Dan Robichaud, CEO of Password Box, a Montreal-based tech startup, shared an incredibly important piece of startup advice at the most recent Startup Grind Montreal event: “Invest in a good coffee machine and keep a stocked beer fridge, as it has an incredible amount of ROI.” I went to business school and I’m pretty sure no one mentioned this. I guess I missed that class. The founders that speak at Startup Grind events have built businesses from the ground up, showing you that while business education is nice, there are plenty of things it simply doesn’t prepare you for.
Robichaud, a serial entrepreneur, passed on pearls of wisdom to a packed room and Montreal Chapter Director, Rami Sayar. Password Box, a cross-platform identity management service that was recently acquired by Intel, began just like any other fledgling startup, and now boasts 14 million downloads. Aside from telling the story of how Password Box came to be, Robichaud provided great insight on how to build the right team and company culture, as well as tips on when to look for funding or scale your business.
When looking for a co-founder or building your team, Robichaud says to “hire people who are as passionate as you are about solving the problem.” But, since hiring mistakes are bound to happen, you have to be prepared to make tough decisions, including letting incompatible people go as quickly as possible. Furthermore, Robichaud is a huge proponent of leading by example. “If you ask your team to work 50 hours per week, you have to be prepared to work 60.”
Communication and fun are just as important as hiring great people. The Password Box team has lunch together every Monday and post-work drinks every Thursday, giving the team a chance to gel, stay updated, celebrate accomplishments, and let loose.
The lunch sessions are particularly important, as each team member, including management, reports on achievements from the previous week. This keeps everyone in the loop, motivates people to have great things to showcase, and gives the team the opportunity to question decisions made by the company’s leaders. As well, before being acquired by Intel, the company gave team members equity, instilling in them a sense of ownership and motivating them to want to be successful.
When asked when a startup should seek outside funding or scale, Robichaud encouraged budding entrepreneurs to “focus on perfecting the recipe,” or secret sauce, as it will make the business far easier to scale, and “focus on one thing at a time,” like growing your user base, or bringing in revenue, but not both. In his experience, once you have cracked the code for your business, you’ll have proof that the model works, have a clear idea of what you will do with any outside funding, have an easier time influencing people, and be better positioned to chose more strategic investors that can help you grow instead of just provide funding. As well, in Robichaud’s opinion, Quebec is a great place to build a tech startup, but in most cases, to really grow, “you need to head to Silicon Valley to forge the relationships that will help you access the much larger US market.”
Aside from the pearls of wisdom that came out of this discussion, I met some super talented people and had a great evening. If you’re looking for a potential co-founder or business partner, or to find a developer, accountant, business or marketing pro, Startup Grind events are a great forum for meeting like-minded people. You’ll leave feeling inspired, motivated and happy that you went.