Mandy Balak is founder and CEO of The Ace Class.
Calgary’s Business: Can you explain what The Ace Class is and its purpose?
Balak: Ace is an acronym for activate, cultivate and empower – we are a Canadian media and events company designed and created by women for women.
We are founded in our intention to change the way women connect with other women. This intention is embedded in every single experience we create and we offer an approachable space for women to come together and connect. We strive to break down the barriers of connection that exist amongst women and tap into our full potential to show that there is so much more that unites us than divides us.
Ace has recently expanded outside of Calgary, our hometown, to six Canadian cities: Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Kelowna.
I encourage any woman who hates traditional “networking” events to join us at an Ace event. We do things differently and our events welcome women to attend on their own.
CB: What is It’s Date Night and how does it work?
Balak: It’s Date Night was my first business, which I founded in university at U of C in 2012. It is known as the easy button for planning a date in Calgary – think of it as your pocket concierge for great restaurants and date night tips.
We have a very resourceful website at itsdatenight.com and our social feeds @datenightyyc are always featuring the latest tips and recommendations for places to go.
The foundation of It’s Date Night was built with the intention to make relationships better by making quality time and better dates easier for people. We often make so many big decisions in a day that making the little ones like where to go for dinner seem impossible and taxing on your relationships.
It’s Date Night is free to use and has all sorts of great ideas for any kind of experience.
CB: What’s your best advice for young entrepreneurs just starting out?
Balak: A few things:
- Validate your ideas – Talk to as many people as possible (that are not friends or family) about your idea and potential business and validate that you’re solving a problem they would actually pay for.
- Know your numbers – If financial modelling is not your strong suit, outsource it as soon as possible so you can get a grasp on what your burn rate will be, cash flow and how much, if any you’ll need to get financing for.
- Build a community – It takes a village. The community around you could be other entrepreneurs, industry leaders or mentors – If you are just starting out, you’ll need someone with more experience that you can take out for a coffee or a lunch and get the straight goods from.
- Roll up your sleeves and do the work — There is a big difference between people who say they are going to do something and those who do. Sometimes this requires turning your phone off and ditching your social life – the juice is worth the squeeze when you can see your ideas come to life, I promise.
CB: What were the biggest challenges you had to overcome in setting up your business?
Balak: In the beginning, setting up my first company, It’s Date Night, was incredibly intimidating. The simple things that became incredible milestones like incorporating, hiring a first employee, understanding cash flow and paying myself all seemed impossible, and without the support of the entrepreneurial community I would have been completely lost.
I think the most challenging thing for me when I first started was a lack of tribe. My friends were not entrepreneurs and in my immediate circle I had friends and family who were excited about what I was doing but not really capable of challenging me in a way that would push me forward. I know now the importance of the community around you that is capable of challenging you in a meaningful way and supporting where they can.
I am grateful I have been able to attract great mentors over the years and I attribute a lot of the guidance I’ve received from them to my survival as an entrepreneur.
CB: What’s your feel about the mood in Calgary these days from an economic point of view?
Balak: Optimistic. My business works directly with small businesses (mostly restaurants, service-based businesses and retailers). In the past few years we have seen drastic cuts to marketing budgets and have had to pivot many times and listen to what we could offer our partners that could make a positive impact.
I feel optimistic about our economic landscape because there are so many new places opening up around the city and our culinary offering has grown exponentially. I’m excited to see new small businesses here in Calgary open their doors and further diversify the culture of Calgary.
– Mario Toneguzzi
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