What do you expect three top Ottawa entrepreneurs will be doing on a cold Saturday in December in the midst of the holiday season? I would say anything from shopping for gifts, to pitching their services, to dining out with friends and family. However, that is not what Jarrod Goldsmith, Michael Wood and Dylan Black were doing at all. Actually, these three were at the Canadian Blood Services in Ottawa, not only donating blood but also hosting a blood drive to raise awareness and attract donors on a cold December day. Their act of kindness definitely caught our attention and we wanted to know what drove them to do it, so we joined-up with them to learn more.
By the time we got to the Blood Service Center on Carling Avenue the place was full of staff, volunteers, friends, reporters, as well as other entrepreneurs who stopped by to show their support – even Santa and Captain America were there to cheer the donors! We sat down with each of these entrepreneurs to know more about their businesses, humble beginnings, key achievements, some challenges along the way, and their desire to help the community.
Can you tell us a bit about your business and what made you start?
I started Sax Appeal in 2011 as a unique all-saxophone band. This was an entirely new concept as most people have never heard of a group like this before. With a specialty of performing background jazz or classical ambiance music for events like cocktail receptions, weddings, gala’s etc, it was very difficult to create a market for this kind of band. So I started networking to get gigs and haven’t looked back! That is why I started the networking community eSAX to bring together small businesses to help them connect within the entrepreneur eco-system. (And always having Sax Appeal provide elegant jazz music while people network is a nice touch)! Little did I know that the appetite in Ottawa for such a networking community was huge and we were supplying a much-needed demand for personal connections.
What would you consider your major achievements?
I have received many business awards over the past eight years that I am very proud of, but my greatest achievement so far had been supporting other entrepreneurs establish the right connections to grow and scale their business. “I just love it when people make connections through me; it makes the hardship worth it.” For eSAX, my major achievement must have been having Brett Wilson (Dragons’ Den emeritus), Bruce Linton (original CEO of Canopy Grown (on the day that cannabis became legal in Canada), and series entrepreneur Steve Cody (who launched Ruckify) all be featured speakers at the October 2018 eSAX event. We had over 600 people!
What would you say were the main challenges facing you as an entrepreneur?
When you have just started your business, you are everyone at once because you cannot afford to hire help. So you end up being the receptionist, the window washer, the accountant, the web developer, the graphic designer, the sales person and the president. It is time consuming! Most of us are familiar with the concept of ‘boot-strapping’, but until business really takes-off, we have no choice to literally do everything. It’s very time-consuming.
You are a very busy man, what makes you organize this blood drive on top of everything else?
Saving lives by donating blood is one of the most unselfish acts someone can do. When I talk about eSAX being a community-driven organization, it’s events like this that make it all worthwhile. About three years ago I collaborated with my friend Michael Wood (who I understand you are interviewing next), to organize a blood drive to help our mutual friend Stu Schwartz, the MAJIC 100 morning radio host who was going through cancer treatments at the time. We have been organizing these blood drives together since then, and now Dylan joined us but I will let him tell you why himself.
What made you start a business during the peak of your musical career?
I was very lucky at a young age to do what I love, touring in a band while playing music and visiting the world. In 2009 when I decided to settle down in Ottawa, I realized there is not a good one-stop shop to host big events – where clients can rent everything they need from tables and projectors to lights and mobile stages. Therefore, I decided to launch Ottawa Special Events and the rest as they say is history.
What would you consider your major achievements as an entrepreneur?
In less than ten years, we grew to 35 full-time staff and we became an award winning party, event and audiovisual rental company. In 2019 alone, we organised key events for the city of Ottawa, including the Tulip Festival, Latin Sparks, Sense Soiree and Capital Pride, just to name a few.
Along the way to success, what would you say were the main challenges?
When we started the business we were only two people, but the demand grew quickly and it was very time consuming to do everything ourselves. We needed to find the right team that reflected our value of putting consumers first. Our key to success from the get-go are our exceptional customer service and my knowledge of Google and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which drove the company to the top.
All this success, why are you organizing this blood drive?
As Jarrod mentioned earlier, three years ago our friend Stu Schwartz, the MAJIC 100 morning radio host needed cancer treatment. The music industry here is a close-knit family so we got together and used our collective networks to help raise awareness of the need for blood donation. It was an amazing experience, we felt compelled since then to continue on our mission of leveraging our voices and networks to help the community.
At the end, we sat down to interview Dylan Black, who is not per se an entrepreneur but embodies the entrepreneurial spirit, and through his media platforms (boom 99.7, Rogers TV) and YuK Yuk events has helped so many small business entrepreneurs in Ottawa to grow.
What made you start focusing on small business entrepreneurs?
I have been in the radio business since 1997, when I was still in high school, but I would say I started getting into the entrepreneur world about four years ago when I became an MC at several corporate events and an affiliate member in many boards. I noticed that these small businesses need a voice to grow and get the word out, at the same time they cannot afford marketing and advertisements when they are operating on a start-up budget. Therefore, I started using my platform either boom 99.7 or Rogers TV to support them. In short, I do it because “I want to use my voice for good.”
What would you say the entrepreneurs’ biggest challenge today?
Promotion, getting the word out and their name recognized. It is not easy being heard and seen when there are many budding companies around. To get them seen is my mission. “I welcome entrepreneurs who reach out to me, if they do not it is a missed opportunity”. For example, I can help their charity events, which in turn helps them get their business recognized.
What would you consider to be your major achievement?
In 5 years, I collected $15,000 through the Movember campaign, raised over $3,700 for the Breast Cancer Society of Canada through boom’s #buzzforboobs campaign, and raised close to $10,000 for various charities including “Tysen’s Mission to a Million”. I also was honoured to win the United Way 2015 “Community Builder Award”, among other prestigious award.
However, my biggest achievement I would have to say is my son Maxwell James, who was born in 2017 and named after Order of Canada recipient Max Keeping and my father James. Raising my son with the values of giving back to the community is the legacy I want to leave him with.
Why are you participating in this blood drive and will you do it again?
I have donated blood 90 times since high school but this is the first time I participate in a blood drive. I want to do this in memory of my father, James Barton, who passed away at the Heart Institute this summer and needed blood transfusion. I think it is very important to have the blood drive in Christmas where people are in their most charitable spirit. As you can see, it is a great success. Over a hundred people stopped by today to show support, volunteer or donate. We collected 80 units of blood and each unit saves three lives. If you do the math, we managed to save 240 people in one day. That is a successful day worth celebrating, and we intend to do this again.
We finished this interview with these three amazing entrepreneurs feeling so inspired to do more to help the community. We actually invited and offered to help them host their next mega blood drive here in Kanata, and they seem all in. Until then, please visit the Canadian Blood Services in Ottawa or call 1-888-2-DONATE to book your next appointment today!