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

Building a 12-year-old business in a quick-exit startup culture

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 216eae_7651a4fa379c4fca93dddcb2d89dbc04~mv2.webp

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 Toni Desrosiers, CEO and Founder of Abeego, the original beeswax wrap that breathes.

It didn’t take long for Toni Desrosiers to realize what she wanted to be when she grew up. At a very young age, the now-CEO and Founder of Abeego, was entrepreneurial. In a small village of 500 people, Desrosiers started her first business: a lemonade stand, before venturing off to shovel leaves, then snow, among many other hustles. She credits her entrepreneurial spirit to her dad, who is also an inventor and business owner.

One with nature

Desrosiers invented Abeego in 2008 while she was a practicing holistic nutritionist. She noticed that airtight (usually plastic) wrappers that are meant to protect leftover food are actually not letting food breathe (not to mention, are bad for the environment).

“In nature, there isn’t anything airtight,” Desrosiers said. “It’s all breathable – peel, skin, rind – I wanted to make wraps that better mimicked nature.”

Not one to just sit on the sidelines, Desrosiers went ahead and invented the world’s first reusable beeswax food wrap. Nbd.

Today, Abeego sells food wraps made from beeswax, jojoba, tree resin, hemp, and cotton, all while maintaining a zero-waste production process.

“Together with my hard-working team of Abeego makers, I have found innovative ways to repurpose even minimal amounts of excess materials into new products like Abeebits (beeswax twist ties) or promotional items like business cards,” Desrosiers said.

The long game

“You can’t just invent something then expect people to buy it,” Desrosiers said. Speaking the truth.

Most entrepreneurs discover this early in the startup journey; convincing other people – customers, investors, employees – to believe in your product or service is one of the hardest things to do.

“For us, it was all about getting people to notice and understand.” Desrosiers remembers having to educate customers throughout the years. Now, having been in business for over a decade, Abeego has had to incorporate customer education into every pivot, every aspect of the business.

“When you invent something, you create a market, you nurture that market, and eventually, you harvest from that market,” Desrosiers said.

In Canada, over 30% of small businesses fail within the first five years. Abeego has been in business for over 12.

When asked what advice she would give herself back when she started Abeego, Desrosiers said, “enjoy the journey and celebrate your wins frequently. You’re not building a business. You’re living your life.”

The beauty of building something new is that you get to build it in a new way.

Desrosiers reminds aspiring founders that there’s no one way to be an entrepreneur. “You’re going to make mistakes, but those mistakes might actually be the right path,” she said.

Not all glitz and glamour

Having a solid foundation has helped Abeego get through the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most small businesses, Abeego saw a dip in revenue in the initial days of the pandemic and had to revamp its goals for the year.

Over time, Desrosiers began to see the pandemic as just another low point in the company’s life cycle. “I’ve never seen a business as going straight up. Low points for me are always foundation building time,” the founder said.

It’s those foundation building times that have allowed Abeego to stay solid during a time of uncertainty. The company had to lay off about a dozen people because of the pandemic, but has since rehired many of them and is now working on building processes to get ready for when business picks back up.

Today, Abeego products are sold in more than 300 retailers in North America and online around the globe, success that is largely credited to the company’s core value of living where logic and innovation meet.

In other words, Abeego treats logical decisions with curiosity – ‘Can this be done better, in a new way?’ And looks at innovation with a critical eye – ‘Will this new software help me make decisions faster?’

You’ll never see Abeego implement new technology for technology’s sake, even if an advisor or industry expert recommends it. Desrosiers warns new founders to be wary of asking for too much advice from “experts” who may pull you in different directions. “If I didn’t break up with my experts, I’d be in a totally different space,” she said.

Building wealth

Every business owner starts off with big goals, lots of excitement, and seemingly endless determination to do whatever it takes. But somewhere along the way, every business owner hits a wall, loses steam and feels like nothing else can be done.

