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leadership lab

Founder and CEO of O2E Brands, which includes home-service companies including 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

It's a critical question every entrepreneur has faced: how do you dominate your industry? The answer is incredibly simple – but it's not easy to execute. You need to look to the corners of your market, find what's missing and carve out your niche.

When you think of industry leaders, you might default to U.S. companies such as Starbucks and Facebook. But there are innovative people doing inspiring things right here on home soil. Here are words of wisdom from some of Canada's best business leaders.

RYU's Marcello Leone on opportunity

As a member of Vancouver's "first family of fashion," Marcello Leone is no newcomer to the retail industry. His parents were the first people to import European fashion to North America and founded Vancouver's iconic store, Leone. He grew up learning the ropes of the high-end fashion industry, but at 42 years old, he decided it was time to move on from the family business.

In 2011, Mr. Leone saw an opportunity in an unexpected place: an athletic wear brand called Respect Your Universe Apparel (or RYU). He realized that in an industry dominated by "athleisure" and poorly made gear, RYU could fill a much-needed gap. After investing in the company for several years, he bought it and rebranded to better meet customer needs.

Originally a mixed martial arts brand, RYU is now men's wear's answer to Lululemon, which primarily targets a female consumer base. It's technical, durable athletic wear that's fashionable at the same time. That's not to say RYU doesn't make women's clothing, too (it does, among other things). But Mr. Leone recognized a need, seized an opportunity, and is dominating his niche.

Kiip's Brian Wong on networking

Brian Wong is your stereotypical tech startup genius: a charismatic millennial with ambition and a big idea. The Vancouver native (who interned on our PR team as a student) graduated university at just 18 years old and founded Kiip Inc. in San Francisco a year later. His business – a mobile ad company that creates ads people actually like – is now worth $20-million. How did he do it? Mr. Wong says success is all about networking.

Marketing your business is about getting in front of the right people at the right time. The same goes for marketing yourself: it's all about who you know. Mr. Wong learned early on that if he could get in a room with the right people, his opportunities would be limitless. So that's what he did. He talked his way in to parties with prominent movers and shakers, asking anyone and everyone he could for help.

He discovered that genuine curiosity and desire to learn outweigh experience every time. He has a "fake it til you make it" mentality; if you act like you belong in the same room with the big dogs, eventually you'll be one of them.

Herschel Supply Co.'s Jamie & Lyndon Cormack on staying true to yourself

When brothers Jamie and Lyndon Cormack decided to launch Herschel Supply Co., their goal was to create the most ubiquitous backpack in the world. Nine years later, their heritage-inspired products can be found in more than 70 countries. But despite the global mindset for their brand, the two have managed to hang on to their hyper-local roots.

The Cormack brothers both live in Deep Cove, part of North Vancouver, B.C. Both hike the local mountains regularly, fish in local waters, and even co-own a small retail shop on Deep Cove's main street. They live the epitome of Pacific West Coast life, but Herschel backpacks can be found anywhere from their own backyard to the bustling streets of downtown Tokyo.

They've struck an interesting balance: Herschel looks like an authentic, high-quality outdoor brand, but its products are mass-produced in China and aren't really built for rugged lifestyles. Yet Herschel has maintained its authenticity by being transparent; the Cormacks have never pretended their brand is anything but what it is. They're proof that you don't need to compromise who you are in order to grow an international brand.

Climbing to the top of your industry doesn't have anything to do with industry at all. It's about having grit, passion and the know-how to set yourself apart from the competition. You need to seize opportunity, always be learning, and never forget where you came from. Only then can you reach (and maintain) your seat at the top.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.