What a 78-Year Old Uber Driver Taught Me About Life

What a 78 Year Old Uber Driver Taught Me

[George]: What makes you happy? In life?

[John]: When I have all my necessities, and not having overly high expectations – to the point where you make life more difficult than it should be. For example, people feeling like they have to borrow money to impress others, I mean who are you going to impress? I’m happy when I’m healthy and when my family is healthy. Simple as that.

And what pleases me mainly is when I go for my daily 2-3 hour walk, look at the beautiful trees, observe the environment around me – I mean really take it in. As for the rest, pfff…it’s honestly a joke.

[John]: You are maybe 25 years old? How old are you?

[George]: I’m 25, you guessed it right!

[John]: Yeah, I’m ok in this.

[John]: Say that you have a good business or a good job and you’re planning to be rich, something to prove to the world that you’re successful – it’s the wrong thing you can do because you’re going to waste your life the same way I did. I never tried to impress anyone at your age but it’s because I never had anything when I was young so my thinking was to work really hard to get the things I really wanted.

[George]: Which was what?

[John]: It was like to have my own house, to have extra money on the side…and big things as well. Anyway, it was wrong. I learned later in life that this is not what it’s all about. And today, I have my own little place,  a condo in downtown which I bought for $100K back then, and have been working as a cab driver for 49 years.

I can’t show you much (materially), but the one thing I can tell you and I tell this to my daughter, to my granddaughter, is that DON’T BORROW ANYTHING. I can prove it to you that I don’t owe a penny to anyone, and I’m a happy old man because of that.

If you can achieve to control your finances and expenditures, you won’t go crazy on borrowing. These people that you see here in Toronto, the majority of them are in debt – they all borrow from card to card. It’s stupid.

[George]: That’s great advice, Sir. If you don’t mind me asking, how old are you?

[John]: I’m 78.

[George]: God bless you. If there’s anything you look back on in your life, is there anything you regret?

[John]: No…uh…regretting *thinking out loud*.

I can tell you my friend, that I tried to go where I want to live. I’m originally from Greece, and that’s where I wanted to live – with good weather, close to family, tasty food, etc. I came to Canada for economic stability and although I’m very grateful for what this country has done for me, my heart always longed for home – unfortunately, Greece became more and more unstable, so going back was no longer an option and I had to make the best with what I had (no complaints or excuses).

[George]: Can I ask you one more question, are you married?

[John]: Of course.

[George]: How long have you been married for?

[John]: 50 years.

[George]: Wow, that’s amazing. What advice do you have, given your successful long-term relationship?

[John]: Give her control of your money, haha.

[George]: Laughs.

[John]: Obviously keep an eye on things, but I tell you – the partnership we had in building from the grounds up is what allowed us to be successful in different facets of our relationship.

[John]: Ok my friend, this is your stop – it was a pleasure chatting with you.

[George]: Thanks John, will definitely not forget this Uber ride – all the best!

What I Learned from Co-Founding My First Startup

What I learned from Co-Founding My First Startup

I was on a plane heading to Vancouver for work with no entertainment i.e. no book, no working movie screen…nothing to occupy my distracted mind. I asked for a coffee and began jotting down ideas on the napkin it came with. “An app that has something to do with books” – that’s the first thing that came to my mind for some reason, and I stuck with it.

Lesson: sometimes the best ideas that come to you are unintentional – when you’re in a relaxed and creative state.

The idea for a book exchange app came easily to me because 1) I love to read, 2) I’m still close to my university as an alumni and have established-relationships with other institutions and 3) a lot of what I do is based on inspiring students. But in the back of my mind, there was some doubt that this could work – after all, it wasn’t revolutionary tech, it was simple and something you would think is already in use. Once I landed and reached my hotel, I did some research, called a few friends still in school and to my surprise – people were still using Facebook groups, sites like Kijiji, and other platforms. Having graduated 4 years ago, there still wasn’t a “go-to” marketplace for students to exchange books.

Lesson: just because a process exists (which it likely will), doens’t mean you can’t come up with an idea to make it better. In this case, I found that most students were still relying on these Facebook groups to make exchanges happen. They would put their books on the floor, table, bed, take a picture, upload it to the group, and wait for direct messages to pop in from interested buyers. As you can imagine, this process is fragmented, and not effective. However, students went to these groups because they had 10K+ members – and it was the only available marketplace that was dedicated for university textbook exchanges.


I called up two of my good friends Elie & Tony Ajaltouni (who are now my co-founders) and pitched them the idea. They both have 10+ years of software development experience working for a Fortune 100 Multinational and consulting on the development of many software products including mobile apps, chat-bots, and web platforms. They loved the idea, so we met at Second Cup in April of 2017, drafted a contractual agreement (to make it official), and got to work.

For almost a year and a half, we worked on the app virtually. Elie & Tony were in Montreal and I was in Toronto – and every week or so we would get together on weekends for a call. It’s pretty crazy to look back on how we were able to do that without physically meeting up, but we had to be resourceful and work with what we had.

Lesson: the only way to really succeed in business is to partner with people who fill your weaknesses. I had the self-awareness to know what I’m good and suck at – and it was a matter of finding the right partners who not only filled the gaps, but had the drive to see the vision through i.e. really believing in what you’re doing. Finding partners who are on the same page as you, who you can trust, and who have the necessary skills to make this dream a reality are essential factors in succeeding as an early-stage startup.


The biggest challenge for me as a non-technical co-founder was patience. Developing the ability to focus on the top priorities, while still thinking ahead and planning for what’s next. Being self-funded and doing this using our spare time, meant that we really needed to be mindful about where we deploy our time, effort, and resources. So, after testing the concept with a few beta users, we agreed on the core features that we wanted to display and get the app to market ASAP. Our core features for V1 of the app included i) search for a book by title or author, ii) upload a book by scanning the bar-code, iii) browse for books in your local area, and iv) chat with users to make an exchange happen. After launching the app, the feature that people enjoyed the most (based on feedback) was the scanning feature – which allows users to upload a book in less than 15 seconds

Lesson: there’s always going to be the battle of wanting things to be perfect before going to market, but time is of the essence – it’s better to have a product you’re reasonably happy with and put it out there for people to try/use. Once you can validate the idea and collect feedback, you’ll be able to spend the right time working on the right things to make the product better (without having to assume what users want/need).

Once we got the app to market, the love was real. We received lots of positive feedback on how clean the design was and how simple it was to use – nothing flashy, just got the job done and really addressed a pain-point that was still present. In just a month of launching, we were able to hit the top 100 charts for free apps under the “books” category (coming in at #32) and amassed over 1,000 users. We also got covered by the Toronto Guardian and the961.com which provided good media exposure.


