Home

Lessons Learned

Today Ian Jessop and I talked about some of lessons I’ve learned through building, running and selling two of my businesses.

Click this link and fast forward to about 32 minutes and listen in: https://soundcloud.com/ian-jessop-cfax/march-2-2pm

Some of those key lessons include:

– focus on customer cash over all other sources of cash;

– let underperforming staff go more quickly, and;

– invest less of my own money and grow the business more from customer cash than equity.

We also talked about how entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone and there are good arguments for some to go the job route. Some of these include:

– paid education;

– being held accountable by your employer;

– being part of bigger game;

– forming meaningful relationships, and;

– having more disposable income.

Refer to this entrepreneur.com article for more insights: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/242951.

The Vancouver Sun is Vancouver’s daily newspaper and in its March 10th edition the paper ran an article titled, “Company says it will get you to a medical specialist faster—for a fee.” Essentially, an entrepreneur is charging clients a $95 fee to find a specialist who will see patients more quickly than the one referred by their family physician.

See the article here: http://tinyurl.com/cer5cc

While Timely Medical’s $95 fee might be well intentioned, it is not going to solve any problems. First off, specialists’ wait lists are already published on the web for all to see (go to http://www.health.gov.bc.ca/waitlist/# and search by procedure, pick a health authority or hospital and, voila, specialists’ names with their wait lists are published), so what value added service can Timely actually provide for its $95 fee? Second, the challenge in our system isn’t one of demand, which Timely’s business model would have us believe, but it is a problem of supply. Not that we don’t have enough specialists (necessarily), but that we don’t have enough operating time for them to do what they’re trained to do.

I’m interested in your thoughts on Canada’s (and BC’s) health care challenges and, most importantly, your ideas for solutions.

This post is on customer service because of an email I recently received from WestJet.  I’ve appended it  below.

<Begin WestJet message>

As a valued Guest, we would like to remind you that you currently have a credit which will expire on the date listed in the above subject line. 

You can use your credit to book a flight for yourself to visit friends and family, or you can surprise a friend or relative by transferring your credit to them. Please contact our Sales Super Centre in Calgary at 1-888-870-6258 prior to the expiry date if you’d like to use or transfer your credit. 

With over 45 North American and Caribbean destinations to choose from, planning your next trip has never been easier. Visit westjet.com for more details. Your credit can only be used to book flights and is not eligible to book packages with WestJet Vacations. 

If you have already used your credit, we thank you for choosing WestJet, and look forward to seeing you again soon!  

Bob Cummings, Executive Vice President

Guest Experience & Marketing 

<End WestJet message>

This is the second time WestJet has contacted me to remind me of credits I had forgotten.  Last time the company actually phoned me.  WestJet could have just let the credits expire and it would have been fully justified in doing so.  However, by being proactive, the company sends me the message that it cares about me as a guest and is looking out for my best interest.

WestJet “gets it”.  The company understands that customers matter.  It understands that the only rules that are important are those that help your customers come back over and over again.  It understands the big picture.  In this case, it “spent” $100 on my credit, but by doing so ensured that I will continue to be loyal to the company (and I fly back and forth between Prince George and Vancouver almost every week).

Conversely, Air Canada, WestJet’s main competitor in Canada, took the following approach when “retiring” some Aeroplan points from my father.

My father did a lot of domestic and international business travel when he was professionally active.  He often paid full fare for first or business class seats.  He had been loyal to Air Canada since the 1960’s – even when being pressured by colleagues to fly Canadian Airlines, WardAir (in the day) and WestJet.  Over time he accumulated a lot of Aeroplan points, so when he received a statement notifying him that a large portion of his points had been “retired” he was, naturally, surprised.  When inquiring with Aeroplan, they simply notified him that rules had been sent out to him and that, had he read them, he would have known that unused points are eventually retired. 

It was his fault for not reading the rules.  Aeroplan was right, no doubt.  But I too was at fault in respect of my credits with WestJet.  Both credits were sitting there on my account and I just had not used them.  But instead of letting my credits expire, in accordance with its rules, WestJet was proactive.  Air Canada’s Aeroplan was not.

WestJet’s approach has had the benefit of creating a collegial relationship with me.  Air Canada’s approach creates an adversarial relationship.  What I now find is that I give WestJet a lot of slack when it is running late, has equipment problems, makes errors etc. etc.  That is because I know the airline cares about me and looks out for me.  I do not afford Air Canada that latitude.

I do not blame Air Canada’s front line employees, but I do blame Air Canada’s management.  Management creates the culture and empowers its staff.  It does this by espousing a system of beliefs and by setting boundaries. 

