Ep 21 – Jordan Fowler – The Realities of Business
The Ambition Project – Calgary Entrepreneurial Podcast
The Ambition Project is a video series in which we interview successful and ambitious Calgary entrepreneurs and talk to them about their struggles, what they’ve had to overcome on their journey and valuable insights they have to share with up and coming business owners. The series will premiere on September 18th, 2018. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated or stream an episode on Spotify or iTunes.
Jonathan Hafichuk:Welcome Jordan, thank you for being apart of the series and taking the time to do this.
Jordan Fowler: I appreciate the invite.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah no problem, Jordan Fowler owns Urban Measure which is a local Calgary company. Do you want to tell us a little bit about what you guys do for services?
Jordan Fowler: Yeah for sure.
Jordan Fowler: So UrbanMeasure I started when I was 19 years old , I started back in 2003.Basically we provide a variety of measurement media solutions designed to help sell,rent and renovate real estate for residential and commercial properties.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome, So you work quite a bit with realtors , developers and stuff like that.
Jordan Fowler: Yup the whole works.We work with realtors,developers,commercial realtors,architects,interior designers,basically anything real estate related, home stagers even sometimes, anyone who really needs our services in the end because on that spectrum,on a realtor standpoint we have a variety of services to help them sell it including our [Inaudible] measurements and marketing floor plans and photography and videography on an interior design standpoint, for both residential and commercial , they need [Inaudible] floor plans and AutoCAD files in order to start their actual renovation process so we go out and recreate that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome, so you started in the industry when you were around 11 you said?
Jordan Fowler: I sure did.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And started your own business at 15, so tell us about that, how did you get into the industry,how did you go to that, starting your own business.
Jordan Fowler: So my dad actually was a realtor , so was my mom and my step sister so I come from a family of realtors. But when I was 11 years old that’s kind of when I really needed to be able to make an allowance. So that’s how I ran with it,I made my allowance by measuring houses, cleaning houses, doing whatever I could around all my dads listings that were coming up, he taught me to do it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And then at 15, how did you decide to start your own business?
Jordan Fowler: Basically I realized that there was a market through not only my dad, learning how to measure his places for an allowance but his buddies started giving me a call trying to get me to come and help them out , because they were a little bit unfamiliar, even to the extent where they just needed someone to hold the other end of the tape for them and then yeah, I decided to start a pro management because I wasn’t old enough to incorporate obviously until I was 18,just so I had the ability to write an invoice, I wasn’t allowed to charge GST but I was able to write an invoice, cut me a check right there, the only difference was I wasn’t able to drive because I was 15 so they had to pick me up and drop me off in order for me to come and help them up.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Thats awesome. And then you did that until 19?
Jordan Fowler: Yeah until I was about 19,obviously I just did it kinda on the side, I for being honest i actually had about 42 jobs in between that which doesn’t really make sense but I don’t know what it was, when I started that pro management company I kind of knew what I wanted to do , I knew what my intentions were down the road , I just really didn’t have anything else to go for, I really liked that concept and I knew it was what I was going to run with.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So how did you end up doing those other 42 jobs then?
Jordan Fowler: You know what , I try one thing if I wasn’t into it, i’d say see you later.Or if I showed up late to this job for whatever it was, I wouldn’t really argue about trying to stick around. I tried to just experience everything from working at Canadian Tire doing oil changes to oil rigs. It was just kind of all over the place doing whatever I could to make at least a little bit of cash here and there , knowing that I wanted to be an entrepreneur so basically every single thing I did in between didn’t matter.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And then at 19 you started UrbanMeasure?
Jordan Fowler: Yeah I sure did, actually , measures sorry I was 21 when I started that.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Sorry got my ages mixed up there
Jordan Fowler: No worries,So yeah at 21 started UrbanMeasure.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And you incorporated at that time , and I remember when we had our conversation, you went pretty hard when you were 20, 21. What did your days look like?
