David Noël: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based in this great province. I’m David Noël.
Today’s guest is a rising star in our business community. In addition to having created, bought, and sold a handful of companies, he has also grown Manitoba’s largest networking group for business executives and organized a giant conference for business executives at the Winnipeg Convention Centre last year. In the interview, we discuss his tenacious approach to business, and the successes—as well as the failures—that have brought him to this point.
I hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. I would also encourage you to spread the word about this podcast—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com
Without further ado, here is Glen Buhler:
[to Glen] Glen, really nice to meet you. Thanks so much for taking the time.
Glen Buhler: My pleasure.
David: Could we start by having you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Glen: Sure. First and foremost, I’ve been an entrepreneur for about 14 years now. I started at a very young age when I was…before I was an adult on a farm out in southwestern Manitoba. Entrepreneurialism really came from necessity rather than a want or a need to create something new. My story starts on growing up on a small family farm, which was struggling a fair bit in the mid to late-’90s. And basically, as the oldest of four children, my parents came to me one day and said, “You know, things aren’t really going well. What can you do to help us out and basically bring some money in for the family?” I was 12 years old at the time.
Basically, we came up with the option of actually getting into the chicken business with eggs. So the whole idea was we scraped together $100. I remember it specifically because that was a lot of money. And this isn’t a long time ago, this is fairly recent. And my job one summer was my dad would drop me off with a truck at a neighbor’s yard, and I’d go and tear down an old building, and load all the wood into the back of our truck, and call my dad from the house and say, “Hey, come pick me up. I’ve got a load of wood.” We’d bring it all back and we built a barn, and filled it with chickens, and then started selling the eggs.
The rule was very simple. This was my responsibility to go and pick the eggs, and clean the eggs, and grade the eggs, and package them. My parents would deliver them because obviously, at 12 years old, I didn’t have my license and couldn’t do that. A third of the revenue went to cover the overhead and the cost of the feeds, and all things like that. A third went to the family, and a third went to me.
Glen: There was no paper route. There was just eggs. So the first year, I think we did about $4,000. I thought I was king of the world at the time…
David: No kidding. A 12-year-old kid, that’s a lot of money.
Glen: Had $1,300, that was my cut. And I actually invested that in GICs at the time when you could get 5%…
David: Good for you. That’s awesome.
Glen: So that was really good. August 12th is still one of my favorite days, because that was when my GIC matured every year.
Glen: So yeah. I did that for a little while with my folks. We got out of farming about a year and a bit later, we just couldn’t make a go of it, and got into the restaurant business. So we still did the eggs for a while. It was actually nice creating some of our own food. Not only the fruits or the veggies, pardon me, but also some of the animal product as well like the eggs.
But I really got interested in data and how that worked. And I guess I was a bit of a geeky 12-year-old kid. But one thing I noticed is that if I went in to pick the eggs at the same time every day, my production would go up.
Glen: If I mixed in a bit of nutrients with the feed, my production would go up. So then I was there with my little scribbler charting this out every single day. We didn’t really have a computer or anything at the time. I just got really interested in the correlation between, “You do this, you get that.”
And when my folks started in the restaurant business, they said, “Hey, everybody’s on the Internet now. We need a website.”
Glen: I would literally ride my bicycle six and a half miles each way into town to go on the public library computer for $1 an hour and surf the Internet, research how to make websites and so on, and I made them a website. And before long, because it was a small town, there was really nobody who was into the computer business, I started fixing computers and tinkering, and building websites. And before long, I abandoned the egg business and went specifically into the computer business, even though I wasn’t formally educated in it. I was just the most knowledgeable out of who was there.
And so that was really neat. I spent basically my whole high school career, so to speak, doing websites and building software applications, fixing computers. And I was mostly self-taught at that point. I had a really neat opportunity. I’ve never really been afraid to ask questions or try to get what I want kind of thing.
I remember when I was in grade 9, I heard that Red River College was actually going to be setting up an adult ed program in the neighboring town. I knew that it was about computers. I really wanted to learn about it. I remember, I called the superintendent and I said, “I want into that program.”
Glen: And I think he kind of brushed me off. I was a grade 9 kid, this was an adult ed program. And I was persistent. I remember one day, he came to our school and he said, “Okay, let’s talk.” So we sat there on little couches in the school office, and I said, “Here’s the deal…” I probably was not this bold at the time, but in hindsight, it seems like…
David: For your age, I’m sure it was still something.
Glen: It was. And I said, basically, “I want to take this program. You’re going to pay for me to go. I’m going to work for you for two summers, It’s a two-year program, for free. I will gain some work experience. You’ll have this great story of how you’re empowering people in vocations,” and whatever. “I’ll figure out how to get to the courses and I’ll keep my grades up in both sides. Can I do it?”
Glen: And eventually, we came to the deal, where, yes, they would pay for it. They would pay me to work for them during the summers. I had to maintain an 85% average across these other courses and high school. And I had to figure out how to get 30 kilometers over twice a week, there and back. Because I was 15 at the time, couldn’t drive, so had to be pretty creative there for a while.
So yeah. I got in the program and I graduated that program from Red River a year before I graduated high school.
David: That’s cool.
Glen: What was really neat was not only was I in a classroom full of adults, and I really had to change the way…not necessarily change the way I behave, but it was different than a high school course, let’s put it that way.
David: Right, for sure.
Glen: The onus was not on the teacher to educate. It was on the student to learn.