Lesson: you’ll never know unless you try. Several people shut down the idea in the beginning; “books are a dying business”, “there are many platforms like it”, “cracking the student marketplace hasn’t been done before”, etc. We didn’t listen – we just took into account the constructive feedback we received from people who meant well and moved forward. Sometimes, that’s all you can need – belief in what you’re doing and putting in the work until you see it through.

This isn’t to say that we’ve fully figured it out or cracked the code yet, in fact we’re still in the midst of figuring out how to grow traction. This “chicken and egg problem” is prevalent in almost all tech startups – especially with apps/platforms. It’s essentially the challenge of getting to 1m users – one that every platform you’re using now went through. Consider the following:

Kickstarter got its 1m backer in about 30 months, Airbnb reached 1m users after 30 months of launching, Tumnlr hit 1m blogs in 27 months, it took Twitter 24 months to reach 1m users after launching, Spotify hit 1m users 5 months after launch, and Facebook reached 1m users in 10 months. You get the point, it takes a while to gain traction and this doesn’t happen over night.

With BookBack, our challenge right now is getting users on the platform and uploading books so that we can create a marketplace to drive real value. This is a similar issue LinkedIn experienced in the beginning – figuring out why people weren’t joining fast enough. What they discovered was that people didn’t want to join a not-social-enough social network. No one wants that feeling of standing alone in an empty bar. So, LinkedIn needed a way to give potential users some social proof, or evidence that it wasn’t a lonely place. To address this, LinkedIn allowed people to upload their address book and see who else they know who is there. That feature allowed a spike in adoption.


Lesson: Reid Hoffman (co-founder of LinkedIn) said it best “starting a company is like throwing yourself off the cliff and assembling an airplane on the way down. With all the velocity, time pressure, and mortality that implies – and the prospect of making something that can fly before you hit the ground.”

That’s the most exciting part about doing this – is moving forward with the punches, pivoting along the way, and not forgetting to have some fun. I envision a lot more for BookBack – where it can serve as a marketplace for more than just books – for class notes, student residents, university loans, etc. Making anything student-related easy to access – saving you time and money.

But for now, I have to be patient and get there one step at a time.

To learn more, visit: bookback.co

22 Lessons From 22 Coffees

22 Lessons From 22 Coffees

I started my podcast Let’s Grab Coffee a little less than a year ago now with the goal to interview successful people in different industries. I essentially wanted to share my network of awesome people to the community and build a platform that showcases stories of success, failures, lessons, and experiences. I’ve had 22 guests on the show so far, and have learned a ton from these conversations. So, I wanted to break down the micro-pieces of advice and share them with you. Hope you find this valuable:

Episode 1 : Paul Nadeau – Former Hostage/Crisis Negotiator, Keynote Speaker/Author

Never, ever, ever, give up – and no matter how many times you get knocked down, find a way to get back up. Life is not always easy, it does kick us where it hurts and sometimes we do fall on that mat and it is equally our choice to get up or stay down. A challenge is not the end of your story unless you choose it to be. Go for what makes you happy, for what makes you joyful, and if you need to learn how to get there…find the right people that can help you get there. Life has so much abundance, and once you truly believe that it does, it’s amazing how many opportunities open up.

Episode 2 : Julie Blais Comeau – Canada’s Go-To Etiquette Expert / Bilingual Speaker, Spokesperson, Media Partner, Author & Blogger

Invest in yourself. Invest in your capabilities, in your abilities – but before you do that investment, make sure you DECIDE. You are the master of your future, so decide what you want and then invest in yourself, in your education, and your skills.

Episode 3 : Daryo Cummins – Account Executive at Amazon and Creative / Blogger

Once you get into university, try everything your program has to offer at least once – just everything! Any networking events, extra curricular activities, clubs, competitions…just try it once. Try international exchanges, learn new things, meet different people and be open to new experiences. The biggest regrets people have is not enjoying the full university experience – when people go to class, and go home, while making little-to-no friends, and not benefiting from what the faculties have to offer. It’s four years you never get to experience again, so make the most of it.

Episode 4 : Mark Bowden – Keynote Speaker / World Renowned Body Language Expert / TRUTHPLANE / Presentation Training & Communication Coach

Be persistent, and just keep going. Pick a target and just keep on going for that target. Knowing that, other people who picked the same target, will drop off along the way – even though they may be more capable than you, they won’t have the same resilience as you. Never give up on that target. You don’t have to be the smartest, the best looking, you just have to know what the goal is and keep going longer than others. It takes no brain power for someone to say why you can’t do something – with no effort, people can give you a one hour lecture of why it won’t work…anybody can do that. So, when you pick that one goal and make it public, there will be many people along the way who try to pull you down and get in the way – you have to shut out the naysayers and keep a supportive cast around who actually want to see you succeed.

Episode 5 : Randy Thomas – Professional Actor, Author, and Coach

Cut yourself some slack – obviously work really hard at your craft, but don’t beat yourself up every time you face a roadblock. No decision is worst than making a wrong decision, so take time to also breathe through the process and get through it. If you really just ask for it, give yourself time to figure it out, and put in the effort to accomplish your goals, it’ll all pan out.

Episode 6 : Evan Carmichael – Founder at Evan Carmichael Communications Group

Follow your passion. Do something that you love. Especially when you’re graduating, don’t just seek out the highest paying jobs like being an investment banker, doctor, etc… that will kill you unless you have a passion for those things to go forward. Often, if you’re passionate and good at what you’re doing, you create a new job for yourself that didn’t exist. That’s when you let your true genius come out.

Episode 7 : Tyson Rigg – Relationship Manager / Private Investment Counsel / Scotia Wealth Management

Have patience and understand what failure is. Patience is key when you get out into the workforce – success in the way you define it is not going to come fast and easy, or as easy as it was in university. You have to get rid of the idea of entitlement – keep your head in the lane, get done what you need to get done, and ride the waves. And with failure…”to be honest with you, I have not failed as much in my whole life until I started working full time – like mistakes, not passing certain exams, and it hits really hard. Man, it hit me hard because when I graduated university with distinction, I left on a really high note and when I entered the workforce I really had to get used to the idea of failure – it’s part of the process and part of the growth.

Episode 8 : Jeff Dennis – Entrepreneur in Residence at Fasken Law

Every single company today is a tech company. Not long ago, there was the tech sector (technology, computers, etc..) and it was very specialized in itself. But today, every business is disrupted by technology and will have no choice but to adapt and pivot.

Creativity is a #1 skill – to think creatively, work collaboratively, and have a basic understanding of science, mathematics, and technology is essential. It also never hurts to be a great salesperson – if you can generate revenue, you can always eat. The salespeople rarely starve, and often are the last ones to get laid off.

I tell this to my kids often, and it’s very simple; 90% is just showing up.

