Today I went to a Technology Executive Breakfast, one of the great benefits of being a part of TalentBridge.  I’ll tell you why.  You go to these events and are surrounded by entrepreneurs.  Young, old, looking to start up, looking to invest, looking for advice:  no matter who they are, they are all energized.  And that kind of environment lights a fire under you.  It makes you want to leave that breakfast and take a risk NOW, start that company RIGHT AWAY.   Hearing Sir Terence Mathews speak brought on that that feeling X10.

Sir Terence Mathews, upon first impression, is what a man’s man is to business.  He’s tough.  He’s direct.  He doesn’t waste time.  If he doesn’t like it, he’ll tell you.  There are no nice platitudes, as is so common in our “nice” Canadian culture.   He’s gregarious, which shows you have to work hard and play hard.  You have to enjoy what you’re doing, and it seems like he loves what he does.  He’s works hard.  And he’ll take a risk.  

These were my first impressions, and I was impressed.  This is a man who’s been involved in 86 start-ups and now averages 4 to 5 start ups a year.   That’s right, 4-5 a year! So when he spoke, I listened.  Here are the main bits of advice that stuck with me from his talk, and my take on them:

  • Forget the VC’s.  We live in Canada.  There are very few, very limited, highly competitive venture capitalist funds.  It’s a dried up well, and it doesn’t look like it will it will improve for a while yet.  So ADAPT.  Mathews spoke of his MITEL example, where he started the company with a $4,000 loan from the bank.  No VC’s in sight.  Complaining about lack of VC’s in Ottawa is to me akin to complaining about the cold to Ottawa.  You can complain, it might make you feel better, but if you just buy some warm winter gear, you can go out and enjoy the winter.  It’s the same with business.  Reality won’t change, VC’s will not just pop out tomorrow.  So get the business equivalent of a Columbia jacket, or else risk hibernating through the winter months.
  • New Grads are perfect for starting companies.  They work around the clock, cranking out products in less than a year.  With no families to sustain, they can get by with a minimum income through the incubation period, giving them the time needed to establish a product/company.  True isn’t it?  We need to rethink the popular notion of waiting to get some experience under our belt before starting the company we’ve always dreamed of.  
  • Act like the company you want to be.  If you’re a three person company, all new grads, working in the basement of one of your benevolent parent’s home, that doesn’t mean you can’t act like a professional working in a corner office of a skyscraper in Manhattan.  Answer the phone like you work in that corner office.  Write quality quarterly reports like you work for that big firm. Etc. etc. Don’t lie, but fake it till you make it.  If you act like the pro that you want to be, investors/customers etc. will treat you like the future version of yourself today. 
  • Focus your product; be first to market. We can’t compete with Asia in terms of salaries.  So to remain competitive, we need to pump out quality, focused products.  And be the first to do so.
  • Don’t be greedy. As Mathews put it, owning 1% IBM might be better than owning 100% of a corner store.  Don’t think you need to own all parts of the product/company.  Partnership and building business clusters is key to growth.
  • Persistence.   It’s the difference between a music legend and a one hit wonder.  Success is not a destination; it’s a never-ending journey.   Always walk out with a goal.

These are just a few of the tidbits that stuck with me.  But what impressed me the most was the system he had of starting up so many companies every year.  Mathews keeps an eye out for the cream of the crop new grads.  He chooses them, focuses them on a project, and pays them a minimal salary during the product’s incubation period.  They are mentored and lead by Mathews as they work enthusiastically around the clock, cranking out a new product in under a year.   Mathews offers a market for the product, a network, focus and mentorship; the new grads offer their skill and time to develop the product.  A perfect symbiotic relationship.  After approximately one year, the students own part of their new company, Mathews owns part of the start up, and society has some new business leaders in their midst.  Clever isn’t it?   What we need is more of the same from other capable leaders such as Sir Terence Mathews.

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