Jordan Fowler: Oh they were crazy, I remember,I don’t even remember counting hours, it was down to 22 hours a day sometimes I was working pretty much monday to sunday. I remember I actually had a friend, my friend chris and I used to just do my work for the day, go over to his place , throw on the tv and hang out with him. All night Id be still dressed in my suit, because that’s how I measured houses when I was ,Id go out dressed in a full suit, basically fall asleep with everything on my lap, my laptop on my lap and then, regroup, jump out the door and be out for another day.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So you would measure houses all day, and then go home at night and do the reports?
Jordan Fowler: Exactly I had to put everything together in the evening. As of right now I have an admin assistant that i’m able to hand the majority of that stuff off now so we have a sequence but back then it was all me.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How long did you keep up that insane work ethic for?
Jordan Fowler: A long time, at least about 5 years. Id say
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow, you went to post secondary as well too while you were working?
Jordan Fowler: I sure did,Yeah I went to SAIT and took my architectural technology and the reason I actually did that was I wanted to be able to elevate the service we had to offer and move from just measurements to be able to offer floor plans as well, as well as the renovation floor plans.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So in that 5 years that you were working like crazy and going to school , what kind of things did you have to sacrifice for business and for the school?
Jordan Fowler: Everything, seriously everything.I tons of my buddies were going to the University of Lethbridge and tons of them were going to the University of Calgary and a lot of times I just had to sacrifice that the fact that I couldn’t go out and enjoy myself like everybody else , I had a lot of friends that were going on holiday all the time or a lot of people going travelling all the time, obviously at that age when you’re 20,21 thats the time when all your friends go to [Inaudible] together or go to Europe together,but I didn’t get to. I think the first trip that I took , I actually remember it was with my girlfriend at the time and her family and we went to Phoenix for I think about a week, but even then I had my laptop on me the whole time, the first time I really left the country though.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you have any regrets around that?
Jordan Fowler: No I don’t actually at all.I think it’s almost opposite regret now because Im glad that I took the time when I was that age to get it out of the way opposed to struggling to find my way as I got a little older which is what I see in a lot of friends now.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah what motivated you to put in that time to work that hard?
Jordan Fowler: Freedom, pretty much freedom, one thing I learned with those 42 jobs is that I didn’t want to work for my entire life.Its not that I don’t want to work but I didn’t ever want to rely on my job in order to be happy or make an income. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do but have the freedom to do what I want.I just figured as far as me sacrificing those vacations, for the 5 or 6 year period , ive since pretty much got to travel the majority of the world, you know ive gone on lots, as soon as I hired that one last person, I went for 4 months, I travelled to Europe but I went not necessarily as some broke backpacker,I had the ability to go and spend some cash and have some fun and experience things that others may not have experienced.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah it’s a lot of entrepreneurs would rather work 80 hours for themselves than 40 for someone else, so you’ve had a few bumps on the road ,along the way, so how long has UrbanMeasures been running now then?
Jordan Fowler: Its been running since 2003,so over 15 years now
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s great,
Jordan Fowler: Yeah, so we’ve definitely had a few bumps on the road.
Jonathan Hafichuk: One of your first office spaces you were telling me about,a coworking space, tell me that story.
Jordan Fowler: So it actually was a great coworking space, actually my immediate employees, that’s where Iended up meeting them, all the employees that do my media, my photography that’s where i met them. It was a really good group of people down there, it was just a space off of 17th avenue that we all rented and overall we actually had a really good connections and were pretty good friends at the time.Unfortunately it didn’t result in the best ending because it kinda turned into we were funding the entire rennt for that space without knowing it when it was supposed to be a shared impact.
Jonathan Hafichuk: What did you do once you realized that.
Jordan Fowler: I just said , give me 4 months free rent and then were gone. So i stuck around and did my thing.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Early on, you hired a couple of people, one of them ended up leaving after you trained them, how did this happen and what did you learn from that experience?
Jordan Fowler: Unfortunately it’s actually 2 employees that ended up doing it,I had one guy who didn’t really mean as much to the company, it wasn’t as big of a deal,he wasn’t quite as trained as the other, he was kind of dispensable.It definitely made me realize that you can’t just put your trust in everybody.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And what about the other one?
