Yo! What’s Shakin’!? My name is Robert Bruski and I’m the co-founder of Ctrl V. What is Ctrl V you might ask? Well, it is North America’s first virtual reality arcade. Yup! That’s right! An arcade dedicated to virtual reality. It’s exactly what it sounds like. Our customers visit one of our brick & mortar locations and pay by the hour to experience an all-you-can-eat buffet of virtual reality experiences.
We’ve got all sorts of experiences that cater to, literally, every demographic. Whether you’re looking to swim with whales in the ocean, solve complex puzzles, try your hand at escaping a locked room, or simply just march around annihilating zombies, Ctrl V is where it’s at! North America’s first, and the world’s largest virtual reality franchise system, when the reality isn’t enough!
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
My entrepreneurial journey starts many, many years ago. I would be amiss if I didn’t convey that entrepreneurship was always in my blood. Ever since I was just a sparkle in my parent's eye, I was thinking up new schemes and ideas that had the potential to grow and scale. As a young rascal I would be doing things like flipping toys for a profit (the profit wasn’t always monetary), setting up lemonade and beverage stands, trading collectibles, and even simply just selling raspberries door-to-door that I picked from a public field - yeah, that was me! But this was just the beginning.
As I grew older and entered high school things started to get a little bit more serious. I started learning about business, watching documentaries, reading biographies, and trying to learn from the best of the best. Having gotten my first job as a fitness club attendant at a local hotel, I thought to myself, “okay this is great, but what is the next step to grow and scale?”. This mentality stretched way beyond my “professional” life. I knew that great leaders and great entrepreneurs were great because of the people that they surrounded themselves with. So I took a summer and read, memorized, and indoctrinated myself with Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” based on a recommendation I saw from an old band called The Moffats on Canada’s music tv channel MuchMusic. I returned to school the next season and joined the student council, eventually ran for, and became, school president, joined loads of clubs and sports teams, and even started interacting with the school board. I was on a mission to learn as much as I could from as many people as possible. This mindset continued past high school.
The key to having a successful business, and migrating from a founder/entrepreneur mentality to a business person that can lead into the future, is understanding that business is all about relationships and people.
I moved on to Wilfrid Laurier University where I studied economics and was fascinated by the inner workings of a business on a micro and macro level. I launched the largest business club at the school with a few friends called “The Link.” I joined the students union, played some varsity sports, and held multiple full-time jobs. I started working at RadioShack and Rogers Telecommunications selling electronics and mobile phones, trying to master the sales process. But again, that was just the start. I moved to work for TD Canada Trust, a large Canadian bank. Starting at the bottom I managed to progress through four levels of promotion/roles within 2 years - faster than anyone else. This coincided with my graduation from university. My next step was to start working for the trading house within the bank to get a grasp on financial analysis, but alas, they said that it was too much progress and may not look too good to other staff. Well, as you can imagine, I wasn’t going to have any of that. Time to move upwards!
I left the banking industry and started working for a fund administrator where we did admin work for hedge funds. This is where I picked up a valuable accounting and financial analysis skillset. Naturally, I was looking for growth and moved up to the risk & valuation team. This was awesome! I learned how to value some of the most complex assets I could ever imagine, including companies. But I had reached a growth ceiling here as well because of the nature of the business that the company was in. So, through a series of hard work and happenstance, I got the opportunity to work at a hedge fund in Toronto.
