Tag Archives: Manitoba

UBER where art thou?

As the UBER debate rages across our country and others, I have a few holiday-time stories that make my opinion clear.

The first was early in the month. I was attending an event that gave out taxi chits at the end of the evening, very responsible, very classy. No fewer than three times on the ride home (it was a 10 minute drive) the driver said that I should just give the chit to him and he’ll take care of filling it out. I never said anything, but intending on filling the thing out myself, thinking it only fair considering it wasn’t my money that was footing the bill.

Once we arrived at my house I started filling out the information with every intention of giving a generous by fair tip. However, as soon as the driver noticed this he started yelling and berating me that I should of given it to him to fill out and that I would never get a cab again in my life if I didn’t. I handed him the chit and walked into my house, but the whole situation was fairly unnecessary and unsettling.

Number two was post-Christmas leaving a Jets game. A friend and I were both going to the St. Boniface-ish area and flagged down the closest taxi. When the driver pulled over he wouldn’t unlock the doors, but rolled down the window. When he asked where we were going and was told “St. Boniface” he responded, “Not far enough,” and drove away. We were able to find another cab, but still that is a pretty terrible way to treat potential customers.

The third incident was later that same night. Leaving a different friend’s place I called another taxi, which arrived on time. The driver than proceeded to drive like a maniac to my place, and when I paid I was told that I couldn’t use credit card and he didn’t have any change. He cemented himself a very nice tip.

There are so many similar stories to these and many far worse, which serve as the reason that so many consumers are hoping and praying for the government to get out of the way of UBER. To be fair I understand that the regulations put on taxis are unfair, but by artificially creating a duopoly in the market, customer service and innovation are dead. Having a system like UBER’s could easily have solved all the above issues:

  1. After the holiday party the UBER rides could be automatically charged to the company’s account, eliminating the need for any paperwork to be filled out.
  2. We would have been assigned an UBER car and left them a lousy review if they refused to pick us up.
  3. The payment being done electronically gets rid of the awkward “My card machine is broken” conversation that is part of so many cab rides. Also, I could leave a bad review for the poor driving.

Who knows if and when ride services will be allowed into Manitoba, but I hope they are by the time any kids of mine can drive (probably still a tall order, if past ‘progress’ in this province has been any indication). On top of everything else, it seems like a great way to earn some money for someone with a car.

Can You Service a Startup?

I’ve noticed something recently that everyone seems to have the ability to service startups. At least that’s what they would have you believe. A listing of skills on LinkedIn got me thinking about why this is.

The profile I was viewing was of someone who was no doubt very intelligent. A double professional who, I’m sure, has forgot more than I will ever know. Regardless, though, none of the experience listed had anything to do with startups, but there it was listed in the skills section.

Why were they so comfortable putting it there, though? I have a couple guesses and would love to hear yours, too.

First, I think that it has to do with size. They had done a lot of work with bigger businesses, so how tough could a new, smaller one be?

Maybe it was because this individual was relatively young and young people all have an inherent knowledge about startups, seeing as they’re the cool new thing.

Honestly, whatever it is, I think that there is a healthy level of ignorance mixed in, whether unintentional or not.

All small businesses, startups in particular, can be a different beast. My guess the “my skills will scale down” theory goes out the window once you start setting up corporate structures, funding rounds, personal finance implications, grant requirements, fast growth, etc. These are likely all things that wouldn’t be experienced to the same extent at an established business.

I have first-hand experience with this.

When I was first setting things up with the business, I happened to be with one of my account friends one evening. Since it was top of mind, I started asking him 101 questions about finances, taxes, company structure, you name it.

He wasn’t really answering my questions in any great depth and I finally said, “I thought you were supposed to be an accountant. What gives?”

He looked at me as replied, “Kevin, I’ve never dealt with a company anywhere near as small as yours. The amounts you’re talking about are so immaterial for the companies I work for that they wouldn’t bother looking for them if they were missing from the books.”

First, sobering thought. Second, that was a breath of fresh air.

Although he could have impressed me with a bit of knowledge and likely made it up as he went along, he had enough confidence to simply state that he knows nothing about the subject we’re talking about. If I really wanted answers I should go to someone who specializes in small businesses.

So I did.

Sport Manitoba

This one is a little different, seeing as it is a not-for-profit. Nonetheless I think that Sport Manitoba deserves a mention because of the huge role that it played in my life and the lives of a huge number of people.

Basically if you played a sport in the province at any point in your life, you have Sport Manitoba to thank. The simple structure is that every sport played has a Provincial Sport Organization and Sport Manitoba houses and helps all of them.

Being someone who was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play a number of sports, I have Sport MB to thank for the organization, partial-funding and training that is involved for every team. In addition to focusing on athlete development, there is also attention paid to coaches and officials, as well, because without them there is no organized sport (which is why until there are some refs involved, Ultimate is never getting into the Olympics).

Sport MB doesn’t just organize, either. Based on the belief (that I 100% share) that all kids should have the opportunity to play sports, they support charity KidSport. It gives the opportunity to participate to children who may not have had the chance otherwise.

Besides their work focusing on the on field / ice / court / track / ring / etc. activities, there is also a focus on enhancing other sport services. Sport medicine is important for athletes at all levels and is treated as such. The Sport for Life Centre (145 Pacific) is a state of the art facility which is able to help with a wide array of maladies.

So thank you Sport Manitoba! Not just for the sports that I played, and continue to play, but also for the development of the entire sport community!

Price Industries

Next on my list is Price Industries. I’ve been fortunate enough to had the opportunity to go on a tour of their facilities, and they are quite amazing. But I’ll take a step back before I get ahead of myself.

