Mike Widdis’ story began from humble beginnings. His parents divorced when he was 6 and his little brother was 3. When Mike was 8, his mother went back to school full-time to become a teacher. During this time, she needed social assistance along with OSAP to help support their family.
As you can imagine this would have been tough on his mother doing her very best to provide (all by herself) for her family. Mike’s and his brother’s childhood were spent differently than most kids. They ate tuna and Kraft Dinner 6 nights a week for dinner and their Christmas’ didn’t normally consist of presents under the tree.
However, thanks to Mike’s mother’s ability to manage a budget and plan, his family was able to overcome the challenges that life brought them. The struggles in his upbringing taught him important financial skills at a young age. This explains why he believes that financial management is key.
He has witnessed secondhand how poor financial management can contribute to poverty, depression, violence, and dependency on drugs. As a result, Mike became really good at financial management and began helping others to get them through hard times. This led to the founding of UpSide Accounting.
As opposed to focusing on helping single individuals, Mike Widdis developed a passion for helping small businesses. He believes that small businesses drastically improve communities and the families within them, creating a larger and more sustainable impact. These are the values that UpSide upholds.
1. Tell Me About Your Situation Growing up and How It Made You the Person You Are Today.
Mike Widdis – Growing up was kind of tough. We didn’t have a lot of money. There was myself, my brother and my mom, who was a single mom from the age of six. So I kind of had to grow up fast. I was just kind of thrown into doing the typical big brother stuff at an early age, taking care of my brother after school and walking him home.
There was no time to really be a kid. There were just other priorities involved, right, and so that kind of affected me to this day to be a little bit more responsible at an early age and to want a little bit more, to try a little bit harder. Yeah, there’ll be time for fun when I retire!
Being a new dad now, I mean my daughter’s not even a year old yet. I now know kind of what my mother was going through, and to have two young boys who used to fight a lot could be stressful. I get it and she did well under the circumstances. That kind of drives me to want more out of life, to be a better person. Especially now, because like I said, being a dad you view the world in a whole new way. Suddenly things are just that little shade different.
2. What Inspired You to Do Better Despite the Odds Being Against You?
Mike Widdis – I’ve definitely bettered our surroundings from where I grew up, it was kind of a rough neighborhood. My mother was on welfare and went back to school trying to better educate herself to become a teacher. Then accounting kind of got her again after that and she’s still in accounting today.
But, again, growing up helping her to raise my brother, that’s really tough. Having such a limited budget, my mother did extremely well and I solely put that on her financial skills. Her ability to budget and manage her wants. I mean, I remember eating tuna and Kraft dinner six nights a week and that seventh night sometimes my brother and I got to go to McDonald’s across the street and get a happy meal. My mother would sit there and watch us eat it and she’d come back home and cook herself pasta, because there just wasn’t enough money for everyone.
The struggles that she got us through really made me who I am. It made me strive to get out there and teach more people about the little things you can do to change your lives. A little bit of planning and a little bit of self-control goes a long, long way.
I solely believe that the Canadian education system should teach people this stuff in school because they certainly can’t learn it from home if they’re in that type of situation. I mean, there’s no fault there. But, it’s up to the education system to kind of step in and give some basic groundwork.
A lot of people could go a lot further. Maybe you would see a reduction in crime, violence, drug dependencies and mental dependencies. Better mental health. It’s a lot of hard work. But with some basic skills I think it’s doable for a lot more people than are achieving it today.
3. How Did You Get into Helping Others with Their Accounting?
Mike Widdis – I started doing my own personal tax return at about 14 years old. I had my first job, so I had a T4 and I decided to learn how to do a tax return. Actually, my mother helped me. I found it quite easy, to be honest. So during high school when some of my other friends got part-times jobs, I started helping them do personal tax returns. Just from trial and error and my own situation, I was trying to figure out personal finances and was learning, just sharing it with friends.
That built in to sort of a hobby where I would do tax returns for some people for a little bit of money. As I was frustrated in the construction industry, which is what I entered right out of the high school, I just decided to turn to what came easy to me, what I actually liked doing. So I started offering my accounting services and went back to school to learn accounting.
4. What Inspired You to Create Upside Accounting Specifically?
Mike Widdis – I started helping my mother in her own business; she’s been in accounting for a lot of years. She started her own business when I was a teenager. She’s kind of that old school bookkeeper where she just wants to go to clients and make a decent amount of money to pay her bills and that’s fine.