Glen: And I remember the one time, it was probably not even a month into the course, I put up my hand because I needed to use the washroom. And everybody else kind of laughed at me. “You don’t need to ask. Just go.” Anyway, it was a different kind of experience.
David: No kidding.
Glen: So that’s kind of the formal education that I have. And I really parlayed that into taking on more and more clients, and doing more and more in my little computer business that I had during high school, and to the point where it wasn’t so small anymore. It was decent revenue, I was making really good money, and I was one of the most popular kids in school. Not because…well, I was a geek, right? But because I had keys to all the schools, because I worked for the school division as part of this thing.
David: I can see how that would make you popular.
Glen: Yeah. Not with the teachers so much.
David: Right, yeah.
Glen: I remember one time that my physics teacher accused me of handing in my paper late.
David: Oh, no.
Glen: Because she’s like, “Well, you could have just opened up my door and put it on the top of the pile.” I can’t argue with you there, but I handed it in on time. Anyway, it was kind of funny. Fast-forwarding a little bit, when I graduated high school and all of my friends moved away to Winnipeg here, the big city, there wasn’t much to do in a small town to begin with, and when everybody leaves, then there’s even less to do.
So I decided to come to Winnipeg in 2005. Didn’t know anybody, not a soul except for my grandmother, and she wouldn’t have made a very good client for me or a boss. So I decided to just go out and look for work rather than start a business. And somehow, I got the role of managing an IT department for a fairly large manufacturing company.
So there I was, 19 years old. There was seven locations across the country and 300 employees, and I was the computer guy. That was a huge learning curve for me because…
David: No kidding.
Glen:…I had to go into somebody else’s work culture. It was just a whole different mentality.
David: No kidding.
Glen: The stakes seemed so much higher at first because I was like, “Oh, my goodness. They’re such a large business. There’s so many people relying on me.” And I really, really enjoyed that role. I learned so much not only about computers, but about business, about how the working world works. And I still keep in touch with a number of the folks there, and we laugh about just everything. There were so many great experiences there.
Glen: But after about two years, I got a little restless and decided to leave and start my own business again. I’d felt, at that point, that I kind of knew enough people or at least knew a little bit more of the lay of the land in Winnipeg. We didn’t even have a stoplight where I grew up. This was like the big city, right?
Glen: Yeah. I decided my concept was I was going to create this web business, this online business that was going to be worth millions and millions of dollars. And the whole concept was to provide an educational resource for IT people in their businesses. I’ve always been about networking and getting to know people. When you live in a small town, it’s the sense of community, right?
Glen: When you come to a big city and you don’t know anybody, you have to get out of your shell and go out and meet people. Otherwise, it’s going to be fairly boring.
David: No kidding.
Glen: So I would actually call IT guys at other companies in the manufacturing space and say, “Hey, what are you doing about such and such?” Or “Do you have any ideas for me? I’m really struggling with this and that.” I’d just randomly call these people. I remember when I was looking to hire some staff, I would call and I’d say, “Hey, how much are you paying guys who have this kind of experience?” It was great, people were…
David: Were these IT departments at competing companies?
Glen: Not competing, but I remember one of the calls I made was to a gentleman by the name of Min Lee at Buhler Industries. I had the last name “Buhler,” but I’m not related to Mr. John Buhler. I had just called him one day, because I thought, “He’s in manufacturing. It’s probably pretty similar.” Came in, “How’s it going? How much do you pay your network administrator?” And he was just like, “Oh, well…” And to this day, I’ve got a picture up there of me golfing with Min this year.
David: You’re kidding?
Glen: Yeah, great, great guy. We still keep in touch.
Glen: Yeah. What I realized is that most people who are running IT departments were so focused on firefighting that they weren’t actually looking at ways to drive the business forward. My big, brilliant business plan was to basically provide educational resources to help people take control of their IT department. Because when I left my role, it wasn’t that there was nothing to do. It’s just there wasn’t anything really all that exciting to do. I replaced all the IT stuff. I had changed the processes on how people get IT support. I’d really kind of, over the course of two years, really changed how technology was viewed in the business, so I was kind of lacking in the challenge.
And so, this was my idea. But it failed spectacularly for a number of reasons. Number one, back when I was doing websites…well, the world had changed a little bit in just a few years as far as websites and so on.
Glen: Dynamic and data-driven websites were now popular, whereas back then, it was basically online brochures.
Glen: Number two, if guys don’t have time in their day to day to stop firefighting, then they most certainly don’t have time to learn from, participate in, or purchase a resource, especially one that’s not of a technical nature. So the business failed spectacularly. And I kept trying.
And my next idea, this was late 2007 or early 2008, well, a new TV show was on called “Dragons’ Den.” I’ve always been a big saver. When you come from a struggling family farm and an environment where there is enough to go around but nothing more, you really focus on saving every penny you have and nothing gets wasted. So I had a bunch of money saved up, it was actually a six-figure amount.
David: Oh, wow.
Glen: So I decided to start a venture capital company, because if the dragons can do it, then so can I.
David: This is very cool and also scary.
Glen: I know. One of my greatest assets and also my greatest liability is just that I’m not afraid to try things. I’m not afraid to try things differently, either.
David: And you have to try, but man…it’s commendable, but it’s also just like…I’m almost a little bit scared for you hearing what…so what happened?
