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Serial entrepreneur's advice to fellow Canadians: Think bigger

As much as Canada seems to be going through an encouraging entrepreneurial renaissance, Dan Martell contends there is a major piece of the puzzle still missing: Canadians don't have large enough ambitions.

Rather than trying to conquer the world, Canadians seem to content to play well domestically.

"Canadians don't allow themselves to think big," he said during a recent interview. " They are awkward, and they don't want friends to think they are crazy. We don't give ourselves enough credit for the things we are capable of doing."

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Mr. Martell is a classic example of a serial entrepreneur who wasn't content to enjoy modest success in Canada.

By the time he was 26, the Moncton native had a 20-employee company, Spheric Technologies Inc., that had $2-million in sales.

Despite his success, Martell believed he didn't really understand how business was operated so he sent an e-mail to Frank McKenna, New Brunswick's premier, asking if he could recommend anyone who could provide some help.

Mr. McKenna suggested Ken Nickerson, a successful entrepreneur, who, in turn, suggested that if Mr. Martell was serious about becoming an entrepreneur, he should move to Silicon Valley, which is seen as the world's entrepreneurial epicentre.

"Ken said: 'The best thing you can do is move to the Valley, so you can teach people in New Brunswick what you have learned," Mr. Martell said. "I had a half-built house and I just sold my company, so I packed my suitcase because Ken said it is the best thing you can do and go see if any crazy ideas will hold water with the smartest people in the world."

Armed with energy and enthusiasm, the 31-year-old Mr. Martell sold Spheric in 2008, and not only survived his move to Silicon Valley, but thrived.

Flowtown, a startup co-founded with Ethan Bloch, was acquired in October by Demandforce for an undisclosed amount.

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In addition to Flowtown, Mr. Martell has also invested in 15 companies. This includes Vancouver-based Unbounce, which recently closed an $850,000 investment round with several high-profile investors, including Dave McClure of 500Startups, Boris Wertz and Mike Edwards.

Mr. Martell said the rise in entrepreneurial activity has a lot to do with how young entrepreneurs such as Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg have been able to create meaningful companies in a relatively short period of time.

"Even though The Social Network [the movie about Facebook]wasn't completely true, it was a great opportunity for the mainstream media to suggest to kids that maybe they should try doing a company," Mr. Martell said. "What I have noticed is the cost of trying is so much lower now it is dumb not to do it."

Spoken like a true entrepreneur.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mark Evans is the principal with ME Consulting, a communications and marketing strategic consultancy that works with startups and fast-growing companies to create compelling and effective messaging to drive their sales and marketing activities. Mark has worked with four startups – Blanketware, b5Media, PlanetEye and Sysomos. He was a technology reporter for more than a decade with The Globe and Mail, Bloomberg News and the Financial Post. Mark is also one of the co-organizers of the mesh, meshmarketing and meshwest conferences.

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