Robert Herjavec, one of the hosts of CBC's Dragons' Den, has lived the classic rags-to-riches story. He currently heads The Herjavec Group, listed as one of Canada's fastest growing IT security and infrastructure integration firms. He has a 50,000-square-foot mansion valued at $15 million in Toronto's Bridle Path. For thrills, Robert jets to a private island near Miami or cruises Toronto's Yorkville area in one of his many luxury cars.
But getting there wasn't easy. The son of Croatian immigrants, he earned his fortune by overcoming the odds with hard work and intuition. He remembers how his mother, who could barely speak English, lost the family savings to a smooth-talking vacuum salesman. Herjavec vowed he would never let his family be taken advantage of again.
In the early 1990s, Herjavec eked out a living waiting tables at a posh Yorkville restaurant. During the early days of the dot-com craze, he realized that technology was the ticket to serious money. By night, he launched BRAK systems, his first technology company. BRAK soon became Canada's top provider of internet security software and was worth a reported $100 million. Herjavec sold the company to AT&T in 2000. He then helped negotiate the sale of another technology company to Nokia for $225 million.
Here are some of Robert Herjavec's best tips for budding entrepreneurs.
1. Believe in the business — and yourself
"There are so many people that will say, 'No — bad idea, it's never going to work,' that you really have to have the almost senseless belief in your idea and yourself - almost to the point of being delusional. Remember that everyone has advice but no one knows what you have to go through until they live it! Talk is cheap, but action speaks volumes. It's almost like the ancient general who took his troops to battle and when they got to the foreign shore, he burned all the ships so there would be no option of retreating. That is the kind of belief you need."
2. Test before you believe
"Don't ask your mom, your wife, your friends, your barber — those are opinions. Test the idea with the only people who really matter, the ones who are going to cut you a cheque for it. Call on some potential clients and see if they will buy it."
3. Everyone lies
"Some people will lie to you because they mean to. Others will do it to tell you what you want to hear. Either way, test everything you are told. If someone tells you they are going to invest, get a date. And if the date passes, make sure your spider senses are tingling. If a client tells you he is giving you the order, ask him if it is in procurement yet; if not, then ask him if he minds if you call the purchaser yourself. Test what people tell you. They don't always mean to lie to you, but they do lie."
4. Bring a compass
"'It's awkward when you have to eat your friends.' That's a cute saying I saw a long time ago, but it's very true. When you're starting out, you have to realize that it is going to be bad and then it will be worse than you think. Be prepared to survive the worst situation you can think of — and then assume that things will in fact get even worse than that. Be prepared — it's much better to have a compass to get out of the woods (just in case) than to have to eat your friend to survive."
5. If they can't catch you, they can't overtake you
"Go fast — really fast. The elephant can't catch a running mouse, but he sure can crush him when the mouse is standing still! When you're small, you got to be faster than the competition. In fact, that's pretty well true no matter who you are these days. So it's better to try something than do nothing."
6. Train for a marathon
"Now to completely contradict myself: Once you find a good opportunity, go slow and check and double-check everything. Business is a sprint until you find an opportunity, then it's the patience of a marathon runner. I know this is hard — trust me, if you saw my body, you would know I am not a marathoner — but I have run two of them just to reinforce this point to myself."
7. Hunt for your dinner
No matter how full and fat you get, don't stop looking for opportunities. You can never be satisfied as an entrepreneur, and the basis of any successful, growing business is new clients. Make sure your company always has the attitude of going out and hunting for its dinner. We don't pay our salespeople for renewals, that's a customer service job and not a sales job. Sales people should be hunters."
8. There is no balance
"Your business is a living, breathing thing, and it has to survive, be fed and grow. There is no balance in your life when your business is in trouble. If you are under the illusion that you can start a business and run it at your life's schedule, you are mistaken. The business is like a starving puppy — when it needs to eat, then it needs to eat regardless of what you have going on personally."
9. Being committed to business is hard
"There is a reason so few companies and people make it: It's not easy. Be honest with yourself. What price are you willing to pay to make the business work and be successful? Would you sacrifice your time, your family, your friends, your golf game, your entire social life? I am not advocating that you should, but you have to ask yourself if you are prepared to."
10. It's all about the approach
"Work hard, have fun, be nice, play fair, dream big. We only get one chance at this, one life to live. If you're going to play this game, play it to win."