Jordan Fowler: The other one, yeah she was a big hit , she was more so than the other guy,she was like family, [Inaudible] we had a lot of business development in general together,i don’t really know exactly what happened, but then one of our competitors obviously offered a better deal because now she’s actually the lead drafting role to their company,but the downside she basically took everything that I taught her as well as our client list, as far as I’m aware and brought it to him.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So how big of a hit did your business take?
Jordan Fowler: A pretty big hit because the competitor that she’s now working for was also my photographer for about the same duration that she was with us and then kind of out of nowhere he also decided to part ways and do his own thing,and that’s when she started going a little sideways in the company, started no showing her shifts, and out of nowhere they were working together.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Was there a point, a solid point in time when you realized that that had happened?
Jordan Fowler: Oh yeah,actually it was at the Calgary [ Inaudible] tradeshow, I hadn’t seen either of them in a few months and it only happened, she left in December and we bumped into that company in January, at the end of January offering our services, the exact same look, the exact same everything , I was like okay that doesn’t really make sense and we found out a little ways later.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what went through your head when you found that out?
Jordan Fowler: I was definitely a little devastated,not only because of who it was she went to, but because that guy stole everything from us to an extent, and that 4 and a half year duration that he was my photographer , he worked with all of our top clients, every single one of our top clients, and basically whatever happened I couldn’t act fast enough with the notice I was given, to replace him in order to get a photographer that can shoot equal quality, so I got to the point I had to almost surrender my clients to him,it was that or I lost them all together, which is what I ended up doing anyway.but i was kind of under the impression they come back to us eventually but couldn’t
Jonathan Hafichuk: What percentage of revenue do you think you lost in that time?
Jordan Fowler: I would say, at that point I had 4 photographers going just through his company at that point, pretty much full time, i’d say the revenue has to be anywhere between 250 to 500 a year
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow, how did you deal with that personally?What did you do to work through that? Because that would have been incredibly stressful.
Jordan Fowler: Well it was stressful for sure but we found another solution, we took photography off the menu for a little while until we found a proper solution to be able to attack the same target market.Unfortunately when you’re dealing with these higher end clients,they only want the best of the best, and I understand that so starting point is never the best of the best until you can even worry about if its even with that competitor, when he started with us his photography was very sub par , until we kind of worked with him and trained with him, and he got better and he just completely ended up mastering the service. So it kind of was a fresh start but one thing we did end up doing is taking our legalities very seriously and that’s one thing I never even considered questioning again moving forward.Every single one of our employees, subcontractors, doesn’t matter, they sign a non compete confidentiality agreement , just have to do it because that one thing I made a big error on, basically putting my faith and my trust in these guys more because I’ve always treated everyone in my company like family I guess you could say.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Would that be your advice for entrepreneurs, who have similar liabilities to ensure all the legal steps are in place to avoid other people stealing their clients?
Jordan Fowler: Yeah you definitely want to, even though, one thing ive learned it doesn’t really help that much, we spent a lot in lawyer fees trying to figure out how can we take them down, what can we do about this, what can we do about here, for all three of them and in the end, basically the court rules that they have to work, regardless of how they get their business to an extent. But then with the legal documentation I have in place, I at least have a timeline, I know the rules, because the biggest issue before was I kind of cheaped out , I used a website called lawdepot.ca, on my initial documentation but who would have known ? It seemed like it was a legit document, a lot of people print their bills of sale off of there, a lot of people print their lease agreements off of there so it’s actually a pretty reputable company to be going with but , as someone whos not a lawyer, I wasn’t aware that you couldn’t just say an indefinite time period.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I imagine Ben probably shook his head.
