What qualities make someone a successful entrepreneur?
Bruce Whitaker says you must have a creative mind, be able to see opportunities and innovate. Then you need to put together the necessary resources.
Mr. Whitaker, who worked in international finance for Toronto-Dominion Bank and consulting for Ernst & Young, dreamt of running a small inn where visitors could find respite from today’s hectic world. His inspiration was a hotel in New Delhi that offered simple, uncluttered calm in contrast to the chaos outside.
To make his entrepreneurial dream a reality, Mr. Whitaker bought a two-storey historic building in Stratford, Ont., where a young Thomas Edison once lived while working as a telegrapher. Edison’s Cafe and Inn opened in 2016, and today it enjoys five-star reviews.
But the journey wasn’t easy.
The biggest challenge was the building itself, which was built in the 1840s. Well into an expensive six-month renovation, Mr. Whitaker found out he needed an additional exit for each of the rooms as well as separate stairwells, something the architect had missed and didn’t know how to resolve.
“That meant that I’d only have one room in the inn when I needed three to make it financially viable,” says Mr. Whitaker. “The building code and city inspectors here are very stringent because we’re in a heritage city.”
The solution presented itself when his son happened to come home after geometry class. Mr. Whitaker picked up the boy’s Grade 12 textbook and started calculating rise and run, the parameters for stairway design.
“To solve it, I realized that we had to take out the whole second floor of the building and lower it two feet," Mr. Whitaker says. “So that’s what we did. When you’re at a critical juncture, you’ve got to ask yourself: Do I retreat? In this case, I’d already invested a lot of money. I had to go forward."
Most entrepreneurs hit a wall at some point and have to decide whether to go on, says Eric Morse, professor of entrepreneurship and executive director of the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey Business School at the in London, Ont.
“And it’s not just for startups,” Dr. Morse says. "I think private business owners in the $100-million-revenue range have those moments as well.”
He suggests entrepreneurs surround themselves with people who will speak truth to them. That usually needs to come from other business owners, not family and friends.
“Entrepreneurship can be a scary and lonely thing at times, so getting that peer group, that team of people who are supporters but willing to speak the truth, is really critical,” Dr. Morse says.
People considering entrepreneurship should ask themselves this question first, he says: Do I love this idea? Is this something I want to spend my waking hours on and contribute a lot of resources to, whether that’s time or money or connections?
After answering “yes,” they should run the idea past prospective customers and make sure that they get just as excited about it.
In succeeding as an entrepreneur, Dr. Morse says, character trumps personality. “Am I hard-working? Am I a quick learner? Am I willing to put myself out there?"
There’s been a lot of research on whether one’s personality makes a difference in entrepreneurship, and it shows that there’s not a single successful personality type. "You have introverts who are very successful and extroverts who are very successful. Personalities are not as critical. You need to enjoy what you’re doing.”
That comes easily to Buffy Illingworth, who ️owns and operates Edison’s Cafe Bar as a separate business within Mr. Whitaker’s building. She owned a floral-design studio before creating the café to indulge her passion for holistic nutrition.
Her main concern about starting the café, where she works alongside her husband, Greg, was how to make it work as a family. It helped that their three children – ages 9, 12 and 14 – were a bit older, but running a business does take a lot of one’s energy and attention away from home, Ms. Illingworth says.
“Our biggest risk was our family dynamic,” she says. “Is it going to affect our home life? And it did. There’s a personal cost."
The couple decided not to work evenings, and they took Mondays off. "There were some trying times, but we all got through. The kids are happy and better off because they watched us persevere throughout this challenge. I’m sure it’s made the family stronger.”
Despite the challenges, entrepreneurship can be tremendously rewarding, Dr. Morse says.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing the results of something you created that is creating value for other people and hopefully providing you with the sort of lifestyle you’re looking for,” says Dr. Morse. “That said, it’s also an awful lot of fun.”