For anyone missing their regular dose of kickstart blog material, please visit our Writers in Residence page on the Open Book:Toronto site.

For the month of May, 2008, we will be writing our blog as a part of their great project. Have a look around! But then, after May, please return to this site.

Tomorrow morning (Wednesday, March 26th), Paul will reach his life’s apotheosis when he appears on City TV (Toronto)’s Breakfast Television alongside Kevin Frankish (who has a great start-up story of his own). The interview will go on air sometime between 7 and 8am and will no doubt feature a suspender-off.

We’ve always tried to make Kickstart’s underlying philosophy one of helping others. The book tries to use the words of successful Canadians in order to point the way for those young adults whose real lives are just beginning. We include ourselves, for obvious reasons, in this latter category. We’ve learned an awful lot from those who were generous enough to donate their time. Whether it’s about being a ballerina, an entrepreneur or a librarian, we feel that others can learn a lot too.

But maybe there’s something for which we can actually help…

Publishing. This has been a question many young people have on their minds these days – especially those looking to try their hand at writing. Do we have any advice? Well, perhaps. We’re just starting out on this adventure known as publishing a book: hell, we haven’t even had our launch yet. But, with the help of our great publisher Dundurn, we’ve learned a thing or two about getting our book into stores.

First of all, money talks. Every time you see a cookbook at the front of a bookstore, or wonder why your favourite novel has its own little shelf under the Fiction category, there’s a reason. At the large retail chains this usually has to do with how much push a book is getting from its publisher. It’s not the staff being creative with a store’s presentation (which is what we’d always thought). Every placement is the result of a specific agreement, usually made at the top of the chain of command.

We’ve already tried to seek out our book in the great Indigos of Toronto. One particular store was hording it in the backroom, which is understandable: it usually takes a few weeks for a bookstore to process a delivery of books from a distributor. We had to push for them to agree to bring the book to the shelves a little early. Thank you, Indigo.

In fact, in this country, a lot relies on that particular chain. Say what you will about the disappearance of small mom and pop operations, if you get your book into Indigo/Chapters, you’re set. Especially if Heather Reisman likes your style. The jury is currently out on what she thinks of ours… but we know that Ms. Reisman is on the same page as us: she believes in respectful entrepreneurship (see her fantastic Entrepreneur Series with Peter Munk and Jim Pattison, two of our own favourite interviewees), as do we; and she supports great Canadian writing (especially prominent in her Heather’s Picks section). We’re not sure if we fit into this last category, but we’re big fans of those who do. We hope that a relationship with Indigo/Chapters develops. Because, for first time authors, so much relies upon it.

A (somewhat) helpful vid on publishing…

In Defence of the Book

March 15, 2008


Many people ask us why we opted to make Kickstart a book. Why not a web site or documentary? (this last one is most often posed of Paul by fellow filmmakers) After all, these folks too often point out, who reads books anymore? Kids today don’t even know what to do with paper. If it’s not flashy, blinking, fully interactive, and running across a phone, laptop, or iPod screen, it smacks of the distant past.

We understand these argument because, well, we’re products of today’s book averse culture too. We understand what pases through the mind when you’re forced to choose between Guns, Germs, and Steel and Guitar Hero. Still, here is our defence of the book – 10 reasons why it is still the king (or queen, depending on your you know…) of all media:

1) You won’t have to buy a new copy when the world goes Blu-Ray

2) You can carry it in a napsack or jacket pocket, tattered and tired but still soldiering on, from Tuktiuktuk to Timbukto to Toronto

3) It’ll never get infected with a virus after you trawl through porn sites

4) You can spill coffee on it, drop it in the bath, scribble on it in indelible marker and it will still work

5) It requires no additional software

6) You can impress girls by staring at it pensively (andsometimes blankly) in European cafes

7) It worked for Tolstoy

8) It’s the original handheld, wireless device

9) Great for holding doors open and propping up lop-sided tables

10) One word: Intimacy

Kickstart was designed (yes, designed) to be picked up, put down, returned to, and dwelt over. It is divided into short sections that you can churn through on the subway, the toilet, or a park bench. You can stuff it in a backpackk or purse, carry it around, forget it’s there and then suddenly discover it when you’ve got a moment to think and reflect. It won’t force itself on to you by vbrating frantically or mechanically chirping ‘Hello Moto’ mid-meal. But it will be ready for an intimate moment when you need it.

That’s the beauty of the book. And why Kickstart couldn’t have taken any other form.

Those Who Said No

February 14, 2008

We can’t pretend that everyone we approached for Kickstart wanted to talk to us. We’re not going to name names, but a large number of people didn’t find our cold calling and light stalking to be as persuasive as others.

So why? Well, there are a number of reasons.

For some, our entreaty initiated their classic Canadian humility reflex. Some didn’t want to be associated with anythning too ‘ra-ra’ and celebratory. A lawyer told us she hadn’t been in her current position long another to be ‘worthy’ of a spot in our book. A CEO was worried that, in a year where his country performance had dipped, it wouldn’t look good if he was seen crowing about his success.

It seems the word “successful” rubs many people the wrong way. No author of “Literature,” for example, would touch us with a ten foot pole. Their sensibilities couldn’t hack even the idea of us. Perhaps there were typos in our approach letter. Yes, maybe that was it.

Pop musicians didn’t seem to like us either. In an industry that requires its players to maintain the look and feel of youthful rebellion, it may not have benefited them to be in a book with more mature business-people.

We tried and tried to convince folks that ours wasn’t a how-to book, a success rating, or a compendium of saints’ lives. But once a blush starts, it’s often tough to bring down.

At least these people said no and meant it. Others would say yes and then have their Public relations people string us along for months on end.

“Of course, of course. A book! He loves books. What about Friday? 10 am?”