Jordan Fowler: Oh yeah, big time Ben shook his head. But you know what since working with Ben now i’ve learned alot like tons about this legal side of things. At least we have it broken down where employees aren’t allowed to act on it for at least a minimum of 6 months , which you know what it gives us a little bit of leeway for us to be able to regroup , maybe block the load a little bit, or delete a lot of the stuff they may have received or learn while they were with us,maybe make some changes and progress to our current business models so they couldn’t just copy exactly what we had at the time.And then on subcontractors stadoint it’s actually 2 years as long as they have the proper documentation in place so from the second that that agreement is terminated its 2 years that they can’t compete with you or go after your clients.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So in your years in business what have you learned in terms of who you should hire and who you work best with and how to go about that so other entrepreneurs can learn from your experience.
Jordan Fowler: I guess most important when it comes down to it, is just depends if you vibe with each other in the initial interview process because we’ve had a lot of people come in and they’re so qualified , their schooling is in check, their resumes are one of the nicest things you’ve ever seen, but then they sit down and you can’t really connect with them that well. Which right there, i’m likeI don’t know, the way I look at it is like would i welcome this person in my family? Because that’s what it becomes, you work with them all day , everyday.I just feel like obviously, there’s a lot about our when we’ve done our hiring where we’ve actually tried to hire green.So they have their schooling, we don’t really want them to have a ton of experience and that’s because we like to mold them into exactly what we want and I find when you hire with too much experience, then they actually come with too many , I don’t want to say issues, but habits, where it’s tough for them to break it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Interesting, so you’ve scaled to quite sizeable business at this point,revenue wise, what would you attribute your ability to grow your revenue to?
Jordan Fowler: What do you think well be able to?
Jonathan Hafichuk: No like what do attribute your growth to? Like how did you get to where you are?
Jordan Fowler: So basically wat attributed it to that in my opinion , first off would be my staff actually because I have the best staff in the world, like i get i’ve had a few hiccups here and there but i’ve got the best team ever. When it comes down to my regional manager,my sister who works for me as well, she’s our admin manager , Ten is our field manager,Danny,Tyler,Mike,Brandon,Ryan, there are all some of the best people I’ve ever worked with in my life.And every single one of them i feel cares about the company as much as I do. Dave as well, Dave will step in, Dave has only been with us for about a year now but I feel like it makes a big impact when you’ve got the customer service level we do from every single employee involved including my entire media team
Jonathan Hafichuk: How would you advise or suggest that entrepreneurs deal with that rollercoaster in business, because I think it’s pretty rare that ,that doesn’t happen to entrepreneurs.
Jordan Fowler: No it doesn’t, I remember being told the same thing over and over, my dad is always giving me really good advice about this stuff, when people say that its up and down with business, they’re not lying at all because it is up and down. You got through these peak periods where you’re on top of the world, and you can spend like crazy and you don’t even really think about it and suddenly you’ll have even a bad month can slow you down, and suddenly you need to start looking at all your expenses and you’re like oh crap what was I thinking, even with me when we were doing really well , I don’t even know how I did it , some of my google ad bills were 5 to 10 thousand dollars a month just because I wasn’t paying attention.I think most importantly,it’s important to realize that it’s going to happen, always prepare for it always save for those rainy days, and just make sure you save for those rainy days because they’re coming , whether you feel that they are coming or not , be patient and just be positive and stay positive that those days will get better when they’re down.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I think that’s really good advice, and what advice do you have for new entrepreneurs just starting out?
Jordan Fowler: New entrepreneurs? Don’t pay a lawyer. It’s 1500$ to incorporate your business, sorry Ben.
Jonathan Hafichuk: I don’t think that’s his bread and butter anyways,
Jordan Fowler: So many of these businesses I find that go to these legal firms to incorporate their business and they’ll spend thousands of dollars getting everything set up though these legal firms, if you just go to the registry to incorporate the business its 300$, maybe its 400$ now ,where back in the day it was 300$. Done.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That’s good advice, what advice do you have for surviving the first 5 years in business, because that’s where they lose most?
