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Michael Hyatt lays out your plan for success

by Jason Winders, MES'10 | May 6, 2014

Michael Hyatt (Photo by Nation Wong)

The “kid from Richmond Hill” has learned everything the hard way.

Sure, Michael Hyatt, BSc’96, built two of Canada’s fastest-growing high-tech firms in the last two decades. He has been named to Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, serves as a business commentator on CBC Newsworld and is widely considered one of the country’s top young entrepreneurs. But even he didn’t know it would turn out so well.

“I learned from my failures,” said the BlueCat Networks executive chairman. “All my failures made me the business person I am today. It’s the pain and anguish in my journey that made me who I am today.”

Hyatt arrived on Western’s campus with eyes on becoming a doctor. Although that never materialized, he instead graduated from Western with a Science degree and a burning desire “to make something” of himself.

Even though he took his last business course in Grade 9, Hyatt started a software company, Dyadem International Ltd., with his brother, Richard, after graduation. That company was sold to Toronto-based IHS Inc. in an eight-figure deal. Their second and current venture, BlueCat Networks, founded in 2001, was recently named as one of Canada’s hottest innovative companies by CIX (Canadian Innovation Exchange).

At every turn, Hyatt has revealed himself as a master of counterintuitive thinking – what he sees as key to building a successful company. This “10-year over-night success” shares a bit of insight in what we fail to tell today’s budding entrepreneur.

Shut Up and Listen
We learned in our earliest days that we often weren’t right. So, what we would do, is hire people who were better than us. And we had no ego about it – none. We hired people better than us, smarter than us, more experienced than us and we would listen to them. We would debate, because we were smart guys, too, but we never said ‘our way or the highway.’

We never fell in love with our ideas. We never thought our ideas were perfect. We constantly beat our ideas up, tested them and, luckily, we were more right than wrong.

No Guarantees
Just because you have a great product, doesn’t mean you are going to make any money.

Play in a Big Sandbox
Go into a big and growing market. When you go into a big and growing market, you can probably get a slice of it – even if you are incompetent. You need a big and growing market, great people and a great product – in that order. Having a great product in a small and shrinking market with OK people, you will always make no money.

Embrace Discomfort
I am never comfortable. If you become comfortable as an entrepreneur, you might be dead. Discomfort, pain and sacrifice actually make the entrepreneurs. Being uncomfortable, being lonely, being misunderstood, everybody looks at the great entrepreneurs and don’t realize the struggle.

Trust No One
Your friends and family, everybody, they will tell you what you have is amazing and you’re so great and, when you bring that product out next year, they are going to buy it. It’s not true. People are trained to give niceties. Go ask all your friends and family for $10,000 to invest in your start-up, then you will find out right away what their problems are.

The Hard Truth
The ride doesn’t necessarily have any good payout. For an entrepreneur, there isn’t necessarily a light at the end of the tunnel. You think there is, because you are told that.

We glorify the entrepreneurs. We talk about it like TV shows, like The Apprentice, and cool things like that. You see the word ‘entrepreneur’ and you think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, all these amazing people who did something epic. But we never talk about the millions of cannon fodder – the guys who lost his house, his marriage, his two kids.

We say, ‘If you keep working hard, you are going to make it someday.’ That’s not true. You are not always going to get what you want.

Personal Plan
Live below your means, not at your means. There’s a difference between a rich person and a wealthy person. A rich person makes $400,000 a year and spends $400,000 a year. They have no wealth. If that paycheck stopped, they would have nothing. A wealthy person makes $400,000 a year and spends $200,000 a year. They invest their money and create wealth. I see a lot of rich people, but not a lot of wealthy people.

Don't Ignore the Basics
There are three things I always watch – diet, sleep and exercise. Being an entrepreneur is a marathon, not a sprint.

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Alumni Gazette
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