For some founders, that moment comes and goes often. For others, that moment comes often but lingers. Desrosiers admits that there have been times when she has had intense breakdowns and has had to take a few days off. But, “I’m so persistent as a natural state,” she said she can’t see herself doing anything else.

“I think there are points when you should change, admit that it’s not working,” she pointed out. And when asked how a founder should make the difficult decision to call it quits, an emotional Desrosiers simply said, “put yourself first.”

“We keep telling these stories about entrepreneurs who skyrocket to riches,” the founder said. “But how about those entrepreneurs who build wealth – wealth in health, emotions, life, and money?”

Desrosiers reminds entrepreneurs that “if you’ve gotten far enough to launch a business, you are someone who has good instincts.”

Not everyone is willing to take the risk, to do the work.

“A lot of entrepreneurs sacrifice themselves and their safety. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for Abeego, and now, Abeego owes me.”

Abeego’s Gift for YOU

Receive a Free Dans le Sac Furoshiki Cloth with all Abeego orders $65+ this holiday season.

Shop Now

The Art of Networking

Written by: Dani Kagan

Recently, I hosted a 20-minute IG Live on one of my absolute favourite topics: Networking. It is literally the essence of my career, why I am able to grow businesses, and how I get ahead. The feedback I received from the talk was so positive that I thought I’d turn it into an easy to read blog post for those friendly reminders and nudges (that we all need) to push your networking even further!

Tip # 1 – Attend networking events

There is a whole new world out there full of virtual networking events. You can literally sit in your underwear, look presentable from the waist up, and meet a plethora of great new people. Even if you only meet a handful of new people, that’s a handful of people who have now heard about you and your company that didn’t know anything about it before. Set your expectations low, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how even just one great extra contact per week could grow your business. 

Shameless selfless plug: City MOGULS hosts a wicked speed networking happy hour at the end of every month at 5pm EST. Think speed dating online but instead of meeting a potential partner, you meet tons of like-minded people who can hire you, collaborate with you, and so much more. (It’s the price of a cheap cocktail, and free if you’re a member… just click here). But seriously – attend a networking event at least once or twice a month. 

Tip #2 – Have a concise pitch

For entrepreneurs it can be difficult to sum up what you do in 2 sentences. We love talking about past projects, what we currently do, what’s coming up next, etc. But when you are meeting someone for the first time, the goal is to hook them right off the bat. You can’t ramble on for 5 minutes – you will have lost engagement. Make sure that your initial answer to “what do you do”, grabs their attention, is very clear and punchy, and would lead to that person being more intrigued to what you do. Be confident in your pitch… it could lead you to great places.

Tip #3 – Listen

I remember reading an article that left a lasting impression on me with this rule of thumb: when meeting someone for the first time, make sure the other person is talking about 80% of the time, and you’re talking 20% of the time. Sounds a bit crazy but it WORKS! I’ve stopped talking as much and listening more and noticed a clear shift in the future interactions with that person. Clearly, people LOVE talking about themselves. So let them.

Tip #4 – Tracking tools 

Use tracking tools to manage your contact list. Back in the day people had a physical rolodex. The digital version is a tool like Asana, Airtable. Keeping track of your network and leads is where a lot of people miss out. We forget about contacts, they get lost in our inbox, texts, etc. Having a tracking tool gives you accountability to your potential customers and clients.

Tip #5 – It’s a marathon

Converting clients is a long term game. This tip is simply to change your perspective. If your mindset is to walk into every meeting, every interaction, every conversation to get something out of it, you’re going to lose. Go in with a mindset that you simply get to connect and meet someone new. Don’t set expectations.

Tip #6 – Bug people and personalize messages

Check in with potential clients and stakeholders often. Stay top of mind. Don’t be shy to follow up with people a few times. I find asking people good questions and personalizing emails is also crucial. Instead of the usual “I’d love to catch up.” Look at their social media, see what they have been up to recently and personalize your opening. For example: “I read your latest blog post! What you said about X really resonated with me” or “I saw you just launched X new product! Congrats!” or “I just noticed that we have a mutual connection: X person, such a small world. How do you know them?” These types of openers really incentivize people to respond faster.

