Mitch Johnstone

The Goldilocks Approach: A Compelling Story of 3 COVID Start-Ups

In Practice

Four months ago I wrote about my termination from WestJet. I wrote that from the time I was in junior high, I'd always had a job. I'm writing now to say that though I lost my job with WestJet, I created a new door to walk through shortly after. Today we are launching First Defence Face Masks to make it much easier for people and businesses to get high-quality face masks at affordable prices.

This is the third business I attempted to start after losing my job with WestJet. At first, I decided I was going to sell home gym equipment after an attempt to outfit my own space. Unfortunately, the existing players were selling out rapidly and it was nearly impossible to establish new relationships with overseas manufacturers. Shipping times were two months vs. the two-days that Amazon Prime members have gotten used to. This experience taught me how to set up my own Shopify store, install fulfillment plug-ins, and run some exploratory social media marketing. 

Next, I thought I would try to build my AI consulting practice- Abacus AI. I started by completing in-depth industry research into 7 different industries. I wanted to understand which industries had the most data, the most applicable AI use cases, the most money dedicated to AI and Innovation, and those with management-level leaders speaking about AI transformation. 

This investigation led me to identify Real Estate as one of the best industries to apply AI. I conducted some interviews with realtors and tried to better understand the home-buyers experience. Gathering this information would help me understand where the pain points were in the journey- both for realtors and home-buyers- and investigate which AI use cases could be applied to alleviate the pains. 

Much research has been completed on the effects of timing on successful entrepreneurial ventures. I found after a few weeks of pursuing realtors that they were having difficulty focussing on anything other than keeping their heads above water and figuring out how to complete virtual showings. Although this opportunity still appears to be fruitful, I’ve put it on the shelf for the time being. I have a considerable amount of research and information collected that will be helpful in the future. 

This brings me back to First Defence Face Masks- the third start-up of Covid-19 and the one success of the three. After hearing about the success of countries that mandated face masks to stop the spread of Covid-19, I met up with a friend who had an eCommerce store of his own. He had been in China in October of 2019 exploring new products and establishing relationships with Quality Assurance Firms to help monitor his supply. He reached out to his Chinese contacts and we got some samples sent to us for testing. 

The samples and accompanying documentation checked out and we were able to import more than 1million medical masks for Alberta Health Services at the height of the pandemic. This turned into a crash course in the global supply chain. I learned about ocean freight, air freight, customer brokerages, freight forwarders, INCO terms, and much, much more. Our early success has led to another 500,000 masks imported and successfully sold to non-profits, small businesses, and educational institutions. 

We’ve taken our earnings and re-invested them to establish an eCommerce store that will take the headache out of locating high-quality masks at an affordable price. We are much cheaper than any of the big box stores and provide free priority shipping on all orders. I even created a chatbot to help answer questions and manage our customer service. I’m now working on having our CRM fully-integrated so that we can experiment with some of the AI in Retail use-cases that I researched earlier in my COVID entrepreneurial journey. 

COVID has been a terribly difficult time. I and several of my close family members have lost their jobs. There's been tears, burnout, and constant feelings of overwhelm. My first two attempts at creating employment for myself failed, but I managed to dust myself off and continue forward, attempting to create something that can truly do good in the world. I appreciate you taking the time to read about my journey for the past few months and would love to hear from you if you’d like to learn more about First Defence and my process of getting it started. 

Be safe and be well.