Bell Media complicit in Kevin O’Leary’s Conservative Leadership bid

For months, failed mutual fund manager Kevin O’Leary has been testing the waters on a Conservative leadership bid (see prior post “Kevin O’Leary eyeing Conservative Leadership race as his latest self-promotion vehicle” Jan. 20-16). There was the meeting with Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose. The speech to the Manning Conference. His personal interest in the rules of the leadership campaign. The odd yet enlightening interview with Laura Stone of The Globe and Mail. To cap it all off, there was a meet and greet with some of the friends / captives of PostMedia CEO Paul Godfrey last week.

All too often, KO does paid media hits for Bell Media, a division of BCE (BCE:TSX), in and around these obviously partisan activities. That he doesn’t find this unethical isn’t surprising, in my opinion, but Bell Media executives can no longer ignore that Mr. O’Leary using their airwaves to advance his partisan political campaign.

Given the obvious ethical issue, I keep waiting for BCE to announce that it has asked Mr. O’Leary to step away from his CTV Bell Media contract while he pursues his political dream. If George Cope doesn’t want his newsroom staff to accept something as small as a $25 Blue Jays ticket to ensure the appearance of independence, it cannot be fair to the rest of the Conservative field that KO is on his radio, TV and the internet properties 24/7 — when they are subject to the whims of CTV’s various newsrooms.

KO says he is in awe of Donald Trump’s “masterful” $2.1 billion of “free advertising”, to quote my old friend John Ivison. I wonder if Mr. O’Leary appreciates that by letting his inside voice get out, he is putting BCE in an impossible spot. One would expect someone as numeric as him to have tallied up how much “free advertising” he is getting from the Business News Network, among other Bell Media properties, each and every day. More than all of the other Conservative leadership contenders combined, of that I am sure. That trough has to end before someone complains to the CRTC and causes BCE even more embarrassment.

A few weeks ago, I thought KO was being very adroit by not referring to his interest in a specific political party; just politics in general. I thought that gave BCE an out, if they were looking for one.

Kevin O’Leary flew in at 1 a.m. from Orlando, where he’s filming a sequel to his hit TV show, Shark Tank, to pitch himself: a potential next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.

“I’m an opportunist,” Mr. O’Leary says, sipping orange juice in Wilfrid’s, the quiet restaurant in the Château Laurier hotel beside Parliament Hill.

“Here’s a party that’s collapsed and is looking for leadership. The Liberals are going to be in chaos in three years, that’s my view. And somebody’s going to have to run this place.”

The only thing he’s considering right now, he says, is affecting Canadian economic and fiscal policy. “It’s not clear to me the path is through Conservative leadership – it may be the Liberal leadership. It’s going to end very badly for Justin Trudeau,” he says.

The Liberals?

“Why not?”

But now that he is talking specifically about his interest in the Conservative leadership race, Bell Media can no longer ignore the fact that KO has taken his political campaign beyond the point of no return.

As KO says himself:

“You call it the night before you have to.”

By waiting for KO to formally announce his campaign, it’s as though Bell Media is taking a page from KO’s ethical handbook. You’d think that a proud media organization such as this would rely on the Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethical guideline to “serve democracy and the public interest,” rather than KO’s.

(this post, like all blogs, is an “Opinion Piece” and reflects a personal view)

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Wellington Financial donates to EB Research Partnership

Over the past few years, our firm has raised and donated more than $600,000 to various local charities, community groups and worthy institutions. Names such as the Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation (several rooms in the new Women & Babies Wing), the Canadian Art Foundation, Covenant House (street kids), Jean Tweed Centre (women’s addiction treatment facility), Ronald McDonald House, Western University (an endowed scholarship in Technology Evaluation & Analysis)…. In most cases, our donations have stayed in Canada, despite the fact that ~80% of our portfolio companies are based in the USA.

Last year, we made out first significant commitment to a U.S. charity / community group in Stewardship Partners, a not-for-profit agency that helps landowners in the Northwestern U.S. conserve and protect the natural landscapes. That fit with our 10 year relationship with Toronto-based Bullfrog Power, Canada’s green electricity provider. That we have several portfolio companies, both present and past (Digital Fortress, Elastic Path Software, FINcad, Teradici, Vision Critical), in the Seattle and Vancouver area meant that Stewardship Partners gave us the perfect avenue to invest directly in one of our key markets.

Today’s newest partnership is with the EB Research Partnership. When an individual is struck with Epidermolysis Bullosa, they lack a critical protein that binds the layers of skin together. Without this protein, the skin tears apart, blisters and sheers off, leading to severe pain, disfigurement, and wounds that never heal. EB affects the body inside and out. Blisters occur all over the body, as well as in the eyes, mouth, esophagus, and other internal organs. EB causes severe pain, disfigurement, and in too many cases, an early death from an aggressive form of skin cancer. EB is not specific to any ethnicity or gender, and affects thousands of people across the U.S. and Canada.

