In the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, few stories captivate the imagination, like that of Rob Imbeault, a seasoned founder who has successfully built and exited multiple ventures.
In this exclusive interview, Rob shares insights into his remarkable journey, offering a glimpse into the highs, lows, and invaluable lessons learned along the way.
From his early days tinkering with code to founding a unicorn in Canada, Rob’s story is a testament to resilience, innovation, and the pursuit of making a meaningful impact.
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A Cold Start in Montreal
Rob’s roots trace back to Montreal, a city where he spent his formative years. As he reminisces about his upbringing, he fondly recalls the cold weather, providing a humorous entry into his life story.
Born and somewhat raised in Montreal, Rob’s journey took a few detours, including a stint in Hamilton, Ontario. His early affinity for coding and his love for math set the stage for what would become a lifelong passion for problem-solving.
College, Coding, and the Path Less Traveled
Discussing his college experience, Rob reflects on his early academic struggles and the realization that sitting still wasn’t his forte. Despite a stumble in his first year, he found his groove in technical college, where he fell in love with coding.
Hired straight out of college, Rob embarked on a journey that would eventually lead him to become a computer engineer at a small firm in Ottawa.
From Foot Locker to Entrepreneurship
Rob’s entrepreneurial spirit was sparked by his grandfather, a successful businessman who imparted valuable lessons about working hard and creating one’s luck. As Rob explains, he was one of the original 6 Canadian Tires, a big hardware store chain in Canada.
His grandfather built out his own chain of hardware stores and was the kind of person to save around 10% of his gross from every paycheck. He may not have known much about positive venture capital, but he created a lifestyle business and was Rob’s mentor.
Inspired by this mentorship, Rob pursued various ventures, wanting to do something that would make an impact. He carried well-learned lessons from working at Foot Locker to contemplating a life in the corporate world.
Building 10Count and the Power of Networking
The pivotal moment in Rob’s entrepreneurial journey came with acquiring and transforming a struggling telecom software company into 10Count. He recalls how a close friend from his boxing club approached him to build a piece of call-tracking software.
Although the client company liked Rob’s work, he realized it was going through some difficulties and decided to purchase it. Through networking and serendipity, Rob found himself at the helm of a venture that would eventually become a major success.
He highlights the role of networking, sharing anecdotes of how connections made in unexpected places led to game-changing opportunities. Rob went into credit card debt, took some loans, and bought up the assets. Next, he started building the company from scratch.
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Assent Compliance and the Power of Ideation
Rob delves into the genesis of Assent Compliance, a company that emerged from a friend’s idea about supply chain software.
Rob remembers building the first prototype within 12 days in his basement, which his friend sold to an enterprise client. Although Rob and his small team struggled to keep up with the enterprise customer’s requirements, the experience translated into a roadmap for what they had to build.
Rob came up with the idea of AI being a part of the product and how they can automate supply chain management and transparency using some of the early tools in AI. However, Rob quickly realized that Assent Compliance would soon outgrow 10Count.
That’s when the three founders decided to break up the organization and form individual companies. And Assent Compliance evolved into a standalone company. Rob reveals that they would go to a large hardware goods manufacturer like GE, Rolls Royce, or CAE.
These large companies would have to attest and prove to the chemicals, goods, and anything harmful to the environment that will end up in a landfill 20 years from now.
Rob’s company charged them an upfront consultancy and implementation fee for analysis and an ongoing subscription. The objective was to identify the substances that exist in their parts and assemblies.
Raising Capital and the Mentorship Game
Navigating the intricacies of raising capital, Rob shares insights into the mentorship he received from a seasoned VC and Assent CEO during the series A round. He emphasizes the significance of timing, tailored pitches, and understanding the individual investment theses of potential investors.
Under his mentor’s guidance, Assent Compliance ended up with 5 term sheets in two weeks’ time. Rob and his team were able to choose the best partners at the third and second stages of engagement.
