Ever wondered how successful entrepreneurs turn their dreams into reality? What drives them to push the envelope, create change and advance their industries? In our #IMadeThis series, Canadian small business owners share how they transformed their ideas, goals and passions into realities.
People wanting to take on a renovation project don’t always know where to turn. Contractors can have a hard time finding clients. Smart Reno, a leader in Canada’s home renovation market, is there to simplify both groups’ lives. The platform connects consumers with qualified renovation professionals and helps contractors build their business by referring new clients to them.
Smart Reno was recently acquired by RBC Ventures, a subsidiary of Royal Bank of Canada.
Q: What led you to become an entrepreneur?
Uglar: I started my career at RBC Capital Markets and went on to spend eight years at Transcontinental, where I learned all about intrapreneurship when I was put in charge of the Weblocal.ca division. That’s where I developed a taste for launching products and creating teams. I enjoy building something from nothing, developing corporate cultures and getting people on board with a shared project.
Q: What led you to found Smart Reno?
Uglar: When I was looking for an idea to start a business, I spent a lot of time identifying a problem area. In the renovation sector, there was an issue of trust with contractors. A lot of people were having fairly negative experiences with their renovation projects. So I tried to come up with a solution to this problem.
Renovation is no particular passion of mine, it’s really not my field. I got into business because I identified a problem and was really excited about finding a solution for it.
Q: Who supported you in your project?
Uglar: I have a degree in finance, so what I needed was a team of technology experts to build the solution, and operational experts to get the business off the ground. What I brought to the table was the vision, the financing and the corporate culture. We didn’t necessarily need people who had expertise in renovation or were passionate about it in order to create Smart Reno.
Really knowing what kind of entrepreneur you are and being aware of your strengths and weaknesses is essential so that you can surround yourself with people whose skills complement your own.
I received a great deal of support from the team as a whole, but particularly from the Smart Reno management team, who really helped me during the more difficult times.
Q: How did you finance Smart Reno and drive its growth?
Uglar: I was lucky enough to be able to count on financial support and advice from four angel investors, serial entrepreneurs who had sold a number of businesses. They guided me through various phases as the company grew. We also had financing from other sources.
As an entrepreneur, you’re always looking to raise funds to drive business growth and avoid falling short. With every round of financing, you have to prove that the business has progressed sufficiently and warrants more funding.
I sat on the board of Anges Québec,one of North America’s largest networks of angel investors. It’s one of the channels that provides access to a host of angel investors. PME Montréal is another key player in the start-up company ecosystem.
You have to invest your time and money to show investors that you believe in your project and are passionate about it. So I invested my own money. I worked for several years without drawing a salary to show that I was fully invested in the project and was willing to make financial sacrifices to give the business a chance to grow.
With the resources we had at Smart Reno, we had pretty much achieved the maximum that we could. By joining RBC Ventures,we now have the resources to turn Smart Reno into Canada’s undisputed leader in the renovation industry.
Q: What was the best advice you were given when you started your business?
Uglar: Stay focused and try to do only three things at once. It takes discipline, but it’s important in order to grow the business. When you launch a business, it’s easy to get involved in doing all sorts of things, but your time is very valuable. You have to focus on what brings the most value to the company. A lot of entrepreneurs have trouble setting priorities. I always try to set out my tasks by the week and focus on what I have to accomplish in that specific time frame, without thinking about the following week.
Q: What challenges have you faced as a business owner and how did you overcome them?
Uglar: You have your ups and downs. Cash flow can be low at certain times, and sometimes you don’t have enough money to meet payroll. Every time things get tough, you can find a thousand and one reasons to give up. But you have to persevere and show resilience to get through these rough patches.
You often question yourself. Almost every morning, you ask yourself why you’ve made your life so complicated, why you’ve gone and done all this. And as an entrepreneur, you often find yourself alone at the top. All of the pressures of the business are on your shoulders. And you don’t want to burden your loved ones by sharing your fears and challenges. It’s hard for someone who isn’t an entrepreneur to really understand your mindset. So you often feel isolated and alone.
I tried to counteract this isolation by joining a number of entrepreneur groups, which gave me a chance to share what I was going through.
I joined Quebec’s Groupement des chefs d’entreprise, a club that provides monthly contact with other entrepreneurs in similar situations. I also did a program at the École d’Entrepreneurship de Beauce that facilitated discussions with a group of technology entrepreneurs.
It’s important to have a support group to help you get through difficult times and persevere.
Q: How do you find qualified staff to help the business grow?
Uglar: A lot of the people we recruit are people we’ve worked with in the past, because they know us and trust us. And in turn, they can recommend other people from among their contacts. So we find a lot of our staff by word of mouth.
Since we’re a start-up, and the work is somewhat risky and not necessarily that well paid, it takes people who are willing to make a financial sacrifice and take certain risks to come work for us. It’s easier to convince people we’ve worked with before or people who are keen to make a difference. We have to convey our own passion in order to attract them. Our employees have to buy into our vision. It’s no easy task to build a solid team of people who are as passionate as we are and who are willing to make sacrifices to be part of the adventure.
Q: To what do you attribute Smart Reno’s success?
Uglar: Perseverance is the key to success. You get it wrong, you start again. You fall down, you get back up. You make mistakes, you learn. Every day there are reasons to give up on what you’re doing because it’s tough, but with perseverance, you can keep going. We stay focused on our long-term vision and keep working toward it.
Q: What’s next for Smart Reno?
Uglar: We want to propel Smart Reno to become a household name across Canada. The market segment for renovation is still small. We want to change consumer behaviour so that it becomes a natural reflex for people to do business with Smart Reno instead of relying on word of mouth. We want people to think of Smart Reno when they’re planning renovation work.
We now have a presence in Canada’s 10 largest cities and we’ll continue to expand across the country.
Q: What advice would you give to young people starting or wanting to start a business?
Uglar: Even though it’s tough, it’s important to find a balance between being stubborn enough to stay focused on the objective and not give up, and being flexible enough to be able to adapt to changes in the market.
It’s easy to get discouraged when things get difficult. Talking to people who’ve been there can help you put things into perspective and come up with solutions.
Don’t be afraid of failure. In a start-up business, a multitude of decisions are made every day based on incomplete information. Many mistakes will be made. Never be afraid of taking risks and getting it wrong.
With each mistake, you’ll learn things that can be applied later on. This will lower the likelihood of failure the next time round and eventually lead you onto the road to success. You have to try things, because inaction is the worst thing for a business. And it’s important to be optimistic.
The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Starting a business takes a lot of work, but it’s worth the effort. Launching a business from scratch, developing a product, setting up a service that didn’t exist before, building a team and creating jobs provides an incredible sense of accomplishment. It’s extremely rewarding to feel that you’re helping to create value in society. You don’t do it for the money, you do it out of passion and a desire to achieve.
This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.