Marco Pasqua is a speaker, writer, and entrepreneur. He sits down to talk with us about founding the CUBE Principle in Vancouver, BC. We follow his journey from concept to creation and explore challenges and lessons along the way.
Tell us about your business (i.e. Mentoring, the CUBE Principle).
I deliver keynote presentations and mentorship to businesses, institutions and individuals on the subject of how to “creatively utilize your best energy” (i.e. the CUBE Principle). Essentially what that is, is to help businesses, institutions, and individuals to understand their social network, the actual network of individuals that they know, not necessarily through the Internet; and how to utilize the strengths of those people in your network to accomplish a goal or overcome a challenge that they're facing in their life. For six years now, I've showcased to people how I’ve used this principle to accomplish goals in my life and make authentic connections with people in my community in order to sustain that connection and that growth to get to where I want to go in life.
In one-on-one mentorship, I help someone break down some of the challenges that they may be facing in their personal life that may be causing a roadblock, and then showing them specific strategies to elevate themselves to get to where they need to go.
I customize my approach to every event. For example, when doing a teambuilding event for a corporation versus an elementary school, I’m going to tailor the idea of working well with others differently to elementary school kids then I am to adults.
How did you come up with this business idea?
After being laid off from my job in the video game industry during the 2010 recession, an opportunity in disguise arose. When I tried to get back in to the video game industry a couple of times, I was given the exact same feedback as to why I didn’t get the positions: I was told that I had “too much energy and they didn’t know what to do with it.” As a result, I decided to explore what this energy thing was and how to use it and package it to help other people. The CUBE Principle was born in the shower.
How did you go about understanding the potential and market for your business idea? Which were/are your most useful market research tools?
When I first started out I knew nothing about how to start a business and that was the part that really scared me, so the first step I took involved researching whether there were mentors or programs out there that I could take, people that could show me guidance. I first started off by finding a guy named The Wheelchair Mentor who specifically helped people with disabilities in wheelchairs become professional speakers, which is what I wanted to do for my business. Then I found out about a local program in Surrey called SEEDS, Self Employment & Entrepreneur Development Society. At that time they would pay you to start your business idea if your idea was accepted by a panel of professionals. I went through that program and learned everything from accounting, what I would need to do in my business, how to determine what my competition was, how to break all those things down. A lot of the things that I learned were through trial and error, and for me doing a competitive analysis, doing a SWOT analysis was probably one of the best ways to determine who was in my market and what I was going to do to elevate my brand because I didn't want to be another speaker with a disability, although that may be inspirational to some people. Having the CUBE Principal was the extra piece because not everyone can relate to having a disability, but everyone can relate to having challenges. I needed to figure out how I was going to package this so that it can be digested by a wide variety of audiences.
What are the biggest challenges you have encountered in the Vancouver market?
Starting off, it was being taken seriously as a professional. I leaned on my experience in working with a lot of not-for-profit organizations. Growing up, I was an ambassador for these organizations doing a lot of very similar work pro bono. So now understanding what I could do in the Vancouver market and be taken seriously as a professional, especially going back to some of those groups that were used to seeing me when I was a child, was challenging. It was important to get the right tools in place and set up my website in a way that would really illustrate the professionalism aspect of things. I learned to tailor my content to fit different niches. It was not about delivering what I wanted to deliver in the message, but it was about delivering what my clients are looking for.
What are the most valuable lessons you have learned throughout this process?
It was learning that your business plan is a living being thing, it's like a child. I prepared a 65-page business plan that had all my breakdowns of the number of presentations I was going to do, and all the accounting needs I would need to get into place. It was important for me to understand that as the market would speak to me, it would tell me where I would have my most successes. I thought it was going to be keynotes and doing webinars, but where I actually found more successes was doing panel discussions, radio work, and television work and those kinds of things; because I could segue into really showcasing my expertise in the space of overcoming obstacles. This was different than what I thought in my business plan, and if I had stayed stuck and stubborn in my business, I would've never moved an inch. Don't stay stubborn in your business and remember that you're not tailoring it for you, your tailoring it for your customer base. Adaptability is key as well as finding partnerships and people that are strong in your network. I wasn’t going to be an expert at everything so being able to put something down and trust someone to handle an aspect of things is important. This delegation can help you advance yourself tenfold, and help you see more clients or sell more product if that’s your goal.
