Justwealth’s Co-Founder and Chief Investment Officer, James Gauthier, was recently approached by a Grade 11 high school student who was required to interview an entrepreneur for a project in Entrepreneurial Studies. After a brief foreword, we post an excerpt of the interview.
Foreword from James Gauthier
Ironically, I have never really considered myself to be an entrepreneur – I like to think of myself as just an old-fashioned Investment Counsellor trying to help people make the most of their wealth. But when you co-found your own business, the ownership element changes the way you approach many things and the responsibilities that you are tasked with (in a good way!). For anyone aspiring to start their own venture, I am sure that many of these questions will have crossed your mind and hopefully the responses provide some helpful insight. Equally important, I hope the student gets a good grade!
Q. Why did you become an entrepreneur?
A. I worked for large corporations for twenty years and always struggled with putting the company’s main objective (to maximize profitability) ahead of my own objective (which was to help people). After I had gained enough knowledge and financial resources to start my own business, I was very eager to pursue the opportunity so that I could put my objectives first.
Q. What are some of the pros and cons of being an entrepreneur?
A. Being an entrepreneur gives you the ability to control the success (or failure) of your business. If you enjoy challenges and being tasked with making difficult decisions regularly, an entrepreneurial venture could be an attractive opportunity. In most cases, I would say that entrepreneurs pursue business opportunities that genuinely interest them and that can be a powerful motivator to go to work each day compared to just going to work so that you can collect a paycheque.
Entrepreneurs, in general, should be prepared to work harder and put in more hours than compared to working for someone else. Ultimately, you are going to have to be able to convince people to buy your product/service, and if you are not comfortable with “sales”, the business will not likely be successful, and an unsuccessful business can have devastating financial implications such as bankruptcy.
Q. Did you prepare a Business (Venture) Plan prior to start-up?
A. Preparing a comprehensive business plan, complete with financial projections five years into the future, was one of the first things that was completed once the idea of starting up a business seemed like a good idea.
Q. Was the plan helpful in the preparation for your Startup?
A. The completed business plan proved to be valuable many times in the start-up phase of the business. The business plan was used to help obtain regulatory approval for our business (which is mandatory for our industry), used to attract employees and was also provided to potential investors in our business.
Q. Was it an innovative idea that inspired you to venture into this business?
A. Initially, my idea to start a business was based on my desire to put my own objective first (to help people), and there was nothing particularly innovative incorporated into my idea. As I conducted research into how I could create a business that achieved my objective, I met another entrepreneur who had a similar goal in the same industry, and he had a very innovative idea for the business. The other entrepreneur eventually became my business partner and together we launched our business in the emerging and rapidly evolving “fintech” industry.
Q. Would you suggest having a business partner when you begin running a business?
A. Having a business partner in a new business venture has pros and cons. With two or more partners involved, you lose the sole discretion that you would have in running your business if you were the only decision maker, so you often must compromise. If your business becomes financially successful, you must also share your success with your partner.
Some good reasons to have a partner would include having more resources (time, money, and expertise) to help with the business, an additional person to help “sell” the business, and having access to an additional opinion on all matters pertaining to the business. Specifically, if you are able to find someone who is equally passionate about the business as you are, and this person is able to complement some of the skills and viewpoints that you possess, the pros of adding a partner can definitely outweigh the cons. This is a great example of truth to the saying “two heads are better than one”.
Q. What concerns, if any, did those around you express in your decision to become an entrepreneur?
A. The main concerns expressed by friends and family would have been financial. Not only can starting up a business be risky because the business could go bankrupt, but also specific to my personal circumstances was that I was leaving an industry where I could have easily obtained another job which would have had very high compensation. There can be a large opportunity cost of starting your own business.
Q. Give or list two personality traits that an entrepreneur must possess.
A. Any entrepreneur must be persistent. Starting a business is hard and there will be disappointments, rejection and challenges along the way. A lack of persistence could result in a premature failure of the business.
Another very important personality trait for entrepreneurs is to be logical. Many, many difficult decisions will have to be made regarding the business, and it is very easy to have your judgement affected by positive or negative emotions. For example, after your first successful sale, you might be so happy and confident that you decide to expand the business when you may have just been “lucky”. Tuning out emotions (positive and negative) and basing decisions on logic will enable you to make decisions that you think are in the best interest of the success of the business.
Q. Do you feel that owning your own business has been worth the conflicts that you had to deal with?
A. Overall, I definitely feel that owning my own business is worth the conflicts that I had to deal with. In fact, I really haven’t come across too many conflicts that I have had to worry about. The main issue that I think most business owners constantly struggle with is, “Did I make the right choice by starting my own business, or would I have been better off by working elsewhere?”. So far, I am very happy with the decision that I made to start my own business.
Q. In your experience, is a work-life balance easier to maintain as an entrepreneur than previous jobs?
A. In my experience, by running your own business, you get to make the rules, set the priorities, etc. So, from a flexibility viewpoint, yes, a work-life balance is easier to maintain as an entrepreneur. There is a trade-off to this balance however, in that you definitely have to work longer/harder to accommodate the increased flexibility, but that is a trade-off that I am happy to accept.
Q. What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
A. The one piece of advice that I would give to an aspiring entrepreneur is to pursue something that you are passionate about. When you truly enjoy and feel good about what you are doing in your job, it won’t feel like a job at all. Even if your business fails, you should have the satisfaction for the rest of your life knowing that you tried to accomplish a dream and will not have to worry about the regret of not trying.