Dr Roberts featured as a Global Calgary Woman of Vision

We’re proud of our own Dr. Leslie Roberts this week – she was featured on Global Calgary‘s Woman of Vision series on May 2! Watch the video below to find out some of Dr. Roberts’ inspirations and experiences starting and running GoForth Institute, Canada’s leading online education for entrepreneurs.


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Thoughts on The Pitch, proof of concept and small business scalability

Just back in Calgary from an appearance as a regular panelist on BNN’s The Pitch, a weekly live venture capital pitch show airing Wednesdays at 11:30am EST, 9:30am MST. If you didn’t catch the show, you can stream the January 12 videos from the BNN website.

This week’s pitchers, Warren MacKenzie (Weigh House) and Roger Nahas (Best Body Bootcamp) represented the diversity of the Canadian entrepreneur population. Warren wants to give investors a fighting chance at good rates of return in their portfolios by offering commission-free advice and wealth management services. Roger has built an Ontario-based fitness bootcamp business that he now wants to expand across Canada. Cool.

Different business models and concepts, but I had the same two issues with both businesses. My issues were scalability and proof of concept, both topics we cover in our online small business training.

Small business scalability

The first issue – scalability – refers to the ability of the existing business to grow, and I mean really grow, from one location to many, from one geographic area to several, from hundreds of customers to thousands of customers virtually overnight (which is why investors love technology companies).

Both Weigh House and Best Body Bootcamp need people to scale their businesses – wealth management consultants and excellent personal trainers – to hit a home run. To scale a business that relies on people as a critical factor is tougher to do. Not to say it won’t happen; it’ll be just be harder for Roger and Warren to attract VC money.

Small business proof of concept

The second issue I had with both businesses was “proof of concept,” or displaying a business model that has proven its ability to make revenue and profit. We teach the difference between a business model and a business plan in our online education for entrepreneurs, so if you want to know more you’ll have to buy the course! (I’m in business too!)

At what point is a concept “proven,” you ask? The point at which the new business has a steady supply of customers, returning customers, great customer evaluations and lots of opportunity to grow. And of course, different options for growth such as franchising, market or geographic expansion, international sales, new products, and so on.

Once a business concept is proven, and the ability to “scale” the business to greater revenue is there, you’ll have no problem attracting angel or venture capital investors to help you get there.  The trick is getting to the proof of concept stage. Remember, over half of small businesses don’t get to the second year – they fail before the concept proof stage. Sad.

But then, that’s why we created GoForth – to give the emerging entrepreneur 100 Essential Small Business Skills to help them through start-up and early growth stages of any business – construction and trades, real estate agents, artists, coffee shop owners, dog walkers.  If you’re a small business owner, we can help you succeed.

If you’ve got a great early-stage business and want to appear on The Pitch, shoot me an email!

PS. A little backstory – at the end of the show I mentioned that I was “a little bit of an alley cat” on one of the ideas.  That was a secret shout out to four of my all time favourite University of Calgary students, Allison Onyett (Ally) , Catharine McMechan (Cat), Jalene Ippolito and Heather Baker who I had the pleasure of teaching when I was still an entrepreneurship professor. Today, they are no longer former students, but are friends of mine, and I’m grateful for their love and support.

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Six things I learned about business in 2010

Just when you think you know, have seen or done it all in business – blam! The humble frying pan from the sky clocks you one. Of course, holding Canada’s first PhD in entrepreneurship helps me suffer from this situation more than most. The “But, dammit Jim, I’m a doctor” excuse doesn’t mean much in the small business world.  “So you’re a Doctor in business – which likely makes you more of an idiot in business than most.”

With each frying pan to the side of the head came new understanding, new approaches, new strategies and more humility. Babies and businesses are particularly adept at teaching us who rules. So, this retrospective rant highlights my favourite frying pan moments of 2010.

If we build it, they will come. (They didn’t.)

We spent two years and over $600,000 researching, developing, testing and perfecting our online education for entrepreneurs. We launched. Nobody noticed. Nobody bought. Change of plan.

There is no one right strategy for a small business.

If something doesn’t work, it’s not throw in the towel time – it’s dig in and dig deep time. Try something else. Figure out what works. Do more of that and less of what sucks. Entrepreneurship is for winners, not quitters. If you’re going to run home to mamma every time there’s a setback, don’t leave home (easy for me to say – I wanted to run home many times this past year but I’m glad I didn’t – success was just around the corner).

Starting a business will cost three times the money and take three times longer than you think.

Okay, maybe four times. Or more. The reality is that entrepreneurship and starting a new venture is full of uncertainty and unknowns. Plan for the worst, expect little – you may be pleasantly surprised.

If entrepreneurship were easy, everyone would do it.

Most dream of being their own boss but very few actually take the plunge. It took me 15 years to rationalize the choice. Only about one person in every 1,000 aspiring entrepreneurs actually does something about it. Good for us!

I’d be a better professor now than before.

Classrooms can be magical, particularly if the teacher knows what they’re talking about. How many business profs have run a company? Not many. I’d throw away the textbooks and teach from experience and the lines on my face. Way more valuable than following the bouncing ball of a strategic planning chapter.

Eureka! We have found it. (Didn’t know we lost it.)

Perseverance, determination, true grit – that’s what it takes to build a great company. It’s not easy, not even close.  I’m humbled by the help and advice I got from some of the “greats” – the men and women who laid it down long before me and built multi-million dollar businesses – who helped me through some rough GoForth patches.  They are my heroes.  I, too, will give back and help others cross the chasm when the time comes.

It’s January 1, 2011 now and so far, no frying pans. I’m getting better at ducking. To all you entrepreneurs, aspiring or otherwise, hats off.  Wishing you mind-blowing success this year!

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