Glen: And believe me, my folks were like, “What are you doing? You had this great job. Why did you leave it? You could have been there for a long time and been very successful.” So after I failed at this first business on my own here, I figured, “You know what? Maybe I don’t start the business. My idea wasn’t any good. Why don’t I just go invest in somebody else’s great idea?”
So without naming names to protect the parties involved, I heard about a financial services company that I thought was really interesting. And basically, their business model was they would teach financial literacy to employees of manufacturing and other companies, because if people knew how to manage the money that they were paid, they would not only feel much less stress at home, it would decrease absenteeism because of said stress, or because of having to go deal with creditors or whatever.
Glen: It would also prevent people from leaving for their $0.25 an hour more down the street. It would just really improve the business. And having spent a couple of years in the manufacturing business where out of our 300-plus employees, I would say maybe half to two-thirds of them were of an hourly manufacturing nature, I really saw the value in it.
They’d shown me projections and business plans, and all of these sorts of great things. So I went to a lawyer who I had found with one of the big firms, and they proceeded to educate me on how to go about doing this. Well, I spent a lot of money with that law firm that year. They taught me a lot. But what they didn’t tell me is really how to do due diligence on something.
So I remember putting a check in for a pretty decent amount of money. Basically, I was then the largest shareholder pretty much out of, I think, there was six of us. And those details may not be 100% accurate, I don’t recall, and then thinking, “This is going to go to the moon and I’m going to become rich, because that’s what happens with venture capitalists.”
David: Of course. Everytime.
Glen: Yeah. Everytime. And I remember when I finally get into the business, and I get a copy of the bank statements. And let’s just say not only was my money nowhere to be found, but there was nothing there.
Glen: There was no volume coming in, just everything going out.
Glen: And I thought to myself, “Oh, my goodness. What did I do?” And the good news is my legal counsel was brilliant. So we actually did a bit of a venture debt deal. It was a promissory note for my cash, and then there was also a significant equity kicker on that. So great counsel there, and I really appreciated that later on.
But yeah, I was absolutely distraught, because I was supposed to be this venture capitalist genius, and my first deal was awful, all because I had spent a couple of hours watching “Dragons’ Den.” I know it’s so funny to think back on it.
David: If Jim Treliving can do it, then why can’t you?
Glen: Yeah, he’s from a small Manitoba town. Me, too. We’re only a couple of hours’ apart. Anyway, so realistically, I started getting my hands dirty. A couple months later, that was June of that year, in November, I basically said, “By the way, I’m now president. I’m now running this thing, because hey, it’s my money. It’s either this or I call my note. And you’ve got to sell your personal stuff to pay me back.”
Glen: So I took over, and we started making a little bit of money. It was good. Several months after that, things had kind of turned around a little bit, and I realized that those weren’t necessarily the parties that I wanted to work with.
Glen: And ended up being able to sell my shares back to them, collect my note, and come out with a reasonable profit.
Glen: It certainly didn’t replace a salary working for somebody else necessarily for year. But man, did I learn a lot.
David: No kidding.
Glen: I came out in the positive. But man, that was a scary experience.
David: No kidding.
Glen: A lot of sleepless nights there, because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I assumed I did, and then when things would come up, I’d be like, “Oh, I’ve got to go solve this problem. And maybe it’s going to work, maybe it isn’t,” but it’s a small sample size of data that I had to do…
David: No kidding.
Glen:…to make these decisions. And over the next couple of years, I would try a couple other deals. 2009, for example, I put up a good chunk of cash, it was about $100,000 for a photo optimization service. So think Instagram, but before Instagram was there.
David: Right, yep.
Glen: And the whole business model was simply… let’s say you’re a company that sells a product. One of our customers we were trying to win over was Mercedes Benz. So they had this photo shoot for these beautiful cars, and then they have hours and hours and hours spent to tweaking and perfecting this photo.
Well, what the folks who had come to me with this idea was is that they had created this algorithm that you could actually run a photo through, and it would look as good, if not better, than having somebody touch it up for hours and hours and hours. It was a very specific filter…maybe “filter” is the wrong word. But something like that where you can kind of run it through and it would look amazing.
So the whole business model for me was, “Why don’t I take this manual process, use my computer knowledge and everything to create a piece of software that automates this? Put it online so people can upload their photos and then run it through. If they like it, they pay us $0.99. They’ve saved all this time, so $0.99 is a very small fee for that. And yeah, we’re going to become rich, because there’s millions of photos out there. These phone things are starting to have cameras.” All of that sort of stuff, right?
I went to work because I 100% believed in this. And at the same time, I was starting my own software firm that was focusing on building software solutions for small to medium-sized businesses. And I really streamlined the business from end to end. I’m like, “Well, not only can I do some of the development, but I now also have this team of developers.”
Yeah, we built this thing, we did a proof of concept, and then we started marketing the heck out of it, doing anything and everything we could think of. We would take pictures, we would send them into magazines for photo contests and then we win. It was amazing. We won in National Geographic. We won in all sorts of different…
David: Really? Wow.
Glen: It was absolutely spectacular. The software, we did all of our wedding photos that way. It was just amazing, my wife and I. So we built a following on the social media website called Flickr of roughly 68,000 people, which we thought was phenomenal.
David: Yeah, that’s pretty good.
Glen: And parlayed that into $213 in revenue.
David: $213, that’s not bad.
Glen: Split three ways, it’s hard to make a living that way.
David: No kidding.
