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Back to Alex…
As I continue speaking with other CEOs in my weekly livestreams, I find more and more lessons to share from our discussions.
When I sat down with Alex Shan of Jolera, one of the themes that stood out most to me from our conversation was how learning resilience at a young age can help you succeed later in life and in business.
If you couldn’t attend my livestream with Alex, you can watch the full interview here (or just on click the image below!):
Alex and his family emigrated to Canada in the early 80s after living in Sri Lanka and Nigeria for part of his childhood.
When he was around 10 years old, Alex’s family abandoned their belongings to flee civil war in Nigeria, making a stop in New York City, where they stayed for a year before eventually settling in Toronto.
And, while such a childhood might seem stressful, Alex says going through those hardships and traveling internationally as much as he did when he was younger benefited him tremendously as an adult.
“We struggled,” he said, “but out of that struggle came resilience and came, you know, the need, the will, and the capability to survive under all conditions.”
Alex worked “part-time” when he was in school (and I say this tentatively because “part-time” would sometimes mean 40 hours a week for him at the age of 13!).
He said he wasn’t the best student (many entrepreneurs can relate; I sure can!). He seemed to learn more from his job in fast food than he ever did sitting behind a desk being lectured to.
He became a store manager by age 16, learning how to manage inventory, schedule shifts, and other practical “business 101” skills.
A pivotal experience that aided him later in life was when his mother took out a $2,400 loan (a considerable amount of money back in the 80s) to buy him his first computer. This would eventually be the spark that led to Alex building computers for family members and friends.
His interest in computers only intensified as a summer student at IBM, where he promptly automated his entire job.
Around the time he was 19 or 20, Alex started his first company with his friend and business partner Joseph Kaiser. They found an investor who contributed $1 million and got their business up and running.
“We hired people, we got customers, we went knocking on doors, we did everything the way you normally do it,” Alex said.
Unfortunately, the first business didn’t last. He would learn another key lesson in resilience as disagreements with their investor over how the company should be run led to Alex and Joe taking a break from startup life.
“That was pretty rough,” Alex said. “Put it this way: you built something with your sweat, blood, and tears. This is a company that I slept in the office every day. I only went home for weekends. I slept on the sofa in the office. Like, this is what we did.”
But when I asked him if he felt like he’d failed with that first company, Alex said this:
“There aren’t any real mistakes in life.”
Of course, he clarified, we do make mistakes, but business mistakes are less damaging than personal mistakes, and you can learn and grow from them.
“I don’t think that, you know, that first company was a mistake,” he said. “It was a great way to learn what to do; what not to do, right? People ask me today, ‘Hey Alex, why don’t you take the company public?’ Well, we kind of did that the first run, and it didn’t go so well. So, I’ve been on that path before, and I think I’ll stick the way we are.”
This is perhaps the most valuable lesson Alex seems to have taken away from that first experience as CEO.
Compared to his first company, he’s built Jolera more methodically and, as a result, he’s been able to turn it into a powerhouse.
When building Jolera, Alex said the first thing he and Joe knew was they weren’t going to take anyone else’s money.
But, of course, they still wanted to scale and grow the business. Yet, how are you supposed to do that without the capital or the investment?
Their solution was to focus on building the infrastructure of the company first, not seeking additional funding they might need to accelerate it. Sounds simple, but it’s pretty genius if you ask me.
They found a few key partners they could leverage to access and cost-effectively build out the infrastructure and resources they needed without taking capital from outside investors.
Obviously, it’s worked out well for them. Today, Jolera is regarded as a global managed services leader. And, they continue to maintain solid growth and resiliency by investing more than $1 million annually into R&D to keep their solutions ahead of the market.
“I had a concept and I have sheer determination,” Alex said.
Many entrepreneurs, especially those starting their first business, “fail,” if we want to use that term. But I think Alex’s story shows us that, as he pointed out, no outcome is really a failure if you decide to learn from it.
If you didn’t get a chance to watch my livestream with Alex, I highly recommend checking out the full video above.
And, if you’re a channel CEO, let me know if you want to be interviewed next!
Let’s do this.
And don’t forget to check out my recent posts to add my upcoming Channel CEO livestreams to your calendar!