How To Give Your Startup A Booster Shot From Day One

As a budding new entrepreneur, your eyes are full of stars, your belly is full of butterflies, and you’re both nervous and excited to get started on the path to building your business into a full-fledged empire. While it’s true that it’ll take some time to establish yourself as a power player in your respective industry, it’s best to lay the brickwork right from the very first day.

There’s no particular secret sauce or magic cocktail that turns startups from an idea into an overnight success, which is why erring on the side of wisdom is always the best recourse. From our lips to your ears, here are some tips that every entrepreneur needs to put into practice from day one.

PLAN, PLAN, PLAN

Yes, most startup companies fail. But you don’t have to be part of that statistic, and one of the easiest ways to prevent it from happening is to plan ahead. Startups are not nearly as much a fly by the seat of your pants affair as you might think. Sure, there’s plenty of wiggle room when you’re going guerrilla with only yourself, or perhaps one or two team members by your side. Failure to plan out for the long road is a big pitfall that you should work to avoid, early on.

Make sure you’ve got a clearly defined roadmap as to where you want your startup to go. Leave room for spontaneous surprises (both pleasant and unpleasant) while you lay out a schematic for future growth. Are you going to hire a few more people over the course of the next year or two? That means you’re going to have to put procedures into place to establish a uniform working environment. Do this now, rather than later when your quiet office turns into a bustling zoo.

And yet, to make things work, sometimes we have to act against our instincts. These days, you’ll hear people say “act first, change later” at a time when things are constantly changing. Of course, planning is important, but we must admit that the pandemic has changed all the rules when it comes to well-laid plans.

In short: Do your due diligence, but also be ready to completely change your business overnight.

IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY, HONEY

If you’re half the entrepreneur you think you are, you’ve already ran a check on your finances to see if you’ve got the cheddar to make this dream of yours come true. That’s a good thing, and you’ll need to do more of that until you start cartwheeling joyously into the black. Hopefully, you walked into the bank armed with knowledge regarding financing options as they pertain to your business plan.

Bank not feeling particularly generous? Be resourceful; look for another way. It may not be easy, but there are alternatives to funding that don’t involve the bank. For example, look for government grants and subsidies that specialize in helping startups. If you are in the high-tech industry, perhaps search for a business incubator. Got a strong family? Perhaps there is a loved one willing to lend a hand (or a dollar or two).

Growth can happen quickly if you’re reinvesting money back into your business. Make sure there’s more to sink into the company, rather than less. This means abstaining from going nuts on fancy office decor, expensive furniture and thousand-dollar espresso machines, at least for now. The perks come later. The time to re-inject your startup with capital is now!

UNDERSTAND WHAT IT MEANS TO BRAND

Your startup is your brand, and so are you. However, many entrepreneurs make a huge mistake here. They believe that branding is all about corporate colors, fonts and a company voice. In reality, branding is everything, all at once. If your demeanor is good, your ability to find and close leads is great, and you can generate sales and contracts with poise, professionalism and confidence, you’re on the right track.

If you understand that every single fiber of your business drives your brand, you’ll have a powerful weapon at your disposal that many of your competitors have probably neglected. Things like reputation management, a dynamite social media presence and a polished website are all vital components of good branding, provided your messaging is consistent, enthusiastic and professional.

MARKET LIKE YOU OWN IT

Whether you’re in a product or service-based business, it doesn’t matter. You’re selling something, and you’ll need customers and clients who are interested in buying. Marketing is a crucial component of startup success, and it’s a good idea to pay close attention to it. You may not have a multi-million dollar marketing budget, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get your company in front of prospective buyers.

Solid, strategic digital marketing can be a real benefit here. You can start small, and scale up almost indefinitely according to your business growth. Analytics are the key here. Work with a company that can deliver the data to you in an easily digestible form. That way, you’ll see what’s working, what needs to be scrapped, and what might simply need a little tweaking. The key takeaway here is to market your product or service as if it’s the best in the business. Don’t be afraid to show confidence, because your customer base will be looking for it.

IN CONCLUSION, JUST KEEP AT IT

Yes, it’s easy to tell any budding entrepreneur to persevere, but it does help when it comes from people who have already been there. City MOGULS has run the gauntlet countless times when it comes to starting and growing businesses, and we get it. We really do! If you quit, or you’re too scared to try, then you may regret it down the road. Luckily, we’re here to empower you, and help turn you into a successful entrepreneur who can weather any storm, or tackle the hardest challenges that come with owning a business. Just remember to pay that success forward to the next generation! Contact us today to find out how we can help.