Glen: Because I got a third of the business, and then the other two who invented this algorithm, they also had a third of the business each. It was a challenge, to say the least.
David: No kidding.
Glen: And basically, all of that money disappeared. And thank goodness for SR&ED;, the Scientific Research and Experimental Development credit because we were really going out on uncharted territory. So I was able to recoup a little bit of…
David: Fantastic, good.
Glen:…my investment that way, but a “little bit” is the key word. But it was a lot of fun. And part of the fun for me was I was looking at finding the need in the market and figuring out how to fill that need, and then going through the whole development of the product and the marketing, and figuring out the strategy to go to market. And it was phenomenally fun. I don’t think I would pay this much money in total again to have learned those lessons and had that amount of fun, but it was really neat.
And meanwhile, my software company was actually doing fairly well. At our peak, we had the whole 14th floor of 191 Lombard downtown.
Glen: After about two and a half years in business, with revenue in the seven figures, I was able to sell the business and it was a great experience. And it was kind of about time where I finally had something work for me. It felt like I had, up until that time, learned a lot of lessons. And this all over the course of a couple years, of course, I guess, four or five years, in total. But I always felt like I was banging my head against the wall, trying to have that big home run. And it took a long time.
David: No kidding.
Glen: But while I was building my software company, one of the challenges I had in the sales and marketing… and to stand on a soapbox for a moment, I firmly believe that technology is no longer, even in the tech business, the barrier to entry or the means of being successful anymore.
Glen: Everything is a sales and marketing challenge. You can have the best widget, or the best software, or the best anything in the world, and if nobody knows about it, and nobody’s writing a check for it, you don’t get the privilege of creating those widgets or that software very long.
David: Absolutely, yep.
Glen: So that’s one of the things I learned in the software company going back a little bit to 2009. I exhausted my whole network of people who I knew to go out and try to sell my software to. As a result, sales were very stagnant.
So one day, I was on LinkedIn, which I’m very active in today, and I saw this group called the Manitoba Executive Group. And if you’re not familiar with LinkedIn groups, they’re basically groups of people on the social media platform that can get together for a variety of different purposes. And most people on LinkedIn are connected to a number of different groups, so they can get information and meet people who are in that same level of interest, or geographic location, or what have you.
Glen: So I found this group called the Manitoba Executive Group. It was a closed group, meaning you had to be invited in, or you had to request to come in. And it was senior executives sharing business and ideas. I thought, “Well, that’s exactly it. I’ve got a great idea for each one of their businesses with my software, and I need their business, and they’re the ones who write the checks, so this is perfect for me.” There was about 40-ish people in the group at the time. So I requested a membership and I got approved.
So I went in and I noticed, “Wow, there’s really no discussions taking place in this group. There’s really nothing happening.” And I remember, I was out at a Chamber of Commerce event or something like that, and I ran into somebody who I recognized from the group. I was like, “Hey, you’re a member of that Manitoba Executive Group.” They’re like, “What?” They had no idea.
Glen: It was this thing online that somebody did probably the same thing as me where they just said, “Request to join,” and it didn’t actually turn into anything. So for over a year, nothing really happened with the group. And then finally one day, I got a message from the organizer who I still talk to to this day. She said, “You know, okay, everybody. We’re going to get together for lunch. We’re going to really start to kind of kick this off. There’s 40 of us, let’s all get together and have a great lunch and meet each other.” I thought, “Wow, this is the opportunity I’ve been looking for.”
So the morning of the event, I put on my best suit. I stuffed every single pocket with business cards, because this was my moment. This was it for me. This is where my business was going to…I would look back on this day and this was the turning point.
Glen: So I go to the venue and I’m looking around for this Manitoba Executives. And where oh where could it be? So I’m looking around and finally, I find the table that has a couple of people who admit to being a part of this group. There’s five or six people there, great, great people. We had a great conversation, but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.
David: It wasn’t 40 people, for sure.
Glen: It was not. And there was really no business to be had there for me. So at the end of the lunch, the organizer said, “You know, obviously, we’re all busy people. Lunch isn’t the right time for us. Why don’t we try breakfast next month?” So this is now November of 2010. I had started my software company in the middle of 2009. I was kind of needing sales at this point. It was a bit of a challenge.
We came up with this breakfast event for November of 2010. The morning of the event, same thing — put on my best suit. Well, the pockets were still all full of cards from the last time. I hop in the car and I’m going to go there. So I get a call through the Bluetooth where the organizer says, “Hey, I’m not able to be there. I’ve got a bit of an emergency. You seem like a really outgoing guy. Do you mind just helping everybody feel comfortable and starting the conversation and whatnot?”
Glen: “Yeah, no problem. I’d love the opportunity.” So I get to the venue and I’m looking around for the same people from last time, plus many, many more. Well, the venue had opened just for us that morning.
David: Oh, no.
Glen: And there is not a single person there.
David: Oh, no.
Glen: Well, I know I have the right date, and I know I have the right time, because the organizer just called me. So I pull out the old BlackBerry, that really dates the story, and sure enough, I have the right venue, and I waited and waited, and waited. And finally, I had a very nice breakfast with the proprietor of said venue, but it was a little awkward.
David: No kidding.
Glen: So I called the organizer and I said, “I don’t think breakfast is our time, either, because we had exactly nobody show up.” She kind of said to me, “You know, obviously, nobody wants another networking group. There’s just no need there. Otherwise, people would show up. So if you can do something with it, go for it. But I’m done.”
