The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

Being the Wolf: The Honest Truth About Digital Transformation


Going digital isn’t an option anymore – we’ve reached “evolve or die” status. But making the shift is no easy task; significant and challenging organizational changes must be undertaken. The Honest Truth is a series of roundtable conversations where Sid Lee experts share their insights on this topic.

Part 1: Being the Wolf in a Province of Sheep

First up: Quebec businesses. Can the province’s smaller players compete with the giants of e-commerce and digital marketing? We believe they can, as long as they have confidence in their ideas and go right for their competitors’ jugular – as long as they can be the wolf.

Gathered at the table to discuss this theory were Sid Lee’s CMO and Senior Partner François Lacoursière, our VP of New Business Development and Partner Christian Quenneville, and Vincent Ramsay-Lemelin, Senior Digital Creative Director of Sid Lee Montreal. This session was moderated by Brendan Murphy, former Senior Content Creative at Sid Lee.

Lesson 1: Go for the jugular

Brendan Murphy: In a global marketplace dominated by goliaths like Amazon, what does it mean to “be the wolf”?

Christian Quenneville: It means to jump in, get over the fear, have the courage of your convictions. It’s how I raise my kids, too. Whatever advice they ask for, that’s the answer: “Be the wolf.”

Vincent Ramsay-Lemelin: I’d describe it as “the best defense is a good offense.”

François Lacoursière: Quebec companies are sometimes afraid of being disruptive. Elsewhere in North America, in Europe, people don’t say, “I won’t try because there’s already an Amazon.” I was talking recently with Martin Gauthier – Sid Lee’s president – about this. He feels Quebec entrepreneurs can be nervous about going big, which is a shame because there’s so much creativity here.

VRL: Poches et Fils don’t care what people think. They have a cool tone and manner and deliver t-shirts in pizza boxes.

Lesson 2 : Ask yourself what you do better

BM: Some believe we’re moving towards a future dominated by a few huge companies: Amazon, Alphabet, Apple, Facebook. How does a small company compete against that?

FL: If you think this way, you’re relying on something completely out of your control. Rather than focusing on what Amazon is doing, ask yourself what you can do better.  

VRL: And we tend to think that we have to have the same strengths as Amazon: speed, returns, payment system. But the search function needs work, and there are other weaknesses. Sure, it’s the benchmark for a certain type of e-commerce, but not for, say, luxury items, where delivery time is less pertinent. And would anyone have believed 10 years ago that small players could shake up the likes of Provigo and Metro in the grocery business? No. But Lufa Farms made trade local and is taking market shares in Montreal. The IGAs of this world are paying attention.

Lesson 3 : Think beyond borders

BM: Yves-Thomas Dorval, CEO of the Conseil du patronat du Québec, recently told the Financial Post,We in Quebec have succeeded in various things. But we still have a problem with risk-taking and growing. We elevate people who like to keep things small. And we decry companies that are becoming big. The article also talks about Quebec having the lowest entrepreneurial intensity when compared to Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta. Does that sound accurate to you?

VRL: In Quebec, we see borders right away. We see only our market.

FL: There’s a tendency to judge success provincially and then, if you’re lucky, nationally. But in the digital world, those restrictions don’t exist.

VRL: I’ve heard people say, “How do we become the Amazon of Canada?” Why “Canada”? If I want to sell a product, I’ll sell it to people, period.

CQ: All the services that exist to help manage your distribution – be it government services or the private sector – means there’s no reason someone from Chibougamau can’t make their main market the U.S. East Coast. Some entrepreneurs lack knowledge, especially when it comes to e-commerce.

FL: Thinking it’s easier to succeed locally is limiting. The people at Tactique are developing software that deals with logistics for security companies. They’re logistics consultants, but they’re already looking at ways to get into other industries. They never limited themselves to logistics, and they never limited themselves to Quebec.

Lesson 4 : Watch for the next wave

BM:When thinking about Quebec companies that have made it on a global scale, most people think of Cirque du Soleil. Does our province have another Cirque-sized player in it?

FL: It comes in waves. Quebec had Bombardier and aeronautics, then went through a phase of companies like Cirque born in a creative ecosystem. And companies born in the same ecosystem help each other out – Solotech has been doing sound for Cirque for 25 years. Their business is intrinsically linked to the growth of Cirque. Today, B2B is all the rage.

CQ: In the last decade, B2B tech companies have had great success, like Taleo, the most popular talent management service in the world. It’s a company founded in Quebec and it was sold for 1.9 billion in 2012.

VRL: You’ve also got startups like Breather that just raised another $60 million. Or Shopify, which is a Canadian company playing in the e-comm big leagues.
FL: What’s next? AI?

CQ: There are big players like Ivado and Element AI, as well as institutes like MILA, and more and more research grants. We’re training the next generation to create profitable software, and that’s how this ecosystem will continue to grow. The future looks promising.

Lesson 5 : But don't discount the past

VRL: A good example is mail and e-comm. Five years ago we thought “snail mail” was over, that no one was going to send things to each other this way. Today, everyone receives parcels. Sometimes all it takes is a new context to flip something around. Kanuk and Quartz are both bringing their brands back with their old looks.

BM: And podcasts – no one could predict that podcasts, which are basically just radio shows you can listen to whenever you want, would become the hottest thing now. But because of tech and how the distribution model changed, suddenly it’s back.

VRL: We never thought high-waisted pants would be back, and here they are.

CQ: Vincent, you might wear them, but they’re not actually back.

Is your curiosity piqued? Well, that’s a good thing: our next blog posts will help you to succeed in your digital transformation.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.