Q: When the company relaunched as Lavalife, how key was the name change to your success?
A: Very key. I credit a guy named Peter Housley for that. I had brought him in as CEO when I was chairman, and he led the whole branding of Lavalife. It was phenomenal. The brand Lava did a really good job of making it not only socially acceptable to use technology to fulfill your dating needs, but made it cool.
Q: Why did you sell when you did?
A: The lead reason was probably timing. We felt that the market as we had it defined was nearing its zenith, so it was peaking. It was also getting a little bit crowded with competitors in the U.S. that had deeper pockets than we did.
Q: What did you learn from Lavalife?
A: In a word, it would be confidence. I have an incredible pride that companies can be built from nothing and they can be done in Canada. As a result, I’m putting a lot of energy back into supporting young technology digital companies, because I think we have an incredible level of talent here. It was very formative to be able to launch a Canadian digital company, take on competitors in the U.S., win and sell to a U.S. company at the top of the market. I believe it can be done again and again, so I’m pretty bullish on the entrepreneurs we have in this country.
Q: What makes a good digital business pitch?
A: There are all sorts of ideas and concepts out there, but at some point, the user has to be acquired cheaper than what they’re going to yield. There’s no other way to cut it.
Q: What's essential that people often leave out?
Q: When does sticking with an idea become stupid and you admit failure?
A: The first decision is, do you really want to be an entrepreneur?
It’s not all that relevant to me when you give up on one idea and modify it to go in a different direction. Or if it doesn’t work, apply what you’ve learned to something else. I don’t know too many people who’ve built their own business who haven’t had losers. Learn from your failures and be able to adapt.
Q: What do you look for in an entrepreneur?
A: That fighting spirit. And I won’t work with someone who doesn’t have some level of introspection – some evidence that they’ve looked in the mirror and thought about themselves a bit. I want them to be able to engage in a conversation with me as a partner where it’s not all, ‘you’re great, you’re great’, or disagree without it turning into a personal thing. That’s huge for me.
Q: You’ve invested in Vida , a chain of high-end holistic spas on the west coast of Canada. Why spas?
A: No good reason. I was out in Whistler skiing and got interested in the bodywork you have to do for injuries. I was going to this one spa consistently where the partners were fighting and my friend and I ended up taking some of the partners out. Next thing we knew, we were learning a new business. So we thought we might as well grow it. I enjoy it. It’s kind of off strategy for me.
Q: Have you been able to apply your social media skills?
A: Not enough. That’s something I wake up thinking about. I’m not proud of the strategy for Vida right now. It’s in the middle of a complete overhaul.
Q: What does that involve?
A: A big part of the spa business is customer retention, making sure that they have an experience that they’ll want to come back and repeat. What we need to do is get a lot better at being part of their lives when they’re not in the massage room – through education, letting them know about specials if they’re driven by economics and making the service more convenient
Q: When someone pitches, what makes you bite?