Wednesday, September 28, 2011
One of the reasons I love Dragons’ Den is because it’s so relatable.
If you’ve dabbled in entrepreneurship, you will see yourself reflected
in many of the stories that appear on screen. There were three great
business lessons in tonight’s show.
The proof is in the pudding
Raymond Lim has dedicated his life to preserving his father’s legacy. BKH Jerky makes Singapore-style beef jerky that they sell from their store in Vancouver. Singapore-style jerky doesn’t mean much to me. I’m not a big jerky connoisseur, and I’m not familiar with Singapore-style. Neither were the Dragons. But none of that mattered when Raymond pulled out the product for the Dragons to sample. Declaring it was the “best jerky” they had ever tasted, Raymond landed himself a deal to try and get his product into stores. The superior quality of the product spoke for itself.
A business without a plan is like driving without a road map
Mompreneur Jen Blaikie was up next with her line of naughty novelty products. A graphic designer by trade, Blaikie has a gift for coming up with cheeky adult-products. She had the Dragons in stitches with her ideas. But Blaikie has no revenue – and worse – no plan. She was unable to demonstrate that she’s thought about production, operations, sales and marketing. Clearly, she’s got some great ideas, but the Dragons bowed out when it became clear that, right now, that’s all she’s got.
"A product is not a company"
It wasn’t good news for Ramiro Ariza who presented his prototype for a lime slicing machine. He proposed that he had found a better way to deal with limes in bars. Instead of bartenders having to hand-slice limes, Ariza’s machine slices them automatically. Now, I have no idea if lime-slicing is a real problem in the restaurant industry or not. Regardless, Ariza entered the Den with a clunky prototype, no sales, and no way to distribute his machines. It was Kevin O'Leary who said, “I understand the product, but a product is not a company.” By focusing only on developing a prototype, that may or may not address a need in the market, all other aspects of business planning were neglected, and Ariza walked away empty-handed.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Regrettably, work and back-to-school have hindered my reality tv viewing – but I’m caught up now and loved the season opener of Dragons’ Den. I’d like to share some of the business lessons I learned from watching.
It doesn’t matter where you sell it – just sell it
I loved the first pitch. The ‘Chawel’ is multi-use beach towel that also acts as a change room, blanket and neck pillow. This is a practical, mass-produced product developed by someone who spent many years lifeguarding on beaches, watching sunbathers awkwardly get changed. When the Shopping Channel expressed an interest in the product, the Dragons’ ears perked up. For lots of us who develop products, I think we imagine selling our products on our own pretty web sites or on the shelves of beautiful boutiques. I liked the Chawel because it wasn’t glamorous, but the Dragons fully believed that they could sell an awful lot of them.
Are you the person to bring the product to market?
The pitch for the Thomas Compact Herbal First-Aid Kit was classic. The product, a natural, herbal first-aid kit is a really great idea, and, as the Dragons pointed out, totally ‘on-trend’ with current consumer demand. Unlike so many cases, the issue here wasn’t the product, it was the founder of the company, Becky Thomas. With her long hair and hippy-dippy vibe, the Dragons couldn’t imagine getting into business with her. The sweet spot of entrepreneurship is always an intersection of three things: a compelling idea, a strong market and your unique abilities. Even though this was a great product with a viable demand, the Dragons didn’t believe that Becky would be able to bring it to market.
The pitch from Diana Olsen, founder of Balzac’s coffee, was the highlight of the show. The presentation Diana delivered was fantastic: She was confident, but not arrogant; impressive, but realistic. She demonstrated what makes her business unique and she had a firm grasp of the numbers. No wonder the Dragons offered her a deal! I’m a huge fan of Balzac’s coffee in Toronto's Distillery District and the pitch Diana delivered was totally consistent with her coffee shop – unique and first-class.
It was a great start to the season. Can’t wait to see what next week’s episode holds.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Another year, another season of Dragons' Den – the Canadian business reality tv show. At one million-plus viewers each week, Dragons' Den is a smash hit. It’s back for Season 6, and I love it. Like, really love it. I love the self-made Dragons; I love the business owners from across Canada; I love the business ideas. And as a co-owner of Admiral Road for the past 10 years, I love the relatability of the stories. There are innovations, successes and colossal failures – just like anyone who runs a small business will experience.