Why Every Entrepreneur Needs A Mentor (Including You)

You might think you’re the most business-savvy person on your block, and indeed, you probably have the skills and the personality type to back it up. That doesn’t mean you’re ready to play in the big leagues just yet, however. Every entrepreneur starts out green, which is why it’s important to seek out a mentor that can help guide you through those rough patches that you’ll no doubt experience along your journey.

While anyone can overcome a challenge, the truth is that it can be costly to do so. Think of the time and money spent dealing with a problem that could have been solved simply by asking a mentor for advice. Never let pride get in the way of your progress, especially during those first few crucial years. Instead, allow your mentor to boost your confidence and turn you into a fully independent business whiz, with all the empowerment necessary to tackle whatever comes your way. Here’s a few reasons why mentors are so important while you pursue your career path.

THOSE FIRST STEPS

Chances are, you’ll start out a lone wolf on your path to greatness, with only yourself to turn to. You’re the Boss, and you’ll make all the decisions, but with no personnel (yet) or managers to turn to, those first few months (and sometimes years) can feel pretty daunting. Encouragement and advice becomes more important than ever, perhaps more so than any other stage in your entrepreneurial journey. Mentors can keep your spirits up, give you a warm smile while you’re walking through your insecurities and self-doubt, and kick your behind back into the game when you feel like giving up and hiding under the covers. Sure, friends and family can do the same thing, but only a mentor truly understands what you’re going through. If they made it, so can you.

EXPERIENCE TRUMPS ALL

Your education level could be platinum-grade, but there’s no replacing hands-on experience. Let’s face it – colleges and universities can’t prepare you for the anomalies of owning and running a business. Each one is different, with its own unique set of challenges that hinge on a multitude of factors, including location, demographics and competition (to name a few). Mentors have run the gauntlet and emerged intact on the other side, with valuable insight to share. Remember when your parents gave you solid life advice that you refused to take? Don’t make the same mistake in business. Entrepreneurs should listen to the wise wizards and sages that came before, and take their knowledge and recommendations to heart. They stepped on those garden rakes so you don’t have to.

THE SOCIAL NETWORK

Mentors can turn into wonderful friends who are enthusiastic about paying their own success forward to you. That’s a win that money simply cannot buy, unless you’re willing to fork out thousands of dollars to hire a consultant. The other key takeaway of a great mentor is their social network. This is an excellent opportunity to rub shoulders with the best and brightest existing and upcoming talent in the business, in an organic and friendly fashion. There’s no telling what kinds of opportunities and doors might open up, simply by meeting your mentor’s colleagues. Plus, it’s always great to hear warm and encouraging kudos and advice from like-minded entrepreneurs, particularly if they’re of the seasoned bunch. 

PAYING IT FORWARD

You may be a green-belly right now, but you won’t stay one for long. As you gain more confidence and success, you’re going to feel more empowerment and determination to build your business. When you’ve gone from zero employees to one-hundred (and counting), you’re going to look back at your mentor and appreciate all the advice you were given along the way. That will be the perfect opportunity to become a mentor yourself, for an entirely fresh new entrepreneur just learning the ropes, and unsure if they can win out. You’ll remember every stage of your career, from the highs to the lows, and you’ll pass on that knowledge to a new generation. It’s all about helping each other achieve, and exceed our own potential. After all, that’s what a great mentor does!

City MOGULS takes great pride in our mentorship philosophy, which has led to the forging of our amazing ACCELERATOR program. We invite you to join up so that we can get to know you, and start guiding you around the challenges of being an entrepreneur.

READ MORE ABOUT THE ACCELERATOR AND MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

Pressure to Help the World: A Founder’s Journey from Fashion to PPE

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

Stories of strength, growth, and resilience. A spotlight series featuring founders and leaders from across Canada and the US whose stories and experiences will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

A conversation with Esther Vlessing, President of Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM), a company that specializes in organizing rapid response initiatives that deliver emergency solutions to regions in need.

Rewind to mid-March 2020. Esther Vlessing, like many people, found herself tucked away in her West-Toronto home, adjusting to the first real days of mandated isolation due to COVID-related shutdowns across the province.

