What I have learned starting up Island Circus Space…

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Just over a year ago, Island Circus Space emerged.  Initially, it stemmed from an idea I had about gathering all of the high level, professional circus artists from Victoria, BC.  The team that has assembled has tremendous talent.  It is an honor to be working with such dedicated circus artists.

The spark that started it all was a night out on the town, getting down, to Maceo Parker.  There were 2 incredible, ex-Cirque dancers in Victoria called Tentacle Tribe doing a movement workshop that I attended (learned lots!).  At Maceo, their friend, Lisa Eckert (a professional circus artist), was also in town.  They had all been working on Cirque Eloize’s show, “Id”.


IMG_1760It occurred to me that there must be a few others like Lisa, who are traveling the world working for big shows and are from Victoria.  I figured that at some point, they are going to want to come home, but they can’t as there is absolutely nothing here for them to come back to.  To me, this was a real shame as Victoria would be missing a tremendous opportunity to develop a cultural and educational asset.  I love this little city so much and it needs and deserves a world class circus scene.

From there, Lisa put me in touch with Kaelyn Schmitt (another professional circus artist).


ICS_Kaelyn-289x300She enthusiastically signed on.  Kaelyn and I worked super hard this winter teaching workshops, performing for TEDx, and pitching investors.  Lisa finished a contract in Berlin and came back to help create our first production, “CATALYST”, that happened Apr. 2/3 at the Metro Theater – sold out and standing Os.

Many more artists have joined us.  In my biased opinion, we have a very, very talented and diverse team.

We are currently working in the lean start up model developing our mvp (minimal viable product).  At first, we will partner with a Rec center to offer classes and build a following.  The number one lesson that I have learned starting up the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry is that it is absolutely critical to build capacity right from the start.  It is crucial to avoid being bogged down by the day to day as that limits the entrepreneurs ability to push the vision forward and ensure the health of the organization.

It has been an excellent entrepreneurial learning experience already that is pushing me just outside of my knowledge range allowing me to accelerate.

A few entrepreneurial lessons that have been reinforced:

1. Team and partners are everything.

While cliche, it is absolutely true.  Getting this one right is critical.  It has been fascinating to put together this circus team.  The goal of a true leader is to make other leaders.

I haven’t just learned this lesson here as I have been developing other startups,but now, I feel that over the course of many years and lots of mistakes, I have steadily improved my communication and listening skills.  They are being put to the test and expanded as I continue to learn how to facilitate teams.

2. Just go for it.  Learn as you go

Pull the trigger.  It is impossible to know everything.  You have to trust that your preparations will serve you as things change rapidly on the fly.

Be a learning machine.  That is the only way forward now.  I believe that every organization is going to need to have a Chief Learning Officer as the world’s knowledge is growing exponentially.  I have dozens of ideas on how to accelerate an organization’s learning capacity and would be happy to help you with this (just give me a call).

3. Hustle

I have never hustled harder in my life trying to sell our first production “CATALYST”.  I bit off a large chunk and had to sell over 700 seats for the weekend of shows.  I did absolutely everything in my power to get bums in seats: radio, print, TV, handbills, social media, and praying that it was going to come together.  This is while working a crazy day job trying to change education in BC (call me if you want to know how to change an entire province’s education system).

I am happy to say that it was successful; 3 shows were sold out and the last one was 80% full.  I truly believe that my salesmanship has reached another level and I feel confident that my hustle can make pretty much anything happen.

I must also give full credit to my wife.  When she asked how much we could potentially lose, and I said a relatively large number, she was out there selling the very next day and hustled just as hard as me for weeks to make it a success – what a champion!

4. Closely related to hustle – Get in front of as many important as people as possible

The help and advice that I have received this year from experienced, seasoned entrepreneurs has been priceless. Peter Elkins has been a big help.  Indeed, he got us in front of 80 accredited investors in February from all over North America. It gave us big time visibility and credibility as the companies who applied to pitch where stringently vetted.

At the pitch, it was us and 9 tech companies.  Kaelyn and I did a two-high, made everyone laugh, and delivered the most enthusiastic pitch of the evening (we are performers after all!).  From this, we found another very big helper, our lawyer, Carli van Maurik.

5. Build community

For us, it is so easy.  Circus is such a deep passion for people. We have already gathered a strong, supportive, and talented community.  It is not like we are starting up a dry cleaning business.  The people want circus!  They want to get fit, have fun, and be creative.  We are fortunate to have such a great base to grow from.

Our goal is to open a high level circus school.  Ultimately, open a K – 12 circus school.  To my knowledge, this doesn’t exist on Earth.  With the right sales and marketing team, it could be an international sensation.

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