Tell us about yourself
My name is Mike de Boer, I am the CEO and Founder of LevellingUp. Over my 20+ years as an oil & gas engineer and executive, I found that strong leadership skills at all levels of an organization are key to having a successful company and a fulfilling workplace.
LevellingUp comes from realizing a lot of people don’t have access to ways to quickly improve their leadership skills, especially when at the start of their career. The options are either free mentoring from someone - and you often get what you pay for - or very expensive options like executive coaches or an MBA.
LevellingUp is creating a whole new way to grow leadership skills. We connect growing/future leaders in groups of 5-8 people and pair them with the experienced leader of their choice - an individual we call a Sage. The Sage may be a certified executive coach or someone who is a proven leader and expert in their field. They will coach, mentor, and teach his or her group on a particular skill specific to the Sage’s experience.
How many people does your team consists of?
Currently, there is myself and two other co-founders. We also have a part-time admin coordinator. Our Sages are a part of our team as well; currently, we have 18 Sages and more are signing-up every day.
When did you start?
We've been working on LevellingUp for over a year now, but in November 2018 we started growing the small group concept. We started with four paying customers in November and now we have dozens of paying customers.
What you did prior to this venture
I have been in oil & gas in Calgary for my entire career as an engineer, a project manager and executive manager. I also spent several years as a competitive strongman.
What problem does your business solve?
There are too many ill-equipped leaders in our workplaces and communities. With no real alternatives available, most of us just model our leadership style after the leaders already in our lives. Those “poor” leaders wind up creating more “unintentionally poor” leaders and the cycle continues. Everyone wants to do their best, I truly believe that; so let’s equip the next generation of leaders with the coaching and mentorship they need to achieve the excellence they aspire to!
How do you solve this problem?
Using an online marketplace, we connect small groups of growing leaders with proven experts that help them practice and grow their leadership skills. We use video conferencing so that the group and Sage can be anywhere across the globe. We spread the Sage’s cost across the group, so the experts that normally charge hundreds of dollars an hour are available for $20-$50 an hour. Also, our community lets us know who the best Sages are by providing feedback via ratings. We make sure those are the Sages equipping the next generation.
When did you notice a gap in the market?
Throughout my career both as a growing leader and as a leader of leaders, it's been something I’ve noticed for years. I wanted to be a great leader myself, but the other leaders in my workplaces weren’t necessarily the great leaders I aspired to be. I didn’t have enough time available for each person I was guiding, and I didn’t have the expert leadership skills to provide the necessary coaching. It’s basically a sink-or-swim world for most people in the first decade of their career. After 20 years as a solo gym rat - a dedicated but unaccomplished one - I started training with a strongman club. Within months I was winning awards; after 2 years I won Alberta’s strongest man, and after another 2 years I won Western Canada’s strongest man. I was the same person, but now with feedback from an expert coach and a group of supportive peers. It got me thinking - if feedback from experts and supportive peers could make that kind of difference in sports, imagine the difference it could make in the world of leadership. Imagine if I had access to those experts and peers early on in my career. How different could my life, and the life of those I led, be?
What is your company culture?
It’s built around the values of growth, community, respect, and giving. We push for continual growth within ourselves and within our company. We respect each other, and we also respect each other enough to confront and challenge each other. As co-founders, we know each other quite well, so it's an open and honest community.
What draws people to you?
I’m told that it’s my commitment to a bigger purpose, a bigger mission, and my integrity in carrying that out in an authentic fashion. Also, I do what I say I’m going to do.
Three words to describe the company with?
People Helping People.
Why did you choose The Accelerator?
One of our biggest needs right now is financial investment, and The Accelerator was directly targeted at helping with that. We felt that the program had the right degree of intensity for us, the right focus, and we heard from others in the program who found it beneficial. Also, one of our advisory board members - Darcy Tuer of ZayZoon - was a graduate of The Accelerator’s Batch 1.
How did you find out about it
What has your experience with the The Accelerator been like?
Positive. I’m very impressed by the caliber and the candour of the people that have come in for the different sessions. The Accelerator seems to be well connected to the top people in the startup support community within Calgary. Those people seem to have the right mindset, skills, and attitude towards helping. It's been a very positive experience.
What has been your biggest lesson you learned while in the program?
Understanding the mindset of investors, how they think, and how to position the business to be highly investable. I’ve also learned how to get very comfortable delivering my investor pitch!
What has been a major accomplishment for you this year?
Raising our first financing.
What is next for you?
Continuing to grow LevellingUp by adding customers and seeing them grow their skills. We want to add great people to our team, and to ensure that we are living out our mandate to have a positive impact on the world.