Lessons from an entrepreneur
By Guest column by Troy Fimrite | Mar 19, 2012
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to starting a new business, but balance, planning, risk taking, and creativity all have their roles to play.The entrepreneurial bug stung me at a young age, and I never looked back. So far, I’ve never held a traditional nine-to-five job — and probably never will. But I’ll be the first to admit that the entrepreneurial life is fraught with extreme highs and lows.
In this article, I won’t reveal my formula for success — mainly because there isn’t one. What I can tell you is this: knowing when to take risks and shut out the critics can facilitate some of the greatest business ideas. Creativity is an entrepreneur’s greatest gift — it should be nurtured on a regular basis.
Add to the equation hard work, recognition of opportunities, creation of resources, and work/life balance, and you have a solid framework for success.
Abandon Your Comfort Zone
Successful entrepreneurs don’t shy away from taking risks. One of the biggest risks I took was the creation of a new business model in an industry in which I didn’t have a lot of experience. I enjoyed success in the oil and gas industry in Alberta early in my career, and, during my third economic cycle, I decided to sell my business prior to the downturn — it was the right time to get out.
I formed Viking Pacific Inc. while in the process of selling interests in the oilfield. The original plan was to take the funds and purchase five companies in five years, two in the first year. I hired a team of professionals to help me evaluate companies in Western Canada, the western United States, and Hawaii for potential profitability.
During this process, other companies approached me about getting help with selling or acquiring businesses. A light bulb went off — I realized there could be profit in helping other entrepreneurs. This was an epiphany — the turning point where I decided to pour my energy and resources into mergers and acquisitions. As an entrepreneur, I was excited by this new enterprise, and jumped at the opportunity to tackle it head-on.
I founded Viking Pacific while still living in Alberta, but after discussions with my wife, we relocated to Victoria. The Strategic Coach — an entrepreneurial coaching program in Toronto and Chicago — helped solidify that plan. The program demonstrated that balance and planning are critical to achieving future goals through business efficiency. My wife shared and supported me in my plans, so we left our comfort zone to start a new chapter in our lives — a bold move we’ve been happy with ever since.
Mentorship, whether formal or informal, is an invaluable tool for any entrepreneur. Mentoring helps leaders keep ideas fresh and the creative juices flowing. There’s no one right way to have or be a mentor, but entrepreneurs need support and different sources to bounce ideas off of. Truly amazing ideas, however, can be extinguished with too much advice, so striking that delicate balance between input and room to grow is essential.
I’ve had many mentors during my career, including bankers, lawyers, sales professionals, and other entrepreneurs. Each one with whom I’ve connected imparted invaluable lessons.
Ric Peterson, chairman of the board of Horizon North Logistics Inc., is a mentor I respect. He finds balance between building wealth and having fun spending some of his money. Life is to be enjoyed — it’s a simple but powerful message.
Another mentor, Greg Garnett, president of Garnett Capital Corp., once told me, “If you can’t explain the business on the back of a napkin, it likely won’t work.” Entrepreneurs often get wrapped up in big plans, but usually the simple ideas are the most successful.
Whenever given the chance, take time to absorb the experience and knowledge of the best, brightest, and most successful businesspeople. I was lucky to meet Peter Thomas, a successful entrepreneur and philanthropist, at a local Entrepreneurs Organization event hosted at his condo, where he discussed the blue ocean strategy with me. He explained how this perspective led to his success over the years. Since then, I’ve incorporated his perspective and transformed one company, Viking Pacific Inc., into a platform supporting successful independent investment bankers.
Mentoring isn’t always formal. While on a trip in the Arctic with Ben Gray — an entrepreneur, inventor, rancher, and captain of the Idlewild Expedition — we got stuck in the ice in the Northwest Passage. This situation could have been frightening but, through his calm, focused actions, Gray taught me the value of leaders mitigating as much risk as possible through education and leaving fear behind. Focus on the situation at hand, and make a quick decision about the best course forward — then execute that plan.
Along with internalizing mentors’ advice, I find great satisfaction in mentoring other young business people. My involvement in the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce’s Prodigy Group allows me to share my knowledge, contacts, and resources.
As an entrepreneur, I’m driven and hardworking, but constantly adjusting how I create balance in my life. I have two young sons and a wife who’s supported me through the evolution of my ideas, and it’s a challenge every day to make it all work. Don’t ask me for the magic formula for keeping things together on the home front, but open and honest communication plays a big part.
Prioritizing and accepting balance is tough to achieve, but it’ll help take the pressure off. Entrepreneurs also must learn to delegate, outsource, and never do it all themselves — it’s an uphill battle you’ll never win.
A successful friend and mentor, Gord Cramp, now in his early 70s, has told me many times over the years, “Troy, there will always be lots of work to do long after you are dead and gone, so take time to enjoy your family!” I took his words to heart and ensure I find time to spend with my family.
I love being an entrepreneur; it allows me to pursue my passions, to think about the world in a new way, and to respond to an ever-changing marketplace. Keeping my eyes open has led to new opportunities, and being responsive has led to many triumphs.
Pick your passion and dive into it — that’s truly the seed for success in any business venture.
Troy Fimrite is the founder and CEO of Viking Pacific Inc. and the Atlin Institute.