And I thought to myself, “Wow. I don’t know if there is a need, but I have a need.” And one thing I had learned about myself and continued to learn about myself is that if I perceive there to be a need, typically, somebody else has that, too. I have that ability to look beyond myself and see what a general market need is.
January, 2011. Again, still running the software company, trying to grow that, I decide that I’m going to launch the Manitoba Executive Group as “Manitoba’s Executive Networking Club.” So I rented a really interesting venue. it was a new nightclub downtown. I hired a caterer, I hired some entertainment, spent just a ton of my own money on this thing, and then started cold-calling executives who, selfishly, I was like, “Well, maybe they’d be a great client. Maybe they’d have some business for me.” And just trying to fill the barrel with as many fish as I could and then kind of take a shot, right?
Glen: Again, very selfish at the time, but I had 80 people show up.
Glen: It was a great networking event. It was all about senior executives coming and sharing ideas and business with no program whatsoever. And people kept coming up to me all night saying, “Wow, this is fantastic. Greatest networking I’ve ever seen. I like that there’s no program. I like that it’s not just all salespeople trying to sell to me.” Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “Oh, boy. I hope I’m not found out,” and so on. “When’s the next one?” And I thought, “Oh, my goodness. This was a ton of work to try to get everybody here and do all the follow-ups, and spend a bunch of money on this. I don’t know if I want to do this again.” They said, “You know what? Yeah, we’ll do this again. We’ll do this again in February.”
And throughout the course of that year, I held eight different events at, I think it was probably seven or eight different venues. I spent just a ton of money on food and everything else, and I had 477 different people come through the door.
Glen: But what the better number is is that off of those couple tens of thousands of dollars that I spent on the events, plus the countless hours of time trying to call everybody all the time and get them out to these things, that software business did over $700,000 worth of revenue just out of that group.
Glen: So I wish all of my marketing could get that kind of return on investment.
David: No kidding, yep.
Glen: So I thought to myself, “Wow. If this many people participate, obviously, there’s something here.” And the following year, 2012, that’s when I transitioned out of the software business and I let the group falter a little bit, because I didn’t really need it. It was a lot of work. it was a lot of money. But 2013, I realized I really missed it. And I started doing the events again, doing them a little fancier, nothing too crazy, same kind of venues. We’d meet a lot at the Tavern United, MTS Centre. Canad Inns was a great partner in that. They had helped me out on the food bills and that kind of thing. We work with them a lot to this day.
But what happened over the…oh, and we built a registration system, and just kind of tried to make it seem a little bit more formal than it was, maybe. And over the course of that year, our list grew from 479 people to over 1,000. And I just thought, again, “Wow, there’s need here.”
I started doing some market research, and just really trying to figure out, “What do people want out of a networking group? Is there actually a business here, or is it just something that you get to show up for free food, meet great people, and it’s only 8, 10 times a year?” It’s low commitment and it costs you nothing but your time.
So my market research told me that people really, really wanted unique networking experiences. They didn’t need another luncheon. They didn’t need another gala, another dinner. They had enough of that as it is, and there’s a lot of great organizations in town who do those events. But that market was very saturated.
What people wanted was a venue in which they could experience something new, meet new people. Not just the same people over and over again, and really have it restricted to that same socioeconomic level, where people were at the executive level of their career, performing at the top level that they’ve performed. And really, not to have an elitist attitude, but to being able to basically say, “It’s not about sales. It’s about connections.”
That kind of takes us to the Manitoba Executive Group today, which I’m happy to talk about. I’m not sure if you want me to keep going.
David: I think there’s a lot of directions we can go from here. Before we dive more into the Executive Group, I’m curious. You said that you sold your software business in 2012-ish, is that right?
Glen: That’s right.
David: And then, what did the transition look like from there for you, personally?
Glen: I was still very involved for the next three years. I just wrapped that up a little while ago. Basically, what happened is, without getting into too much details, we had an original deal that was looking really, really good, where somebody was going to come in, take on the whole business, and get a nice, big check. The thing was that my staff had to sign on for two years.
David: I see.
Glen: So it was Christmas of 2011. And I called everybody into my office because we weren’t quite at the signing the papers stage. But it was like…we had a letter of intent. I had to make sure that my people were going to go for it. And this was probably an error on my part, but I basically said, “Well, everyone, how do you feel about Christmas bonuses?” Nobody doesn’t like Christmas bonuses.
I said, “Here’s what’s happening. We’re about to be acquired, bigger, better opportunities for each of you. There’s a little bit of money in it for everybody and you have guaranteed employment for two years.” Well, it didn’t go over very well.
Glen: Not at all. There was a bit of a mutiny.
Glen: Where the dollar figure wasn’t big enough of this bonus. Committing to two years, that’s so much of my life, and most of my staff were very young. We were all in our 30s.
David: In tech, people are moving around often.
Glen: Yeah. “No, this isn’t going to work. And unless we get more money, we can’t commit to this.”
Glen: So that afternoon, I fired everyone. I kid you not. Maybe it wasn’t that afternoon. I took a couple days to get all the paperwork ready and whatnot, but I fired everyone, which was very challenging, because that killed that deal. But I was just thinking to myself, “I’m basically being held hostage here by my team,” and whether that was the reality or not, that’s how it felt.
