When I was 23 years old I took a job as a fille au-pair in Lyon, France. In the mornings I walked two children to school and one to daycare. Later I picked them all up, made meals for them, took them to the park, and entertained the youngest one while we waited for her siblings at horseback riding, tennis and tae kwon do lessons. While the children were at school, my daytime hours were free of part-time mom duties, so I spent the days reading, people watching in cafés, and looking for other ways to make money.
Searching for a side gig, I browsed Kijiji pages, networked with other educators, and chitchatted with my new family’s neighbours. A couple of weeks later I found small groups of adults and children who needed help with their English, but in the process of sifting through small job opportunities, I also noticed an immense need for ironing! Many people in France hate ironing so much that they will gladly pay decent cash for others to do it. To me it seemed like a strange chore to dislike: it’s stupidly simple, it doesn’t require much physical effort, and unlike vacuuming or washing dishes, you can hear your music blasting without wearing headphones. So I capitalized on this reluctance towards ironing and did it for some neighbours. My example is a simple one and I didn’t plan to take this ironing venture too far, but I did use someone else’s burden to my advantage. And that’s exactly how some business ideas get discovered. It pays to be the odd one out.
“It was something I could start literally with my computer and a business card, and that’s it.”
While working in marketing for 18 years, Torontonian Keith Berry was really good at creating slide decks. After a while he noticed that most people hate making slide decks, and more importantly, they are willing to pay money for someone else to do them. Keith saw this as an opportunity, and in 2014 he started Full Deck, a business offering slide deck creation and complimentary services to clients. It was a low-risk side hustle because, “It was something I could start literally with my computer and a business card, and that’s it. …obviously I had to promote, but I could network and I could really do it on the cheap,” Keith explains. Although starting was easy, Keith knew running a business would take a lot of work, but the thought of making one’s own hours and having complete control was very appealing to him. Following his father’s and brother’s entrepreneurial spirit, he thought, “Heck, if my eldest brother can do it, I can! Being the youngest, I had to show him up!”
Full Deck does much more than slap information onto slides and add images. They offer all the services that support slide design such as animation, video, branding, voiceover, copywriting, speaker training, etc. Keith takes care of the whole preparation process for a presentation. He learns about the brand, the content of the presentation and the client’s key message. He makes sure the message is presented as clearly and concisely as possible, with visuals and media to support it. Since he knows the content inside out, he is also well equipped to provide coaching to the presenter to help deliver the message in a confident manner.
A common problem that Keith sees among presenters is that they tend to hide behind the slides, and allow for their audience to read ahead; as soon as that happens, they’ve lost the audience. “The slides shouldn’t be the focus, you’re the focus. …If you lead the slides in speaking then they’re forced to listen, and if you’re almost cryptic with your headlines and visuals, you use them in a metaphorical way, people will have to listen to you, otherwise they won’t have any context, ” Keith advises.
“My wife didn’t think I was going to make it! I mean physically, I mean stay alive!”
Two months after starting Full Deck, Keith’s first big client was the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was asked to prepare the keynote for the Retail Council of Canada and give speaker training to their CEO at the time, Liz Rodbell. “I didn’t have my business completely ready to go, but to not accept the challenge, …would have cost me.” Taking on the large client was well worth it because the presentation went really well and business skyrocketed from there.
When Keith first started Full Deck he didn’t realize the demand would be so great and the competition so scarce. Apart from some direct competitors in the US, the UK and Australia, a few design companies in Canada offer similar services, but they don’t specialize in all the added services that Full Deck does. Beyond the competition, the Full Deck team is approachable, friendly and knowledgeable and always keeps clients in the loop. “The first year was a roaring success, much to my surprise. I had confidence it could go [but] I didn’t think it would take off as quickly, so I put in some pretty gruesome hours the first year. My wife didn’t think I was going to make it! I mean physically, I mean stay alive!” he laughs. “Yeah there [were] a few 21 hour days where I was like, ‘I don’t know, I think I need a staff!’ ” he shares. Currently Full Deck has seven employees, but it will expand to more than 20 within the next year.
“I believe I’m a fun boss!” says Keith. He offers his staff a good work-life balance and is flexible with their life commitments. He also adapts to circumstances: if there is something that needs to be done and it’s not his traditional role, but in that moment he has the most time to do it, he does it. “I may be the CEO, but I’m not above getting somebody else lunch when they’re working their asses off,” Keith states.
“You can’t control everything …and when you run your own business, …[you] want to control everything, want to be there for every single part… and if you want your business to grow, you can’t be.”
Of course being a boss doesn’t come without its challenges. Keith shares the hardest part of being in charge is trying not to worry too much. He has learned not to impose his own perfectionist standards on staff. “If their work is excellent, that should be good enough, it doesn’t need to be as obsessive as I make it sometimes, but that’s because it’s my baby, it’s my business,” he admits. Understanding that he cannot control everything has also been tough. “You can’t control everything …and when you run your own business, …[you] want to control everything, want to be there for every single part… and if you want your business to grow, you can’t be.” Letting go of some of the control has been a journey for Keith but books like Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by James C. Collins taught him not to sweat the small stuff so much in order to take his business to the next level.
Today the biggest challenge for Full Deck is keeping up to date with technology and adapting to meet client needs. As businesses change and technology advances, there are services that are no longer needed, and others that need to be improved, so Full Deck continuously evolves as well. When the question, “Can you do these things?” arises from a client, Keith answers, “We should do these things,” and quickly adds them to their repertoire. Full Deck continues to grow because they’re always looking for gaps to fill.
If your talent fits a client’s needs exactly, and it is something the majority of people dislike doing, you possess a pearl, a rarity that you can monetize. What unique talent do you have? What product or service can you improve? What do you have that no one else is offering? Can you turn any of these into a business idea?