Chris Chandler, CEO, Access Cash (Canada’s #1 ATM operator with 10,000 ATMs in operation for BMO, RBC, and its own brands)
What are some challenges you have faced?
The biggest challenges, for me, are the ones you don’t see coming. For example, in 2006, a competitor challenged our contracts in Quebec saying they were unenforceable. We started to lose customers that thought they could just walk away from their commitments. After significant time and legal costs we were able to prove our validity but it was a costly distraction we had no choice but to fight.
How are you building your business today, preparing for tomorrow?
We have invested in three key elements (i) our culture/people (ii) serving our customers well and (iii) technology.
How do you attract and retain the best people?
We rely on our culture of integrity, cooperation and challenge. Everyone is given stretch opportunities and needs to make decisions and we learn from mistakes and get better.
What made you take the leap into business ownership?
I was an entrepreneur when I was 6 years old, making and selling things at local fairs. I took a professional path for financial security spending the first 17 years of my career in big companies before making the leap to business ownership. My first leap was in the .com era where I went in to run and have minority ownership of an online business supporting the online investing industry.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
The biggest issues at first were the lack of infrastructure. After 17 years in big business, my new business of 10 employees did not even have a photocopier!! It was cheaper to have a junior run to the local c-store and print copies for $0.10 each!!!!! On larger note the big challenge is in balancing doing the basics right every day but seeking opportunities and pouncing on them when they make sense. This ability to do many things on many levels at once is critical for business ownership success.
Did you have major competitors when you started, how did you plan to compete with them, and how did that plan play out?
In my first business we did not really have major competitors as it was a new space. We were providing simulated investing online that started as games on sites like Marketwatch and pivoted into customer acquisition business for big online brokers like Ameritrade, Schwab and eTrade. Our challenge was to communicate that we existed and convince them that they should care about us and our solutions when they had never had them before.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business’ success?
Seizing opportunities and taking smart risks. For example: my first business ownership, I took random call from friend of friend to help them with their business. That snowballed into them wanting me to join them, but they could not afford me…so I took a “smart risk” as I had got to know them and trusted them and liked the space. I quit my high paid salary job to work for $1.00 per month with commitment that I would get bonus and pay if I raised capital. We raised a few million dollars in equity nine months later and I got paid……whew.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a business owner?
At my first business we were growing fast and hired a firm to re-write our code to scale. We signed a time and materials contract for the original assessment. Then hired them on a fixed price of about $1M to do what they promised. As they were working it was well understood we were on fixed price. The new agreement was being drafted and circulated. Eventually they were way over budget (about 2x) and the software did not scale much better than the original …we were pushing them to finish it and they abruptly stopped and declared that we owed them an additional $1M (the amount they were over budget!!!) then they sued us for it. While the second fixed price contract had never been signed, everyone knew and worked on it every day. However, in front of an arbitrator we lost the case as the only signed contract said time and materials…..by then the NASDAQ had crashed in 2001 and our sales had dried up. We had no money to pay them (and did not think they had earned it anyway) we put the company through bankruptcy. We then bought the assets out of bankruptcy and restarted and sold the business a year later. Not a huge amount but we managed to recover about half of our investors money…and the guys that lied about the fixed priced contract to the arbitrator….they got nothing more.
What has been your greatest moment of success?
I think completing my management buyout on Sept 30, 2008 as the financial world was collapsing. Persistence pays off.
How do you believe evolving technology will impact the way we do business over the next 10 years?
It will change tremendously…but probably in ways we don’t quite understand and probably slower in most areas than we think. I think the advancements in machine learning/AI will transform many tasks and activities radically. Then we will have to solve for the problem of what do we do with all the humans that used to do those jobs….
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as a business owner?
Many things indeed. Probably #1 is that it is critical to develop good judgment about who to trust and not trust. There are many people that you need and are willing to help you as a business owner but there are many trying to slow you down or hurt you also. Learning to tell the difference and acting on it is critical to me.