Jordan Fowler: For sure, yeah , like I said keep your expenses down and your head high,because you gotta keep going, if you even give a little bit you’re pretty screwed but even now I see a lot of people and a lot of friends who try and start a business and they think it’s just going to take off overnight and in my opinion that’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make, doesn’t matter how much money you save or have in the bank, or how great your idea is. 99% of businesses don’t take off overnight so work, have another job,have that other job readily available, have another skillset, for example even when I first started UrbanMeasure, none of my main jobs that I worked was taping drywall so I went to work the rigs for quite a while, I think I was 18 or 19 but that more to save for my schooling and save for everything else while I was doing pro measurement, but outside of that I also taped drywall for a long time. And the only reason I taped drywall , it’s not because I enjoyed it, it’s because a friend of mine, we both kind of had, he was really good at it and I was sub par at it but it was just enough to make the process go smoothly. At that point you can charge 1200$ for a house and then him and I would just do it together , we didn’t work for another company, again we just started this whole entrepreneurship doing that,where we just kind of split it down the middle and we were able to do this side by side and just the best way for me to make money at the time that wasn’t my business.
Jonathan Hafichuk: We have a lot of these people that are looking to start businesses and they look at how big their market is and assume they can get a percentage of that and it often doesn’t happen, just because you start a business doesn’t mean you’re going to have customers, or like how many people will adopt a service and it doesn’t necessarily happen, a lot of people fail to plan for the what if it doesn’t go that way, so that’s really tough.
Jordan Fowler: Its true, which is why I say you got to have a job for the first bit, like obviously you’ll have to commit yourself to going full time, even when I first started UrbanMeasure , I remember I had to make rent, that’s all I had going at the time I just buckled down and made rent that month, and then I made rent the next month,and then things got a little slower because in real estate things go down a little bit so I’d go back to taping drywall a little bit and then back to UrbanMeasure, it was kind of back and forth the whole time.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah that’s always mixed view on that point whether people should just drop it and go all in and start their business, whenI interviewed Graham Sherman, he said you just gotta go all in , everything is riding on you so you’re forced to succeed, but at the same time other people like Gary Vanerchuk , is like work another job and at night and weekends work on your business until it’s sustainable.I haven’t fully formulated an opinion, I think to a degree it depends on what your overhead is,if you have a family you don’t want to risk everything right, but if you don’t have a lot of living expenses and you don’t have a family , I feel it’s more realistic to try and go all in , especially if you have a proven model at least to some degree.
Jordan Fowler: Oh yeah , I definitely think those people have balls, the ones who just go for it, it’s pretty tough to do,
Jonathan Hafichuk: Scary.
Jordan Fowler: It’s scary. I’ve definitely tried it a few times but i’ve always had to dip back and go back but he’s right as far as doing it in the evening and weekends, I think the goal is to swap that , so you can add something else in the evening and move that to the daytime, so at least put the majority of your focus on it but if you still need that job at least you can swap whatever else you’re doing to the evening and weekends.
Jonathan Hafichuk: That makes sense it’s kind of like when I started my business, I was doing a little bit of work for my parents and coaching some gymnastics and stuff like that on the side, and like a combination of jobs I was able to make the business work at the beginning, ya that makes sense. So what are your goals both personally and for the business in the next 5 to 10 years?
Jordan Fowler: So I guess with personal, I feel like every single book that I read it, it’s always telling me I need 6 points of income to kind of become the millionaire you want to be one day so i’ve been a little bit of focus on that , where I’m planting seeds all over the place and seeing what comes of it , so we got a couple of little businesses on the go, obviously in the next while id like to start a family with a great girlfriend, and on a business standpoint, definitely been revamping this business a lot to become a franchisable business, so that would be the goal, whether its North American wide or just nationally, but id like to get the ball rolling on it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Do you want to talk about those other businesses at all?
Jordan Fowler: Sure , we can talk about them, so basically , “I Do Sweet Shit” is basically just a social media platform that basically I just repost other social medias,everyday people doing sweet shit that they feel accomplished for, so that started, I was actually at a rope swing like a cliff jumping area at Invermere BC, with a friend of mine and I was being a huge wuss and I wouldn’t do the rope swing. And so i remember he looked at me and said “ Do sweet shit Jordan, do sweet shit, you never do sweet shit!” and i was like you’re right I never do sweet shit so I got up there and I ended up doing it and I remember the feeling that it gave me to be like holy crap I actually did it, that was wild. Because it wasn’t just a little rope swing , this thing was you had to climb 15 steps , hug down on this little tree and it would fly you for probably 150ft and then you finally hit water by the time you’re about 30ft in the air.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Oh man, I’ve seen so many rope swing fail videos.
