"...be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life's a great balancing act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed!" - Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!
I pulled this quote from a bedtime story by Dr. Seuss because it inspired me to think about my own path, where I started, where I headed and where I am now. It's even more inspirational and profound, as I read it to my sons Liam and Aidan, both already behaving like born leaders. The story's message of dreaming big and believing in yourself is so simple yet relevant to all of us. As our next generation of young professionals graduate from high school or university, depending on where they are in life, they will find themselves standing at a crossroad wondering which way to go. The possibilities are seemingly endless as business and life have limitless potential for greatness.
Over the years, some people have come to me for professional insight over a coffee or a casual conversation. The question they posed was more often than not, "how did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?" My answer: "I just did."
I was always keeping busy in high school, taking part in almost every extracurricular activity, sports at a very high level and eventually starting my own promotions company for weekend events and Caribana. It was my first go at running my own business and I loved it, I loved the freedom to create, fail, succeed and learn and be 100 per cent responsible for it. In University, I started a personal training business to help pay for my tuition and it was then that I met dozens of influential business owners, lawyers, doctors, entertainers and dreamers. The hidden benefit to running this business was the opportunity to talk to leaders for hours about their lives, their hard work, their mistakes, the sacrifices associated with success and for some, the Internet's potential, which quickly became a passion for me. Somewhere along the way, it just clicked. Fast-forward to present and my career has taken me to Australia, Singapore, New York, California, Chicago and now home again to Toronto leading the growth of Canada's largest online shopping destination, SHOP.CA, and all before the age of 38.
My journey has taken me everywhere, but one thing is for certain -- I always found myself doing what I wanted to do and more importantly, what I needed to do to get where I am. So, for those of you who are inspired to be a business leader or an entrepreneur, I leave you with some food for thought:
(1) Take risks and don't be afraid to fail: Always remember that fortune favours the bold, so don't let the fear of failure keep you from realizing your dreams. Take every bump in the road as a learning opportunity. Steve Jobs is a great example of this. His career path took him from Apple to NeXT Computer and Pixar. Despite some near misses, he still found himself back at Apple with a creative vision that led the company into a revolution that would change the face of modern innovative technology for years to come.
(2) Network and build relationships: Whether you're still in school or well into an established career, networking and relationship building is the key to professional development. You never know how this relationship can affect your life down the road, so be careful not to burn your bridges. Take my mentors for example. They all started off as a business relationship and later turned into friendships and people that would have a profound effect on my work life. Old connections could turn into future business opportunities and new acquaintances could open the door to an untapped network.
(3) Don't do it alone: Success is so much more than just depending on your own brains, wit and savvy. It's also about knowing when to get some help. It takes more than a Prime Minister to run a country and the same goes for running a business. I have what I call my "dream team" at SHOP.CA -- a group of extremely smart and talented individuals who are all experts in their own fields. Every team member is considered a partner in the company. Without them, there would be no SHOP.CA and without their round-the-clock hard work, we wouldn't be the country's fastest growing Canadian online shopping website. So, find yourself a team you can trust, even if it's just a good friend who can lend an ear during the startup grind. You'll be better for it. Thanks Trevor Newell!
(4) Keep yourself in check: Stare at a Word document for too long and you run the risk of getting "too close" to the writing; you miss the obvious typos screaming at you from the page. Running a business is similar. Even though you're the boss and you technically answer to no one, it's always good to take a step back from time-to-time just to keep yourself in check. Look at it from someone else's perspective, or bounce ideas off of a coworker for a fresh point of view. You'll be glad you did.
(5) Be passionate: It's so important to love what you do. Nothing feels worse than waking up and dreading a day in the office, so if you're going to put it all on the line and start your own business, it better be something you're passionate about. To survive the grind and challenges ahead, you need to know that what you're pushing towards will be worth it in the end. I see SHOP.CA as the culmination of my life's work, something that I've been preparing for since the day I started thinking about business. Find this passion and success will follow.
If there's anything I've learned it's that there's no single recipe for success; it's a combination of luck, intuition, a network of support, and your own hard work.
To close, in the words of Dr. Seuss: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And you are the one who'll decide where to go."