Take two extremely successful Canadian entrepreneurs, give them microphones and ask them to simply talk for an hour, and what do you get? A highlight of the 2014 PROFIT 500 CEO Summit, which took place in Toronto on June 16th.
In a keynote presentation, Bruce Croxon, the co-founder of LavaLife and Round13 Capital (and former Dragons’ Den star) took to the stage to interview Brian Scudamore, the founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, which just celebrated its 25th anniversary.
As befitting two people with as much experience as Croxon and Scudamore, the session was filled with great advice about building a successful company. Here are 10 of our favourite takeaways:(Photos: Arthur Mola)
1. Don’t get too hung up on formal education
Scudamore is one of many entrepreneurs to opt for the “school of life” approach to education; he dropped out of both high school and college before starting 1-800-GOT-JUNK in earnest. “It isn’t that I don’t value education,” he said. “But I always wanted to do things my own way.”
2. Know yourself (and your employees)
Too many entrepreneurs waste energy trying to change their employees (or, worse, themselves), according to Croxon: “People don’t fundamentally change past their teens. You are not going to make a non-team player a team player.”
3. Make the tough decisions (even when they almost kill you)
Scudamore’s toughest moment in 25 years running 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Letting his best friend and right-hand-man, Cameron Herold, go from the company. The two had built a formidable company, but they were too much alike, Scudamore said; to get the business to the next level, he needed a lieutenant whose skills complemented, but did not match, his own.
4. Go with your gut
Entrepreneurship is full of lots of decisions like the one referenced by Scudamore above. It can be very difficult to identify the right choice. Croxon has come to prioritize one factor above all others when making decisions: his gut instinct. If it feels unnatural, it’s probably the wrong call, he said: “I can trace all my biggest failures to prioritizing technological prowess over my core values.”
5. Never be too proud to ask for help
Running a business need not be a solitary pursuit. In fact, asking others for help can save a tremendous amount of time, in Scudamore’s view. “I have hundreds of advisors I turn to all the time,” he said. “I’m always looking for shorter ways to the answer.”
6. Know you’re not the only one struggling for funding
“Have the banks been good to you?” Croxon asked Scudamore. “No,” was the unequivocal reply. While the response drew a big laugh from the crowd, it spoke to a frustrating truth: regardless of size or success, it’s hard for businesses in Canada to get the money they need to grow.
7. Apply the “beer test” when hiring
1-800-GOT-JUNK’s corporate culture has been widely praised, and it all comes from bringing in great people. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his background, Scudamore doesn’t put a lot of stock in credentials when hiring. “We hire on attitude, train on skill,” he said. And how does he know whether someone will be the right fit? He simply asks himself “would I want to have a beer with this person?” after the interview. If the answer is yes, the candidate stands a much better shot of getting the gig.
8. And err on the side of keeping people happy
If you want to keep great employees, it’s valuable to anticipate their needs (and stay ahead of them), according to Scudamore. One example: his employees asked for four weeks of paid vacation per year. He agreed, and made it five weeks instead. There were no complaints.
9. Lose the inferiority complex
Contrary to popular belief, “we don’t have an innovation crisis in Canada,” said Croxon. “Canadian entrepreneurs can hold their own with anyone globally.” The problem, he added, is that Canadian entrepreneurs tend to be too cautious in bringing their innovations to market: “We need to take more risks.”
10. Take time to recharge
Scudamore and Croxon have both learned the value of taking time away from their businesses, but they go about it in very different ways. Scudamore’s focus is on leading a more balanced lifestyle, with better health and nutrition and regular email-free vacations (he even asks his assistant to change his password while he’s gone so he’s not tempted to check in). Croxon has a more extreme approach; he’ll work all-out for four years, then take an entire year off—no business allowed.
More from the 2014 PROFIT 500 CEO Summit:
- Golden Advice from Hayley Wickenheiser
- Meet the Elite Among the 2014 PROFIT 500
- 7 Business Lessons From an Iron Man
- The 2014 PROFIT 500 CEO Summit In Tweets