The uncomfort zone

Fullscript CEO Kyle Braatz. File photo.

Since the original publication of the op-ed in 2015, Health Wave has renamed to Fullscript. It has been named Ottawa's fastest growing company for the past two years in a row.

Entrepreneurs are fueled by living outside their comfort zone. When things get comfortable, they always find a way to push the envelope.  

I know this first hand. For me, pushing the envelope means starting companies.

When I was 10 years old, I sold devil sticks. When I was 16, I started a handyman business. When I was 19, I started a beer distribution company in my university residence. (I watched Scarface too late to save that business.)

My next venture was a little more real.

In 2005, I lost someone close to me to cancer and later decided to cycle across Canada (with three friends) to honour his life and raise a little money for the Canadian Cancer Society. To make a real impact we needed to invest a lot. We needed to build the venture like we would build a startup. I dropped out of school for a year, leveraged credit to build a brand and web presence, raised money from family and friends by selling branded sweatshirts, raised more money through corporate sponsorships and partnered with firefighters across Canada (who are more susceptible to cancer) to co-ordinate events at each one of our stops. (This was our distribution strategy.)

In one summer, we cycled 8,200 kilometres, raised more than $150,000 and, most importantly, we told the stories of more than 72 inspiring Canadians who battled cancer.

The chaos and uncertainty that came with building Typically Canadian was like a drug that I craved and I was fortunate to hire a web developer who craved the same chaos I did.

My new co-founder and I would go on to run a design company during our last year in university. During this time, I lived three months behind in rent and carried a balance of $20,000 on my credit card. (Remember what I said about comfort zone?) The thing is I believed in what we were doing and felt pretty comfortable with where we were at and what we were going to accomplish. During the next two years we would create a hosted PBX software and an e-commerce platform for direct selling. They both failed.

We also created Simple Story Videos (SSV), which we quickly built into a seven-figure business that has grown 60 per cent year-over-year since inception.

The problem was that my co-founder and I loved creating SSV, but we wanted more. Thankfully, we had an amazing management team in place to run that company while we focused on our next venture. (P.S. I found a second passion, helping other people flourish as entrepreneurs.)

We reflected on why we weren’t fulfilled with SSV and believed the reason was two fold:

1. We needed something we were passionate about.

2. We needed an outrageously big vision filled with outrageously hard problems to solve along the way.

We needed something that we could work on for the rest of our lives without ever becoming bored.

HealthWave was the perfect outlet, born with a vision of creating a more integrative health care system. We launched the company in 2012, saw great traction and raised a round of funding from some amazing Ottawa angels. In 2013, we launched across the USA and the growth continued, 20 per cent month-over-month with minimal roadblocks. (We credit a lot of our early success to the Ottawa community where we had access to talent, mentors, and solid early-stage investors.)

We were in a good place, which truly felt uncomfortable. It was time to push our limits and step outside our comfort zone ... again … from a budget and experience perspective.

We hired, grew, raised capital, hired more and moved closer to our vision.

Over the coming months I will take you through the emotional journey that started at the end of 2013 with nothing but my car, my wife, my two dogs and eventually ended with our round getting closed. But that was after running out of cash, downsizing, depression, acquisition offers, a change in direction and finally … multiple term sheets!

We took uncomfortable to a whole new level. In the end, it paid off and I am excited to share this chapter of the story with everyone.

Kyle can be contacted on Twitter at @braatzy.