At the turn of the 20th century, Montreal ranked alongside New York as one of the dominant centers in the Americas. By the mid-1970s, a desire amongst French-speaking citizens to separate Quebec from Canada spooked corporations and the wealthy English community to relocate and settle in Toronto. Since then, Toronto hasn’t simply become one of the dominant anchors of commerce in North America alongside NY, Los Angeles and Chicago, it’s gone on to become one of the top cities in the world. Today Montreal is bustling with venture activity and startups offering exciting jobs. But when I graduated from college with a degree in finance, conventional wisdom suggested that I move to Toronto, where “all of the good jobs were.” Montreal had the nightlife, the better food, the best looking women – everything a young man could want. It has a certain je ne sais quoi. But to survive (i.e. live and pay my bills), I had to create my work.
Live to work? Or work to live?
Montreal and Toronto manifest sibling rivalries. I like both cities but oh boy are they different, and no, it doesn’t have that much to do with language, though it does with culture. With its French roots, it’s no surprise that Montreal manifests a certain joie de vivre. To succeed in Toronto, you have to live to work… whereas Montrealers work to live. I’m a proud Montrealer, Quebecois and Canadian and give my city an assist for WatchMojo’s success. The low cost of living, combined with the output of young creatives gave me an edge over deeper-funded competitors. I’ll tell anyone who listens that Montreal is the next in line after Montreal’s previous media & entertainment exports after Just For Laughs, Cirque du Soleil and Vice Media. But, as Vice Media noticed twenty years ago, Montreal is a great place to start a business but not too good at scaling one. Before long, you have to pick up and set up shop in NY, Toronto, LA or San Francisco. Or, do you?
Entrepreneurship is the New Management
The 20th century will go down as an era where the study of management took off. Corporations had existed before, but management programs propped up to break down the art and science of motivating massive workforces to maximize corporate profits.
In a somewhat similar parallel, entrepreneurship is now coming to the forefront, and we’re studying to break down the entrepreneur’s mind to understand: what drives someone to undertake so much risk early on, commit to something in the face of doubt, ignore ridicule to build a new business. Anyway you dice it, the odds are grim. There are 400 million entrepreneurships worldwide, 20% of new companies fail in their first year, only 50% survive through their fifth year (source) and 90% ultimately fail (source).
Entrepreneurship isn’t fringe anymore
Business-themed movies with an emphasis or slant on entrepreneurship are commonplace. It’s chronicled in movies (The Social Network, Wolf of Wall Street, The Big Short), scripted TV shows (Billions, Mad Men, Silicon Valley), unscripted programs like Shark Tank. Celebrity entrepreneurs are everywhere: Ashton Kutcher was investing before it became hip. Shaquilla O’Neal is a walking corporation. We’re drawn to people like Richard Branson. If The Apprentice gave us president Donald Trump, Shark Tank will give us president Mark Cuban. Mark my words.
But inasmuch as the 20th century gave us business schools and management books, for better or worse, this century will see the analysis and study of entrepreneurship. Indeed, in an era where practically no one works at one company their whole life, many participate in the gig economy and have side hustles, everyone has to be entrepreneurial even though no, absolutely not, not everyone is an entrepreneur.
But entrepreneurship is a paradox: we think we’re independent when in fact we are not. But as we strive to be somewhat in control of our destinies, entrepreneurship gives us a semblance that we’re on the right path. Are we?
Over the past years, we have seen two disturbing phenomena. One, we have seen journalists write gloriously and enviously about entrepreneurs on their rise, only to be criticized and ridiculed on their way down. We have also seen vocal entrepreneurs promote a certain “hustle porn” mindset which emphasizes blind ambition and favors behavior that are not actually supportive of entrepreneurial success. Entrepreneurship is living a few years like no one wants to, to be able to live the rest of your life like no one can. But, if you’re burning the candle at both ends and living a life that’s not sustainable, what exactly is the point of having all that drive?
There’s no real playbook for entrepreneurs, partly because there isn’t simply one playbook. But the commonality is recognizing opportunities and turning threats into opportunities. Montreal’s reality is used by many as an excuse. I used those same traits as strengths.
On LinkedIn, it would seem like half the people on the platform are life coaches (the other half seem to be public speakers). But mild humor aside, the reality is that a true entrepreneur sees the good in people and recognizes the comparative advantage each individual brings, and part of what I am venturing on now with our new brand Context is to highlight that.
Means to an End
Indeed, work is a means to an end: to live a more fulfilling life that meets what truly drives individuals to risk it all. Context is about recognizing that success is subjective, fluid and relative. Living your life as an entrepreneur through other people’s definition and framework for success only gets you further away from the end goal: which is to be in control of your destiny, even though we never fully are.
While in Toronto I looked up and saw the headquarters of TD and Royal Bank. The former was my first bank as a client, the latter my first employer as a young adult. While studying in college I worked for Royal Bank’s customer service department for Visa. At the time, I thought I’d become CEO by 40. Why 40? No real reason. But it seemed more reasonable and realistic than thinking “I’d retire by 35,” which I was prone to say as a child. Before long, I realized that I didn’t want to live someone else’s definition of a successful life, but my own. Over the past twenty years, I was able to live a somewhat balanced life and achieve a certain amount of success without sacrificing things that mattered more. That’s success to me.
I learned in my early 20s what many smarter executives realize late in life, that playing the corporate rat race didn’t really pay off. I think entrepreneurs have started to come to that realization, too. Venture capital is a means to an end, and chasing things like “unicorn-status” are fine and dandy, but in the ultimate balance between Work, Life and Play, living within the framework of an investor’s definition of success isn’t simply missing the bull’s eye, but totally missing the point. I’m clearly not alone in this camp: Reddit co-founder Alex Ohanian has been warning against that mindset.
Join Us. Follow Us.
Whether you are a 16-year old coder who thinks he’s the next Mark Zuckerberg, a 30-year old intrapreneur who thinks he’s the next Jeff Bezos, or the 45 year old successful entrepreneur who realizes he wants to recalibrate his priorities and perspective, we promise to inform and entertain you in your journey. Our mission is to arm entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs & executives who need to be entrepreneurial with a roadmap and blueprint to succeed.
We will be offering tips on entrepreneurship and business, but also covering case studies, profiles that in the style and format that WatchMojo has become known for producing. Here is one example as part of our The Last Laugh/Awesome Comebacks series: How Marvel Made a Massive Comeback! Here is another as part of our Battleground of Business series: Netflix Vs. YouTube: The Future of Media. We’ll also be interviewing entrepreneurs. That’s just part of the plan. Use our suggestion tool to let us know what you want to see. Yes, we’ll do top 10s, natch. Vote on these couple of examples. We’ll be answering your questions. Ask us anything! Stay tuned.
Ultimately, entrepreneurship is a paradox. We walk the fine line between success and failure, risk and reward, greed and fear. Follow our journey to make sense of yours.