This was arguably, the best one in the country. I learned so much from some serious heavy hitters there. And I was mentored through every position - accounting, admin, client relations, sales, ops, IT, etc. I really was able to get my fingers into every part of the company and improve it 10x. Except for one role, the actual investing. During this period I had launched a Research Management System for investment professionals, a print magazine focused on entrepreneurship, and a social network geared towards adrenaline junkies. But, what I really wanted to do was get into the nitty-gritty of picking apart businesses to find the diamond in the rough that was poised to be a good investment. I spent my night's researching, writing reports, and learning how to invest as well as the difference between a good company and a great company. I kept delivering these reports to the director of research and consistently got denied. I was told they were bad ideas. I was told that they were wrong. I was even told that I have no potential to really understand a business! Yeah, okay, good one! Are you kidding me? Who says that? Later I had found out that my ideas were actually quite awesome, they were executing on them, and making some decent bank! There was some sort of internal drama going on above my pay grade amongst the leadership and as a result, I was getting held back. So I decided that they can stay behind their computer screens and pontificate on what is a good business. I’m going to pony up and go create one! Time to grind and hustle. I left and ventured out on my own.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
On day 1 after having left the working world, an old elementary school friend of mine, Ryan Brooks, posted a survey on Facebook asking for responses. I filled it out and thought to myself “what is this guy up to?” So we met up and had coffee at Tim Hortons. Turns out he was playing around with polarized lenses (what’s used to create 3D glasses) and brainstorming with the current patent holder on 3D lens technology. They had developed a way to see two different things on the same film screen. Can you imagine the potential? Parallel storylines, multilingual subtitles, watching sporting events from multiple angles - it was endless. So Ryan and I agreed to build a company out of this. He’d work on the technology and I’d work on the business. We spent the next few months doing everything you’d expect an entrepreneur to do. We were writing business plans, doing market research, filing patents, building prototypes, injection molding models ourselves, altering designs, building pitch bundles, filming movies using the tech, crowdfunding, etc. We went through the entire gamut. But it wasn’t getting any real traction. We knew that our optimal client was going to be Hollywood. So we did some sleuthing and found two emails from some studio executives in Hollywood and booked flights to LA. It was time to boogie!
Upon landing in LA, both of our coveted meetings were canceled. We had two weeks in LA and all of La La Land to explore. So guess what we did? We bought beer and locked ourselves inside the Airbnb and started making phone calls. We interpolated emails based on LinkedIn profiles and dug up phone numbers. Two days later, we had a meeting with every major studio, production company, and celebrity organization in LA - some of them didn’t even know they had meetings with us! Haha! Slick! We packed up our gear and started the round of pitches. I can assure you, we have some almost unbelievable and incredibly mind-bending stories. But I’ll save that for a different time. What is important to note here is that after loads and loads of hustle we finally got a deal with a major studio that included distribution. It was time to head back to Canada and start working out the details, including the filming of a major motion picture. But we ran into a massive hurdle. One of our investors had been accused of a crime (that he was ultimately acquitted of, on grounds of false accusation) and, as a result, no one wanted to work with us anymore. Are you kidding me!? All that effort and we are back to square one? If there is anything entrepreneurs are, it’s resilient. So we altered the technology and started applying it to gaming. But it just wasn’t taking - for several industry-related reasons.
Ryan and I found ourselves, once again, in a Tim Hortons wondering what to do. It was at that time that we found out that virtual reality was just being released for consumer use and that it would be a major milestone in immersive technology. So huge that it would leapfrog over our current innovation. Well, it was time to pivot. We enlisted operations Allstar James Ellingson and got back to the drawing board. It was time for business plans, market research, customer interviews, and all of the standard stuff that you’d get with starting a business. However, in this scenario, we also needed to test the product. It was brand new and we had only our intuition to go off in determining if it’d be a success. The business model was impeccable but would the technology be what we had expected? So we had to try to get our hands on one of these devices before it was released. What were we to do? You guessed it, we tried harder. We called every company that we could, sent an email to anyone we could find, and just crushed it. We finally managed to get a system to test out and it was everything we imagined. There were two massive hurdles that we had to overcome and the only way was to just give it a shot.
The first hurdle was that we needed commercial licenses of the equipment. This wasn’t an easy feat. Because the technology was brand new and on the cusp of being released for consumer use, the manufacturers hadn’t yet considered creating commercial licenses. It was our prerogative to make sure we did everything above board from the start, so a commercial license needed to be obtained. After seemingly endless, discussions, we were able to convince the manufacturers to grant us a commercial license to use the hardware and to ship us 16 units. The second hurdle was to be able to use the content legally, pay royalties, and contribute to the virtual reality ecosystem. So naturally, we reached out to the developers and offered to pay them for the use of their content. Finally, someone welcomed us willingly into their sphere amongst this long entrepreneurial journey and was very supportive of us taking on this endeavor above-board. Agreements were signed and we were ready to rock and roll.
