Life Lessons: James Tansey

Reposted from Business in Vancouver, by Jenny Wagler

Don’t let early success dull your startup’s initial competitive edge

CEO and co-founder of carbon-offset company Offsetters, associate professor at Sauder School of Business, and executive director of Sauder’s S3i Research Centre, which focuses on sustainability and social innovation

Early on in Offsetters’ trajectory, the company landed two large successes. It become the official carbon offset supplier to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games and the B.C. government. But James Tansey, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said that while those early successes helped build the company, they also created a risk for Offsetters. “The biggest risk when you’re successful early on in the development of a business is that you become complacent, because you fall in this trap of thinking winning one client or one sponsorship or anything like that is all you need to do.”

Tansey added that the challenge for the company has been to maintain a sharp focus on landing “the next big thing” – rather than just any deal. “With businesses that start to generate cash flow, you lose that sort of edginess you have when you’re a startup. So to me, constantly finding that goal to pursue was the way of keeping the team motivated and inspired.”

Tansey has also kept the company’s sights set on higher goals by keeping his team aware of the company’s financial state and by spending time encouraging employees to bring new ideas forward for discussion. “Ultimately a company can’t succeed on the basis of my good idea. It has to be about creating that culture of almost constant innovation internally.”

On hiring: “It’s crucial to get the right people on the bus with the right personality who are aligned with what you’re trying to achieve. And you need to invest time in doing that and you need to be very, very careful about who you let on because one bad choice can end up absorbing a huge amount of time that in a small business you just don’t have.”

On recharging: “Take care of yourself. Don’t underestimate the importance of getting exercise. Your body sets the pace for your brain in some ways, and we take that for granted a little bit, and if you don’t stay on top of that then everything slows down as well.”

On (occasionally) stopping to savour success: “The impact of what we’d done didn’t really hit me from an emotional perspective until I was sitting in the opening ceremonies for the Games. It was a hugely evocative moment anyway for Vancouver, but for us, I kind of teared up and thought, ‘Wow, we actually managed to pull this off.’ And maybe that was the first time in seven months that I’d stopped. But that was a great moment.”