Insights from Janet Bannister, founder of Kijiji
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At Entrepreneurship 101’s final Lived It Lecture of the year, we heard from Janet Bannister of Real Ventures, who spoke about her experience launching Kijiji, one of Canada’s most successful Internet brands, owned by eBay.
Bannister is passionate about helping entrepreneurs and their businesses reach their full potential, and had plenty of insightful advice for those wishing to go down the entrepreneurial career path. She spoke in detail about her experience and highlighted three key themes that have guided her in her professional and personal life.
1. Be proactive
Bannister stressed the importance of making opportunities for yourself, rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity to knock on your door. She has followed this mantra this since the early age of 15, when she realized she didn’t have enough experience yet for anyone to give her a job, so started her own business that summer selling healthy baked goods.
Later, it was this very same tenacity that landed her a job at eBay. She had no contacts in Silicon Valley at the time, but did some research, contacted people in the venture capital industry who she felt might relate to her and pursued the opportunity when one opened up at eBay.
2. Follow your passion
It’s easy to get caught up in others’ expectations, but what really matters in the end is what you yourself care about. After a number of years in Silicon Valley, Bannister realized she wanted to return to her roots in Canada and be closer to her family. She took the leap of faith and moved back to be Head of Product in Canada for eBay. It was in this role that she identified some fundamental issues in how Canadians browse and conduct online transactions. She pioneered the idea of an online classifieds, what we now know as Kijiji.ca, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What drives you might change over time, and it’s important to recognize that. Four years after the launch of Kijiji, Bannister was travelling all over the world and growing a successful product, but she was missing increasing amounts of time with her family. This was when she decided to take a step back and really think about what she wanted. After some time off work, Bannister went on to start her own consulting company, where she had more control over her work-life balance. Bannister was soon approached by Real Ventures and is currently a general partner at the firm, drawing on her experience as an entrepreneur to help others grow successful businesses.
3. It’s a small world and a long life: Treat people well
Having encountered many entrepreneurs and businesses, Bannister says that often investors’ decisions come down to whether they see themselves working with the team. Having a great business idea is important, of course, but if you have a reputation of treating your employees badly, or of being dishonest or difficult to work, it can be a deal breaker. On the other hand, even if your previous business failed, but you have a good reputation in the industry and are known to be a hard worker, investors will be more likely to hear you out and consider investing in your next idea.
Bannister recounted that she’s had many a time where having a good relationship with mentors and others in the industry opened doors for her, and she is always willing to pay it forward.
Canada has a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem
Bannister ended the Lived It Lecture on a great note. She reminded us that the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Canada today is as good as, if not better, than the one in Silicon Valley. She urges entrepreneurs to take advantage of the superior engineering talent, the people who are more loyal and willing to stick through the highs and lows than those elsewhere, and the vast support network of government entities and organizations like MaRS.
Hear more from Janet Bannister
These insights were just a few of the points Bannister explored. She also addressed questions from entrepreneurs in the audience and provided advice on suitable types of investment and the qualities she looks for in an entrepreneur when making an investment. Watch the videos to learn more!
Lessons from Kijiji Founder Janet Bannister
A crash course in venture capital
Entrepreneurship 101 course resources
And search “Entrepreneurship 101” on iTunes U.