“It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve failed, you just need to be right once”. Three local entrepreneurs tell us how this quote from Drew Houston, cofounder of Dropbox, resembles their own experiences launching a start-up.
In a speech that he gave at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Convocation in June 2013, Drew Houston described his first unsuccessful entrepreneurial adventures in order to demonstrate that failure, something that is so frequent in the journey of a student, is invaluable to your professional life. You have to take risks, even if you stumble along the way, to get to your destination.
Three local entrepreneurs tell us about their relationship with failure and the perseverance needed to succeed in the hectic universe of start-ups.
Today, she works in a leading position at Crew, but Stephanie Liverani and her husband Mikael Cho also had their challenges when they started out as entrepreneurs. Accepted into the 2012 cohort of the accelerator FounderFuel, they struggled to come out with a potentially viable project: a platform for app developers similar to Kickstarter, called Ooomf.
“I’m a trained actuary and Mikael is an American who studied psychology: we knew nothing about how to start a company or about the field of technology in Montreal,” recalls Stephanie Liverani. The platform wasn’t as successful as they had hoped. “We fought hard to keep going and we motivated ourselves by repeating, “you just need to be right once.”
In 2013, the couple made one last move to avoid sinking: change directions completely and connect web developers and designers of only the highest quality.
Since then, the company (now called Crew) is astonishingly successful. After two series of funding campaigns that collected over 10 million dollars, Crew opened the Crew Café and Collective last spring in a breathtaking building in Old Montreal.
But their rapid growth came with its fair share of setbacks too. After having raised so much money, the cofounders felt pressured to recruit personnel quickly and conform to the classic successful start-up model. “In just a few months, we went from 8 to 22 employees. I grossly underestimated the structure that needed to be in place in order to manage all that progress,” admits the Head of Operations for Crew. Nonetheless, she feels that she learned that she must better target her hires.
“We still have and we will always have highs and lows,” she explains. “But we strive to reach higher highs and go through lows that aren’t quite as low.”
When Dominic Pilon launched his production company ten years ago, his loved ones worried that he would fail…and time proved them right. Despite this setback, which he considers to be his biggest failure, the trained biochemist persevered on the entrepreneurial path. After founding an interactive technology company (sold in 2015), today he is the president and co-founder of a website that sells eco-friendly products online, called Viosimo. “I don’t see myself doing anything other than being an entrepreneur,” he admits.
A fear of failure? He conceded that he never really felt it. His relationship with failure has nonetheless been transformed over time: “My first company was my baby. Not the other ones. Failure really used to get to me. Today I’m still 100% committed and involved but I learned to distance myself emotionally.”
According to him, failure is an unfortunate necessity in the life on an entrepreneur:
“You won’t succeed on your first try, that’s for sure! No business plan goes as intended.” In his opinion, the need to “be right just once”, to revisit the words of Drew Houston, is not the driving force for starting a company: “Everyone has ideas. What matters is whether you can find a way to actually implement your project. It’s that which demands perseverance.”
Mathieu Lachaîne doesn’t worry about failure either. This computer security expert for whom Ubios is his sixth business venture (he sold the other ones) believes, like Drew Houston, that you have to try and then try again until you find the right method. Whether it’s your business model, your target customer or the way you’re delivering your message, “all start-up methods rely on the idea of doing several tests, as quickly as possible, at the lowest cost possible,” he explains.
After realizing that he wasn’t garnering the attention of his customers by presenting his product as one that saves energy, he decided to concentrate on flood prevention, the biggest reason for submitting an insurance claim among homeowners. He also decided to change his target customer, moving from individual homeowners to building managers and in the end, targeting the presidents of unions for condos, a customer who he hopes will be the key to Ubios’s rapid growth.
“You have to generate small failures here and there so you can avoid really big ones,” he states.
And if ever the company can’t find its place among the Internet market? “My personal goal is to reduce greenhouse gases and to democratize technology in order to do that. If that doesn’t work, I’ll find another way to make it work,” he explains.
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