Jewish Family Services Innovators Lunch committee, left to right: Sherri Wise, Tamar Bakonyi, Candice Thal and Shannon Ezekiel. (photo from JFS)
On May 14, Jewish Family Services held its 15th annual Innovators Lunch at the Hyatt Regency downtown. The sold-out event was hosted by CBC broadcaster Gloria Macarenko and featured keynote speaker Lane Merrifield of CBC’s Dragons’ Den. Attended by 620 donors, partners, sponsors and volunteers, it raised an unprecedented $380,000 towards programs and services designed to improve quality of life for 2,000 Lower Mainland residents.
This year’s theme at JFS is “community.” At the luncheon, Richard Fruchter, the agency’s chief executive officer, spoke of JFS’s mission to provide life’s necessities: “food, shelter, accessibility and emotional stability.”
The audience was shown a video presentation created by Michael Millman, which revealed the wide-ranging benefits of JFS’s work. A single mother spoke candidly and with feeling about her struggles. “Before I reached out to JFS, I struggled with everything. We lived on almost nothing,” she said. JFS staff provided housing, food and food vouchers, as well as trauma counseling. JFS partner agency Tikva Housing provided the family with a townhouse in a new development. “It’s a beautiful place, right on the Fraser River … a lovely home for us to have for many years,” she said, adding, “JFS has given us a life. A way to be happy. It’s just been a huge blessing for us.”
A senior with disabilities spoke about how a spinal cord injury felled him at the age of 36. JFS has helped him remain independent with its Better at Home program. In the video, Cindy MacMillan, director of senior services at JFS, explained that a grant from the United Way made it possible for the senior to remain at home. Now he has a housekeeper come in to look after his home, and also enjoys companionship with weekly visits from a JFS volunteer. “It’s working out, I look forward to them!” he said.
“It’s helped him realize that people in his community care about him,” said MacMillan. “It’s really Jewish values in action, in the broader community. Those values of caring and healing happen every time we make a match with a volunteer.”
JFS board member Jody Dales gave a passionate speech about her own family’s struggles. Dales saw her grandmother turn away help when she was struggling with poverty. Having survived the Holocaust, her grandmother still felt that others needed the help more than she did, Dales explained. As a result, Dales said she applauds anyone who comes forward to seek support. Rather than being a sign of weakness, she said, “Only the courageous are able to say, ‘Help me.’” She acknowledged that people tend to experience “a sense of shame in asking for help. But nothing is certain. It could be any of us at any time.”
Dales also explained how big a difference can be made by even a small donation and told the audience, “Let your empathy guide your decisions.”
Merrifield, co-creator of Club Penguin, an online community for kids, spoke about building community in the business world. Designed to be a safe, collaborative environment for play and learning, Club Penguin is founded on an ethos of mutual reliance and philanthropy. Eventually sold to Disney for $350 million, Disney recruited Merrifield to lead the project, ensuring that Club Penguin maintained the integrity of its original goal, “inspiring change in the world.”
Merrifield urged people to work towards social entrepreneurship, where human concerns guide business decisions. Rather than focusing on capital investment, he advised the audience to “invest in people because that’s what keeps us healthy. Revenue is not what you chase for its own sake,” he said. “It is the by-product of creating a great product with a great team.”
Right from the beginning, the business plan for Club Penguin was based on philanthropy. A portion of subscriptions went to families that live on less than $51 per day, he said. But “there was no fanfare,” said Merrifield. “We didn’t want this to look like a gimmick.” In the first year, the company gave away hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Merrifield spoke of the need to galvanize the community of kids, teaching them to invest in their community with a “coins for change” program. This virtual fundraiser even allowed children to “ring bells” to attract the attention of other subscribers. Over one billion digital coins were donated annually, for a range of humanitarian causes. Self-organizing kids formed virtual marches, becoming activists in their own right; held candlelit vigils and themed parties.
Merrifield brings the same spirit of social responsibility to his work on Dragons’ Den. He and his fellow panelists (“dragons”) hear pitches by entrepreneurs who are looking for investment and choose which ones to support. Merrifield said he looks for companies that “use recycled materials, hire disabled applicants, plant trees, and make an effort to reduce waste in their packaging and lower their fuel costs.” So far, he has not been disappointed. “Most companies have pretty good answers and that gives me hope,” he said.
On the subject of giving back, Merrifield encouraged people to consider donations – such as those to JFS – not as losses to oneself, but as “investments in the future, to individuals who continue to pay it forward.”
He also asked the audience to engage everyone they could to further the cause of fearless generosity. “Use your collective strength and influence to create change for good,” he said.
