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Capital Efficient Entrepreneurship: Don Mal, CEO of Vena Solutions (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 12th 2017

Sramana Mitra: What happens next?

Don Mal: Then I went to another software company but only for a very brief time. When I went to the services company, even though it was successful, I decided that I missed selling products. I did a couple of things. While I was in the consulting business, I did go to school and picked up a certificate in project management, because I wanted to get a better handle on the whole services business.

I went to York University and did a one-year PMP program. I ran to somebody who was looking for a VP of Sales and Marketing for a European software company that had an office in Toronto and Boston. This was between 2000 and 2001. I took that job. Then thedot-com bubble burst right around then.

Now, I had been in software for 15 to 16 years. I thought I needed a break. It was a crazy idea. I said, “I’m going to go and build a golf course.” I started playing golf when I met my wife. I fell in love with the game right around 1996. When I met my wife, their family had cottages on a beautiful lake two hours north of Toronto and there was nowhere to play golf. I thought, “Maybe I should take a break from IT and pursue this crazy idea.”

I ended up building up a $10 million golf course. I raised money and convinced enough people to invest. I hired a top designer who had designed some of the best golf courses in the world. We built a $10 million private golf club on the lake where my wife’s family was. I moved my wife and my kids to a small town. I had a three-year sabbatical from software. I built this golf business that I eventually sold. Building a golf course is amazing. It’s a very creative process.

Sramana Mitra: So how long did this golf course journey go and what happened after that?

Don Mal: It lasted three years. After it was up and running, I was pretty bored. Running a golf course is pretty boring. It’s not very intellectually stimulating. We decided to move back to Toronto. I sold my share in the business and moved back to Toronto. My wife was also very bored living in a small town.

She wanted to come back to the big city and she got a job back in Toronto. We moved back and I then decided to go and do my MBA, because I didn’t finish my degree earlier on. I decided that I wanted to get an MBA because I wanted to know why people have MBAs. I went to the University of Toronto. I did a two-year executive MBA. While I was doing that, I got some odd jobs here and there.

After I finished my MBA, my wife met a woman at a playground at school. She said that her husband is the COO of a software company. They got to talking. I met the husband. He’s the COO of a company called Clarity. That was 10 years ago. I came back to software. I started to work in sales and very quickly moved into VP of Sales and then I ended running all of sales for Clarity Systems. That’s a company that is in the same business we’re in now.

Clarity was a great company, but they were acquired by IBM in 2010. I stayed for a while at IBM. One of the guys that co-founded Vena gave me a call. He said, “I have an idea for a product, but we need someone to help us take it to market.”

This segment is part 4 in the series : Capital Efficient Entrepreneurship: Don Mal, CEO of Vena Solutions
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