BY NATHAN DeLONG
Business insiders like to talk about startup ecosystems.
These are high-risk places to hang out. You can set up shop, then run out of cash, lose contact with customers, lack unique ideas or a viable business model or effective leadership.
Depending on who’s counting, eight of 10 startups fail within a year, but entrepreneurs who’ve made it through those first, difficult years have tips on surviving in the startup world.
Don’t be paralyzed by fear
Mike Mazerolle, a startup specialist with Planet Hatch in Fredericton, has been working with entrepreneurs for several years, first in lending and as a branch manager in the banking sector, and now as an adviser and coach.
If you’re starting a business, he said, don’t be turned off by the fear of whether it will work out or not.
“The fear should be there,” said Mazerolle.
He also said that knowing the market you want to enter is essential.
“Take the time to do that homework beforehand to make sure you know what direction the business will go in, if it will be profitable and how much profit is potentially there.”
He said it’s important to understand who potential customers are, to understand the market.
“What might be a good idea for me, that I think everyone else should enjoy, might not be what’s best for the rest of the world.”
Reach out for support
Adam Clawson incorporated Red Rover Craft Cider in 2012, and he said his business has grown at a rate of roughly 100 per cent in four years.
He also said he’s recently hired 10 more people, bring his staff total to 12.
Clawson said he saw a growing market for cider in Europe after he moved to New Brunswick in 2007, at first to design and build prosthetic limbs while working as a mechanical engineer.
“No one seemed to be identifying [cider] as a niche market in the Maritimes,” he said.
“We realized it was something we could make into a great product.”
Clawson’s cider is sold in downtown Fredericton, as well as at restaurants and bars in Fredericton, Moncton and Sackville.
Clawson and his business partner take satisfaction from buying all of their apples from producers in New Brunswick.
“I used to help a few people in a little way. Now I help a lot of people in a big way,” he said. “It’s really positive. It makes it feel worthwhile, especially where I provide for others while doing it.”
Clawson’s biggest piece of advice is that new entrepreneurs should seek help from local support agencies, funding groups and incubators, such as Ignite Fredericton – which he has used before.
“They understand the market you’re going into and they also know about all the hurdles. Until you actually talk to them, you don’t know if [a business proposal] is going to be a terrible idea until you actually give it a chance.”
Validate ideas, build a team
Rivers Corbett’s business ventures have spread as far as Vancouver and Newfoundland and Labrador, but he’s always kept his firms based in southeastern New Brunswick.
Corbett said that, since partners and he opened the first Relish Gourmet Burgers in Fredericton almost seven years ago, they’ve added five more locations in Fredericton, Halifax and Vancouver.
Corbett is also working with partners in RayZen Innovations, to help charities and non-profit organizations raise money online using gaming technology.
In 1999, Corbett co-founded the Chef Group, which now offers culinary classes through the Sobeys grocery retail chain.
The businessman and entrepreneurial coach was recently hired by Opportunities New Brunswick, a provincial government agency, to help develop and nurture the local entrepreneurial ecosystem.
For Corbett, what makes a successful entrepreneur is having an idea, creating an opportunity and learning from your failures.
“As you go on in life and figure how to play the game and how not to do it, the successes start coming around a bit more,” he said.
He said that all his ventures, whether they failed or succeeded began with an idea, then had a product or service developed and a base of customers targeted to buy it. First, the entrepreneur must decide if it’s a good idea, and whether people will pay to support it.
“It’s all about validating that idea.”
Corbett compares the business world to a dating game, and it’s important to know what interests the person with whom you’re interested in connecting.
“If I want to talk about football, and she wants to talk about ballet dancing, she’s not even going to talk to me or want to give me an opportunity to hang out.”
Corbett said running a business is a team sport that involves a lot of trial and error.
“It takes a team in order to make it work. In labs, stuff blows up all the time. It’s a matter of finding that formula for success.”
Provide good customer service, stay motivated
In 2012, Nick Di Feo launched Fenix Media, an online marketing firm focused on the video game industry.
Fenix acts as a broker that resells advertising space on the internet, such as banners, promotional clips and branded content on YouTube, Twitter and video games sites.
Di Feo said he previously worked with a company in Montreal that was striving to do the same thing, with little success, before he joined it.
A few years later, Di Feo left to start his own company.
“Two weeks later, [Fenix Media] was live,” he said. “Within 24 hours of the launch it was profitable.”
Now, he said, Fenix is the same size as his former company was when he left to start his own firm.
Di Feo said Fenix Media has one full-time employee in Fredericton and three contract workers in Fredericton, Kansas City and Denver. Staying small and agile has made it easier to provide good customer service and to meet the needs of clients.
“We’re a small company, and there’s companies that do what we do but have 40 people working there,” he said.
“With that, there’s a lot that can fall through the cracks.
“A lot of us probably work 10 hours a day, but we talk to our clients on a regular basis, and they’re happy with who we are. We can have that relationship with them that a lot of other companies can’t.”
Di Feo said anyone looking to get into his field should not expect the work to be like a typical eight-hour-a-day job. He often works irregular hours because he has clients in California, so he must be able to work around the time difference between the east and west coasts.
“The reality is that we have to be around at 10 o’clock at night where it’s only six in California,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I have to be at my desk at that hour, but if I get an email at 10 o’clock about something that needs to be done now, it gets done now.”
Di Feo said new entrepreneurs shouldn’t let profit be the sole motivation, and they should set goals to meet a particular need or create a service to fill a void.
“You absolutely might get rich while doing this, but if that’s your only goal, then it’s not going to work,” he said. “You need motivation, and money won’t be enough of a motivator when you reach a certain point where you’ve paid off your house and bought a couple of cars and what not.”