He advised, “Pool your talents and leave this world far better than it was when we came into it.”
Shula Klinger is an author and journalist living in North Vancouver. Find out more at shulaklinger.com.
Leonard Brody talks about The Great Rewrite at the Jewish Family Services Innovators Lunch April 24. (Rhonda Dent Photography)
Sitting in the JFS client base are this community’s greatest and most hopeful assets,” said Jewish Family Services Innovators Lunch keynote speaker Leonard Brody. Donating to JFS is not charity, he said, but rather an investment with high returns.
The 600-plus attendees at the JFS’s main annual fundraising event obviously agreed. At press time, more than $350,000 had been raised for the agency’s work, and donations were still coming in, making this year’s lunch the most successful Innovators yet.
Event co-chairs Shannon Ezekiel and Candice Stein Thal welcomed those gathered at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver on April 24, and gave a brief overview of the JFS and of the organization’s new logo and look, which, they said, “inspired the theme for this year’s lunch: ‘Uplifting Lives.’”
Rabbi Jonathan Infeld of Congregation Beth Israel, who is the Rabbinical Association of Vancouver representative on the JFS board, did the blessing over the bread. “This week’s biblical portion is Acharei Mot-Kedoshim,” he said. “Kedoshim is really the essence of why we are here – ‘You shalt be holy,’ the portion begins, and then it gives us a litany of laws in which we are able to bring holiness into this world. A number of those laws do not ask, but demand, that we take care of those who are in need. And one of those laws in particular demands that we feed those who are hungry. Many of us here are hoping to make a difference in this world. We are here, maybe with the idea in mind of a business connection, but, really, the essence of what the JFS is all about is bringing holiness into this world by helping those who are in need.”
After a video, which told the stories of three individuals who were helped by JFS in some way, JFS board chair Bill Kaplan said a few words, stressing that, “most importantly, our volunteers and staff treat our clients with a respect and warmth that uplifts them, makes them feel part of the community and, if you ever visited, you’ll see, it becomes a social highlight for their week.”
All of the lunch guests were given a bag full of items – including some packaged food, toiletries, a poncho and gloves – and asked to give it to someone on their way to work or to a JFS client. The bags were packed by more than 80 kids and their families at Beth Israel a few weeks earlier.
Among those who Ezekiel and Stein Thal thanked were the event’s corporate sponsorship committee, chaired by Audrey Chan; the more than 40 sponsors at the lunch, who had “helped contribute over $183,500 … a record in sponsorship for this event”; the 28 table families; day-of-event chair Dr. Sherry Wise; and JFS’s Maya Dimapilis and her team. The lunch was co-presented by the Diamond Foundation, Austeville Properties Ltd. and Shay Keil; Neil and Michelle Pollock matched every new or increased portion of a donation raised through the lunch, up to $25,000, which was dedicated for the Jewish Food Bank.
JFS executive director Richard Fruchter spoke about JFS, its history and the expanding services it provides. It is because of this growth in the demand for JFS’s services, he said, that “it became important for us to be more visible in the community and tell our story to a much wider audience …. we’ve updated our logo and our name to reflect that. Our logo is a simple, elegant symbol – it conveys the warmth and heart of what we do here at Jewish Family Services.”
“For me, this is not just an amazing lunch with a marquee speaker,” said Keil before he introduced Brody. “It’s an opportunity for me to stand before you and proudly announce my support of the Jewish Family Services, and to thank the army of staff and volunteers … [for their] work in the community.”
Brody’s talk was on The Great Rewrite, a book he is creating with Forbes Magazine, based on a documentary series they produced. “Really what we’re doing this morning,” said the entrepreneur, venture capitalist and author when he took to the stage, “is talking about an evolution, an evolution in us, in our human story.”
Based on about a decade’s worth of research, he said, The Great Rewrite began with the question, “How is this moment in time different? We’ve been through a lot of innovation cycles, from the web and mobile, and now entering into AI and robotics… Is this vast amount of change that we’re all experiencing … substantively different from anything we’ve been through before? Is this a fourth industrial revolution?”
Humanity is “literally rewriting this planet from the ground up,” he said, arguing that we are currently undergoing “pretty much the largest institutional shift in the history of our species.”
The co-founder of four companies, Brody said, “The concept of this rewrite has nothing to do, for me, with just theory – it started as a theory but it’s really what we do and what I do every day for a living at CAA [Creative Artists Agency].”
