By Benoît Poliquin
In other words, failure is part and parcel of success. Without it, one cannot grow and expand their knowledge base. Fear of failure is a disguise for a fear of success. You cannot have one without the other.
Despite being relatively young, Chad Morissette has discovered this immutable principle. He’s the CEO of Mor-Liquidity, a firm that helps owners of companies with revenues of between $5 million and $50 million prepare to sell their business and ultimately exit. Mr. Morissette is one of the few service providers who is both an entrepreneur and an adviser. His counsel and wisdom is based on first-hand experience, not second-hand knowledge.
THE EARLY YEARS
Mr. Morissette is a born entrepreneur, learning about business on his own as both his parents were teachers. While most high school kids worry about scholastic and extracurricular achievements, Mr. Morissette – whose well-known sister, Alanis, went on to a successful music career – spent those years building his first company.
Mr. Morissette bought the rights to an air filtering technology and within three years, the entrepreneur – who at the time could still not legally enter his neighbourhood watering hole – built a sales team that generated enough revenue to attract a buyer.
So what does a high school graduate do with his first big cheque? He starts another company, of course!
At the age of 21, Mr. Morissette entered the seminar business, building a Canada-wide company promoting inspirational speeches by the likes of Mark Tewksbury, Silken Laumann and David Chilton.
The venture didn’t last, as the returns failed to adequately compensate for the gruelling travel schedule and the uncertain profitability of each event.
By the mid-’90s, Mr. Morissette realized he needed to continue his education. Rather than returning to the classroom, though, he joined the corporate sales departments of Lucent, Corel and IBM to better understand the business-to-business sales industry. These are skills you simply can’t learn from a textbook. Learning the craft of selling is done by doing.
By 1997, Mr. Morissette was ready for new challenges, which took him to the world of startups. The entrepreneur was the third employee at CareerBridge, becoming vice-president of sales and ramping up revenues from zero to $2 million in short order.
The company went public on the Nasdaq and changed its name to E-Cruiter.com. By that point, however, Mr. Morissette was ready to lead. So, with fantastic timing, Mr. Morissette cashed in his shares in 1999 and started a new company.
SoftraNet Technologies was one of the first software-as-a-service companies. The company’s product helped streamline the resumé triage process stemming from an emerging tool in the staffing industry: online resumé posting. As online job searching grew in popularity, so did demand for the company’s services. In 2004, Mr. Morissette received a buyout offer he could not refuse.
THE NEXT FRONTIER
By 2005, Mr. Morissette decided to take a year off. By that point, he was in his early 30s, and the entrepreneurial route had been extremely good to him financially. He began to mull his next venture. However, he was at a crossroads.
It finally came to Mr. Morissette that his real passion was the process surrounding selling businesses, specifically how one develops and prepares a company for a potential purchaser.
He also realized that every time he sold a business, he was more or less on his own. The advice he received was not from an experienced counsellor, but from specialized service providers who helped him on very specific assignments. No one was helping entrepreneurs through all of the aspects of a business sale.
There are financial as well as soft issues surrounding a private transaction. In many cases, these can make or break the success of a sale. Mr. Morissette realized no one seemed to be paying any attention to these.
So, in 2006, Mr. Morissette bought not one, but three business brokerage franchises in southwest Florida. The economy was booming and business surpassed expectations. With three offices and a staff of 35, Mr. Morissette was as happy as one could be.
But then the financial crisis of 2008 hit. The phone stopped ringing almost overnight. There was no deal flow, no financing to help deals get done and more importantly, no buyers to be found.
Mr. Morissette had his first taste of business failure. He also realized he didn’t know half as much as he thought he did. But while others would have been crushed by the situation, Mr. Morissette got to work.
He bought out his franchise agreement at great financial cost and laid off staff, losing about 60 per cent of his assets in the process. Then in 2009, he moved back to Ottawa and started version 2.0 of his business brokerage service.
Mor-Liquidity is leaner, more profitable and operates within a very specific niche that allows Mr. Morissette and his team to maximize their skills: helping business owners get in shape before they sell.
Most businesses cannot be sold because the owner is critical to its success. Mr. Morissette knows this because he lived it firsthand. By helping owners get their operations to a point where the companies can be independently successful – without the owner being present – the business is ready to be marketed, maximizing the returns to the entrepreneurs who built the companies through their hard work.
Chad Morissette has learned many lessons over the past 20 years that can be boiled down to four principles:
Get a mentor
No one has seen and done it all. Bouncing ideas and receiving feedback from an experienced source of wisdom is priceless.
Trust your instincts
Since you will be living with the consequences, make sure you are comfortable with every important decision.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew
Let your plans develop and avoid forcing opportunities. Instead, capitalize on them as they appear.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Celebrate your failures as they will make you better. Don’t beat yourself up. Simply learn from them and forgive yourself. But do not forget them.
Benoît Poliquin is president and lead portfolio manager at Exponent Investment Management Inc.