This season I want to blog about the Dragons' Den episodes. As working women and self-employed moms, I really believe there is much to be learned from this show. Plus, with an all-Canadian cast, you’re sure to recognize some of the mompreneurs making their pitches. In seasons past we’ve seen Teach My, Momzelle, Tail Wags and My Smart Hands on the show, just to name a few.
I also have to admit, that I’ve got a thing going with the Dragons too. I’m kind of collecting them. Like trading cards. It started when Arlene Dickinson provided a quote to endorse Mom Inc. As single-mom-of-four who pulled herself out of poverty to become an entrepreneur and millionaire, how could you not be floored by what she has accomplished, but also the way in which she has accomplished it? We were thrilled to have her associated with Mom Inc.
Then there’s the infamous Kevin O’Leary with his Gordon Gekko “greed is good” mantra and unfailing ability to squash the dreams of burgeoning entrepreneurs. Even though we were shaking in our boots prior to an appearance on The Lang and O’Leary Exchange earlier this year, I must say, it was one of the highlights of our business lives. When Kevin O’Leary suggested that women who work end up with screwed up kids and Amanda Lang accused him of being a Caveman? Priceless!
I had a random encounter last year in Las Vegas when I bumped into Robert Herjavec at an outlet mall. When I introduced myself he was as affable as his tv persona would allow you to believe.
Surprise guest W. Brett Wilson was very fun to meet at the My Smart Hands Dragon’s Den party last year. He’s off the show now, but I’m loving his replacement, the newest Dragon, Bruce Croxon, co-founder of Lavalife.
Jim Treliving – I don’t think we travel in the same circles…but I look forward to meeting you too.
So I’ll see you all after the next episode. Can’t wait to chat about it with you,
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
We recently turned 40.
Once you get to know us you’ll learn that despite different backgrounds, our lives have followed a shockingly similar path. Same undergrad degree, same post-university experience abroad, same grad degree from which we were hired by the same firm. We could go on: Same hairdresser, same dentist. And last week, unbeknownst to us both, we bought the exact same pair of shoes. (They’re really cute.)
So we’re also the same age – three months apart to the day.
We’ve been thinking about 40 for a long time now. It’s not like it just popped up in Outlook unexpectedly. And what we thought about 40 was this: There were two ways to look at it:
a) bury your head under the covers and hope that it goes away or,
b) embrace it.
We both went for option b.
Why not? 40 is the new 30, right? It’s the new black. A state of mind. Knowing who you are (and who you’re not). Knowing who you’re married to (and who you’re not). And it’s all okay.
In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s really great.
We’ve been having an ongoing conversation for the past couple of years now about “things we’re too old to do.” (This list might also include being too old to wear a crop top, fight with our friends, or help someone move in exchange for pizza and beer.) This attitude must have started a few years ago when we had an important business meeting. Since we’ve been off the corporate path for a while now, and we’ve popped out five babies in just about as many years, our business wardrobes were/ are non-existent. Jeans and t-shirts are a pretty strict uniform at Admiral Road, so we couldn’t scrape a business suit together between us for this meeting. When we asked someone’s advice, she suggested that the company we were meeting was pretty formal and we should ante up. So what were we to do?
Rather than getting all wound up about what to wear, we put on our (best) jeans and headed to the meeting. We decided that we were too old to run around to buy an outfit just for this occasion. After all, we were representing ourselves – and jeans are where we’re at right now. (The meeting went very well, by the way.)
And that’s the upside of 40.
So how did we celebrate 40? With big, honking parties. Each of us, surrounded by our family and friends all wishing us well. We have a lot to be grateful for.
So here’s to the next decade: For all the things we’re too old to do and for all the things that life will throw at us, but that we’re now ready to handle.
What do you think about 40? Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Monday, September 12, 2011
We were talking to a mompreneur friend the other day and she let us know that her business is for sale. It got us thinking about how effective it can be to buy a business rather than starting one from scratch. Did you know that we bought our business? True story.