It took us less than two months to incorporate a company, procure financing, seek out a piece of real estate, the order all of the materials we needed, and build out the place to almost surgical specifications. Ctrl V was born! We opened our doors in June 2016 and began our journey. It was not long after opening our doors did we realize that we had something magnificent on our hands. We were truly contributing to the way people interacted with their imaginations. But the possibilities wouldn’t stop there. We know that virtual reality and other similar immersive technologies would bloom into education, training, medicine, and several industries. But this would only happen if the general population became familiar with, and adopted the technology. This was going to be our mission. But how could we accomplish this with a single location nestled in Waterloo, Ontario? Corporate growth would take exceptional financing and long periods of time. What would happen if competitors opened up and did it wrong? Could they potentially damage the market for us and require us to go through a re-education cycle with our customer base? Our business economics was amazing and we had created a business that was sustainable in its own right, but an expansion like this would be on another level. The best solution to this conundrum was to go down the franchising path.
For those of you that don’t know, franchising is like launching a completely new business. So, you guessed it. We went back to the drawing board. Business plans, processes, procedures, marketing assets, and a variety of other critical components were added to our task list. We got involved in the Canadian Franchise Association, the International Franchise Association and started learning as much as we could to be able to grow. It was off to the races. Next thing you know, we were franchising across multiple countries and bringing virtual reality to the masses, all while allowing other entrepreneurs to get involved in a brand new industry and make their own dreams of business ownership come true.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
These days, Ctrl V has become the largest virtual reality franchise system in the world and we’re all truly living out the mission of bringing immersive technology to the masses - making it accessible to everyone. We’ve developed a system that is profitable and sustainable from its own revenue and not dependent on venture capital financing. With average CoGS of approximately 12.5% of revenue and gross margins, after franchise charges, of approximately 80%, we have created a model that helps the world experience happiness in the form of virtual reality. Our system has grown to multiple locations across three countries and is based on proprietary, efficiency-optimized software. Not only that, but I’ve had the opportunity to travel the world to speak as an expert in the virtual reality and business industries to help to inspire others to continue pioneering a global industry.
Our future is extremely bright. The global population is beginning to adopt virtual reality and understand the benefits that it can bring to a multitude of different industries. Medicine, training, and education are all part of this transition. But best of all, the need for brick & mortar arcades like Ctrl V is growing and even more necessary now than ever. And so, we are expanding and growing through the franchising business model. With locations in Canada, the United States, and even Costa Rica, we are providing an opportunity for entrepreneurs globally to join the movement. So what’s next? The global domination of course!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
When thinking back on things that I’ve learned through this entire process (and let me assure you, I’m still consistently learning), I think I would narrow it down to two specific items. The first one is from a business standpoint - business is not what you think it may be. You can have all of the business plans, financial models, and connections and your business still may not work. You can have a very profitable model, endless education and experience, and an industry that is ripe for the taking, and it still may not work. The key to having a successful business, and migrating from a founder/entrepreneur mentality to a business person that can lead into the future, is understanding that business is all about relationships and people. Having compassion and empathy is the real differentiator. It breeds culture, buy-in, and growth.
The second takeaway that I’ve gathered from my journey is in the realm of franchising specifically. Franchising isn’t as easy as one may believe it to be. It isn’t simply setting up all of the right documents and processes and hoping that the business steps and repeats itself with a slick pitch. As a franchisor, you are ultimately leaving the business that you were in when you started your first location and entering a world of relationships, partnerships, and support. Your franchisees depend on you and your mindset should be to treat them as business partners and help them grow. There is a lot to this statement and simply thinking that you can do it on your own is very bold. I encourage every franchisor to engage an advisor (we use Angela Coté Inc) and surround yourself with franchising experts to help guide you along the way.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
When it comes to tools that I use, the answer is actually quite obvious, or even silly. But the level of productivity that I experience is through the roof with these tools. All because of how I use them. I call it the “Go-Know-Do” technique and it boils down to three tools. The first of which is a calendar. Everything I do and anything I have planned goes into the calendar. This includes work-related things but also just personal time to explore social media. It is the first thing that I look at after I complete my morning routine. I called it “Go,” and it helps me know everywhere that I have to go that day.
