Is there a formula for success?

Alex and Heather Hoff share how they’ve used the same approach to build two very different businesses

What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?

According to Alex Hoff (BMath ’04), founder and chief product officer at Auvik, and his wife Heather Hoff (BMath ’04), founder of Amarok IP law firm, there are some constants: good ideas, hard work, and commitment. But for this family, the optimized variable is balance.

Alex and Heather came to the University of Waterloo to pursue a math degree and take advantage of the co-operative education program. Not only did co-op provide them with vital work experience while they completed their degrees, but it also helped them understand their strengths, their interests, and how concepts learned in the classroom are applied in the real world.

Co-op changed the trajectories of their careers, offering them a journey of discovery instead of a prescribed path to a profession that wasn’t a good fit. Heather realized that computer programming wasn’t for her and decided to use her math degree in law, giving her the ability to specialize as a high-tech patent lawyer. While Alex chose to focus on product development in a smaller company, where he could have more impact throughout the business side of the creation process.

Spending that time working in their respective professions was invaluable, learning from others how to create a successful business. Here are a few key insights from Alex and Heather for aspiring entrepreneurs:  

  1. Prioritize life – it’s not just about making your business work. Find a balance between your business and the other parts of your life that you love. This will help you stay energized and focused.
  2. Embrace uncertainty – control what you can and embrace what you can’t. Balance your time so that you can work on the things that are most impactful. “In school, you’re taught to always get things right but in business, you need to accept that sometimes 80% is enough to move on to the next project. You can’t know everything, and you can’t do everything. Learn what the most important things are to make your company and your life more successful,” advises Alex.
  3. Ask for advice – it’s ok to ask for help. The Hoffs are comfortable with admitting that they don’t have all the answers or know what to do sometimes: Heather explains that “as a math grad, you learn that you don’t always get the right answer, and there are different ways to get to proofs. You learn to stop and think about problems, variables, and possible solutions. Everyone has their own skills and knowledge, and it’s important to recognize that when making impactful decisions.”
  4. Listen well – learn from your clients and customers. Nobody has perfect foresight, so listen to feedback and pivot. Being agile and changing direction is how you deliver on customer expectations and remain competitive.
  5. Invest the time – take the time to understand before you start making decisions. For Alex and Heather, that meant spending a couple of years in the industry, learning what direction they wanted to go in and how successful businesses work.

Alex and Heather live and work by a set of principles. Whether you’re a client or an employee of Auvik or Amarok IP, the expectation is that you’ll be treated with honesty, equality, and respect. At the core of their businesses are transparency and integrity, where everyone can pursue success with balance.