We were evaluating all of the possible business ideas we could think of and matching them up against our set of criteria. All arrows pointed to this little blanket business. To make a long story short, the creator of the company had lost interest and closed up shop. So we offered her a (very) few bucks and had a lawyer draw up a sale agreement. It was a fast way to get up and running. Not only did we buy the finished and unfinished inventory from the company, but we also bought supplier and customer lists and wealth of information from the previous owner. Not bad for a couple of bucks, right?
The odds of finding a great business as cheap as we did are probably pretty slim - but that doesn’t mean buying a business can’t be a great idea.
What’s great about buying a business?
You know there is a market for your product or service - that’s one part of the equation already solved for you.
You inherit customer and supplier relationships.
You have the benefit of cash flow from day one.
You leapfrog over all the learning of getting a business off the ground and can begin way ahead of a start-up.
On the downside...
Buying a business can be expensive. While you’d probably spend the equivalent to start a business from scratch, you wouldn’t have to come up with the money all at once.
It’s easy to get stuck in the rut of the previous owner - you can find yourself inheriting her inefficiencies.
Sometimes inheriting someone else’s relationships and reputation can be tricky.
A lot of factors need to align in order to find the right business to buy at the right time, but it’s certainly not impossible. Some will argue that no one would ever sell a great business, but this isn’t always the case. Especially in the case of mompreneurs, there are lots of reasons why a business owner might be ready to hand over the reins that have nothing to do with the current or future potential of the business. And you never know, you might be just the person to take a business to the next level.
Do you have any experience buying or selling a business? Please share any tips you have with us. And if you’ve got a chunk of change and are interested in hearing about a couple of opportunities we’ve learned about lately, please be in touch. We’d be happy to connect you.
Many moms would agree, back-to-school really is the most wonderful time of the year. Back to having the kids out of the house and back to routine. But since when did back-to-school mean putting a dent in my bank account?
A few weeks ago I found myself school supply shopping with my two school-aged daughters, lists in hand, just about ready to gouge my eyes out. The following is a partial list of the supplies required for my Grade 4 daughter:
2 erasers (white)
3 glue sticks
1 pair of scissors
1 pack of coloured pencils (16 maximum)
1 pack of thin markers (8 maximum)
1 pack of thick markers (8 maximum)
1 ruler (30 cm.)
1 4” protractor
1 pencil sharpener, which collects the shavings
1 pencil case (no towers with drawers please)
1 small calculator, for basic operations only
3 boxes tissues
2 plastic duo pocket folders (for homework)
4 pocket folders
5 lined notebooks
1 duotang with pockets (French)
2 graph notebooks (small squares)…
That’s about half the list. I simply can’t bear to share the rest of it with you. It’s too painful. And this list isn’t just specific – it’s expensive!
Now I recycle where I can. I love this article where Julie Cole talks about salvaging old school supplies. But I still wound up with my two kids in a big box store, working my way through this year’s school lists, and ended up about $100 poorer.
Now I learn that it doesn’t start and stop with the school supplies! An article in this week’s Globe and Mail talks about budgeting for ongoing school-related expenses like field trips, pizza days and musical instruments. Unlike the school supplies, now we need strategies to manage the expenses that are required of us right through the school year.
Since when did school get so darn expensive? And should it be?
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
When we were interviewing all of the amazing self-employed moms as a part of our research for Mom Inc a few things really stayed with us. Here’s one that stood out. According to Kathy Buckworth, author, spokesperson and all around funny mummy, mompreneurs should take the time to enter awards. When you step off the corporate career path you lose the valuable career feedback that comes with having an employer. As Kathy puts it, “As a mompreneur you only get feedback from your kids, and they always tell you that you suck! You have to get outside recognition and validation when you can. Enter contests—if you don’t win you’ll often get good feedback.”
SavvyMom Mom Entrepreneur of the Year Award - This is a huge deal in the mompreneur community. It’s easy to nominate yourself and then solicit votes from your clients and supporters. The best part? There are amazing prizes to be won, including cash and tons of consulting services, not to mention lots of publicity and bragging rights! This year’s contest is closing soon – so make sure you enter next year. But in the meantime, check out some of the current entrants and cast your vote!
Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Not only does nominating yourself for this prestigious award give you great experience, it can also provide some amazing networking opportunities at the receptions associated with the contest.
RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards - Nominations are taken in the spring for these very well respected awards – so get thinking about your own nomination now.
Don’t be daunted by throwing your hat into the ring. Even if you think you don’t stand a chance, odds are you’ll get a lot out of the application process. Putting your vision and accomplishments down on paper will be an excellent exercise and meeting smart people was never bad for anyone’s business! Now go on - we’re cheering for you!
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Amy here. As we all know, motherhood is a marathon. A sometimes unrelenting, gratitude-lacking marathon.
You keep at it: “Sit up straight.” "Sit down." “Say ‘thank you.’” “Say ‘please.’” But since you don’t always get positive feedback, it’s hard to know if the kids are getting it. Can they hear me? Is it all sinking in?
My daughter recently caught me reading a particularly grisly newspaper article. She asked me why the person in the story would behave so badly. Can I tell you what my response was to my eight-year-old?
“Do you know how hard it is to make someone into a good person?! Do you know how many hours of work it takes a mom or a dad to turn someone into a good person?! A lot. Like, thousands and thousands of hours of hard work. And what if someone doesn’t have a mom or a dad who will do all that work? What if they don’t have someone who can teach them right from wrong? Then maybe it will be hard for that person to grow up into a good person.”
On a related note, I recently took a cottage vacation with my family. Anyone who knows me knows that nature isn’t exactly my thing. I’m a city girl through and through. Nonetheless, we headed up north en famille for a few days of nature and relaxation. At the cottage there was an old canoe.
I had not been in a canoe for 25 years. I don’t think I would have ever been in a canoe at all had it not been for my mother. Having always been an urban girl, my mother felt compelled to do something about my distinct lack of rural knowledge. At some point, she insisted that I attend overnight summer camp. There I took my first canoe trip, swam in a lake and learned how to make a fire with a single match in the rain. And wouldn’t you know? Some of that knowledge must have stuck.
I spied that beat up cottage canoe and had an idea. I looked at my husband and three kids and said, “Let’s go for a paddle.” After one of my kids cried, and my husband sort-of joked that I was risking their lives, all of them agreed to get in the boat. And do you know what? I’ve still got it. I sterned that canoe like a freakin’ captain. It all came back to me like I was 15 years old again. My kids had a blast. My husband looked at me in a new light.
And I learned that some of that good stuff that my mom worked so hard to provide me really did stick. I can only hope the same will be true for my girls.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
This summer Admiral Road will host a summit. For only the second time in the history of the company we’ll invite some respected thinkers to meet with us and delve into complicated issues. There will be refreshments and laughs, but there will also be the need for diplomacy, tact and problem-solving. And hopefully we’ll walk away with some great conclusions and action plans. That’s right, this summer we’re having the husband summit.
Would you believe that only once before in the last 10 years have we formally asked for the input of our husbands? While our husbands know what’s generally going on in our business, we typically present our plans in a ‘in case you were wondering’ way rather than a ‘what would you think of?’ way. We know lots of entrepreneurial gals who have husbands who are de facto business partners to them. They rely on their guys to bounce ideas off and generally be another voice of reason. We’ve found though, that having a business partner means that very often your life partner is a lot less involved in the business. We’ve got each other to think things through – to discuss and debate and to work through problems and plans. If we get stumped we also have smart friends and mentors who are enormously helpful.
But every now and then we remember that we live with a couple of the smartest business people we know – and we’d be just crazy not to take advantage of their considerable brain power too. Who knows, if this husband summit goes well maybe we’ll make it an annual thing.
What about you? How much do you think your spouse should be involved in the business?
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
One of the main reasons that Danielle and I wanted to write Mom Inc. was to dispel some of the myths of mompreneurship. Despite what one might read in the media, mompreneurship is no walk in the park. Like any job, running your own company as a mom is work - plain and simple. And even though you may want to go into business for yourself in order to be available for your family, you’ll quickly figure out the challenges that this arrangement presents.
One of these challenges is that working on your business (i.e. making money) and spending time with your children are often mutually exclusive. You can take that vacation, but that means that not much will happen at work that week.
My family recently rented a cottage in northern Ontario. My husband is also self-employed, so vacations are hard to come by. The weather up north was amazing. Perfect summer days were spent splashing in the pool, canoeing in the lake and lolling in the grass. It was glorious. But not without guilt.
