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THIS IS MY STORY

The short version:

I am an entrepreneur and SAAS marketing consultant. I work with software startups to help them identify their best growth channels and scale up in a data-driven and systematic manner. Previously, I was the VP of Growth at Thinkific, an online course platform.

I’m also not fond of writing about myself in the third person.

The long version:

I graduated in 2010 with a degree in engineering. The first part of this story is going to sound familiar, so I’ll skim through it. I used to work a well-paid, corporate job as a management consultant at Deloitte. I realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I quit and left the comfort of my home in Canada to explore the world and figure out what I wanted to do.

Pretty standard so far, right? At this point, you probably expect that I went to Thailand and then wrote a blog about starting a lifestyle business with pictures of myself living life on some beach. Well, that’s not quite what happened. Oh, there are beaches involved, but not until much later.

My first stop after quitting in 2012 was Chile. The government had a program called Startup Chile, where they invited entrepreneurs to move there to start a business with $40,000 in funding. My friends and I were picked amongst thousands of other teams, largely due to this epic promo video.

Fun fact: I still use the same MacBook you see in the video, but now it’s littered with dozens of other stickers, besides the Lean Startup Machine sticker you see there.

As you can see from the video, we were trying to build a social network for travelers. We eventually realized that it was a lot more complicated than we initially estimated, and building a social network from scratch with a distributed team across 3 continents wasn’t possible with the resources we had. That meant pivoting.

Failures: 1. Successes: 0.

Being in South America, we could see that most small tour operators over there struggled with bringing in new customers. Many of them offered excellent adventures, but they didn’t have a website, and if they did they didn’t know how to market it.

So we partnered with a select group of tour operators across Chile and launched a site that listed their tours. The idea was to market the site to travelers, allow them to book tours on the site, and then take a cut off the top while letting the tour operators handle the execution.

That’s my co-founder talking about the idea, while I stood by. I’m pretty sure I had a few words to say too but they seem to have been edited out!

While it was a solid idea, and it solved a real problem (today you know it as Airbnb Experiences), we ran out of funding before we could even launch. Eventually, my partners and I decided to shut down operations and go our own ways.

I had started freelancing at this point to sustain myself. Writing comes naturally to me, so I did content marketing for companies like Flippa. I also learned how to design, and started designing site on 99 Designs.

However, I hadn’t let go of the dream of building a company, so I joined the Startup Leadership Program in Singapore to give my travel idea another shot. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to secure a long-term visa, and so I had to leave after 3 months (which is 2 months and 29 days too long for anyone to stay in Singapore anyway).

Failures: 2. Successes: 0.

Thailand had always been on my mind, not for the beaches but for the Muay Thai camps, and that became my next logical destination. At this point, I was making enough money from freelancing that I could afford a few months to focus on traveling and trying new things.

The 3 months I spent in Phuket, learning martial arts and becoming fitter than I’d ever dreamt of, were some of my best days. I’d spend all day training and all evening freelancing, and when the time came to leave I had come to believe that I could achieve anything.

Tiger muay thai in Phuket

The guy in the top-left corner was my trainer.

I also tried starting a protein bar business in Thailand, servicing all the Muay Thai camps and their customers. There was a market there, but importing the bars from the USA took a long time and cut my margins a lot. To scale it up, I’d have to import in bulk which meant getting a business license, something I wasn’t eligible for on account of not being a citizen.

Failures: 3. Successes: 0.

I then moved on to Vietnam, where I met other entrepreneurs who were creating businesses online. Playtime was over and, with their help, I started to focus on my freelancing and business ideas. I cut down my service offerings, started to specialize in content marketing, and increased my prices, while experimenting with other revenue models, like eCommerce.

This time, I started a motivational poster business selling posters in bulk to gyms around the world. I made a few big sales and I could probably have expanded that more and made a decent living from it. After all, you only need to make a couple of thousand dollars each month to live like a king in Vietnam.

However, my heart wasn’t in it, and I felt the tug of home after two years on the road. I was doing well as a freelance marketer but I knew if I wanted to build a real startup, and not just a lifestyle business, I needed more experience. So I shut the poster store down and returned to my home in Canada.

Failures: 4. Successes: 0.

Back in Canada, I focused on attracting more clients for my freelance marketing business. The combination of being in the same time zone as my clients, along with a refined sales process and my past experiences lead me to land some interesting new clients, including a promising Vancouver-based eCommerce platform startup called LemonStand.

lemonstand office

In 2019, LemonStand was acquired by Mailchimp! A well-deserved success for the team who toiled away all those years.