David: No, I’ve often heard when it comes to business, if there’s any member of your team that the business can’t live without, you need to get rid of that person.
David: So for you to feel like you were stuck with those people, and especially to feel like there wasn’t a collaborative…
David:…being stuck in something together is a lot different than being stuck with people that don’t want to be stuck with you.
Glen: That’s right. The one thing I did well is I obviously created a team environment because there was team think and everybody stood together to try to get more out of me for a deal that hadn’t even closed yet. That killed the whole deal. And I’m sitting there, 2011, thinking, “Do I have a business? I don’t have any employees. I have clients. I have some cash in the bank and some receivables. But what is this now?”
David: No kidding.
Glen: So basically, what happened is we had a couple of different things that we did — web development, software development, and some product development. So I proceeded to sell off some of the other pieces. And some of the pieces where there was residual value in the contracts that we had to some of our then competitors who welcomed this deal with open arms.
Glen: And then I completely rethought the whole concept, and changed my labor model significantly, became significantly more profitable than I had ever been before, significantly less stress than I’d ever had before. Then I could take that really solid earnings growth and the products that we had developed and so on, and then basically, have somebody else run with that.
So yeah, when people think of selling a tech company, they think of all these multi-million dollar or $100 million sales. Oh, man, that was not it whatsoever. I got some money for it, but I, by no means…I still had to work, let’s put it that way.
Glen: But overall, we made good money in the business. We made good money selling the business. I have no complaints that way. But it was a really big challenge.
David: No kidding.
Glen: I remember running into one guy who was actually the guy who sold me my errors and omissions liability insurance. He’s like, “Hey, how’s business?” I’m like, “Oh, man. Let me tell you a story.” This was during this all happening, and he’s like, “You know what? You’re stronger than you think you are. When things like this happen, you’re going to do much better than you think as long as you put the effort in.”
For me, that was great advice where yeah, I just decided to not just give up, but really turn this into something that I could get some value out of again. It was a ton of work. I was involved in another company at that point already, when I was trying to salvage this business. So I would literally work all day and then some, working in this other business, and then all night and then some working on my software company.
David: No kidding.
Glen: Just 80, 100-plus hours a week, sometimes, many, many more hours, and taking on, basically, anything that would boost the value of this business that I could sell it. So when I did sell it, it was an asset sale, not a share sale. So I still had the shares of the business, and just stopped collecting some royalty and some ongoing income from it a little while ago. That was a sad day.
But yeah, it was nice to…there’s a lot of confidentiality around the sale of that asset, so I can’t exactly say who I sold it to. But ultimately, it worked out well for me, and I learned so much during that process.
David: No kidding, that’s very interesting. And so then, we’ll get back to the Executive Group in a second, during and after your sale, you were working in a different business and you were continuing that, and that’s your job. Are you also making money from the Executive Group? Is that a source of income? Is that a business or is that a nonprofit endeavor?
Glen: At the time, it was not a business. It was a not for profit endeavor by design. I looked at it one day and I said, “I’m spending money doing these events to make money, but could I make money to make money? And market research supports this.” So today, yes, it makes money for me. It’s a business. Growth has been phenomenal.
It’s a lucrative business, too. Not an easy business to run. Been a lot of risk and a lot of time into it. For example, we just did an event called the Manitoba Executives Summit. Now, the Manitoba Executives Summit was a huge goal, a huge vision of mine where I just knew that there was an opportunity with the Manitoba Executive Group. And I was going out and trying to sell memberships one at a time. And it was hard, because people don’t have time. Executives, they don’t have any spare time. They may have spare money, but not spare time, so therefore, it’s a moot point.
And there’s so many people who do networking really well as far as events go, but there’s also so many people who butcher it.
David: Yep, absolutely.
Glen: If I ask 100 people, “What does networking mean to you,” 95 of them at least would say, “Passing cards and selling.” That is so not what it is today.
David: And those same 95 don’t enjoy networking.
Glen: No, that’s right. The phrase that I use and I use this often is “Most networking events out there are all fishermen and no fish.” They’re all trying to get their hook into somebody else and pull them along. Meanwhile, it’s just not a good environment.
So I always like trying to disrupt things. My software company, it was a web-based ERP application. What that means is basically, I was telling people, “Don’t use QuickBooks. Don’t use Simply Accounting. There’s so much more for you. Oh and by the way, it’s going to go on the cloud.” People are saying, “What’s this cloud thing about?”
David: Yeah, long before anybody did that stuff.
Glen: Oh, yeah. I was trying to disrupt them and really change the market. So the Executive Summit was basically a way to make a big splash. And I had originally planned the Executive Summit…I started planning it October of 2014. So when we launched the Executive Group…by “We,” I mean “Me.” I’m so used to talking that way.
We launched the Executive Group in August 16th of 2014. I was going to do the summit originally on April 27th of 2014. I think it was 27th, 17th. Anyway, it was the day of the first Jets playoff game, so I’m so glad I didn’t stick with that day.
David: No kidding.
Glen: Nobody there. And I started planning it that October as a way to really…I want to make sure that I get a bit of a groundswell and then really have this big splash where I can get a really impressive keynote in, and just show people what we’re about.
So all in all, it’s close to $150,000 that I invested into this summit, by the time you take into account the venue and the speakers, and just everything, right? To get into the events planning business, that’s not something I ever thought I would be in. But because the money was so tight on it, I couldn’t afford to hire any help. So I was literally doing everything myself. I was selling sponsorships and tickets, and choosing the menu. I counted it out. It was like hundreds of tasks. And I had a great committee who I had put together to help me raise awareness about this, but they’re all executives who are busy as well.