Tip #7 – Book meetings with the right people

A great tool that me and my team use is Calendly – my biz partner Victoria Marshman introduced me to this and it’s a game changer! You can have others book meetings easily with you based on your calendar. It’s brilliant. The second part of this tip is understand if this person is someone that is in your target demo who you would give up time in your precious day to talk to. You can’t book meetings with absolutely everyone… it’s impossible. Do a proper check on someone either on Linkedin, Facebook, IG or all of them and make sure you think that this person is worth your time. It’s challenging sometimes to determine, but at least you can say you did your due diligence before giving up a half hour of your time (or more).

Tip #8 – Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for favours or freebies when you are building your network. People are more willing to help than you think. It’s also a great way to make others feel valuable. It can be something as simple as: “I love how you have built your brand and I’d love 10 minutes of your time to ask you more about it”.

Tip #9 – Show up, look the part

We are going to be attending virtual events not just for the next little while, but for many years to come (lots of great pro’s here). Make sure your name is correctly spelled (sounds easy but people tend to forget) and join meetings on time. It’s important to stay punctual even if you aren’t in person. As well, from the waist down do literally whatever you want, but from the waist up, it’s important to look presentable. We are all visual beings, when you look and dress the part, you not only exude confidence to others, but you exude confidence within yourself which is an attractive and trustworthy quality. Finally, if you are speaking, make “eye contact”. Meaning, look directly into your camera. Feels weird, I know, but it allows you to make others feel like you are talking to them instead of looking at your screen.  

Tip #10 – Be confident, be you 

At the end of the day – this all comes down to confidence & being yourself and here’s why. When you feel confident with not only what you do, but who you are, it shows. And people are drawn to confidence. And this ties back into what I was saying earlier about the “likeability” factor. When someone likes you as a person, they are more likely to purchase what you are selling. So make sure your personal brand is strong, and that you are your most genuine self.

Good luck on your next networking adventure and I hope these tips helped!

To watch this live head to our @CityMOGULS IGTV.

Want to set up a virtual coffee with me? Book now.

Happy Networking to you all!

– Dani Kagan  

Where there’s a will, there’s a way

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

Tell stories of strength, growth, and resilience. Inspire readers by asking founders the hard questions and creating “a-ha” moments and conversations within the CM community.

Willful – https://willful.co/ – create a legal will online.

Erin Bury, CEO and Co-Founder

It’s difficult to determine exactly how COVID-19 has impacted the Canadian economy. With Canada’s unemployment rate reaching a record 13.7% in May, and with one in seven small businesses at risk of going under, it’s hard to imagine any business owner trying to set any milestone other than ‘survive’.

Online estate planning startup Willful entered the pandemic like most businesses, prepared for the worst but hopeful for the best.

But unlike most businesses entering the pandemic, Willful experienced a 500% spike in demand for its product, and shortly after COVID-19 shut down the economy this Spring, the Toronto-based company raised $1 million to grow its business.

Erin Bury, CEO and Co-Founder of Willful, admits that fundraising in the middle of a global pandemic was “a bit of a roller coaster.” The company signed a term sheet (a document outlining the terms of an investment between an investor and a startup) at the end of February, but by the time COVID-19 hit hard in March, several investors had pulled out of the deal.

Although it took some time to convince investors that “death-tech” is recession proof, Bury said the moment she knew the business would be OK was a few days after the pandemic hit, when she saw sales and traffic go through the roof.

“Unfortunately, it [the pandemic] caused a lot of fear and anxiety and caused people to think ‘oh my God, I need to get my will in order,’” Bury explained. Willful officially closed their seed financing in June.

So, what exactly is “death-tech”?

Willful’s story starts like most startups, from a personal need that can’t be fulfilled by anything out in the market.

