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Our guest today is Launch Academy’s VP of Programs, Sam Chan.
Sam oversees the programming and strategy for Launch’s network of tech entrepreneurs. Over his 8 years with the company, Sam has advised and supported thousands of founders from over 35 countries, and those companies have gone on to raise over 2B$. He helped create Maple, a startup acceleration program focused on helping founders expand their startups to Canada, and he has helped move over 100 founders and their families to Canada in the last 5 years.
Sam is also the host of Bits and Bytes and the Launch AMA podcast, both focused on unearthing the stories behind every startup.
Aside from Launch, Sam is also the founder of chikin, an advisory focusing on web3 projects.
In This Conversation We Discuss:
- How Launch Academy aligned itself with their high-profile clients
- How Sam scaled up and grew in his career within Launch Academy
- How Launch Academy helps to create the right environment for founders of companies
- The top three consistent helpful advice Sam has for founders
Connect with Sam Chan: LinkedIn
Launch Academy – https://www.launchacademy.ca
Connect with Cameron: Website | LinkedIn
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In this episode is Launch Academy‘s VP of Program, Sam Chan. Sam oversees the programming and strategy for Launch’s network of tech entrepreneurs. Over his years with the company, Sam has advised and supported thousands of founders from over 35 countries and those companies have gone on to raise over $2 billion. He helped create Maple, a startup acceleration program focused on helping founders expand their startups to Canada and has helped grow over 100 founders and their families to Canada in the last few years. Sam is also the host of Bits & Bytes and the Launch AMA podcasts, both focused on unearthing the stories behind every startup. Aside from Launch, Sam is also the Founder of Chikin, an advisory focused on Web3 projects. Sam, welcome to the show.
Thanks for having me, Cameron.
There are lots to dive in here. I love it when I saw that you helped create Maple. I always think of the Maple Syrup Mafia. Is that the tie in there?
Not exactly. Maple is a very Canadian thing. You, Cameron, being from Vancouver know this very well. As long as I don’t add the word leaves to it, then it’s all fine. The concept of maple trees being a staple of Canadian culture is the background of how this program was made. Maple trees, as you and I both know, when it comes time to fall as we’re approaching, trees fade the leaves themselves in order to protect themselves. They acclimatize to the generally colder weather of Canada. In that way, when we’re working with companies that are looking to expand into Canada, we want them to acclimate to the culture, the weather, and things like that. There’s this fancy story behind it. It’s easily recognizable for anybody from abroad because when they see Maple leaves, they recognize Canada.
The reason I brought up Maple Syrup Mafia was because of PayPal Mafia, Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and that whole investor group. There was an investor group that started. It started in Vancouver. They started calling themselves The Maple Syrup Mafia. Do you guys tie in with the C100 at all with what you’re doing with Maple? Are you familiar with C100?
Not too much directly, but we’ve worked with folks in the past. A bunch of our alumni and later of our old alumni went through the C100 program. It’s a great tie-in because whenever we’re working with a company that’s already either in Vancouver or they’re looking towards coming to Vancouver, at the end of the day, we don’t want the companies to just focus on the Canadian market. We want them to expand. C100 is a great program for those that are looking into Silicon Valley and North America directly from Canada.
For any of our audience who don’t know, C100 is a group of Canadian venture capitalists who live in the Bay Area. At one time, there were more Canadians doing VC work in the Bay Area than there were Canadians doing VC work in all of Canada. That was the bridge between the Bay Area and up. You’re like an OG shocked that one of your portfolio companies was a legit-billion-dollar valuation company, or they were during their IPO stage. Greg Smith is from Vancouver and Miranda, who’s a former COO Alliance member. Walk me through what your tie-in with them was and how you helped them in the early days.
