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Mutual Attraction

Starting a business with your spouse and a book

2 July, 2024

The Family

Andrew Scotland didn’t know what else to do.

He earned a degree in fine arts from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. Scotland had a talent for drawing. It was only after he graduated that he realized that there were few jobs for artists. He’d have to find another way to earn a living.

During his time at Concordia, Andrew had made his beer money doing contract painting for a guy named Jamie. When he wasn’t mastering his craft in class, Andrew was out painting houses. Now this was a skill people were willing to pay for.

Upon graduation, Andrew went to work for Jamie full-time. It was a good foot in the door, but not a big enough company to provide a steady 9 to 5. When work dried up; Andrew couldn’t get any hours.

So Andrew asked Jamie if it was OK to pick up some side work as a freelance painter.

“Before I knew it, I was booked,” Andrew says.“I knew how to paint, and I knew how to talk to people, and word of mouth took me so far.”

What he wasn’t prepared for was the strains of being an independent contractor. When November came around, Andrew quickly learned the lesson about off-season that all painting contractors figured out their first year.

“November came and I was out of jobs,” Andrew says.“I had no prospects for jobs.”

Winter was coming, and Andrew needed to buy gifts for Christmas. a company called Strathmore had a partnership with Andrew’s rugby club and was offering $20 an hour to shovel snow.

“And I said, ‘I can do that,’” Andrew says.“And I joined onto that company.”

And that’s where he met Jenn.

Jenn’s Journey

Jennifer Uhl took a more circuitous route to her meet-cute.

She had always been passionate about business. She had an innate ability to make businesses grow. She was practical, always looking for ways to move forward quickly. She was a good match for dreamers; she had the tactics they needed to execute their vision.

Her first job was working for a dance company. “I grew up dancing,” she explains.“So I was their volunteer coordinator managing all of their fundraising events.” Feeling adventurous, she

moved from her hometown of Calgary to Montreal. “I wanted to live the dream,” she says. What her dream never included was everyone speaking in French, a language she didn’t understand well. “I was a bit naive,” she conceded.

When you don’t speak the language in Montreal, you can’t be too choosy about your job. Jenn was open to work. First, she joined the flash sale site “Beyond the Rack,” which was at the time one of Canada’s fastest-growing companies. While she loved the rocket ship of exponential growth, the frenetic pace took a toll.

Around the same time, Jenn’s friend was looking to hire. She owned a company called Strathmore, a national commercial landscape management and snow removal company in Canada.

Jenn didn’t know a lot about shoveling snow, but she knew how to make a business grow. She aced the interview and went to work at Strathmore.

And that’s where she met Andrew.

Undercover Lovers

Jenn had just hired a painter to touch up her condo, and he had done a horrible job. The sickly yellow color in the kitchen was a constant reminder. She just wanted it to go away.

Meanwhile, Andrew was taking on additional work when it wasn’t snowing. Strathmore invited him to paint a newly acquired building.

One day he noticed Jenn coming around to drop off coffees. Once Andrew finally got the hint, she asked for a quote to have him paint her kitchen.

Andrew stopped by the kitchen and discovered the job was the size of a postage stamp – literally a 1’x4’ stretch of wall. One pass with the roller and it was finished quicker than it would take to write up the paperwork.

“I don’t think I ever got paid for that job,” Andrew jokes.

“It was six beers …” Jen interjects.

“I don’t think I ever got paid.”

“A lifetime of happiness, I would say.”

After the kitchen makeover, Jen started hanging around Andrew. She curled her hair and batted her eyelashes. She thought they were being covert, but it could hardly have been more obvious.

“Whenever Andrew’s painting a part of the building, Jen happens to be over there,” she laughs. “Andrew was hanging around my desk quite a bit. And I think we both had some goofy  grins on our faces.”

You’ve seen Pam and Jim in “The Office?” It was like that.

Eventually, they had to come clean to their coworkers, and everybody went back to work. Jen and Andrew got married, and she got pregnant with their first child.
 

together

The Book

Andrew and Jen never expected a book would change their lives.

Andrew was a branch manager by then, and at his first meeting with the management team, they announced they were rolling out a new program. Everyone seemed fed up with meetings that derailed. 

Andrew mostly remembers hearing about “L10 meetings.” “It forces action items into every discussion. It forces solves and candor, and it’s also structured nicely to keep it light.”

The new philosophy they were adopting was a set of techniques called, “Traction Tools,” as described in the book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman.

Traction calls its management system EOS, for Entrepreneurial Operating System. The book outlines six key components that are essential to running a successful business: Vision, People, Data, Issues, Process, and Traction.

Jen, who was out for 18 months as is typical for Canadian maternity leave, could only listen as Andrew described to her the transformation to the business where they had met and fallen in love.

“I felt like part of the change even though I guess I wasn’t there,” Jen says with a laugh. “Then as I started learning about it, I became really passionate about it.”

Traction Tools were perfect for Jen’s get-it-down, push-it-forward personality. The more she took to it, the more she realized that she could be an entrepreneur.

“We had Traction Tools. We had years of being mentored by one of the best businesswomen in the industry,” she says of her then-boss.

It was time to take the plunge.

 

6

 

The Birth of a Business

Andrew and Jenn wanted to start a business. they just didn’t know what the business would do.

They looked into building compliance and septic inspections. One day, Andrew and his brother were painting Andrew and Jenn’s house. At the end of the job, Andrew sat down and thought about how much money he could have charged a customer to do that work.

“I said, ‘Forget inspections, let’s do painting,’” Andrew says.

It was a full-circle moment for the couple who had met over a small patch of kitchen that needed painting. Painting brought them together, and now it would be the foundation of their new

lives together.

On December 1, 2023, Jenn and Andrew left Strathmore to strike out on their own, taking the brave leap that all entrepreneurs must take.

Come January, they were ready to launch. they borrowed a room at the public library to hold meetings. They worked through the Traction Vision framework, deciding on their core values and setting milestones for one, three, and 10 years out.

“Then we had the blueprint for the company that we wanted to build, and we could start actioning out how to do these things,” Andrew says.

They named the business ALBEC.

“I’m from Alberta; Andrew’s from Quebec,” Jenn explains.“It was Andrew who came up with it. We probably had about 50 names.”

What does the future hold? Jenn has a pretty good idea.

“So our three-year picture, that puts us at January 30, 2027,” she says, rifling through the notes she brought back from their Vision quest. “We want to be a recognized and trusted brand in

Ottawa.”

“Read the 10,” Andrew says.“I need to hear the 10.”

“The 10-year target is hands-off owners,” Jenn reads.

Andrew smiles. “I like the 10.”

 

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