Before looking at what we can expect in the next 730 days – the next two years – Brody explained how we, the humans of today, are nothing like the people of 100 years ago. For example, he said, the average person now lives 2.7 times longer and is three to four inches taller; the rate of poverty has been reduced from 90% in 1900 to 10% now, literacy increased from 12% to 85% and access to basic education risen from 17% to 86%. We are also “living in the lowest point of human death [caused by any factor] since we could record it, since 1400,” he said, and “the average human being living on this planet works about half the number of hours than someone living in 1900.”
We are fundamentally different people now, said Brody, and herein lies the challenge. “The houses we built don’t fit the people who live here any more,” he said. “We built institutions – I’m talking about all the institutions that govern your life, education, government, religion, work, the family unit – they are all going through massive pressure points today because they are structures based on assumptions, often technological, some patriarchal, that are just no longer true.”
So, he said, “The whole essence of this rewrite is you are living in the disconnect between the people we have become, the technological tools available to us today and the failure of our institutions to keep pace with that.”
One of the reasons for this, he explained, is “inversion.” Most of our institutions are organized as pyramids, with, for example, a head of state or religious figure at the top; however, the internet has flipped this power structure. Up to the mid-1990s, all the methods of communication, from radio to the telephone, had limited reach and were regulated by government, he said, but, with the internet, it “was the first time where millions of people could speak with millions of other people with virtually no hit on their disposable income” and where it was “impossible for governments to regulate.”
With respect to the internet, said Brody, “the average North American spends two-thirds of their working day in their virtual identity and not their physical one. The average Canadian, by the way, spends 63% of their time with close friends and family in their virtual identity and not their physical one, meaning not face-to-face. So, the virtual form of yourself is now the predominant human form, not the physical.”
And our behaviours are different online than in person. “You do things in your virtual identity that you would never dream of in your physical and vice versa,” he said. For example, the average internet user is four times more trusting than they are in person. He illustrated this using a question he asked his 83-year-old uncle: “When your children were babies, would you post their baby pictures on the lamp posts in your neighbourhood?” The response was an emphatic no. “So, then, why do you post hundreds of photographs of your granddaughter on Facebook and Flickr, which is a globally open, searchable and highly manipulated light post, and his face just went totally blank.”
As for how the internet has changed our institutions, Brody gave the example of marriage. As of the end of 2017, he said, “two-thirds of all new marriages in the Western world originated online” – and, for those who met their spouse online, the likelihood of divorce is 15 to 20% less. “The algorithms on these dating sites work from a data perspective,” he said. And, connected to the institution of marriage, he noted that, in the 2016 census, about 40% of Canadian adults reported themselves as living alone, while, in 1955, that statistic was four percent.
Brody went on to explain what CAA was doing in the field of entertainment with virtual reality and how, “in the next decade, roughly 30% of all ‘live’ entertainment will come from performers who are no longer living. You will take your children to go watch the Beatles and Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley – in fact, the Elvis tour has just begun; the estate just signed off on it.”
Currently, there are up to three-and-a-half billion people on the internet, he said, and, over the next two years, another billion people will join. This new billion will be “one of the most significant economic events in human history, if not the most significant,” he said, noting the amount of money to be made from e-commerce.
This coming two-year period, he added, “is the very beginning of a long journey in the rewrite of currency.” He said that traditional wealth generators, such as home ownership and the stock market, will not be profitable in the future, so currency “will become the new stock.”
Brody spoke about the fact that we’re about a decade away from creating machines able to think for themselves, and how computers can now create, for example, a Rembrandt painting that can fool the computers that detect fraud at top auction houses. “The reason I share that with you,” he said, “is because the very thing that makes us human is art. And, once machines begin to make art, you get a very clear indication of how different this world is going to be, and very clearly that we are on a path where humans may no longer be the predominant species on this planet. So, we have very important decisions to make in the next decade about how we regulate the ethics of artificial intelligence.”
He concluded, “Why are we talking about The Great Rewrite and the rewrite of this planet at a JFS Innovators Lunch? There are two specific reasons. The first is this massive shift in institutional power that’s coming…. And the second has to do with math, pure math; in particular, the number 70. Why 70? According to StatsCan, 70% of all charitable donations in this country come from primary donors – 70% come from a small group that make up the vast majority of the donations. So, I started to do a little bit of digging and I brought in my friends and partners at Forbes to help me out on it. It turns out, if you look through the Forbes millionaire and billionaire list, which many Canadians sit on, it turns out that … 70% of that [primary donors] group came from nothing” and could have been clients of an organization like JFS at one point in their lives.
