Dragons' Den star Manjit Minhas reveals how to build a successful business

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      (This story is sponsored by the #BCTECHSummit)

      British Columbia is Canada’s most entrepreneurial province. Last year, a Shopify survey revealed that more than 39 percent of West Coast residents have gone into business for themselves, either as a side hustle or full-time job. Government statistics detail that companies in the province with fewer than 10 employees account for 80 percent of all organizations and employ a near-majority of B.C.’s total private-sector workers. In short, British Columbians are born businesspeople.

      Few individuals, however, understand how to make it as an entrepreneur better than Manjit Minhas. After cofounding Minhas Breweries, Distillery and Winery at the age of 19, the beer baroness will this year celebrate her second decade in business. Although many know her name from the craft tipples and stronger drinks sold in her native Calgary and 17 countries around the world, Minhas found herself in the national spotlight after signing on as a dragon on CBC’s Dragons' Den. Four seasons later, she has invested in and mentored 31 different companies—a résumé that lends her a unique expertise on the skills needed to grow an idea from concept to profit.

      “It’s unbelievable to me how fast—within minutes—I know whether or not I’m going to give them an offer or be part of their team,” she tells the Georgia Straight, discussing what it takes to secure her commitment in the Den. “It’s unbelievable to me, thousands of pitches later, how many people don’t know math or don’t understand their financials. I don’t expect you to regurgitate your balance sheet to me, but the basics as to your margins, your costs, your pricing, your overheads—those things are vital, because you could have the best product or service in the world, but if you can’t handle the money, you will not be around. So many entrepreneurs don’t realize that. They’re trying to create something so life-changing and disruptive that they forget that they’ve got to sell it and that they’ve got to keep the money from what they sell. That’s business.”

      The key to a profitable company, Minhas says, is negotiation. Not just a talent that separates the top salespeople from the mediocre, the art of the deal is vital to founders who want to find success rather than fizzle out. Learning early on that everything is up for discussion, Minhas became a strong believer that it’s possible to leverage more than just the price of a product, including storage, warehousing, or bonus items. Even after creating a company taking in upwards of $155 million annually, she still makes time to learn new techniques.

      “One of the biggest mistakes that entrepreneurs make early on is that they don’t negotiate,” she says. “Negotiation, unfortunately, isn’t something that we’re taught in school, growing up, or in any part of our education—it’s always a taboo subject. But one of the biggest components of my success is negotiating. I’m constantly coming up with and changing my own tactics and skills around it. It’s the only course I still take two decades into being an entrepreneur. I think it’s so important to everybody in the company, whether they’re a brewer or a salesperson or an accountant, because when you add it all up, it can literally make or break a business.”

      Deft negotiations have a lot to do with an entrepreneur’s personality, Minhas suggests, and there are a number of traits that she recommends would-be founders to cultivate. As well as creating a great product, a CEO’s ability to be flexible is vital to growing a successful organization—and with it the capability to handle failure. Things never go according to plan, Minhas says, and being able to swivel into a new niche without becoming disheartened can be the difference between profit and loss.

      “I think courage is really important,” she says. “I’ve always believed that courage doesn’t mean that you’re never afraid—it just means that you’re not letting the fear stop you. You can’t be 100 percent sure of anything. But it can be good enough that you decide to keep moving forward and put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Sometimes you have to talk yourself into things, which is the life of an entrepreneur.”

      Now a successful speaker as well as a beer tycoon and TV personality, Minhas is billed as a keynote speaker at the #BCTECHSummit, where she will expand her thoughts on the key principles and values that can be applied to any business or industry. Keen to examine the innovations rocking the tech world, the investor is looking forward to meeting individuals creating products and services beyond the norm.

      “I’m always excited to see what entrepreneurs are coming up with—their ideas of disruption and where they feel the future is going to go,” she says. “I love meeting people who are creating and asking a lot of questions and thinking outside the box. I think the greatest ideas come from it. And when you have not only an event but a group of people and location that fosters that, it’s always interesting to be part of those conversations. I look forward to meeting and talking to people in such a dynamic and fast-changing world and seeing what everyone else is thinking.”

      Manjit Minhas will speak at the #BCTECHSummit at the Vancouver Convention Centre on March 12

      Kate Wilson is the Technology Editor at the Georgia Straight. Follow her on Twitter @KateWilsonSays