There are so many reasons for wanting to start a business, but where do start and what type of education is required to be successful? So many questions with no answers to be found… until now. If you’ve ever watched an episode of CBC’s, The Dragons Den, then you might be familiar with Manjit Minhas. She joined the panel 6 seasons ago and is an award-winning entrepreneur, voted Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 and Top 100 Entrepreneurs in Canada. On November 17th, The Manjit Minhas Podcast debut its first episode & broke the top 10 on Apple Podcasts.
A financial success, Minhas is the Co-Owner and CEO of Minhas Breweries & Distilleries, the ninth largest brewery in the world. Minhas comes to the table with well-earned credentials and will share her honest and sometimes hard-hitting advice with her new listeners, always keeping a sincere respect and appreciation for their vision.
I had the great honour of speaking with the business mogul but I had only scratched the surface of good business practice, demystifying the corporate world and is running a business for everyone?
HNM “The Manjit Minhas Podcast, is about offering business advice. Have you established who your target audience is and does this business advice apply to new business owners or already established owners?”
MINHAS “I think for both and for everybody. It’s for individuals working 9-5 trying to climb that ladder in their career. I think in this day and age, everybody is and has to be an entrepreneur in their own life. Whether that’s a business, a product or service they’ve created, or in their corporate job – you have to be selling your talents, you have to be learning, you have to do a lot of the same things. I would say that all people can learn from this; from young to old entrepreneurs to business people… or people just looking to improve themselves and listen in on some light conversation between two people.”
HNM “With somebody starting a new business, what should be their main focus?”
MANJIT “First and foremost, an entrepreneur has to bring value. They shouldn’t be chasing the money, they should create value and then money will knock on the door. It’s important that you provide a product or a service that people are wanting, have a need for and are willing to give their hard-earned money for. You have to offer a solution to a problem and that is how you determine whether or not you have a great business and whether there’s a business plan behind it. I do think, first and foremost – you have to like what you’re doing, have a passion for it and you have to see a value in it for yourself. Being an entrepreneur is not an easy job and it’s not something that brings success overnight – you need perseverance and a lot of energy to keep going, because you know that you’re providing value.”
HNM “Would you say that you need a business degree to run a successful business?”
MANJIT “No I don’t, I think higher education is great and it promotes continuous learning and a mindset. What is necessary, is to have a good work ethic in your life, have mentors in your life, where to find information, you know how to learn and take specific courses that you’re not great at or to tap on consultants or others that fill in your gaps. I have a background in engineering – I actually have a degree, but I never worked as an engineer because I got into the liquor business – first with spirits and later with beer. I’ve continued along that path for 2 decades, so I think it’s important to understand and have self-confidence, which is something that post- secondary education can provide. I think everyone needs a degree in hard work.”
HNM “Is most of your business advice modelled around restaurants, commodities or real-estate? Also, what about investing in a feature film, could the business model be applied to that as well?”
MANJIT “My specialty is definitely consumer packaged goods, but I own my own production company (Spotlight Productions), because I wanted to make my own beer commercials, as well as having more flexibility. It produces documentaries, corporate work and a lot of shows for different networks in Canada. I would say that the principals are very much the same as the beer or gin business. Your consumer might be different, but at the end of the day – the principles of business, no matter what the industry; the tools are very much the same. None of us stay at the same career or business for our entire lives anymore, but if you do, it evolves and sometimes the products being offered evolve, and definitely the people and team will evolve. Evolution is very important on the basis of who we are, what our businesses are and where we work.”
HNM “You’re saying the model is always changing, so you have to change with it?”
MANJIT “Definitely, people are discovering that you can’t be static in business – you have to be evolving, you have to be listening to your customers, you have to see what the world around you is doing. No successful company sticks around without often taking a hard look at themselves, which could include producing efficiencies, having the right culture, the right team members. At the end of the day, you’re really just providing something that the consumers are looking for and understanding that people’s needs and wants change, as well as the way people consume products these days.”
HNM “In your younger days, venturing into your own business – what did that look like and did you have any guidance along the way?”