“Benevolence and charity were the wrong lens” with which to look at giving, Brody said. “The right lens was investment. If it’s true, which it is, that the vast majority of donations to charitable causes in this country … and the vast majority of those individuals [who are giving] were, at some point in their lives, disadvantaged and downtrodden, then the math and the investment is very simple. An investment made in JFS today has the greatest statistical likelihood of identifying the next pillars in this community and the next great funders.”
Entrepreneur, venture capitalist, author and media visionary Leonard Brody is the keynote speaker at this year’s JFS Innovators Lunch April 24. (photo from JFS Vancouver
On Tuesday, April 24, Jewish Family Services (JFS) will be hosting its annual Innovators Lunch. The event, which encourages people to think as innovators and uplift lives to bring about meaningful and lasting social change, raises essential funds that go directly to serve JFS clients, programs and services. It has attracted more than 600 people in each of its 14 years.
This year, the keynote speaker is Leonard Brody, chair of Creative Labs, a joint-venture with Creative Artists Agency, the largest sport and entertainment agency in the world. He and his team are building new ventures and companies for some of the biggest celebrities and sports personalities in the world. He acts as principal in several venture capital funds throughout the world, and is behind the financing and creation of dozens of start-up companies every year. He is also one of the owners of Coventry City Football Club in England.
The award-winning entrepreneur, venture capitalist, bestselling author and two-time Emmy nominated media visionary has been called “a controversial leader of the new world order.” His upcoming book, in partnership with Forbes Magazine, is The Great Rewrite. In it, he addresses the rapid pace of change, innovation and disruption brought about by the internet and how to respond to its profound changes on our social and economic ways of life.
“Everything we do, from how we speak, how we buy, how we employ people, is being rewritten,” he told JFS. “The internet is the first time in our history where millions of people can speak directly to millions of other people at little cost, no regulation; the first time in our species that we have owned our communication at mass scale on a global level. The tools for innovation are nothing, the playing field is now level.”
Wherein lies the controversy? Brody argues that the resulting change in communication is “a massive disconnect between the institutions we’ve created and the people we’ve become.” He contends that it is the largest level of institutional shift in human history.
“Our world is inverted,” he explained. “We are fundamentally different than the people we were 100 years ago.” The institutions that run society are traditionally top down, he said. Take, for example, politics, with a prime minister at the top and the people at the bottom. Once the internet became ubiquitous, the power pyramids started to flip, or invert.
The pace can be disorienting, and Brody seeks to raise the level of our dialogue and provide a useful framework for action that people can look to and use. Through concrete stories, he provides many answers, ultimately offering a playbook on how we can engage in the world that’s being rewritten around us.
For tickets to JFS’s Innovators Lunch on April 24 at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver, visit jfsvancouver.ca/innovators. There is a limited number available, so book your space early.
Participants in last year’s Inclusion Journey at the Knesset in Jerusalem, in front of Marc Chagall’s painting “The Exodus.” (photo from JCC inclusion services)
The Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver is part of the international network of Jewish communities celebrating persons with disabilities throughout the month of February. And, on Feb. 6, the entire community is invited to Share the Journey: An Evening of Inspiration, which will feature the screening of My Hero Brother, selected as the leading film for Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month. The event will also include remarks from the Hon. Shane Simpson, the provincial minister of social development and poverty reduction, and a slideshow and presentation by Leamore Cohen, coordinator of the JCC’s inclusion services, about the trip they led to Israel last year.
Many traditions exist within the Jewish community, and we must all work to ensure the accessibility of these traditions for all members of the community. It is within this context that the JCC’s inclusion services led the first-ever Canadian JCC diverse-ability and advocacy Inclusion Journey to Israel, with the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, the Gesher Chai Committee and community donors.
Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month reminds us of the importance of cultural connections, inclusive community and accessibility in all traditions and for all people. For its part, the JCC’s inclusion services has organized a number of awareness and visibility initiatives throughout February, including a Ronald McDonald House volunteer initiative with the JCC’s youth programs on Feb. 4 and a “Challa-Luyah” challah bake for the Jewish Food Bank with Axis Vancouver on Feb. 8.
Starting the month’s activities off is the Feb. 6, 6:30 p.m., screening at the Rothstein Theatre. For young Israeli adults, traveling after military service is a right of passage, and My Hero Brother emphasizes that such a right must be available for all young people. In drawing a parallel between local experiences and those highlighted in the film, the JCC hopes to bring attention to the abilities of all persons when community works together.
– JCC inclusion services
The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver-organized Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration is the community’s biggest gathering of the year, and the committee, led by Pam Wolfman, has booked two Israeli performers to help us celebrate Israel’s 70th anniversary: Shlomi Shaban and Ninet Tayeb.