It was one of our day one members. We have to walk the story all the way back to the genesis of Launch Academy. What it was is there were five cofounders back in the day. They were all founders of their own startups. I was not one of the cofounders to be extremely clear about that. I joined the company in 2015, but in 2012, Launch Academy was formed. The genesis was very simple. They were all founders that were trying to build their companies probably pre-seed-ish quite early on. In Vancouver at that time, the community was quite small. There wasn’t a watering hole where resources could be gathered. If we wanted to bring in Amazon AWS to come and give a talk, for example, they’d have to individually have no contacts and companies in doing that.
Launch Academy was a vehicle to bring everybody together. It’s very much the general concept of rising tides raising all boats. When we opened the door on April 1st, 2012, there were twelve companies that came in. Greg and Matt were one of them. The fascinating story is one of the cofounders of Launch Academy, Roger Patterson later went on to join Matt to create another company called Latergramme at first, now it’s called Later. The history of Launch Academy and its impact on Vancouver startups is this overnight story ten years in the making.
I’m scanning through to see. I was getting emails from Launch Academy back in 2012 and 2013. Who were some of the early Launch Academy invites to Launch Day demo day, July 24th, 2012, The Hive? I think I was there. Was it upstairs on the second floor?
That’s a good memory. The building in Vancouver and Gastown’s second floor was something called The Hive, which is a well-known and established co-working center. It’s still there to this day. There are still companies working out of there, and then we were on the third floor. A lot of people were initially very confused because it’s like, “Aren’t you guys competition?” Not exactly because what we were trying to do is very much focused on startups, growth, and programming.
We did have co-working desks available for our entrepreneurs, members, and founders. Many of which are the names we’ve talked about. The point wasn’t to rent out desks. The point was that we could gather these smart minds and they could solve problems together. We had Travis from Uber who came in and was here for TED but he came and gave a talk to our members. It became a central point for people to hop in and out as they were meeting different people at this inflection point.
I have a horrible knack for not recognizing super-successful talent in the earliest stages. I told Garrett Camp, who was the Founder of Uber months before Travis even joined him that it was the stupidest idea I’d ever heard. How do you know at Launch Academy who to work with and who to bet on? Walk us through what your model is.
First things first because the founders were all founders themselves. At that point in time, it wasn’t meant to be a vehicle for investment or profit at least directly. The goal with Launch Academy from day one was how we can create something that’s for founders and by founders that helps founders but doesn’t dilute their shares, especially when they’re super early on. For the first couple of years, we did a lot of startup education. These were a lot of folks that were changing careers. The classical story I’ve encountered for many years was, “I’m tired of the system. I want to build my own thing to make the system better.” We worked with a ton of people like that that have gone through the ranks and are now starting their first company. Maybe they’re 40 or 50 years old even.
That happened a lot. In 2015, which is coincidentally when I joined the company but not because of it, that’s when we also launched our conference focused on growth called Traction. We partnered with a great company called Boast.ai. Together, we built the Traction Conference to become a landing spot for Canada. It’s an excuse for CEOs and CXOs to come to Vancouver and learn about growth. As you know Cameron, because you’ve been in Vancouver and you’ve grown businesses in Vancouver, you don’t need too much of an excuse to come here. For a lot of folks, it was that extra nudge. Because of the Traction Conference, we expanded our brand and our reach a ton outside Vancouver itself. That’s when we started working with companies that are international.
We started doing trade missions in places like Croatia, Brazil, and Asia even. That’s how we branched out. I know I’ve diverged a little bit, but I’m trying to recognize companies that have talent. What happens is, in all of our programs, we have community programs similar to something like OnDeck for example, where people can join and receive programming, mentorship, and meet other people in the system. It comes down to a couple of things. The major thing for us is because we’re not investing in the company, we’re not always looking at their CT, LTVs, or cost of acquisitions. That’s great, and we want to know that you have the capability to do those things.
