The Whirlwind of the Past Five Years

This is my experience over the past 5 years…

For over a decade I worked in the retail field and didn’t have a desire to leave it.  It was comfortable and the money was decent enough to make a living.  It was always an assumption (of mine) that I would end up working in Real Estate or managing a big box store of some sort down the line.  Around 2 years before Future Shop closed its doors, most people could see the writing on the wall.  Instead of doing 70-80k per day on the weekend, it was dwindling down to 30-35k.  Staffing was non-existent in certain departments and sales-people were asked to be experts in all different areas of technology. I actually sold a fridge with a closing line of “that it could take a punch if you ran out of beer”. It was only a matter of time before our store in Cambridge was going to fold up and I would receive a buy-out.  At the time in my head, it did not make sense to look for a new career because of this.

Over those two years, I was determined to figure out what to do next – Real Estate, Insurance, and Managing in Retail were all possibilities… sales in tech was where I decided to go.  It wasn’t easy to get into, there were many companies that didn’t want to hire a mid-30’s retail sales dude as an Account Executive.  Most tech companies want b2b (business to business) sales experience which I did not have.  Business Development was generally a role for young adults straight out of school and had a salary that was going to be a pay cut compared to what my commissions were at FS.  Even after deciding that it was worthwhile taking the dip it was still extremely difficult to get hired into this role. Most companies figured that I would leave at the first chance I got.  That, or my expectation to move up within the company would be urgent – interviews were piling up in tech, but no bites.  There was a job at a Bell store that was sitting waiting for me, but the burnout from Retail was real for me.  I did work one day at Bell and dealt with a (Karen) customer issue of their kid streaming media while in the States and the bill was in the hundreds… that afternoon I decided to quit with no offer in hand.

Finally, I interviewed with a cybersecurity company called eSentire… I’d never heard of them and had no idea what they did.  I met with a VP at the company that was building out the Business Development program and ran the Inside Sales team as well.  This dude interviewed me in a style that I had never seen or been a part of before… no standard template of interview questions or typical fluffy banter.  It was a relaxed conversation asking me questions on how I (the style) sold computers at Future Shop and drilling into what his concerns were about hiring someone that had so much experience selling a certain way.  Instantly, my guard was down, and it felt like a real-life conversation you would have at a bar versus being judged and analyzed.  It was refreshing and I laid it all out and ended up getting the gig.

Since then it has been a crazy ride of moving into different roles and learning all sides of how tech sales works.  The easiest way to describe the fast-paced world of tech is, it is like a very addictive drug.  Every decision and direction that you take has a huge impact on the business – I have been lucky to be given a lot of free reign on the moves and vision that I have.  To make changes at most companies it has to run through multiple layers of the business before even the smallest thing can be changed.  This is not the case at most tech companies, changes are often made on the fly. This makes the job fun, and also extremely stressful.

In my case, I’m directly/have been responsible for the livelihoods of dozens of young professionals that for the most part is in the first “career” type job.  The hiring strategy that I take is that it is preferable for the candidate to have had a tough job (retail, serving, door to door, etc…) in the past. Cold calling potential prospects requires a thick skin and have already dealt with tough situations it is easier to get over that “fear” barrier. Generally, with the talented people that I have seen it takes 6 months of the job before I see the light bulb “turn on” above their head. At that point, you can generally see what skills they have to help them choose a career path to strive towards in the future. Anywhere from the 1 year to the 2-year mark they leave the nest so to speak. It’s extremely satisfying seeing people that I’ve managed to move into different areas of tech, and quickly have success… that’s my drug! If I didn’t get a chance to work with my original VP there’s no doubt in my mind that things would have ended a bit differently. He taught me that I could be myself while managing… (I’d like to think of myself as) honest, genuine, and empathetic when leading. I always had this idea in my head that you needed to “become corporate” when in charge – there is nothing further from the truth. The goal that was imprinted on my brain was that you allow people to show you their skillset, give them structure and confidence to excel in the role without hanging over them.

I’ve been lucky to have great leadership for nearly my entire time moving from eSentire to Axonify, and back to eSentire – you don’t know how important it is until it’s gone.  I have no idea where/what I will be or doing in 5 years… that used to stress me out.  Now, since living in slightly controlled chaos it does not give me the same anxiety – it’s a nice feeling.

Downtown Kitchener!

While reading the Record this past weekend it occurred to me that we might have an issue with something in Downtown Kitchener. You don’t notice it right away, but it slowly creeps into your mind the more that you think about things. You really notice it at the corner of King and Queen. Kitchener has an abundance of second hand stores, pawn shops, and pay-day loan stores within minutes of each other. These stores have little or no value to anyone. Their main purpose is to prey on the poor. Buying items for much lower then should be received, or giving you money for more money in the future.

This usually wouldn’t warrant any further discussion, but we just had a great restaurant have to close its doors because of rent increase; and we have a brewery desperately looking for somewhere to set up shop in the downtown. If Kitchener would like to shape up their central area and maintain the momentum that they have going from the tech district, they need to start removing the dragging-down- society retail shops. There is a need for these places, but these should be destination stores. Not in the central part of the city. The reason we have pawn shops and pay day cash loans is mainly because of alcohol and drug habits. By allowing businesses to thrive on the masses, Kitchener will always be doomed to live the cycle of a failing downtown district.

