Building a Lasting Business

Building a Lasting Business

Big Ideas

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January 8 2021
Big Ideas

25 Years as an Entrepreneur 

For almost half my lifetime, I’ve been running this business.  

From its one man, one computer beginnings as Martron, to its current 28+ employees scattered across Canada (and South America!), I feel a bit like I’ve worked two lifetimes. 

As I reflect on these 25 years, I thought I would share some thoughts around passing this milestone.  

In no particular order, here they are: 

 

Things I am most proud of:

 
Husband/Dad, Provider

 

I count myself incredibly fortunate to be able to work for - and with amazing clients and colleagues. My job is incredibly rewarding, I have no trouble finding the motivation to come to work and give ‘er every day. The outcome of doing good work in the context of my job is being able to provide for my family. To me, being a provider means having the ability to say to any of my children, “you can pursue anything you want to” which really drives me. And there is nothing more important to me than being the best father and husband that I can to the kids and Meg. 
 
Employer
To have built the business to a scale where I have been able to provide an opportunity for dozens of smart, funny, creative, and hardworking, diverse Canadians to exercise their immense skills and grow those same skills is rewarding. And, while it’s hard to see some leave, it’s also been fun to watch their careers after Sherpa. 
 
Economic contributor 
Those same jobs that we created also have had a positive contribution to the economy. I take real pride in seeing our employees achieve significant life milestones like moving out on their own or buying their first home. 
 
Startup Mode 

We run the business with a startup mindset. In all our years, we’ve never settled in and let ourselves get comfortable. A relentless pursuit of techniques and technology that helps our clients is in our DNA.

Here are a few of the things Sherpa was a first-mover (in order): 

  • Digital Printing 
  • Website design and programming, Content management systems 
  • CRM 
  • Database marketing 
  • Digital marketing 
  • App Development  
  • IoT 
  • Business Intelligence 
  • Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality 
  • Full-stack marketing 
Mentoring

 
Having the opportunity to offer advice and guidance to the next generation of young businesspeople is one of the most professionally fulfilling things I get to do. Without having these 25 years of experience, I would not be able to offer said advice credibly or effectively. It’s awesome to see their businesses gain traction and start to take off. 

Friendships 

Business, with its inherently high consequence nature, is incredible at revealing character and integrity (or lack thereof) in people. Some of my closest friends are people that I have met through Sherpa and those relationships developed first through the business. 

 

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Things that have come and gone and surprised me:

  • Blackberry – For a couple of Canadians in Waterloo, to invent an entirely new business tool that rapidly transformed business, created massive wealth and employment in my hometown, and then for it to effectively fade to irrelevance was impressive and shocking. 
  • Netscape – From the pre-eminent internet browser to the answer to a trivia question. Remarkable. 
  • Quark Xpress – An indispensable page layout tool that was the de-facto standard for an entire industry that was relegated to obscurity by Adobe InDesign. 
  • Facebook – More of a generalization, but to see the growth toward the ubiquity of social media in general and the subsequent manipulation of it and its algorithms to aid in confirmation bias and to help nut jobs find each other more easily. Terrifying. 
  • Printing – Or should I say, lack thereof. Being so closely associated with the industry. I have been astonished to see it go from colour separations and match prints to computer to plate and from that, to fully digital, only to land where we are now - doing about a twentieth of the printing we did on an annual basis. 

 

 

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What fueled me:

Failure and Fear of Failure 

To say I am competitive would be an understatement. I wouldn’t say that I have an unrelenting need to win, but if I take on an endeavour, I will certainly give it my best shot. 
I’ve read that one’s teenage years are particularly formative, and I am certainly a by-product of my high school experience. I learned that what I lacked in skill/talent, that I could make up for with hard work. Stated differently, I learned I had to work hard, put in the time and hours to be that person who wouldn’t necessarily win, but finish near the top. This was true academically (except for Math, I suck at Math) and in sports.  