Vlessing remembers watching Ontario Premier Doug Ford on TV, as he addressed the province live and called for domestic factories to “step-up to the plate and manufacture PPE.” Hospital wards and long-term care homes (LTCH) were in dire need of protective equipment as outbreaks were hitting their floors and ICUs were maxing out.

Then the phone rang. It was Vlessing’s father, Robert Vlessing, a furniture manufacturing veteran.

“Who do you know in the government?”

A call for a hero

Together, they quickly drafted a plan to create a network of manufacturers who could effectively mobilize and retool domestic furniture, apparel and automotive factories across the country.

It should be noted that at this point, Vlessing knew no-one in government, but after a few email introductions, she was soon looped into calls with the Premier’s Office, Deputy Minister’s office, Ontario Health and Public Services and Procurement Canada.

Before she knew it, a $13.8 million dollar purchase order landed on her desk.

This was the first of many purchase orders as government bodies and hospital networks from across the province turned to Canada Emergency Medical Manufacturers (CEMM) for reusable isolation gowns made in Canada. CEMM built a robust domestic supply chain to produce and deliver isolation gowns to healthcare facilities in need. CEMM swiftly retooled and mobilized furniture, apparel and automotive factories, tapping into the domestic manufacturing power of hundreds of sewing machines, cutting machines, and skilled labour. By the end of the first quarter, CEMM had received over $30 million worth of purchase orders.

How a biotechnology student jumped into the fashion industry

Vlessing’s success with CEMM could be traced back to her dorm days as an undergraduate biotechnology student at the University of Toronto, when she first discovered the opportunity to solve a problem. Vlessing purchased a new parka that she loved, though the trim became matted easily and lost its appeal.

After some quick thinking, Vlessing discovered that the fur trim also came with a zipper for laundering purposes, which meant that new, colorful and fuller fur trims could be zipped onto the hood easily.

“With a $3,000 investment, I founded a nationwide accessory brand that manufactured Made-In-Canada replaceable fur and faux fur trims for winter coats,” Vlessing said.

Arctic Trim ended up on the shelves of big-box retailers across the country including Sporting Life Inc. And eventually, after discussions with the Canada Goose executive leadership team, Vlessing ended up on their design team, focusing on materials research and product innovation.

Advice for young entrepreneurs trying to help the world

Looking back on her career thus far, Vlessing says great inspiration and motivation is required for a company to succeed. Vlessing describes her great motivator to be the pressure of working in a life-or-death, high-stakes environment. According to her, everyone from Ontario’s Premier to “your next-door neighbour’s grandmother” was counting on CEMM to succeed, so the pressure was definitely on.

Vlessing doesn’t like to believe that individuals need to pursue a linear career path, and in her experience, the best companies, entrepreneurs and inventions are the results of interdisciplinary crossover. From her studies in science at U of T to running Arctic Trim and working on Canada Goose’s design team, Vlessing became well versed in product development, material sciences and supply chain management. By merging her experience in fashion manufacturing with her science background, Vlessing was prepared to meet the challenges of running CEMM.

“I recognized that if you build your company with a mission to be of service to others and improve society’s well-being, things flow much more easily,” Vlessing said.

Vlessing’s advice to all young aspiring entrepreneurs is to take the focus off of yourself and onto what needs to get done. Her hope for all young aspiring entrepreneurs is to build companies that will help this world.


Rising to the top one degree at a time

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

Stories of strength, growth, and resilience. A spotlight series featuring founders and leaders from across Canada and the US whose stories and experiences will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

A conversation with Stuart Lombard, CEO and Founder of ecobee, a technology company transforming the smart home.

Type “smart home” into Google today and you’ll get a slew of results. You’ll find everything from light bulbs to heaters to security cameras sold by some of the biggest brands in the world, including IKEA and Google.

Type “smart home” into Google 13 years ago and you may have displayed one result. Maybe.

The story of ecobee starts in 2007. The company was started by Stuart Lombard, a former VC partner who found himself making several intentional lifestyle changes to reduce his environmental impact. He outfitted his house with a solar roof, started driving a Toyota Prius, and programmed his own thermostat to save energy while away on vacation, all while thinking how expensive it was to go green.

Lombard ventured on a path over the next decade to help people reduce their environmental impact in practical ways.