Episode 9 : James Beattie – Capital Markets Investment Banking at Gravitas Securities

Be unique, be different, be interesting, and build bridges (in your community, family, and home). Never, never, never give up! When times get tough and situations you face are challenging, always remember to Breathe. Listen. Pause.

Episode 10 : Kimberly Biggs – CEO of Agence Pop Inc. / Social Media Strategist / Speaker

Try to read as much as you can (a good start is one book per month). Also, try to find balance between work and personal life – my rule is to have my phone completely turned off between 5pm and 8pm (that’s time for family/kids). Every morning, try to get in the zone – sit with yourself for just 15 minutes (in silence and really try to reflect deeply on what you want to maximize out of your day). Lastly, have a daily planner (paper-based preferably) and make goals for 20-minute blocks that you can actually check off.

Episode 11 : Chuck Garcia – CEO at Climb Leadership International / Executive Coaching / Motivational Speaking

Confront the fear that will allow you to let go of who you are and become the person you want to be. Continually seek to be better at what you do, and the only way you can do that is if you try and fail – and recognize from this day forward, there is no failure, everything we do is giving us feedback which will determine how to do things better. One last thing and the best piece of advice I ever received came from the Poet Maya Angelou who said “when you meet people, they may forget what you say, and even what you do…but never how you make them feel.”

Episode 12 : Alan Smithson – CEO at MetaVRse and VR/AR Expert

Consistency is better than any one thing. Do something everyday (actually execute) and try to get a little bit better everyday (formally known as Kaizen). Be curious about the things you’re passionate about, read a lot, consume content, and try to output the content that you learn and share it with the world.

Episode 13 : Brian Rashid – International Speaker & CEO

Trust yourself more. You know what you want to do and there’s a reason inside of you. In some cases, we pick our fate, and in some cases our fate picks us and waits for us to act on it. Trust your intuition, your gut…trust yourself more. If it fails, and if you fail…than at least you gave it a shot and honoured what you felt in that moment. Because the worst thing in the world is regret on what you wish you could have done.

Episode 14 : Manu Goswami – Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Start NOW. Have an intrinsic desire to go out there and accomplish the things you want to do. Don’t have any regrets – and starting out now will minimize any regret you’ll have 4, 5, 10 years from now and regret is a brutal feeling for anyone. The last thing you want is to look back and wish you were able to do what you wanted to. Also, make sure you value the relationships around you. It’s very easy to get caught up on LinkedIn when you grow the followers and think you can have coffee with anyone, but there are only a few people who’ll truly wear your jersey and who’ll bleed for you…that’s the name of the game. So make sure every single person you follow and connect with that you’re building a meaningful relationship, not just a superficial or transactional one.

Episode 15 : Darrell Pinto – Research Director at Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association (CVCA)

In this world, this time, and this age…we have so much politics and issues – people tend to focus on differences, so I would encourage you to do the opposite. See the good in others, be open to different ideologies, and develop the curiosity to learn from the things that you weren’t previously exposed to. It’s only in this space that you can grow and excel.

Episode 16 : Sayem Reza – Digital Marketer & Photographer

If you’re going to do anything in life, stay consistent with it. Deliver on what you promise and put in the 100% hustle with your craft. Have idols in your life and people you can look up to and surround yourself with a supportive cast of friends and family who can help you get to where you want. Lastly, just do it – no excuses.

Episode 17 : Shauna Arnott – Producer & Lead Planner at Haste and Hustle

Work really hard at it, find people who can support you at different levels, and just find the job that you want to do and go and do it! You’re not trees, you’re fluid enough to move around and pivot. You can do anything you set your mind to. You’re the one stopping yourself because of all the fears that are eating you up inside.

Episode 18 : Connor Beaton – Founder at ManTalks

One of things that’s very powerful is to understand what mindfulness truly is. We have a watered down version of what that is in our life, and so many people are struggling because they’ve bought into this version of mindfulness that’s super surface level. It is a process of being mindful of your experiences – moving from your thoughts, into the experience to embody what mindfulness actually is. So, whether it’s through breathing, daily routines, meditations…reflect deeply on the emotions you feel during a particular experience. As Einstein once said “the intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.”

Episode 19 : Mike Smith – Founder of Mike Smith Live, The Harbor, The BAY, and Skate for Change

Look for those moments where you can take a risk, be around somebody who can teach you things, experience things you’ve never experienced, and at some point where you need to step up and actually do it – strive to be the person you want to become. Don’t wish and talk, because that’s fun and exciting but there’s a scary part to actually start doing…and that’s where you need to be to actually get to where you want. Get out there and do, take risks, take chances…and keep pushing!

Episode 20 : Shawn Kanungo – Disruptive Innovation / Strategist / Keynote Speaker

If you’re waking up in the morning, think about how you can get yourself fired today by taking a risk. If you try something like that, in a reasonable way, you’ll notice that nothing bad will happen, you’ll push yourself out of your comfort zone and you might make a massive impact on the things you’re working on.

Episode 21 : Victoria Pelletier – CEO at ValidateIt / Passionate Networker / Speaker

Have confidence in yourself and just go for it. If you don’t ask for it, you’ll never get it. Be comfortable in who you are, the skills you can bring, and the diversity it adds to a team (in a positive way).

Episode 22 : Raphael Wong – Strategic & Growth Initiatives at ThoughtWire & Host at Canvas Series

Write it down. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or comprehensive, but write it down and just start. That’s the recipe to building momentum and getting it going.

I want to thank every single person who has been a part of the Let’s Grab Coffee journey and took the time to share their wealth of experiences, lessons, and advice. A special thanks to Paul Nadeau who came on the show as my first guest, and who gave me the chance/encouragement to follow through with it.

Check out my YouTube channel and subscribe if you haven’t already done so!

Working Out The Storytelling Muscle

Working Our the Storytelling Muscle

I was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee with my mom on Sunday morning when she suddenly asked me “can you explain to me what a stock exchange actually is/does?”.

I could have easily gave the formal, templated response of “an exchange is where stock brokers and traders can buy and sell securities, such as shares of stock and bonds and other financial instruments.” My mom, although very smart/experienced in business and sales, doesn’t have as much knowledge in the space of investing/capital markets.

So, I went on to provide an answer in a more storytelling-format:

In many ways, a stock exchange is like a shopping mall. If I were to ask you the question: “why do you think malls exist, what purpose do they really serve?” The likely answer (in my opinion) is convenience. They bring together all of your favourite stores and allows you, the consumer, to exchange money for a product/service you desire.

An exchange provides investors (like consumers) the convenience of using a trusted and credible platform to purchase a stake (or stock) in public companies in exchange for money.

When I finished, my mom had a smirk on her face, and I can tell she finally understood the core of what an exchange is, because she connected with the story/analogy. The power of this connection, when someone universally relates with an idea, thought, product, or service is the ultimate measure of storytelling done right.

