you first meet Ottawa-based ProjectSpeaker founder, Pierre Bisaillon, you can
be forgiven if you think you are in the presence of a charming French film
actor. Fluent in English, French and German, Mr Bisaillon is a well-traveled,
serial entrepreneur with an international focus. His winding path to get to Ottawa and to start
building a new platform connecting keynote speakers, event planners and
suppliers to that industry proves it.
most entrepreneurs, Pierre
started early. As a kid growing up in North
Bay, he was into skateboards in a big way but like
most 15-year olds, his eyes were bigger than his wallet. One thing he noticed
was that almost all the ads in skateboard magazines had small print somewhere
that said, “Dealer enquiries welcome”. He asked his father what that meant who
said, “It means if you own a store, you can become a dealer and get $300 boards
sounded promising to Pierre
so he opened a store—in his parents’ garage—called “The Big Wheel Skateboard
Shop”. How did he come up with that name? His dad kept asking him, “So you
think you are a big wheel now?” and it stuck.
Pierre used $50 of his McDonald’s
earnings to print Big Wheel letterhead and envelopes (with a logo designed for
him for free by a highschool friend) and sent out 150 of them to dealers some
of whom approved the new “store”. Next, Pierre
created a Big Wheel catalogue (by gluing cool pictures from magazines into a
scrapbook) and went from skater hangout to skater hangout selling boards for
$300. He took cash deposits of 50% so he was never out of pocket any money even
after paying COD to his suppliers.
wasn’t long before Mr Bisaillon had to quit his McDonald’s job to work full
time at Big Wheel despite being nominated in the lot and lobby cleanup event at
McD’s Olympics where teams from across their network of stores compete for
prizes and bragging rights. Pierre
proudly recalls he was nominated for his innovation not speed—he was the first
to close half an entrance or aisle for cleaning instead of the whole area…
Pierre studied computer science at York University
spending two summers debugging COBOL which helped him decide that he would
rather hang himself than spend his career as a coder. So he decided to apply to
the RCMP, a move his father approved of.
around the same time, the university kicked him out of residence for running
another business from his dorm room—this time he was running a stock agency, an
enterprise that indulged another of Pierre’s
passions—a love for photography.
leaving York, instead of heading to the RCMP, he
headed to Toronto
to open an office and work on his agency full time. Over the next seven years,
he built relationships with magazines and publishers (who buy images) as well
as with photographers, many of whom like most artists were poor. After seven
years representing his stable of creatives, he sold the agency to Tony Stone Worldwide
(now called Getty Images) for $250,000 and joined up with them on a three year
Pierre finally had not only great relationships
with buyers, but also a practically unlimited inventory of product courtesy of
Tony Stone, who became an important influence in Pierre’s life.
was so impressed with the work Mr Bisaillon had done with Tony Stone Canada
that he asked Pierre to go to New York and open an office there. The only
knew about NYC is he had watched a few episodes of NYPD Blue on TV.
Nevertheless, under Pierre’s
management, the office went from 0 to $10 million in sales in 18 months.
asked Mr Bisaillon what the key to his repeatable sales success was. He said,
“Look, we had the product—the most beautiful set of images ever created. But
some of the staff in some of our offices felt that they were better than the
clients. All I did was teach them to build relationships instead of sales.”
his next stop working with a Tony Stone competitor (Pictor), a fateful
intra-company newsletter (from their Munich
office) came across his email. On its cover, Pierre
saw a picture of woman; within minutes he was on the phone with their London office asking
about her. Her name was Sylvie and she worked in the Munich office.
Sylvie came to NYC on vacation and decided to check out Pictor’s New York office about
which she had heard good things. Pierre
was only too happy to show her around. Next thing they did was drive 15 hours
to North Bay to
celebrate Christmas with his parents. Three months later they were married.
living with Sylvie in Munich, Pierre started a tech business—this one a
Frankfurt VC-backed venture creating and distributing PDF versions of newsstand
magazines which went very well. After selling it to Media Professionals, Syvlie
and Pierre decided to try living in Canada. Their first year was spent
living on their sailboat (a Hughes Columbia 36) docked at Toronto Island Marina
in the summer and Marina Quai West in winter. But the arrival of a baby daughter
focused them on a more permanent lifestyle so Pierre
took a job consulting for DNA13 and the family moved to Ottawa.
leaving DNA13 and experimenting with other start-up ideas, Pierre launched ProjectSpeaker.com. He
understands that you can create a great deal of value by creating useful
platforms for industries where information is highly asymmetrical. He puts it
this way, “When you bring transparency to an industry, top performers, some of
whom may not be great marketers, can rise to the top.”
free for event planners and keynote speakers to create a profile on
ProjectSpeaker’s platform. Over 3,000 speakers have taken advantage of the
opportunity so far (for the purposes of full disclosure, I have created a
profile there) and more than 15,000 event planners and 17 speaker bureaus have
as well. ProjectSpeaker will make money from suppliers for things like venues,
AV, tech, travel, ground transportation, food and beverage, party rental,
catering, hotels, media relations and marketing—they pay to get access to
relevant RFPs generated by the system. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry and
there are large players already in place but their differentiating value is
that they are not building a directory like what their competitors already
have, they are building a community.
Stone instilled in me that we are here to serve our clients. If we help them
become more successful, we will become more successful. That’s our whole