2008. Since 2003, I have had a business partner that came and went, numerous people working with me, have developed a great production arm of the company and another amazing business partner (that is like a brother to me!) in India.
We are now a very dynamic and thoughtful group of 60+ people that (I hope!) love and are passionate about what they do! (Update as of 2015 we are now 125+ people!)
I have learned an unbelievable amount and most importantly have grown a great deal since I first started doing business back in 2001.
I have learned many things that I take with me today. Here is just a small list that I urge everyone to read.
- Appreciate those that you work with because those are the people you spend more time with in your life then anyone else. They are also the players that are on your team and the ones you count on to help you grow in this big, big world.
- Understand what peoples goals are in life and help them achieve them.
- Always be thinking about what you like to do and always push to be the best at it.
- Make sure you are working with people that are also passionate about what they do.
- Always be reading and learning from people that have done what you want to do already. If you want to be the best designer – then find people that always push themselves to learn to be better at designing. If you want the best marketing person, then find the person that loves to do research in the industry and treats it like a past time and not a job. Don’t worry about the money.
- Don’t put a cap on what you can achieve. If you aren’t growing then you are shrinking. If you aren’t happy then you are unhappy.
My advice to those that are trying to find their own path in their professional life;
- Choose to do something you love! Don’t choose to do something in your life that you consider to be ‘work’. Figure out what you are passionate about and do something in that area. I promise you that no matter what it is in life, as long as you are passionate about it – someone will want you! There aren’t enough passionate people.
- Don’t make it about the money! Be prepared to volunteer or work at a very low salary to get your foot in the door. The hardest thing about transitioning from school to a working life is that you feel you have learned all that you need to and deserve a huge salary. It doesn’t work that way. Find a company you want to work for, a person you want to follow and get your experience. Once you have that experience you will become irreplaceable, have earned the respect of your peers and can get the salary you want.
- Respect your leader! No matter who you are you never know it all. I remember being 25 and thinking I was smarter than everyone, well Im alot smarter now then when I was 25 and you will be too. Choose a job where you respect your leader. Tell them you want to learn from them, and sponge all the information so that their wisdom becomes your wisdom. You will gain knowledge from those above you and you will also likely gain the appreciation (and flattery) of the person you are learning from.
- The grass isn’t always greener – If you have a job that challenges you, motivates you and that you are passionate about it likely means that you enjoy your job. I would highly advise anyone AGAINST leaving their job for monetary reasons. Remember that money can’t bring you happiness. You spend more time working then you do with your spouse, family or even sleeping! That new, higher paying job, does not mean that the culture of business ideals will be the same as the one you are at now. So unless you are truly unhappy at your current job – don’t leave. If money is the reason for your unhappiness discuss it with your leader before it becomes a problem. Chances are that if you truly are passionate about your job your leader will do what it takes to keep you.
So there ya have it! A first post!
I am currently writing this from our Production Centre in India. On this trip I learned a new quote that I feel very strongly about for anyone that lives in our world in general – whether you love to be a technician that gets your hands dirty, a manager that likes to build systems or a visionary that has big ideas;
“Do not fear death,
You do not have to live forever,
You just have to live.”
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