Photo: As a startup CEO, Dave Inglis learned how strong emotions can cloud necessary objectivity.

It takes guts to stand up and admit to an addiction problem.

Dave Inglis did just that recently – but the source of his troubles didn’t come in a bottle, bag or syringe.

It was emotion; specifically, the kind that can overwhelm anyone who plunges headlong into entrepreneurship.

That’s exactly what happened to Inglis when he launched The Concussion Toolbox in 2012, fresh from three years of kinesiology studies and a stint in the LaunchPad entrepreneurship program at Wilfrid Laurier University. Needless to say, things didn’t turn out quite the way he’d dreamed they would in those early, heady days as a startup CEO.

In a frank and thoughtful blog post on March 17, Inglis – who these days works as an instructor and community co-ordinator with LaunchPad in the Communitech Hub – wrote about how the “liquid courage” of emotion can cloud an entrepreneur’s objectivity and increase the odds of failure.

I caught up with Inglis in the LaunchPad this week to chat about how, at age 24, he has already acquired wisdom around the pitfalls of starting up.

Q – When did you do your startup?

A – I did that coming out of school in 2012, fresh out of Laurier, out of our LaunchPad course. I studied kinesiology, and I was doing research on concussions for three years up until then. That’s what led me to building The Concussion Toolbox eventually.

Q – So you weren’t a business student, but you had a business idea stemming from your kinesiology studies?

A – That’s right. I was doing research, and I’m a huge believer in ‘try before you buy,’ whether it’s entrepreneurship or research. You put yourself in a position where you can get a taste of what it’s like to see, or answer the question, ‘Hey, is this for me?’

When I was doing research on concussions, I quickly learned after three years that it wasn’t for me, and that was totally fine.

What I did learn from that was that I really loved the idea of bringing a lot of the stuff we’re doing here in the lab to an applied, tactical setting out in the field. And, at that point in time, going through LaunchPad, I started to build aspiration to do an MBA and to try and cross my knowledge of the sports science field with more of a business foundation.

Q – How long did you spend on Concussion Toolbox?

A – I spent a real solid year working on it. Then, to exit the venture, we merged with the Sports Legacy Institute, which is a big not-for-profit in the States.

We had two primary products – an app that we were building, that ended up kicking the can, to make a long story short; and we had an educational program that we were doing with high schools and sport organizations, and that really caught some traction.

And so, that’s what our pitch to the not-for-profit was – giving them market share up here in southern Ontario.

At that point in time, that’s when I started to kind of sober up a little bit, and realize, ‘I’m not doing this for the right reasons; I’m not doing it because I really love it; I’m doing it because I’m trying to save face and I don’t want to let people down.’

And that’s where we found a good, meaningful exit opportunity. And still, to this day, I’m not working on Concussion Toolbox, but I’m an active adviser with the not-for-profit here in Canada.

Q – Did you go straight into your position with Laurier at that point?

A – When I came out of school, I won $30,000, cumulatively – $5,000 from the Laurier Entrepreneurship Competition and $25,000 from OCE. And at that point in time, I was actually supposed to work for the Royal Bank, to do regional marketing for them.

I approached Steve Farlow (Executive Director of Laurier’s Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship) and said, ‘This is really cool; I’ve got this opportunity to work on this venture, but I can’t really do it full-time or put a lot behind it if I’m working at the bank.’

He agreed, so I was actually always working in parallel, at Laurier and at my business at the same time.

Once I ended up exiting, that’s when I became more of an instructor and got some formal training.

I was already kind of (working with LaunchPad) passively, as I was sharing a lot of the lessons learned as I was going through it with some of our current students, and I was acting as a bit of an informal teaching assistant. So I just kind of naturally filled that role as a coach, and that’s something that I’ve always kind of done.

You see that a lot in this community. A lot of entrepreneurs are coaches and leaders themselves, so it was pretty easy to fit into that.

I think part of what’s interesting about that coaching is, you start to challenge yourself to analyze what you’re doing, and I think once I started to adopt that coaching hat, that’s when I started to really question and objectively ask myself the tough questions.

I would ask my students those questions, no problem, but then when I was trying to go to bed at night, you’d start asking yourself the same ones, and when you don’t have answers, all of a sudden you start to sober up.

Q – In researching your blog post, what did you come to learn about emotions that you thought might be instructive to others who are on the entrepreneurial path?