For me and my team specifically, I look for three traits. One is curiosity. When we talk about curiosity, are the founders wondering things about the problems that they’re solving? Are they genuinely curious about it? Are they looking at it as a vehicle for a cash grab and do they see arbitrage in the moment, or do they actually want to dig deeper and find out, “Why hasn’t anybody solved this yet? What am I missing in the way that I’m solving it?”
Curiosity alone obviously doesn’t build a company. The second thing that I find that a lot of successful entrepreneurs will have is humility. It is because first, they’re curious. They find out, “This is a problem that’s interesting,” but then they go to the source. They go to Sam or Cameron and ask them, “Why haven’t you done things in a different way? Why are you still doing things the old way?” They’re humble enough to accept the answer isn’t, “I need to download this guy’s app.” They’re observant enough to understand that whatever demographic or market they’re trying to serve, that’s the way they do things. How can we supplement a solution to the problem without being argumentative?
That part is key for a lot of entrepreneurs because when we start building, we get tunnel-visioned. We think, “Our solution is the best. Why don’t other people use my solution and pay me?” That’s the tunnel vision that we often get when we’re building. That humility allows the solution to be morphed into the actual demographic that companies are trying to build. The third piece is tenacity. That’s knowing when to step on the gas and when to be humble enough to admit like, “There’s no market for this. We need to put a pause on it and look in a different direction.” The way I’m spelling it out sounds like this is the go-to strategy, but all three of these things are very hard.
I love the tenacity part and then the knowing when to quit as well. It is the tenacity of that dog-like work ethic to get over or under any obstacle put in the path is one side, but then, at some point, it is. Are you the fly trying to get out the window when you’re not going to get out the window? How do you tell them or suggest to them, or do you even get involved to tell them when it’s dead or not going to happen? Do you try to show them, or do you stay out of their way and let them figure that out for yourself in case you’re wrong?
I’ve talked to a ton of companies over the years in many different aspects. A lot of times, people know it. Usually, their wallets are what hits first, to be honest with you because if your customers aren’t buying like, “You don’t need Sam telling you that you don’t have a market.” Your wallet will tell you that.
It dovetails into what you’re doing with Launch Academy and what you’re also then doing with the Traction Conference. When I reached out to you to ask you to be on the show, the reason was I remembered what you guys were doing, but then I saw the suite of actual speakers that you had coming into the Traction Conference. I was like, “You got strong agenda.” This is not the information marketers who are all trying to sell their courses. You had some seriously legit COOs and senior executives of some great brands. How did you pull that all together?
There’s a lot of credit that needs to be given to the Boast cofounders both Alex Popa and Lloyed Lobo. Lloyed, for many years, lived in San Francisco himself and he’s built an amazing network for himself. A lot of credit goes to our cofounders at the Traction Conference first of all. Secondly, I want to give a shout-out to our VP of Operations, Alana. As we were talking about before the show, she used to build events for the TED conference itself.
She knows how to run a world-class show. On top of that, she knows how to work with founders and their needs, whether they’re speakers or they’re attendees. Our biggest rule of thumb is whenever we build anything, whether it’s something very small or something as large as a conference with thousands of people, the golden question is, “Is this something that we as founders ourselves would find useful?” That’s the golden rule for everything.
I was impressed with what you pulled together with that as well. Let’s back up. Talk to me about your role with the organization and how you got yourself into this role. You said you’ve been there for a couple of years. You’ve grown up into the VP of Programs and effectively the second in command in this business. How did you get there? How did you continue to scale up and grow?
When I started my career, I worked for a consulting company that is very niche. It was called WIP. What they did was they were consultants for developer relations agency teams. We’d worked with companies like Nokia, Microsoft, Facebook, Twilio, and all those folks. I don’t want to dumb it down, but we ran a lot of events for them. The goal was these companies wanted to connect with developers. The very common thing we did there was run hackathons because hackathons are one of the easiest ways for devs to get ahold of your code and tools to see if they’re any good. It’s not for free because there’s a cost of running an event, but it’s beta testing and engaging with your potential customers all in one package.
