By the mid-2010s, Alex Putici had achieved what many would call success. After climbing the corporate ladder from the bottom and then growing the security company he founded into a national concern, he was a leading figure in Canada’s security industry. Then he gave it all up to start over again.
Putici recently sat down with ATB Entrepreneur Strategist Dustin Paisley to talk about why he left the security industry, how he started Work Nicer Coworking with no capital to speak of, and more. Here are some excerpts from their conversation.
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On why he left a successful business
“According to a lot of people, I had figured it out,” says Putici. “Not that I was making millions of dollars or retiring, but I’d built a business that had some success. I totally believed in it, believed in the product, I watched it change lives and positively impact people. “But I think a lot of people confuse happiness with passion. Just because I totally believed in something and was good at it and became an expert in it, I realized that wasn’t actually truly fulfilling.”
Putici left his security business and did some hard thinking about what he wanted from his career. Eventually he realized that he truly loved bringing people from different backgrounds together to create community. He reached out to a networking group he’d been working with for years and asked the members if they’d like to work together—not on the same projects, but in the same spaces. Ten of them said “yes.”
On bootstrapping Work Nicer
Putici signed a sub-lease for some office space in Calgary. But he soon ran into a classic problem for entrepreneurs: lack of capital.
“I didn’t have a bunch of investor money or furniture lying around,” he says. “And the business didn’t even have a bank account.”
To pay his lease and buy some furniture for the office space, he collected two months’ worth of membership fees from those first ten members.
“I made that the deposit on the lease, then bought a bunch of pre-used furniture from the oil and gas company that was in there before us,” he says.
“At that point, I knew all I had to do was stay a month ahead of our expenses.”
Putici is a big advocate of this sell early, sell often approach to building a business.
“Go sell something first, even if it’s a dollar,” he says. “That’s totally validating, it will give you motivation going forward, to say ‘somebody has bought this before,’ rather than just hoping and thinking that they will some day.
“And if you’ve sold something once, you should be able to sell it again.
On growing Work Nicer
Since taking that sub-lease in 2015, Work Nicer has grown to operate four co-working locations in Calgary. Its debut location in downtown Edmonton is currently in a “soft launch” phase.
Putici’s strategy for expanding can be summarized in one word: focus.
“The strategy has always been acquisition through retention,” he says. “It is way more important for us to keep a member than it is to get a new one. If we had enough members to pay the bills, that’s it. We focus on them and keep them. Even though that’s slow burn, it’s not selling or marketing, at minimum those people should attract more people like themselves, whether that’s direct referral or word of mouth or whatever.”
A focus on keeping current Work Nicer members happy also helps Putici with other strategic decisions.
“The question has always been, what’s best for members?,” he says. “What will add the most value for them? We always return to that question, which was led us to where we are.”
On the value of outsourcing
Putici’s most practical advice for entrepreneurs?
“Get an accountant. I think you got into business to do what you want to do, not to do your books or your website or your logo or whatever else. Leverage other people. Build for success, plan on it. Know that your time is valuable. Every minute you spend ‘saving money,’ doing your own books or website, is a minute spent not bringing money in, which is the key to getting started.”.
On dealing with adversity
The words “the process” are tattooed on Putici’s right forearm. It’s an important reminder not to get too high or too low.
“You’re going to have extreme ups and downs. I got this at a time when things were going up and things were good and smooth, he says. “Down the road, when things get tough or difficult, then I’ve drilled it into myself to say, well, get over it.”
“It comes back to this idea that this is all self-inflicted. You can’t have ups without downs. If something is really really good right now, it probably won’t stay that way forever.
“More importantly, if things are not really great right now, work through it and they won’t stay that way forever either.”