As Chairman of Firo Communications, Elizabeth Gage dedicates her time to the promotion of entrepreneurism while developing her three companies: PCM Interactive, Sonic Mobile and Vortic Technologies. A respected pioneer in the area of multi-channel digital marketing solutions Elizabeth is passionate about IT in Marketing and in finding integrated solutions that benefit a customer. She holds an Honors Degree in English from Queen’s University and is a graduate of Business Entrepreneurship from MIT Sloan School of Management.
While our success attracted more customers, more employees, and more profits, it also attracted a billion dollar predator. If I could give someone in my shoes advice I would tell them: “Know the industry you are in. If you are in a billion dollar industry and you are not a billion dollar player you need to whisper and tip toe when you achieve success and hold your breath when you make money”.
Financial Post Magazine, November, 2012 Feature articles written by Christine Dobby of the National Post.
The official start of the 2012 sailing season was recognized by an opening reception at the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club this past weekend. The outgoing Commodore, a former Olympic sailing champion, began with an announcement that the scheduled race for that day had been canceled due to “lack of wind”. It would run tomorrow, he said.
What is “lack of wind” I pondered? And how interesting that only a day earlier I had had a session with a business coach on this very subject.
The coach has senior execs, entrepreneurs and athletes as clients (some of whom he has helped make a come back after serious injury). During our session I was feeling frustrated because while most things seemed to be in place in my business, I was having trouble due to a “lack of wind”. “How are you defining wind Elizabeth?” he asked. This was a very interesting question and I examined my sailing roots for the answer.
When I was young every Saturday morning in the summer my father would wake my brother and I for the sailing race at the Royal Lake of the Woods Yacht Club; “feet on the floor” he would bellow and my brother and I would groan. It took an hour to ready the Lightning (that was the class of boat we sailed in those days) and 45 minutes to tow it to the Yacht Club. We would untangle the halyards, fold all the sails, and bail the boat (every drop had to be sponged out as my father inspected). Some days there appeared to be no wind but to my father this was a light wind day and to him that was an advantage since he had a “light wind crew”. I can remember on one occasion a dozen Lightnings lined up with their crews on the starting line when there was no wind. My father whispered to my brother and I “wait for it….ah there’s a puff” as we drifted another couple of feet. My brother rolled his eyes in absolute boredom because as far as he was concerned my father was making up “the puff” and we were in for a long race.
It occurred to me that to the successful Olympic sailor who has sailed and competed in high winds and to the accomplished entrepreneur who has battled a competitive marketplace and won, starting again in either career can be difficult as the vision that once provided competitive advantage no longer serves as an advantage in a re-start. The problem is in the definition of “wind”. This needs to change.
To my father the “lack of wind” was not important. In fact he never even noticed it. It was all about being in the sailboat, being in the race, and being a sailor. That is what mattered. You see a sailor sails, just as an entrepreneur creates a business. The important thing is that you are in the game and ready for when the real winds of opportunity come because if you think there’s not enough wind to start you might never get started. And, if you never get started you will indeed remain in the doldrums.
On Thursday I was an invited speaker at the EO (Entrepreneurs Organization)Toronto hosted event “Lessons from the Edge”. Prior to my speech a group of us scaled The Edge of the CN Tower Cat Walk. The event is called The Edge Walk. It was a fantastic experience to look down on the expanse of Lake Ontario and the vibrant city of Toronto from 356 meters above.
As Lady Gaga said “The Edge is the Moment of Truth” and indeed it is. It is also where darkness becomes light, where we step from one paradigm to the next and where we step from blindness to discover who we really are. For me the whole “Lessons from the Edge” event was cathartic. It was the perfect venue from which to officially launch into my new life. And while I don’t have all the answers yet, the one thing I have discovered is that when you are on The Edge the most important thing you need is faith and to believe in yourself. I have also discovered that as human beings we are blessed with a remarkable gift, an ability to solve any issue we face in life by going within.
Faith, belief in self, and perseverance is the heart of entrepreneurism. Of course being a crazy risk taker isn’t for the faint of heart. At one point our guide had us walking on The Edge on tippy-toes. Whoa!
A weekend retreat with my EO Forum mates in the Muskokas provided a wonderful opportunity to take a deep dive into our businesses and our workings, exploring what things get in the way to our greater productivity. Facilitator Colin Collard kept us on our toes to the wee hours of 4am. A highlight of the retreat was a mountain bike trek through the woods in pouring rain which tested our stamina and entrepreneurial perserverence. A hot shower never felt so good afterwords. A great moment in time is caught in this photo. From left to right: Brad, Bill, Ron, Thomas, Elizabeth, Richard, Jody and Holt. (Anthony stayed back at the fort to get our cocktails ready)
When I was a little girl my father used to whistle, and sometimes sing, this annoying song. The lyrics were “…she’ll learn to cook and to sew. What’s more she’ll love it I know…” but when I borrowed 10k from him to start a business and paid it back in two weeks I got his attention and our relationship changed.
My father was a lawyer and detail guy and I was a visionary, builder type. Our conversations were the same “what if” and “but have you thought of..” for many years. He was a balance for me. One of the last times I saw him in the nursing home he was having a moment of clarity “Bid! (the nickname he used to call me). How is that guy doing in Toronto you hired?” He had forgotten so much of his life at that point that it was amazing he had remembered my business expansion. The last thing he said to me as he pushed his wheelchair towards the nursing station was “I will hand in my room key and check out, you fetch the car”.
I have always wondered how my Dad, in his good days, might have advised me when a billion dollar company, one of Canada’s greasiest cultures, a monopoly with government ties, the only supplier in a industry, and run by a egotistical man who did not like me or successful women, deliberately orchestrated the overbilling of my company and forced me to shut down my successful company. Would Dad have rallied the legal team to take on the bullies defying the logic of the lawyers at that time that who strongly recommended against taking on a billion dollar company? They said at the time: “It doesn’t matter about the evidence of this wrong doing the legal fees to pursue justice will sink you”. I think he would have. He was a man of principal. Well one thing thing I learned is that when the legal system fails to defend, believe in natural law because it does not decern based on money and it always delivers.
The challenges of founding and growing a business as a woman entrepreneur are far different than those faced by men, for one thing you realize you are alone and are stuck small if you don’t have “Dad” or a suitable stand-in to accompany you to the bank. When I was awarded Woman Entrepreneur of the Yearhttp://pcminteractive.com/woman_ent_2008.html for Manitoba I thanked my all male management team because if I didn’t have them I would not have made it. A key ingredient to our success at that time was putting in place the financial instruments to support our growth. I hired a guy who arranged our million plus operating line at 4% because Dad was no longer available.
For a woman entrepreneur trying to find proper financing, whether that is start-up capital, a term loan, or receivables funding, the chance of success is akin to trying to find a needle in a haystack. It is astounding that only 3-5% of women-owned businesses get any Venture Capital funding and over 95% of all Venture Capital funding goes to companies with NO women founders. Yet women are driving the entrepreneurial sector. There are 7.6 million women entrepreneurs in the United States, generating over $1.2 Trillion in revenue each year. 40% of all privately owned businesses are owned by women. So why are we so badly ignored?
I don’t know. Perhaps it is time “…to learn to cook and to sew…” (I can hear that annoying whistling in my mind’s eye. UGG!).
On the other hand maybe there is hope. Here’s a educational video initiative supported by some trailblazing women in the US including Janet Hanson, the founder of 85 Broads in New York. As one of Goldman Saks’ first female directors, a survivor of breast cancer, Janet is a trailblazer and a supporter of women and women entrepreneurship all over the world. I attended a breakfast in New York several years ago and was amazed by her presence.