Louis Anagnostakos and Ted Manziaris started Turtle Island Recycling with a K-car and a lot of chutzpah. Friends since high school, in the early 1990s they were both working full time in different industries when they decided to launch a recycled-paper business with recycling pickup. Their concept was simple and innovative, and far from a slam dunk.
But that can be said of many of the entrepreneurs in the 19 stories from Canadian mid-sized businesses in the just-released book That'll Never Work: Business Lessons from Successful Canadian Entrepreneurs (Penguin Canada) from KPMG Enterprise that celebrates the successes and shares the trials of entrepreneurs across the country and across industries. These are not household names in many cases, but they are each success stories in their fields - from retail to manufacturing to communications to social enterprise.
Mr. Anagnostakos and Mr. Manziaris were no strangers to hard work. After working their day jobs, they would hand out their Turtle Island Recycling business cards around Toronto and collect scrap and trash at night. The very day they handed their card to the head of janitorial services at Maple Leaf Gardens, at 11 pm, the partners got a call. It was a Friday and the Gardens was a mess and the next day the facility was hosting the Bobby Orr Skate-A-Thon, the hockey team's most important charity event.
Could they clean it? "Ted and I scoured the local streets, rounded up some homeless guys, and spent the entire night cleaning up the Gardens," Mr. Anagnostakos recalls.
"We grabbed bag after bag, can after can, and crammed all the garbage into the back of our K-car and shuttled load after load to the dump. Then we swept the entire facility." They finished at 7 a.m. and won the cleaning contract for Maple Leaf Gardens. Today, Turtle Island has about 450 employees, $80-million in sales, more than 200 trucks and 10 facilities.
The good, the bad, the funny, the sad - it's all in these pages. Underlying every story is drive, determination, confidence, the spirit and willingness to do whatever it takes to make it work and, most important, the lessons learned.
Take Barb Stegemann of The 7 Virtues Beauty Inc. and The 7 Virtues Communication Group of Halifax, in Nova Scotia, who built a philanthropic business. Raised by a single mother on welfare, Ms. Stegemann was the first woman from Atlantic Canada to land a deal on Dragons' Den and has gone on to build a successful perfume business to help the people of Afghanistan, Haiti and most recently the Middle East help themselves. In her account, she lays out the steps she took to get to where she is today.
It's no surprise That'll Never Work is already a hit. BookNet Canada ranks it the No. 1 bestseller for non-fiction in Canada and No. 3 overall behind the juggernaut that is the Hunger Games.
"People are really interested in what it takes to be successful. Whether you are an entrepreneur or thinking of becoming an entrepreneur, you can benefit from reading these stories, understanding some of the issues these individuals faced, mistakes they've made and what they've done to be successful. There is a wealth of information you can draw from," says Dennis Fortnum, Canadian Managing Partner, KPMG Enterprise, who wrote the forward and imported the idea for That'll Never Work from KPMG Ireland.
"And that's true for people already in business as well as for people thinking about becoming entrepreneurs."
Promoting entrepreneurship and singing the praises of those in the trenches doing whatever it takes to grow a business is at the heart of this book.
"Some 41% of people working in the private sector are employed by companies with less than 50 employees. If you move that up to companies with less than 500 employees, its 70%," Mr. Fortnum says.
"It's absolutely fundamental that we continue to promote that segment, promote the innovation that segment drives and support it any way we can. One of the ways we can do that is by telling the stories and celebrating the successes that have taken place."
The stories are personal and real. Jim Deslaurier and Denis Staples of Deslaurier Custom Cabinets in Renfrew, Ont., turned tragedy into triumph after a fire destroyed their plant New Year's Day, 2009. The business was enjoying record sales, the entire month of January was overbooked and then everything was gone. With the support of their employees and community, they regrouped and re-strategized and by the end of 2009 were back.
"I have the best job in the world because I see all this every day and what never ceases to amaze me is how entrepreneurs take an idea and turn it into reality," Mr. Fortnum says.
"They are so passionate, so committed. And in many cases, they get knocked down 10 times before they make it. They are very resilient. They learn from their mistakes. It's a special person who is an entrepreneur. You have to like making decisions. You have to be able to take no for an answer and take people saying you are crazy, that'll never work and prove them wrong. Sure it's a lot of work and difficult but the rewards are tremendous. You are independent. You are making a difference. You are creating something."
The final chapter invites entrepreneurs to tell their story. But before you go online to share your business journey, read the successes and trials of the entrepreneurs in the current That'll Never Work.