This blog post was written by Erin Bury and was published on the Sprouter Blog earlier today.
When a business changes directions the tendency is to call it a pivot. Bruce Croxon is the co-founder of Lavalife, the popular online dating site which started out as a phone-based classifieds site. He says when it comes to his business, pivot isn’t the right word – it’s all about evolution. “For us it wasn’t so much a ‘shift’ but an evolution,” he says. “Entrepreneurs, particularly in the tech space, need to constantly stay on top of new access and user points.”
Croxon says he always wanted to be an entrepreneur. “My earliest influences were observing my dad and other self-made people that had built businesses from scratch,” he says. “That was what I wanted to do as well.” It was in the late 1980s when Croxon and his two business partners Ed Lum and David Chamandy (there were five co-founders in total) created the concept that would eventually become Lavalife. They wanted to make use of voicemail technology to connect people by phone, and created a phone-based classifieds service called Teleclassifieds. In 1988 it became Telepersonals, a phone-based personals service. They launched their Webpersonals service in 1997, and relaunched under the Lavalife brand in 2001 in Canada, the United States and Australia. Today the company has 1.7 million members who exchange more than 700,000 messages every day.
Croxon held several positions at the company over the years including partner, chairman and CEO. He says he’s most proud of almost reaching $100 million in sales, and the relationships he formed with his four co-founders. “Maintaining a friendship and effective business partnership with my co-founders through the many ups and downs of building a business,” he says when asked about his favorite Lavalife accomplishment. The company was sold in 2010 to First Media Group. Croxon said he learned three key lessons from Lavalife’s sale – timing is everything, completing a transaction is a lot of work and is far from guaranteed, and things will never be the same post-sale as when the company is your own. Croxon also decided to start a business that was well outside the technology space: spas. He’s the owner of Vida Spas, which have five locations across Canada and opened their doors in 2002.
These days Croxon is an investor, and recently joined the Canadian version of the popular show Dragons’ Den, which sees entrepreneurs pitch a panel of investor ‘Dragons’ who have the opportunity to invest in their business (or to let them down, and not always gently). He says the show is a great platform, and is different from anything else he’s been a part of. “I joined to give a few of my charities a little more profile, and to explore something completely different,” he says. His charities include Anaphalxis Canada. He says the first season was grueling but fun, and that there are a ton of great ideas and entrepreneurs out there.
Entrepreneurs are looking to Croxon for approval and investment on a daily basis, and his pitching advice all comes down to money. “Value your idea reasonably,” he says. “If you don’t, that becomes the focus of the discussion rather than your great idea.” He says the qualities he looks for the most in startup founders is commitment and introspection. And his key piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to focus. “Don’t try to do too much, which is an entrepreneur’s natural tendency.”
As for what’s next, it’s no surprise that Croxon is looking to find the next great entrepreneur, both in and out of the Den. “I’m looking for great digital businesses to advise and invest in,” he says. So if you can brave the Dragons’ Den, give him a ring.
Ask Bruce Croxon about his journey building Lavalife and his role as Dragon on Dragons’ Den LIVE Thursday, July 21st at 2pm EST. View the full Q&A or submit your questions now at sprouter.com/brucecroxon.