Today, ecobee is an industry leader and innovator in home technology that helps consumers save money and conserve energy. It was the first in the world to introduce an internet-connected thermostat back in 2009. Since then, ecobee customers across North America have saved enough energy to take all the homes in Las Vegas off the grid for a year!

It’s not easy being first

It’ll be hard to find a home these days that doesn’t consist of at least one smart home device; the Amazon Echo comes to mind as a common one. But the concept of a smart home wasn’t common until recently, so it’s no surprise that Lombard wasn’t exactly met with open arms when he started pitching ecobee to investors.

“Who gives a crap about thermostats?”

Lombard remembers a lot of rejection and a lot of VCs looking at him with pity. “[One VC] told me ‘life is short, do something else,’” the CEO remembers.

But Lombard didn’t do something else.

“We knew that the business was good because we were able to double our revenue every year,” Lombard said. “There were clearly consumers who wanted this kind of tech.”

Ecobee has since raised over $150M from investors like Amazon and BDC.

But in addition to having to convince investors to back an unfamiliar idea, Lombard was starting a business in a Canadian market that was known for adopting new technology at a slower pace, especially in comparison to its American neighbours.

Lombard advises entrepreneurs who are building something new to focus on customer-led innovation and to spend a lot of time and sales and marketing efforts in the US.

“We always set out to serve the North American market,” Lombard said. “Canada is a great place to build a business, but the speed and flow of communication in the US is really important to learn. [Entrepreneurs should] spend a lot of time in the US because you really have to win in the US if you win at all.”

When your competitors include Google

Since ecobee is consistently ranked a top thermostat amongst smart home competitors, you may not realize that Google and Honeywell are a couple of ecobee’s biggest competitors.

“Some people say having a strong competitor pushes you to be a better company,” Lombard said with a laugh.

So, how do you become a better company than one of the best in the world?

“Obsessively focus on customer satisfaction,” Lombard said. “We used to read comments then put suggestions into our products. Not all customer feedback is as important as others, but if you set a really high bar for customer experience, you’ll win with word of mouth.”

One of ecobee’s core differentiators versus both Google and Honeywell is a feature built from research of customer complaints. When ecobee found that customers were unsatisfied with how their heating and cooling systems left hot and cold spots in their homes, the company created wireless room sensors that measure temperature and occupancy to make it comfortable in the rooms people actually use.

Bottom line, if it’s a market worth having, there will be competitors.

Creating opportunities out of setbacks

Growing up, Lombard’s dad taught him to be self-sufficient; that a person should be able to make anything they need.

“It was hard to be a teenager who just wants to hang with friends and not make something we could just buy at Canadian Tire,” Lombard remembers.

But Lombard’s dad was insistent, and when Lombard was 12, the father son duo built a foldable canoe that still works today.

That canoe would be the first of many things that Lombard would go on to create.

After graduating from Queen’s University, Lombard didn’t know what he wanted to do so eventually started a job with CAE Electronics in Montreal.

“I was really fortunate in that I had the worst boss ever,” Lombard remembers. “If I had a good boss, I may have stayed in that job and never started a company. As I was walking out the door, a colleague said ‘you should really check out this internet thing. I think it’s going to be big.’”

Lombard went on to start and sell two internet companies before joining JLA Ventures as a Partner and later starting ecobee.

“What you perceive to be a setback can be an opportunity,” said Lombard.

For students looking to start a business straight out of school, Lombard says ‘go for it!’

“I had this idea that when I was older I’d know something, but if you’re ready to work hard and can open up a book, start!” Lombard said that resilience and grittiness helped him build a 13-year-old company, “but it’s about the right level. You need enough to push through the challenges, but not so much that you’re willing to live with pain over a long period of time.”

When asked how he and his team stay motivated during tough times, the Founder admits that sometimes he dances around in funny suits.

Also, “we’re on a mission to help people live better. We are a mission-based business that’s having a real impact.”

And you can’t beat that.

Bridgit found success by looking for problems, not ideas

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

Stories of strength, growth, and resilience. A spotlight series featuring founders and leaders from across Canada and the US whose stories and experiences will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

A conversation with Mallorie Brodie, CEO and Co-Founder of Bridgit, a software company focused on developing mobile and web-based solutions for the construction industry.