Shaban is performing at the upcoming Red Sea Jazz Festival, where he is described as having “the ability to create buoyant virtuoso harmony between classical music, rock and pop…. His characteristic straightforward sense of humour frequently moves on a fine line between black tie concert halls and sweaty smoky rock-n-roll stages.”
Tayeb was the winner of Kochav Nolad (Israeli Idol). Music critic Garreth Browne saw her perform in New York and wrote, “it’s safe to say that the entire audience was fixated and almost hypnotized by her presence.”
– Courtesy of Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver
The Jewish Family Services’ 2018 Innovators Lunch guest speaker will be Leonard Brody. The award-winning entrepreneur, venture capitalist and bestselling author is co-founder and executive chair of Creative Labs, a joint venture with the largest sports and entertainment agency in the world, CAA in Los Angeles. His group is responsible for building new ventures for some of CAA’s most important film, TV and sports celebrities. He also happens to be a community member in Vancouver.
Brody will be talking about The Great Re-Write, his upcoming book in partnership with Forbes magazine, which addresses this unique social and economic moment in history. With rapid social and structural changes have come many challenges for communities, but also opportunities. How do we make the most of this time to invest in our community, uplift society as a whole and ensure we don’t leave people behind? He’ll encourage people to think as innovators to bring about meaningful and lasting social change.
Dr. Dan Ezekiel, left, and Ezra Shanken with JFSA Innovators Lunch co-chairs Shannon Ezekiel, left, and Dr. Sherri Wise. (photo by Rhonda Dent Photography)
“Something that we never could have imagined to be possible eventually became a reality because of our continued dreams,” said Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, referring to the establishment of the state of Israel, the 69th anniversary of which took place on the day he addressed the 13th Annual Jewish Family Service Agency Innovators Lunch.
“The JFSA as an organization,” he said, “continually looks forward to and works for ending hunger and poverty, healing those with mental illness and other challenges, solving issues of housing for our community – dreams that may at this moment seem impossible but, with the extremely dedicated and talented staff and donors and people who care about the JFSA, this is a dream that I believe is within our capacity.”
JFSA’s capacity was strengthened by the success of the May 2 lunch at Hyatt Regency Vancouver, which featured Kiva founder Jessica Jackley as the keynote speaker. After three years of declining donations, the 2017 event set a record – $340,224 has been raised from the lunch to date, writes JFSA chief executive officer Richard Fruchter in the agency’s May 24 enewsletter. The Edwina and Paul Heller Memorial Fund helped this year’s total by matching new gifts and any increases in renewed gifts to the event, up to a total of $25,000.
Co-chaired by Dr. Sherri Wise and Shannon Ezekiel, the lunch began with a welcome from Karen James, chair of JFSA’s board of directors. Fruchter then provided an update on the varied activities of the organization, including the services they offer the non-Jewish community. “We strive to make a difference for each and every person who walks through our doors,” he said.
This year’s short video shared the stories of a few people who JFSA has helped, including that of a young man struggling with anxiety and depression who received counseling at JFSA and a couple who received help finding needed subsidized housing for seniors. It also focused on the story of Tea and her father, Zadik.
“It’s remarkable to see a multi-generational story like Tea’s, whose family first arrived in Canada from wartorn Bosnia with almost nothing,” writes Fruchter in the May newsletter. “JFSA was there to welcome them, provide help and support as they adjusted to life in Canada and became productive citizens. Now, nearly 25 years later, we’re supporting her father, Zadik, a Holocaust survivor, through the [Claims Conference] Jewish Victims of Nazism program.”
At the lunch, JFSA board member and development chair Jody Dales told the audience of more than 600 that one of her and her husband’s main concerns is alleviating poverty, and that’s why they came to work with JFSA. She spoke about the importance of JFSA’s services for seniors with low incomes, and noted that this group includes Holocaust survivors. She spoke of the importance of the counseling that JFSA provides in a province where waitlists for psychiatrists can be eight months or longer.
JFSA spends more than $100,000 a year on operating the Jewish Food Bank and close to $400,000 making food vouchers available, said Dales. In the last few years, she added, the demand for vouchers has almost doubled and JFSA has had to reduce the amounts provided, from approximately $65 per month per individual, to $45. In addition, the agency has had to stop accepting new requests. Approximately five new people or families request to be put on the voucher list each month and all must be turned away, she said.
Shay Keil, director of wealth management at Keil Investment Group, introduced Jackley. Kiva, the microloan platform she launched in 2005, allows users to give loans of as little as $25 to entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. According to its website, Kiva has connected 1.6 million lenders with 2.4 million borrowers, facilitating almost $1 billion in microloans, which have a repayment rate of 97.1%.
