Few entrepreneurs can boast of having had a better role model as a kid than Chris Sukornyk. When his father, George, who co-founded the Harvey’s restaurant chain, held business meetings in the family’s home in Orangeville, Ont., Chris would hide behind the couch listening for scraps of wisdom. “My dad always said there are only three things that matter in business: sales, sales and sales,” smiles Sukornyk.
Yet, when he co-founded his own firm while still an undergrad, he decided to toss his father’s advice out the window. Instead, the younger Sukornyk bet big on an unproven idea—something he has done several times since.
His first venture—The X-Stream Network, a free Internet service provider he co-founded in the U.K. in 1998—puzzled his dad because it didn’t make conventional sales. But the son was convinced that one could build a valuable business by focusing on attracting a critical mass of users rather than on bringing money in the door. By 2000, X-Stream had become Britain’s third-largest ISP, with more than two million subscribers, and was sold for US$75 million.
Four startups later, Sukornyk took another big gamble with Chango Inc.—and it has led to another striking success. The firm’s two-year sales growth of 9,630% tops the 2013 PROFIT HOT 50 ranking of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies. Chango has become one of the world’s top players in an esoteric niche: crunching gargantuan volumes of data to help online marketers better target their ads. The firm services 85 of the top 500 online retailers and recently inked key partnerships with Facebook and Twitter.
As CEO, Sukornyk has built a growth star by making a bold bet on an unproven technology, then pushing hard to build on the resulting lead over his more cautious rivals. Sukornyk’s success offers some key lessons—including that when you “go with your gut” in a make-or-break decision, you shouldn’t actually rely on your gut alone.
All startups require a leap of faith. If you wait until the market proves things out, it will be far too late to build a business around it