STARTUP SUCCESS: FEATURING THOSE WHO DO GOOD WHILE DOING WELL A series of interviews featuring Upside Foundation Donors, Board Members, Advisors, and Partners.
The first thing that many people ask Ben Zifkin when they get a chance to talk to him is a strange question: “So, what did you get your wife!?”.
Hubba’s home page tells the story of the company’s origin- an idea that was sparked after founder Ben Zifkin ruminated on his frustrating online shopping experience. The story ends with an intriguing call–to-action: an invitation to ask Ben what he ended up getting his better half.
Ben Zifkin is somewhat of a rockstar in the Toronto startup community. He has built three organizations with successful exits and raised significant venture funding. His most recent business, Hubba, is a B2B network connecting brands and retailers, and is routinely recognized as one of the most powerful companies powering the next generation of commerce. Ben is known as a leading supporter, mentor and influencer in the Canadian startup technology community.
Upside Foundation Connection: Ben sits on the Board of Directors of the Upside Foundation, and through Hubba was the first company to donate equity in support of local communities.
While Ben’s story about shopping for his wife is a great hook, it is also characteristic of his unique approach- a blend of business savvy, laid-back candour, and an uncompromising balance of family, business and community. Ben has an uncanny ability to maintain focus and alignment within his company (and life) – and everyone who’s met him will tell you the same thing: he’s one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy day, meet with me and share his thoughts on how to maintain that steady focus in what can be a very hectic startup environment.
Starting with Investor Buy-in
From Hubba’s inception, Ben planned to do things differently. With plans for Hubba to become a ‘super-tanker’, the team knew that traditional iterative business model stages wouldn’t work.
“We had the stages mapped out from the beginning… acquisition, usage, engagement, then revenue. We had to get really great investors who believed in the vision.”
Ensuring your investors understand your long-term plan from the outset is essential to ensuring expectations are aligned and that the team has permission to stick to the plan.
Finding The “One Thing”
With the stages of growth mapped out, Ben and his team were able to focus on one thing at a time. The trick was to select one metric that defined success in a way that was impossible to ‘game’, and showed stakeholders what they needed to know.
“Focusing on one key metric at a time is the one thing that anchors me. It’s hard to find exactly what the thing is, but once you find it, it makes things really easy.”
The greatest challenge can be having the discipline to live and breathe by that one thing. It is easy to get sidetracked by a new opinion or trend. Ben and his team have embedded this discipline into their business.
“Every marketing piece, product feature, campaign, is focused on driving that one metric. It gives you a single question to judge everything against. Anything that doesn’t move us closer on that metric doesn’t exist here.”
Deciding what to say ‘Yes’ to
As any entrepreneur knows, time is your most precious resource. As a business owner, family man, active mentor and Board Director, many were surprised to learn that Ben had recently published a book, The Rise of the Craft Brand: Why Small is Going to Be Huge. When deciding between opportunities, Ben has a clear set of decision criteria.
“The most important things to me are my family #1 and my business #2, and then the community. Anything I can do that amplifies these things is easy, anything that detracts from these I can’t do. It all fits together- I am always looking to move the needle on my life as a whole”.
Ben takes this aligned approach to his giving back strategy- seeking opportunities that support his business as well as the causes he believes in (kids and technology).
Ben is a huge fan of Canada- he returned from abroad to start Hubba in Toronto because he saw the city as the ideal market to launch a global technology company. His patriotism and belief in the potential of the startup sector were key reasons for getting involved with the Upside Foundation.
“I love Canada and I think this is an important part of changing our mentality as a country. People who are starting companies now, have giving back embedded in their DNA.”
Pledging with the Upside Foundation
Ben enjoyed how easy it was to give back through the Upside Foundation. The process begins with a simple pledge to donate equity. The legal donation comes after that, taking various forms depending on the stage of the organization. Once the legal agreement is signed, nothing else is required until a liquidity event occurs.
“I loved the idea of knowing that no matter what, we’ve already committed to giving back- like your morning workout routine – it’s nice to know we’d already taken care of it”.
Ben sees making the commitment to give back as a benefit to and defining characteristic of Hubba’s culture.
“Pledging with the Upside Foundation has been a great thing for Hubba. I love telling people that we’re a part of it and that it’s important to us. As a company, we have a personality- we are a respectful, intelligent, close-knit, caring team, and being a part of the Upside Foundation is just another spoke of our personality. It’s an extension of us – not something to make us cool to the outside world, it’s just evidence of the type of people who we are”.
“The Upside Foundation is aligned with the direction the world is moving- giving back is in people’s DNA now. The beauty of the Upside Foundation is that it makes giving back part and parcel of everyday life- not just reserved for special success- it’s just one of the many things that you do as a company”.
So what did Ben end up buying for his wife? You will have to ask Ben yourself when you get the chance to meet him. That’s the beauty of the hook- it’s intriguing, aligns with all of Ben’s priorities, and lends itself to the explanation of Hubba’s business.
For more information about how pledging with the Upside Foundation can support your mission to do well while doing good, check out our website at www.upsidefoundation.ca. Take the pledge today to ‘share the upside’!
Hubba is the place where retail buyers and influencers get product information on the products they love and discover new stuff from the most interesting brands in the world.
Hubba has been included on Deloitte’s Hot 50 Companies to Watch list, Top 3 Best New Startups (KPMG Startup Awards), the Top 20 Most Innovative Companies (CIX) and Top 25 Up and Coming ICT Companies (Branham Group). Most recently Hubba was selected by Forrester Research as a breakout Retail eBusiness vendor and Red Herring recognized Hubba as one of their North America Top 100.
Deeply committed to giving back to the community, Hubba is proud to be a founding partner of Ladies Learning Code and founding donor to the Upside Foundation.
ABOUT THE UPSIDE FOUNDATION
The Upside Foundation of Canada is a registered charity. The Foundation provides an innovative corporate philanthropy platform to help Canadian startups and high-growth companies “Share the Upside”. Since startups’ cash is scarce, as is time, the Foundation makes charitable giving quick, easy and cash-free.
The model is powerful: Earlier-stage and high growth private companies pledge stock options or warrants to the Upside Foundation. When the company has a liquidity event (e.g., IPO, acquisition), the Foundation monetizes the options and donates the proceeds to registered Canadian charities selected by the donors (and approved by the Foundation).