Allentrepreneur kicks off this year’s round of interviews in high gear with experienced entrepreneur and fellow montrealer Ben Yoskovitz. In an effort to reach out to reach out to “been there, done that”, few are as qualified as Ben. Learn about how a healthy obsession with customer service has paved part of the way to his most recent startup Standout Jobs, and read his thoughts on following passion vs. opportunity, the value of mentorship and how Montreal stacks up in the startup arena. Read on.
Allentrepreneur: Hi Ben! Your interview couldn’t come at a better time as resolutions are being followed and entrepreneurial endeavours (in no small part because of the economic maelstrom) seem to be in full swing. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Ben Yoskovitz: I’m the founder and CEO of Standout Jobs, which is a startup in the Human Resources industry. I started the company with two other co-founders in early 2007. Prior to that I was running another business-to-business software company with other partners. That’s a company I had started in 1996 while still in university. So I’ve been in the software entrepreneurship space for about 12+ years.
I blog regularly at Instigator Blog - http://www.instigatorblog.com - focusing primarily on startups and entrepreneurship, although I still write occasionally about social media and blogging.
I’m also a father of two young boys and I’ve been married for 7 years.
Allentrepreneur: As CEO and founder of Standout Jobs, a recruitment communication platform, am I wrong in assuming your obsession with customer service played a big part in thinking up and creating such a startup? And what gave you the confidence to start a business?
Ben Yoskovitz: I am obsessed with customer service because I’ve seen how providing great customer service (or frankly, even “good” customer service because of how low people’s expectations are) makes such a big difference. This is especially true in a business like Standout Jobs, which requires companies to renew their subscriptions monthly or yearly to succeed. In my experience, companies will renew based almost exclusively on the quality of customer service.
Since I’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time, there were no issues about confidence. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about Standout Jobs - I do every single day! Having the confidence to start a business certain doesn’t guarantee it’s success. But I’ve always felt it’s better to try and “not succeed” than to sit on the sidelines. And in most cases, even if you fail with your business you gain a lot from it - lots of experience, lessons, friends, contacts, and more.
Allentrepreneur: I discovered your excellent Canadian-based Instigator Blog quite serendipitously earlier this year and was excited to find out we’re both located in Montreal, Quebec. After blogging on entrepreneurship for quite some time, how would you rate the startup scene in our city? More specifically, what makes Montreal a worthy choice for a start-up rather than Toronto or Boston, the latter being a renowned start-up hub.
Ben Yoskovitz: Montreal has the strongest startup scene in Canada. I’m a bit biased, but not overly so. It’s a combination of the quality entrepreneurs, veteran entrepreneurs that give back to the community (as leaders, mentors, etc.), the accessible capital (relatively speaking compared to other markets), the support structure and more. From a value perspective, Montreal is a great city for startups because of the low costs of operation. There’s a good amount of talent, salaries are not insane and other costs like rent, etc. are manageable. The government provides good tax credits for R&D and the community itself is extremely supportive of entrepreneurs.
Allentrepreneur: You also sponsor the Montreal Tech Entrepreneur Breakfast (which you organize via Instigator Blog). What happens in these gatherings and are they open to everyone?
Ben Yoskovitz: I started the Montreal Tech Entrepreneur Breakfast because some people in the startup community were complaining about the lack of get-togethers. I chose the morning for breakfast, because it was more convenient for me versus late afternoon or evening meetings. The event is easy to manage, so it’s not a lot of work, but I think it’s really helped build up the community – although there are many other events and other people that have done much more than me.
The breakfast is open to anyone. Most of the people are entrepreneurs, or people thinking about being entrepreneurs, along with people who work at startups. As the event grows we get more investors and service providers too.
Allentrepreneur: The world is full of good ideas but I have since learned that true value comes from simply putting the brainstorming on hold and just do something. Why do you think it’s so hard to make the transition from concept to reality?
Ben Yoskovitz: There are too many reasons to list, and it depends on the situation. Lack of funds is a big one. If you’ve got ideas that require significant capital that could be tough. Putting a team together is also hard. You need to work with A-level talent at all times; but in as much as the talent does exist, it’s not always easy to build a great team.
It also takes sacrifice. If you’re jumping from a day job to running a startup then you’ll most likely have to take a cut in salary and lifestyle. You’ll probably be working more than you ever had. And finally, if you’re not an experienced entrepreneur then you’ll run into tons of situations moving from the idea to reality that you’ve never faced. A lack of experience is a killer, but something you just have to plow through.
Allentrepreneur: Do you think the old adage “follow your passion” still holds true in our time or is “follow your opportunities” a more adequate reality for entrepreneurs?
Ben Yoskovitz: Find a way to merge both. And if you have no passion whatsoever for what you’re doing then it’s going to be hard to keep it going when things get tough. You probably won’t be passionate about it all but there better be something you believe wholeheartedly in and truly love.
I do think a lot of greener entrepreneurs focus very much on their passions and don’t really work to understand the opportunities that exist therein. If you don’t do enough market analysis, assessment of the business, etc. as you’re getting going you could find yourself with something “cool” and “interesting” that no one wants.
Allentrepreneur: Finally I’ve noticed that advice and insight taken directly from an experienced source is always much more powerful and engaging. Do you know of any mentorship opportunities in and out of the city? How about Standout Mentorships in the near future?
Ben Yoskovitz: Ha! Standout Mentorships – I’m all for it, but I need more money and time to help out. I’ve talked on my blog a few times about the need for mentorship in the entrepreneurial community. It’s one of the biggest problems; not just in Montreal but everywhere, and especially in Canada.
I’m not aware of any true mentorship opportunities – honestly, it has to come from successful entrepreneurs who have “been there, done that” and can afford to spend their time mentoring.