What some of Canada’s top founders and entrepreneurs learned in 2016

We asked 12 innovative business-owners to share the best, most important lessons they learned about business in 2016. Here’s what they said

Disruption requires understanding

“In applying to become a national stock exchange in the U.S., IEX faced a very tough process to be approved by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ were fighting against us and the institutional investors that supported us. Thankfully, after hearing all sides of the argument, the SEC approved IEX [in June], but it took a very long time. We saw firsthand how a process that was designed to protect the interests of everyday people almost worked to the exact opposite end. Incumbents have lawyers, experience and lobbyists; they often understand the process better than the new entrants. Disrupters have to understand regulation as well as—or better than—the established players they’re challenging.”

Brad Katsuyama, co-founder & CEO, IEX (The Investors Exchange)

Stick to your principles

“I learned to accept change, adapt accordingly and move forward—while also managing to stay true to my core values. There are many changes happening within the organics industry; large corporations are eager to purchase organic businesses. So now, more than ever, we remain fiercely determined to operate independently and stay true to our guiding principles.”

Ratana Stephens, co-founder & co-CEO, Nature’s Path Foods

Social media’s great power requires great responsibility

“2016 has been a lesson on the power of social media, especially in the context of the U.S. election. It shows how far we’ve come from the days of people dismissing it as a distraction. I’m excited about that as someone in the industry, but I also think we need to take this power seriously and ensure it’s not misused.”

Ryan Holmes, founder & CEO, Hootsuite

Change requires extra care

“2016 was a very big year at Mabel’s Labels. We sold the business, and there were so many lessons surrounding that. You want to be sure you have someone great to do the negotiations, have an extremely competent accountant to prepare you professionally and personally, and prepare how you will message and support your team throughout the transition. The sale of a business can be very scary to employees. And it’s also important to realize that the transition from employer to employee can be a tricky one for entrepreneurs.”

Julie Cole, co-founder, Mabel’s Labels

Focus on your opportunities

“With all the craziness in the world around us this year, it has really deepened the need to be present in everything we do. People are getting sucked into the drama of all the things that are negative right now, especially in Canada. It’s depressing. I get quite dismayed when we can’t see the opportunities that arise from trauma or challenges. Being present helps you stay grounded, and helps you to be an observer, to say ‘What is the best thing we can do in this situation?’ When you’re present, literally every day is fantastic.”

Suzanne West, President and CEO, Imaginea Energy

Nothing has to be like it was

“The most interesting lesson for me this year is how excited I am to run a company in a field I love—animation—with a totally different kind of business plan. The plan for WOW! Unlimited is very different than the plan we had for DHX, which is very different than the plan we had at Cookie Jar, and very different than the plan we had at Nelvana. Today, you can have your own networks and your own platforms that put you directly in contact with your audience. It’s not about what it’s been about for the last 100 years: it’s now something totally different.”

Michael Hirsh, CEO and Chairman, WOW! Unlimited

Sometimes you have to leave to move ahead

“I learned that my identity transcends my company. This year, I left DAVIDsTEA, the company I co-founded eight years ago and grew into a $200 million  publicly traded global brand. I was 27 when I created DAVIDsTEA, and my professional career has been defined by my experiences there. Leaving was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but since I’ve left, I’ve rekindled the passion and excitement that propelled me in the early days. With the closing of a single door, a world of opportunity came into focus.”

David Segal, co-founder, DAVIDsTEA

Stick with it

“I sold my last company about two and a half years ago, and 2016 is the first time I’ve been back at it as an entrepreneur since then. It’s reminded me that it really does take an incredibly stubborn ability to build a business, to keep jumping back into the ring after getting knocked down a million times. I think I had forgotten that, a bit.”

Katherine Hague, founder, Female Funders

Fintech is the next big thing

“Right now, financial services is probably going through the biggest state of disruption of anything. To see fintech players creating new and different ways to deliver financial services is so interesting. It’s been the most important thing I’ve realized as an investor this year, and the most important trend to monitor.”

Michele Romanow,entrepreneur and investor on CBC’s Dragons’ Den

Change happens on multiple levels

“Over the last decade, we built a product used by millions of people. The challenge for our team this year was to build a new version of that offering, and to figure out how to seamlessly move millions of people from one to the other. That’s very hard and complicated on a whole bunch of levels—inside the building you’re learning how to learn and think differently, and outside you’re figuring out how to communicate the change. You don’t want to have the sophomore jinx of a crappy second album. Our team made the change happen, and on the way reset my expectations upwards for what the potential within people is.”

Mike McDerment, founder and CEO, FreshBooks

Human-computer interaction is on the verge of big change

“This year, consumers showed they are increasingly interested in wearing technology, and now they are looking for wearables that can seamlessly integrate into their daily lives and become extensions of the human body. In 2017, I think we’ll see a breakthrough in human-computer interaction and new form factors that have the potential to reshape not only wearables, but the entire mobile computing industry as we know it. So, 2016 was a busy growth year for us—we raised US $120M in a Series B funding round, made some key executive hires, opened our first U.S. office in San Francisco, and opened a new 50,000-sq-ft manufacturing facility in Waterloo, with plans to continue hiring aggressively in both locations.”

Stephen Lake, co-founder and CEO, Thalmic Labs

There’s life after the plan

“I learned in 2016 that greatness can always be found in the most challenging times. In fact, it’s when things don’t go according to plan that you are given the golden opportunity to rise from the ashes and show people what you’re truly capable of.”

Bruce Poon Tip, founder, G Adventures