I learned an important lesson from this:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well.

I’ve also been realizing that storytelling is not something intuitive, and like any craft, it takes time to develop and really perfect. In countless situations, I’ve been approached by people asking how to get creative with content to tell cool stories and leverage social channels like LinkedIn as a medium to accomplish this. After some reflection, here are some tips:

Storytelling is a muscle YOU have to grow: I view storytelling as a mental muscle that you have to constantly nurture and develop – it takes time to get to the point where you start seeing situations, experiences, ideas, or thoughts as stories.

Tip: the first, most easiest place to start, is to reflect deeply on what you’re currently doing (work, side-hustles, hobbies, etc.) and think of a way to explain it in a storytelling format as I have done above and try it out on some friends.

The delivery of your story is just as important as the content within it: as with any story (or presentation), how you say your story is equally as important as what you say. Here, I’m referring to your non-verbal cues (pay attention to your tone, eye contact, level of engagement, posture, hand gestures, etc.).

Tip: the more you practice and use your story, the better it will flow and the smoother it will sound. So get going and start practicing! Also observe how people react at certain moments or points within your story (in some parts, they might smile, or nod their head in acknowledgment..these are the cues you want to make note of to build more emphasis in future situations where/when they will come up) – always be open to constructive feedback, improve, and pivot where necessary.

Study the greats and learn from their technique: Tony Robbins said “success leaves clues. People who succeed consistently are not lucky; they’re doing something different than anyone else. They have a strategy that works, and if you follow their strategy and you sow the same seeds, then you’ll reap the same rewards.”

Tip: whether it’s Steve Jobs, Gary Vee, Obama or Oprah…whoever you regard as a great orator/storyteller/presenter, study them – notice how they talk, observe their mannerisms, focus on their words and use of tone…you’ll likely realize that there are patterns among the greats and there are tools within their methods which you can apply.

Pick your channel, find your frequency, and stick to it: I get the feeling that many people who understand the importance of storytelling in today’s noisy world, are often intimidated by getting started for all kinds of reasons like; I’m too young or old for this, I don’t understand social, what do I have to say that people will care about, I don’t like being on video, I don’t want to put myself out there…the list is never ending. There’s no one-way road to success doing this, and that’s the beauty of storytelling. In fact, the most effective storytellers are the ones who find their voice – do it in a way that’s genuine, that’s true to their character, and in a way that brings positive value to others.

Tip: you won’t know unless you try! Stop being afraid of failure and just start gradually – that’s 90% of the game. For example; try fully leveraging what LinkedIn has to offer and really give it a shot (write your first short post, share that article that you found interesting, write an article on an idea you think is provoking, film a video sharing lessons learned…whatever you find is right for you, just pick it up and start). Just because someone you’re connected to posts 100x a day, doesn’t mean you have to. Figure out what the right balance/frequency is for you and stick to it. One of the most important factors when storytelling, especially on a social channel like LinkedIn, is being consistent (no one likes people who post and ghost). Lastly, engage with your audience/community – when you post your story, take the time to say thank you to those who liked/commented/or shared your content…write them a personalized note to continue the discussion…take them for a coffee to connect in person. Don’t forget that the whole point is to build meaningful relationships, not superficial ones.

2 Misconceptions of Entrepreneurship (Cont’d)

2 Misconceptions of Entrepreneurship (Cont'd)

Hide Panel Menu Edit Text Editor Widgets Panel Content Style Advanced Text Editor Dynamic Add MediaVisualText In my last article, I highlighted the first misconception I believe exists around entrepreneurship – age. Misconception #2: LOCATION
The difference between winning and losing is most often not quitting – Walt Disney
“I have to go to the Valley to raise money”, “you can’t be successful if you’re not located in the big cities”, “you don’t get it, there isn’t a well-built ecosystem here for entrepreneurs – the government impedes us from succeeding”….the list is endless. Excuse, after excuse, a big misconception is that location is necessary for your startup to succeed. While it may give some founders an advantage if they reside in cities where entrepreneurship is glorified, private/public financing is plentiful, and the ecosystem of people, infrastructure, regulation, legislation is well-built, it doesn’t negate the fact that one can also be successful even if some/or all of the mentioned variables don’t exist. Through this article, I’ll highlight companies who started in regions that were traditionally not popular amongst entrepreneurs, and who have amassed great success regardless of how “inhibiting” their environments were.
Described as the Uber for the delivery of restaurant meals (five years ago), SkipTheDishes is a North American technology company headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, that connects people to local restaurants and food couriers. I had the pleasure of meeting Joshua Simair (Co-Founder & CEO) and some of his colleague at NACO (an angel investment conference) recently and they mentioned how difficult it was when they first started out. To give you an example, they used a ping pong table as a desk to work on and sat on plastic bins – all they had was a laptop and a dream. Skip was acquired for $110M by Just Eat (LSE: JE), a publicly-traded company in The UK.
Duo Security is one of the fastest growing cloud-based cybersecurity and SaaS providers in the world that is headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan. As the company progressed and the Team was looking to raise money, Dug Song (Co-Founder & CEO) was approached by a very well known Venture Capitalist. The VC told Dug that he wouldn’t be successful if he stayed based in Michigan. The VC strongly encouraged him to go to The Valley if he was serious about making it to the big leagues. Dug and Jon (Co-Founder) never took the VC money, and instead, they decided to stay in Michigan. Duo recently raised $70M in venture funding and is valued at $1.17B (the highest of any venture-backed company in Michigan).
Shopify is an e-commerce software company, which enables small and medium sized-retailers to launch and manage an online store – it’s headquartered in Ottawa, Ontario. Shopify became Canada’s first internet startup since the dot-com crash to reach a billion-dollar valuation. They were able to raise $100M in 2013 from big-name VCs (mix of Canadian & US investors) and went on to go public in 2015 raising $150M, $329.91M secondary offering in 2016, and $500.5M private placement in 2017 (source: PitchBook). Shopify is valued at roughly $10B.
InsideSales.com is an AI-powered predictive sales acceleration platform that drives revenue growth by delivering a better experience to both the salesperson and buyer – it’s headquartered in Provo, Utah. Founder and CEO Dave Elkington and his wife worked graveyard shifts in 2004/05 for a cleaning service – to raise cash for their startup. At the time, they only raised $10,000 from Elkington’s mother-in-law. In 2012, the company raised its first round of VC funding – a $4M raise. In 2013, they raised another $35M….and a year later were able to close a $100M round at nearly a $1B valuation. Prior to closing the $100M round, there were as many as 25 VC firms pursuing the deal – which goes to show that if you have a product/service that people want and you focus on execution, it doesn’t matter where on earth you’re located…the money will come find you, rather than you having to go to it.
Takeaway: So, I’m writing this to YOU – the entrepreneur, the founder, the startup, who sees their environment as a restriction and not an opportunity. You can make all the excuses you want…or…YOU can be a pioneer, setting the path for the next set of entrepreneurs.

