Leadership Jazz author Max DePree once said, “The greatest thing is, at any moment, to be willing to give up who we are in order to become all that we can be.” This sentiment is one that many self-starters are all too familiar with. Grayson Bain knows this first hand. With a bit elbow grease and a lot of drive, he turned a humble Vancouver bike and hardware shop into Canada’s most prestigious bicycle manufacturing firm, Rocky Mountain Bicycles. Although there is no roadmap for guaranteed success, Bain shares some of the entrepreneurial traits that have both helped him and hurt him in business.
5 Traits that led to my success
- I didn’t settle with mediocrity
I’ve never liked doing business in the traditional way, so when my dad bought the bike shop in the ’70s I found I really didn’t want to “mind the store” as he asked me to. Instead I wanted to shake up the whole retail bicycle industry. We started to import bike parts from Europe that most riders in Vancouver had never seen.
I am a Contrarian
I thought that the best way to make a bike that could be tough enough to take on the West Coast mountains was not by conforming to the present 10-speed skinny-tire trends. Instead of working through the present policies that were applied to retail stores by the distributors, I figured the regulations just did not have to apply to us. My team and I ended up building the first mountain bike in Canada. Sometimes breaking the rules is how new opportunities open up.
I am Thrifty
I have a lifelong record of resisting expenditures, keeping overheads low and allowing room for expansion in profits to grow the business. I live by this quote from John Wesley: “Make all you can, save all you can, give all you can.”
I took risks
Risks are the norm for most start-ups; unfortunately I was not born with guts. I went to business school and read lots of books to learn how to do it but there’s no manual. Risk in a business is plotting a course between the “known” unknowns, and the really scary unknowns.
I liked company
Entrepreneurs who fly solo make me nervous. The combined skill-sets of two or three founders make a recipe for success, but finding the right partners is key. Often my partners were long-time friends, and others were employees I hired. I have had some relationships that did not work initially but then blossomed, and others that started sweetly but ended up toxic. But ultimately, partners in business are very valuable.
5 Traits that led to my disasters
I doubt myself too often
Even after my 30+ years of success I question how people perceive me and underestimate what I am able to do. Doubt stops me from constructing and creating new ventures. Doubt hinders me from confidently speaking and acting out of the wisdom I have acquired.
I get bored
I get excited about bright and shiny new projects — usually before their time. There was nothing wrong with doing new things, but not when it was at the cost of running all the activities of a $15 million company. It’s easy to neglect day-to-day operations when you’re more excited about dreaming up new ideas that customers will love. In a leadership role, however, I need to give my time and energy to both.
I can be too naive
When I see a way to help, I usually offer to do so — even when that means helping my competitors. I feel good about helping other companies, but this has led me to give away free intellectual property. On more than one occasion in the bicycle business, others have finished — and profited from — what I had started.
I wanted to prove people wrong
I was picked on and maybe even bullied during all five years of high school, and my grade 12 academic counsellor summed up those years of torment with these words: “Bain, you’ll never amount to much.” Maybe he had just had a bad day, or maybe I didn’t answer his questions about my aspirations, but I vowed to prove him wrong. Unfortunately, this vow led me to crave success — even at the cost of things that should matter more.
I Put work first
I have a photo of my wife’s extended family displayed in our home, and of our 40 or so relatives, I am the only one missing. I was called away to a public relations photo shoot in Whistler Village and missed the opportunity to be in my own family’s photo. My wife’s father passed away later that year, and that photo reminds me how foolish I was to miss that very important day.
Photo by (Flickr CC): 74-ant-ma