One of our mompreneur friends likes to say, “Motherhood is choice: the choice about what to feel most guilty about!” Now don’t get me wrong, I loved our cottage vacation. Time spent with the five of us and five of us alone is rare. But it’s hard to shut off the rest of life, isn’t it? It’s tough to sit and look at that glorious lake without thinking about the team in office back home.
Tough – but not impossible. Believe me, the food, the wine and sunny days helped a lot. That, and most importantly, the knowledge that I’ve got a supportive team back home taking care of business. In fact, if I didn’t have that team back home, I think it would be a lot harder to enjoy the break.
So thanks, Team. Thanks for subbing for me while I was away; for not hassling me with work issues that can wait until I get home; and for allowing me to enjoy a few blissful summer days by a lake with my family. I couldn’t have re-charged the batteries without you.
Do you work on your own? Who are the people on your ‘team’?
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
Danielle here. For most families summer is the happiest time of the year. The kids are out and happily engaged in summertime fun. It’s a bit more complicated at my house. Every year I struggle with balancing what my kids want with the needs of my business.
Here’s the deal: My son doesn’t like day camp. It’s not a particular camp that’s the problem – it’s the institution of camp. Just too much change, too much new for my little guy. He’d prefer to be home all summer. Endless days of doing not much from the comfort of home would be absolutely perfect for him.
The problem is that having my kids home all summer doesn’t work for me. For starters, my daughter would go nuts within about five minutes – no amount of change is too much for her. But beyond that, I’m usually swamped at work during the summer months. You’d think that the fleece blanket business would be pretty slow as the mercury rises. I used to think so too. Then I wondered why I was so busy all summer! A few years ago I figured out that summer is a very busy time at Admiral Road and that finding a childcare solution is key to getting it all done.
Herein lies the conundrum, along with a hearty dose of mommy guilt. To run my mompreneur business, I have to send my kid into a summer of discomfort. We call this the mompreneur paradox – starting a business to be available to your kids and then needing to pack them off so you can run it. Not once since we started camp have I avoided feeling like a bad mother and a horrible person.
So what do I do? Well we choose our camps carefully and asked for the kindest, gentlest counsellors. We do 60% of the summer at camp at 40% of the summer hanging out with the family. My son doesn’t exactly suffer in silence and summer never feels like the break I think it is for most people. But like anything in life as a mompreneur – it’s not perfect – we do our best to balance everyone’s needs and try not to be too hard on ourselves. And in our house, we breathe a little easier when September rolls around.
Have you experienced the mompreneur paradox? Tell us about it and how you cope with it.
Monday, July 25, 2011
f we’re going to blog on the subject of mixing entrepreneurship with motherhood we’re going to have to bring something up. The word. The ‘M’ word. Yes, that’s right – we’re just going to say it. Brace yourself.
Yes, we said it. Now that it’s out there, let’s talk about it.
We know lots and lots of people don’t like the word. They feel that it diminishes the considerable talents and accomplishments of the entrepreneurs in question. Many people have pointed out that we don’t feel the need to add ‘mom’ to doctor, lawyer, plumber, weaver, etc. To some, the term ‘mompreneur’ is anti-feminist, diminishing both the maternal and entrepreneurial roles we mean to celebrate. By using the term mompreneur, people argue, we conjure images of women dabbling in frivolous businesses – maybe even playing at being in business. Lots of entrepreneurial mothers don’t want to be lumped in with that crowd, they tell us.
Here’s the thing. We get it and respect that opinion. Of course we do. It’s not that these objections haven’t occurred to us. And we’re as feminist as they come, trust us. But despite all that, we like the word – we embrace the word. You see, we identified as mompreneurs before we’d even heard the word. We started our company, Admiral Road, as a rejection of the corporate world. Our intention was to work but still be available for the people we love. While we didn’t yet have children we hoped they would be in the picture before long.
