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Three Things

Stuart MacDonald Add to ...

Best known as the guy who started Expedia.ca, a website for travel deals, Stuart MacDonald is the CEO and founder of Tripharbour.ca, an online travel service focused on cruise vacations.

How is 2010 shaping up?

The majority of our business is for Canadians, but we also have Tripharbour.com focused primarily on the U.S. market. We’re definitely seeing that the Canadian market is picking up. It’s stronger than where it’s been for the past couple of years and stronger than the growth we’re seeing out of the U.S. The volume is higher, the traffic is higher.

More advice on running a small business

We had the challenge of starting a business selling cruise vacations literally in the quarter before the bottom fell out of the economy. [The site went live in the spring of 2007.]What’s interesting about the cruise market is that although pricing has been very low over the past couple of years, the actual number of people taking cruise vacations hasn’t fallen, at least in Canada. It declined in the United States, but in Canada, it stayed quite strong. There’s been a lot of discounting over the past couple of years, but that discounting has now practically all gone away.

The indications that we’re seeing for the economy right now are fairly strong. Certainly as far as Canada is concerned, I’m feeling bullish. The U.S. still seems to be quite soft. I don’t think that here in Canada we’re as highly attuned to the depth of the impact that there’s been in the United States. There a much more sombre attitude there than in Canada.

Do you think there should be more support for your business from banks or government?

There’s a lot of talk in Canada about the need for innovation, for home-grown talent, to keep people here and to build businesses from here. There’s some support for it, but for the most part, it’s underdeveloped. The support and action isn’t there to back the talk. I don’t think that there’s been any true level of support or encouragement, be it tax breaks, helping hands or assisting with financing or promotion, especially when it comes to trying to grow digital economy businesses here in Canada.

That’s disappointing because of the consumer online world I’m in. There was a recent online report that Canadians are spending billions of dollars buying things and doing things on the Web. Unfortunately, the vast majority of that money is going to global players who aren’t based here and hardly have any presence here at all.

What’s your advice to others in your industry?

Recognize that trying to do a consumer online business based in Canada brings a bunch of challenges with it. There’s a natural infrastructure that’s based in the United States in places like Boston, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and even Seattle or Texas where there are entrepreneurs who are doing lots of things. There’s an infrastructure for finance and support that is really undeveloped in Canada.

So build a support network for yourself. Make sure that you’re reaching out and connecting with other people and that you know what resources are there for you. Get smart people to help you out. Great ideas are one thing, but it really does come down to making customers’ lives better, and that can be an expensive proposition. Make sure that you’ve got your financing – your investors and supporters – well in hand because things always take longer and cost more than you think they will.

Fundraising for a new venture is very difficult, much harder in Canada than in the United States, so don’t underestimate how hard it’s going to be to get people to back your idea.



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