Startup Advice From Successful Entrepreneurs

The PROFIT 500 CEOs share business-building tips relevant to both up-and-comers and seasoned entrepreneurs

Written by Staff

What does it take to build a high-growth company? Just ask some of the 2013 PROFIT 500 CEOs.

“Get to revenue quickly. Revenue is validation that your idea has value. Companies that take too long to get to revenue tend to fail.”—Steve Byrne, Thinkwrap Solutions (No. 176)

“If you want to have a family life, forget about it—you’re not made to be in business. Time, time, time—that’s the only thing that will bring success.”—François Poudrier, Fenomax (No. 234)

“Find a customer willing to fund your startup. It’s very risky to try to sell a solution to a theoretical problem. Get an actual customer to invest in your vision—not as an investor, but as a client.”—Ian Rae, CloudOps (No. 148)

Have a filter for the kind of business you will and won’t take. And be disciplined enough to put every client through it—no matter how much money someone dangles in front of you.”—Tracey Bochner, Paradigm Public Relations (No. 21)

“Everyone talks about passion. But passion isn’t that important when you wonder how you’ll make payroll. What you need is grit. When you hit the wall, you have to know you’ll push through it.” —Brad Pedersen, Tech 4 Kids (No. 174)

“Work within a range of industries that you know and like. I’m amazed by people who call themselves €˜serial entrepreneurs’ but start businesses in very different sectors. Focus!“—Don Pinchin, Pinchin Environmental (No. 479)

“It sounds really obvious, but work with your customers. Listen to them, develop things for them. Don’t just build a bunch of stuff and then figure out if there’s a market for it out there.”—Patrick Payne, Quick Mobile (No. 13)

“We bootstrapped this company, so we didn’t borrow. That was on purpose, because with my previous company, we wrote a business plan and raised $1.5 million. But when you do that, you spend way too much time selling your plan, as opposed to building your business; and way too much time accounting to your investors, as opposed to building your business. I avoid that now.”—Randall Litchfield, Inbox Marketer Corp. (No. 68)

“Figure out how much money you need, then double it, and try to raise more than that. And raise the money at the beginning—not when you need it two years in.” —Cody Slater, Blackline GPS (No. 73)

Cash is like food, and your company is a baby that needs all the food it can get. You can’t take your profits out in the first few years and expect your company to grow.”—Keith Pickard, Jakait Group (No. 331)

“Get way, way more money than you think you will need. Everything is always more than you think it will be.”—Eric Pateman, Edible Canada (No. 175)

“Don’t carry any debt at the very beginning. Debt is what’s going to kill you, so stay away from it.”—Marcel Vouriot, Tank Traders (No. 228)

“Just because you own a business doesn’t make you an entrepreneur. A lot of people find themselves running businesses out of circumstance, and they’re miserable. You’re not an entrepreneur because you started a business, but because it’s what you were born to do.”—Kevin Gauci, Optimus SBR (No. 118)


“Make sure you’re truly passionate about your business. As in marriage, you need to make sure you’re truly in love; otherwise, you won’t succeed.”—Albert Iannantuono, Tri-Media Integrated Marketing Technologies (No. 133)

“Success is based on three factors: You have to do something you’re good at, that you love, and that you can make money at. I doesn’t matter which business you decide to go into; lack of any one of these factors will typically be sufficient grounds for failure.”—Dan O’Toole, Phoenix Systems (No. 312)

“Know that you’re not going to sleep for the first two years.”—Lorna Vanderhaeghe, Lorna Vanderhaeghe Health Solutions (No. 35)

“Many businesses are started by tacticians; you become a florist because you really like flowers and are good at growing and presenting them. And many of these tacticians are good at the hands-on parts of the business but not good at being an executive. You should join a peer group, such as CEO MasterMind, TEC Canada or Young Presidents’ Organization, where you can network with other CEOs and learn to be a good CEO rather than a tactician.”—Stacey Cerniuk, Annex Consulting Group (No. 460)