The work/life balance that we wanted for ourselves and our families didn’t mesh with the crazy hours and intense stress of our corporate career paths. Neither did it work with the workload of a traditional Entrepreneur. (As we’ve pointed out in Mom Inc., we think 100 hours a week is about standard for most Entrepreneurs. We always maintained that if we wanted to work 100 hours a week we would have stayed on Bay Street for the big bucks.) We were looking for something in-between, where we could determine the right mix of work and motherhood, depending on the ages and stages of both our business and our children.
So for us, the term mompreneur is perfect. It aptly describes the middle ground we’ve chosen and doesn’t offend us in the least. And having met scores of incredible entrepreneurial mothers, we’ll take being lumped in with the lot of them any day. Any woman who is running a business, of any size or scope, while also raising her kids is a woman we salute. Across Canada women are charting their own paths and creating the lives that work for their families – whatever you call them – you’ve got to admire them.
Where do you stand on the M word? Love it or hate it
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
When it comes to the recent Canada Post strike, we have no interest in wading into federal politics or taking sides. We do, however, have some commentary on the strike that we didn’t see reflected in the mainstream media.
When the Canada Post strike was announced, a lot of the public sentiment fell into the “who cares?” camp. With the advent of email, who licks a stamp anymore? Furthermore, with an increasing number of Canadians paying their bills online, the process of mailing in a cheque is becoming obsolete. And for goodness sake, most of us didn’t miss the deluge of flyers in our mailboxes. These points all hold validity – and we’ll get back to them in a moment.
There was one article, however, that really seemed to miss the mark. A commentary piece in the Globe and Mail suggested that we were really losing out because the strike meant that we wouldn’t be able to receive thoughtful missives in the mail anymore. The suggestion was that an email in your inbox just isn’t the same as receiving a handwritten letter and that “no one is going to be clutching a bundle of tweets on their deathbed.”
Even though a lot of Canadians suggested that they weren’t affected by the Canada Post strike, we would beg to differ. Do you know how many people in Canada shop online? 18 million. And that number is only growing. So a postal system that’s not working means an awful lot of people not receiving their – potentially important – packages.
But do you know who was really impacted by the strike? We were. In fact, the strike hurt small business more than just about anybody. Canada Post operates the most comprehensive, cost effective mail service that we have. So, for better or for worse, we all need Canada Post – for our love letters, and so much more.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
Need help naming your baby? There's an app for that.
For just 99 cents, your child can have the opportunity you never had: Picking his or her own name. Kick to Pick randomly generates thousands of names, or let's you make a list of your favourites, then monitors your baby's movements to detect enthusism for the favourite.
According to the app's creator, Nathan Parks, "The idea for Kick to Pick came from a discussion about baby's choices and the fact they had no influence over the name they go onto keep for the rest of their lives."
So how does it work? Expectant moms need only lie down on their backs with their iPads/phones on their bellies and let junior do all the work (they do recommend switching to airplane mode first). The app moves through the list of names waiting for your baby to offer up an opinion. (If you don't like the suggestion, call it gas and try again.)
What do you think: Would you let your baby choose it's own name? Did you use any non-traditional methods to choose your child's name?
Thursday, November 4, 2010
We’ve found the old adage to be true: ask and you shall receive. We’ve got three tips on how you can implement this motto in your business starting right now.
Pursue networking opportunities
Be in touch with everyone you can if there is the slightest chance they can help you with your new venture. Who can help you with legal advice? Product development? New client referrals? Even if your network can’t help you out now, keep them in mind for down the road. You never know how your contacts might end up helping.
Seek out mentors
There’s a lot we stand to learn when we’re starting out in business for ourselves. The good news is that many people in business have gone through it before us. You just need to find a way to tap into their expertise. A mentor can be anyone whose opinion you trust, but your best bet is someone who works in a similar sector and is ahead of you on the learning curve. Go out there and ask people you admire for their advice – we’ll bet they’ll be flattered you asked.
Ask for better pricing
Whether you run a product or a service-based business, you can ALWAYS ask for better pricing. You’ll either get it or you won’t, but it doesn't hurt to ask! If at first you don’t succeed, you can always ask again down the road. Over time we’ve had our rates reduced on everything from fabric costs to credit card rates – but we had to ask.
You may be doing it all alone right now, but come out of your shell and ask for help. You simply never know what you’ll find.
Read more of Amy and Danielle's monthly business column at sweetmama.com