Entrepreneurship is a gladiator’s endeavour: between the epic quests for financing, endless nights and weekends, and heart-pumping races to customer’s hearts (and wallets), building a business is a constant battle to outsmart and, ideally, outlast the other guy.
That desire for success is certainly reflected in the revenues displayed on our 2019 ranking of Canada’s fastest-growing companies—in fact, this year’s Growth 500 marks the first time in just over three decades that every single firm surpassed five-year growth levels of 100 per cent. For its part, Article—the Vancouver-based direct-to-consumer biz specializing in modern and Scandinavian-inspired furniture—ranks No. 1 for the second year in a row, this time boasting a more-than-enviable five-year growth rate of 24,182 per cent.
Technically speaking, there can only be one victor, but those within the ranks of the Growth 500 have demonstrated that there is more than one way to define the word “win.” Sometimes, success is tantamount to exceeding your own personal best: a sizeable portion of the 2019 Growth 500 companies are returning contenders, many of which surpassed their own five-year growth rates from rankings past.
Revenues aside, many of the stories featured in this issue center less on cribbing from the competition than leveraging one’s own entrepreneurial instincts to carve out an entirely new path. Take Cluep (2019 Growth 500: No. 5), a Toronto-based operation with revolutionary, EQ-equipped artificial intelligence that is poised to overhaul how some big-name brands, like McDonalds and Mercedes, approach digital marketing. Or Diva International (2019 Growth 500: No. 272), which blasted through myriad cross-cultural taboos about menstrual health—and the skepticism of myriad male North American retail buyers—to reap some very lucrative benefits. That same ingenuity is on display in this year’s Startup 50 ranking: Exzell Pharma, 2019’s top firm, made its mark in the crowded pharmaceutical market by doubling down on a lesser-known GI product based on the expert recommendation of its physician founder. It’s nice to shoot for being the best, but these firms make an air-tight case for aiming at being the only.
If any group loves a success story more than the business community, I’ll eat my hat. In any case, here’s a pivot: much of this year’s inspiring Growth 500 content is actually steeped in failure—an experience that isn’t altogether uncommon, particularly in the nascent years of many Canadian small businesses. Glacier (2019 Growth 500: No. 42), an educational marketing company hailing from Calgary, tells us how they bounced back from a no-good, terrible month, during which they experienced a nearly catastrophic 100 per cent staff turnover. Other firms divulge their reliance on consultants, or their struggles to attract talent, stay ahead of industry trends and achieve the mirage that is work-life balance—all experiences that no business owner hopes to replicate, but can nevertheless learn from.
It’s exactly that do-it-yourself approach to resilience that is common to all of our Growth 500 and Startup 50 firms. Not only is it a key to prosperity, but it’s also an asset that undoubtedly helps them as they leave their own indelible mark on Canada’s economy. Competition is an integral part of the marketplace, but without creativity, there wouldn’t be a marketplace at all.