2 Misconceptions of Entrepreneurship

2 Misconceptions of Entrepreneurship

“I don’t give a sh*t if you’re 19 or 91 – if you can deliver the results I’m looking for, we’re good.” – Angel Investor
Misconception #1: AGE It’s either you’re too young, or you’re too old. Some people feel like they’re not old enough (or experienced) to start something and other people feel like it’s too late to get started because they’ve passed their “prime” (in their mind). It’s my belief that making an idea become a reality (what entrepreneurship is, really) can happen at any stage of your life – but, whether or not you take the leap and build the courage to execute is up to you. Through this article, you’ll meet 6 entrepreneurs, 3 of whom are below the age of 30, and 3 above the age of 30. At first glance, it may seem that what they’ve been able to accomplish is unattainable – but just like you, they started with an idea from scratch. It’s only through hustle, hard work, and determination/consistency that they were able to create something tangible. 3 successful entrepreneurs who started early:
  1. Catherine Cook (20 yrs old): at the age of 18 yrs old, she created MyYearBook.com (think Facebook mixed with College Reunion) and made most of her money through advertising revenue which the site generated. Worth an estimated $30 million.
  2. Peter Cashmore (24 yrs old): CEO and founder of the website, Mashable.com – the leading media company for the connected generation and the voice of digital culture, which launched in 2005. The site now has over 10 million readers monthly and is set to have even more by the end of the year. Worth an estimated $70 million.
  3. Sean Belnick (22 yrs old): started his own business at 14yrs old which emerged into Bizchair – an internet retailer of office furniture with clients like Google and Microsoft. Worth an estimated $50 million.
3 successful entrepreneurs who were “late to the game”:
  1. Stan Lee: after years trying to make his comic books a success, Stan launched his first successful series ‘The Fantastic Four’ in 1961. Eventually, he partnered up with Jack Kirby to create the Marvel characters we all love. Stan was 39 years old when he started amassing success. Worth an estimated $50 million.
  2. Leo Goodwin: worked as an accountant in Texas in the 30’s and realized that insurance needed some disruption. So, at the age of 50, Leo founded GEICO in D.C. By the end of his first year, he had 12 people on staff and 3,700 policies enacted. Today, GEICO employes 27,000 people with over 14 million policyholders. Worth an estimated $7.3 billion.
  3. Carol Gardner: she was 52 years old, newly divorced and broke – you’d think that the last thing on someone’s mind in such a predicament would be to start a company. After getting a dog (at her therapist’s recommendation), Carol won a Christmas card contest with a picture of the dog and a funny joke – or what us Millennials call ‘a meme’. Winning the contest inspired Carol to start a greeting card company which she named Zelda Wisdom. Worth an estimated $50 million.
Takeaway: if you’re reading this and you’re in between wanting to start something but are hesitant because of fear of what might happen, or doubt in what you’re capable of – hopefully, the examples inspire you to at least try. Don’t live with regret, go out there and get what’s yours!
— Sources:

Success Can Come at Any Age. Just Look at These 6 Successful Entrepreneurs.

Young Rich List – 30 Under 30 Internet Millionaires

Morning Reflections #1

Morning Reflections #1

I woke up around 5:30 am to do morning cardio.

I made a decision to get back on the grind – because I’ve been slacking off.

My workout was 20 min of treadmill (speed 5), 20 min of elliptical, and 5 min of rowing, followed by stretching to end it off. I’ll hit weights tonight.

It wasn’t easy getting up, but it’s funny how quickly your actions change when you make a conscious decision and really stick with it. All it takes is a simple decision, and really believing in it. That’s what makes waking up easy.

For me, it’s the fact that I’ve been slipping – not in a bad way, but I’ve just been getting comfortable and not pushing myself to the standards I know I can play at.

Waking up gives me a mental edge, a euphoric feeling of accomplishment, whereby I said I was gonna do something and I get it done (while the world is asleep). No distractions, no noise, just me and the machine.

As I walked back home, I also reminded myself of how grateful I should be. I have cousins back home who aren’t exposed to the same opportunities that I am here. I’ve been given a chance at a better life and I have a responsibility not to abuse it, but to use it and make a difference (for myself, my family, my friends, and my community).

I’m thankful that I can wake up in the morning and go to the gym, put on a nice suit and go to a job that I actually enjoy, have friends around me who I can be myself with, parents and sister who support me no matter what…there’s so much you can be grateful for – and I’ll be the first one to admit that this is something I lost sight of as well, and now I’m reminding myself, and writing this note to hopefully spark this reminder in you too.