A – The one thing that I learned that really hit home was the fact that we are all subject to them, these bias heuristics, as some people call them.

It’s just shortcuts we, as humans, try to take to make decisions easier.

A lot of times, we have two systems of thinking; a fast system, which is emotionally driven, and then we have that logical, creative side where you really try and pull in your knowledge to make really sound decisions. But it’s so much easier to go with the former, and I think that’s something fundamental for all of us.

That’s what really opened my eyes up to it; I mean, there’s a whole plethora of different biases that you can fall to.

I’m not suggesting to anybody that you learn them all, but for me, what really hit home was doing the self-assessment of which ones I’m most subject to. And, if I can spend the time learning that, I’ve found that my decision-making is far greater, as far as making things thoughtfully. I used to waste a lot of resources on our projects, and just kind of make quick decisions.

In startups, you have to be really thoughtful and you have to leverage that system all the time, but again, entrepreneurship is a science and an art, so you can’t get too overwhelmed with trying to make those decisions based on formula.

Q – When you walk around this place and see all the people who are enthusiastically jumping in with both feet to do startups, what would you advise them to do to keep these things in check?

A – I guess two things. One is that you have to kind of come to the realization of these things on your own.

You can tell people as much as you want, but that’s like telling an alcoholic, ‘If you keep drinking the tequila, you’re not going to be healthy.’ It doesn’t really resonate with them until they go both feet into a project, and a lot of times it’s the first project where you’re fully immersed, and you start to have these realizations. You start to see that decision you make come full-circle and kind of bite you on the ass a couple of months later.

We start to see that now in our program. There’s a personal development question we ask all our teams. A lot of them are personal, bringing up the idea that, ‘Yeah, I fell for confirmation bias in the early weeks of building my business, and when I look back, I was looking for information to support my thesis on this.’

I think another piece of advice I would give is to build falsifiable assumptions – try and prove yourself wrong. So, if I feel that startup founders need a SaaS system to better manage their teams, I’m going to go out with the assumption that they already have something like that, and I’m going to try and find and understand the entire landscape of the solutions that are out there.

By going out there with that viewpoint, you’re trying to prove yourself wrong, and when you position your efforts like that, you create a very objective viewpoint, like a scientist.

A lot of times, leaders or entrepreneurs are just emotional in general. We’re very in tune with our emotional intelligence; I think that’s why you are successful as an entrepreneur, and because of your IQ. But it’s about finding that balance between the two.

Q – Do you have plans to do another startup at some point?

A – Right now, in parallel to Laurier, I’ve always got my own projects going on. One of the things I’ve been doing is working with SaaS-based products that are selling to sport organizations; one in particular in San Diego is called InjureFREE. So, I’m working with a very, very small startup right now, not as a cofounder, because I don’t really want to put too much skin in the game remotely like this, but I’m helping them come into Canada, and using a lot of this business-model canvassing that we do here in LaunchPad to help them validate their business model, too.

But, in the immediate future, I’m not going to do my own. Right now I’ve just been kind of a boutique consultancy, helping two or three companies, with similar products who are going after the same market, enter into them.

But, in speaking recently with our friend Jim Moss, I’ll be joining the Plasticity team, which should be exciting. That’ll be a big transition for me here this month.

So, I’m not doing my own startup, but I think from a lot of this self-awareness and self-assessment and understanding where my values and principles are, and some of the things that I fall for, I’ve found really good alignment with Plasticity.

Q – Tell me about LaunchPad’s place in the Waterloo Region ecosystem.

A – I think it’s kind of the top of the funnel, if I were to use that analogy. The bottom of the funnel, obviously, is building a really scalable business.

I think we’re at the top of that.

When you’re in high school in Grade 9 and you take arts for the first time, you get that experience, and you get to see, ‘Hey, do I enjoy playing with paint?’ LaunchPad is that same thing. For a course credit, you can experience entrepreneurship; you can try before you buy; you can learn a methodology to validate a business model with no risk. I mean, your risk is your time, and you get a course credit. And if you prove a business model wrong, you can still get an A.

I think we’re a feeder into Startup Services at Communitech; I think we’re a feeder into programs like HYPERDRIVE and the Accelerator Centre; we are that sandbox, that playground, where people get a taste of it and take those first few motions, learn about these confirmation biases that they’re subject to; go through those trials and tribulations.

And then, hopefully, we can prepare them to kick ass in your guys’ program.

Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo is a weekly look at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.