“Sure, that sounds wonderful.”

Friday, 9 am

“Hey Guys, so sorry. He’s actually out of the country. Has been since Tuesday.”

“But you set up the meeting on Tuesday.”

“Right, well, how about next week? He’s really excited. Phone me on Monday, maybe 2:30.”

Monday, 2:30

“Hello? How did you get this number? An interview with…. Look, not just anybody can get an interview with…. Oh, it’s you guys. Cool, cool. Yeah, um, this week’s just not gonna work. How about February. I think February will be good.”

“Okay, is there a day in particular?”

“Probably not actually. May have to be March. Give me a call then. Gotta go.”

Early March

“Hi….. a book about what? No, you can’t interview him. He doesn’t do that kind of thing. Sorry, click.”

Two weeks later. Our phone rings:

“Hey Andrew, you never phoned me back. We’re ready for the interview. One question though: who’s your publisher?”

“Oh, as we told you before, we’re still in talks with a few. Nothing’s been completely ironed out. But it would really help us out to have Mr. _____’s name associated with the project.”

Long silence, followed by “Oh, well, why don’t you phone us back when that’s all been sorted out.”


I wish we could say that only happened once, but we’d be lying. Those who say pursuit is three-quarters of the fun have never had to chase that man’s boss.

In the end, the number who declined an interview was very small, but they inspired us to redouble our efforts, fix our presentation, and push forward. The more interviewees told us about their experiences of rejection and delay, the more we came to see that being told to get lost was just part of the process – one that we would have to come to enjoy.

Oddly enough, the question we get asked the most is not “do you know how beautiful you are?” “How did you get so beautiful?” Or “Can copies of your book be bought by the lorry load?” Instead, it’s usually “How did you get these people to speak with you?”

While this isn’t as good a question as the other three, it’s probably worth addressing here.

The answer is two-fold. First, we benefited hugely from living in a country where the types of people interviewed in this book aren’t perpetually hounded by the press. Depending on where in Canada you are, you can find our CEOs, politicians, artists, and community leaders doing the crossword puzzle at your local Timmy’s (or Timothy’s or Starbucks, depending). We found that, in true Canadian fashion, most of the people we approached for an interview tried to talk us out of it, blushing with embarrassment that they had been asked at all.

The second key to getting folks to sit down with us was bugging them. We sent introductory letters and then we phoned to follow up. Then we phoned again. And then we phoned again. In some cases, the chase went on for months, with Andrew calling daily. He is the cold call king. He’s relentless. While he lost a few big fish, Andrew managed to secure interviews with some of the most influential and successful people in the country.

That’s not to say that we never used connections. We didn’t have many, but we used them where we could. At the end of every interview, we asked the subject to recommend another person we should talk to. Then we asked if they would recommend us. It didn’t always work, but 1 out of 10 ain’t bad.

That is one of the principal lessons we’ve taken from this project. You can’t be afraid to lose or look stupid. If you ask fifty people and fifty people spit in your face, it’s all worth it, if you can hook just one.

That’s a lesson the participants kept speaking of as well. The old “if at first you don’t succeed” adage may sound trite when you’ve heard it a thousand times, but when someone who’s succeeded tells you the first six banks turned them down for a loan before the hail mary seventh came through, it suddenly reveals itself to be true.

If you keep phoning, they will talk.

It’s astonishing how often we’ve heard that question over the course of the last few years. In an age where everyone is moving a million miles a minute towards some still undefined future and everything from social networking to advances in lampshade design is labelled a “revolution” that will jettison old rules and paradigms forever, what possible value could be gained from sitting down to talk to someone about what they did yesterday, last week, or even forty years ago? Everyone but the thirteen year-old web designer or the fetal popstar is surely a dinosaur, right? Their opinions will reflect embarrassed and discarded truths that no longer stand up in the new world economy.

True. Well, to an extent. Yes, many of the people in our book entered their fields in times vastly different from today. In some cases, things were much easier then. You showed up at someone’s office, acted keen, told a few flashy lies, and got the job.

June Callwood, the legendary and dearly departed matriarch of Canadian journalism and activism, played up her female naivety to land her first job at the Globe and Mail. She got a writer from the competing Toronto Star to write her first article. Surely that wouldn’t work today.

Alex Colville managed to survive his early years as a working painter because there was a war on and the military needed War Painters. Colville had free reign to travel where he liked and paint what he liked. No fresh-faced artist straight out of OCAD or Emily Carr is likely to receive the same luck (if you can call a war luck).

Fine. Point made.

The world is a cutthroat, fast moving place, full of distractions and, in some cases, too many options to choose from. But that doesn’t mean that the experiences of those who got started in slower, less crowded times don’t hold out lessons to those of us trying to get our sea legs today.

To get through your twenties requires what Canadian underwater doctor and explorer Joe MacInnis calls “visioneering“: a way of creating “a 3-D mental map of where you are and where you want to go.” You need to be alive in every moment, conscious of the choices facing you, aware of how your evolving values inform those choices, and willing to take risks required to get where you want.

In the end, it’s a matter of overcoming the anchors of resignation and complacency, both of which are related to fear. In many cases, especially among our older interviewees, having cohones was more a matter of necessity than it is for us. Emerging from the Great Depression, or a struggling immigrant family, or huge physical and emotional set-backs, you have to take risks and lay everything on the line, because you desperately need to get ahead.

To those who see themselves as financially comfortable, it’s often more difficult to summon up the required resolve to go after what you want. Furthermore, with the world moving at the speed it does, with industries growing up and blossoming overnight, it’s increasingly difficult to devote yourself to one passion, one goal. It’s our hope, though, that the stories in our book will help inspire some of you to overcome the fear, complacency or confusion that are holding you back. We know they inspired us.