David: Of course.
Glen: It was just a really big challenge. But when the day came on September 24th here of 2015, the feedback has been phenomenal so far.
David: Yeah, I wasn’t able to attend, but from what I understand, you really knocked it out of the park.
Glen: Thank you. You know what? I have to give a lot of compliments to the volunteers the day of. Without their help, logistics-wise, I would have gone crazy. It was a little bit less than ideal start to the day. There’s a little construction project going on at the Convention Center.
David: Just a minor one, yep.
Glen: It was somewhat humorous…after the fact, it’s somewhat humorous. There was an event for about 1,000 people going on upstairs. We had the whole main floor. And there was one entry to the building.
David: Oh, no.
Glen: Through our reception area, we had about 1,000 men, women, and children, and wheelchairs coming through our registration area all morning. And the amount of parking spaces that that event took up, anybody who wasn’t there early for the summit couldn’t find a parking spot for about an hour. It was just one of those times where I was just like, “You know what? I can’t control it. This is awful. And I probably just ruined my reputation on this event, but I hope people forgive me for it.” By noon, I was feeling good. By the evening, when Bruce Croxon came on and did his keynote, I was exhausted. But I think I’d slept about five hours in total all week leading up to that Thursday event. And yeah, people have been really good.
So without my volunteers the day of — directing traffic literally, all those sorts of things, I couldn’t have done it. The speakers were great, the sponsors were excellent. So we made money on that event, and continued to drive revenue and some profit out of the memberships.
David: Very cool.
Glen: All of which I’m investing right now into bigger and better events. Yeah, it’s fun.
David: Awesome. That’s very, very cool. There was a big story in the Free Press leading up to the summit. And when I came across this story, I thought, “Wow, this is just very neat, because it ties into a lot of interests of mine.” I think bringing executives together and meeting business people who are not trying to sell you something is pretty interesting.
What allows you to set something like the summit or just the group in general apart from the other networking events? The way you described it, where it’s lots of fishers and not lots of fish.
Glen: And that’s a constant struggle to make sure that I can drive those kind of people. It really comes down to the events. So for example, we have a couple different levels of membership. For my top-level members, I do all sorts of things for them behind the scenes that we don’t advertise.
For example, a good friend of mine runs the Mercedes dealer in town here.
Glen: Well, yesterday, they had 12 of their high-performance AMG cars in town for a driving school. I got a bunch of tickets for it.
Glen: So I basically sent out to my top-level members, “Hey, everybody. I’ll take care of that ticket. You just come out and drive these 12 cars, each worth $100,000 to $200,000.”
David: Yeah, those are beautiful cars.
Glen: Absolutely. The fastest one there…I won’t get into it. It was amazing. We’re sitting there with a CEO of a very public and very important company in this town, I won’t drop names, Vice President of another large financial institution here in town, some small business entrepreneurs. And we’re ripping around the track in these 500-plus horsepower Mercedes. And it’s not hard to get people to come out to things like that.
David: No kidding.
Glen: And not all of our events…we’re actually going to do that for the broader member base come July. So not every event is going to be like that, but I firmly believe that most people go to networking because of the people and the opportunities they’ll find versus the event. If you can have people go for the event or the experience, even the shy ones who are not sales-focused, they’ll come on out to it, and the people will be the bonus.
Glen: And that’s the complete shift. So for example, we’ve got an event coming up in November where there’s a little movie series that has been going on for a little while called “James Bond.” We’re doing a Winnipeg premiere of the movie.
David: Oh, cool.
Glen: So we rented out the whole theater. We’re setting it up as a casino with all sorts of…
Glen:…great stuff. And then we’ll all watch a screening of the movie together.
David: Very cool.
Glen: Well, I have yet to meet somebody who says, “That’s a silly idea.” Because it’s…yeah, it’s just a cool thing to be a part of. And we’re calling the event “The Not So Secret Agents,” because the whole idea of networking is to be found and to be discovered.
Glen: And I think that’s really what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to take these seemingly inaccessible people who don’t network and don’t do things, and giving them an opportunity to do that, and to feel safe doing that, knowing that they’re not just being sold to. Because I guarantee you, when you’re sitting beside somebody at the poker table at that James Bond event or you’re sitting down beside him and the movie’s about to start, you’re not saying, “Hey, by the way, next time you need janitorial supplies, give me a call,” or whatever the case is, right?
Glen: So it really changes the conversation. I was debating whether I would say this or not, but yesterday, at the Mercedes event, one of the members said, “You know, it’s interesting. I’m involved in another business group, and we’re doing an event at the Mercedes dealership.” And he said, “But you know what’s interesting is the difference is they let us look at them, you put us in the driver’s seat.” And isn’t that true?
Glen: In some of these other business organizations, all of which I partner with or support in a variety of different ways, there are all these members and there’s all these great people who are involved, but you don’t really get to interact with them. You know they’re there, and you maybe get to see them from afar at a luncheon or a gala, but when do you get to interact with them in a meaningful kind of way?
So when this gentleman told me this yesterday, I thought, “That is one of the most perfect analogies as to what we do versus somebody else.”
David: No kidding. Plus that kind of situation creates a context for conversation that isn’t just business, right?