The chapter unfolds with the successful funding of Assent Compliance and the subsequent impact on the company’s growth trajectory. To date, Assent has successfully raised $660M.
Storytelling is everything, which is something that Rob Imbeault was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.
Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.
Balancing Profit and Growth in a Macro Environment
Rob addresses the delicate balance between maintaining cash flow positivity and embracing a VC growth mindset, a topic resonating in today’s macro environment.
He reflects on the challenges and opportunities presented by the ongoing debate between profit and growth, offering valuable insights for entrepreneurs grappling with similar strategic decisions.
Reflecting on the success of his first entrepreneurial journey, Rob shares his decision to take a partial exit and enter a period of retirement. He emphasizes the importance of enjoying life’s moments and advises aspiring entrepreneurs to savor the journey.
During this time, he wrote books, traveled the world, and engaged in angel investing, showcasing the multifaceted aspects of an entrepreneur’s life.
Heartee Foods and FarmAnywhere: A Second Act
Rob’s return to entrepreneurship with Heartee Foods and FarmAnywhere is explored, highlighting the interconnected nature of the two ventures.
He narrates the genesis of Heartee Foods, a vertical farming company focused on growing mushrooms, and FarmAnywhere, a solution to the challenges posed by outsourcing farm manufacturing.
Rob has an interesting story to tell about his meeting with the founder, Jonathan Murray, and his wife, Chanel. Rob was immediately interested and impressed by his enthusiasm.
Although Rob came in as an investor, he jumped in as a volunteer, diving deep into the technology and co-founding a new company branch.
He talks about how they can attack the food system in a special way. In just the second year of their business, the company was earning extra revenue and looking at global growth.
Heartee Foods also did a seed round with Congruent Ventures, one of the most respected climate tech venture firms out of San Francisco.
Governance, Board Seats, and Entrepreneurial Wisdom
The interview concludes with Rob’s insights into the importance of governance, board seats, and board members. Drawing on his decade-long experience, he emphasizes the need to get governance right from the beginning and advocates for term limits on board seats.
He shares his views on aligning board members with the company’s goals and the importance of understanding the dynamics of a high-growth, cash-flow-negative business model.
A Message to the Young Entrepreneur
In a heartfelt message to aspiring entrepreneurs, Rob encourages them to embrace the journey, enjoy the moments, and savor the challenges. He shares his own experiences, highlighting the joy found in the midst of stressful situations.
Rob is also the author of 2 books, the first of which is a critically acclaimed bestseller, Before I Leave You, and the second is I Can’t Believe How Well It’s Going.
The former title is A Memoir on Suicide, Addiction, and Healing, and it has already sold 10,000 copies on Amazon. Rob donates 100% of the proceeds to men’s mental health.
He understands how entrepreneurship involves depression and that mental health is a significant issue. His objective is to raise awareness in the venture world and help aspiring entrepreneurs.
Rob’s story serves as a beacon of inspiration, offering valuable lessons for those charting their course in the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship.
He talks about balancing building a cash flow-positive company and dealing with rapid growth and the profit versus growth mindset in today’s macro environment.
Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:
- Rob’s journey underscores the importance of turning challenges into opportunities, as seen in coding through a major blackout and building a business in a struggling telecom software company.
- Networking played a pivotal role in Rob’s success, emphasizing the significance of building connections in unexpected places.
- Assent Compliance’s success emerged from a friend’s supply chain software idea and the power of ideation and focus.
- Rob’s mentorship from a seasoned VC proved invaluable in raising capital, emphasizing the importance of tailored pitches, timing, and understanding individual investor theses.
- Navigating the delicate balance between cash flow positivity and embracing a VC growth mindset is crucial in the current macro environment, requiring strategic decision-making.
- Rob’s journey showcases the importance of lifelong learning, engagement in angel investing, and the multifaceted nature of an entrepreneur’s life, even during periods of partial retirement.
- Getting governance right from the start, aligning board members with company goals, and understanding the dynamics of a high-growth, cash-flow-negative business model are key elements in building a successful venture.