In her Innovators talk, Jackley emphasized her journey from caring for the poor to helping them empower themselves, illustrating along the way how a small idea in social innovation, like Kiva, can grow and have such a large impact.
She told the Vancouver Sun in an interview, “I think people assume giving is a financial transaction, but what I am way more interested in and what changes the giver, is participating in someone else’s story and doing something outside your comfort zone, giving of your time, sharing a resource.”
“We all have something to offer, and it may not be money,” she also told the Sun. “As we expand the set of what we see as possible things to share, to give, I think we’ll see more abundance and possibility.”
The record revenue raised at this year’s Innovators comes at a time when the demands on JFSA are at record levels. The cost of living in Metro Vancouver, combined with rising food prices, particularly for produce, protein and dairy-based staples, is creating a crisis for many families, Fruchter told the Independent.
“In the past year, due to increasing hardship, the number of families having to use the Jewish Food Bank twice a month has almost doubled. Weekly phone calls seeking help with housing have also doubled over the past two years,” said Fruchter, and demand for help from new immigrants is also high.
“In the past year,” he said, “we have helped over 350 families make their new home in Canada.”
Matthew Gindin is a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Hootsuite’s Ryan Holmes speaks to an attendee at the Innovators Lunch on May 4. (photo by Sandra Steier)
More than 550 people at the Jewish Family Service Agency’s Innovators Lunch on May 4 raised more than $266,000 for the important services JFSA provides.
Starting the event at the Hyatt Regency, featuring Hoosuite founder and chief executive officer Ryan Holmes, was Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld who, before the motzi, said a few words about volunteer Elayne Shapray, whose funeral had been that morning. Incoming JFSA board chair Karen James also spoke about Shapray’s contributions, noting that she had been “honored with the highest volunteer award from JFSA, the Paula Lenga Award, for her quiet strength and years of support.”
When event chair Dr. Sherri Wise took to the podium, she thanked everyone involved in making the lunch possible, including her co-chairs, Shannon Ezekiel and Hillary Cooper. Richard Fruchter, senior management consultant at JFSA, added his thanks and, after a video about JFSA’s impact, introduced Dr. Neil Pollock who, with his wife Michelle, matched all new and increased donations to the lunch up to $20,000.
Pollock spoke about his family’s involvement with JFSA. In particular, he spoke about Dorita Flasker, who came to Vancouver from South America as a senior, having had all her wealth expropriated by her home country’s government. In the years since JFSA connected them, she and the Pollocks have become family, and they all recently celebrated her 80th birthday together.
Shay Keil of Keil Investment Group of ScotiaMcLeod, one of the lunch’s co-presenting sponsors, introduced the keynote speaker. Holmes founded Hootsuite in 2008, said Keil, taking the company from a small startup “to a global leader in social media with over 13 million users, including 800 of the Fortune 1000 companies.”
“My parents were both teachers – they left teaching in the ’70s to get back to the land, to become farmers,” said Holmes. “They bought a hobby farm. I grew up with goats, chickens … kerosene lamps, a water well in the Okanagan Valley.”
He discovered computers – “magical things” – at the library. The librarian noticed his enthusiasm and suggested he enter a schoolwide programming contest. Two months later, he won the contest – the prize, an Apple IIc computer, which had to be connected to the family car’s battery, as their home had no electricity.
His first business was a paintball company he started in high school. He went to university to study business, but dropped out and opened a pizza place, which he ran for a couple of years. After selling the restaurant, he moved to Vancouver, bought a computer and started learning how to build HTML websites. He got a job at a dot-com that crashed about six months later, so founded his own agency, Invoke. He continued to learn his craft and eventually hired employees. They had customers to whom they would provide computing services and they built a number of products, such as product-management and e-commerce systems.
“Around 2008, we started to do marketing on social media for our customers,” he said. “What we realized very quickly was that there weren’t very many tools out there to manage social media…. We needed a tool to help manage multiple team members and multiple social networks all from one place, and that was the aha moment for Hootsuite.”
Soon thereafter, Hootsuite was launched. Investors were found about a year later – “Remember, this was at a point when people were asking, ‘Is Twitter just a fad?’ ‘Is Facebook just the next MySpace or the next Friendster, is it going to be obsolete in a year?’ People didn’t know if social media was relevant and was here to stay.”
Hootsuite – which has about 800 employees – is headquartered in Vancouver, but has offices around the world. “We send 28 million messages a week and these messages reach three billion users across the planet every week.” Among those users have been the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, and the White House.
