10 Vancouver Entrepreneurs Share Their Start-Up Secrets

These experts will tell you how it's done.

February 21, 2018

By Allie Turner / Photo: Headway, Unsplash

Online start-ups are everywhere (and we really mean everywhere), including Vancouver! According to the 2017 Global Startup Ecosystem Report, Vancouver is home to somewhere between 800 and 1,100 of them; the report also states that the city we call home is ranked number one in Canada—and 15th in the world—for start-ups. So, if you’re thinking of kickstarting your own business, but are unsure of how to separate yourself from all that noise, we canvassed the experts—from online furniture retailers and app developers to graphic designers—and asked them what it takes to be successful. Is it the standing desks? The yoga lunch hour? Unlimited free coffee?! Read on to find out.

Jesse Nightingale, founder of Handsome Mountain Pet Supplies (Photo: Handsome Mountain.)

“Reach out as much as possible. We typically have a lot of people close by that have the knowledge and know-how to help you with particular areas of your business. The only real secret that I have is that my furry ‘sidekicks’ are the ones that keep me going—whenever I feel stressed, or if the day is just not on my side, all I have to do is look over my shoulder and there they are full of love. They always put a smile on my face, and I couldn’t have done it without them!”—Jesse Nightingale, Founder, Handsome Mountain Pet Supplies

“I had a passion and I decided to follow it. The rest sort of just happened after I started to focus everything I had on it. I think the not-so-secret ‘secret’ is that hard work and determination can get you pretty much anywhere. Also, believing heavily in yourself—even when others don’t—is your cherry on top. Manifest what you want, work really really hard, and you’ll get there one day. Not today, not tomorrow, but one day…dream as big as you want and as big as you can. Don’t worry about getting lucky; just worry about doing your thing.”—Marissa Cristina, Founder, STIL Classics (formerly Design Love. Co.)

The best advice I received during the early days was to ‘leap and the net will appear.’ I think there’s a tendency when you’re thinking about so many different components of a start-up to become frozen with all of the decisions, and to feel that you’re not ready to bring your concept to market. Once I let go of this limiting belief and leapt into the experience of being in business, the lessons I learned in doing, rather than researching, have proven to be the most impactful and useful in the day-to-day of running Landeau.”—Trevor Patterson, Founder, Landeau

Cody Green, founder and Co-CEO of Canada Drives (Photo: Canada Drives)

“Spending many years in the auto industry gave me firsthand knowledge of the challenges of both the dealership and the consumer. This understanding allowed me to use technology to bridge that gap and provide a solution that benefited all parties. Leverage your strengths and make sure your company is adding real value. You’re not going to be the best at everything so you need to hire smart people and get out of their way.”—Cody Green, Founder and Co-CEO, Canada Drives

“Aim to learn something new everyday. You have no excuse as there is so much great (and free) content available. No time to read? Subscribe to a start-up podcast and listen while you walk, drive or commute! You’ll be happier and more successful for it.”—Dustin Vioen, Founder, Joiiin

“Every interaction we have with a customer is an opportunity for us to turn them into super fans. Having a great looking site that is easy to navigate is important, but consumers need to know you exist. Use social media as a platform to teach customers about your brand and drive them to your online store. Find social influencers that align with your brand ethos and reach out to them…work smarter, not harder.”—Esme Smith, Co-Founder, People Footwear

Shamil Hargovan, founder of Wiivv (Photo: Wiivv.)

“We’ve always tried to be a company that lives up to our own hype. Despite having a big vision it was really important to do one thing well first. Insoles aren’t exactly the most sexy industry in the world but we knew we could bring value there…it took a lot of discipline not to start building in five directions but to build around one thing end-to-end. The most important thing you can do as a new start-up is to form your own point of view—form a point of view and create your values, but get smarter as quick as you can.”—Shamil Hargovan, Co-Founder, Wiivv

“We work hard to ensure that every person we hire is passionate about our mission and can relate to our core values. The result is an ambitious team of individuals that push themselves everyday to think how we can do things differently, and more importantly, how we can do things better. We constantly analyze our processes and consider how we can improve them to drive more value to our customers. This relentless focus ensures we’re challenging the status quo and doing better than we did yesterday.”—Aarmir Baig, Co-Founder, Director and CEO, Article

Matt Smith, founder of Later (Photo: Later.)

“The big thing I learned through multiple businesses is it usually takes a lot of time to find something people really need, but once you do it’s really clear you’re onto something. I see a lot of people spend a lot of time chasing goals that have nothing to do with progress—these usually fall into getting a bunch of personal press, getting awards and recognition and going to a lot of conferences. These things generally don’t make any meaningful progress towards moving your company forward. Instead, set some very clear goals for your company and stay laser-focused. It’s incredibly easy to get distracted.”—Matt Smith, Founder, Later (formerly Latergramme)

One thing that has helped us tremendously was creating an environment where we can make more effective decisions at all levels. Diagnosing and working on cognitive biases has helped us make better decisions free from ego and emotion, and core values such as ‘have wonderful arguments’ have given people the freedom to discuss ideas based on merit.”—Kenshi Arasaki, CEO, A Thinking Ape


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