Victory By Culture: Mike Serbinis’ Success Habit & How To Build Your Own

May 27, 2015 James Rubec
Mike Serbinis Dx3 2015

Mike Serbinis delivered the keynote address at Dx3 2015 on March 11.

When Mike Serbinis was 15 years old he was building new propulsion systems for NASA and Lockheed Martin. He completed university at Queens University with a degree in physics and engineering and later a Master of Science degree in Financial Engineering from the University of Toronto. He then quit a job with Microsoft and went to live on Elon Musk’s couch to start a company without a name, without a product and for no money.

That company, docSpace, let people share large files like pictures and music in the cloud, in 1999, something some companies still don’t have a full grasp of to this day. It was a big problem that he helped find a way to solve; sharing large amounts of data all over the world without zip disks and direct mail.

“Imagine what the future would be in the domain or problem area you are working on. If it was purely up to us, what would we make it.”

He was building a track record of success ─ deliver a solution, profit and thrive ─ and he did it over and over again.

More recently he founded KOBO, which he has since sold to Japanese firm Rakani for $315 million. He disrupted the book industry with ingenuity, know-how and persistence.

“It (KOBO) started as an imagination exercise ─ what happens to publishers, retailers and book stores ─ what is the experience for all of us when books go digital,” said Serbinis, describing a discussion he had with a friend when he returned from his years in California to a standing room crowd of over 500 at Dx3, only blocks away from the restaurant Crush where that fateful discussion happened. “That value chain would get completely crushed, there would be disintermediation. And for the consumer there was this very simple but powerful idea that we would be able to download any book on any device in any language.”

In KOBO’s first year they reached 20 million customers in 109 countries and sold $110,000,000 of devices and books.

Five Habits For A Successful Business

Instincts like that are hard to argue with. Here are Serbinis’ five habits to build a successful business:

  1. Solve Hard Problems – “If you are capable of solving hard problems you have a responsibility to.”
  2. Imagine The Future – “Imagine what the future would be in the domain or problem area you are working on. If it was purely up to us, what would we make it. At the end of it, if you land in a good place all you have to do is choose, whether you want to be the one that goes and does it or you want to let someone else who goes and does it.”
  3. Think Bigger – “There has never been a point of building one of these (a product) for Hamilton, or Palo Alto or Canada or the US it had to be bigger … every decision that you make that helps you be better local first takes away ultimately from that global player.”
  4. Be David – “You can never play the goliath game, to beat goliath. You didn’t have the brand, or the customers, or that capital or the balance sheet … You have to be smaller and faster to beat Goliath.”
  5. Culture By Design – “Start with the end in mind from the beginning, the idea of being one of the three global players on the podium … your values aren’t just some good sounding page on your website, but words that you want your team and partners to be how you do things, to help you be competitive and help you win.”

Serbinis said that these together combine to become a culture of winning. There are really only three ways to succeed in business, especially in the tech industry.

  1. You can be first – but you can’t really control that and globally you don’t often have that opportunity.
  2. You can be cheapest – but that’s a race to the bottom and in technology and that’s not a lot of fun.
  3. Be the best. 

Learn more about Serbinis’ next world-changing project, personal health platform LEAGUE Inc.

For a full review of the Dx3 Conference Speakers, download the Dx3 2015 Session Review Presented By Moneris.

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