Lessons learned

June 24, 2009

I have started two businesses, a large restaurant and a computer services firm.  The first was successful and the second wasn’t.  Both were tremendously challenging.

While I learned a lot from each business, most of what I learned came from my failed business.  Here’s a laundry list of those learnings:

  • Manage cash flow
  • Pick great people
  • The buck stops with me
  • Most people want to be led
  • Not everone wants to be an owner
  • It doesn’t need to be perfect
  • Negotiate well
  • There are dishonest people out there, my gut is right most of the time
  • Never know what will happen if you ask
  • Find effective and interested mentors
  • Do what you love and the money will follow
  • You can make money doing anything
  • Make a plan
  • Financial projections are just that, projections
  • Understand financial statements
  • Hire slowly, fire quickly
  • Competition is good
  • A day spent on competitive research is not a day wasted
  • Don’t lose focus on your own business
  • Being scared is okay
  • Hire a good accountant
  • Find a trusted advisor
  • Treat critical feedback as a gift
  • Persistence pays
  • An “A” team is more important than an “A” idea
  • Ideas are meaningless if you can’t execute
  • You don’t have to have a professional skill
  • Entrepreneurship is a lot of work….and a lot of fun
  • People are self interested
  • It is not that hard to be exceptional
  • Make raving fans out of your customers – they’ll sell you
  • Help your staff accomplish their personal and professional goals
  • Have wide open lines of communication
  • It’s okay to tell your team how the company is doing
  • Communicate early, often and honestly
  • It’s okay to ask for help

This list is only a very partial list.  Had I known some of these things before I started my second business, I’m convinced it would have been a successful company (in fact, had I known these things, particularly the “do what you love” piece, I would never have started my second company).

As I go through the process of finding my next opportunity, I keep these things top of mind.  In fact, I’ve turned down at least two business opportunities as a direct result of some of these learnings.  Now the trick is to make sure I don’t miss the “right” opportunity because of this learning!

George Bush was often maligned for his “I’m not interested in nation building” comment in the 2000 election. He couldn’t foresee the 9/11 attacks and, unfortunately for him, he had to deal with the aftermath.

In today’s Wall Street Journal Barack Obama is quoted as saying, “I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government”. This from a man who is presiding over one of the largest expansions in US government, including effecting a 60% equity position in what was once a bastion of American capitalism.

Many armchair quarterbacks accuse politicians of double speak, speaking out of two sides of their mouths and lying. I’m sure some politicians do lie, (one can find a liar in any profession). But in many cases, elected officials are doing what they think is right in the face new circumstances and data. This is reality. Bush’s reality was the 9/11 attacks and Obama’s reality, while predicted, is the very serious economic downturn.

For a variety of reasons, I don’t agree with much of Obama’s approach. I think my generation is going to be paying dearly for it during our peak earnings years and thereafter. Nonetheless, I express my admiration for both Bush and Obama for having to deal with exceptional circumstances facing their presidencies.

Here’s a link to the WSJ piece: http://tinyurl.com/n9psba

I am dumbfounded

June 15, 2009

In a recent Globe & Mail piece it was written that a group plans to approach government for public funds in support of a new mosque in BC’s northern community of Prince George. Cultural diversity is part of Canada’s fabric and I have no issue with the concept of building a mosque.

The issue I have is with a point made in the article that the case being made for public funding is supported, at least in part, on the basis that Prince George is losing professionals, such as surgeons, because of the absence of a mosque. The article goes on to indicate that the belief is that, if a mosque is built, Prince George will recruit and retain more surgeons. Special reference is made to a plastic surgeon who decided to move to Ontario and an orthopedic surgeon who chose the U.K. over Prince George. In both cases the article infers that this was strictly because Prince George didn’t have a mosque.

This is pure folly and shows how out of touch the policy makers are with what is really going on with recruitment and retention of surgeons in the Prince George community. Those of you who know me well also understand those issues well.

The matter of recruiting and, more importantly, retaining doctors in Prince George has about as much to do with a mosque as it does to do with the US government’s investment in General Motors.

If you’re interested, take a look at the article and draw your own conclusions. I have linked it below:


A bit of fun

June 12, 2009

Rebecca and I purchased a ten week old Wheaten Terrier puppy late last year.  Cobalt (dba “Coby”)  has been an excellent addition to our lives.  Yes, he’s a bit of work, particularly when he was less than six months old, but now that he’s into his groove it’s just great.

He sits, stays, shakes a paw, stays down and comes (most of time) when we call him.  We’re now working on keeping his attention when there are lots of distractions such as other dogs or people.

Now for the “bit of fun” part.  There’s an off leash dog park near our place in Vancouver where I try and take Coby to play at least once daily.  Generally speaking, he runs around for twenty or thirty minutes and burns off most of his pent up energy.  And, generally speaking, we get home with a clean dog and a clean Mark!  Not yesterday.

As evidenced in the photo below, Coby decided it would be a first rate idea to chase ducks through their swamp.  This translated into one puppy caked in thick goop.

One dirty Wheaten Terrier!

It also translated into a thirty minute bath!

Tax freedom day

June 5, 2009

Here in Canada we work for the government for more than five months out of every year.  The Fraser Institute, one of Canada’s leading think tanks, has long published “Tax Freedom Day” which tells us Canadians how long we have to work each year in order to satisfy our tax burden to various levels of governments. 

That day is tomorrow in Canada (nice that it’s Saturday).  To commemorate this, FI created the following video, check it out: