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the ladder

Nicholas Reichenbach.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Nicholas Reichenbach, 42, is the founder and CEO of Flow Water, an Ontario-based company that packages alkaline spring water in eco-friendly Tetra Paks in Aurora, Ont. He's started 11 companies.

As a kid, I enjoyed working and making money and selling things. We lived in a small Ontario town called Mildmay. Between the ages of 6 and 8, I would go around to neighbours with a wheelbarrow trying to sell things – like my father's tools.

When 17, I decided to start my first serious business: a clothing store on the beach in Southampton, Ont., where we used to spend summers. I got a $1,500 small-business loan and a credit card with an $800 limit, ran it for a couple of seasons and made some good money. I also started organizing bus tours to Toronto to see concerts, and that's how I started getting into promotion and the music industry.

My partner Billy Melnyck and I ran a successful entertainment company for 10 years, not only promoting shows and concerts, but nightclub venues as well. I bought my first nightclub in Ottawa when I was 19. The capacity was 600 people and we outgrew it really fast and needed a bigger venue, so we bought Atomic.

Billy and I were promoting a global phenomenon – electronic dance music from Europe and Asia. The whole concept of Atomic was about international talent, musicians and DJs coming into Ottawa to perform. We built a multimillion-dollar business at a young age. That expanded our business acumen to being global entrepreneurs, opposed to just a local success.

Then, I got into tech. By 2001, we had sold all our businesses. I went to London to do my masters in international commerce, and started one of the first ring-tone companies. We licensed 250,000 copyrights from over 100 labels worldwide and sold them to Motorola, Nokia – all the major operators in Europe and Asia.

Every one of my companies has operated in white space – the space where consumer intention is strong, but no big company is satisfying it. We got into electronic dance music early because there was a white space – thousands of people loved it but no one was playing it. I produce product that does satisfy it, and that's pretty much my playbook.

Hiring people is a very important aspect and HR is always a challenge. You only need two things to be wildly successful: a product that people believe in and an amazing team to bring it to market. Then, magic happens.

I went out to Silicon Valley for two years as president and board member of my video-chat company, Rabbit. That was an awesome experience, working with the best of the best. Near the tail end of my tenure, I attended Burning Man, as you do when you are in the tech industry in Silicon Valley.

At Burning Man, I had an inspirational, life-changing experience. There's a zero-trace policy there – you have to recycle and take home everything you came with. People brought in tons of plastic water bottles and at the end, threw them all into recycling. And that's where I got my epiphany.

I thought, there's a huge white space here. There's an opportunity to completely disrupt the bottled-water industry by creating more advanced packaging to put high-quality spring water inside. Flow's source is my family's artesian spring, which releases over a million litres of mineral water into the environment naturally every day. It was very serendipitous.

The most important thing about leadership is complete, mindful positivity. There are two ways to think in the world – negative or positive – and I fall on the positive side. That's the greatest gift you can give – an injection of positive energy that makes people feel motivated, to feel like they want to be the most passionate and successful person that they can be.

My words of wisdom for young entrepreneurs are, "Don't ever underestimate the power of positive thought." It's a guiding light in what I do.

Passion is everything. If you're not passionate about the business, magic doesn't happen. When you're passionate, you're determined, you have tenacity and you have persistence. And people see that's what it takes to be successful. I could have made a lot more money in real estate, but that's just not my passion.

As told to Shelley White. This interview has been edited and condensed.

‘The central point is that chief executives should talk, especially new chief executives, about their strategies as much as they can’

Special to Globe and Mail Update