TELUS is a proud supporter of entrepreneurs and so we’ve partnered with VancityBuzz to share a series tips for business success. We’re also inviting Canadian business leaders to pay it forward by sharing their own #MyBusinessTip with eager entrepreneurs across Canada. With every tip shared, TELUS will donate $25 to Futurpreneur Canada.
Boris Wertz is one of the top tech early-stage investors in North America and the founding partner of Version One, which he operates from Vancouver.
Version One has invested in over 40 internet companies to date, including Indiegogo, Frank & Oak, AngelList, Clio, Clarity, Indochino, SilkStart and Wattpad.
We sat down with Boris to learn about this background and hear his best #MyBusinessTips for today’s young entrepreneurs.
Where were you 10 years ago? What were you focused on?
10 years ago, I was the Chief Operating Officer at AbeBooks. I was focused on building AbeBooks and leading the team on product, marketing, biz dev, sales, and customer service.
If you could start your career over knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your younger self?
Always look out for opportunities. On the one hand, have a plan, but be super flexible and look out for new opportunities that are coming up.
When I think back on some of the best things that have happened to me, they were roughly within the plan, but came up kind of spontaneously, and I jumped on them pretty quickly.
I think the combination of having a plan and then keeping your eyes and ears open for opportunity is the best strategy.
What lessons did you have to learn the hard way that you now try to teach other entrepreneurs?
Focus, focus, focus. As an entrepreneur you have a tremendous amount of ideas, and see a tremendous amount of opportunities, otherwise you wouldn’t be an entrepreneur. At the same time, you’re only successful when you focus on very few priorities and things that really matter. Filtering the really important stuff from the noise is an extremely important task, but also a very tough one.
You’ve been interviewed a lot on what you look for in a company, but what should a founder look for in an investor?
I think you should play three roles as an investor. The first one is somebody who supports you, believes in you, and in good times or bad is your cheerleader. You don’t need someone who trashes you when you’re doing badly, but someone who supports you.
The second role is to also be the harshest critic. You need to deliver honest feedback. You don’t improve as a startup if you just say “everything is fine” when everything isn’t fine. You need to put the facts on the table.
The third one is to be a coach to the entrepreneur in terms of really developing him and showing him how he can develop as a person and a leader.
Those are the three things I look for in an investor: the cheerleader, a really honest critic, and a coach for the founding team.
There are a lot of different views on failure in the startup world. What are yours?
First of all, I think failure definitely gives you very important lessons. Things that haven’t worked out open your eyes much more than successes or when everything comes easily.
At the same time, it’s important to be aware how much time you spend on the failure. If you work on a failed startup for four or five years, you won’t have learned much besides the fact that this market didn’t work out, and that startups are hard.
It comes down to failing fast. If you fail slowly, that doesn’t help you much — you just waste time. If you fail fast, you can learn really important lessons, and the next time around you’ll hopefully succeed.
If you had to build another startup, what problem would you try to solve?
At this stage in my career, I would go for something with a bigger vision or mission — something world-changing related to food, education or health care.
Once you have initial success in things that are perhaps less inspirational, then at some stage you feel like you want to spend your time on things that truly matter to solve the world’s greatest problems.
When or where do you do your best work?
In the office. I usually need some thinking time in an area where it’s not too noisy. I’m not good at working in coffee shops, besides having meetings. To do the work that matters for my business, which is having good conversations with people and taking time to think, I need a quiet environment, which the office is best for.
How do you balance your work, travel, and family life?
I think the important thing is to be either on the job or the family. The worst thing is trying to be in between, and trying to get work done when the family is around. Sometimes you have to do it when something is urgent, but it’s usually unproductive because you’re not getting the work done as efficiently as you want, and everybody else is frustrated because you’re not really there.
I think splitting your time in terms of either you’re here or you’re there is probably some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.
Do you have any rituals or routines that keep you grounded?
Taking regular vacations where I do all the things I usually don’t do. I do a lot of reading, but don’t often get to read real books, so I enjoy that on vacation. I try to completely switch off.
The second thing is doing regular sports. The one thing that really helps me is having a personal trainer. Before I always had excuses for not getting up to run in the mornings, but now on Wednesday mornings at 6am, it’s personal training. It doesn’t matter if I came in the night before at midnight, I still get up. It’s really great for accountability.