8 Learnings from an Experienced Serial Entrepreneur
Samuel is CEO of Novosbed, one of Edmonton's largest eCommerce companies and Co-founder, Director of Article.com, one of Vancouver's largest eCommerce companies. Samuel has a background in Computer Engineering, started his first business at 22, and successfully sold his first business at 34. He has won the 2018 PROFIT 500 as the #1 Fastest-Growing Company in Canada, 2017 E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year, BC and 2017 BC Business Entrepreneur of the Year - Emerging Technology, Pacific Region. He joined the Rainforest today to share his entrepreneurial experiences with our eager crowd of more than 20 entrepreneurs, a couple of investors, and a handful of ecosystem helpers.Prior to co-founding Novosbed and Article, Sam co-founded RealPageMaker, which developed software for the real estate industry under the RealPageMaker and ClickSold brands; he sold the company in 2015. He is also a co-founder of medical devices company Rehabtronics.In 2009 Sam realized there might be an opportunity to sell mattresses online for far less than at conventional retail. He mobilized a skeleton team (siblings), bought a container of mattresses factory direct for $20,000, and launched Novosbed.com. 3 months later the container arrived, and the mattresses sold out quickly. Over time, manufacturing moved to Canada, and the business model changed from buy-stock-sell to a leaner Just In Time model. Novosbed now has several brands in the marketplace, and owns 3 of the top 5 online mattress brands in Canada.
Sam shared 8 Learnings:
- Choose a large market - going after too small of a market (less than a $1B in Canada or $10B in the US) could be a waste of time.
- Success can take time - be patient.
- Don't be first! Inventing a market takes huge resources (time, money), which are often spent only to pave the way for newer competitors to enter the space and truly capitalize on the consumer education you've done.
- Continuous Innovation is essential - a great idea will get you onto the runway, but only constant innovation, new ideas, and sound decision-making will allow your company to take flight and remain competitive for the longer-term.
- Skills are to knowledge workers as machinery is to factories: they depreciate over time. It is essential that all knowledge workers continually invest in their own learning throughout their careers.
- Business strategy is often emergent, being articulated after the fact. Before finding your product-market fit you continually try new things, remain agile and open to opportunity, and once you find the fit you can backtrack the steps to reverse engineer the strategy that worked. When you have product-market fit, it is obvious (Sam likened it to falling in love - you know it when you have but until then it is hard to explain).
- Advertising is not an avante garde art form: Ads that win awards are not the goal, they must convert to sales. Focus and discipline are necessary to be effective at marketing.
- Brand is a tactic, nothing more, and is used to engage a target audience for a specific purpose. Sam alluded to onsumer-facing side of a brand vsQ&A:
- Q: What is your competitive advantage?
- A: Very disciplined execution. We do not use Spray and Pray marketing tactics or target marginal return markets, rather we remain focused on the middle of the bell curve - where the bulk of the market is. Revenue is a function of Creativity; Profit a function of Discipline.
- Q: How do you use data, and how do you not use it?
- A: A core operating principle is: best practice before data, always. When we engage a new channel wseek first to articulate best practices and only then do we deploy. These best practices live strictly on a meritocracy: they are constantly challenged with newer scholarly sources and experience. When there is proof, or, more commonly, compelling evidence that a new practice is superior to an old one, it is added and the old one deleted.
- Q: How do you tackle a market with established competition?
- A: Find a new way to engage the market, that you can be the best at. What can you do that is both valuable and hard to replicate - answering both questions means you can tackle the market. Finding these tactics isn't easy, but is essential to compete effectively. One thing is for certain: where there are big competitors, there is big opportunity.
Research has demonstrated over and over that entrepreneurs with larger, stronger networks are significantly more likely to be successful. Join us next week to increase the likliehood of your own success!