Have a great day,


What I Learned at TEDxToronto

What I Learned at TEDxToronto

See that cover photo above? I literally had the same expression when I woke up on Friday morning knowing that I’ll be attending my first-ever TEDx event. I was way too excited. But take a closer look. Who do you see? In between Jamie Clarke and Catherine Reitman. You guessed it, that’s me! Now I know what you’re wondering, “how the heck was he able to sit front row at Canada’s largest TEDx event?” I had a client call at 10am, and even though I knew I was at the event all day, this was the only time the client could make it. The Talks were to start at around 10:15, so as the attendees were told to take their seats, I was the only one outside the venue with my AirPods in my ears and a laptop on my lap. Finishing my call, I immediately ran towards the entrance, hoping it wasn’t too late for them to let me in. In luck, I was let in, but to a sold out room with barely any visible seats left. I was stuck with the ones on the far right corner. This was my view:
I was a little bummed out, I’m not going to lie, but I still had a huge smile on my face grateful that I didn’t miss the first session. Then, all of a sudden Jamie Clarke (who did an awesome job moderating the entire event) asked people to put their hands up if they had an empty seat next to them. I looked towards the stage to see if anyone was raising their hands, and spotted a perfect spot, one right in front of the stage. I immediately grabbed my stuff and headed straight for it.
This served as a good reminder to stay positive when something doesn’t go your way and to chase opportunities when they present themselves.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. I’ll be sharing lessons from some of the Talks/Performances I particularly enjoyed. The only Talk I missed, unfortunately, was the last one and that of The Honourable Ahmed Hussen (Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship) – due to a work-related commitment that I couldn’t bypass.
Gimmy Chu, Co-Founder & CEO at Nanoleaf (a company focused on pushing the limits of smart lighting and revolutionizing how the world experiences light).
The desire to question, drives innovation.
In 2013, Gimmy had the desire to question the traditional lightbulb and was on a mission to build a better, more eco-friendly one. The question he challenged was “does the lightbulb have to be round?” For at least a century, the lightbulb, which was modelled after the candle, was left unchanged. That is until Nanoleaf came in with a product that was adjustable in shape, changes colours based on pre-set impulses (like music for example), was friendly to the environment, and has LED bulbs that can last up to 30 years. He reminded us that although we are all knowledgeable in some things, we also have an abyss (a space, void of knowledge, but that someone else may possess). So by connecting with and learning from others, we can see the world through their eyes and gain invaluable insights that a book, article, movie, or classroom can’t teach us.
I’ll be honest, when I first saw Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo walk on stage in a minister outfit, I was positively surprised. For the last 11 years, Cheri has been the Member of Parliament for Parkdale, holds the record for most Private Member’s Bills passed by an MPP and the most pro-LGBTQ legislation than anyone in Canadian history. She highlighted several examples on how Christianity and in particular The Bible served well those who were, in her words, “queer” (or seen as different in society). My biggest takeaway from Cheri’s speech:
Be comfortable with and proud of who you are and accept others as they come.
It was also my first time watching Cirque du Soleil, and I was blown away. They are absolutely incredible! I mean it’s not everyday that you get to see this:
Crazy right? After the performers finished their act, they were asked about fear and how they dealt with it. Here’s what they said:
You have to take whatever scares you and throw it away because when you do something you love, nothing will hold you back.
Do you remember what you were doing when you were 17? Well, Penny Oleksiak is Canada’s youngest Olympic gold medalist and holds the national record for most Olympic medals in a single summer. Every morning, Penny wakes up at around 6am and goes straight to the pool for a 7km swim (which usually takes 2 hours) and then goes to the gym to lift some weights. After putting in the sweat and hard work, she heads over to school. For Penny, having a big team pushes her to become the best she can be. When she jumps in the pool, “the race is on” and her true competitiveness comes out.
Don’t be obsessed with the end product, enjoy the process.
Although Penny is a super athlete in the pool, she also seems really chill – someone you can just kick back with on the weekend. She also shared this piece of advice:
You can’t always be tense, you can’t always be on. You have to know when to separate work and play.
I learned a lot from Nastassia Subban, who is a Course Director at York University & a social justice advocate. One day in class, Nastassia received word that one of her students got his life taken away at the young age of 23. As a teacher, Nastassia had always tried to keep a firm guard in front of her students, taught to never show emotions and to always stay in control. But in that moment, she decided to, for the first time, be raw & vulnerable. It was a true teachable moment, one where she felt like she was a real human being. By putting her guard down, Nastassia’s student opened up and were also more willing to share personal things with her.
Vulnerability strengthens the relationship with yourself. Break down the wall that’s blocking your light from shining.
Have you ever walked down the street and saw something that was artistic, in an unconventional non-traditional way? Let me introduce Elicser Elliot who’s a well-known Toronto graffiti artist and has had his work featured in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum (to name a few). For Elicser, art is all in how you look at it. He told the story of how he once painted a tree and had ‘HUG’ written in the middle (which originally stood for History Unleashes Genius), but people instead understood it as the literal sense of hugging someone. For 6 years, people would walk by, hug the tree and take pictures like this:
Then one day, a car hit the tree, and broke it in half. Instead of throwing it away, Eliscer still saw beauty in it and refurbished it as a new piece for a Museum art show. As part of his quest to see beauty in the unconventional, Eliscer started a hashtag movement on social media for people to take pictures of cool, artsy things they run into and add the hashtag #dontknowitsart to it, so he can see and share it out to his community.
See the beauty in ordinary things, level the playing field of what art means, and open your mind to see what you can become.
Do you remember being taught in school that ‘success’ was something fixed, something linear, where one would graduate from a university with good grades and work for a big company to make money? That’s how Satish Kanwar (VP Product, Shopify) felt. Instead of going through the traditional route, he co-founded his own company called Jet Cooper, a UX design agency that was acquired in 2013. After selling his successful business, Satish found himself feeling down, unmotivated, as if though a piece of him (or his identity) was also taken away along with the company. He then realized:
Entrepreneurship is a mindset , it’s a journey and not just a business.
If entrepreneurship was just about owning a business, does that make every person who incorporates an idea an entrepreneur? The question is how much of entrepreneurship is right for you. Although I missed getting a picture of Satish, he did give us 3 key pieces of advice when adopting the mindset of entrepreneurship:
  1. Say YES! – opportunities open the door to more opportunities.
  2. Don’t wait for “they” – you’re the captain of your destiny, don’t wait for anyone or anything to make a dream become a reality.
  3. Find small wins – Rome wasn’t build in a day, so remember to plan for the long-term but execute in the short-term (it’s what you do today that matters, not what you will do tomorrow).
You see that man in the picture above? He left practically everyone in tears after his speech, with a standing ovation, and a long-lasting thunderous applause. That’s Jeremie Saunders, an award-winning actor, producer, and host of popular Canadian media (most notably Podcast Host at Sickboy Podcast). Jeremie lives with a genetic disease called Cystic Fibrosis (where his lungs operate at approx. 60% capacity). At 10 years old, he picked up a pamphlet that was titled “All About Cystic Fibrosis” and in that pamphlet was a sentence that would change his life forever. The sentence read “Cystic Fibrosis is a fatal genetic disease. The life expectancy of someone living with Cystic Fibrosis is 30 years of age.” When he was 16, Jeremie wrote this letter: “My Future: when it comes to thinking about my future and what to do with my life, I don’t really know what to think. About 40% of children with Cystic Fibrosis live beyond the age of 18 and the average lifespan of those who live to adulthood is 30-33 so if you think about it, what’s the point of getting married if I’m only going to live a few years into the marriage. These kinds of things are hard to think about and it makes me feel kind of useless.”
I wasn’t able to properly live in the present moment, because I was spending too much of my time being afraid of the future.
Today, the word Cystic Fibrosis, carries a very different meaning for Jeremie – it represents freedom rather than imprisonment, life rather than death, and gratefulness rather than regret. This change in mindset was definitely not easy, but knowing that his time here on earth is limited made Jeremie embrace death, not fear it. Why in the world would you embrace death!? Because it’s something you and I can’t escape from. It’s something that WILL happen, and the date/time is unknown for EVERYONE. To Jeremie, Cystic Fibrosis was the single-best thing that ever happened to him. It made him wake up to the realization that with every second that passes, we all get closer to dying and should therefore live every day as if though we also have just 3 months to live. To end his speech, Jeremie pulled a very nice quote from Mark Twain, who said:
“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.”
The theme for this year’s TEDxToronto event revolved around Legacy, so before wrapping this up, I want to leave you with the following question to think about:
What legacy do you want to leave behind and what impact do you want to make given your time here on earth?