“We’re in an era of unimagined disruption,” he said, pointing to three trends driving it: social (sharing videos, for example, which can go viral), a more collaborative economy (businesses like Uber) and mobile.
“Sixty percent of people who complain on Twitter expect a response within one hour,” said Holmes. “So, if you’re a brand, if you’re a business, and you’re not there … it’s like you don’t have a website, like you don’t have a telephone…. The thing about social is there is an implied contract: you’re naked and transparent….” If customers do not get a response, “they’re going to talk about it over and over again and, so, you’re going to be brought into the open as a business.”
Holmes compared various communications technologies. “The telephone took 75 years to reach 50 million users, radio 38, television 13, LinkedIn six-and-a-half, Twitter four, Facebook three, Instagram 1.7. Adoption is happening quicker and quicker.”
He then talked a bit about Snapchat, and showed the audience how to use it.
About the next big thing, he hopes that, like “the PayPal mafia” – “a group of alum … [who are] driving a lot of the innovation that’s happening in Silicon Valley” – there will be a “maple syrup mafia.”
“I would love to see the alum of Hootsuite go on to create the next 10 Hootsuites within Vancouver and more within Canada,” he said.
Already, the B.C. technology sector employs more people than the mining, oil and gas, and forestry sectors combined. To create an even better ecosystem for innovation, he said, there are three key requirements: capital (money to build companies), environment (places for people to live and work) and talent (education and immigration, as there currently is a lack of supply).
“There is huge opportunity for people who want to head into this industry,” he said, predicting an increasing demand for these types of jobs.
During the question-and-answer period, Holmes responded to concerns about privacy – he believes the good aspects of technology outweigh the bad; housing – a problem for every business, he said, putting the onus on the government to increase supply, create more diverse product (not just 500-square-foot living spaces) and implement policies to control demand; and corporate responsibility, which he thinks will become more of an issue. To him, the lack of what once were basic skills – such as writing – is simply the evolution of language, the next steps being the keyboard and more voice-activated technology.
Innovators Lunch speaker Brian Scudamore with Kate, left, and her mother, Wendy, who received supportive services from Jewish Family Service Agency in a time of need. (Adele Lewin Photography)
The 2015 Innovators Lunch raised almost $296,000, with more expected. The total was boosted by speaker Brian Scudamore, founder and chief executive officer of 1-800-Got-Junk?, donating back his fee to the Jewish Family Service Agency.
On April 29, 545 people came out to hear Scudamore speak at the Hyatt Regency Vancouver. They also watched a video featuring several people who had been helped by JFSA’s programming and service provision, one of whom, Michael Narvey, addressed the crowd. The audience also heard from JFSA board chair Joel Steinberg, Beth Israel Rabbi Jonathan Infeld, day-of-event co-chairs Megan Laskin and Hillary Cooper and senior management consultant Richard Fruchter. Shay Keil of Keil Investment Group, which was a co-presenting sponsor with Austeville Properties, introduced Scudamore.
Though Scudamore dropped out of high school and out of university, he said, “I love to learn. I love asking questions, meeting people and learning why they are successful, what motivates them and drives them in life. It just happened to be that school did not work for me.”
So, he became an entrepreneur, with a focus on vision, people and systems. He illustrated the importance of these three things in the story of how he became a businessman.
In summer of 1989, he was one course short of high school. Knowing he wasn’t going to complete that course, he talked his way into Langara College, one of the four colleges he would attend briefly. His vision at the time was to go to college and that’s what he did. However, he had to find his own way financially, as his parents weren’t going to fund his studies, given his history: “I don’t think it was a good ROI [return on investment],” he admitted.
While waiting in the line of a McDonald’s drive-through, Scudamore noticed that pickup truck in front of him had the hauler’s phone number on the side. He thought, “What a great idea. I had a thousand dollars in the bank, took 700 of it to go buy a pickup truck of my own.” He spray-painted his number on the side and parked it in different locations around the neighborhood. “Mobile billboards got me business and, within two weeks, I had a business that was humming and making money.”
The experience of building something, his interactions with customers and having fun inspired him to consider business as a future. “My grandparents, my Jewish grandparents … ran a small Army Surplus store in a fairly impoverished area of San Francisco downtown. I used to go down every spring break, summer, Christmas holiday, Chanukah, go work at the store, and I loved it. I loved watching how they treated people. They were the only store on the street that wasn’t robbed once a week. In fact, in their history, they were only robbed twice because I saw that they would give an ear to anyone who came in…. They would never give money, but they would give love, attention and time of day to somebody. They developed a group of friends in the community and the word out on the street was that you just don’t mess with the Lorbers, they’re nice people.
