Darren Bondar, the founder and CEO of Watch It!, is finding out that success comes with its own challenges. At the age of 40 he’s already met many of the goals he set for his business, including growing it to 30 stores that are a mix of franchises and corporate owned locations. Now, he needs to decide: where does he take the business next?
The first advisor meeting between Next Step participant Watch It! and the advisor team set up by Alberta Venture was held on Monday, December 2, in Calgary. Bondar met with program advisors Wellington Holbrook, executive vice-president of ATB’s business & agriculture division, Douglas Ballou, a lawyer with Macpherson Leslie & Tyerman, and Derek Hassay, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. After some introductions – and a bit of commiseration about the blizzard that was raging outside that day – the group got down to discussing Bondar’s business and the opportunities that lay ahead of it.
It’s decision time for Bondar. Does he continue to grow the business organically, adding franchises and corporate stores and expanding its reach across the country? Does he use the retail platform that he has built to develop a unique brand that he can take nation-wide – and maybe even beyond that? Or does he sell the business and find a new challenge?
For an entrepreneur like Bondar – a quintessential builder, as Hassay describes him – success can be as much risk as it is reward. “He’s got a comfortable life. But entrepreneurs don’t like being comfortable. They get bored. They just love activity.” And Hassay worries that this restlessness could, if he’s not careful, encourage him to make a choice that he might later regret. “I think it’s actually a very dangerous thing, if they don’t recognize it. I know a number of entrepreneurs who did very well in their first endeavor and sold it, but didn’t get the next concept. They thought that everything they’d touch would turn to gold, but the next ten were a bust – and you can’t go back.”
The Way Forward
Everyone agrees: Bondar needs to take an inventory of what he wants to do next, and perhaps more importantly why he wants to do it. And if there’s a point they tried to emphasize, it’s that he’s still got plenty of time ahead of him – time that he might struggle to fill if he cashed out and walked away. “We had to bring that to the table a couple of times,” Hassay says. “He said, ‘You know, I’m 40.’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah – you’re only 40! In 14 years, you grew something into 30 stores across the country. You’ve done very well. There are a lot of people with one store. You’ve managed to franchise a concept, become more important in the retail landscape, more powerful with the malls you interact with.’ We were having to tell him these things, that this is quite an accomplishment. So yeah, he could walk away. But to do what? This is your baby. Are you really going to sell it and start something tomorrow?”
AV: What was your biggest takeaway from the meeting?
Darren Bondar: “It was good to get some independent, unbiased opinions, and I think they asked some good questions. We’ve achieved our critical mass of 30 stores. And I think we’re in a good spot – a good spot to keep doing what we’re doing, and potentially look into launching our own brand. If and when there’s an opportunity for an exit, it will come when the time is right.”
AV: What’s Darren’s biggest strength right now as an entrepreneur?
Wellington Holbrook: “He’s got people managing his business, and he’s really just dreaming about where he can take it next. And don’t get me wrong: most entrepreneurs are big dreamers and big thinkers. But a lot get stuck in the managing of their business, and that keeps from figuring out what’s next. Not Darren.”
AV: Which path do you think Darren will choose?
Derek Hassay: “I could see that the conversation we were having about the potential new brand-building opportunity kind of got him jazzed up a little bit. He’s now in management mode, and he probably doesn’t want to be a manager. But you could see: as much as it’s tiring to build a business, the notion of building something excites him.”
The Next Step
Darren and his advisor team will regroup in January, after he’s had some more time to think about what he wants to do next with Watch It! “I think the biggest decision he has is whether he’s going to build a brand of his own,” Holbrook says. “Is he going to do that or not – and if he doesn’t, what’s going to be his Plan B?” We’ll all find out soon enough.
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