Notes from the AI Toronto Conference

Notes From the AI Toronto Conference

This week, I had the privilege to attend Canada’s national AI conference run by the Digital Finance Institute. The conference uncovers topics like Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Machine Learning, Self-Driving Cars, Innovation, Financial Intelligence, AI Law, Chatbots, the Future of Banking with AI, etc. Here are my ‘polished’ notes from the full day: The first open discussion, interestingly enough, focused on the challenges and threats of AI. As most of us already know, the most negative thing about AI is that by 2025, there’s expected to be a loss of approx. 110 million jobs (to put that into perspective, that’s almost as big as the populations of Japan or Russia). To solidify this projection further, is the fact that the US government did NOT disagree that 50% of its workforce will be lost to automation and AI. The significant losses will occur in the low and mid range jobs, this is where massive unemployment is real. Threat #1) AI & robots will cause greater and massive wealth disparity between the rich and poor. One counter argument to this threat is the fact that this technology is not meant to be built in labs by people in white coats, or in the hands of only the wealthy – fundamentally, this technology is meant to be easily accessibly and created by anyone, anywhere. Of course, there are lots of unanswered implications, especially around the legal aspects. The technology is pretty much putting the responsibilities of ethics, law, and morality in the hands of 20-some year old developers. The difficulty in this, is creating a technology that can decide the fate of people (with the same conscience of a human being). A good example of this challenge is with the case of Autonomous Vehicles (AV). Take this scenario for instance: if a person trips onto the road in front of an oncoming AV, the car would have to either swerve into a barrier/curb (potentially killing the passengers), or continue driving straight (potentially killing the pedestrian). What decision should it take? If it does kill someone, who’s to blame? The technology? The mechanical engineers? The developers? It’s definitely a tough one to answer. Threat #2) There’s no governing law around AI. The algorithms/coding being done is non-inclusive by non-lawyers, so there’s no reference to “first do no harm” in the coding of decision making in AI. This is the reason why many are scared of how the future will look like with unregulated robots, who have the potential to harm humans. ….alright, enough with the bad news. Here’s the good stuff. The US said we can save approx. $12billion per year if we get smarter about how to cut costs, allocate assets, improve investments, and optimize currently inefficient systems. Think about how congested our streets have become, and how advantageous it would be for people and the green-economy if AI can solve traffic problems. Asia is by far ahead of us. They’ve adopted chatbots for almost all lines of industries i.e. Chinas has an “Ask a Doctor”, “Ask an Accountant”, an “Ask a…” for pretty much everything. What can Canada do? We should definitely identify areas where we’re already strong and transfer the knowledge. There are opportunities to further conversations based on MOUs, because to fully leverage the benefits of these technologies, they can’t be operated in isolation.
“Linear algebra is the crux of AI…looking back it, that course in university was a very important one.”
People are scared of AI for the wrong reasons. AI isn’t going to be the blender that comes in to replace the knife that cuts the vegetables, it’ll probably be the knife that collects data on how well the vegetables are being cut, and then over time optimizes the knife’s functionality to improve factors like speed, power, and accuracy. The end game is to make smarter products that can do better things at a higher level. We often take things like recommendations on YouTube, or Siri’s voice recognition for granted, but it takes a lot of AI throughput/awareness to understand “that” i.e. tell me about “that, how do I do “that”, what does “that” do, how does “that” affect me, etc.
“We should be less intimidated by the possibilities these technologies have and more worried about creating mediocre technology which results in a mediocre future”
One of the things I found really fascinating was the endless amount of use cases that have been applied using AI. Here are some cool examples: Cortex – an AI startup focused on creativity: if you think about it, AI’s most interesting challenge is creativity. We as humans, are shoved creativity down our throats at such an early age (toys, classroom activities, games, drawings, arts etc.). However, we are now beginning to redefine what creativity means. Creativity in today’s world could mean putting out a picture on Instagram with a funny caption that draws people’s attention to a new product a company is launching as part of their marketing campaign. Technology has heavily impacted marketers. In 1940, marketing content was limited to channels like print, direct mail, radio, and television – so, volumes were manageable. However, new channels were eventually introduced, the dissemination of content grew exponentially, and today, global brands can no longer create enough effective content with human teams alone. The solution? Machine vision. It has become much cheaper and more accurate for AI to scan an image and understand what the picture means. For instance, if you present a picture of a jet ski, AI will zone in on the logo of the jet ski, show you where you can buy it, for how much, where the shops that sell it are located, which shop is closest to you, etc. Did I scare you yet? Well listen to this. There’s an AI that was fed a bunch of romance novels which developers then took and translated into code. This allowed the technology to generate countless stories simply from analyzing a picture i.e. the technology could contextually think, by itself, what the image was saying and output related content from its data brain. Cortex for example, uses AI to enrich the marketing content of companies. They leverage big data, machine learning, and automation to find patterns, clusters, and trends to auto generate marketing calendars. These calendars tell companies exactly what days they should disseminate content, alerts on what competitors are doing, the budgets behind each piece of content, and even auto-populate the contents (picture, caption, suggested hashtags).
“Machine learning will be the basis and fundamentals of every successful huge IPO win in 5 years.” – Eric Schmidt at Google NEXT 2016
The promise of AI is to produce solutions to previously unsolved problems. The video above was shown during the Conference, I was in awe. Google acquired DeepMind, a game machine learning platform, for $400M. In the video, it shows you how the platform uses AI to learn how to play Atari and improves itself to superhuman levels each time. Eventually, after a good amount of training, the technology realizes that digging a tunnel through the wall is the most effective technique to beat the game. Another really neat use case was presented by a company called Shakespeare.ai which developed a Chrome extension that allows people to write personalized emails in an automated, efficient way. The founders recognized that a sales person needs to put a little effort into each email, especially when dealing with leads/prospects, to improve the reply and open rates. They also found that sales emails, in general, suck. Since this is an add-on to your Gmail, the extension automatically provides you all the research you need on the lead you’re emailing which you can use to better customize the message. They source the information from Google, LinkedIn, online sites, articles, and anything they can find on the person you’re interacting with. Here are notes from two panels I found really interesting: Innovation Leadership in AI (delivered by university professors from McGill University, University of Toronto, and University of Guelph):
  • One of the things Canada can do in the AI industry is establish critical mass, reduce barrier to entry for practitioners, and bring more scientists to the country.
  • Canada’s competitive advantage in AI is its research strength. However, we need to build that as quickly as possible and allow a larger flow of talent from universities to grow the labour ecosystem.
  • Stop the brain drain: there are lots of quality people leaving Canada to work in other countries. Companies have as much of a responsibility as the government to support the country’s adaptability to innovative technologies. We have to start early and encourage students to get engaged and exposed to the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) – this is the responsibility of universities.
  • We also have to resolve the lack of resources and finances. In terms of resources, Canada has to increase infrastructure spend that would be used to improve the throughput of AI as it relates to GPUs (buying them fast enough and providing more processing power to the many research facilities and startups that need it). In terms of finances, Canada needs to find a way to become more aggressive from a capital markets standpoint and ensure start ups with good tech can raise financing without having to go to the US.
Banks – How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Banking (delivered by the VP of Innovation at RBC and the VP of Innovation at CIBC):
  • RBC has 70-80K employees, one of the largest companies (by assets and profit) in Canada, has huge internal resources to tap into and find people who are interested in getting involved in AI.
“AI is going to be the thing that powers everything else.” – Andrew Ng, Founder of Coursera
  • Hopefully AI is not just about big data because it encompasses massive computing power, data that’s growing exponentially, so it’s not just a fad or trend, it’s a force that will transform everything which has a data element to it.
  • Technologies have been about to take all the jobs for more than 200 years, yet people act like this is unique to our era. To prove the point, below is an image of a New York Times newspaper from 1928 which discusses the “prevalence of unemployment with greatly increased industrial output”.
machine learn.png
  • Another big question being asked is what skills are going to be required in the future? The easy answer is to say skills that specialize in STEM and AI, but it’s really more about having the right mindset – a growth mindset, one that is way more comfortable with ambiguity, change, intellectual agility, curiosity, and comfort with tech.

