Perspectives: A Conversation with Entrepreneurial Expert Evan Carmichael
Evan Carmichael is a firm believer that you can’t get far without passion.
Evan Carmichael is a Toronto-based entrepreneur, international speaker, and founder of EvanCarmichael.com, a site he developed out of his passion for helping entrepreneurs succeed. Early in his career, he was a co-owner of a biotech software company that grew to over 300 customers in 30 countries, which he and his partners sold.
Evan has delivered more than 100 keynote presentations to entrepreneurs in North America, Europe, and Asia. He has been featured as an entrepreneurial expert for magazines, newspapers, radio, and television and is a recognized small business authority.
Evan works with brands to help them connect to the entrepreneur community. Some of the companies he’s worked with include Microsoft, Xerox, Google, Telus, SAGE, SAP, BlackBerry, Staples, LinkedIn, and Network Solutions.
Evan also has a passion for salsa dancing and is an instructor at Toronto Dance Salsa. You can learn more about his thoughts on entrepreneurship by visiting The Entrepreneur Blog.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself, your entrepreneurial background, and EvanCarmichael.com.
When I was 19, I joined a biotech software company as a co-owner. The founders launched the company about 18 months prior, and needed help marketing and expanding. I didn’t have a technical background. My role was to set client appointments and sell. We grew to over 300 customers in 30 countries. Eventually, we decided to sell the company. After that, I went to California where I hooked up with a VC firm. My role was to help entrepreneurial companies raise between $500,000 to $15 million to grow their businesses. I started EvanCarmichael.com with the goal to give entrepreneurs the motivation to follow their passion and the strategies to succeed. EvanCarmichael.com has helped more than 14 million entrepreneurs so far and has more than 750,000 monthly visitors, 6,000 contributing authors, and 295,000 pages of content. Visitors can learn how other successful entrepreneurs, including many well known celebrities, got started and then model that success.
What was the biggest lesson you learned while growing your software company?
To build around customers. This was biotech software designed to help researchers … high-end stuff. We designed a crazy undo/redo feature that we thought was really cool. We found out that we had spent all this time on something that no one cared about. From then on, we tried to build around what our customers really wanted.
Was it a difficult decision to sell your software company?
The sale itself was tough. We were doing well, building a global brand. But we saw a lot of bigger companies coming into our industry. We wondered if we should wait it out … wait until our market got hot again in five or 10 years. There are cycles in every industry — times when there’s a lot of VC money coming in. So you want to get in while it’s hot, or out while it’s hot and get a good price. We got out at a good price.
When you worked at the VC firm, what key qualities did companies that were successful raising capital possess?
My role was to help bring in entrepreneurs. I didn’t have a lot of VC experience, but I saw lots of entrepreneurs and pitches. It was my job to weed them out. I looked for people who could write a business plan in plain English – especially an Executive Summary. VCs, angels, bankers … they’re not experts in your industry. Your business plan should be clear enough that it can pass the ‘grandmother’ test – i.e., your grandmother should be able to understand it. The companies that were successful had a business plan that was super easy to understand. Second, they had some sales. If you have sales it shows there’s demand for your product, so you’re not just pitching an idea. I say get a couple of orders, some letters of intent … this will lead to a better valuation. If you’re seeking venture capital, you should be scalable. Being profitable as a one or 10-person shop isn’t going to be of interest to a VC. They want to see global expansion.
Turning now to EvanCarmichael.com … What does it mean to ‘model’ success?
My philosophy is that the fastest way to grow your business is to model success. Whatever your goal, find someone who has done it and model that success — adapt it to your own situation. This was useful to me. At age 19, I had no software experience. I thought to myself, ‘I am not the first guy who’s ever sold software!’ I looked at companies like Microsoft and McAfee for ideas for getting launched. Microsoft enters new markets by partnering. One of the lessons I learned there was that if you’re entering a new market, partner with someone already in it who is strong to help you build distribution. I always encourage entrepreneurs to go out and find others and learn their stories. Then apply those lessons.
When you talk to young entrepreneurs, do you get a sense of who is going to be successful? What types of qualities do these people possess?
1 — They have a clear sense of direction. Arsonists set lots of little fires but are not committed to one big fire. I see people who don’t commit to one endeavor and making it a big success. It’s hard to get them to focus. So if you see an entrepreneur who is focused, you’re on to something.
2 — They know what to ask for. In my line of work, I connect people to resources, but I have to know what a person needs. Is it capital for expansion? A certain introduction? If you can clearly articulate what you need, you’re on the right path.
3 — They have hustle and drive. There’s a certain energy you get from someone who’s going to be successful. They have a massive amount of perseverance. They are really passionate versus those who are just in it to make money.
Do you feel luck plays a role in success?
You have to work hard to make luck happen. Luck definitely helps. But I’m more of a believer in hard work and perseverance.
What is your favorite piece of advice from a ‘famous’ entrepreneur?
I like the quote from Ted Turner: ‘You can never quit. Winners never quit, and quitters never win.’ A lot of people give up too soon. They put in a lot of effort up front and then close shop. But often you have to go through a dark place. I say it’s better to put in one hour a day for 24 days versus putting in 24 hours in one day — take some type of action every day in order to move forward.
What are some of your favorite ‘expert business strategies?’
1 — Partnering up with others who can propel you forward. It’s a good way to meet others and expand your distribution channels.
2 — Peer networking. Most entrepreneurs are isolated. I’ve set up a series of Mastermind Groups in Toronto that meet once a month. It’s sort of like Entrepreneurs Anonymous – not just ‘positive’ networking, but a discussion of the many challenges we have. These types of groups give you an opportunity to connect on a regular basis to share and get advice.
3 — Position yourself as an expert. To be featured in interviews, stories, and other forms of media, you should be good at what you do. When the media is covering a story, be the expert they think of. When I started EvanCarmichael.com, I’d send a press release every two weeks to those covering entrepreneurship. I encourage all entrepreneurs to reach out to local, national, and international media and position yourself as a guru. When you do get coverage, it gives your business tremendous exposure.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs?
1 — Start around something you’re super passionate about. The profiles at EvanCarmichael.com all had a strong passion for their field and wanted to be significant in their industry. Too many people out there are just trying to get rich. It’s hard. Unless you really love what you’re doing, you won’t be able to maintain the fortitude you’ll need to make it through the difficult times.
2 — Start building around customers. Find people who have massive pain. Talk to them. See if they’d be willing to pay you to make their lives easier. Try to go after the B2B market; if you can have a meaningful impact, they’ll keep you in business. The B2C market is more nickels and dimes.
3 — Try a service business. Product businesses (factories, stores, inventory) have a lot of upfront costs. With a service business, the only cost is your time. You talk to customers, provide value, and start making money for your business. Then you can build a product business if you want. You’ll see slower growth, but your chances of success will be greater.