20160217_114425Davender Gupta is a coach and mentor to many entrepreneurs through his company, Startup-Académie, and programs such as Startup-Académie 101, FastTrac TechVenture Québec, Startup Weekend (Québec, Sherbrooke and Montreal) and Lean Startup Machine. His passion is to guide high-performance entrepreneurs to develop the clarity, the confidence and the discipline to successfully execute on their ideas. His first 15-year career as a military aerospace research and development engineer led to a second career, experiencing first-hand the startup boom of the late 1990s. He then pivoted into a third career as a Venture Catalyst and Entrepreneurial Leadership Coach, helping hundreds of startups and scaleups across Canada and overseas to transform their ideas into impact. His fourth act is building an “Entrepreneurial Amplifier” and seed fund to support tech scaleups earn their first $1M-$10M of revenue. Davender is also very active in developing the regional and national startup ecosystems. In 2013, Davender was named as one of “Canada’s Top Ten Rockstar Mentors” by Startup Canada and Futurpreneur Canada. Most recently, he completed the MIT-Sloan School of Management “Entrepreneur Development Program”, an elite-level international intensive in innovation-driven business strategy and growth.

Davender was so kind to join my classes on Strategic Management at Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University last week and share his 20160217_121049viewpoint on strategy, related to startup companies and entrepreneurs. His guest lecture was very much appreciated by the students. Below are some of the highlights:

  • The importance of every strategy is how you create, deliver and harvest value.
  • Strategy is a guide, but not the answer. It is about exploring choices and it has to be adaptable to the reality. The moment you execute a strategy, it becomes invalid.
  • Strategy is to look at problems and find solutions, not to justify ideas.
  • It is important to ask yourself the question: is your idea a strong foundation for growth? How does it measure up to the four Ps:

* People: Who are the stakeholders of your idea and how many of them you could get to contribute to your growth?
*Purpose: How does your idea resonate with the stakeholders and does it have a strong, responsible and compelling purpose?
*Passion: How does your idea tap into the passion of your stakeholders? Would they contribute to your growth?
*Profit: What is the result that you will create with your idea? How will your stakeholders benefit? How can you be rewarded for the impact and results you make?


  • When elaborating a strategy, it is important to choose the right market and industry segment. Business ventures are complex entities and it is often difficult to define the exact industry branch where the company will compete. In what business are we in, and how to compete are the two important angles of strategic choices.
  • Strategy is a hypothesis. You need to dig down to what you don’t know about what you don’t know – and what the market doesn’t know about what the market doesn’t know.
  • The strategy needs to be agile and to be able to adapt to the changes and the real world in real time. Strategic plans are dynamic-in order to be useful, they should contain a room for changes.20160217_121530
  • Strategy is about choosing between equally viable alternative strategic commitments. This requires knowledge that can only be gained through experimentation and learning.
  • When elaborating a strategy, there is no “right answer” other than that which honours what you stand for.
  • Smart entrepreneurs are not “risk-takers, but “risk managers”. The goal of the entrepreneurs when elaborating and executing a strategy is to change the game in their own favour. This is actually the only strategy that counts.

Davender’s talk provoked students to ask over 30 questions at the end of the class.He took time after the classes to answer to all of them-a big Thank You for that on behalf of the students! Below are only a small portion of questions and answers:

1. What are the biggest errors an entrepreneur can do that would lead to a business failure?

–          Focusing on “building the thing” rather than focusing on solving a real problem for a real person.

–          Not choosing the right people: most business failures are team and people failures, not financial or technical

–          Starting a business “to get rich”: there are easier, faster and cheaper ways to make money. Start a business for the right reasons, primarily because you are “in love” with what you’re doing.

2. What is the most challenging risk that you have observed in startups?

–          Shifting from development mode to sales mode and entering the first market. It requires a whole different mindset. Sometimes you need to let people go and bring new people on board.

 3. What advices would you give to someone that wants to work in consulting?

–          Build a network of smart people around you early on.

–          Share your knowledge early and often (blog, podcast, social media).

–          Build a personal brand, be known as a passionate.

 4.  How to find passion? When you find out that someone’s idea is really your passion? How to differentiate from just other things you like?

–          Passion about an idea is like falling in love: you can’t think of anything else other than that idea and it keeps you up at night.

 5. How do you think a company’s growth strategy should change as revenue grows from $10 000 to 100 000 to 10 000 000 to 50 000 000?

–          The first ten customers need to become your best friends. They will buy because they know and love you.

–          The first hundred customers then become your best spokespeople. They will buy because they know you and want to help you.

–          The first thousand customers need to be your true fans. They buy because they are meeting you and love what you’re doing.

–          At that point, your customer base loyalty shifts from you to your offer.

–          So at first, don’t be shy about putting a personal face on your company and your offer. Then as the company grows, put the offer first.

6.  It appears that the hope of 2015+ is around tech-apps, sites, platforms…and product ideas are discouraged. Is it getting too crowded?

–          Disagree. The movement up until recently was more apps and software because the tools were developed to make it cheap to build software. Now with 3d-printing, Arduino, etc, I believe the next wave is more hardware. I am specifically looking to invest in tangible things rather than just software.

 7.  How to you coach to deal with uncertainty?

–          Visualize the future as if everything will go right and act in the moment as if everything will go wrong.

 8. What are specific tools entrepreneurs use to identify what they don’t know?

–          Validation of hypothesis around what people need and what they want

–          https://www.leanstartupmachine.com/validationboard/; http://www.businessmodelgeneration.com/canvas/vpc

9. Do you believe an undergraduate diploma in entrepreneurship is worth anything to actually start a company?

–          The popular belief today is that the only way to learn entrepreneurship is “on the job”, that you learn by doing. However what I see is that this leads to too many blind spots that end up sinking great ideas. I think that you need to learn the basics of aerodynamics before taking the controls of a jet fighter. I like the trends at McGill and Concordia to integrate learning about entrepreneurship and doing it at the same time.

Davender is convinced that “in the future we need a new generation of citizen-leaders who are crystal-clear about their purpose, who are powered by the passion of a big vision and who transform the status-quo by mobilizing communities of people to build systems that create profit and prosperity for all“. Hopefully McGill students will be exactly this types of leaders in the 21st century….Especially supported in such a generous way by business leadership mentors and coaches like Davender Gupta.

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