The universal entrepreneur story


For the past three weeks, I’ve been immersed in D5, a joint project between Deloitte and Market Gravity which is aimed to discover how banks can play a role in helping SMEs in Canada succeed. I’m new to the country, having joined the firm last October after hopping around Mexico and the US, so this project has not only been illuminating from a business perspective but also from a cultural perspective, as I come to understand Canadian regions, their cultures, and their contexts.

It’s also been weirdly nostalgic. I’m a former entrepreneur myself, so many of the trials and tribulations I’ve heard from the 30+ founders we’ve talked to hit close to home. It’s been impossible not to see flashes of my past when they speak about their stories, and it has made me reflect on the “universality” of an entrepreneur’s journey.

And why would starting a business in Canada versus Mexico be much different? If you look around the globe, you’d realize many of our religions and folklore are strikingly similar at their core, beyond the surface details. Despite all the strife our differences have caused through history, I guess we can’t help the fact we’re all wired the same way.

OK, back to our topic now. Sure — regulations, government, and economic context drastically alter how companies grow and prosper, but I’ve found it doesn’t change much of how businesses start and the hurdles they tackle to do so. With that in mind, I wanted to share three “plot devices” in entrepreneurial stories that I’ve seen, both in my research and in my personal experience:

1. Passion becomes process becomes passion

Starting a venture can feel like letting a force “bigger than yourself” take over your body. This is often an expression of a profound personal passion: cooking, art, tech, education, you name it. Entrepreneurs allow their lives to be consumed by their mission, but sooner rather than later, they find themselves doing tasks they are not prepared to do well: accounting, invoicing, sales, among other things a business needs to stay alive.

They end up spending their time putting out fires to keep the lights on and end up doing less of what they love before they started, yet that passion is what keeps them going on. It’s somewhat ironic, but it’s the price to pay for following a dream. If they are lucky, eventually they’ll be able to focus on their passion again, if and when the right team is assembled, because…

2. People are everything

While the companies we’ve interviewed have varied greatly in headcount, talent has consistently remained a top issue in founder’s minds regardless of size. Recruiting is getting a lot more complex at every level, and it’s especially critical for SMEs as new entrants have profound effects on culture and company dynamics.

Entrepreneurs are faced with an interesting dilemma, as they will need to choose between sticking to playing the lone superhero, or acknowledging their humanity and trusting others with their mission. While the fear of getting “Satan’s incarnate” (as one of our interviewees described their first hire) in the recruiting draw is real, founders eventually have to give themselves latitude to handle other plot developments that arise, like…

3. Transactional, untrusting relationship with banks

A receivable past due, holds on a wire transfer or a hail Mary for seed funding: money troubles will for sure be part of any entrepreneurial story. And the bad news is that there’s no magical princess kiss or knight in shining armor to save you most of the time. There are friends, family, and banks.

Yet people often opt for the awkwardness and messiness of involving a loved one instead of asking help from institutions that are LITERALLY made out of money. It all boils down to the fear of being ignored or rejected (at best) or abused (at worst) by the powerful banks. Asking for their help often feels like an exercise on one-sided compromises and sacrifices that you’d only resort to when there’s no other way. From experience, this is pretty much what it feels like:

While some of these common elements are just the nature of the beast, and a fair trade-off for getting a chance to control your destiny, other bits don’t have to be that way — in Canada, or anywhere else. There are some clear opportunities for disruption here, and the D5 team will continue to define them as we shift from immersion and ideation into prototyping.

Stay tuned for some really cool content soon as we continue our journey. Follow us here!

Carlos EscalanteComment