Lion's Lair: Where are they now?

A year after embarking on an entrepreneurial adventure, Lion's Lair 2012 winners now have seen success and struggle.
Mohamed El Mahallawy, Michael Trauttmansdorff and Stephanie McLarty are Lion's Lair 2012 winners. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Nearly a year has passed since 10 local new businesses embarked on an entrepreneurial adventure: Lion's Lair, the summer-long competition to find Hamilton companies with the brightest future. In October, the Lions - five local business leaders - chose a first, second and third winner.

As the competition ramps up again this year, CBC Hamilton interviews the 2012 winners — a company that found a solution to messy pet cages, one that keeps tonnes of tech waste out of landfills each year and a text message-based deal company.

Two of those companies are thriving, expanding into the U.S. and beyond, and the third, with some of the youngest entrepreneurs Lion's Lair has ever seem, struggled to stay together.

Michael Trauttmansdorff, Tidy Feeder

Tidy Feeder, based in Jerseyville, just outside of Hamilton, produces hay in a box to keep pet cages cleaner.

What has  happened in the past year?

We've had two major things: one is really expand our market into the U.S. in a big way. We're now carried by a national retailer there [Petco, the second largest pet specialty company in the U.S. with 1,100 stores] and are really getting our marketing figured out there.

Beyond that expansion, it's been a year of consolidating what we've achieved so far and improve how we perform production-wise and with the retailers that carry our products.

The Trauttmansdorffs grown their specialized hay on their family farm in Jerseyville. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

How have you changed as an entrepreneur over the past year?

I've gained a whole lot of confidence from it with approaching partners and investors and really shaping and communicating the vision I have for the company.

The coaching from the Lions made me realize and find a way to be better at delegating and empowering my team to make decisions on their own and take care of day-to-day pieces of running the business. I used to be more really hands-on in the details, but to be a really effective entrepreneur, you need to empower your team to take care of those things so you can take care of the roadmap and the longer term issues that need to be handled so they can do their jobs well.

There has been a transformation in how I see my role in the company, and it's been for the better.

What advice would you give the next round of Lion's Lair finalists?

The biggest piece of advice is to really, deeply understand the value proposition of your product for all the different stakeholders and whatever business they are in. That's one of reasons why [Tidy Feeder] stood out. We already had some experience selling our product so we really knew very clearly what our product offered to consumers, but also to all the partners along the way - to our distributers and even our suppliers. That is something important for every business to have crystal clear in their minds so you can tell your story effectively and convincingly, and also demonstrate progress on those fronts.

Stephanie McLarty, REffcient

REfficient is a business-to-business online marketplace for companies to buy new or under-used comtech equipment from each other.

What's happened in the last year?

We took some of the cash that we won and attended a trade show in the U.S. and we won [in business] three times the amount of what we paid for the trade in about three weeks. We won a bunch of business in the U.S. We also connected with a customer at that trade show who was our first customer in Venezuela.

We're now up to 11 countries, 10 provinces and territories in Canada and 24 U.S. states. We've certainly expanded internationally, launched our new software platform and doubled our staff in the last year. We also became B Corp certified.

REfficient services clients in 11 countries worldwide. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

How have you changed as an entrepreneur over the past year?

For me personally being in Lion's Lair, it was a vote of confidence for me that we are on to something and other people validate that as well. When you start a business, you go through ups and downs, so it is important to validate what you're doing and think you're on the right track.

Lion's Lair was about seven months ago and for me as an entrepreneur, every three months I go through reinvention. The business grows and therefore, I have to step into a new role.

More and more I'm getting away from the front line of the business. I used to be the point person for the big clients and now I'm completely handing that off. I need to manage the business and also look to the future and really plan for that.

What advice would you give the next round of Lion's Lair finalists?

Be a sponge and soak it all in. You get so many great opportunities and it's extraordinary, so make sure you use every opportunity to your full advantage. Everybody said last year, regardless of whether you won or you didn't, you still won in many ways. You got all this training and exposure  and friendships and connections that everyone was a winner.

If you go in with the attitude of being open minded and willing to learn and take the feedback that you're given, it will definitely help you.

CBC Hamilton will have full coverage of Lion's Lair 2013, including profiles of each of the 10 finalists, an inside look at their training and interviews with the Lions, right up to the gala on Oct. 10.

Mohamed El Mahallawy, Nervu

Nervu was a text-message based service that alerted users via emails to deals from their favourite stores or products.

What's happened in the last year?

We were able to fund our product, hire a programmer, do some testing and see how the receptiveness to our product was. From there, unfortunately, our business did not continue.

We learnt a lot of lessons as young entrepreneurs, and one thing is the market is lucrative, it had a lot of challenges and obstacles. We benefited a lot from the coverage and the experience. It was just not the right business.

Nervu was always on the look-out for customized deals. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

How have you changed as an entrepreneur over the past year?

For us, it was a huge learning experience. It was the first time ever we had some cash in the bank and coaching. It helped us discover what our personal skills are. That really defined me as a person and what my abilities are, what roles I should take, and what things I lack.

Also, it really helped allocating funding and execution, which was a huge part of our plan. It really changed our thinking for our next ventures, which I'm working on right now.

What advice would you give the next round of Lion's Lair finalists?

I was reading a book called 'The Rules of Life' and it's about rules to improve you as a person. A rule that was really interesting to me was a rule called, 'keep it under your hat.'

What that means is if you're working on something great, keep it to yourself until you're ready to actually release this product. The last thing you want to do is get people excited and then disappoint them.

One thing that happened with Lion's Lair, because we didn't keep it under our hat, we were doing interviews and school, and that drove us away from spending time working on our product. Had we kept it under our hat, stayed true to the program and really worked at our product [during the competition], I think that would have helped so much more.