Mike Potter, co-founder and CEO of Ottawa-based scaleup Rewind, speaking at Bayview Yards
Quote from the CEO:
“The hardest part of starting Rewind were the nights and weekends that we spent in the first few years, while James [Ciesielski, co-founder] and I were trying to get enough revenue for one of us to move into the company full-time. I had another full-time job at the time and would do that during the day. Then I would work on Rewind after putting my kids to bed. I’d be up with James (and later, Sean and Julian) until 12:00 or 1:00 am, and then go back to work the next day. It was a very demanding time that required a lot of dedication and patience.” – Mike Potter, co-founder & CEO of Rewind. Source: Meet the Team
- Your best/worst subject in school?
- Best: Math.
- Worst: Arts.
- What was your first job?
My first job was delivering flyers for the “Flyer Force” back in the day. Eventually, I made my way up the corporate “paper delivery” ladder to the Ottawa Citizen.
- Best advice you’ve ever taken?
Running your own business is the key to generating wealth and financial independence.
- Tip you would share with this year’s graduating class?
Don’t rely on others for job opportunities – the world is much more competitive now than it has been, and jobs are more difficult to come by. Teach yourself how to make your own job and you’ll never be looking for work again.
- What book are you reading?
I just finished “It doesn’t have to be crazy at work” by the team at Basecamp. I’m also reading Bob Mackenzie’s book about being a hockey dad, and “Mindset” which was on Tobi Lutke’s twitter account a few months ago.
- Favourite quote?
These days it’s, “Do stuff and tell people”. I took that from Shopify and we use it at Rewind. It’s not enough to do one and not the other – to be successful you need to do both.
- One thing that surprises you about business?
These days I’m surprised at how many businesses are terrible at customer service and deliver overall terrible customer experience. Christmas shopping reinforced this for me – so many poor experiences. The ones with great experiences and helpful staff continue to win; I’m surprised at how many businesses don’t get that.
- What motivates you?
I love helping people: helping customers recover their data when things go wrong is incredibly rewarding. I’ve also got a passion for building things: websites, products, and, now, a company! I love creating something that didn’t exist before.
- When was the last time you worked a 40-hour work week?
Is this a trick question? Every week is a 40-hour work week. I don’t believe that entrepreneurs need to work 80 or 100 hours a week to be successful. You need to take time off and refresh your mind, your body and your relationships. Those are the things that help you achieve amazing things. You can do great things in 40 hours a week. If you need more then you need to work on prioritizing and delegating your work.
- What is the best (most recent) feedback you received from one of your employees?
Rewind won the Employee’s Choice Award in December – being recognized as one of Ottawa’s top places to work (as voted on by employees) was the best feedback I could get.
- When are you most productive?
In the morning, before lunch.
- The best thing about being a CEO?
Touching all the aspects of the business: product, engineering, support, marketing, etc. A little bit of everything is fun because you’re constantly learning about new things.
- The most challenging thing about being a CEO?
Touching all the aspects of the business: product, engineering, support, marketing, etc. A little bit of everything is challenging because my mind is shifting from one topic to another throughout the day. I value the time I get to focus on one thing for a few hours.
- What is one word that describes your leadership style?
Trustworthy. I don’t micromanage people. I trust the people that I’ve hired to do a good job.
- You have ___________ in your office?
22 people (it’s not a huge building, but we squeeze in).
- An experience that has influenced you the most as a leader?
Doing my MBA at the University of Ottawa was a pivotal moment in my career. I met many amazing people including teachers and fellow students. I made sure I got involved in the student body and tried to work with the smartest people I could find in that class to make sure I got the most out of that degree. My hard work paid off with a dream job at Adobe, where I spent the next five and a half years. That degree and the experience I gained at Adobe were critical in developing my leadership skills.
- A CEO that inspires you?
Tobias Lütke is someone I admire and follow closely. It’s inspiring to have a company like Shopify be built so close to home: they set the bar for success in Ottawa.
- If you weren’t a CEO you would be…
Working on another side project trying to find something that people want.
- An organization that you always make time for?
We’re big fans of all the platforms that we backup – Shopify, BigCommerce, QuickBooks and MailChimp – but I’ve got a special place for Shopify as it was the first platform we backed up and they’re a local (Ottawa) company. I’m also a huge fan of any startup that can bootstrap its way to profitability.
- Favourite app?
I hate sitting in traffic, and I’m often rushing to hockey practice or dance lessons for my daughter, so I’m going to say Waze. It helps me avoid traffic and helps set my expectations for how long I’m going to be in traffic.
Bonus questions with Mike
Q: Why is Ottawa a great city to start, build, and scale a business?
A: I love the fact that we’ve got 4 seasons, not a lot of traffic, and a well-educated population. 4 seasons is great! I love playing hockey and skiing in the winter and I love being able to sit on a beach on a warm summer day, all in the same city.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur and start your own company?
A: Since the summer after my first year of university when I incorporated my first company. I had a wall plastered with rejection letters from jobs I’d applied to. I was determined to do something and be in control of my own income for the summer. I started my second company a few years later doing the website for the Canadian Curling Association and running my own curling website InTheHack.com. My third company, AddIn Social, was sold a few years ago. Rewind is the fourth company I’ve started.
Q: What is the best part of being a CEO and what is the most challenging part of the role?
A: The best part of being a CEO is helping customers and getting their feedback when you’re able to help recover data or reassure them that their data is safe and being backed up.
Building a company that employees love to work at, and that continues to grow, is incredibly rewarding.
The most challenging part of the role is giving up control to others and trusting them to do great work. I enjoy building things, making decisions, and giving direction.
Q: Rewind has an impressive Total Rewards Strategy; how did you and the team determine what benefits your employees and future talent would be interested in?
A: We’ve always been determined to make Rewind a great place to work – it’s a corporate goal that we’ve had since we started Rewind. Rewind’s Total Rewards were initially based on what James and I liked, and best practices that we had seen in the companies we had worked at (Adobe, Halogen, Amdocs). That’s where we got ideas like Christmas shutdown, employee stock options, 3-week vacation, 4-week sabbatical (after you’ve been at Rewind for 4 years). We’ve expanded to include things like “summer hours”, where employees get every other Friday off from May to September and $300 for health and wellness/gym equipment.
Fun fact: Rewind is an Ottawa-based venture that was accepted into the IO Accelerator Program, a program designed to catalyze growth by helping tech firms take their business to the next level. Right now, the team at Rewind is developing a scalable, globally competitive scale-up and positioning the organization for commercial success.
Rewind in the news: