For the past few months, SHIFTER has been partnering with Invest Ottawa to promote the Digital Main Street program to help our community to start an online business or to take their existing business online. As the program comes to a close, we want to offer some final advice to the new and existing entrepreneurs in our network.

Here are three things entrepreneurs should remember to stay motivated.

1. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy

The first thing you need to remember is that not only is starting a business hard, but staying at it long enough to see results is extremely hard. At SHIFTER, it took us about six years to make any money. That was mostly an intentional choice. We opted to spend the first number of years building our brand. Our unofficial internal motto was, “Build the brand, then monetize the brand.”

Along the way, a lot of people told us to give up; people who I loved and respected. What it showed me was that as a founder, you can have advisors and mentors, but at the end of the day, the final responsibility for the business lies with you. You may very well be the only person that sees what you see. It’s important to listen to advice from people you trust, but at the end of the day, you have to follow your gut.

In October 2019, I came to a “Valley of Decision” where I had to consider whether I should fold up and try something else. I was advised to do so by people close to me. I gave myself a two month window to really monetize SHIFTER and started making money within weeks. Of course, this wasn’t irrational optimism. I had a plan.

My greatest accomplishments in business happened after I almost quit. As I look back on that decision, I think about all the great things that wouldn’t have happened for me and my company had I folded. I’m glad I didn’t.

2. Dream Big

A lot of people living and working in Ottawa feel like they can’t do big things because they’re not based in a big city like Toronto or New York. My advice to Ottawa entrepreneurs is to dream big. I mean BIG.

Over the past few years I’ve interviewed Hollywood elites like Kevin Hart, Fast and the Furious star Tyrese Gibson, and Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson from my dining table in Vanier. One of our team members at SHIFTER, Vladimir Jean-Gilles lives in Gloucester and gets invited to Hollywood premieres at the Chinese theatre in Los Angeles (pre-COVID of course). Post-COVID, he gets invited to be on virtual journalist roundtables with big stars like comedian and actor, Marlon Wayans.

Because of the internet, Ottawa entrepreneurs can play on the biggest stages. The world is at our fingertips. It’s time to think big and believe that anything is possible.

3. Embrace not being “normal”

If you’re going to be in business, understand that so much of what entrepreneurship entails goes against human nature. Entrepreneurs are the kinds of people who would, figuratively speaking, run into a fire to put it out instead of running away from it.

As I said earlier, people will want to talk you out of your dream. They’ll want you to be “normal” like them and get a “real job”, but entrepreneurs aren’t normal. We’re sometimes irrational, and rightfully so. We see outside the lines. We see the grey areas. We’re brave and see the possibilities. We’re curious, almost childlike at times.

As an entrepreneur, you have to embrace that you won’t always be understood. People don’t see what we see, and if we’re honest, we don’t always fully understand what we see. That’s the excitement of being an entrepreneur – watching the vision evolve and unfold, almost like a parent watching a baby grow, develop and come into its own. It can be scary, but very fun at the same time.

So what next?

If you’re ready to make the jump into entrepreneurship for the very first time, or are trying to grow your existing business, and didn’t get a chance to take advantage of the Digital Main Street program, that’s okay. Invest Ottawa has a number of services available throughout the year to help you start or grow your business, from free workshops on subjects like branding and social media content strategy to Starter Company Plus. For more information about Invest Ottawa’s programs and workshops visit investottawa.com.


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