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Being self-employed is a new trend enjoyed by Brenda Ee Kwun, who quit her job in real estate to make travel cards. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)
Being self-employed is a new trend enjoyed by Brenda Ee Kwun, who quit her job in real estate to make travel cards. (Laura Leyshon for the Globe and Mail)

Entrepreneurs

The self-employed: Being my own boss and loving it Add to ...

Brenda Ee Kwun, 35, Vancouver

Founder and chief navigator, Travellers Deck Ltd.

Field: Marketing and publishing

How it started: I had been working in real estate, selling Vancouver property in Asia. I finally left the industry in December, 2008, to start my own business. I just got tired. The market had collapsed. For me, it was a good time to take a break. While working in Asia, I travelled to more than 30 countries. Uncovering interesting, local places to eat became a hobby of mine, and this was one of the reasons I decided to start Travellers Deck [a "guidebook" in flash cards that showcase 100 of the best places to eat and shop in Vancouver]

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How it's going: We landed major accounts right from the start with Chapters, the Bay, MarketPlace IGA, and London Drugs. So far, we've sold about 5,000 decks, and our goal is to sell 300,000 by end of the year. What really excites me is that I'm creating something for myself and setting an example for my daughter.

Perks and pitfalls: It's great to be able to decide when I wake up in the morning. I can work from home, wear my PJs all day, and there's the beauty of seeing my daughter so much. But I thought I'd have weekends off. That hasn't been the case. Also, managing people can be a challenge.

What I've learned: Even though I was successful in my previous career, being the owner of a business is more stressful because you are always thinking about whether you should spend money on things or not. I am very hands on, but I am learning how to delegate. Regular communication with my staff is very important and giving them responsibilities and letting them make mistakes allows them to grow and become more confident. It's a lot of hard work, but if you believe in yourself and you're willing to make sacrifices, there could be big payoffs in the end.

When I hope to match my old salary: Probably one year from now, after paying off my start-up costs and debt. I take a small salary now and anything extra goes right back to the company.



Stephen Johnston, 45, Calgary

Founding partner, Agcapita Partners

Field: Fund management

How it started: I worked in London [England]/note> for 14 years, at Société Générale, managing the private equity allocation of a $500-million fund. My view over time was that there are lots of small investment ideas but people don't typically raise money for smaller funds. So I moved back to Canada where the costs of starting a business are lower, and created this company for investment ideas that are much more concentrated and specialized.

How it's going: During the financial crisis, none of our funds went down in value. We've grown to over $100-million in assets. There's a real need in the market for investors to get access to these kinds of alternative investment products.

Perks and pitfalls: I like that I have the ability to implement my idea at whatever pace I chose. It's all about satisfying your customers' needs and it's very satisfying to have happy customers - in this case happy investors - and to find good ideas and implement them. The pitfalls are that you run the risk that your business doesn't succeed. But I would say that really isn't a pitfall. Ultimately, it's just an experience.

What I've learned: There's no substitute for experience and the best way to become a successful business person is just to start your own business and learn all the lessons the hard way. The worst case is you're not successful but you learn a fantastic amount and go back to what you were doing before.

When I hope to match my old salary: I matched it in two years.



Adrienne D'Amico, 33, Vaughan, Ont.

Co-founder, We Bake in Heels

Field: Custom cake design

How it started: I had been working for other people for years and years. I ran an ad agency in Toronto and [my co-founder]Catherine D'Agostino worked as a graphic designer. She has always been an incredible baker and studied at Bonnie Gordon cake design school. We thought our talents would be put to better use if we were working for ourselves so we quit our jobs in 2009, and opened our business. We had a lot of great experience working for other people and we wanted to apply what we had learned to our own business. Plus, cake design has become really popular.

How it's going: We've been very busy for weeks, booking up really quickly, and we've even had to hire people. What surprises me is the loyalty of the customers. People are so supportive of small businesses and keep telling others about us or coming back.

Perks and pitfalls: I get to hang out with my best friend all day. We laugh and have a great time. We trust each other, and we set the environment we want. And we get to eat cake all day! But you're always worrying about whether the business will make it. I didn't think it would be this much work. The hours have been crazy [7 a.m. to 9 p.m.]and you have to make the hard decisions you're used to other people making.

What I've learned: It's best to do something you enjoy and feel passionate about. Work hard, and you will get as much out of your business as you put in.

When I hope to match my old salary: Within the year, though because we do have plans for expansion, we will be reinvesting back into the company first.

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