Could you walk us through the stages of the startup process?
When I was breaking down my business plan it was more, so I understand what the market is but how am I going to differentiate myself? I went out and I surveyed people in Vancouver on three topics that I could be potentially speaking on to get a general survey of people on the streets. I approached people that I thought would be the demographic of my market and would be most likely utilizing my services. Getting this insight allowed me to focus in on the topics that people were saying were the most important.
Understanding my costs was very important. How much does it cost to get a business license? Will I need liability insurance? Because I might be on stage asking someone to come up and do a demo and if they slip and bump their head, am I going to be held liable for that? Getting a good legal team behind you is important, as well as getting a trademark for the CUBE Principle logo as well as the phrase, “creatively utilize your best energy.” It was really helpful to get some advice early on from Gene Simmons of KISS who told me patent my idea right away because there are people that would steal this idea in a second. Asking people to go out for coffee was the approach that worked for me. When you ask somebody for something they’re less likely to say, yes. But if you tell somebody that you appreciate what they do in their life and you approach them more as a mentor, they’re more likely to say yes to a one-off or two-off meeting to really pick their brain. It was vital in my early stages to get the expertise of people that have already carved a path.
So essentially the starting point was, what do I need in terms of accounting, branding, marketing? What information could I learn from my mistakes without repeating mistakes that should be easy to overcome?
Is there a resource you wish you would have known about before you launched your business? If so, what did you find most effective?
Well, actually it’s less of a resource and more of a tip that I got from The Wheelchair Mentor. He showed me a way to not undersell my value as a person by maintaining my perceived value to an organization that does not have the budget for my services. The greatest piece of advice that he gave me was that you still invoice that organization for the amount of money you would have charged, but showing them that you are gifting that amount of time on the invoice so that it equals out to zero on the invoice. This way if I’m going to do a presentation for 45 minutes to an hour and it would normally cost $1,500 to $2,000, I’m not lowering my value, but rather showing that value and letting the client know that on any given year, I offer 10 free or gifted presentations to the organizations that are close to me or I feel that deserve the opportunity. Knowing how to do a speaker’s contact was a really big thing, but that advice about the invoice was the single greatest piece of advice because it didn’t lower my value to potential clients in the future. It really does change their perception of who you are when you come into an organization.
Do you have any advice for people starting out in your line of work?
Never be afraid to go out there and talk on a subject or topic that others may see as controversial, or that you don’t think they would relate to right away. Find those key people that are in your social circle that can really help you to elevate where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to sign up for different meet up groups. I did that when I was first starting out, not necessarily to entrepreneur meet up groups because those groups are going to be people who also going to try and sell you their services, don’t waste your time on this. Go to groups that are for hobbies or interests of yours, things that you do in your extracurricular time, and you would be surprised at the number of people that could turn into clients because you’re connecting on more of a personal, authentic level. Find a unique and creative way to offer your services but you can do it in such a way that the people will see the value based on the interactions with you as a person.
What does the future hold for your business?
I’ve determined that the thing that I enjoy the most is actually a lot of the radio and TV work, so I’m going to continue to focus on things like my video channel like YouTube and doing more podcasts because I really enjoy engaging with people on that medium. Also, I do like the idea of mentorship because I love the feeling that I get when I know that I have helped someone who’s personally struggling with something to overcome a particular challenge. Although I love doing the keynotes, I’m really more about personal engagement and really connecting with people. So I’m going to set my sights more on that, and potentially even write a book about it once I feel like I have enough value to deliver a message in that medium as well.
Even my current role as an accessibility and inclusion consultant for the President’s Group came about because I was adaptable. I never thought in any way that I would be consulting on accessibility or inclusion because I always avoided being seen as the token person with a disability talking about those things. But this opportunity came to me because of the work that I was doing with the Rick Hansen Foundation in communications and utilizing my speaking background to do that. This led me to working at City Hall for the City of Surrey in Accessibility, and from there working as spokesperson in the community to develop how-tos and tools on accessibility. I couldn’t say no to this opportunity. It’s understanding that you have to plant many seeds and not just put your eggs into one basket. Know that as long as you’re utilizing your strengths in different capacities, you’re always creating new opportunities that you can interconnect people with. That’s honestly what the CUBE Principle is all about.
To learn more about Marco Pasqua and his CUBE Principle visit www.marcopasqua.com