Through that, that led me around the world as this young out-of-college guy. I’ll be completely honest. I was probably very underqualified for the role. I saw project after project being built, and a lot of them were actually thrown away through hackathons. Ray is the CEO of Launch Academy. He was working on a mobile app himself. That’s how I met Ray because, through the different mobile community connections, that’s how we got connected. As he was starting Launch Academy up, he was attracted by the fact that I’d seen more things outside of Vancouver.
One of the questions you asked earlier was, “How do you know when somebody has something interesting that they’re working on?” A lot of times, when somebody is trying to pitch a company to you, they’re trying to tell you that the company is something you’ve never seen before. Because of my background of running hackathons weekend after weekend, chances are I’d seen that idea before and I’d seen some minimum viable version of it. It’s not all flushed out because they built it in 48 hours, but it exists.
That was one of the biggest things and growth periods that Vancouver had to go through. My opinion was that because it’s so comfortable here, we’re not looking outside our bubble. I was hired as Program Manager to give more outside perspective to the companies that we had in-house. A lot of that was opening their eyes and saying like, “Focus on what your customers want, not the fact that you have this absolutely unique idea because that uniqueness is probably only unique in the pond that you’re in.”
You said that earlier, and it was probably even before we went live, that you operate as a nonprofit or a not-for-profit. Are you operating as a venture capital firm as well or as an incubator, or is it more as a resource for the tech scene? How do you describe it?
This is an ever-changing term. The term we’re using these days is the nonprofit accelerator. At the end of the day, the goal is very simple. We want to help founders grow. That specifically uses founders and not companies because we invest our time and our energy into building founders. A lot of the companies that went through in the early days, the companies that they applied with are not the companies that you now know as Thinkific and later and so forth. They were very different projects.
A lot of times, that involves creating a safe space for them to fail. You’ve done a lot of these interviews. You can imagine how many of these founders made it huge on their very first startup. It’s not impossible, but it’s rare. When it comes to how we can create the environment, for us, it’s to create sustainability. We do charge for our programs because we don’t take equity, but we try to narrow that gap between what’s affordable for the companies and what doesn’t break their back. We’re very careful with our pricing.
When you’re helping so many founders and you see so many founders, do you not wake up in the morning and go, “I could do this on my own.” With respect, there’s a whole cohort of founders that aren’t qualified to be founders. They’re probably not the ones you’re working with. There’s this other whole cohort of founders that are horribly average as normal human beings like the rest of us that you are like, “You’re a smart guy. Do you not wake up and go, ‘I could do this,’ or do you not want to run your own show?”
That’s a great question. That’s where I give a lot of kudos to Ray Walia, our CEO. The environment that he’s created at Launch is unique. It starts with his management style. I wrote an article in year one when I started working at Launch Academy. It was called Sink or Swim. One of the running jokes now a couple of years in is that he never gave me a job description. I don’t think he looked at my resume, to be honest, because we had had a couple of conversations. However, literally on day one, I went in and looked for something to do. We do this a lot with a lot of our company, not that they’re looking for something to do part, but where we give them enough work so they get a taste test and we see what they can create.
The joy that comes with my role now and a lot of people are surprised that I’m still here a few years in like yourselves is like, “Why don’t you go do something yourself or why don’t you join a different place?” It is because I get a lot of job satisfaction out of the fact that we’re making a macro impact. The companies that we’re working with, both the companies that we’re importing from all six continents of the world into Canada, these people are going to collectively change the world. I could create something small on my own. Maybe it’s a lifestyle business or it’s ventured backed. That silo is not the same impact that we can make collectively. That’s what motivates me to keep on going.
