Human Connection – Why Toronto Lawyer Sheldon Barris Thinks it Matters to Start-up Success
Right now, there are about 3.5 million entrepreneurs in Canada, according to Startup Canada, an organization that represents some 200,000 business owners across the country. Add to this the 5.6 million employer firms in the United States as estimated by the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council and it’s clear that North America provides an environment for entrepreneurship.
There are a number of things that differentiate startups from more established companies. It takes time to do the due diligence needed to launch a new venture, and once the business is open, many challenges lie ahead, including but not limited to creating awareness of the business, customer acquisition, building a brand, and keeping the cash flowing. For leaders of new ventures, there are several things that must be considered.
Leading a new startup requires a significant amount of diligence. There are many things going on in the early days and a leader needs to stay on top of them.
“Discipline is required! Great leaders are almost the most disciplined out of the bunch,” says Folasade Ayegbusi, principal accountant at Suncrest Accounting Services in Largo, Maryland. “Effective leadership requires the leader to exhibit discipline, especially during the early years of business to build a strong working culture. Effective leaders communicate effectively. I believe communication is a driver of all the moving parts of every organization.”
When he launched Jorlee Holdings, Ltd., a Toronto company that provides financing to construction professionals and real estate developers who don’t qualify for financing from traditional lenders, it was a new adventure for Toronto lawyer Sheldon Barris. Barris previously worked as a lawyer at Spencer Romberg, a prestigious law firm, and, although he briefly operated his own law firm following graduation from law school, opening a new business in the 2000s was a much different experience.
“Although the law is still the law,” he says, “so much has changed in the startup environment.”
A people person by nature, Sheldon Barris eschewed rapid growth at Jorlee Holdings, even though his company is quite successful.
“I believe in hiring good people and treating them well,” he says. “And because it’s important to me to provide our customers with exemplary service, I’ve purposely kept our company small so every client interaction is personal and has a real human connection. Clients appreciate this. I would advise anyone starting a new company to keep this in mind rather than growing too quickly.”
Since generating revenue is such an integral part of making companies successful, especially young startups, some veteran entrepreneurs say leaders need to develop excellent sales skills. In many cases, the CEO will be, by default, the chief salesperson for the company.
“Take on a sales role, even if you aren’t interested in sales long-term,” says Saloni Doshi, owner and COO of EcoEnclose, a sustainable packaging company located in Louisville, Colorado. “Becoming a truly excellent salesperson builds so many tangible and intangible skills that are invaluable professionally, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs. You learn how to connect with people and build relationships out of thin air, develop organizational systems to manage your time and track your work, hold yourself accountable to and work towards ambitious goals, and to tell stories and speak eloquently.”
One of the things you hear repeatedly from successful entrepreneurs is the importance of learning as a leader and seeking guidance from people who have been there before. Many people who launch startups have a support network in place, which could include family members, friends, peers, and mentors. They also have stakeholders who want them to succeed and are glad to provide advice.
Like many business leaders, Barris believes that startup leadership skills are often developed through experience.
“In many cases, people who start companies learn leadership by living it,” he says. “Especially if they haven’t held leadership positions at other companies, they just go for it. Hopefully, they’re getting good advice from friends and mentors who have been there before. I know I did when I was starting to practice law, and my mentor at the time taught me a great deal about effective leadership, which helped me immensely when I launched Jorlee Holdings.”
Sheldon Barris also notes that new leaders may fail at times, but he also says that failure is part of the learning experience and often leads to later success.
“There’s risk attached to nearly everything in business, and the mark of a strong leader is being able to handle it effectively and learn from mistakes. Just remember that there are always going to be people who know more than you do based on their hard-fought experience, and in many cases, they’ll be glad to provide you with advice to help you through the learning curves. All you have to do is ask.”