In 2012, Willful’s Co-Founder and Bury’s husband, Kevin Oulds, experienced a family death that changed his life forever. In the months that followed Oulds’ uncle’s death, Bury recalls how difficult it was for the family to make decisions during a really tough time. The inevitability and unpredictability of death led to the birth of Willful in 2017.

Willful is an estate planning platform that aims to make it easier to plan for the end of life and aims to destigmatize that conversation with Canadian families.

“Estate planning hasn’t changed in decades,” said Bury. “We’re disrupting the status quo by moving the process online and making it more accessible to people regardless of their location, income, and ability.”

Since joining the company in 2019, Bury has led Willful’s expansion into multiple provinces across Canada, and recently helped launch a petition to allow for digital signing and storing of wills (yes, that’s all still paper-based).

But Bury didn’t grow up wanting to become an entrepreneur. In fact, she wanted to climb the corporate ladder and dreamed of becoming a marketing executive at a fortune 500 company.

The “Sliding Doors” moment

After graduating with a journalism degree and working briefly as an entry level employee at a PR agency, Bury was recruited by a woman entrepreneur and left with a tough choice; she could continue to work hard and get promoted in her current role, or she could take a risk and leave a comfortable job to work at a startup.

“We were at the height of a recession and it was actually a really tough decision.” Bury remembers thinking, “you aren’t good enough, you can’t do this; what are you doing leaving a stable job?”

Bury credits her Mom for pushing her to take the role at Sprouter, a Toronto-based startup that was eventually acquired by Postmedia. Bury worked as the company’s Director of Content and Communications.

The experience led her to an executive role at a communications agency called Eighty Eight, where she worked for six years. Today, Bury is an entrepreneur, speaker, and startup investor and advisor.

No regrets

Another “Sliding Doors” moment happened when Bury left her role at Eighty Eight in 2019. At the time, her husband, Oulds, was in the early stages of building Willful and was largely managing the company on his own. When he asked Bury to join him, she told him she’d only join as the CEO.

Today, as the CEO, Bury says she has no regrets. She loves her job and says Oulds, along with the rest of the Willful team, keep her balanced and positive. When the pandemic hit, Bury says the company’s executive team gave them the foundation to keep building.

“When I was working at a PR agency, they used to say, ‘it’s PR, not ER’,” Bury explained. “I take that with me now. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

That resilience is what helped the Willful team stay focused even after months of pitching to investors, hundreds of “nos”, and a signed term sheet that ultimately fell through because of the global pandemic.

Bury remembers VCs (Venture Capitalists) saying that Willful isn’t sexy enough, not global enough, too ‘direct-to-consumer’. But the team kept chipping away. They started with an angel round of about $100K, then raised another round with Shopify executives in their network, before meeting investors at startup accelerator FounderFuel who ultimately led their most recent $1 million round.

Bury recognizes that she is privileged to even have Shopify executives in her network, but when it came down to it, it was Willful’s bump in sales that convinced investors to hand over their money in the middle of a global pandemic.

Don’t follow the lead

Although raising money was the right path for Willful, Bury says the biggest myth in the startup community is that everyone should go through the same round of funding. “There are so many great companies that just bootstrap. Business success is as much about what you don’t do as it is what you do,” Bury said.

“Part of the reason we wanted to raise money was for the experience of it,” Bury explained.

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

At home, Bury was able to garner support from Tactico, a Montreal-based VC firm that makes investments through targeted special purpose vehicles. Willful’s latest seed round was also supported by York Angels and Real Ventures.

For startups that do decide to raise money, Bury says the most important thing to understand is your cap table. “Know how much you own and how much you will give away,” Bury advises. “The average founder only owns 7% of their company once they sell. Map this out from the beginning.”

Also, Bury says, “read the book ‘Venture Deals’ by Brad Feld. It’s the bible for startup raising.”

Planning ahead

These days, Bury and the Willful team are planning ahead by “looking at ourselves as consumers and asking, ‘what do we need?’”

At a time when it’s hard to predict whether it’s even safe to go into an office, building resilience is key to maintaining a positive attitude, especially at work.

