Interviewee Name: Warren Salmon, CEO
Company Name: First Fridays & Black Board International
Warren Salmon – Your Invisible Mentor
Avil Beckford: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Warren Salmon: I was born and raised here in Toronto, from parents of Jamaican and Scottish descent. I went to Ryerson and studied computer science. I also went to York and UBC and took business courses. I am self-employed from I was in university in the technology field. I currently have a software company called Black Board International. I also run a networking event called First Fridays, which I have the trademark for in Canada. I have First Fridays in Toronto and Montreal and looking to expand to other cities as well.
Avil Beckford: What’s a typical day like for you?
Warren Salmon: There are a lot of emails, phone calls, development and sales for my software, research, and planning my next networking event. First Fridays has a different theme every month so I always have to plan ahead in terms of finding event venues. My days I would say about 15 hours on average.
Avil Beckford: How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?
Warren Salmon: I’d say what motivates me is seeing a need for different products and services that my company provides. So seeing a need that is not being met is a motivating factor. Meeting my customers who utilize my products and services is also very motivating especially watching kids in the schools using the software.
Avil Beckford: If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?
Warren Salmon: One of the things I would probably do differently is having multiples businesses and getting them off the ground. I would look for something that would provide stable income and then supplement the business that I was starting off because I kind of jumped in with both feet. Oftentimes when you start a business your income is a bit erratic at times, so I would look to have stable income while trying to build the business.
Avil Beckford: What’s the most important business or other discovery you’ve made in the past year?
Warren Salmon: Not to get too emotional when it comes to business. Keep your emotions in check I’d say is very important.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?
Warren Salmon: I’d say that technology is now a big part of our society. Social networks and smart phones are really changing the way people interact in so many ways. So when it comes to my networking business, another way to reach out to people is through the social networks. I had a networking event last year, and one of our guests from Upstate New York wasn’t able to make the event so we were able to interact with her on Skype, and we were able to interact with the audience on Skype on a big screen.
We had a big screen set up and that was one of the advances that opened up a lot of possibilities in terms of letting people network and interact. On the apps side of things it used to be that most software applications were delivered at a workstation on PCs, now having applications delivered on smart phones and tablets also change things quite a bit in terms of focus with software development.
Avil Beckford: What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?
- I would say one threat is not keeping up with technology so I’m trying my best to stay current with technology.
- Not reinvent my businesses. You have to keep reinventing yourself and businesses otherwise you get stale to your customers. With my software company I came out with a new version of the software, gave it a whole makeover with new images and a lot of updates to keep me current. With First Fridays we keep adding new types of events. Right now we have a different theme every month, that’s helped me to keep current and to keep people’s interests.
- Another challenge is finding different venues, which has been an ongoing challenge, and it’s putting in the time to find venues that people will be motivated and excited about.
Avil Beckford: What’s unique about the service that you provide?
Warren Salmon: Both of my companies are very unique. At Black Board International the software company, we have the largest line of Afro-centric software in the world as far as I know. There are a few companies out there that have one or two products but we have the broadest product line so that’s unique. For First Fridays, it’s the longest running and most established, and if not the only business networking event in the African Canadian community, so that’s also very unique. We’ll be around for 17 years in June 2011.
Avil Beckford: What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?
Warren Salmon: One thing is persistence and staying on path. Both of my businesses have been around for a while. As I just mentioned, First Fridays has been around for close to 17 years, and we have never missed an event in all those years. I’ve been very consistent. I have seen a lot of events come and go and we have stayed the path. And that’s been the same for the software company as well.
Avil Beckford: Describe a major business or other challenge you had and how you resolved it. What kind of lessons did you learn in the process?
Warren Salmon: A big one is finding venues for First Fridays, without a venue you cannot have an event, so that’s been a major challenge. Over the years, most of the places that we’ve had First Fridays at, most of the restaurants have folded, 90 percent of the places have gone out of business. I have to be very versatile in finding different venues over the years.
Avil Beckford: Tell me about your big break and who gave you.
Warren Salmon: One of the big breaks I had with Black Board International the Software company, was that we got an order from the School District of Philadelphia. They ordered one of our products for all of their computers for Kindergarten to Grade 2 and that was facilitated through one of our reps, a company we work with called Product Search International out of Philadelphia, so that was one big break that comes to mind.
Avil Beckford: Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?
Warren Salmon: I wouldn’t call it a failure but a learning experience. When we first started First Fridays, the first month we had about 100 people and the second month there were about six people there. Having six people was a little tough to deal with, but I decided to stay on path and keep plugging away and holding events and within a year we were up to 500 people attending every month so you just have to stay on path.
Avil Beckford: What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?
Warren Salmon: One of the toughest decisions was to just focus on the businesses and go out on a limb. Before I started my business I had a software contract with the City of Toronto, so instead of looking for another contract I decided to focus on my business. That’s been a great lesson in terms of going out on a limb and growing your businesses. And I think that I have learned some things that I would not have learned otherwise, had I not taken that path.
Avil Beckford: What are three events that helped to shape your life?
- Becoming a father has been the greatest experience that I’ve had. It beats having a business and other personal experiences.
- Being recognized by the community. I received a Harry Jerome Award in 2008 for Technology and Innovation. That was very motivating and rewarding.
Avil Beckford: What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?
Warren Salmon: I’d have to say it’s creating a software, watching it being used in schools and watching parents use it at home with their kids and getting excited about it. As like I’ve said, it’s the leading software company of its kind in the world.
Avil Beckford: How did mentors influence your life?
Warren Salmon: By showing me a path they have travelled and giving me advice in terms of if you take this path where it might lead you. That’s the greatest influence that mentors have had on my life.
Avil Beckford: What’s one core message you received from your mentors?
Warren Salmon: Stay on the path and don’t let anyone take you off it.
Avil Beckford: An invisible mentor is a unique leader you can learn things from by observing them from afar, in the capacity of an Invisible Mentor, what is one piece of advice that you would give to readers?
Warren Salmon: Dream big dreams, believe in yourself because to be successful you have to have that inner belief. Other people often will not see what you see and won’t believe in you. Stick to your vision, stay on path and go for it.
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