April 23, 2020 - One on One
One-on-one with Guillaume Bouchard, a serial entrepreneur in confinement in the Laurentians, from where he manages his company CONTXTFUL as well as L’Escouade Numérique, a support network specially created to support the entrepreneurial community during these exceptional times.
1. In this time of great crisis, as an entrepreneur, what keeps you awake at night?
I must admit that what I find the most difficult is the amount of responsibilities that I have taken on. I quickly realized how central and sensitive I was on many levels. I say that putting my ego aside, of course. I felt that I was entrusted with great responsibilities, including ensuring the salary of fifteen employees, and therefore impacting the income of fifteen families. As the oldest member of my family, I am also responsible for the well-being of my parents, my in-laws, and my own family. At the beginning of the crisis, I saw the magnitude of what was happening and then quickly realized that too many people around me were going on with their daily lives without any concerns. My job in life is to be a visionary, so I quickly understood what was going to happen in the next two months… I felt disconnected and I had to support them, give them a reality check, and take care of them. Let’s say it took me about 2 to 3 weeks of adjustment, but it was natural for me, like a true entrepreneurial responsibility.
2. As a leader in times of crisis, which trait of your personality is accentuated?
I would say that I put a lot of weight on my shoulders. Even if it is a habit for me, it has become more accentuated.
Also, for a person with ADHD, spending hours videoconferencing it is hard to stay focused! It is my big personal challenge. I have set myself limits, otherwise my patience is exacerbated. I have to be careful because it takes a lot of concentration and twice as much energy to sustain my attention in this context. Let’s just say that after a 10-hour day spent videoconferencing, a virtual happy hour with my friends sounds less tempting! I miss the human contact.
3. Right now, what inspires and animates you in your daily life?
It’s my sense of belonging to the “Québec Inc.”. It has always been important to me. I really like our entrepreneurial culture, which I call original… It is not perfect, but Quebec’s entrepreneurship inspires me. Creating L’Escouade Numérique was, for me, a way to give back to this community so that everyone has access to the same resources and opportunities. It was natural to create a group of experts who were going to help each other, even though time was of the essence. We wanted the core of Quebec’s SMEs to remain united throughout the crisis. There are already thousands of businesses that will not be able to recover from this crisis, and we thought that if we had the means to save a few of them – or to help them undergo as little consequences as possible – we should definitely do so. This sense of nationalism that has been emerging in recent weeks is very interesting to observe. Together, we can do great things and of course working well in solidarity.
4. Looking at the current situation through your entrepreneur’s glasses, what do you think is the greatest injustice?
I would say the government programs. They are not thoughtful or adapted to tomorrow’s businesses, that is: SMEs with less than 99 people, start-ups and organizations that don’t have a highly established business model. Right now, rather than alleviating the stress of entrepreneurs and allowing them to direct their efforts in the right place, they are throwing them under mountains of forms and paperwork to be filled-out. This is the injustice. The same recipe should have been applied to all businesses, in order to avoid all this extra work. The less money you have, the less cash flow you have, the less reserves you have, the more promising you are and the more at risk you are. I feel like, right now, we are killing the germinating seedlings. In the near future, there is going to be a hole in the forest of up and coming companies.
5. Who is your “undercover hero” in this crisis?
I don’t have one person in particular in mind… But I spontaneously think of all the people who didn’t try to take advantage of this crisis and who are choosing to ensure things don’t break. They could be entrepreneurs who decided to use part of their profits from the past years to continue paying their employees, or they could be people who gave hours of their expertise to ensure the survival of their businesses. In fact, these people do this, not to get their name in the headlines, but so that nothing breaks, for the maintenance of the economy… as a pure act of generosity for the people behind the companies. And my vote goes to them: what they are doing is noble, and they are not trying to buy sympathy capital. That is also what we are trying to do with L’Escouade Numérique. We are not going after people to share their expertise; we would rather have them come to us. First, to join this initiative, you must have a deep desire to help companies during the COVID crisis. You can’t act to market your services, you have to share a plan that can be implemented in a few hours by a business, and/or it has to be a piece of advice that can bring an entrepreneur’s thinking to change in order to take a new direction. There is absolutely no business model behind this initiative, it is basically the SMEs working for the SMEs.
6. What is the most exciting innovation that your organization has undertaken in these tumultuous times?
I am currently running two projects simultaneously as well as two concepts that I put in place that I could share with you. For L’Escouade Numérique, the open for business concept is surely a state of mind that I wish to all entrepreneurs. Some have managed the crisis by doing business as usual, others have put their business on hold while waiting for the after-crisis, and others have completely transformed themselves. To entrepreneurs who have frozen in the face of the crisis’ magnitude, I say that they must remain open and alert to different business opportunities, they must listen to their inner voice and not be in shutdown mode.
With my own company, CONTXTFUL, I took the time to reflect and to perform a training exercise with my team in order to have each and everyone become aware of their added value, in relation to our clients. I was afraid that departments would disconnect – with teleworking and social distancing – I wanted to refrain from this as much as possible. We have increased our team meetings to create this feeling of belonging, we train each other and share our expertise while we are confined. The bridges that keep us tied together are only going to be stronger when we all come back together.
7. How do you foresee the short-term future for your organization, and the economy at large?
I like to think about a theory that goes back to the Prisoners of war where the central message was that you should not set dates because it creates expectations, and therefore disappointment. You have to show up on a daily basis and be grateful for what has been accomplished during the day. It is to go back to the basics for many companies and for many people, but I think we have to move towards that logic. We must not wait for a return to normality in order to live our lives to the fullest. We must give our 110% every day. As freedom returns, we should celebrate it as a victory that comes as a surprise – and not as a due. This is probably the message the planet is sending us.
I read an interesting article that invites us to be careful as consumers, since after the crisis the big brands will try to put us to sleep with their speeches, bringing us back to our former lives.
An article to read about gaslighting: let us believe in our intelligence and not be fooled.
8. Finally, the deadly question: if you were Francois Legault, how would you plan the future?
I feel that Quebecers are ready for a clear communication tool that sets out social reintegration measures and that goes beyond the daily press briefing. Of course, what the government is doing right now is interesting, but I think we are ready for a true actin plan, a hub of decisions made for the recovery. I see this coming to life as a website, a platform that would allow us to gather ideas of the population without the multiple exchanges we are used to see on Facebook, for example. The Government could use it to take the pulse of what is really going on. A very simple website, outlining new measures, divided by industries. Right now, we are running in circles. I would look forward and move ahead, detaching myself from the present, while keeping an eye on it. It is time to “restreamline” our recovery and do it smartly.
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