MANJIT “My dad was laid off from one of the biggest oil and gas companies in Alberta during the downturn in 1993. For the first time, he became an entrepreneur and by chance the premiere of Alberta privatized retail liquor, so my dad opened liquor stores. I was 13 and my brother was a year younger but we worked in the family business, which was liquor stores. Much of my knowledge on the retail front came from liquor sales and liquor in general. At 19 and in my first year of university, I felt like there was a gap in the marketplace for good premium quality spirits but at an everyday low price. That’s where we found our niche and we co-packed and put some great products on the market. We’ve had some hits with our tequila and Blarney’s Irish Cream – it’s still the number 2 Irish Cream across Canada. A couple of years later, we got into beer. Our first beer was Mountain Crest Classic Lager and it was everything we had imagined it to be, and we wanted to consume it ourselves – as engineering students and also as consumers. It was a Canadian beer with a little more alcohol, it was a buck a beer – which is unheard of and it only had 4 ingredients. We didn’t have all the overhead costs, and we grew from there – building breweries and distilleries across North America. I had no real guidance; I had no MBA or business background – my brother is also an engineer. We tapped on mentors, we tapped on people that we admired, but we did a lot of things that felt like common sense to us and we were constantly re-evaluating what we were doing and what we were building. At this point in our careers it’s important to give back by investing in others dreams and letting them into the mindset of someone that’s done well, is still private and still dances to the beat of their own drum.”
HNM “Could you ever see yourself or the panel on The Dragons Den getting behind someone that came on the show to pitch a liquor product?”
MANJIT “To be honest, no. When I first came on the show, I was filled with enthusiasm but really, it’s not always about the business idea, I truly believe that we are investing in the entrepreneur. You have to believe that they are going to be able to weather the storm, they’re going to be coachable, a purveyor, they’re able to handle money and reputation while taking educated risks. As much as you can take that risk out of it by doing research, proper partnerships and putting in a lot of work behind the scenes – it’s important to believe that the entrepreneur has the confidence, the capabilities, the talents and the skills to do that. Everybody has bumps along the way, but as an investor – I want to be sure that I’m not going to have to be there every step of the way, holding your hand and running the business. They also have to know that they have someone to answer to when you take on an investor. It definitely helps to know your strengths and weaknesses too.”
HNM “Do you believe there’s a lot of psychology at play when you run a business, in the sense that – you have to have a thick skin and be resilient?”
MANJIT “Yes, completely. I do believe you have to have a thick skin and I believe you have to have confidence in yourself. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely business for a lot of people. You’re tackling challenges on a daily basis that you are having to figure out yourself – there’s a lot on the line all the time. It is very important to have the right mindset and to know what motivates you. It’s also really important to cut away from the noise; we’re used to saying ‘Yes’ a lot and taking every opportunity that’s in front of us. However, it is important to build that armour – to be able to focus and say, ‘No’ to a lot more than I say ‘Yes’ to. It’s important for us to know how to thrive, especially for small businesses during these times, but then in the future – build a platform to thrive on and in some cases reinvent yourself. It’s also important to understand that you do have to face a lot of unexpected curve balls. The tools that you build in your toolbelt to do that, are tools that you’ll always have with you. This is a really good teaching time for a lot of individuals and companies to realize that they’re not bulletproof and that exterior surroundings are out of your control.”
HNM “Is it safe to say that, when starting a new business – your team is most important or the business plan?”
MANJIT “Your business plan. Your team evolves and your team changes. Very few teams remain the same as they did 5 years previous. If you have a solid business plan, you can build your team around that and that team will continually change, grow, come in, go out, shrink and all those different things. I’m a strong believer in a business plan and the individuals around it are definitely important but you have to understand that they won’t be there forever. The years of someone working at a business for 20-30 years and retiring there are long gone, so I think that it’s very important – the business plan be front and center.”
HNM “How often is the The Manjit Minhas Podcast on and how long is each episode?”
MANJIT “We release a new episode every Tuesday and they all vary from 30-45 mins. That’s the best thing about a podcast, unlike TV, there’s not a set amount of time. It’s very digestible and I think we’ve recorded 10 episodes for the first season. It’s a great platform because there’s no specific time or duration that the show can run. We were really thrilled that on our debut podcast, we broke into the top – 10 Podcasts and its really resonating with a lot of listeners, which is really nice. With all the great feedback I’ve been getting from the viewers, it will help direct my conversations going forward.”
HNM “When I lived in Calgary years ago, I remember your Beer commercials. Was that created by your production company?”
MANJIT “No, we had worked with Pyramid Productions. Interestingly enough, we didn’t particularly have a big budget in our early years to make them, but after we did, we still continued to make them a particular way because they really resonated with people. Early on, we had decided that we wanted to be the face of our company. We decided to have fun with it – we’re selling beer, it’s not rocket science. Let’s make it respectful, let’s make it fun and have our own take on it. I was always behind the scenes, and that was purposefully and consciously, until the Dragons Den came calling 6 years ago.”
HNM “Have you ever had any of the Dragons give you business advice?”
MANJIT “We all do, we’ve all been successful in such unique industries and we’re all very close. We all learn from each other and we all have opinions to share; whether or not we all listen, is another matter (laughing). We are pretty candid with each other because we are very close friends and I think that’s what anybody does that’s looking out for a colleague, that they care about.”
