Startup savvy

For entrepreneur Carol Leaman, it’s important to create a culture of innovation and collaboration.

Q: What is the main leadership trait necessary to launch a successful startup?

You have to have the ability to make other people — your employees, seed investors ad prospective customers — believe enough to become customers. It's like being the Pied Piper.

How does it differ from the skills needed to run an established organisation?

In the early going people need to see you rolling up your sleeves. As the company grows it's about maintaining a streamlined process, trying to maintain a culture of innovation, dynamism and collaboration

Can one person have both skill sets?

Yes. It’s a function of age and experience. I had the benefit in my career of not coming up through the entrepreneurial stream. I went to work in an accounting firm, then in a big public company, so I was subjected to a large corporate environment. Also, as you get older you learn to be able to assess where you are and then to adjust accordingly.

What do you do differently now than you did at your first startup?

The biggest thing has to do with understanding the market space for your product extremely well. One of the difficulties we had [at the first one] was that we did not deeply assess the product/market fit. The market was very small and not growing by significant amounts, so it didn’t matter what we did, we weren’t going to grow by a whole lot. I wouldn’t have started my current venture, Axonify, if I had not fully believed that the market was gigantic and growing rapidly and that we had an awesome product to fit the market need.

Who do you look to for inspiration?

I look to many people. I mentor a lot of young entrepreneurs. They’re looking to pick my brain, but I get a tremendous amount of inspiration from them because a lot of times they are pushing the envelope.

Carol Leaman is an accountant, former corporate executive and serial entrepreneur. She is the CEO, president and founder of Waterloo, Ont.-based Axonify Inc., which develops corporate learning programs.