George Moen: High-speed connections

Outgoing Blenz president George Moen is still chasing the perfect system to help entrepreneurs boost sales

George Moen, co-founder, Rapid Time Networks: “the uptake in my target market even surprised me”

Ask George Moen how he benefits from 40,000 Twitter followers and he'd likely recite his mantra: "Network without expectations and build a massive database. Your net worth is directly proportional to your network."

The five-year president of Blenz The Canadian Coffee Co. Ltd. steps down this month to practise exactly what he preaches – building networks. Following the success of High Output Business Network – an online and face-to-face networking system for small and medium-sized businesses that he founded with Howard Olsen – Moen is now focusing on his latest creation – Rapid Time Networks (RTN).

"RTN has been in various forms in my brain for several years. I'm at a stage in my life that I probably have one more big build left in me," said Moen, 56, who co-founded RTN with Mark Wright. "I saw the convergence of a huge need, an 'interesting' economy over the next number of years, so all the pieces were falling together for me."

The need Moen sees is due to what he calls "an explosion of individual small and medium-sized businesses." He's driven to create tools that can be used to build sales acquisition strategies that are more cost-effective for entrepreneurs.

"For the most part, many of them struggle, and I don't think there's a need for it."

RTN varies from typical meetup networks in that it is a commission-based referral system. Affiliates get paid for passing leads that turn into sales. Moen's goal is to open 14 licences in the Lower Mainland by mid-year.

"I've had two requests for businesses already. I have people come up at meetings saying, "I want Surrey; I want Langley. … Nothing grows this quickly if there isn't pent-up demand. … The uptake in my target market even surprised me."

Moen's new venture is typical of the serial entrepreneurialism that he has exhibited since starting a restaurant chain in 1978 while he was still in university.

Studying at UBC in finance and marketing, his project to develop a business plan for a business he might want to start led him to the creation of the Sandwich Tree restaurant. He opened his first franchise at Cambie and Broadway for $33,000. The chain grew to 100 outlets, but suffered from the recession of the 1980s.

"It was a problem of over-extension," said Moen. "It was rapid expansion without proper controls. We were a bunch of young guys who had a hell of a concept who didn't have the necessary checks and balances in place."

More lessons came when Moen entered the dot-com boom with an Internet-based coupon company that "never really got off the ground."

"My personal interest in the funding was $12 million to $15 million. I did get a denim shirt out of the deal, so I like to say I came out of the dot-bomb and didn't lose my shirt. I kept the shirt many years to remind me.

"You can call it the $15 million shirt," he laughed. "But I wasn't laughing back then."

The lesson learned?

"Trust yourself and your gut. Greed in others would be your downfall in a business relationship. Now I never put myself in a situation where if I wanted to get out, I couldn't. But I was in the minority. I said, 'Guys, we gotta get out of this deal.' My instincts were telling me [to get out] … but I couldn't get out in time."

Moen came in as president with Blenz in 2007 after he was first asked by the founders, Geoff Hair, Brian Noble and Moen's wife, Sarah, to find someone for the position.

"When I looked at the skill set, I said, 'Damn, this is me.'"

Moen applied his social media skills throughout the time he's been with the company.

"[Author] Shane Gibson said one simple thing to me a couple of years ago: 'Your customers at Blenz coffee are having a conversation, and you're not included.' So I got on to Twitter, searched Blenz and was blown away. I got it instantly. Social media is nothing more than media – again, it's a distribution channel for information. The business community thought it was something your kid did. But I got it; it was the new engagement level of the consumer."

His online savvy took Blenz to seventh place out of 25 in a ranking by of guerilla marketing impact during the 2010 Olympics. Using a collaborative blog, he collected and posted live feeds from dozens of contributors, keeping Blenz as a hub for up-to-date information. Later, he relied on Twitter feeds to keep abreast of activity after the Stanley Cup riots in June 2011. Three Blenz stores were smashed, and one employee was trapped in a store despite quick actions to close the stores before the game was over.

"The founders said, 'Let's go after them,' and I said, 'Works for me,'" Moen recalled. "Within 48 hours, we decided we were going to commence one of Canada's first class-action suits launched against rioters."

The focus with which Moen pursues his goals is no surprise to longtime colleague Scott Berg.

The managing partner with Trade Exchange Canada has known Moen for about 15 years.

Berg was a trade broker in Vancouver with barter company Mutual Exchange Canada (MEC), with which Moen set up account to trade gift coupons for business services.

"He's savvy, creative and a little abrasive at times," Berg laughed. "He's a guy that knows what he wants and generally goes out and gets it. … When he gets an idea he'll pursue it until the end. He's really stubborn."

Berg recognized Moen's out-of-the-box thinking years ago when Moen was involved in an indoor go-kart business. "He advertised with smaller media that he bartered for, so larger media started calling him to advertise. He said he would contra the advertising, … so he ended up basically trading go-kart passes into over $1 million worth of media. They all started calling – Global TV, the Sun, the Province."

Despite all the deals, Berg says there's a basic similarity that he and Moen share that's based on the customer.

"We're both driven, and client satisfaction is a really big part," he said. "We both like others to succeed based on our efforts. My biggest joy, and I think George is similar, is if we are able to put a nice a big deal together where the buyer, the seller and us are all happy. He's a connector of people, very much like I am."

Asked about Moen's shortcomings, Berg added, "Text him or email him; he's terrible at returning phone calls." •