After a successful project, I was invited to join the LemonStand team full-time as the first marketer. Through content marketing and experiments in other growth channels, I helped quadruple the customer base in one year.

Failures: 4. Successes: 1.

During my year at LemonStand, I continued to freelance and also created an online course showing people how to build their own successful freelance blogging business the way I had done. I launched the course on Udemy and made enough sales to validate it as a business idea.

The problem with Udemy is that it’s a marketplace and they control everything, including the prices and how much you get paid out. This lead to me searching for an online course platform and I found two startups, Thinkific, and a Berlin-based platform. The Berlin-based one hired me as a consultant, and I helped them develop a marketing strategy. Leveraging this experience, I approached Thinkific, who also happened to be based in Vancouver.

What was initially meant to be an attempt at landing a new consulting client eventually became a job offer. Thinkific was in a rapidly growing industry and market share was up for grabs. They had a small team of 8 highly passionate people. It was an exciting time to be in the space, and I decided to come on as the VP of Growth.

thinkific team

Failures: 4. Successes: 2.

My role as VP of Growth was to help the company accelerate. They had product-market fit, early traction, and they wanted to pour fuel on the fire. I applied my experiences and expertise at finding new growth channels to the company and things took off immediately.

As we found channels that worked, like paid, partnerships and content, we started hiring for them. My marketing team grew, as did the whole company. At the end of my first year, there were around 40 people in the company and our revenues had grown 10X! Two years later it was 80 people and 20X.

In late 2017, after almost two years at the company, I felt it was time for me to step back into entrepreneurship. It was a tough decision to make. We’d built an amazing team, and I’d played a part in hiring many of them, so it was like leaving my family. But the company was at a good place and there was no better time for me to strike out again.

 

Failures: 4. Successes: 3.

A large part of our growth at Thinkific was due to partnerships with other companies. That, and my media exposure on behalf of the company, had helped me build up a network of founders and marketers who wanted to hire me when I announced that I was leaving Thinkific.

Within weeks I was already booked out with consulting work. At first, I wasn’t even sure how I wanted to structure my services and pricing, but my first clients helped me define that.

I helped companies like CartHook, ReCharge, and Demio with their growth strategy, by applying my framework to identify their best channels. I helped Procurify and Olark with their ad campaigns.

As 2017 ended and 2018 started, my work with these companies continued and they, in turn, referred me to more clients. My new work from home lifestyle also meant I could focus on my fitness and take the time to explore other interests.

Failures: 4. Successes: 4.

Then, in the fall of 2018, something interesting happened. One of my clients, Bonsai, introduced me to a company called Gorgias, based out of SF. I’d always been fascinated with Silicon Valley and this was my chance to see SF for the first time and grow my network there.

That experience taught me a lot. For starters, I realized that Silicon Valley was miles ahead of other places when it came to marketing. Using the latest tools and technology, marketing teams in SF were doing twice as much with half the resources than startups elsewhere.

I contracted with Gorgias for about 3 months, helping them set up the foundations for their marketing and growth. We ran an online summit, set up an affiliate network, created automated cold email campaigns, built out new content, launched ads, and more.

While I could have stayed on in a full-time capacity, I decided not to. Entrepreneurship was calling to me again, now that I was in the heart of Startup Land. But first, I needed to infiltrate the Valley.

Tiki night with the Gorgias team. One year later, they would go on to raise a few million $$$ more and triple in size.

Failures: 4. Successes: 5.

The more time I spent in SF, the better I understood its inner workings. The unending cycles of raise money, hire quickly, grow rapidly, and become a unicorn or die trying were exhilarating. You either worked at a VC firm or a startup, and it was really easy to connect with investors and founders.

Using LinkedIn and Twitter, I grew my network rapidly. Plus, there’s always something happening in SF – happy hours, funding parties, milestone parties, and other startup events. I met famous investors, founders of unicorn startups, and some of the smartest people I know.

All of this lead to an abundance of opportunities in SF. I worked with startups like Plato, Eden, ClickUp, and more. I ran workshops, got invited to speak on stage, and started mentoring startups via accelerators like Acceleprise and other VC firms.

Most importantly, I made a ton of great friends!

My first ever Twitter meetup!

Failures: 4. Successes: 6.

I’m counting all of 2019 as one success but it’s way more. Now in January of 2020, looking back at this story that spans a decade, I’ve realized how far I’ve come. As they say in the Valley, I’ve experience hockey-stick growth over the past 10 years.

While I still consult for startups (have a look at my services) I’m going back full circle. This story started with my failed attempts at entrepreneurship. At this point, I think I have enough experience to give it another go, so I’m working on something cool. Stay tuned!

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