HNM “I wanted to ask about gender parity in the business world. Is it still male dominated and would you like to see more women becoming business owners?”
MANJIT “Yes, it definitely is. Some industries are more than others – my industry is definitely male dominated, as general manufacturing and tech, but so is VC (venture capital) investment and unfortunately a lot of them don’t make sense, so I won’t validify any of them. I do think as women, it’s important to support each other and also to be sponsors of each other. There is enough space for all of us and I think the mindset is changing. I really do enjoy that and feel like a lot of women have discovered that they don’t need 3 degrees or need to be an expert on everything before they venture into something. It’s important to take a leap, ask for help and do a lot of interesting things.”
HNM “Do you foresee your show continue past next year and beyond?”
MANJIT “It’s something that I’m enjoying and they have a slate lined up for season 2. There’s so many people that I’m interested in talking to yet, so I can definitely see more seasons coming.”
HNM “What has the feedback been like and have you seen your audience grow?”
MANJIT “Yes to the second question. The feedback has been really interesting. People are able to gain insight from me picking people’s brains and them picking mine. There’s the back and forth conversations between CEO’s and successful entrepreneurs and what they talk about, how they navigate and what similarities they have. The secrets are not such big secrets that have made us successful. It’s also great to peel back the onion and be inspired. In this week’s episode we talk to Lisa and all the hardships she’s had. She’s a widow, she has 4 kids and with all the tragedies she’s had in her life, she hasn’t let it stop her. We will all have devastating atrophies in our life but it’s how we handle them, which is telling of individuals. It’s important that people see themselves in the guests when they’re talking; ranging from men to women, young to old, different industries, immigrants, children, single moms. Success is very diverse and it could be anybody’s – it’s a matter of how you manage your own journey. There is no definition of what success looks like, it’s different for everybody. There are some characteristics and a golden thread that runs through everybody and I hope by the 3rd or 4th season, people can start to see that.”
HNM “With the current pandemic and many businesses being forced to close their doors for weeks or months, when is it time to pull the plug and cut your losses and when is it time to dig in and gut it out to save the business?
MANJIT “I really think it’s a personal decision when to pull the plug – I can’t comment on this one directly but there are ways a business can arm themselves to get through tough times. Don’t depend on one part of your business for complete success – you must think about other ways to diversify your product portfolio. Identify & start managing risks – you won’t be able to predict the problems that might occur in future but you can certainly take some steps to better prepare yourself. You need to find the risks or possible points of failures for your business. These risks could be in areas like people, system or business processes, legal compliance, data security, etc.
– Listen to customers & observe their behavior – Business owners are normally so busy with product development and sales that they completely forget their main stakeholder – the Customer. In order to future proof your business, you should start focusing on the changes in customer behavior that might happen in the near future.
– Watch for influencing factors surrounding your business – If you really want to future proof your business, you need to keep an eye on your surroundings. You must make yourself aware of the developments happening around you even if those are not related to your industry.
– Create a Favorable environment for innovation – you can’t always win by following the leaders, you have to innovate at one point to stay ahead in the game. Innovation is not easy and you might fail several times but once you hit the bull’s eye, you’ll leap ahead of your competition. To foster the culture of innovation, you need to create a favorable environment for it.”
HNM “If you have a good business plan but fall short on the financing to get it off the ground, do you borrow from the banks or do you seek private investors? What are pros and cons?”
MANJIT “That’s a very personal decision. Pros and cons to both but it really depends on what you are looking for; is it just money or guidance/mentorship/network. Interest rates are very low right now so it’s a good time to borrow money relatively cheaply. Having investors, not only gives you money but also gives you access to mentors and experience/knowledge/insight that many entrepreneurs are looking for when they are scaling.”
HNM “What has running a successful business taught you about yourself?”
MANJIT “That I’m mentally stronger than I think and that I am a really competitive person!
HNM “What is the biggest mistake you see business owners making time after time, that can lead to its demise?”
MANJIT “Spending more money than they earn for too many quarters in a row and not focusing on their core business/product/service (i.e. get distracted by all the “opportunities”) and feedback from actual customers.”
If you have any questions or concerns about your own business or are considering starting a business venture, then Manjit Minhas would appreciate hearing from you to help foster your success at – firstname.lastname@example.org
Manjit adds that she has been homeschooling her 2 daughters since March and is really enjoying the time well spent with her kids. She says, ‘they are getting some insight into mom’s work, her successes, the frustrations (laughing), the yelling, the joys and everything else that goes on.’
Manjit Minhas had some amazing advice and was incredibly humble and generous with her time. Please tune into her Podcast every Tuesday for good business advice and financial success!