Just take a walk down a busy street and, whether it's people thumbing away on their BlackBerries or slowly punching keys on their cell phones, it's plainly obvious that text messaging has penetrated Canadian culture. The numbers confirm this: the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association reported Canadians sent more than 1.5 billion text messages in 2005. As with many success stories, Michael Carter recognized and capitalized on the potential text messaging presented in its early growth stages. In 2002, Carter and Norwegian Björn Heibenstron founded MyThum Interactive Inc., a media company that uses text messaging along with other interactive tools to power mobile strategies for clients. Today, MyThum is widely heralded as the Canadian mobile media leader and was recently named Company of the Year at the Canadian New Media Awards. The private company has launched more than 750 mobile initiatives for leading Canadian firms. It helped orchestrate Canada's first ever mobile ticketed concert for Molson Canadian and also powered Canadian Idol's text voting. Carter is regularly on the road working on expanding his creation but he took time off from his schedule to answer six questions.
• What is the greatest challenge currently facing MyThum and what are you doing about it?
We've had a very difficult time since our inception with recruiting. You don't have a great pool of resources that have been there, done that in our space so a lot of times you have to look at complimentary industries or you're looking more for skills than experience, which makes it challenging to find the right people for the right job. We've spent a lot more time focusing on our network to identify candidates and leverage references and relationships with people that are on our team. Ninety percent of our team has come from internal referrals. It gives you a lot more confidence when you're hiring a person if it's coming from someone you have a lot of trust and respect for. Perhaps we've been too careful in terms of our recruiting practices in not taking many chances but I also think it's what's made MyThum the company that it is today ? the success that we've had today has been entirely driven by the quality of our team.
• Who else ? person or company ? do you feel is doing innovative work and in what way?
I would have to say one of the individuals that has had a significant influence on the evolution of MyThum is Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. I rarely get excited about business books, but this one was quite memorable. It was one of the first books I have read that included so many practical and relevant tips to running and growing a business. Particularly at MyThum where we have experienced so much growth so quickly, it was great to see that we were already following some of the practices preached by Collins, but even more appealing were the ideas that we could integrate quickly in our efforts to take the company to the next level. It's one of those books worth reading a couple of times.
• How would you describe your leadership approach/style?
I'd say my style is leading by example. I struggle asking anyone to do anything in this company ? I don't care what your role is ? unless I'm prepared to do it myself. For example, finding balance between work and home ? I work a lot of hours but I'm also very conscious of wanting to be a part of my family's life. I hope that by people seeing me trying to be home for dinner most nights when I'm in town and having other extracurricular activities that are important to me, my staff feels comfortable taking advantage of the same options that are available to them, rather than thinking we're a sweatshop where they have to work 90 or 100 hours a week. If you get your work done, that's what's important to me, not how many hours you put in at the company. I hopefully demonstrate that with my own behaviour.
• You've had some great successes with major contracts in Canada. Are there any plans to expand into the U.S.?
We've really focused our efforts in the last three or four months on turning our sights south of the border. It's been amazing. I've been overwhelmed, not just by the momentum that we've created in such a short period of time but the response we're getting. We're a close neighbor but you just never know how organizations or people will react when you're not walking around saying, “Here's all the experience we have in the U.S.” But what I've found is the success we've had [in Canada] brings with it a ton of credibility when we're talking to companies in the U.S. The market there is absolutely a competitive space. It's getting more competitive every month. But it's also exceptionally fragmented, where a lot of different companies are dabbling in different elements of the space. So we're really confident and excited about what we bring to the table relative to the competitive landscape in the United States.
• With the recent string of problems with products from China, should Canada place tighter restrictions on Chinese imports?
I'm a big fan of the global economy. I'm not a fan of putting tighter restrictions on anything in that regard. I think the market will ultimately take care of itself when it comes to issues like that and it's just going to put more pressure on people to perform better. I think the more we can start to experience from the global economy the better it's going to be for everybody. Consumers are becoming more and more intelligent based on the information that's available to them through the wonders of technology. I think there are a lot of companies out there that will make mistakes but I don't think they're going to be given a ton of second chances just because of the options that are available, and that's what the global economy does for you.
• You've been heavily involved in television, signing big contracts with Canada's most popular shows. Do you prefer reality TV or traditional programming?
I'm a fan of almost every reality TV show out there. I just find I can relate to it more. A lot of the shows you look at you can see yourself participating in. I think that it adds a layer of entertainment and loyalty to a show when you feel like you're a part of it, versus being a passive audience, sitting on your carriage consuming it. What I've really enjoyed with MyThum is we can take a traditionally passive broadcast or medium and make it interactive, and that lends itself more to reality TV, game shows or live hosted shows for participation and interactivity. So anything that offers me the chance to interact I'm a far more engaged fan of than if you just want me to sit there and follow a story line.