I also learned that as I got older, fewer and fewer people were willing to put in the work and make the personal sacrifices in their free time to get ahead.  

I had a tremendous group of friends in high school and I stay in touch with a few of them today. Like most teenagers, I really wanted to be liked and be included in the “cool” things. So, whether it was failing to be invited to be part of the exclusive group of leadership students - or to not be a starter on the football team in grade 12… those failures stuck with me and I started to learn how to be introspective and commit even harder to managing my attitude and effort. 

 

Necessity

 
If you know me, you know that I am a father of five.  
If necessity is the mother of invention, becoming a father was the stimulus that drove the creation of Martron (Sherpa). With 5 kids, it was - and is necessary to try to earn a good living to provide opportunities for my family. When I was a young dad, I remember not having enough money for groceries or gas – I hated that feeling of dread and would do whatever it took to get to a place where this was no longer an issue. 

Advice - Sacrifice Now for the Future, Play the Long Game 

IMHO, success is something that you can brute force. By being willing to work hard when others won’t (because they would rather be out having fun), you can accomplish incredible things. Whether it’s all-nighters, canceled holidays, or working weekends, I’ve been willing to put in the time - and be available for my clients, whenever and wherever I am. Yes, there are negative consequences to this, but the positive outcome of putting the work, and a client’s needs first, is the creation of trust and dependability... resulting in longstanding symbiotic business relationships. 

 

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What would I attribute my longevity in the business to? 

First, my wife, Megan. 
To have a partner who is unconditional in her support of every crazy thing I’ve tried to do in business is truly special. Never one to interfere, I’ve been free to run the business with the ability to seek her wise counsel when needed. Additionally, the fact that she has a successful, full-time career job that pays well has given me the luxury of having periods where I’ve earned anywhere from zero to significantly less than my full salary. 

Second, as much as possible, I’ve tried to be generous with the time and the financial resources of Sherpa.  

Whether it's charities, minor sports teams, or clients, growing good has been a central theme for Sherpa. Yes, we need to make money, but there are countless instances where we have donated both time and money in the name of doing good work and work for good. 

And while I started Sherpa 25 years ago, I have the good fortune to have had unrelenting support from my father Tom and my mother Anne when I started. From those early days to today where my fellow shareholders Sharon Knutson and Chris Riehl help steer the course of the company, I am thankful for their hard work, patience, and loyalty. 

There are innumerable employees and vendors that had a big role to play and while I am sure to miss a few, some longstanding ones that come to mind are: 

Employees 

Past 
Jeff Smith, Todd Lichty, Arthur Paquio, Stewart Moffatt, Whitney Dencklau, Pyper Rouse-Cringan 

Present 
Jaime Cushnie, Rob Janzic, Myles Barr, Eric Leenders, Tara Jones, Jeff Bridges, Mike Brown 

Clients 

Past 
Jeff Hanemaayer, John Sorochuk, Randy Bird, Denise Hockaday, Erin Romeo, Clair Salisbury, Dan Donner, Rob Stenson, Shari Frieburger, Jarrett Chambers, Paul Brisebois, Kimberly Edmonds 

Present 
Gregg Filmon, Ian Proven, Liz Pham, Steve Norton, Mark Lepp, Daniel Samphir, Cory McArthur, Karl Stoll, Peter George, Carly Edmundson   

Mentor/Advisors 
Rob Sproule, Al Davis, Gil Grenier, Jamie Townsend 


Lasting 25 years in business is no small feat, through all the personal and professional ups and downs, my fuel hands down has been my determination to be a good father/husband and a great business partner. By keeping my head down and working hard, I have been able to achieve modest success during my time as an entrepreneur. 

For anyone trying to figure out the magic trick to running a successful business, there’s no magic, it’s very simple, it’s just that not everyone is willing to do it. Keep your head down, hit the pavement, and start working relentlessly towards your goal.

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