Eight years in business is no small feat. For Bridgit, a software company that develops solutions for the construction industry, the key is focusing on solving problems; talking to customers about solutions then figuring out ways to create those solutions.

“Don’t fall in love with ideas,” says Mallorie Brodie, the CEO and Co-Founder of the Canadian start up. “We’re always trying to research and find real solutions.”

Those solutions are now helping some of the largest contractors in the world manage projects and drive workforce productivity.

What is Bridgit?

In brief, Bridgit makes construction less complicated.

Bridgit builds mobile and web-based solutions to solve problems for general contractors and subcontractors across North America.

For those of us who are not familiar with the construction industry, that means replacing manual work (think taking photos, marking them up in Microsoft Paint, then emailing them to yourself) with digital software solutions, ultimately saving contractors a ton of time and money.

Bridgit was founded in 2014 not out of a great idea or personal pain point, but as a result of a lot of research and multiple conversations with leaders in the construction industry.

“Everyone is waiting for this ‘aha’ moment,” remembers Brodie, “but Lauren and I have based our products on research.”

Brodie met Lauren Lake, Bridgit’s COO and Co-Founder, while participating in The Next 36. During their time in the Toronto program, she and Brodie got on the phone and spoke to people and asked them about their pain points. The company’s first product, Bridgit Field, was the outcome of those conversations.

The founders have continued to build their business around this philosophy.

Growing With Bridgit

Fast forward five years, in 2019, the company launched its second product, Bridgit Bench, a solution that helps contractors manage their workforce capacity, skills tracking, and employee scheduling. It is yet another solution that was the outcome of dozens of conversations with customers.

Brodie remembers speaking to over 50 executives at construction companies to gather insight for their second product.

“We talked to an IT exec for an hour, and in minute 61, there was this idea of resource planning,” Brodie said. “Going into this meeting, we didn’t even know what resource planning was.”

But the team got to work doing what they do best – researching, asking questions, and iterating based on customer feedback – and created a solution that replaces manual work done on spreadsheets and whiteboards. Emails back and forth with the executives they already spoke with gave them confidence they were on the right track. The founders received several signed letters of interest that allowed them to raise capital to pursue what is now known as Bridgit Bench.

Last summer, in the middle of a global pandemic, Bridgit raised $9.4 million to advance features of Bridgit Bench, add new partner integrations, and overall increase the company’s aggressive pace of technology innovation.

Brodie said that they were fortunate to have started their conversations with investors before the pandemic got really bad.

“Obviously, there was this moment of fear that things would fall off the rails,” the founder remembers. “When we asked Autodesk why they didn’t pull out of the deal, they said that they were betting that even if things slowed down in the next two years, they believed this industry would be digitizing in the future.”

Autodesk, BDC, and Salesforce Ventures, are just a few of the investors that have bet on Bridgit. In total, the company has raised over $21.2 million since they launched in 2014.

Rising to the top in a man’s world

When asked whether the male-dominated construction industry made it difficult for a female-led company like Bridgit to break through, Brodie replied no.

“Both tech and construction are male-dominated,” Brodie said. “What was more of a barrier was the tech world. It has been proven that women don’t get as much funding at the idea phase. So, we were very metrics driven.”

In fact, in Canada, female founders only receive 4% of venture capital. In the U.S., that number drops to just 2.2%.

“We were looking for a pain point to solve and we were just there to help. There were actually no obstacles because we stood out. We helped solve problems,” Brodie said of the company’s experience entering construction.

The industry has since welcomed Brodie and her team with open arms. Last year, Bridgit was named one of Canada’s top growing companies by The Globe and Mail and Brodie was recently recognized on On-Site and SitePartners’ top 40 under 40 in Canadian construction list.

In terms of COVID-19, Bridgit was one of the lucky ones. The company didn’t feel the negative impacts that many other small businesses felt during the pandemic.

“With construction recently restricted and projects delayed, contractors have needed to shift their processes and are demanding the workforce data insights that Bridgit provides,” Brodie said. “We’ve definitely had moments when we felt tired or stuck, but I’ve never had a moment where I wanted to quit. After the customer interviews we did, hearing their actual pain points, we couldn’t walk away from this. We felt determined to solve their problems.”

To recap, Bridgit was not the product of a great brainstorm session, or an ‘a-ha’ moment, or even a personal pain point. Bridgit’s success is the culmination of curiosity, research, and problem solving. Imagine that.

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