CCSBE wisdom from Jim Estill

I was fortunate to catch a talk by Danby Appliance CEO Jim Estill (for the third time) at the recent Canadian Council for Small Business and Entrepreneurship conference at the University of Guelph and his message struck me as something that would really resonate with both students and entrepreneurs.

Jim Estill - Danby Applicance
Source: University of Guelph

I have admired Jim for over 20 years mostly because at the time he was growing his distribution business (EMJ Data, now Synnex Canada) in the computer industry my brother and I were doing the same with mmWave in the wireless business (he just had an extra zero on all his results). Those outside the industry may remember him as the Guelph entrepreneur who sponsored 50 Syrian families in November of last year. Interestingly I have adopted many of his philosophies over the past few decades, and much of it gels particularly well with my recent work at Incubate Labs, hence my desire to share the message.

There were two main “take aways” from the talk.  One can be summed up in a quote from Aristotle, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

The other is that if you want to drive business growth you need to be constantly trying new things and go for quantity over quality.

Willpower is Limited – Develop Good Habits

If you want to be a success you need to develop good habits. If you rely on willpower to avoid the fries in favour of the salad, or go for that daily run (or walk as I do), then you have to turn it into a habit. Habits take about TWO MONTHS to form (not 21 days as many believe), which is why so many people fail when trying to achieve life altering behaviour changes.

Here are some the habits that have served Jim well over his career. A few of these I plan to try myself!

  • Always take the stairs
  • Never take a shower without breaking a sweat. You can get a sweat going in 5 minutes and a quick morning workout requires only 7 minutes and the desire to do it! Health trumps wealth every time and as you get older it’s more and more important to maintain good health to achieve your full potential.
  • Read every day. To make that easier, dump your TV. I haven’t gone full TV-less but I haven’t had cable for about 6 years and I almost never watch TV of any kind. It takes no willpower for me to avoid staying up late watching awful programming, because I can’t. If your schedule is tight then you can “read” audiobooks in the car.
  • Meditate. This one is newish for me (started in 2012) but I can attest to the effectiveness of daily meditation. Even if you can’t do it daily, spending some time every week on mindfulness will still pay dividends.
  • Spend 20 minutes outside every day. If you can combine this with walking meetings or phone calls so much the better.
  • Become a LinkedIN addict. If you spend more time on Facebook than LinkedIN you may not be cut out for entrepreneurship!

None of these habits will give you instant results, but they do magnify over time. The difference between adopting good habits or not will only be apparent after many years. Go to your high school reunion and it will be obvious who exercises and who doesn’t!

“It doesn’t take an original idea.”

Jim’s philosophy on business growth is equally in line with my thinking and experience. Too many people are trying to find the next unicorn. But there are lots of opportunities to execute in an existing industry better than the other guy, or apply an existing concept to a new niche (see Incubate Labs). He suggests that anyone looking to get to the next level simply look at the industry players at the size you aspire to and copy them. You have to get good before you scale.

He also claims to be “completely not focused” and that being a “parallel entrepreneur” is part of what energizes him. This is in line with my experience that most successful entrepreneurs have at least a smidgen of ADD.

“Fail often. Fail fast. Fail cheap.”

It’s obvious that Jim understood Lean Startup long before the term was coined. Over the years I have just naturally tried things and despite my MBA we never wrote a biz plan before trying a new product, opening a new division or launching new businesses. Right or wrong, I just tried it. Another quote from his talk is “more companies fail from perfection than speed” which is really just another way of saying that “good enough is good enough” and that the minimum viable product is what you should be aiming for. Obviously as a Lean Startup practitioner, I can’t agree more.

Jim has a blog that entrepreneurship students and small business clients may find interesting and you can find him here on LinkedIN.