The second tool, again, is quite obvious. This is an email program. I make sure all of my email addresses are synced into one system so that I can view everything at once. It is the second step in my process. I call it “Know” and it helps me get acquainted with what I need to know for that day. There is very little email responding that gets done. I save that for a scheduled period during my day. But, basically, in this step, I’m looking for quick, easy, and informative emails that I can tackle right away. If there is an email that requires more consideration, some research, a deliverable, or time constraint, then I mark it as “read” and move it into step 3. This makes sure I don’t always have a massive notification of how many emails there are outstanding.
Finally, the last step is “Do”. And this is where I can actually get down to work and get stuff done. These can be emails that were pushed forward from the last step, they could be quarterly tasks, daily tasks, projects, etc. I track this all using the Asana Task Management system. And yes, I even put things in there like grocery lists and random ideas. This all sounds quite obvious but I assure you, if you use it efficiently, it makes a world of difference in what you accomplish each day.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
The most inspiring podcast that I’ve ever listened to is called “Under The Influence” with Terry O’Reilly. It’s a marketing podcast, but it is so much more than a marketing podcast. It has shown me that marketing really isn’t about marketing, it is about life. And, as a result, it has helped me focus my understanding of the human condition.
From a standpoint of literature, I highly recommend The Little Book That Builds Wealth by Pat Dorsey to learn some of the fundamentals of economic moats within a business, Driven by Robert Herjavec for an inspirational story of business and drive, and of course, High Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard in order help hone in your productivity. There are several books that I read every month and all of them bring some sort of value. But, for the most part, I always stick to non-fiction to be able to help develop and grow my knowledge and experience. There is so much to learn out there and although learning from experience is massively valuable, learning from other people's experiences can help prevent some very costly errors!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
If you’re looking to get started in entrepreneurship, my first piece of advice would be to find yourself, 3 mentors. The first one should be someone unreachable that you CAN’T get a hold of (like Warren Buffett) but has enough content out there for you to learn from. The second is someone reachable but further along in life, then you are - they will be able to guide you through some of the mistakes that you’re about to make. And the final mentor is someone who is in the same spot as you. The two of you will be able to coach each other and support your own initiatives and desires by being in the trenches together.
Entrepreneurship is a very unique industry. The general narrative of society makes it seem like it is quite glorious. If you work hard and take some calculated risks you’ll be able to enjoy financial freedom, the freedom to travel, and living a life as you’ve always wanted. But my biggest tip is that entrepreneurship isn’t so much an industry as much as it is a mindset. Entrepreneurs don’t usually create something and then pack it in for the rest of their lives. They will continue to look for the next stepping stone, the next opportunity, and the next game-changer. What this means is that the hard work that happens at the beginning doesn’t actually stop. It continues. And let me assure you, it is HARD WORK. It’s not what the movies and the media describe hard work to be. It requires the capacity of a person to maintain their core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances. It requires possessing an indomitable spirit and a drive for achievement regardless of upbringing or situation through earning success in the trenches. It requires courage, confidence, self-belief, and self-determination to go out there and work it out until you find the opportunities you want in life.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Ctrl V Franchising Website
- Ctrl V Franchising LinkedIn Page
- Ctrl V Customer Website: Ctrl V or Ctrl V Arcade
- Ctrl V Customer Facebook
- Ctrl V Customer Instagram
- Ang & Rob Rants Podcast Website
- Ang & Rob Rants Podcast Page
- Ang & Rob Rants LinkedIn Page
- Ang & Rob Rants Facebook Page
- Mindset Motivated Podcast Website
- Mindset Motivated Podcast Page
- Mindset Motivated LinkedIn Page
- Mindset Motivated Facebook Page
- Good Company Productions Website
- Good Company Productions Facebook
- Good Company Productions Instagram
- Personal Website
- Personal LinkedIn
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