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Launching a Start-up: a Leap Into the Unknown

29 November 2016 by National Bank
Man with a bagpack on the beach

For Reid Hoffman, starting a business is like “jumping off a cliff and building a plane on the way down”. The LinkedIn cofounder borrows the expression from the popular American science fiction author Ray Bradbury, who coined the phrase to help describe any project that demands that you overcome your fears to surpass your own limits.

The image of leaping into the unknown and building a plane in a crash situation is particularly useful for illustrating the swift action, confidence in one’s abilities and the ingenuity needed to succeed in business. Three local entrepreneurs attest to that...

Having faith when you’re starting from scratch

For Pierre-Alexandre Fournier, who launched Carré Technologies inc. in 2006, the quote makes him think of the first development phases of his own company.

“When you start from scratch, you don’t have a product, customers, contract or supplier,” he explains. The president of this company that makes wearable Hexoskin products explains “everything has to be in place and you have to believe in yourself before you run out of money.”

Time often works against start-up entrepreneurs. “When you invest in a product, it has to be profitable quickly. Timing is everything!” explains Mr. Fournier. But Hofstadter’s law is merciless: everything takes longer than expected. “Unexpected things come up and you end up working 80 hour weeks,” explains the Carré Technologies president, who, in the past had to deal with water leaks and fire on his premises, and inconsistent suppliers. “Once a supplier skipped a stage of production. Even if he didn’t charge us, he still ruined $30,000 worth of material. And we lost three months of work…”

The irresistible allure of the unknown

Luckily, there are also happy surprises along the path to becoming an entrepreneur. Like when the Super Bowl asks you to provide your management services to control the access to its VIP events. Tensions can run high when you only have two months to deliver your product. That’s exactly what happened to the team at Connect&Go. “It was almost impossible to finish in that timeframe,” recalls Dominic Gagnon, cofounder of Connect&Go which specializes in RFID solutions and wristbands. “We had six weeks to create a system with the security requirements that are standard for the United States.”

For the young businessman (who is now on his fifth business), he tackles each new project with enthusiasm. He and his associate Anthony Palermo are naturally inclined to throw themselves into the unknown. It’s even joked about at the office.

“We’re always so excited about new ideas that we agree to do them before knowing how to deliver the project,” Mr. Gagnon recalls while laughing.

He remembers the time that they announced that they landed a job for a big winter festival. “Our team reminded us that our technology didn’t work well in cold temperatures…but in the end everyone rolled up their sleeves and found a way to make the product winter-friendly.”

“The reality for entrepreneurs is that they have to deal with instability in their daily lives, that it’s never what they planned. That’s what so exciting!” His philosophy in life: the best plan is no plan.

A customizable plane

Rebuilding a plane that already took off for a long flight is what Mariève Paradis, cofounder of the online magazine Planète F, had to do when her associate pulled out of the project in January of 2016. “From January to June, Planète F had to drift on its own while I worked on recalibrating the magazine. I was managing a team of twenty freelance journalists and approximately thirty bloggers alone.” She now acts as both editor and chief copywriter for the magazine that launched in 2014.

Even if her new responsibilities are full of challenges, the Planète F cofounder is amazed at the freedom that entrepreneurs have. Even if they may be flying the infamous crashing airplane:

“When I started, I didn’t know just how free entrepreneurs really are. They can choose their company values, their management style, and the importance they place on making money…becoming an entrepreneur is so philosophical!”

A freedom that she intends to make full use of to implement a zero hierarchy structure in her growing company…and to publish a print edition of her magazine in the spring of 2017.

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