How To Grow Your People To Scale Your Business With Nick Thompson

Nick Thompson is the Co-founder and President of VEA Office Professionals Inc., a virtual services provider helping businesses scale. He has over 25 years of experience in leadership and executive management, having co-founded and led several companies, including one that he scaled up to over $100 million in revenue. Nick is a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and the author of LOOK OUT! You’re About to Get F**ked!: The 13 Biggest Pitfalls of Business and How to Avoid Them. 

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran interviews Nick Thompson, the Co-founder and President of VEA Office Professionals Inc., about his strategies for scaling a company to over $100 million. Nick also talks about his merger and acquisition formula, how the dot-com bubble and the 9/11 tragedy affected his company, and tips for working with your spouse.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • [02:02] Nick Thompson’s entrepreneurial background and his experience working with his parents
  • [08:14] The challenges Nick faced taking over a marketing company
  • [19:07] How Nick scaled his company to over $100 million in revenue
  • [27:25] Nick shares his business acquisition criteria, the mistakes he made, and the lessons learned from the experience
  • [47:28] How the idea for VEA came about
  • [51:43] Tips for working with your spouse
  • [53:10] The people who’ve had a significant impact on Nick’s life

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Episode Transcript

John Corcoran 0:00

All right, today we’re talking about how to grow your people and by growing your people to grow your business. My guest today is Nick Thompson. I’ll tell you more about him in a second. So stay tuned.

Intro 0:11

Welcome to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we feature top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and thought leaders and ask them how they built the relationships to get where they are today. Now, let’s get started with the show.

John Corcoran 0:28

Alright, welcome everyone. John Corcoran here. I’m the host of the show. And you know, every week, I get to talk to interesting CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs from all kinds of companies all over the world. We’ve had Netflix, we’ve had Kinkos, YPO, EO GrubHub, Redfin, all kinds of interesting ones. Check out the archives, and you can dive into some of those great episodes that we have there. And of course, this episode’s brought to you by Rise25, my company, where we help b2b businesses get clients, referrals, and strategic partnerships with done-for-you podcasts and content marketing. And if you are curious about that or starting a B2B podcast, go to You can learn all about what we do over there. 

And, Nick, I’m so excited to have you here today. You are the Co-founder and President over at VEA Office Professionals. Now this is a company that provides clients with virtual services and a variety of different packages and different styles basically helping businesses to scale up he has over 25 years of experience in leadership and executive and management, co-founded and presided excuse me over several companies, including one that he scaled up to over $100 million a year with 20 different offices across Canada, we’re going to talk of course, about that one. And that whole story. He’s also the author of an amazing book, by the name of LOOK OUT! You’re About to Get F**ked!: The 13 Biggest Pitfalls of Business and How to Avoid Them. 

 Hilarious title, you definitely have to check it out. And he’s got an array of different accolades, including being a finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, which is not at all easy to do. So super impressed to look at your background here, Nick, and to have you here today. And, and I’d love to start people off by asking a little bit about how they were as a kid, and whether they engage in any entrepreneurial ventures. And we were chatting about it a second ago. And you said that, you know, looking back on your childhood, you felt that there were some entrepreneur entrepreneurial mindset approaches to schooling in your personal life. And maybe it’s the case of just kind of looking back and now you see it, you see what you were doing. So tell us a little bit about what that was

Nick Thompson 2:27

like. Thanks, John. And thanks for having me here. By the way, I love this podcast, and you’re speak to an awful lot of people. And you provide a lot of great content. So thank you, I’m very honored to be on your show. Yeah, so you know, I have reflected over the years, because they say, you know that entrepreneurial blood is typically somewhere in there. So, you know, you hear stories that people that started, you know, their kind of sideline businesses when they were in elementary school, and that sort of thing. I didn’t really have, I did start working when I was 13, at a garden center. So my parents put that work ethic, they drove that into me through my life. But what I did come to understand is like, did some fairly entrepreneurial thinking things. So back in, I’m gonna age myself. Okay, so back in 1988, the, the world the Olympics, were in Calgary, that’s my hometown. And I was in high school. And my dad was actually working for the Olympics in a position they’re helping with their marketing and, and some other things. And so I wanted I being, you know, fairly sporty, I wanted to be involved, and I wanted to go watch the Olympics. And there’s a, you know, goes on for two weeks. And it’s in typically in February, right over school, you know, and exams, actually. So I thought, you know, I’m going to approach my school, and I’m going to see if they will take the two weeks off, give everybody listen. So I went and met the board of the school and said, Listen, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. People my age will will probably never see this in their hometown. Again. We should close the school for two weeks, where I’ve already petitioned some of the students will more more than happy of course to make up any exams and any work. But let let us go experience the incredible opportunity in front of us.

