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In the Media




Dealfind.com co-founder's
crash course in 'Net commerce


Geology major learned quickly that 'business is common sense'—most of the time

Sean Fine, ROB Newspaper - Thursday February 2nd, 2012

He once made 100 cold calls before closing his first sale—for $59. Today, his company has 324 employees and is growing quickly in Canada and the United States. Gary Lipovetsky, with no formal business education, learned how to be an entrepreneur on the job. And he discovered that, as a friend and mentor had told him, business is common sense.

His company, Dealfind.com, an Internet group-buying firm, offers "flash sales" over the Internet with merchants in 50 cities in North America, including 28 in Canada. Mr. Lipovetsky, the 38-year-old president and co-founder, majored in geology at the University of Western Ontario. (Joel McLean, the friend who told him business is common sense, is president and chief executive officer of Info-Tech Research Group, a global consulting company based in London, Ont.) Dealfind.com's headquarters are in Toronto, and it has offices in New York and San Jose, Calif.

How does business come down to common sense?
Whether you're doing $1 million in revenue or $100 million or $1 billion, running a business comes down to making decisions—and knowing that you're going to make mistakes. It's being able to take in information from a hundred different places at once. It's a constant day-to-day evaluation of everything that's going on around you. I have to make probably a thousand decisions a day, from operational small decisions to big decisions about how we're going to steer the boat.

How does an entrepreneur develop that judgment or common sense?
The first thing is to get over the gulf of self-doubt. First you have to not be afraid to make the wrong decision. The way to develop that skill and logic is through practice and trial and error. The common sense is really developed through practice. There's no shortcut. It's just about doing it.

Tell me about what you gained through your experience at your first business, MenuPalace.com.
We started MenuPalace back in 1999. It's an online restaurant directory. Mike [Tulman, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Dealfind.com] and I went door to door, pitching restaurants on the value proposition of having their hours, their operation, their menus, pictures of their restaurant on the Internet and searchable on our directory. I must have had about 100 meetings. On my 101st, I made a sale to a small pizza-by-the-slice takeout place for $59 for one year of advertising. I learned eventually what I needed to do to overcome the rejection and get someone to close.

How did that business set the stage for Dealfind?
With MenuPalace we had a really good platform. We had all the different pieces of the puzzle. We weren't starting from scratch. We had proper relationships with merchant processing, credit card processing. We had a finance team. We had a sales team. We had a team of programmers, on a very small scale. We had Web designers. We had media buying experience. It was a big advantage having that platform and experience.

What was a key hurdle you overcame in developing as an entrepreneur?
The biggest hurdle any entrepreneur faces is himself – that fear, that getting over that hump. The key hurdle is knowing that there's a bunch of hurdles and no one owes you anything. You've just got to keep pushing. All I've ever known is how to keep pushing. No day is easy. Sometimes there's ups, sometimes there's downs. When there's ups, it's important not to get too cocky and when there's downs, it's important to push through until you're back up.

How do you avoid procrastinating or staying up all night over decisions?
I've got a team of people I consult with. You have to be humble enough to know that you can't know everything. I've got a CFO, a CTO, a CMO, a CEO. These people are extremely skilled in their specific field. The way not to procrastinate on a decision is to get all of the facts, have a good team of people to support you.

What advice do you have for small Internet-based businesses?
Understand technology. I consider myself the average consumer. What appeals to me, chances are other people will like it, too. Build the applications and the layouts and have things run the way you, the user, would want to see them run.

What does Dealfind.com have to do to stay competitive?
We always try to stay ahead of the curve and innovate. When the market or competitors move one way, we try to compensate and move the other way.

An example?
Our big competitors were buying up media [advertising] like crazy to get subscribers. We decided to give an incentive to our loyal customers. If they like a deal they can share it with their friends and start making money. We share the profits from the deals with our ambassadors. It proved to be very effective. We pay out a tonne of money every month. There are people making a living doing it.

What is your vision of the company's future?
In Canada, we're in all the cities I think we can be in. In the States, we're only in 22 cities. There's the potential to be in about a hundred cities in the U.S. It's also getting deeper within each city, having more members in each city. If we've got a million members in a given city, we want to get to five million, cover the whole population. We're getting into a much more diverse product offering. We mastered the local part of the business: independently owned and operated stores, dry cleaners and restaurants and spas and automotive garages. We just ran a deal for the Canadian-based hockey magazine, Hockey News. We're selling sunglasses. We're going to be getting into electronics. We're talking to national retailers that have a much larger footprint.

What is a lesson of your success?
I think the reason we're successful is that even at this point, I don't feel we're successful. Mike and I always feel that regardless of where we are, we're always thinking about where we need to be. If you don't have that growth curve, if you get complacent, there will always be someone younger and hungrier coming in to do it better.

What did the lack of a business education mean to you?
I had to learn everything for myself. I didn't have any preconceived notions of how a business should be run. I didn't have any preconceived notions of how to sell. To a certain degree it was an advantage. Looking back at it now, if I had the opportunity to go to school, it would be great to get a formal education.

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