Whisky Wisemen event combines Vancouver business trailblazers and good drinks

The Be Wise speaker series gathered industry leaders on a variety of topics including investing, blockchain and entrepreneurship

Credit: Nathan Caddell

The Be Wise speaker series gathered industry leaders on a variety of topics including investing, blockchain and entrepreneurship

The biannual edition of the Whisky Wisemen Society‘s Be Wise event saw some heavy hitters grace Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre last weekend. Guests were treated to addresses from FrontFundr chief growth officer Jill Earthy, BlockSpace president Aviv Milner, Indochino CEO Drew Green and investor Kevin Yeung.

In between the talks, guests got another treat: whisky. Representatives from presenting sponsors The Glenlivet and J.P. Wiser’s Whisky passed out samples after every speaker, enlightening attendees about flavour notes and the process that brought life to the spirit.

While sniffing out the vanillas and oaks, the crowd heard stories of business successes and future goals.

The new, non-linear future is diverse

“We’re faced with this onrushing future that’s coming at us all the time, and the only thing we can do is be prepared to pivot all the time,” said Earthy, noting a study from consulting firm Deloitte showing that 90 percent of new jobs are temporary.

“Businesses are needing to adapt as well; we need new models for innovation and growth, and traditional models are no longer relevant,” she added, citing diversity is one of the key drivers of innovation.

In addition to her work with Vancouver-based investment platform FrontFundr, Earthy founded the Raise Collective a year ago. This group brings together a community of female investors determined to change the current gender ratio in funding and entrepreneurship.

“I know that I always thrive when I’m surrounded by people with diverse perspectives,” Earthy said.

FrontFundr, which provides customers with an easy-to-access online investment system, recently added a few names to its portfolio, including cannabis producer Green Mountain Health Alliance and the Rio Theatre.

Blockchain is here to disrupt more than just finance

“Who here thinks they could explain the first two sentences of what blockchain is as a technology?” was the first question Blockspace president Aviv Milner asked the crowd.

About three glasses of whisky into the night, most attendees were understandably shy, but some shouted out terms like “public ledger” and “decentralized.”

Milner was more interested in talking about what called a “new way for people to cooperate”, though.

The president of Blockspace, which invests and educates in the blockchain space, talked about the idea of global system of government in which everyone is on the same page. For him, bitcoin was the first inkling of that utopian theory.

“As a concept, it’s about having a bunch of people agree on some rules, cooperate in the context of finance, without having any [central] authority,” he explained. “But I looked at bitcoin and I said, ‘OK, great, you have some weird magical Internet money that I can buy some weird things with; that seems limited.’ It turns out the idea behind this, the system, can be applied to many things.”

Milner outlined some areas where blockchain could make an impact, including governance and insurance.

The governance aspect focused on a protocol similar to blockchain, where anonymous voters would agree on project or an idea to back. Milner noted that such a system has been in place for some time and has led to projects being funded in Zimbabwe.

“Insurance is about making a making a tactical, smart bet,” he said. “It’s about hedging risk.”

Milner called Insurance Corp. of British Columbia a “terribly bureaucratic system that’s costly, inefficient, expensive, that’s massively in debt.” Right now, he admitted, blockchain’s influence on insurance is somewhat limited, but there is a way to place an online cryptocurrency bet on whether your flight will be late or cancelled.

“The house will win very little in that case, and the insurer will get all of the money,” Milner said. “And that’s pretty cool.”

Credit: Indochino

Indochino climbs the fashion ladder

Sporting a New York Yankees hat and a beard fit for Main Street, Indochino chief executive Drew Green sat down for a Q&A with Whisky Wisemen CEO Lesley Anne Brown. Green, who has helmed the suit maker for more than two years, helped it move from an online-only business to a physical retail presence

Indochino just launched three new stores in Dallas, Denver and Bethesda, Maryland, bringing its total number of showrooms to 26.

“This year we’re really excited to expand on our nine showrooms in Canada,” said Green, who started an online marketplace called Shop.ca before selling it  while it was valued at $225 million.

“What I’ve been taught through my career is that when there is diversity and challenges, those are opportunities,” he noted. “The past few years at Indochino have seen quite a bit of adversity, and we needed to spend a lot of time as a management team raising capital and getting the right strategic partners. It’s come with a lot of twists and turns.”

Investing in the right companies, but also the right people

“I’m not an entrepreneur,” Kevin Yeung insisted at the start of his speech. “What I am is someone who is very passionate about helping entrepreneurs thrive, helping them focus. The word I’d probably use to describe myself best is an enabler.”

That phrase has some negative connotations these days, but Yeung gave it a different spin, talking about his work in helping young entrepreneurs achieve their dreams.

He mentioned a few names: Stephen Lam, co-founder of GoGoVan, an Uber-style system for item delivery; Gabrielle Kirstein, who started Feeding Hong Kong, the first food bank in the city dedicated to redistributing surplus food from retailers, distributors and manufacturers to people in need; and William Tang, co-founder and CEO of Vancouver-based EcoService Group, one of the biggest car-sharing companies in North America.

“It’s the individuals that I care about, it’s the passion they show, it’s the sacrifices they make,” Yeung said.

The next Whisky Wisemen event is the PlaidforDad summer party, part of a national fundraising campaign to help protect men from prostate cancer, at downtown Vancouver’s Adesso restaurant on June 14.