Q&A With Steve Deller, Opportunity Hunter and EMBERS Ventures Instructor
EMBERS Ventures provides training to help new entrepreneurs navigate their first few years of business. One of our instructors, Steve Deller, is an entrepreneur with extensive experience and a passion to do good. He teaches market research and marketing for the Build A Business program and Self Employment Program. We sat down with Steve to learn more about his work and impact at EMBERS.
How did you learn about EMBERS?
I saw an ad in Craigslist, and I reached out. The next thing I knew, I was being called in for an interview with the instructor, and the team was assembled! It’s now been four years since that day.
What were you doing before you came to EMBERS, and what do you do aside from teaching at EMBERS?
I taught public school after completing my undergraduate degree, and then I went to the London School of Economics to complete my master’s degree in economics. After that, I moved back to Ottawa to work for several government agencies, like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Stats Canada, where I realized that the traditional nine-to-five job wasn’t for me – so after a few years, I packed up my belongings and moved out to Vancouver to become an entrepreneur! I’ve juggled a variety of projects since then – from co-founding Canada’s first mail-order pharmaceutical company, to importing and manufacturing in China, to providing internet service in the Kootenays. Right now, I’m doing contracts in the Arctic and Nunavut, and am helping a brewery launch, among other projects. It’s a bit crazy, but it keeps me busy. And hey, opportunities are everywhere you look!
Why did you want to be self-employed?
I didn’t want to teach, nor did I like bureaucracy, so this was the last option for me. It struck me one day that my last option could have been my first option. I mean, why did it take me so long to get here? My father was an entrepreneur – a small business guy, so if I had looked at that example a bit closer, I would have followed my heart sooner. I am unemployable anyway, because I don’t think I can work for anyone again. If I do that, it’ll mean that part of me’s owned by someone else. And, I can’t do it. I prefer being independent.
What skills helped you as an entrepreneur?
I have a knack for connecting people who can be very helpful to one another. I’m also a good listener, which is something I work at. As well, I have the ability to put people at ease very quickly. I get to know my clients and their projects personally, and I get people to help me out in areas where I’m weak.
What was your biggest challenge in being an entrepreneur?
I wasn’t prepared when I first started. This was back in the mid-90s, when no one really knew what an entrepreneur was. There was no EMBERS Ventures back then! The first business I helped launch failed fast, and we didn’t even see it coming. Another opportunity came and my team took it, allowing us to reinvent ourselves. This is the beauty of entrepreneurship. Everyday you really don’t know what’s around the corner, but you have to be in the game to catch the pass.
How do you define success?
Success is not monetary. Money is a byproduct of what you do. If you love what you do you will never work a day in your life. Success is about finding your passion and acting on it, continually.
It’s great to see a seasoned entrepreneur teach at EMBERS, and we’re glad you’re here. What attracted you to EMBERS’ mission?
I have a huge soft spot for any kind of economic development that helps change people’s lives. There is a little something broken in all of us, and by helping others, we help ourselves. EMBERS does this beautifully.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching at EMBERS?
I enjoy seeing the incredible diversity of ideas and people behind the ideas! We always talk about Cat Cafe – like, who would have thought? Michelle, the owner of Cat Cafe, first saw this in Japan, and I thought there’d be tough regulatory hurdles she’d have to confront. The solution? She put in a glass wall, so there’s coffee one side and cat hair on the other! The medical officer was fine with it, and the next thing you know, Adele was tweeting about it. It’s not that everyone needs to be a massive success. They just move further down the road toward their own success, whatever that might be – and it could be tweaking their business plan, but they’re going toward discovery, and I enjoy facilitating that process.
What’s your teaching philosophy?
I promote relevance by bringing as many real life examples as I can to the classroom. I’m a current affairs buff, so I’ll bring in examples from the newspaper, from people students might know, from past graduates, and more. These are related to each participant’s’ business plan goals. I want to make it so they’re successful or that the course relates to them. Otherwise, all the knowledge I’m imparting can float away.
It’s a very personal approach.
Well, if you want to get into someone’s head, you need to understand who they are as quick as you can, their circumstances as much as you can, and then you come out with something that relates to them, that will let them know that you’ve been listening and that you understand.
Can everyone be an entrepreneur?
The short answer: No. There’s a simple test that someone figured out years ago. It’s how you need to get your money. Do you need to get it in predictable, weekly lumps? Or can you take a dump of money, then wait for two to three months without absolute knowledge that you’re going to get any money, then you get money again? It’s about frequency and security of money. If someone needs to get a regular paycheque – and it’s not a judgement on their character – then they might not be ready to start a business.
What’s the most important thing that you want students to learn?
I want students to learn how to use various tools to forage in the forest – how to cobble a solution together that will move their passion/mission forward. It’s about getting to yes, because yes, you really can!
To learn more about the EMBERS Ventures program, including Build A Business, click here.