Apr 03

“Secret” society helps entrepreneurs

(Envision Online founder Todd Jamieson (left) along with Xpertek partner, David Ryan)

(Originally published in Ottawa Business Journal)

Interviewing Envision Online founder Todd Jamieson and Xpertek co-owner David Ryan, it becomes clear that both men attribute a great deal of their business and personal success to membership in the Ottawa chapter of EO, a worldwide entrepreneurs organization with 9,500 businesses in 40 nations. The Ottawa chapter celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. They have 35 members with over 900 employees representing more than $250 million in top line revenues.

“It’s a secret weapon, almost a secret society of successful entrepreneurs meeting once a month for four or more hours to share stories. There is no selling and no telling,” Mr Jamieson explains. “When you belong to a forum, you have to bring it. You can’t be a passenger or a spectator at our meetings. You’ll share things that you probably won’t share with anyone else, even your spouse. It’s not uncommon for people to cry at forum.”

To join EO, you have to be a founder, co-founder or primary shareholder, have a minimum of five employees and revenues of at least $1 million USD annually. It costs around $3,000 per year to belong. It used to be YEO (Young Entrepreneurs Organization) but changed its name to EO as both members aged and the average age of founders went up. Today, people in their 50s are starting companies at a feverish pace as they get laid off by large firms that want to skew younger. They are welcome to join EO as long as they meet minimum requirements.

“I think the thing that has helped me most,” David Ryan says, “is hearing other entrepreneurs talk about their failures, their ups and downs. It gave me perspective as I faced challenges in my own personal life and career.”

Forums are made up of anywhere from six to maybe ten people who are from different industries, and are at different stages of development. They are a mix of $1 million, $10 million and $50 million businesses. Attendees cannot give their opinions or advice, only their experiences. EO follows gestalt principles based on learning via storytelling and analogy. They call it “experience sharing”.

“If you are looking for a traditional networking organization where you can sell to other members, EO is not for you. Advice that changes the way I do business is worth many times the margin I might get from making one more sale,” Todd Jamieson says. “In fact, if I had been involved with EO earlier in my career, I am sure I would be much farther down the path to success because I would have made fewer major mistakes, which are just huge time suckers.”

Mr Jamieson grew Envision Online from a one person web shop to a TSX-listed marketing agency that he says actually gets Internet-based marketing, “We’re the Mike Holmes of our space—we really do know how to move the needle for not-for-profits, NGOs, charities and SMEEs.” A big growth area for Envision is spending client funds for them on monthly Internet marketing campaigns. It’s a riff on the old marketing agency model where Madison Avenue firms (glorified in AMC’s Mad Men) dream up then implement national advertising campaigns. Coincidentally, it has generated stable CMRR (committed monthly recurring revenues) for his firm.

When I turn to David Ryan and ask about Xpertek, a 24/7 post-disaster restoration firm, he says, “I’m a salesman really. I sold insurance when I owned a Co-operators franchise. After that, I seized an opportunity to grab a valuable parking spot in front of (Byward Market-located) Oregano’s restaurant for my emerging rickshaw business. Next, I launched a dot-bomb business called Electronic Time Capsule before finally finding my niche with Xpertek.”

Xpertek grew from 2 people to 25 and now its revenues are derived 90% from emergency commercial/corporate/institutional restoration and remediation work. Last year, they sent a team of volunteers to Toronto to help with flood relief.

Having a life coach or a group of them can change your life. Just ask former NFL superstar wide receiver Terrell Owens. He says it has made a huge difference in his life and that, if he had had a life coach during his playing days, it would probably have made him a better player too. “Everyone needs a co-active life coach to help them find their way through an increasingly complex professional world and personal life,” Mr Owens said in a September 2013 CNN interview.

Finally, here’s what Anthony Greebank said in The Book of Survival, “To live through an impossible situation, you don’t need the reflexes of a Grand Prix driver, the muscles of a Hercules, the mind of an Einstein. You simply need to know what to do.” That’s where EO is positioned.

Dr Bruce M Firestone, Ottawa Senators founder; ROYAL LePAGE Performance Realty broker. Follow him on Twitter @ProfBruce.


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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.