Every month at Wajam, we host a Lunch & Learn where we invite guest entrepreneurs and thought leaders to come and share their experiences with our team. Last month, we hosted Frank & Oak founders Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani, who shared with us their humble start as Modasuite and their dramatic pivot into world-renowned online clothing shop for men, Frank & Oak. And we previously hosted Daniel Robichaud, CEO of Passwordbox, and Jeremy Toeman, CEO of Dijit Media.
This past week, we had the pleasure of hosting Nicolas Bélanger, co-founder and executive chairman at W Investments (Groupe W). From his first foray as a coffee shop owner in Prague to his sale of DTI Software, the world’s leader of in-flight entertainment technology, it was inspiring to see and hear from a fellow entrepreneur who persevered through hardships and succeeded because he believed in himself and made it happen. Nicolas won an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2007 and that same year DTI was ranked in The Deloitte Technology Fast 50 recognizing the 50 fastest growing tech companies with the highest percentage revenue growth over five years.
Nicolas Bélanger and Wajam CEO Martin-Luc Archambault
A Startup Success Story
In 1995, Nicolas borrowed money during the plan Paillé days to be the first to bring content to hotel rooms while operating from his parent’s basement. Discovering new opportunities for their product in 2000, the company transitioned into interactive content for airlines. A big break came when, during a trade show, without a functional product in hand, Nicolas was able to secure an order from Air France for 200 planes. From there, he worked hand in hand with Air France to bring the product to market— the entertainment consoles that you can find on the majority of airlines around the world.
The Diaper Story
In 1999, Nicolas was living with his girlfriend in her parents’ basement. At the time, he was living off 10k a year, and was also raising his first child. He didn’t know how he would be able to pay his employees’ salaries, nor the office rent.
But he had this crazy dream of being an entrepreneur, and he stuck to it.
So one day, while he’s dealing with this intense pressure of somehow finding the money to pay salaries, his girlfriend calls at 3pm. She tells him not forget that at 5pm, he needed to come home with diapers and milk.
So he asks his business partner, “Do we have money in the bank?”.
“Do you have $60?”
He doesn’t remember that day where or how he got that money, but later that evening, he came back home with diapers and milk.
Lessons For Entrepreneurs
As an entrepreneur, you’re always dealing with challenges and constraints. And this can bring out the best in you. Take the opportunity to become creative, and to get things done.
- Always believe in your dreams. You are your own best motivator. Believe in yourself and what you can accomplish.
- Listen to others. By listening to everyone, you can find the quickest path to success.
- Never see things bigger than they are. From the outside, 113 airlines might seem like a huge market. But at each airline, you’re dealing with one person. One person has the power to make the purchasing decision. If you look at business as being about dealing with ordinary people just like you and me, nothing will seem too big.
Lessons for Investors
After earning his first profit with DTI Software, Nicolas started investing in private companies and founded W Investments, focusing on businesses with recurring revenue just like DTI Software. From 2004 to 2008, he invested in 8 startups, and today, he has over 20 businesses in his portfolio including Lumenpulse, IBwave and Audiokinetic.
He shared his investment criteria with us:
- Are you a fighter, will you get things done when the going gets tough?
- Are you focused? By being passionate enough about something, you will work hard and execute.
- Are you receptive. By listening to others, you can find the quickest path to move forward.
- Are you capable of surrounding yourself with good people, people who are better than you? Are you able to build a good team?
Thank you Nicolas for inspiring us with your visit!
Nicolas Bélanger with the Wajam team