A Conversation on Entrepreneurship

A number of venture capital groups and entrepreneurs I’ve met with have said they wish I would share some of my experiences to help other entrepreneurs, and this forum is one of the ways I’m trying to help new business leaders succeed in their ventures. I thought I’d start blogging here on Threshold Impact by talking about the attributes required for successful entrepreneurship.

These blogs here on Threshold Impact are intended to stimulate new ways to think about common problems faced by entrepreneurs. There are lots of different ways to tackle the problems faced by growing businesses, and I hope the suggestions in these blogs are useful.

I’m quite passionate about entrepreneurship; with my new venture, Threshold Impact, I’m spending time mentoring and investing in smart, passionate social entrepreneurs whose teams are creating disruptive innovations in information technology, new media, and medical innovations, seeking social goals as well as for-profit goals.

Let’s begin our Conversation on Entrepreneurship with three potentially provocative statements:

First off, your new ideas are probably not as good as you think they are, and not yet as good as they need to be. There are lots of great ideas out there, and your brilliant concept is probably not quite as innovative or enduring as you hope right now, nor will your current iteration of an idea likely be the final implementation. Now, I’m certainly not dismissing the importance of great ideas; disruptive innovations are definitely important for competitive differentiation. My point is that these innovations are often arrived at as iterations, not one-offs, and they usually take time to execute well. Execution is frankly often the hardest part for a great idea, and it’s not unusual for the original idea to change radically during the entrepreneurial journey.

Second, no matter how smart you might be, you can’t build a great company alone. You need a great team. You’ll need to hire people who are smarter and wiser than you are, and you’ll need solid organizational processes, systems and structures to ensure everything stays together as you grow your enterprise.

Third, the path to entrepreneurial greatness isn’t a straight line. Nor is it possible to build a great company overnight; you need to sustain it all over time. This requires sustained, persistent hard work. Often when you hear about a company that’s hit the big time, you only see the ‘highlights’ reel, and this can make it look considerably faster and easier than it really was.

The reality is that there really isn’t a short cut or easy formula to building a successful, sustainable enterprise. Most of what’s important to grow a company with enduring value is frankly pretty common sense stuff, not magic at all. It’s mostly sustained hard work by a lot of people working together as a team on a shared vision.

So who the heck am I to talk with you about this stuff, anyways? I’m an angel investor, an impact investor, and originally a medical doctor trained at the University of Alberta, who practiced emergency room and family medicine full time for two years and part time for eight years, after which I also went back to school (while working at BioWare) to Ivey to get my MBA. The main business accomplishment I can point to is that I co-founded and was CEO of BioWare for the better part of two decades until I retired in October, 2012.

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We started a long time ago in the world of information technology. My BioWare co-founders (Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Augustine Yip) and I began by doing some early art and programming back in 1991-1992 and we incorporated formally in 1995 – to put this time in context, that was back when Netscape was still the main internet browser! We grew steadily every year from there, first one team, then two teams, then three teams, then five teams, then to multiple locations by the mid-2000s. We were the second-fastest growing company in Alberta in 1999 and 2003, and the fastest growing in 2002 per Alberta Venture. BioWare won multiple awards for quality and innovation including multiple Game of the Year awards from numerous publications and associations such as the British Academy of Film and Television, the International Game Developers’ Association, and the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, as well as multiple years of inclusion on Canada’s Top 100 Employers Awards, Alberta’s Top 55 Employers Awards, and Financial Post’s ‘Ten Best Employers to Work For’ award.

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In 2005 BioWare received a private equity investment from Elevation Partners. Our first external financing, this was a merger with another developer which allowed us to self-fund development, start new locations and create and own additional new intellectual properties. In 2008, a few years later, the company was acquired by Electronic Arts in one of the larger private company acquisitions in the videogame space to date.

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Following that, BioWare continued to grow as a division of EA with new locations. By the time I retired in October 2012 we had five business units, eight locations and over 1400 full time employees worldwide with hundreds more part-time staff under contract. It was quite a diverse business. We focused on many new platforms and new types of games such as mobile, tablet, browser, social, light client MMOs, next gen consoles, PC and Mac, and many different business models such as free to play, retail and digital downloads, subscriptions and software as a service, microtransactions, downloadable content, advertising revenues and more.

I’m passionate about entrepreneurship myself, and I hope these blogs are useful to both new and seasoned entrepreneurs. Next time, I’ll talk about the importance of core values and how these link to your company vision and mission.


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