Whenever someone on her team is having a bad day, Bury reminds them that “the only way through is through. Exercise is the best reminder of that – when I go for a run away from my house, I know I have to turn around to get back. Just put one foot in front of the other and things will work themselves out.”

ThinkHatch helps startups strategize and execute effective business plans. We THINK about the plan and HATCH the ideas. Learn more.

4 Cost Effective Marketing Ideas for Startups

Written by: Roshni Wijayasinha

Budgets can be lean at a start-up but that doesn’t mean that smart strategies can’t help smaller companies punch above their weight. By leveraging imagination and hard work, Marketing can be accessible to companies of all sizes, even those with modest (or non-existent) budgets. I meet many companies that feel handcuffed by their budgets, but with tight constraints can come creative ideas that can be even more effective than traditional “big budget” marketing.

Here are some strategies I’ve tried to get you started:

Leverage your network

Do you have any business partners that have complimentary offerings that you can cross promote / sell together? With similar customer bases, you can both pool your resources for a bigger campaign and wider distribution. Leverage your mentors, advisors, shareholders, incubator and / or co-working space to promote you to the other companies they work with and see if there are opportunities for synergies or cross-selling. Do your employees (or friends) have skills or hobbies that could be helpful to the business, like social media or graphic design? Finally, have your various stakeholders share your content with their friends and family – or better yet, start a referral program. In fact, “People are 4 times more likely to buy when referred by a friend” according to Nielsen.

Create multi-purpose, shareable content

From infographics, to quotes, to contests, to useful tips and even drives for social causes, creating content that can be used across many different channels and that appeals to your target audiences can be great to not only get customers’ attention, but also establish your brand and improve recognition even with a lean budget, by not spreading your message too thin. To begin, create a content strategy that addresses your messaging, and how you want to tell your story through creative assets and their distribution plan (across various channels like social, your website, or Google ads). Make sure to include “Share” buttons where ever possible to remind people to spread the word, leveraging the power of their networks as just mentioned.

Email Marketing

If you have a list of people who have already expressed some sort of interest in your company, products or services, consider emailing them, providing they’ve provided their explicit or implicit consent properly according to CASL rules – Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (learn more about them here. These are warm leads you can access without incremental costs of acquisition. Selling more to your existing customer base through email can also increase your customers’ lifetime value without spending. Think about what data you have on your customers’ preferences and behaviours so you can send personalized offers to them at the right time in their buying process for improved conversion rates.

Optimize your Marketing team

Consider an intern to help heavy lifting on tasks like social media, partner outreach and customer feedback. Outsourcing certain activities can also help reduce costs, in fact 59% of businesses surveyed in a Deloitte study cited reducing or controlling costs as their top reason to outsource. Leveraging in-house generalists and supplementing with external experts can greatly reduce your Marketing overheads. There are many different types of Marketing partners that help you start out without having to pay the full cost of hiring a full time Marketer – for example, Fractional CMOs, PR companies and Digital or Social Media freelancers.

There are so many more ways that you can optimize your budget for maximum results. If you’re looking to brainstorm, want to discuss your Marketing Strategy, or are looking for a Fractional Marketing CMO, my team at Prosh Marketing would love to help – we’re offering City MOGULS Members a free 1 Hour consultation with one of our Marketing Strategists. To book your session, email us and mention you’re a member here.

Roshni Wijayasinha is a Marketing leader with 15 years of experience, having launched over 50 products and brands in over markets worldwide, and helped companies attain 9 investment rounds. She started her career working on top consumer brands on the agency side, and has built her reputation by bringing creativity and strategic insights to leading global technology companies such as Microsoft, Sony & Kobo. Most recently, she has built out Marketing teams and brands at technology leaders like Juice Mobile, Thinking Capital, Benecaid and Foxquilt, and has founded Prosh Marketing, a Marketing Consulting agency that specializes in Strategy, Planning and Communications for SMBs and Start-ups.

X