It’s interesting because if I think about our COO Alliance, we have members that are all seconds in command like you. From seventeen countries around the world, we’ve got members. A bunch of them are brands that you know the names of as well. However, 98.9% of them have no desire to ever be an entrepreneur. They’re super happy being and getting to run the companies they run. Again, some of that, we know the names like 15Five and Bumble and some cool brands. Sheryl Sandberg, the Queen Bee of CEOs never wanted to be a CEO. She wanted to run Facebook for Mark. I get it while you’re there. I was curious whether that entrepreneurial seizure was knocking at your door ever.
For sure. Something special about the small team we’ve created is they all have what we call side hustles. When you talk enough about how to create, how to build a brand, and how to build a business, you have to scratch that itch a little. I have a little bit of an art collection. I love to collect sneakers. I’m learning now to collect art that’s starting with NFTs, Web3, and all this stuff. We do find outlets to scratch our itch. Now, if I’m putting comparison points, the impact is far greater than what I could do with Launch versus if I was creating an NFT project at the moment anyway.
You get some interesting visibility into this entrepreneurial and startup ecosystem. What advice do you find yourself either you giving as the second in command there or within Launch or even at Traction? What advice do you find yourself that you’re giving these founders or founder-led companies that seems to be consistent advice? What would your top three things be? You gave us the top three things that you look for. What would the top three types of advice be that you find yourself giving frequently?
To rip off Gary Vaynerchuk a little bit, the first one is self-awareness. Anybody that I’m lucky enough to work with here at Launch and all the companies whether they’re applying for our companies, our programs, or whatever it is, they’re usually very smart in some things. It is understanding those things using that as a strength and then also recognizing the parts that you need help with. With needing help, that’s where something like Launch comes in. When we have ten very smart people around the room, they’re not all going to be smart at the same thing. They’re not going to all have shared experiences. They’ll have likenesses, but not the same. You need to find that community of support. Some of the support is going to be within your internal team, but some of that support has to be outside of your team.
Now, we’re in the middle of a pretty tough period in terms of business and macro leads. It doesn’t look great. A lot of companies are talking about whether is it time to downsize their teams. These aren’t issues or discussion points that you want to discuss literally with all the members of your team in a very open and I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing manner. You want to be decisive. What is your community that you can go to for these unclear thoughts or unresolved thoughts? Who are those people that you’re going to? That’s what I’m trying to create now at Launch with our Launchpad Program. We want to be that watering hole you go to be a safe place where you don’t have answers yet.
We’ve got that introspection in ourselves and the understanding of ourselves. What’s the next thing you look for that’s common?
Be ready to fail. This is something that cursed me early on as I was creating different projects and things like that. Back to Ray’s management style of autonomy, he allowed me to build things that didn’t work. The big takeaway and probably what I’d tell myself if I was younger is that failure is vastly overrated. We think that if we create something, nobody wants it or if it doesn’t translate to a new market, that’s the end of the world.
“That’s the end of my business, we got to start a new one, we got to go get jobs at McDonald’s or whatever.” A fear that a lot of entrepreneurs need to overcome is perfectionism. It’s never going to be perfect. At any part, whether it’s pre-seed Series A to a public company, as you’re probably very familiar with, you’re always going to have headaches. Things are always going to go wrong. It’s about getting past that part and learning to see that failure can be part of the solution in a long-term setting.
I remember one of my early mentors used to say that it’s all about bobbing and weaving. It’s like, “That went wrong.” You bob and weave towards success. What would the third thing be if you had a third commonality that these founder-led companies struggle with?
It ties back into the first two, but you want to create an environment where you enjoy your life. I’m using that very broadly because it’s more than being a founder yourselves. We’re not investing in the companies. We will work with a services tech company. We will work with what we call lifestyle businesses. For those in the audience that aren’t fully familiar, lifestyle businesses are usually businesses that VCs are not as interested in because they’re not going to grow 100X or 1,000X.
For a lot of founders, that’s the right choice for them. Maybe they don’t want to get bogged down in board meetings or have advisory meetings all day long. It does tie back into that whole self-awareness thing. With these founders, a lot of times they feel this unknown pressure. A lot of times, it’s not coming from their investors or family members.