Price is a worldwide supplier of HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) units. Basically those metal boxes you see on the top of buildings that have fans in them.

Not only is being a world leader impressive enough, but the values that Price practices are almost exactly like any company that I would want to grow. This, of course, is no accident and takes years of careful action. While it may not always be easy, Price is an example of when the correct values are instilled properly into a company great things can happen.

First, Price’s is commitment to innovation is commendable. By investing in projects that may not see any direct cash inflows for many years, if ever, Price does what many companies refuse to do. Not focusing on quarterly profits, but rather the long-term future of the company is, in my mind, the best way to ensure the success.

Being a privately owned company, it is easier to make these decisions. Public companies can often fall victim of focusing on short term gains, rather than worrying about what’z going to be happening 10 years down the line.

What I appreciate most about Price is the fact that they started a Manitoba company and have stayed a Manitoba company. By operating here they bring skilled labour jobs, which is a great thing for our province! While it would likely make more financial sense to move operations to the US (or even next door to Saskatchewan for that matter) by staying here they can keep Manitobans employed with meaningful work.

I’m so sure that it would be less expensive to operate elsewhere thanks to the payroll tax. A company the size of Price has to deal with the Manitoba government taxing them for employing Manitobans. If that isn’t the most backwards thing I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.

So thank you to Price for staying in Manitoba and leading by example. in my mind they are exactly what every company should aim to be in their respective industries.

The PST Hike

Short and sweet, this post will be. It’s not going to be some huge rant about the PST going up. Honestly, I think consumption based taxes are one of the better forms of tax, especially as compared to income tax. If I want to save my money or invest it in starting a business, there’s nothing quite like being put at a disadvantage because I’ve chosen to live in Winnipeg.

But I digress…

What is worrying me about the PST is as a business owner. Not that I have to charge 1% more, but rather what happens if the courts rule that the government illegally raised the tax rate. Does that mean I have to go back to every client I’ve had since the beginning of summer and issue a 1% rebate?

It’s not like it’s a great sum of money I’ll be giving back and it was never really “mine” to begin with. Still, though, having to go through the process of getting mailing addresses and issuing refunds. Paying for postage and taking the time to write the cheques. It’s all time and money that could be better spent elsewhere.

I can only imagine the huge resource cost that larger businesses are going to have to take on. What about car dealerships and vendors of other large purchases? Where 1% is a significant enough sum for people to care. I don’t envy that.

As a consumer I’m going to go on record and say that if the PST charge was less than $10 for any specific transaction, I don’t really care about the refund. I’m sure it adds up to some meaningful sum, but I feel bad for the businesses that are stuck in the middle here. They don’t have any pull in the decision, but they’re the ones who will have to shoulder the cost. I would prefer they stay in business in Winnipeg.

Innovation in Manitoba

This post isn’t as timely as I would have liked, but is still very relevant and will continue to be for quite some time (as far as I can tell). I went to two events immediately after the provincial budget was released. One of them was specifically about the budget and the other was for entrepreneurs. At both of them there was reference to commercial innovation in Manitoba, or lack-thereof.

Both people criticized the 2013 budget for not having more incentives for innovation within the province. They argued that in order for Manitoba to continue to grow and become more competitive, there needs to be ready access to government money and programs to assist innovation.

While I don’t disagree with their desire for more “home grown” success stories, I don’t think their conclusion that it’s the government’s responsibility to fund innovation is the correct conclusion. Actually, I think it’s a downright terrible idea for multiple reasons. Here are a few:

  1. After the money, there would be no support. If you look how venture capitalists or angel investors are structured, there is ongoing support to the small business that they have invested in. This can range from consultation, to seats on the board, to even management positions. This is done because a VC has a very personal interest to see this business succeed, rather than the government who writes off the expense and is likely not to follow up.
  2. The government would be unable to be selective. If you do research about venture financing, the “success” ratio of funding to the number of pitches a VC hears ranges from 1:10 all the way to 1:100. The government wouldn’t be able to turn away 99 new businesses, waiting for that one that is the right investment. There would be some arbitrary criteria set on what constituted “innovation” and everyone who made it over that bar would get money.
  3. The failure rate is too high. The success rate of businesses that receive VC funding is one, maybe two, in ten. The other eight / nine either fail hard or end up chugging along, never really growing. Tax payer dollars shouldn’t be invested with such poor odds.
  4. Private / public sector partnerships rarely work.

The best way I can see the government supporting innovation is to continue funnelling money through universities. That is the structure which has worked in the US.

What I would prefer, though, is the private sector stepping up and providing funding. Manitoba’s VC and Angel market is shameful compared to other places in Canada. In turn Canada is pretty pathetic compared to the rest of the world.

The benefits of the private sector taking the lead are many. There is lots of money to be made, jobs to be created and more experienced, established individuals to pass their knowledge to younger generations. Also, the tax base increases and our ageing population is going to need that very, very soon. It takes work and it’s not for everyone, but I have to believe the market can grow from where it is now.

I have a quick anecdote that has been bothering for for a while. I know more people in Toronto who have received Angel / VC funding than in Winnipeg. It’s not that I know many people in Toronto very well (maybe 20 – 40), and I have to believe that I don’t just happen to know the right 0.00001% of the city. It’s just a fact that there is more money there.

It’s not as though there aren’t smart people in Manitoba, or that there isn’t money. The fact of the matter is the money doesn’t change hands and young people leave for greener pastures.  While I can’t fault anyone for leaving, I’m choosing to stay here, where I love it, and water the grass. I urge others to do the same and remember this in 30 years when you have the opportunity to help a young start-up.