“Spend time around other entrepreneurs through organizations like Entrepreneurs’ Organization or PROFIT’s past winners. Getting good advice from people who have actually done it helps tremendously, rather than trying to figure it all out on your own.”—John Nalli, People Store Staffing Solutions (No. 42)

“It is extremely important to partner with people who help complete your skill sets. It is a big mistake for entrepreneurs to launch with a few friends who all have the same capacities, such as three engineers or three salespeople.”—Didier Gombert, Objectif Lune (No. 450)

“Figure out your competitive advantage. I had a professor who said, €˜Be first, be better, be cheaper—or don’t bother.'”—Neil McDonnell, Wurldtech Security Technologies (No. 46)

“Know what your exit strategy is before you even start.”—Andrew Au, CWC Well Services (No. 351)

“Do not be distracted by easy-money opportunities. You get these young guys who see an opportunity and think, €˜Well, times are tough, so I’ll do it.’ That’s what ends up being the root cause of their failure later.”—John Vujicic, Viziya Corp. (No. 14)

“Don’t dilute your vision. A lot of people start a business and then say, €˜Oh, what about this opportunity or that opportunity?’ And they start to lose the focus on what got them into that business. If you’re selling handles, then get really, really, really good at selling handles. Don’t think that just because you sell handles, you can also sell doors. I did that, and I lost a ton of cash and had to go back to square one.”—Feras Elkhalil, WPCG (No. 355)

“There’s no way to learn how to do this other than to just jump into the pool. Most people think that being an entrepreneur and starting your own business is what everybody wants to do. But only about 5% actually take the plunge. And even out of that 5%, I’d say more than three-quarters say, €˜I’ll try it out for a year or two,’ and they have a Plan B. But when I jumped in, I had no Plan B. I said, €˜This is what I want to do, and I will make it work.’ I had no exit strategy, no plan B, nothing. That’s when you learn to swim.” —Vijay Thomas, Tangentia (No. 9)

“Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure makes us grow up.”—Yves Perron, Sourcevolution (No. 455)

“Prepare yourself for the storm. Everyone, from your family to your competitors, will take a run at you to instill doubt. You have to be passionate and believe in your business model.”—Gary Mauris, Dominion Lending Centres (No. 250)

“Spend the time to make sure you get the absolute right people—the right partners, the right employees—and really build your team. You’re going to come up against problems—every business does—and it’s the makeup of the people and how they deal with these problems that determines whether you’ll succeed.”—Stuart McNeill, Lions Bay Media (No. 121)

“If you have a great management team, they can help you double the company in size. But one day you’ll have to tell someone on that team, €˜Sorry, you’re not the right person from here on. We need someone with a different skill set.’ They’ll be crushed. But people can’t change their skill sets on a dime.”—Derek Bullen, S.I. Systems (No. 408)

“Whatever you’re thinking, think bigger. Don’t limit yourself.”—Keith McIntosh, PQA Testing (No. 418)

“Start with the idea of being big from the beginning, and then you can become a much bigger company faster.”—Perry Curiston, The Renovators of Canada (No. 195)

“My slogan is, €˜Use your head, trust your heart, go with your gut.’ Your head means you should have a plan and see a genuine market need. Your heart means you need to care about what you want to do, to drink your own Kool-Aid. And your gut means your instinct—what you know to be true on a really basic level.”—Tara Kelly, Splice Software (No. 59)

“No matter what company you’re starting, your No. 1 priority is sales. People are afraid of the negative connotations of being a salesperson, but without a disciplined plan to sell every day, nothing else matters. We have a saying: if you have 10 problems and one of them is a sales problem, you have one problem.”—Jon Pole, My Broadcasting (No. 232)

“I think that advice is highly overrated.”—Sally Daub, ViXS Systems (No. 469)

View the full PROFIT 500

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