As an entrepreneur, starting a company may be the easiest part. Getting your business to multiply its growth by 10-times year-over-year is where things get difficult. Being successful takes courage, relentless persistence, and a network of experienced people willing to offer their advice and mentorship.
After returning to Canada from Silicon Valley, entrepreneur Steve Wandler founded Metabridge, a gathering for like-minded entrepreneurs looking for advice and mentorship. At the two-day executive technology retreat, CEOs and co-founders come together to meet seasoned entrepreneurs and investors to build relationships and gain funding. With past attendants ranging from Drop to Turnstyle Solutions (who were later acquired by Yelp), many entrepreneurs apply to attend Metabridge to find the recipe for entrepreneurial success.
“The atmosphere is the perfect recipe to spark the growth of Canada’s next startup unicorns,” says Sachin Agrawal, founder of EDP Software. “I’m leaving inspired, and energized to chase the next level for my company.”
With a series of one-on-ones, round-tables, and presentations from the likes of vArmour’s Tim Eades and Atari & Chuck E. Cheese founder Nolan Bushnell, entrepreneurs gained unique knowledge and mentorship during the two-day event. Now in its tenth year, Metabridge X provided ample lessons for founders to 10x their business. Here are a few takeaways:
Let everything flow from your values
A lot of startups skip a value-building exercise, but it should be an early priority for founders. Not only do leaders build their company’s identity and purpose around their values, but their ability to make strong decisions also stems from these value systems.
“Create strong company values as early as possible, and let them flow through your company as part of hiring practices, design decisions, and even expansion plans,” says Heather Wilde, CTO at ROCeteer and angel investor. “The more ingrained the culture, the better the likelihood everyone will be able to communicate the same vision as you scale.”
Don’t pin all your dreams on venture capital
Getting the company off the ground should be your priority. The first money in your business comes from the founders, whether it’s through hustling or maxing out your credit card. Venture capital is not there to build your hopes and dreams or act as an ATM.
“Entrepreneurs have a true and blatant disregard for other people’s money,” says Tom Williams, Canadian angel investor and founder of TalentShare. “What’s wrong with most thinking is that getting venture capital investment is the first money in your business. The first money should come from you.”
Things aren’t always what they seem
Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak’s first boss, knows a thing or two about entrepreneurship. He was offered the chance to own a third of Apple for $50,000 but turned it down, a decision he regrets.
Bushnell warns that you may see things incorrectly when you have an expectation in mind. Back in the late 70s, he was building a series of arcades with pizza and animatronic characters to entertain kids. It was code-named “Coyote Pizza” because Bushnell bought a costume that he assumed was a coyote—but it turned out to be a rat.
“We either delayed the project or changed the name,” says Bushnell. “Rick Rat’s pizza didn’t work, so we gave it a name that made you smile when you said it—Chuck E. Cheese. Now there are 600 Chuck E. Cheeses in the world.”
If you are chasing venture capital, do your research
Study your VC’s portfolio and make sure there are no conflicts before you pitch. If you’re confident about your fit in a VC’s wheelhouse, get to know other CEOs in their portfolio and ask them to share their experience before you start conversations about funding.
“Every single great entrepreneur will be willing to tell you when they’ve had a good experience with a VC,” says Williams. “If they don’t respond, it means they are politely saying ‘do not take money from this person.’”
Emphasize the value of one-on-ones
Get in front of your organization as a whole, but ensure you check in on how your team is doing individually. Schedule (at the very least) quarterly 1:1s with all your staff, not just members of your management team. Ask both, “how are you doing?” and “where do you want to go?” This makes your team feel valued, gives you valuable insight, and ensures your management team is modeling your behaviour.
“Embed into your company culture the importance of regular one-on-one meetings at all levels of the organization,” says Matt Fogel, founder at Fuzzy.ai. “A lot of organizations pay lip service to the idea of doing one-on-ones, but when things get busy, some leaders go months without conducting them. Weekly or bi-weekly one-on-ones through all levels of the organization help leaders anticipate and be aware of potential issues or opportunities better than any other tactic I’ve seen.”
Create a healthy workplace for you and your team
How you work together on a daily basis is much more important than social events you throw for your team. Recognize that some people might not have teamwork, self-management, and communication skills, so you will need to help them to develop those skills. Consider environmental factors, such as quiet workspaces and recognize that hours in a chair doesn’t equal productivity.
“One aspect of productivity that many people fail to consider is the cost of interruptions,” says Matthew Renze from Renze Consulting. “For jobs that entail a high cognitive load, like software development, this cost adds up quickly. With just a few interruptions each hour, a software developer’s entire day becomes highly unproductive and error-prone. As a result, you need to consider the cumulative effects of these interruption costs when designing an office environment for your team to work within.”
Learn to recognize the signs of burnout
Take the time to educate your team on what stress does to your body and different ways to manage it. Encourage your team to actively seek out relaxation time and set a good example of work/home balance to prevent burnout.
“Don’t just tell your team to meditate, tell them why and how it affects their brain and performance,” says stress management consultant, Jamie Wood of Sanga Living. “Everyone wants to optimize brain functions and lower stress. But remember, when it comes to mental health tactics, one size does not fit all. You can encourage a practice, but you can’t enforce it.”
Plan for things going wrong
Plan for the worst, even if you’re on excellent terms with your co-founders. Structure the business to be able to scale by being open and talking through various scenarios. Think about what you’ll need to do when your co-founder leaves, or when you need to replace a board member so that you’re not caught off guard when it happens.
“It’s not a matter of if things go wrong, it’s a matter of when,” says Metabridge founder and FreshGrade co-founder, Steve Wandler. “Work with a good legal counsel to consider different angles and put mechanisms into place to deal with them. You’ll thank yourself in the long run.”
Formalize your roles
If people don’t know what their role in the company is, it can cause friction either because people are trying to do the same thing, or because they’re acting in a position that they shouldn’t be. “Define your role on the team, then bring in better people,” says Wandler.
Formalizing roles also applies to choosing your board. You have to have one, and it has to be five people or less. It could be a nightmare when you’re seeking investment if it’s not sorted out.
Be consistently optimistic
Whatever you do as an entrepreneur, stay optimistic. There are many challenges ahead, and your resilience will ensure your success. The most powerful entrepreneurs are those who retain their optimism even in the most challenging of circumstances.
“Optimism works,” says Bushnell. “Build castles in the sky and then move in.”
“Silly ideas have a half-life, but they’re often the most powerful. There wouldn’t be half the problems there are in the world today if people let go of fear, dreamt big and solved them!”
Emma Bullen is the co-founder of Nicely Said, and a producer/writer who is passionate about telling engaging stories.