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Part 5 - Founders: Get Inspired with the Wisdom of Founders

Previously, we shared how we’re changing the Vancouver Startup Week events calendar this year. To help our attendees discover the events they want to participate in, we’re organizing our events calendar into five tracks: fundraising, founders, growth, technology, and networking.

In addition to organizing our event calendar under these themes, we wanted to share insights from some of Vancouver’s top experts to help our fantastic community learn more about how to fundraise and become an effective investor, how to start their own companies, how to grow and market their companies, what they should do when developing new technology, and more.

In Part Five, we speak to four successful founders and hear their thoughts on what it takes to surpass the obstacles every entrepreneur will face and the advice they wish they heard when they were first starting.

We interviewed these local founders:

  • Stephanie Sang, CEO of Granted Consulting
  • Jeff Sinclair, CEO of Eventbase
  • Tanessa Shears, Owner of TanessaFit Personal Training
  • Ian MacKinnon, Co-founder + CTO of Later

Looking back with the knowledge you have now, what would you have changed in the process of creating your company?

Stephanie Sang, CEO of Granted Consulting: I would have started building partnerships sooner, there are so many complimentary businesses out there, why not leverage that because the market is big enough for all of us to be successful collectively.

Jeff Sinclair, CEO of Eventbase: I’d like to say I would not change a thing, but there are definitely mistakes we made that I’d love to have avoided. For instance, when we first took on investment there was a lot of excitement to ramp sales and marketing. We would have had more sustained growth if we had invested more in scaling our processes and products first.

Tanessa Shears, Owner of TanessaFit Personal Training: I wish I knew that you can create a 6 figure company without a fancy website, business cards or professionally designed logo. None of these things directly created business, income or clients and took my time away from the three things my coach taught me to do to generate income: 1. Go out and meet people (online or in-person), 2. Tell them what you do, 3. Make offers to help them.

So many new entrepreneurs spend way too much time creating the perfect web design with the perfect colours (I'm guilty of that!) and never telling anyone they are in business! People need to know you can help them and spending 3 weeks building a website doesn't get you there - do this AFTER you've got your business off the ground.

Ian MacKinnon, Co-founder + CTO of Later: I would have committed to it much sooner. We had a couple of projects in play when Later was starting to take off and it needed our sole focus much earlier than it was given.

As your business has changed and shifted, what would you say has been the biggest challenge? How have you and your team overcome that adversity?

Stephanie Sang: Creating processes. You get busy running your business and your brain just wants to execute on the revenue activities. To stop and write out how you did something so someone else can replicate the same results is a challenge. Solution: Change that habit, one step at a time, one process at a time. Not everything needs a process. Set boundaries for what needs to stay within the lines and let team members be agile or ‘colour on’ (not outside of) those boundaries if necessary

Jeff Sinclair: Scaling is hard. Beyond the internal pressures related to handling the increased load, there have also been external pressures from competitors who raised a lot of money and were prepared to buy market share. We decided to compete by going upmarket with our product when almost everyone else competed on price, and most of them are not around anymore.

Tanessa Shears: The biggest challenge has been learning the lesson that you must ALWAYS be filling the funnel. When I reached full capacity with my coaching business in 2014, I was so excited to serve my clients that I forgot to keep marketing and filling the funnel for new clients/business to come in. The mistake I made was working diligently with so many clients only to have them finish their coaching and I had no clients waiting to come in. This caused highs and lows in my business income, which came with a fair amount of stress as I built back up each time.

What did I learn? Always fill the funnel, even when your business is operating at full capacity! Create a waitlist of dream clients who are dying to work with you.

Ian MacKinnon: The biggest challenge in growing a company is always going to be the people. Hiring fast, keeping a cohesive culture, and building the best team is a hard juggling act. Setting a culture early and letting it guide a lot of our tougher decisions has really made a difference.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you wish someone gave you as an entrepreneur-that you would now share with budding startup founders?

Stephanie Sang: Create balance, it is a choice. Don’t let your business drive your lifestyle. It’s not about becoming rich. It’s about impact and when you deliver something of value, you will benefit from your venture in many ways beyond the financials. Understand your accounting and ROI properly, don’t get sucked into ‘oooh, we’ve got money in the bank now, let’s spend it!’.

Jeff Sinclair:

  1. It’s going to be a rough ride. Read “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” and share it with your partner before you quit your day job. Remember, every company experiences at least 7 WFIO moments. There are going to be a lot of sacrifices and a lot of risk that will seem too much. Remain positive and keep showing up.

  2. You will likely not end up doing what you set out to do. You will have an idea of what you think your company will be but you have to be open to changing course. Eventbase started by producing apps for the Olympics and massive festivals before migrating to the more lucrative enterprise event space.

  3. Find a network outside the company. There is no course you can take that will help you prepare for founding a company so it’s important to find a network of people who do the same thing as you. Join a group like ACEtech or YPO so that you can learn from them and they can help you when you come across an obstacle you don’t know how to solve.

Tanessa Shears:

  1. Get coaching early on your beliefs and mindset around how to fail and fail without fear.

  2. Invest in your brain and your knowledge with your time and money so that you can use these skills to help you create more money and more time. Your brain is your most valuable asset.

  3. Be firm and clear with your expectations of clients so they respect your business and respect you as a professional.

Ian MacKinnon:

  1. It is way better to make a product a small number of people are deeply passionate about than a product a large number of people only care marginally about.

  2. There's a lot of money to be made in solving "first-world problems".

  3. Once your startup has some traction, raising venture money goes from "impossible" to merely "hard".

What kind of positive impact do you believe events like Vancouver Startup Week can have on local startups and entrepreneurs? What was the catalyst that made your company want to get involved?

Stephanie Sang: What a great network to build on! Build your tribe. Gain knowledge from them, from their mistakes/challenges, and you share your learnings. Hear how others did it; they were just like you, overcoming trials and tribulations in business.

Jeff Sinclair: At Eventbase, we’re big believers in events (of course) and in supporting the local tech industry. We want to help build Vancouver’s reputation as a global tech leader. By showcasing what tech companies in Vancouver are up to, hopefully, VSW can help all tech companies attract talent and investment.

Tanessa Shears: This is such a fun opportunity to learn from entrepreneurs who are just a couple of steps ahead of where you are right now. You can take their experiences and apply it to your own business to help avoid some of the potholes and growing pains of starting a new company.

I got involved because I remember exactly what it was like to start out - it feels very lonely and massive. Entrepreneurs spend so much time spinning out in confusion and overwhelmed instead of taking action, failing, learning and growing. My intention was to give entrepreneurs a slice of what it is like to experience entrepreneurship from a well-managed mind.

Ian MacKinnon: VSW is great for giving a sense of community to early-stage entrepreneurs and giving a kick to wantrepreneurs. Starting within Launch Academy, Later has always tried to be involved in the local startup community as it only exists because of it.