Elijah Moore of Collage on crafting relentless focus, building a business with purpose and why you can’t hedge your way to fulfilling work

Elijah Moore is the Co-Founder of Collage, an all-in-one HR and benefits platform for Canadian businesses that is backed by top investors. Elijah is an ex-investment banker with a knack for business strategy and a passion for entrepreneurship. He is a graduate from the Richard Ivey School of Business and an alumnus of The Next Founders program from Next Canada.

Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

My first career dream was actually to become a record label executive and gigging jazz musician. I ended up going to business school and working in investment banking for a few years, which is quite a departure from my original plans. I ended up leaving that job to go and start a business because I’ve always known that I’m an entrepreneur at heart. Despite enjoying my experience in the finance world, I realized that it wasn’t a long term career path for me when I was studying for the CFA and didn’t find a lot of joy in what I was doing. While I was happy to work hard at it, after a while I realized that the material didn’t come naturally to me. I knew there and then that my highest potential won’t be realized on this path. I knew I belonged as an operator of a business and that’s when I realized that it was time to pursue entrepreneurship.

What were some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?

It’s funny because being a start-up founder in general is actually just a series of hard business lessons that you need to learn the hard way. That being said, I’ve really come to learn the importance of focus when one is trying to build a business. When you are getting started, there are so many things that you could be spending your time on, but I’ve come to learn that the best founders know what to say no to and how to focus relentlessly. Even when you grow and have more resources at your disposal, focus continues to be more important than ever.

Secondly, building a business is about patience and deliberate practice. There is so much noise in the media about start-ups being a fast path to success and that massive companies appear out of nowhere but that is usually not the case. You often need to try a bunch of things in order for something to catch on and things always take longer than you expect. It’s more so about committing yourself to getting better each day over the long term and wanting to keep delivering your best effort. It’s a lifetime journey.

So how do you focus as an entrepreneur?

We do a lot to get very clear on what we’ll say no to because that helps keep you away from things that aren’t apart of your core strategy. We are very deliberate about setting goals for the company and think long and hard about the trade-offs that we’ll face as a result. Building a strategy is all about trade-offs and we are quite conscious of what those trade-offs will mean for the business. You can never do everything.

How did you think of your big idea to start Collage? What inspired you and how did you get started?

I was really inspired by what the company Zenefits was doing at the time when I was looking to start my own thing. I thought the business model was such an elegant way to use technology to combine two markets and create a ton of value.  It was really about recognizing that opportunity and acting on it quickly. Now, there are a few of us who compete in the space but there is definitely a lot of opportunity out there.

What does leadership look like to you and how does the next generation need to start thinking differently about leadership?

The Co-founding team at Collage have a few core leadership principles that we all buy into. The first is this idea of servant leadership. It’s ultimately our job as leaders to put our team first and to work hard to put them in a position where they can succeed. Flowing from this, we look for people whose biggest motivation is succeeding in their work. It’s not about perks or maximizing their paycheck. When you put together a team of people who are passionate to do great work, it has a compounding effect.

Secondly, we’ve built Collage around a strong “why” because there is no question that our generation wants to work for an organization that has a clear and compelling purpose. Everything that we do from a cultural to a product perspective are directly aligned to our “why,” which for Collage is take care of your people. It’s the promise that we make to our employees in making sure they are supported, it’s the promise that we make to our customers in ensuring that their people’s needs are being taken care of, and ultimately it’s the promise that an HR function makes to any company. We have that one defining principle that we can always fall back on. Building a company with purpose shows everyone who works with us (customers or employees) what we are about. This is the hallmark of leadership.

With all that said, we can’t forget about solid leadership and management principles that have stood the test of time. A lot is made about the future of leadership, but there are some things that never change.  With every Simon Sinek book that you read, make sure you also read a Peter Drucker book or High Output Management by Andy Grove.

Tell me about the one thing that you wish you knew about being a founder when you started that you know now?

It’s funny because I actually don’t believe that anyone would start a business if they really knew how hard it was going to be. You need to have a certain amount of ignorance to go and take the plunge. Building a company is an incredible joy and privilege, but it’s a really difficult path.  One thing I wish I knew is how long it truly takes. If you go in with the expectations that entrepreneurship is a career and not a lottery ticket, I think that you will set yourself up for the best path to happiness.

What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

First, I think it’s so important to stop and recognize how lucky we are to be thinking about those kinds of things. For a lot of people, finding something they are passionate about isn’t necessarily an option because of their financial, family or educational circumstances.

With that, I feel like if you are in a position to take the risk required to find your most fulfilling work, you have the obligation to do so. Once you have an idea of what that looks like, don’t wait another second not giving it a try. You will never find any real success if you are always hedging your bets. Fulfilling work doesn’t come as a result of a hedging strategy. You just need to go out and do it and talk about it with everyone that you can. If you aren’t deliberate about it however, that kind of work isn’t just going to find you. There is no substitute for full commitment.

Aubrey Chapnick