Whereas I was younger and more ambitious and saw a need, a giant need in financial education, because the public school system doesn’t put any emphasis on it at all. So I think that’s a real lacking skill in the world today, especially in Canada. I was good at it so I wanted to make a difference. Strike out on my own. Help as many people as I can, grow a team and really do something worthwhile for the Canadian economy.
5. How Did You Raise Enough Capital to Start Your Own Business?
Mike Widdis – The very base of it was a couple of small clients that I attracted when I was still working with my mother. One of them was a good friend of mine I’ve known since early high school. That was the start of the income. I also then applied to a program, which is now called Futurepreneur, and I got some funding there for young adults, I was 29.
I qualified for their program and had to write a business plan. Halton Region Small Business Centre helped me write this business plan. Then I had go in front of a panel and basically justify my business plan in front of some other business experts from the community, which was very valuable. That also got me into BDC so BDC matched those funds. So it was a great program to start. I highly suggest that anybody who thinks about starting a business to check it out.
That along with the business plan and the drive to get out there and network to meet some new small business owners was enough to launch me forward and get me off the ground. It also allowed me to buy the necessary tools that I needed to start generating some income.
6. What Do You Need to Become an Entrepreneur from Nothing?
Mike Widdis – You need grit and you need balls. You need to want it! If you don’t want it and if you don’t want it bad enough you’re not going to succeed. You have to really be honest with yourself, dig down, think about it. And some people are just not meant to be business owners. Some people are not meant to be entrepreneurs. Some people are meant to be really great at what they do in an employee setting, which I think is phenomenal. The majority of the world is and the majority of the world does fall into that category.
Sometimes I’m a little bit jealous of them, because it is kind of stressful running a business. But there are some rewards too. And some people are just meant to be entrepreneurs. I’m one of those people that is just meant to be doing this.
Honesty is the most important thing that you can have with yourself. Really think about the pros and cons. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Figure out if it’s really for you and sometimes the best way to do that is try it, fail and say, “Cool. I did it. I tried it. Not for me. I’m going back to what’s better for me and my lifestyle and my family.”
7. What Advice Do You Have for Aspiring Entrepreneurs Who Think They Don’t Have It in Them to Start Their Own Business?
Mike Widdis – They probably don’t. If you have any doubt right now, it’s tough. You have to want it really bad. You have to want to get up at 5 AM and want to do things after work. It requires sacrifice. Sacrifice your health, your friends, even going to parties. You have to sacrifice a lot.
I mean, either you throw yourself into it and really get out there and do it. Or if those things are maybe more important to you, and to some people they are (and that’s fine), maybe you would think twice before starting a business. But if you really, really want it bad enough you’ll do those things gladly.
8. If You Could Go Back and Change Anything, Would You?
Mike Widdis – It’s a tough question. I mean the experiences made me who I am and where I am today. Get there a little bit sooner, maybe. Stop doubting myself. However, some of the doubts might’ve held me back from some major catastrophe so it’s really tough to say. I’m just glad I got out there and did it and tried it.
9. What Is the Best Piece of Advice You Have Ever Received?
Mike Widdis – Hire slow, fire fast.
10. How Did You Overcome the Intimidating Statistic That 90% of Startups Fail?
Mike Widdis – I think that goes back down to your want. Just keep grinding, keep pushing forward. There needs to be this fine balance between drive and holding back and planning. It’s a real fine line and sometimes you end up on the other side of it. But as long as you’re quick enough to realize that maybe you’ve gone a little bit too far or maybe you haven’t gone far enough sometimes and pull yourself back to kind of neutral, you can continue going forward and keep learning.
11. What Were the Necessary Business Tools That You Could Not Have Founded Upside Accounting Without?
Mike Widdis – The first thing you should have is a plan. Figure out some kind of a marketing strategy and figure out some kind of a budget, at the very least. Get out there and just start talking to people. Plans change. It never ever, ever goes according to plan, but you have to get out there and start somewhere.
These days with a smart phone, I mean you can do almost anything. We’re recording this on a smart phone right now, how’s that? That’s working better than this laptop and fancy mic that we have! So, you don’t need a lot these days. Like I said, just start with a plan. Get a cell phone, if you don’t already have a cell phone and like I said, go out there and talk to people.