Victoria Lennox is the upbeat and extremely kind CEO of Startup Canada. This is an organization which works tirelessly to make ours a more entrepreneurial country, from a policy and culture perspective. Keep in mind Victoria co-founded Startup Canada fewer than five years ago, and put into context, it is a household name for everyone involved in the Canadian entrepreneurship community.
I wanted to know what drives a person like Victoria. How does she accomplish it all? What pieces of wisdom does she have for twenty-somethings? As much as I think those of you who are in the startup community will enjoy this, I think anyone looking to learn how to kick butt will love it also.
Can you give us a preview of a typical day for you?
Victoria Lennox: A typical day is me waking up at five in morning and getting a head start on some of the work in my inbox. I like to get to the office before any of my team and make sure everything is ready for the day, and everyone is good to go. Throughout day, I will do everything from a team scrum with staff, to sharing the voice of Canadian entrepreneurs with senior politicians, bureaucrats or others like the Governor General, and speaking at events across Canada. I spend about half of the day working with the team, and the other half out and about in the community, speaking or meeting with entrepreneurs. Usually in the evening I have downtime, and I begin planning for next day and answering any emails I would have received during office hours.
A typical day involves anything from cleaning out the storage room to high level meetings, because I’m an entrepreneur with a small team.
Your first job was delivering the Pennysaver when you were twelve years old (we have that in common). What has that taught you?
VL: Oh goodness! It taught me waking up early – I think the early bird gets the worm. And I learned lessons in efficiency. Developing processes to create more efficient ways of doing things. Sorting out the right route most efficiently, getting done what needs to get done. As well, you remember with the Pennysavers we actually had to assemble all the flyers into the Pennysavers bag? I was finding tools to do that so that I could go a lot faster. A lot of it is about systems, thinking and processes. Waking up early and finding efficiencies in everything you do are key lessons that I learned.
What are three key skills or lessons you recommend people pick up in their twenties?
VL: The first thing you should learn to get over is the start. In your twenties, start a lot of different things. As they age, a lot of people have a hard time starting things. So start, and fail quickly if you have to.
Second, hustle. You need to be able to be detail oriented, but you need to have hustle. Set goals for yourself. It is so important, especially in such a formative time of your life, that you develop rigour with what you do, so you can take on more and begin prioritizing the things that deserve your time. I recommend developing a hustle mentality while keeping the detail-oriented aspect in check, so that you are presenting yourself professionally.
Third is to listen. Some of the most amazing and accomplished entrepreneurs that I know have a fine ability to listen. Not to appear to be listening, but to genuinely be listening. What that says to the person across from you is “I see you,” and that is really, really important. When you are internalizing and then leveraging what you just learned, you can adapt your approach, and that is really about relationship building. It ultimately helps you to be more successful in business and in sales.
Mounir asks: When creating an online marketplace/shared economy, what would you consider to be more important to focus on first (if not simultaneously) — supply or demand?
VL: Definitely demand. A lot of entrepreneurs I work with every day have this amazing idea or have developed this phenomenal product or service and they do so much work to build up their supply, but they haven’t even tested their demand, or built a MVP, or tested if someone would actually buy it. Not just say they would buy it, but actually pay for that product or service. To build a successful company with a real business model, you need to make sure there is demand. It is not enough to have proof of demand on paper, either. As an entrepreneur you have to believe in yourself enough and respect your time and skills enough to ensure there is a pull for your product or service. You don’t want it to be a laborious push all the time. You want it to be an accelerated pull from the people who you are making these services and products for. So, I say, focus on freakin’ demand.
What are you most proud of?
VL: A few weeks ago Startup Canada was awarded with Canada’s volunteer awards. It is probably one of coolest achievements of Startup Canada. The reason for that is we won in the social innovation category, and we are one of six recipients across Canada. What was so exceptional about this volunteer award was that it gave us the chance to recognize all the volunteers that have contributed to Startup Canada to date across country, and we can celebrate together. Over the past four to five years we have had over 500 volunteers who have selflessly given their time to create a more entrepreneurial Canada, and what was most exciting for me was that I was able to bring some of our volunteer board directors along with us. Throughout the summer we are going to be fostering a social media campaign to highlight our wonderful volunteers from coast to coast, who have helped to build this. It is a huge achievement and wonderful milestone. We are the youngest organization being recognized.
What does success mean to you?
VL: I have had to reconcile this because in a world of entrepreneurs I live in, for many success is freedom and independence. For me, I reconciled that I am a social entrepreneur and I build non-profits. That is what I am good at.
So for me, success is twofold. I have to have an impact on other people and their lives. I just get such a kick out of it when someone says “because of you or Startup Canada I was make able a sale, or get on Dragons Den or create jobs” or “I was able to rediscover myself and passions and live life to its fullest”. That is one side, it appeals to me as a human and makes me feel really fulfilled. On other side of it, when I look back on my life, I want to make an impact for Canada. I know it is “one person at a time,” but what I love about working with entrepreneurs is that when you create that culture of entrepreneurship it has a ripple effect. I want to create a more prosperous future for Canada, where every Canadian, newcomer, woman, and indigenous person, from all different backgrounds, knows that they can pursue their dreams through entrepreneurship or employing an entrepreneurial mindset.
That is success to me. It is not an award, it is not money, it is individual and macro-transformation simultaneously. That’s what really excites me.
Have some more time? Read this: What We Can Learn From The Startup World
There you have it, friends. Nineteen coffees down, eighty one to go. I hope you learned something.