You can learn more about the disease here. With two active kids, I can’t imagine how different their daily lives would be if either of them had EB. No school sports, no bike trips, no GTHL hockey. Missing the fun stuff is one thing, but then there’s the pain.

Our US$10,000 donation, if matched by a thousand others just like it, would fund a meaningful amount of research. Please think about adding the EB Research Partnership to your firm’s 2016 donation strategy.


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What entrepreneurs can learn from Pearl Jam

Published on May 9, 2016 by in General

My fav Pearl Jam returns this week to our HQ city Toronto after more than four and a half years. In celebration, I hope you don’t mind it if I repost something I wrote in 2012. I think the lessons are still relevant to every early-stage entrepreneur, and the “professional” CEOs who sometimes follow them:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Rolling Stones, likely the best music entrepreneurs of the 20th century. But when it comes to entrepreneurial roles models, I think Pearl Jam is the better choice for 2012.

1. Give it your all: I’ve had the luxury of seeing plenty of fabulous concerts and performers over the years. Leonard Cohen, The Stones, Luciano Pavarotti, Queen, Page/Plant, Bowie, U2, Genesis, Paul McCartney, FGTH, Madonna…. For all the buzz that Mick generates for effortlessly charging around the stage, only Sir Paul rivals the energy and intensity that Pearl Jam brings to a show. The customers know it when you are going through the motions, and early stage businesses can’t afford to run the risk of taking any client for granted.

Check out the list of Pearl Jam tours over the past 22 years. They went somewhere every single year, whether there was an album to support or not. In the past few years, despite the arrival of middle age and financial security, the band has actually done more shows, in far away places, than the late 90s.

How many of us avoid that incremental business trip when the quarter’s already in the bag? How about doing 13 three hour meetings in the space of three weeks in 10 different cities spread across 9 different countries? Where you did all of the talking? That was PJ’s recent European tour.

2. Fit isn’t just important; it’s everything: if a team member is causing strife within the group, make a change. Former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Abbruzzese joined in 1991 to tour in support of the Ten album, and played on Vs., released in 1993. At the time, that album set the record for most copies of an album sold in a week, according to Wiki, and spent five weeks at #1 on the Billboard 200. Despite the success, and drums are no small thing in any Pearl Jam song, Mr. Abbruzzese was kicked out of the band in 1994. More churn in the drummer’s seat followed, and it wasn’t until 1998 that the band was able to hire Matt Cameron, ex of Soundgarden. Matt’s now 14 years in, and his son Ray is even playing a musical role in such songs as Rockin’ In The Free World. That’s chemistry at work.

It might have been reckless back in 1994 to jettison a key ingredient, but things worked out, and the core chemistry was preserved. Hard to imagine things would have lasted 20+ years if they hadn’t figured that out early on.

3. Show respect for others in the ecosystem: Members of Pearl Jam take great pride in supporting their opening acts, and any music group that is out there, trying to make it. At most big name concerts, the opening act plays to sparse, if not empty, halls. We’re all guilty of getting into a cab to head out around the time we believe the opening act is about to start performing.

But at a Pearl Jam show, the fans know they are expected “to respect” the bands that open for the headliner. Way back when, Pearl Jam opened for U2 in Europe, and perhaps the band learned what it was like to be all that’s between the audience and the main attraction. Each night, PJ thanks the fans who showed up early.

Eddie et al watch the opening acts from the wings, even joining in at times. In fact, if there wasn’t a chance for a sound check earlier in the day, the band will come out at 7 or 7:30pm and warm up; before the “supporting act” even takes the stage. The folks who were there to respect the 2009 opening act in Toronto got a special treat of three extra songs, while the ticket holders squatting in the Ontario Place beer garden wondered what all the fuss was about over at the Molson Ampitheatre.

When you have some success with your business, it is so easy to stop attending the Rotary, for example, or dodge requests to mentor others who’ve yet to make it with their business plan. Do what PJ does — remember what it was like before you hit the lotto, and give back to all and sunder.

4. Build a direct relationship and then tend it: every business is different, but each has a customer, and those customers have choices about what product to acquire, whether it be software, hardware, a service….

First it was the “10 Club” fan club back in 1990 (where Eddie would type out his own response letters), followed by regular MTV and Saturday Night Live appearances, the 24 hour/day XM/Sirius channel, and, more recently, the 20th anniversary documentary. The band stayed relevant by giving supporters a regular outlet; the band’s website provides a constant stream of news and information.