David: You actually have a chance of building a real relationship with someone. And then, the conversation doesn’t need to be sales-driven because you can just get to know each other. And down the road, now you know each other, there might be a business opportunity there. But that doesn’t need to be the focus, and you’ve got “excuses” to not make it solely about business right away.
Glen: Absolutely. And that’s really…I’ve really changed my mentality from the short play to the long play. I’m no longer looking for that next sale. And when I started to not look at business and networking that way, it really changed my perspective to, “What can I give?” And a lot of people talk about giving back. “Hey, I just want to help you,” and so on. You know what? There’s a lot of genuine people out there, for sure.
I was at an event earlier this week where every single person around the table was talking about how they don’t network for them. They just want to help. I think to myself, “Well, if none of you are here for you, then how is this the most important thing you had to do today? Who’s running your business?” I just don’t get it.
We all do things for ourselves. We may try to make it look like we do things for others, and we genuinely do want to help other people.
David: Of course.
Glen: But I realized, for me, I’m real about it. I’m building the Manitoba Executive Group because I love to do it. I love to meet people. And I do love to help people.
David: The really nice thing, too, is if you structure it in a way where it’s profitable for you, then it becomes a win-win, right? Because you’re incentivized now to create an experience that’s good for everybody. If it’s not worth them paying for it, they’re not going to pay for it. It’s no longer profitable for you.
Glen: That’s just it.
David: So the incentives line up.
Glen: That’s very true. There’s a number of industry associations or even not for profit organizations who are doing what I’m doing. I’m doing it differently. But they’re either subsidized, or they get outside support, or whatever the case is. This is a business. If I can’t create value, I don’t get to be in business. There’s nobody coming in and supporting me or bolstering my revenue with some…or whatever.
For me, it’s different. Yeah, there’s a huge incentive there. Because the other thing that I’ve done, which I didn’t realize I had done, is with the group raising my profile a little bit, as far as getting to meet new and different people, and actually having people come up to me who I’ve never met before saying, “You’re the Executive Group guy,” it’s like, “Yeah, I’m sorry. I don’t know you.”
But now, I live in a glass box where my own business ethics, my own everything, not that it was a problem, but I have to…I’ve kind of set myself as the plum line for a lot of things — what good networking is and what good everything is. I feel a little bit more scrutinized now than I used to before. And that’s not something that I had tried to do. It wasn’t just for me to become more popular. It was for me to create this thing that people needed.
This has been an unintended, welcome, and unwelcome consequence to that.
David: Sure, yeah. I can see pros and cons to that. Interesting. Well, we’re coming close on time here and I want to respect your time, so I’m going to cut it short, but not before asking one final question. And this is something I ask almost every guest, and it’s a slight departure from what we just talked about. But in general, are there people in your life and books — so I guess two questions in one — that have influenced your approach to life and to business?
Glen: That’s a great question. You know, family, for me, has always, seeing the work ethic in my parents.
Glen: That has been huge for me. Seeing the sacrifices that they’ve made has actually encouraged me to work harder so I never have to make those sacrifices. Not that they weren’t working hard, but just life circumstances…
David: No, I understand all of that.
Glen: …weren’t working that way always for us. But to contrast that, if I had always listened to my friends and family, none of them would have ever said, “Hey, go risk a bunch of money and invest in stuff. Go quit a stable job and go out on your own.” Nobody would have said that to me, because that’s not the conventional wisdom when you come from a background like I did.
That’s actually another need I try to solve with the Manitoba Executive Group. Not to pitch this part, but we do something called a Success Accountability Team, where our members get…we’ve got 1,350-odd members. We get together in smaller groups of 10 to 12 people and talk about the challenges and opportunities in our business, and have everybody hold us accountable to take the risks and make the difficult decisions that we need in order to be successful.
Glen: That’s a need that I’ve perceived that I know other people have. So I surround myself with those kind of people who say, “Don’t give up. Do the summit. It’s a great idea. Who cares if you have parking issues? Do it again.” And that kind of thing.
As far as books, I absolutely love reading. I have very little time to do that. So what I do is I’ll listen to audio books in my car.
David: Absolutely, yep. I do that, too.
Glen: I drive around the city all the time, yep. I like a lot of books. The challenge for me is always…there’s never been one, necessarily, business book that has said, hit the nail on the head. My whole approach to business in life is from a variety of different books. There’s been very few books I’ve read that I haven’t picked something out.
I just finished “Made to Stick.” Love that book, that was the fourth time I’ve listened to it. Doing “Linchpin” by Seth Godin right now for the second or third time, and don’t agree with everything that he has to say in that book, but just talking about creativity and the knowledge worker. I always try to inspire people to not just follow process and not just be a cog, but to actually be creative and add value to what I’m doing.
I’m not always the easiest guy to work for, because I have such high expectations of myself, and that translates into high expectations of my team. But every time I listen to that book, I think, “I’ve got it wrong. Don’t put controls in place to try to manage a situation to death. Create an environment where people can be very creative and meet your expectations, but in their own way.”
That’s a challenge that I’m going through right now to figure out how to find that linchpin, that number two or those other people, particularly in the Manitoba Executive Group so I don’t have to do everything myself on top of this other business I’m involved in. I can really count on people to execute that vision for me and with me, so yeah.
David: Very cool. Well, Glen, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks so much for taking the time.
Glen: My pleasure. Thank you.