It’s societal and the buzz of what we read.
Exactly. It is knowing what is enough for you. Are you dreading going to work even though it’s something you built, or are you actually enjoying it?
It’s interesting because if you’re in the VC community or you’re raising money, the push is built. If you’re in the VC, it’s build or bust often, which is a sad lifestyle. This is also our life. At the end of the day, none of this matters. We die. There’s a great book about that called Small Giants. Bo Burlingham was the writer of Small Giants. It talks about people that build these amazing companies that give you amazing lives. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I’m glad you have a space in your programs for those people because you’re not driving them all toward build or bust. The other one is when you talked about your first point. There’s a great book from years ago called Leadership and Self-Deception, which talks about self-awareness and leaders truly understanding.
It was something I struggled with when I was the COO at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. I was often bumping into myself and not noticing the things that I was doing wrong inside of the organization. That book was helpful for me as I scaled as the COO back at 1-800-GOT-JUNK days. Let’s talk about your growth. Where have you had to grow yourself and your skills as you scaled? I want to talk to you a little bit about you and Ray as well.
One of the things is when I started out, I was risk-averse. Perfectionism, I talk about it, but I’m not immune to it. It is understanding that we’re going to build things and not everything is going to work out. When we built that Maple Program and I was talking to a company from abroad and they agreed like, “We’re going to join your program. We’re going to pay you this money and you’re going to help us move to Canada,” it all felt so surreal to me, but if I hadn’t taken that call, none of the following things would’ve happened. That is the first thing that I learned and I grew.
The second thing is a little bit of Imposter syndrome. When I mentioned that, I’m blessed to be in a position where I get to talk to smart founders. I’m sitting in this room with you, Cameron. That’s a blessing to me, frankly speaking. I’m not trying to brush you up for your show, but I enjoy having these conversations with people, learning about their journeys, and figuring out how they navigated their lives both mentally as they’re growing their business, their staff, and all that stuff. At the same time, as you mentioned, I’ve never built anything on my own.
I’ve never raised money myself for my own venture. There’s a lot of doubt that can come in through the days as you’re building out these things. The battle is constant. At the same time, when I write down my bio and things like that, I’ve talked to thousands of entrepreneurs. I’ve watched them grow and I’ve watched them fail. Other people can learn from that too. One of our models is everybody has something to learn and everybody has something to teach. That’s something that I have to constantly remind myself.
How do you think you got over the Imposter syndrome? I’m going to share something after you tell me what you did to get through it, but how did you get over it, or is it something you’re still getting over every day?
Every day is a battle. Some days, you feel better and some days you get some wins. Some days, you feel shit.
Over 800 times, I’ve been paid to speak in 26 countries. I’ve also been paid to speak on every single continent, including Antarctica. I was paid to speak in Antarctica in January 2023. Every fucking time I get ready to go on a stage, I get nervous. Often, I’m like, “Why are they even paying me to speak to this group? What can I contribute?” Somehow, I end up doing a pretty good job with them, but I still feel that now. I remember years ago, I was coaching Marcelo Claure, who is the CEO at Sprint. It’s the 82nd largest company in the US. I’m sitting in his boardroom and we’re going through a coaching session. I remember him saying, feeling like the imposter, “I don’t even know what I’m doing.” None of us do.
At the end of the day, this is always the biggest thing we’ve ever done. We had a member of our COO Alliance who was at lunch one day at one of our in-person events. We had about 30 COOs together. He came up to me and goes, “I feel like an imposter.” I was like, “I would’ve never known that.” I went back into the room. Just for fun, I’m not going to say who it was, but someone at lunch mentioned this to me, “How many of us in the room feel like an imposter? Put your hand up.” Every single person put their hands up and then we all started to crack up laughing because we realized none of us thought the other people were imposters. We only thought it was ourselves. We realized we’re all sixteen-year-olds trapped in adult bodies.
