I started my professional working life in January of 1997. Up until that point I’ve been going to school and did part time work and summer work at a local sawmill. Once I started into my first job, I always felt that I had more to offer and continually wanted to grow and improve (and prove) myself. This lead me through a quite linear path of rising from writing software to technical architecture, analysis and finally into senior leadership positions where I was running teams of software and hardware engineers, production and more.
Through all of this, I never quite felt satisfied with where I was. In the back of my mind there was always this missing part where I felt that if I held the reins I could do a great job all on my own. I needed to take a big risk to prove to myself that I could actually do it. At this point in January of 2010 I knew I needed to go full entrepreneur to make this happen. I started researching businesses for sale and contacted several of these businesses but I always found an issue with each one of them that once I evaluated the cost vs the benefit of a running business, none of them made sense. As part of my personal challenge (and because I love learning new things), I wanted to go into a line of work that I was not familiar with. The Edmonton franchise show was coming up, so I decided to drop in and see if anything stood out that could meet my goals.
There were a couple of franchise opportunities that were of interest. My constraints were that I did not want a retail style business, or food service. Ideally I wanted to do B2B style work as I thought it would be easier to control and build upon recurring work, unlike with direct consumers. Minuteman Press checked the boxes for me. I could set up my business to be B2B centric, I could add in services and products that I wanted to and their royalty structure did not penalize you if you did very well, encouraging growth. After a few months of back and forth I signed up.
It is not cheap to set up a print shop. I borrowed over 100k from BDC to get started, on top of the money I put in. I knew that early on I would struggle with turning a profit as I had no customers, only expenses. Training took place over 2 weeks in Long Island, NY. It was a good experience and gave fairly basic information on how to operate a business, equipment and sales. This was good initial information, but I knew that I would have to take big action to become successful in this model. I kept costs low by going with a small space, buying used equipment where I could, and leasing new equipment when it made sense. I made some good key decisions early on with the biggest was with my staff. I hired a Salesperson right away, which was against Minuteman Press recommendations. This proved to be an extremely good decision as it basically doubled my sales ability and brought in customers quickly. When you don’t have any customers, this is the only thing that matters.
I’ve seen a number of new businesses fail due to a lot of similar reasons. Spending too much money too soon is a big one as people tend to underestimate the amount of operating capital they require early on. Estimating a profitability window is another one. This is difficult as this could take months or years. You can be profitable one month and not the next. The key thing here is to be conservative with your capital and never assume one month will be as good (or bad) as the last in the early times of your company. The last one is perseverance. The first 2 years in my company was very hard. I worked long hours and was always chasing profitability, but I continued. Persevere through the rough times and your chances of success greatly improve. This is the biggest a lesson I learned by running my company that I continue to carry on today.
After that 2nd year, things were getting much better. I had a deep list of happy, recurring customers and continued to add them in. Every month was profitable and my debt was getting paid off. Things were great, we added new signage equipment (also against Minuteman Press recommendations) and had a brand new business unit that made even more money. Once my 3rd year was done and I had another doubling of my sales, the company was turning into “Operating Mode”. What does this mean? It means the growth curve was starting to flatten, and the problems I solved were becoming simple. The thrill of the startup was going away as I had staff doing the day to day and I was not as engaged as i was originally. I love the build, I love to solve problems, and operating a business was not as rewarding as building it. I decided I wanted to sell the business and move on. So about 10 months later it was done. We found a buyer that cared about the customer base I built and carried on with the company I loved so much. I did quite well with the sale and felt extremely gratified with the experience.
What did I learn?
- Planning and Perseverance are the most important things when starting up a new venture.
- Using lessons learned by others is good, but don’t be afraid to come up with new creative solutions.
- I love building things, it can be pretty much anything: software, vehicles, businesses, processes etc.
- I also love learning new things and putting them into practice.