John Corcoran 4:32

And they somewhat that’s pretty, pretty good argument I have to share

Nick Thompson 4:35

a thought so and he kind of somewhat laughed me out of the room. They said look, this is you know, it’s a Government Board of Education, and you can’t you know, we can’t do that. Yeah. And so I went back to my big group of friends and said, Look, I tried a canvas. They said there’s no way to go away. Keep doing your schoolwork and I said okay, no worries, see in two weeks. So, I left for two weeks I went to experience the Olympus lifetime experience, right? I’ll never forget it like, this is the stuff that helps you grow in life. And so I experienced the Olympics for two weeks and came back to school. And I got reprimanded, and I said, that’s fine. I got a great experience. And I realized I actually had all the points I needed to, to graduate, I actually didn’t need to stay there any longer. So I said, I’ve got my Advanced Diploma, I can actually leave right now. So I left school a semester early, and went, went to the workforce, and then came back to graduate. So that was fairly entrepreneurial, I think, yeah.

John Corcoran 5:47

And so like, you end up starting a marketing company. And you said your dad had been doing marketing. So I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the trade. And you, you learn a lot from your dad around marketing, a little bit.

Nick Thompson 6:00

Actually, after the Olympics. My, dad finished working with the, with the Olympics, and he was in the printing industry prior to that, and he said, Look, I’m too old, too expensive to get hired back at a printing company of some sort. So, he wanted to find a small business to purchase. And so he asked my brother and I, hey, I’m going to buy a small business all funded. Do you want to join me? Eventually take it over and be my retirement plan.

John Corcoran 6:33

And you’re held at this point.

Nick Thompson 6:36

2424 Okay. And I’ve been doing I’ve actually been working in the ski industry for 10 years prior doing marketing and running ski schools at that point. And I said, look, it’s in marketing. I’m in my brother. He’s in the arts. And he said, business, no, thank you. It’s all about arts. So I joined my parents, and we searched out this small marketing company, had I was the fifth employee. They said, this is perfect. We’ll buy this marketing company, we’ll see where it goes. And only four years later, my parents said, we’re ready to retire. And I was like, oh, yeah, we’ve already gotten into this thing. And we’re like, No, you can, you can buy us out now. And so we created a long term buyout plan, so they could retire. And then when I started to grow it….

John Corcoran 7:28

How was it working with your father?

Nick Thompson 7:31

I, you know, I’ve always been very close with my parents. And that really helped we have we’ve always had a great relationship. Still a parent-kid relationship, but it’s been very healthy. And so we had our ups and downs, but we created just like you do with any partner, you create defining lines on who does what, and where the authority starts and ends. And we created that right from the start. So I learned that from my dad saying, This is what we need to do. And we had, you know, we were David Nick, in the office. It wasn’t, you know, Dad and son. And so we kept it very professional. And it worked out really well. We butted heads plenty, but it worked out well. Okay.

John Corcoran 8:14

So they decide they’re going to leave you to build a buyout plan. And then what happens next, how does it go? Once your father and you sound like your mother were working the business also once they phase out? 

Nick Thompson 8:27

We hired a consultant, and the consultant was so it would transition I was general manager at the time, I worked my way up from Warehouse, I worked all the positions. I was the general manager at the time, and he was the president CEO. And we were then going to do a switch. So we hired a consultant and we interviewed many. The consultant came in and said, I’m going to tell you a fact of business, any small business, pretty much any business, the potential of that business relies on one person and one person only, and that’s the person at the top. And, and I said we’re effed. That’s gonna be me. We’re screwed.

John Corcoran 9:12

Yeah, the title for your book already.

Nick Thompson 9:16

And that’s kind of where it came from. Right? We

John Corcoran 9:19

were laughing about it, but I mean, was, was that an imposter syndrome kicking in what? What was that?

Nick Thompson 9:26

No, it was a neophyte syndrome. I was scared because I had not been in this position before. Right. 

John Corcoran 9:32

How big was the company at this point? You mentioned your employee number five, but when you took over. 

Nick Thompson 9:36

Yeah, so at this time, I was taking over we were just, you know, 1.2 to 1.4 million somewhere in there. So

John Corcoran 9:45

You got some rules and you got some employees, you got some family or so employees? 

Nick Thompson 9:49

Yeah. So it was growing. And I was no I was, I was sincerely worried. Saying if It relies only on me, you know, it doesn’t have far to go until we hit the top.

John Corcoran 10:04

So what do you do then? 

Nick Thompson 10:06

So the consultant said, I’ll show you a way that you can open up and allow everybody to perform at their best, where it doesn’t just rely on you. But you can work as a team and you enable them, to perform and have some of their own autonomy in their jobs and decision-making. And that’s really where growing the people started, is that concept. I said, Well, that sounds good. Obviously, that was his pitch. So we hired him. And he worked with us for a year and a half. And we opened up that culture so that people had control over their own jobs. They made their own job descriptions, we call them performance descriptions, and people would negotiate. So it didn’t rely on just one person is the bottleneck. And what I’ve learned since then, is the job of any entrepreneur to work yourself out of a job, right? 

John Corcoran 11:01

Yeah, yeah. So What year was this, by the way that you took over? That was the year 2000 2000. Okay. Okay, so take time to take over a business because this is like height of the market. Everything’s gung ho. Everything’s up until the right to the right. And then I believe, at least in the United States, the stock market, people say that March or April of 22,000, was kind of the peak of everything, and then stuff kind of went, like, holy smokes. Did that affect you in Calgary?