Entrepreneur Brett Wilson comes to Ryerson

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Brett Wilson, signing autographs for fans at Ryerson.

“Two weeks ago I had a phone conversation with my daughter that ended with her hanging up on me. So you ask me ‘Was it worth it?’. I don’t have the relationship with my children that I want. So I can’t say for a moment it was worth it,” says Brett Wilson, Canadian entrepreneur and former investor on CBC’s Dragon’s Den.

Wilson was at Ryerson, last Monday (Nov. 12), to speak about being the first Canadian to major in entrepreneurship and his new book “Redefining Success – Still Making Mistakes”. The interview was conducted in front of a live audience by Sean Wise, professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Ted Rogers School of Management and online host and industry advisor for Dragon’s Den, and filmed for the Naked Entrepreneur – Wise’s online video series that features high profile interviews with Canadian entrepreneurs. Wilson’s visit also marked the start of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the world’s largest celebration of the innovators and job creators who launch startups and bring ideas to life, that ran from Nov. 12 to 16.

Wilson told this story about his daughter to prove his message of balance to aspiring entrepreneurs, something he says he learned the hard way.

“There’s no question I spent 10-15 years building my wealth. At the time I thought I was doing it for my family, but eventually it became an obsession,” he says. “I have way more than I will ever need. I spent all this time of my life accumulating this wealth that I’m just going to give away.”

He’s now encouraging young entrepreneurs to adopt a multifaceted definition of success, one that balances family and work.

“If I could go back in time and tell my old self one piece of advice it would be to not have this single-minded pursuit of wealth,” he says. “It’s being cognizant that when you spend that late night at the office you realize that it’s an expensive one, in terms of the time you could spend with your family, and that it better be worth it.”

Wilson also talked about his time on Dragon’s Den, a show he said he originally hated before he became involved. He believes that the show didn’t treat people with dignity and that investors asked dumb questions. Despite the fact that he struggled sitting on set listening to the commentary, he liked that the show planted seeds in entrepreneurship.

During his time as a dragon, Wilson brought his investing in the jockey (not the horse) mentality. He says he stopped putting money into just ideas and started investing in people who knew their ideas.

“Intelligence, passion and tenacity. These are the three things I look for in an entrepreneur,” he says. “You have to have the courage to stay in the saddle and keep riding.”

He cited one of the deals he made in the den as an example of this “keep riding” mentality. The original deal didn’t end up working out, but the guy ended up coming back to him with another idea, which Wilson says is projected to make $20 million in revenue this year.