It may sound a bit glib, but providing exceptional customer and guest experiences is not that hard provided that an organization has a clear system of beliefs (“without our guests we would not exist, therefore, we believe in making every experience with our company a positive one”) and easily understood boundaries (“we are never permitted to blame customers”). 

The system of beliefs should permeate the entire organization.  It is a feeling, it is a culture and, developed and deployed properly, becomes a non-negotiable for every member of a company’s team – from the CEO to the janitor. 

Setting boundaries and then letting your team operate anywhere within those boundaries permits creativity, entrepreneurship, empowerment and fleet footedness.  Let them loose to do what they think is right.  The CEO of the hospitality company I consulted to put it best when he said, “if it feels right then it probably is – so do it”.  He was able to provide this freedom in part because we had clearly defined boundaries and a terrific system of beliefs.

Here is to WestJet’s continued success and growth.  Let’s hope more companies are able to follow the example it sets.

“Let our advance worrying become advance thinking and planning.” – Sir Winston Churchill

For those of you who do not know me, I have started, managed and sold two start up businesses.  My first was a restaurant which grew to about $4 million in revenue, was profitable and employed about forty people.  My second business was a computer services firm which grew to $1.5 million in revenue and ten employees.

I sold my restaurant when I was 24 years old and felt like I had the “midas touch”.  It was successful out of the gates, was very popular in our community and grew beyond my expectations.  That first success had me convinced that I could do it again without much effort.  Boy was I wrong.  I made a ton of mistakes in my second business and paid for them. 

While I could probably fill many blog posts just listing my mistakes, I think my fundamental error was not developing a well thought out plan.  I am convinced that, had I put some thoughts on paper before starting my second business, it’s doubtful that I would have ever founded it.  This is not because it was a bad business, but more because it was the wrong business for me and what I wanted to accomplish. 

More on my second business in another post.

I often tell budding entrepreneurs that, knowing what I know today, I wouldn’t have invested in myself when I started the second business.  Instead of researching a market, identifying a problem, designing a solution, understanding how I was going to make money and assembling the right team I just “went for it”.  I’m convinced I did this because I had already been successful once, why not a second time?

Since selling the last business I have come full circle and am now a fervent believer in planning.  A business plan doesn’t need to be complex, it just needs to answer a few fundamental questions:

(1)    What is the problem?

(2)    What is your solution?

(3)    How are you going to make money?

(4)    Who are you?

I decided to post on this topic because of a recent email exchange with my sister-in-law.  For sometime now she has been convinced that an opportunity exists for her to develop a patient advocacy consulting practice.  I won’t butcher her business concept here, but suffice it so say that I agree with her (and have recent experience to bolster my point of view) and think she should do it.  But, I don’t think she should do it without a plan.

In our most recent exchange she wrote that she was, “at an absolute standstill.”  She thought it was because she didn’t know how to market the concept (although there are two physicians who have already agreed she has an interesting business in mind and one specialist has gone so far to offer to help market her business through his web presence).  But, in my view, she’s at a standstill because she hasn’t answered the four questions appended above.

She’s going to write the plan and I have offered to act as her sounding board.  The hardest part of planning is getting the first words on the paper, so much like she plans to be a patient advocate, I will be her “planning advocate.”  I will post on her progress here and hope to be able to announce the launch of her business in the not-too-distant future!

Enterprize 2009

January 21, 2009

Enterprize 2009

As some of you know, I am consulting to the University of British Columbia in the formation of a campus wide program in entrepreneurship.  It’s been eight years since I owned my own business, so while I can’t consider myself a current entrepreneur, I certainly have the bruises to prove that I am entrepreneurial (stay tuned for the results of my current business pursuit).

I’ll post on our program as it evolves over the course of the next several months, but in the interim let me plug a terrific group of UBC students who are putting together Canada’s premier student run business plan competition.

Enterprize Canada (www.enterprizecanada.org) is a Canadian national business plan competition that provides students from across this country an opportunity to have their business concepts and plans vetted, critiqued and submitted for all sorts of prizes and accolades.  I know one of the organizers (Boris Remes) and if his method of operating is any indication of the quality of this event it will be a incredible buffet of entrepreneurial excitement!

As I go through the process of forming UBC’s entrepreneurship program, I’m constantly invigorated by this university’s entrepreneurial talent.   Whether it’s the 2nd year Applied Science student who has a growing business and is struggling to decide whether to finish his degree, or the young alumna who is building the next great web 2.0 business – these young entrepreneurs are incredible.

If you’re a business person who wants a look at the next generation of business leaders, an investor looking for the next great thing, a mentor give something back to today’s young entrepreneurs or even an entrepreneur looking for mentorship, skills development, money or profile then check out this event.