“I learned that business wasn’t just about ringing the cash register and making money. It’s never been that for me, and thank goodness for the influence of my grandparents. For me, business is having fun, bringing people on board and building something special together.”
By 1991, he was at the University of British Columbia. Bored, he made a deal to sell his business, which fell through. This failure taught him “that the low moments precede the highs.” And something good did happen. He grew the business and, in 1992, on the advice of his then girlfriend, he told his business story to the press. The result: a front-page article in the Province. He described it as a “full-sized ad, for free…. I’m going to systematize this and start doing more.” That day, he not only “felt like a rock star,” but he got “100 phone calls in 24 hours.”
In 1993, he finally sat down with his dad to tell him that he was dropping out of university. He incorporated his business, went from one to three trucks and was at about half-million dollars in revenue by 1994.
He had 11 employees but nine of them weren’t the right fit, he said, so he fired them all. He took full responsibility for not being a good leader, for hiring the wrong people. He apologized, and learned from the experience. Among the most important lessons: “it’s all about people.”
He spoke about The EMyth, “the most incredible business book” he’s ever read, which recommends running your business like a franchise even if you don’t plan to make it one. Franchises tend to be more successful, he explained, because they are based on systems of best practices that can be replicated. He followed that direction and, in 1997, hit a million dollars in revenue.
He joined the (Young) Entrepreneur Organization. For him, “it was a way to learn from others, other businesspeople, entrepreneurs that had been successful. I could understand what works and what didn’t, and that filled my thirst for knowledge.” He also actively sought out mentors and people on whom he could rely for advice.
In 1998, he was “bored” and wanted more. He wrote a short list of possibilities, or goals, including “being the FedEx of junk removal,” being “on the Oprah Winfrey Show” – “I envisioned a future that was so crazy, but I started to read it and I’m, like, my craziness actually seems real to me. I could see the vision, the picture in my mind, and I latched on to it and I said I will make this happen – not if, I hope to, want to, will try to, I will make this happen, and I crystal-balled the future.”
At the time he wrote down this vision, he had almost 10 paycheques written to himself that he couldn’t afford to cash, and there were employees who quit over his new direction. Nonetheless, he began to learn about how to franchise. He spoke to many people, he got over hurdle after hurdle, including having to find out who owned the phone number 1-800-Got-Junk and buying it once he did – from the Idaho department of transportation – as he’d already designed the logo with the number. The first franchise was created in 1999 and it made $1 million in the first year, “because we had the systems.”
In the next several years, the focus was on franchising and also on systematizing the media aspect, which had proven so useful before. “Fortune magazine did this three-page feature and we had 506 inquiries in the first week, and I’ll say the first week was Thursday to Sunday.”
He asked his employees what they could imagine with regard to growing the business, with the caveat that they would have to take responsibility for bringing the idea(s) to fruition. The company also works with employees to help them set and accomplish personal goals and, in 2004, 1-800-Got Junk? won British Columbia’s best company to work for contest. They immediately set upon figuring out how they could win it again, not for the sake of winning, but to keep improving the business and the work environment.
At $100 million in sales in 2006, the rollercoaster descended, he said. They dropped $40 million in revenue and he had to fire his best friend – “thankfully he knows it was the right decision.” They were both quick shooters and the business needed a more cautious partner. In the end, the entire leadership team was changed, dozens of people laid off, “partially because of mistakes we made, partially because of the recession. It was awful.” Three and a half years of rebuilding, however, turned things around.
Scudamore has learned to embrace mistakes, to learn from them, and he encourages his employees to do so, as well. “If you’re not making mistakes, if you’re not getting out of your comfort zone and taking risks in life, you’re not living,” he said.
Once he found the right-hand person who best complemented his strengths and weaknesses, Eric Church, the business expanded into other companies, such as Wow 1 Day! Painting and You Move Me. He also expanded personally into other areas, such as becoming involved in Free the Children with his family, thanks to Lorne Segal. He “didn’t have this sense of philanthropic community” when he was a kid, but his daughters, now 10 and 7, believe they “can actually change the world.”
He said, “I believe that we all have a purpose to do something great in our lives and we’ve all got to get to building something, a family, community, charitable organizations and business.… I think, again, it comes down to, ‘It’s all about people.’ Can you inspire people, can you find the right people and treat them right?”
One thing Scudamore loves about community, “is people helping other people.” He concluded, “I don’t know if everybody knows their purpose and what they’re doing. I often believe sometimes you need to be a little crazy to think you can change the world, but I think that we’re all a little crazy, and I know that we can.”