With a far-flung fanbase, it’s impossible to do every continent, every year.

But by making the “client” feel appreciated when they did come to town — by playing 28 or 30 songs a night — the other outlets served to fill the gap between albums and local concert appearances. And, as Stone might say, “let’s play some hits”. Entrepreneurs can’t forget what made the client buy the product in the first place.

The show isn’t just about you, the guy on stage.

5. Remember/Honour the founder(s): Most early stage firms wind up bringing in an outsider to run the show. The CEO, however long he or she has been in the chair, can take the lead from Eddie Vedder, who constantly recognizes the original founders and creative leadership of Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament. I don’t know what goes on in private, but, even now, Ed calls Stone “our fearless leader”. Interestingly, Stone made it clear during the PJ20 documentary that after Eddie had joined the band, there were “only scraps” of power left for he and Jeff “to fight over”.

The crowd get noisey when Eddie recognizes the prowess of Mike, Matt or Boom; but the emotion flows when he salutes the heritage represented by Stone and Jeff, and the history of their prior life via such songs as Crown of Thorns.

Throughout any organization, the early employees deserve regular recognition for being there when it wasn’t “as easy”, or as large an organization. Assuming they’ve been able to keep up with the growth and change that comes with many fast-moving early stage companies, that original DNA should be preserved.

6. Let the client drive sometimes: The recent tour was as much a singalong as it was a rock concert. And the band encourages it. As my 68 year-old Dad would point out, everyone at an Eric Clapton concert knows the words to the songs, but few people are actually singing. At a PJ fest, to his amazement, everyone knows the words, and everyone is singing along with the band (yes, including the fellow on the left earlier this month).

All too often, entrepreneurs think they know what’s best for the future development of the business. But it’s the customer that often knows where you should be headed, if only management would just listen. Take the Ten-hit Alive, which seemed to be literally dropped from the band’s play list for a few years. The “client” had decided that it was a song about survival and strength, not the burden of being alive after the loss of a biological parent. The audience took the monkey off Eddie’s back.

The song now makes almost every concert setlist.

For entrepreneurs, particularly us founder/co-founder types, it is so easy to get into that rut where you think you know the right direction for each stage of the business’ evolution. But the best move can often be simply listening to your customer, and going with the flow.

(with apologies to the fans/archivists who know the ins-and-outs of the band’s history and psychological make-up better than I)

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Wellington Financial Provides New US$10 Million Growth Capital Facility to Exinda

Published on May 2, 2016 by in Portfolio

One of the luxuries of having a large capital base ($300M) is that we get to grow with our companies as their needs evolve; it also means we have the firepower to keep them, too, should the need arise.

An example of that came today when we announced that we had recently closed a US$10 million venture debt financing for Exinda, a Toronto-based company dedicated to delivering the best application performance possible on its clients’ networks. Exinda’s solutions help IT teams manage the way users, traffic, devices and applications behave across networks. To date, more than 4,000 customers have placed their trust in Exinda to help them understand the various application types running and orchestrate the perfect network to match their business needs. Although headquartered in Toronto, Exinda has a significant development operation in Waterloo, Ontario. OpenView Venture Partners and Greenspring Associates are the lead equity backers of Exinda.

We first financed the Company back in 2012, and have been pleased by the consistent growth both in revenue and profitability that Exinda’s leadership team has delivered. I’d like to think that our True Growth Capital has played an important role in management’s execution of its business plan, but all of the credit goes to CEO Michael Sharma and his team.

Thanks for your continued confidence and partnership!


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Acquisio taps Wellington Financial Fund V for Financing

Acquisio, a world leader in performance marketing solutions for small businesses and the companies who serve them has announced a True Growth Capital financing from Wellington Financial LP. Based just outside of Montreal in Brossard, Quebec, Acquisio is backed by Emerillon Capital, Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Tandem Expansion Fund.

Acquisio’s product enables digital marketers to optimize the results of, and report on, their search, social, mobile, and display marketing programs. Acquisio uses machine learning to dramatically improve search marketing results while streamlining and automating the campaign management and reporting process. With more than 400 clients and $2 billion ad spend under management, Acquisio is recognized as being one of the fastest growing companies in North America, winning the Deloitte Tech Fast 500 and Fast 50 awards for five consecutive years. Acquisio’s software is used by category-leading companies like Sensis, Hanapin Marketing, iRep, Yellow Pages and Microsoft.

And if any of you have been led to believe that our 6+ years of U.S.-based activity has meant that the Wellington team has taken our collective eye off of Canada, four our of last six Growth Capital financings have been for Canadian-based companies.

A hearty welcome to Marc Poirier and his team.


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