By watching first-hand how much trouble TWB Coop Brewery has had trying to find a way into the downtown, it’s been disheartening. Most businesses would have given up by now. Or would have gone to another city to begin their pursuit. They have been looking for more than a year for a place to call home; to begin to make some profit and build their brand. Zoning by-laws and high rent have come into play as well. TWB’s start up campaign was a huge success. Residents of Kitchener have shown time and time again that if you have a great product, you will succeed. Still nothing, it’s not for a lack of effort on their front. They have looked at multiple places to make this happen. Nothing has panned out as of yet.

Meanwhile, Imbibe was the absolute best place to go for a beer after work. Having multiple craft beer options daily. Laid back staff, and a very chill vibe. They were just starting to get into a groove of having regular customers. I thought they were going to have something special for years to come. The lease for their spot in the Museum was up, and the rent was hiked based on what the going rate was in the area. Another one bites the dust. It’s discouraging to see people with great ideas on how to enhance the downtown have such a difficult time making the dream become a reality. And if they have a sliver of success the rent then gets increased.

I want to support local businesses. But it has to be a business that has a value. Something that gives back as much as it takes from the community. Donates their venues to local events. Stays on top of all things Kitchener. We need the city to take a stand, and look at all angles when it comes to making this city a better place to live. I am personally in a competition with Waterloo. I believe that the city of Kitchener has more character, and can be a great landing spot for people that want to set up shop here. Let’s have a look at these zoning by-laws that are in place. Are they outdated? Maybe if you own a building take a look at the type of place that is going to be moving in to the spot. Will Imbibe increase the value of your property or bring in business for you? Yes, I think it will. Make it work with them so that everybody can be successful. We are almost there. This is already a city that I am proud to live in, but I want it to be a city where I can bring anybody to the downtown area and wow them with a unique experience. Which does not include a pay day loan. It has been a great run over the past five years or so seeing the central area of the city transform into an entertainment district. Let’s keep the ball rolling, and make this a city worth talking about.

Live Music in Kitchener

People seem to be in shock that Rod Stewart and Blondie didn’t have better overall ticket sales at Big Music Fest this year (I am not one of them.) They had to cancel the Sunday night of the festival. The organizer said that he had never seen anything like it before. That it just didn’t take. They advertised the performers at an insane level. If you listened to Dave FM or 570 news there were advertisements for the event every couple of commercial breaks. I am kind of dumbfounded why people thought those two in particular would work.
What do you think of when you think of a festival? You think of an intense crowd that is extremely into the music. They have passion for the music, and the band that is performing. What do you think of when you hear the name Rod Stewart? I think of the 70’s playboy that broke the hearts of multiple middle aged women. Or the crooner that softened up in his older age. I think of a casino crowd. As soon as I heard that Rod Stewart and Blondie were the headliners of Sunday night, I knew it would bomb.

I know the pulse of KW. What we are into, and what is going to sell out 10,000 people. Soundgarden and Jane’s Addiction have this ability. Rod Stewart does not. People that go to festivals have a certain vibe about them. And that vibe in Kitchener in particular, is rock music. The thing that is the most frustrating is that with the money that they spent on Stewart and Blondie; that they could have had a fantastic performance by a band that might not be back on tour when the time is right. Rush, Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, and AC/DC all would have been perfect headliners that would have been right near the same dollar mark of Blondie and Rod Stewart put together. Rush might be dreaming a bit, but it couldn’t have been that far off.

This reminds me of the people that used to run Centre in the Square. Bringing in acts that only made a small percentage of people happy. I have to admit that they have been much better over the past couple of years, but they were awful for the decade before that. As a rock fan in this city, you really have nothing to look forward to. You have to drive to Toronto or London to see a band that could have easily been supported in KW. The city just doesn’t have the right people pushing the buttons. Bringing in the type of acts that will have a chance to succeed. Kitchener is desperately trying to get the downtown back up and running. There are not enough places that have bands that aren’t just local acts. Starlight lounge does its best in Waterloo. They have indie rock. But with the small venue, they can only support certain bands. Maxwell’s have brought in a couple of decent bands recently in the Tea Party and the Headstones, but we are still missing that in between place. A place where you can draw in a couple of thousand people every so often. This is why Big Music Fest is so important. We need to show that we can support live music in this area.

The mistake of booking those acts is such a black eye on the city. It’s not our fault that you brought in the wrong artists. We are already paying huge dollars for a festival that in other cities would be half of the price. But we are willing to pay it, if it means that you can bring particular artists to the city, and we don’t have to drive into the parking lot called Toronto. After hearing the runner of Big Music Fest speak, it sounds like he has gotten it through his head that this city is a rock and roll city. We will not support acts just because they are big names. Kitchener really needs to rattle the windows for Soundgarden and Jane’s Addiction to show our appreciation for great music. And to also show the people that are bringing in the talent that this is the type of music that we want. At the end of the day I just want to enjoy the sunshine, and watch a performance from a band that I thought I would never get to see in my own backyard.