It’s a battle. Your point helps because whether you’re a celebrity or a world-class entrepreneur, you will always feel that. It’s lies we tell ourselves, honestly speaking. It’s a balance between being confident and being humble. We’re trying to straddle that fine line.
I want to ask you something about the dynamic between you and Ray. Ray is a classic entrepreneur. The big shiny object, the lots of ideas, and working in a very entrepreneurial style organization. How do you apply the brakes to his gas? How do you work with his style that is probably slightly different than your style? What have you guys learned in terms of the dance and the yin and yang between the two of you?
With a lot of CEOs, what’s important about them that we probably haven’t talked about yet is they need to be vision casters, the mission and the vision. I’m sure I’m not the first person to mention it on the show. When you’re running that company and you’re in that title, we’re looking towards you to drive it. You’re not the only person that makes that happen, but it has to come from the tip of the spear. The CEO, in my opinion, is the tip of that spear. From my perspective, I’m very happy that having Ray be that tip of the spear and allowing him to be bold and dream things that we didn’t think were possible.
If you had told me a few years ago we’d work with companies in every single continent, I would not show here to shut out the front door. That’s important. Where my role comes in to compliment him is I purposely do things that are not scalable. That’s where I pull him back because I know for Ray to get to the top of the mountain or for Launch Academy to get to the top of a mountain, it has to start with one foot at a time. That forcefulness where, in this situation, Ray is pushing me to think a little deeper and longer, I’m keeping him grounded in the sense that we got to do all these 1,000 little micro things for us to get there. That is interesting for the team to watch from a third-party perspective because they have to live between the both of us. That’s the dynamic.
It’s like mom and dad. How do you guys have a date night? What do you and Ray do to stay on the same page and stay connected after you’ve maybe had a good argument or healthy conflict? Conflict is good. If you think about The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Pat Lencioni’s book, the fear of conflict is a bad thing. You need to have a good, healthy debate, but then it’s like makeup sex. What do you and Ray do to stay on the same page and to like each other as humans after you go through the periods or times when you have a good passionate debate on something about the business?
I would say we’re not up in arms all that often. Both of us are introverts, believe it or not. We do step on the mic quite a bit, but naturally, we know when to give our downtimes and things like that. It’s hard to continue to build that relationship. I’d say that’s one of the struggles because, after a few years, Ray is a close friend of mine. He’s the mentor. He’s taught me a ton of things, but he’s also responsible for my paycheck. That’s such a weird dynamic. A lot of people will go to their watering hole and complain about their boss or complaining about their job. That simply doesn’t exist for me.
Not that I have a lot of complaints, Ray, if you’re reading. For both of us, we all have lives outside of Launch Academy. Ray has probably fifteen other ideas or businesses that he’s working on. He pulls me into things that are beyond Launch when he thinks it’s interesting to me or helpful. What’s built our relationship over the years is we tend to put each other’s interests first. He’s only pulling me into an external project when he thinks I would be interested in it. I’m pulling him into things that are not Launch-related because maybe he needs a vacation. I’m the only person that tells him probably more than anybody in this world like, “You got to take a week off. I’m not trying to get rid of you, but you need a break.”
It’s healthy. I’m glad you mentioned that as well about the founders and helping them to have lives and to recognize that it is about balance. You won’t find a single pro athlete who is absolutely in the maximum performance of their sport 50, 60, or 70 hours a week. It’s insane. They cross-train, they decompress, they relax, and they outsource everything except genius. They’re on the field and they’re hitting hard on game day. I don’t understand why business people don’t get that, especially in North America. It’s a huge disease in North America. I’ve been blessed to be spending so much time globally now that I see businesses being done in another way. Your focus is not just on the Vancouver market, or are most of your clients out in the Vancouver marketplace now?
