Society today loves to clamour around the multi-million dollar success of entrepreneurs, especially in technology. Look at FaceBook, LinkedIn and the countless other (currently) privately held companies like Twitter, GitHub, HootSuite and others who’ve pulled in tens of millions of dollars and made hundreds of millionaires often overnight.
I’m an entrepreneur.
Note that I didn’t say “successful” entrepreneur, and I certainly haven’t made millions of dollars (yet?), but entrepreneur nonetheless. Society is filled with people who are entrepreneurs that either don’t know it, or are afraid to admit it to themselves.
How do you know if you’re an entrepreneur? I suppose it’s different for everybody. I found out that I was an entrepreneur when I came to the realization that I’m not an ‘employee‘. I figured out that I wasn’t an employee sometime around 2002 when I realized that I couldn’t stomach getting paid $40-$60K/year while my employer was billing me out to clients at $100-$150/hour. I also can’t stand living on someone else’s 9am-5pm-cubicle-schedule.
Slaves (in Roman and Ottoman days) unlike today’s employees did not need to flatter their boss.
Nassim N. Taleb
For the past decade, my entrepreneurial tendencies have taken various routes. I started a consulting company with three co-workers back in 2002. We did a couple projects together but eventually all went our separate ways after which I took a job with an equity stake in a company where we built a client-server performance monitoring solution in Java. People took our solution pretty seriously (at one time we were in talks with E-Comm 911 who handle all the emergency service calls for all of metro Vancouver). That company eventually tanked given a lousy sales team and super shady CEO. When Carly and I moved to Singapore in 2005, a friend of mine came to stay with us for a couple months and we worked on building what was at the time an impressive piece of web-based process management software that never saw the light of day.
Following that I started a consulting company with a friend from Texas that we called Helium Syndicate, but the red-tape of trying to form a US company with a 50/50 Canadian partner left us giving up in despair. At that point I started Humandoing Ventures Inc., which is essentially a one-man consulting company with occasional contractors. Eventually I’ll write something about how I almost ended up switching careers to investing / finance in 2008 (but that’s a story for another time).
In 2009 I started a company with Kareem Mayan. We built a pretty impressive piece of online scheduling software for solo hair stylists, massage therapists and the like. We ran it for a couple years before deciding to shut it down because we found it was a difficult space to compete in, neither of us were very passionate about it, and it was going to be a slog to grow it to any meaningful amount of revenue.
All of these things, successes and failures alike (and there have been failures), have been phenomenal learning experiences that I could never get by sitting in a classroom at some university.
So what is an entrepreneur exactly? Let’s look at a couple definitions:
Entrepreneur: A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so.
And from wikipedia
An entrepreneur is an enterprising individual who builds capital through risk and/ or initiative.
So finally back to what this post is actually about: what about the hundreds of entrepreneurs in our midst who go completely unnoticed? How can we learn from them and appreciate them for the great things they contribute to our local economies in terms of jobs, innovation, creation, charity and countless other things. Even in a place as small as Vancouver, there are unsung entrepreneurs everywhere you turn your head – if you know where to look.
I’ve met dozens of them, these unsung entrepreneurs, and most of them are real people, happy to share their stories, lessons, wisdom and knowledge with anyone who would be bothered to ask.
When you walk into the world of “small scale food processors” in Vancouver, as Carly and I did with Kitchening & Co. early in 2011, there are entrepreneurs everywhere. We met Kathy Geiger who founded Fraser Valley Gourmet (they make Almond Butter Crunch – to die for candy) who was incredibly helpful to us in a dozen ways as we fumbled around this food business world that neither of us knew anything about. Or how about vending at markets and meeting people like Tina Bacon (best surname in the history of the universe) who owns The Pink Spatula and teaches cooking classes and makes high end marshmallows. Or freelance entrepreneurs like David Arias who did our rebranding. Can’t forget Saul Good who does amazing gift baskets with locally produced products for customers in the Lower Mainland and elsewhere. The likes of Daniela Belmondo who’s created her own high-end organic skin care line, also based in Vancouver. Then we have artists like Linzy Arnott whose artwork Carly still dreams about. Want to wear some of the most awesome t-shirts ever, targeted towards Canadian males – identity tees. If you like great soap, check out SoapTree Studio made in Whistler, BC. Like hot sauce? Oddball Organics is a small BC company in Quesnel that makes the best hot sauce I’ve ever eaten. How about tomatoes? My neighbour across the street is Ruben Houewling of Houwelings Tomatoes (a family owned and operated company). You can buy their tomatoes all over the place. How about Darryl Bueckert who quit his comfy job to build his career in photography and other areas, while also assisting his wife Jodi build her interior decorating business. Love cool little community shops with tons of character – Marche St. George. And I haven’t even started on some of the great restaurants around like Seasonal 56. If I spent another twenty minutes at this I could add another fifty people to this list.
My point being that these folks are all entrepreneurs in pursuit of their passions (maybe some of them don’t even know it), and they’re all real people. These people and hundreds like them contribute greatness to the ecosystem of the Lower Mainland and elsewhere, often without anyone thanking them or appreciating them for the risks they take or how hard they work trying to build something great. To any unsung entrepreneurs reading this: I appreciate you, and I’d love to help you succeed in building your business.
Who are your favourite unsung entrepreneurs? I’d love to know.