What I’ve Learned from Conor McGregor

What I've Learned From Conor McGregor

For those of you who don’t know, Conor McGregor is an Irish professional mixed martial artist who is currently the UFC Lightweight Champion and Featherweight Champion. Before Conor’s fame and success as a professional fighter, he became an apprentice plumber in his late teens – which to his family at the time, seemed like a more suitable career for a humble guy from Crumlin.
Lesson 1: even family & friends, who look out for you and have your best interest at heart, might not always share your dreams, goals, and aspirations. When venturing into uncharted territories that are unfamiliar to those around you, out of defense, they’ll jump in and hold you back to protect you (while what they’re really doing is hurting you). Your job isn’t to convince others why you want to chase your dreams, your job is to make your dreams become a reality and give others no choice but to notice. 
Despite the push-back Conor faced from his closest ‘supporters’, he decided to make MMA his full-time job in 2008.
Lesson 2: you really have to have confidence in yourself that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. Your biggest enemy is your mind, it’ll tell you that you can’t do it, that it’s too hard, that you won’t be able to make money, that it’s too competitive to succeed…the list is endless. What you have to do is control the thoughts you tell yourself, the ideas you believe, and the values you hold. Conor was able to shut out all the distraction and listen to his inner noise, put the work in, and set out to prove the haters wrong and supporters right.
In Conor’s third pro outing, he faced Artemi Sitenkov in Dublin where he was beaten in the first round by kneebar submission.
Lesson 3: as you can imagine, losing is tough, especially when you’ve given up everything and have little to show for. When your friends are driving in nice cars, enjoy fancy dinners, travel on fun vacations, and you’re in the gym – you will look yourself in the mirror and doubt what you’re doing. When you’ve fallen, the best thing to do is remind yourself why you got started. Visualize your success, feel what it would be like to live the lavish life, get your hand raised, hear the crowd chanting your name…it is these mind games that will keep you going when everything around you is telling you to quit.
After the loss with Sitenkov, Conor went on to win his next two fights. After tasting a little bit of success, Conor was beaten again by Joseph Duffy by submission, in round 1, but this time, his opponent needed just 38 seconds to seal the win. Since that night with Duffy, Conor won 15 out of 16 fights. Conor was scheduled to fight world Featherweight champion, Jose Aldo, who was undefeated for 10 years – a fight he has been anticipating since he began his MMA career in 2008. A couple of weeks before the fight, Jose Aldo pulled out due to a rib injury. He was replaced by Chad Mendes, an American mixed martial artist who was ranked among the top 5 Featherweight fighters in the world.
Lesson 4: the change didn’t affect Conor at all. At the end of the day, Conor would fight anybody in a heart beat, there is no opponent, there is no Jose Aldo. You’re against yourself. If you have the mindset and the confidence that nothing can stop you, no matter who it is, when fight day comes, it doesn’t matter who you’re facing because in your mind you’ve already won. It would’ve been easy for Conor to make excuses, to be upset, and to reject the fight now that his new opponent (who had a completely different fighting style) was chosen literally weeks before the fight, but Conor moved forward unfazed.  Always focus on the main objective, work your ass off, be prepared for any situation/environment, and have the internal confidence of a lion – this way, no matter what you’re faced with, the result will always be the same, you’ll be on top.
Conor eventually faced Aldo and it took all of 13 seconds to land a deathly punch that was perfectly timed and accurately executed on the chin of the defending Champion – it was one of the most exciting, shocking, and amazing fights I’ve ever witnessed. You could tell from the onset that Aldo was stiff, a little nervous, and very angry, while Conor was calm and collected, like it was just another day at the office.
Lesson 5: champions are paid well to perform successfully under pressure – when everything’s on the line, and the whole world’s watching your every move, will you let the pressure get to you, or will you leverage the momentum to give you a boost? Observing Conor during the Aldo fight provided me with many invaluable lessons. His body language, posture, and looseness showed how confident this man truly was in his abilities. It was the most anticipated fight of the year and the most critical for Conor’s legacy. He didn’t let all that noise distract him, instead he stayed focused, and stepped into the ring determined to show the world why the hype around him was deserved.
Shortly after wining the Featherweight title, Conor immediately had his eyes on a new, more challenging goal – to become the lightweight champion. It’s funny, most people who would’ve been in Conor’s shoes after winning one title would want to soak in the success for a bit and enjoy the comfort, but Conor had larger aspirations (to do what nobody else had ever done, conquer the UFC). His first fight in the new weight-category (lightweight) was with Nate Diaz – who was ranked #5, the winner of The Ultimate Fighter 5, and a scrappy fighter (a guy who can take many blows and keep coming at you). Nate choked Conor and forced him to tap out in the early second round. Conor took no breaks, and asked for a re-match shortly after the loss. Conor came back, and battled hard with Nate, to win by decision.
Lesson 6: the more you seek the uncomfortable, the more you will become comfortable. Change is always difficult, but is often necessary. To really adopt the growth mindset, you need to constantly re-evaluate your goals/dreams, you need to shoot for the stars and try to get there every single day. You have one life, one pen, one book, and how you choose to fill up the pages is up to you – based on what you write and how you live your life will be the story people read and remember.
Conor went on to fight Eddie Alverez (the former Lightweight champion) and destroyed him in 2 rounds, to claim his second belt and write a memorable chapter in his unforgettable legacy.