People become entrepreneurs for lots of reasons. Some entrepreneurs are made: they respond to opportunities in the market, they have a higher risk tolerance, they do cost/benefit analyses and then they proceed. Others are born… John Prentice, founder of Ample Organics, was born this way.
John didn’t become an entrepreneur because he chose to, but because he needed to; it’s his biological imperative. For John, success isn’t a stable job and lazy Sundays, it’s the freedom he can only build for himself. Work/life balance is a very different concept when you’re born into entrepreneurship; there are no breaks, because his work is his life and his life is his work.
This mentality has always been a part of John. Not having grown up in a wealthy family, he never had the opportunity to take a break. “I knew what it was like to walk up the road to the neighbors and borrow some furnace oil to get through the weekend,” he tells me. He knew that if he wanted something more, it was up to him to make it happen.
This is one of the reasons John started his first business in elementary school. He quickly came to dominate the market for playground lizard retail… yes, John’s first business was selling live lizards to his classmates. This first attempt at entrepreneurship had all the makings of a real, albeit small, business: he found a supplier, identified a market, and developed customers.
Entrepreneurship spawned from this. “It was something I could do on my own.”
John earned some more cash in his teens by building and selling gaming computers, but his first real business success was Elan Games, a chain of PC gaming centres that grossed over $1.5 million annually and won him an ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’ award in 2009. He was 23.
The market changed overnight, though, and John had to move on to the next thing. It’s at this point that John speaks sparingly of the only desk job he has mentioned so far – a position he held briefly at a medical supply company of some description. It doesn’t seem to interest him.
“I worked at a medical supply company. Hated it,” he states bluntly, completely skimming over the part where he was the CIO. “It was a means to starting my next thing. I worked along for a couple years, and then after Elan came Ample.”
Ample Organics is the unseen core of Canada’s burgeoning cannabis industry. Weed might be legal now, but that doesn’t mean everyone and their pet can start growing and selling. Ample provides intelligent software solutions for cannabis production needs, integrating growth tracking, lab processing, ecommerce modules, and compliance reporting functionality for their clients. With 70% of Canada’s licenced producers working with Ample software already, they’re becoming the standard in this new(ly legal) industry.
If you’re beginning to suspect that John’s entrepreneurship and technological prowess go hand-in-hand, you’re only partly right. Obviously, there’s no denying that John knows his way around a computer. But if all he wanted was to work with computers and build cool software, there are easier ways than building entire companies.
Each one of his businesses, from lizards to gaming centres to software solutions, has been a means for John to own his freedom.
And freedom isn’t just about money or opportunity – freedom is knowing what you want and pursuing it with everything that’s in you.
Freedom is self-direction; freedom is extreme ownership, and in this case that meant building something from the ground up, and going ‘all in’ with capital, with personal time, with mental cycles… Everything goes into it, because your work is your life’s passion, and your passion is your work. There is great meaning in the struggle, and the life of an entrepreneur like John simply means fighting under your own flag.
Some people are perfectly happy to live in a world built for them, but other people need to create the world anew. And while employees can be either active or passive within their track in an organization, the entrepreneurs they work for can’t ever be passive. An employee has the luxury of deciding how much ownership they want of the world the entrepreneur has constructed. It all depends on what you’re comfortable with.
“I think people get really hung up in their comfort zone,” he tells me, “and they don’t want to make changes. They get satisfied and complacent with who their friends are, and who their network is, and they’re perfectly comfortable with their existences. I think people limit themselves by getting complacent. I’ve never been satisfied with stagnation – I’m always looking for more change.”
Solving problems and putting out fires seems to be John’s comfort zone, as long as he’s moving forward. It’s this drive and confidence that draws similarly talented and resolute people to him, including his wife. Although her fiscal conservatism contrasts starkly with the calculated, but capital-intensive, risks John takes in the name of creating something of value for consumers, she has confidence in his ability to solve the present crisis and move onto the next one.
“The idea of me quitting [as CIO] and starting a company was inevitable for her, and she was good about it,” John says. His wife Amy, now the director of PR and communications for Ample, was largely responsible for supporting the two of them financially during the most stressful parts of Ample’s origin.
Having someone who understands and supports the entrepreneurial madness is essential to having a work/life balance when work and life are one and the same.
Ditto for his team. In the early days of Ample, no future was certain. John relied heavily on his staff to commit to the cause and take ownership of their collective future, no matter how unclear that future was at any moment. His team brought into the strength of his vision and passion, and gave him anything he and the company needed to build momentum.
John’s carefully selected team got him through the rough patches, and continues to move the company forward as they tie the cannabis industry together. But Ample is increasingly stable and self-sustaining, and the challenges of the startup environment are slowly dissipating and giving way to the challenges of scale.
If you think this is a good thing, you’re not John. There’s a reason some people build worlds, and it’s not just so they can stamp their face into Mount Rushmore. John was born into a grey area where there were no clear rules – no right answers. This kind of ambiguity leaves most people searching for structure in frantic confusion, but John likes it this way.
When everything is grey and there are no answers, he’s the one who gets to dictate what’s black and what’s white. And when people follow him into the grey area, they’ll find that he’s left clearly defined rules and answers for them before leaping into another, even broader patch of grey. As soon as grey turns into black and white, an entrepreneur looks for more grey to work with. That’s what an entrepreneur does.
There’s always more to a story than can fit on a page. Get in touch today to learn more about my story, or to find out how I can help change yours for the better.
Shane Gagnon is the Director of Clarity Recruitment Vancouver, with six years of experience in the industry. This is his personal blog, where you can expect to find not only insights from his endeavor to disrupt the recruitment industry, but also a glimpse into his pursuit of a satisfying career for himself and the finance/accounting professionals of Vancouver. Join Shane for each new post, as he reveals the journey that brought him here, and where he plans to go next.