Jordan Fowler: Oh yeah, And this one was like , this was the definition of rope swing fail, like if you fail you were hurt.
Jonathan Hafichuk: And you’re organizing trips now with that too right?
Jordan Fowler: Yeah, we are, now we’re kinda transitioning it, were struggling to learn good methods t o monetize it, we’ll figure it out, i don’t really know quite yet because it’s kind of transitioned to the point where it almost could become like a Red Bull concept, where we just organize all these sweet events,and sponsor athletes but there’s also the ability to host adventure tours, so we’ve thrown a few of those in the last while. There’s one actually coming up in March called Rally The Valley so it’s a second annual, where we partner up with a bunch of companies including Big Rock, including Redbull, including Team Voodoo which is a professional snowmobiling group in the Radium area. Last year we end up having an audience of over 300 people who ended up showing up for this thing. Yeah it was a nice big party in the parking lot, then everybody just went sledding for the day, big air competition so now this year it’s going to happen again so were taking part in that again.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Very cool, we’ll have to get Greg involved , he does a bunch of stuff like snowboarding and paragliding and dirt biking and stuff…
Jordan Fowler: So you do sweet shit! Nice, find us and tag us! That’s the concept of “I Do Sweet Shit” though, its giving the everyday person a place to shine and a little bit of a humble brag, You see all these different platforms out there, where you submit yourself doing random funny things or whatever it is and they’ll repost your video.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Are you guys on TikTok?
Jordan Fowler: Not on TikTok, no,
Jonathan Hafichuk: Apparently it’s getting crazy views on anything like that, you should definitely get on TikTok.
Jordan Fowler: Is it really? Ok TikTok
Jonathan Hafichuk: I guess like the Instagram engagement was back in the day
Jordan Fowler: Yeah that’s cool, I guess the next business, it’s been a weird concept i’ve been working on for a couple of years now, actually it’s a buddy of mine we kind of just joked around back and forth the past bit, just because in the summertime I like to wear strap velcro sandals,where everyone calls them dad sandals. So on the dad sandal concept hasn’t really been coined, so we’re now in the process of developing a product called The Dad Sandal Club where everyone can join the dad sandal club, and I guess the idea would be to have this dad box where we have the dad strap sandals, then you’ve got maybe some lawn fertilizer , you got a sleeve of golf balls,just get him a whole dad box together, kind of easy, one click, ship off, done.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Cool sounds like fun , awesome well thank you so much for taking the time,I appreciate it and I appreciate you telling us your stories and insight.
Jordan Fowler: Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Our first sponsor is Symbol Syndication, which is a video production company that I started. We do video production and online marketing for businesses of all sizes ranging from Solopreneurs to Fortune 500 companies.
Our second sponsor is Gravity Cafe, they have been gracious enough to give us their space, the coffee is awesome, they have live music 3 nights a week, the beer is great it’s an awesome place to come hangout.
Our next sponsor is Flagship Business Brokers, Flagship Business Brokers provides entrepreneurs with support through the purchase,sale or financing of a business they have a proven track record of delivering fast, cost efficient and client focussed transactions.
Another sponsor of the Ambition Project is BusinessLink. BusinessLink is Alberta’s entrepreneurial hub.They are a non profit organization that helps people navigate the steps towards starting their own businesses. Just because you’re in business for yourself doesn’t mean you’re in business by yourself. BusinessLink’s team of in house start-up experts are there to support you all along the way.
Subscribe for more of The Ambition Project
Thanks for reading through this episode’s transcript, we hope our discussion inspired you! For more inspirational discussions from local entreprenures, head to our TAP page here, or click on the links below to subscribe on the platform of your choice!