We work hands-on day-to-day with 120 plus companies. They’re situated all over the world. Their commonality between each other is one, they have to be working on something technical. Whether it’s a product or a service, there’s a technical component to it. The other thing that they have to have in common is they’re looking to build global companies. That’s one of the biggest ties in and why a company from Korea or Taiwan would want to work with us is because Vancouver is a great gateway into the entire North American market. That’s one of the goals. That’s what we base a lot of our programming around how to hang on to what’s made you successful in your home country and how to expand that to a new region.
If there are any of the clients that have come out of Launch Academy is attending the Traction Conference that you know would be good guests on the show, let’s make sure that you introduce us. We’d love to be able to give them some exposure and also to learn from them. One of the big things I’ve been most obsessed about in the last couple of years is if we truly want to scale and build these global organizations, we have to grow our people.
If we don’t grow our people, we’re never going to grow the business. The growth of people for me are all soft skills. I launched this course called Invest In Your Leaders, where we focus on situational leadership, delegation, coaching, time management, email management, effective meetings, and running interviews. Do you work with any of your portfolio companies on those sets of skills at all, or is it more on the tech side that you’re focusing with them on?
It’s a little bit of both, specifically with the Maple Program where we’re tied to these companies for the next three years of their lives and our lives. We go deeply personal. That’s something that I’m pretty proud of because our team seems to care more than anybody that I’ve met. It’s not a matter of, “We’ll make sure that your company is doing okay and we’re connecting you with the Camerons of the world and things like that.” They’ll go out of their way and they’ll talk to their spouses. Maybe their spouses need healthcare or daycare, or they need to find work on their own.
We’re creating secondary services because we know that, at the end of the day, a happy wife, happy life. We take care of the founders holistically. I remember one time, we had to pick up one of our founders at the airport because their phone had run out of battery and they don’t know how to get to their Airbnb. Those aren’t going to be in our program specs, but it’s to acclimate the companies as much as possible.
That could involve working with their teams. A big topic now is the concept of hybrid working, especially when you have a global workforce and you have half your team back in India and you’re now living in Vancouver. How do you manage meetings? What are ways to mitigate this? Maybe it’s less meetings or it’s a different environment of meetings. Now, we’re in a period post-COVID where a lot of it is frankly trial and error. Collectively, if our group of companies can trial and error faster, we’re going to figure that strategy out.
Also, mastermind together so you can share ideas and resources together. By the time this is posted, it will already be completed, but we have a COO Alliance event that we’re running in Scottsdale. It’s all about building a world-class culture post-COVID because culture is no longer everybody coming into a physical office space. One last question. I want to go back to you. If you were going to give yourself some advice, the 21- or 22-year-old Sam getting ready to launch out into his career, what advice would you give yourself back then that you know to be true now?
I’ve touched on a little bit of it, but the overall message is to dream bigger. The global business now is very different than when I started my career. I can’t remember which startup now, but I was young and out of college and eager to learn. Business is the same at the core everywhere in the world. There’s a problem that you’re trying to solve and you have a spin at trying to solve it. To do that, you’ll need lots of support.
You’ll need a community, customers, and sometimes investors, and build a team that enjoys working with you and you enjoy working with them. The basic pieces are always the same. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at Launch Academy, Y Com, or Harvard Business School. It’s the same lessons. That message to my younger self, even at that age, when I don’t have the experience yet, but the crux of it is the dirty secret of businesses is there’s no secret.
I love the whole dream bigger. The reality is business is extraordinarily simple. We often overcomplicate it. Sam Chan, the Vice President of Programs at Launch Academy and Traction Conference, thank you so much for sharing with us on the show.
- Launch Academy
- Bits & Bytes
- Launch AMA
- Maple Syrup Mafia
- Sink or Swim
- Small Giants
- Leadership and Self-Deception
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- Invest In Your Leaders
- Sam Chan – LinkedIn
- Meetings Suck: Turning One of The Most Loathed Elements of Business into One of the Most Valuable