Jim Estill

Having a failure doesn’t make you a failure. I believe that in order to be successful, you have to fail often, fail fast, and (try to) fail cheap. As long as you learn from your mistakes, it will always benefit you in the long run.


Jim Estill is a Canadian technology entrepreneur, executive, and humanitarian. Currently, he is the CEO and owner of Danby Appliances – a multi-national appliance company based in Guelph, Canada.

While in university, Jim started a computer distribution business from the trunk of his car. That modest business grew into a company doing $350,000,000 in sales before selling to SYNNEX in 2004. Jim then became CEO of SYNNEX Canada and grew sales from $800,000,000 to $2 billion over five years.

Jim has invested in, mentored and advised over 150 technology companies, including Blackberry. He joined their board before they went public and served for 13 years.

In regards to his humanitarian efforts, Jim has been making news since 2016 for his work to settle 87 Syrian refugee families in Canada. His story has been featured in CBC, Global News, The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post, MSN, The Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, Al Jazeera Plus, CTV News, TVO, Newsweek, CNBC, NPR, Toronto Life, Fortune, Forbes, The Guardian, Reddit, BBC, Financial Times, Metro News, Vice, CBS News, BBC UK, CNN, and National Post, along with over 350 additional news outlets worldwide.

Jim was awarded the Order of Canada in 2018 for contributions to the Guelph and Waterloo technology communities and for his philanthropic efforts benefiting refugees. He was also awarded the Order of Ontario, the provinces highest honor, in 2017. He is a two-time nominee of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. In 2018, Jim received an Honorary Doctorate of Laws from the University of Guelph.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Danby Parcel Guard is a natural progression for Danby Appliances. We are in the business of making big boxes, and not just refrigerated ones. I was reading too many articles about parcel theft and there were no real solutions presented. I also follow trends in distribution and e-commerce – and the way people shop has drastically changed in the last 5 years. Standard mailboxes aren’t enough anymore. Billions of parcels are shipped worldwide every year and that number will continue to grow. On top of that, 25 million Americans reported stolen packages in 2017. There are hundreds of news stories almost every day on this subject. So I imagine that in a decade, most homeowners in North America are going to have a Danby Parcel Guard or something very similar.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

It is very cliché, but I do not have a “typical” day. However most days I am in meetings during working hours. I will arrive at the office between 7 and 7:30 am to get work done before the day starts for most people. I strongly believe in the power of while so I will often go on walks with my teams I am meeting with. That way I can get my steps in and enjoy some fresh air. I also find this type of meeting is more conversational and efficient.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I believe that great ideas are built by many. Creativity is best with teams, however, execution should be done by an individual. If the idea solves a real-life problem, it tends to take on a life of its own. Take our newest product – Danby Parcel Guard. This is a great example of our team building on my initial idea and it has already become a huge hit.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The growth of online shopping. Peoples’ behaviors are changing rapidly and it’s creating a huge opportunity for us. I got my start in distribution and sales so seeing how much it has advanced due to technology is incredible. It has created the demand for something like the Danby Parcel Guard. A smart, connected device that keeps online orders safe until you get home. It will fit most small and medium-sized packages so no more worrying or wondering if your orders will still be at your door when you get home. And the app sends you notifications when something arrives or if your Parcel Guard has been tampered with.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

One of my success habits is to do the worst thing first. I will do it first thing in the morning and again right after lunch. I joke that my team should be worried if they are the first meeting I have in the morning. Of course, it is usually just a coincidence. But this helps me solve my issue of procrastination. I couple this with putting a time limit on some tasks like admin work. I can always spare 15 minutes for any task. So either I finish it within the time assigned, or I stick with it until it is complete.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Having a failure doesn’t make you a failure. I believe that in order to be successful, you have to fail often, fail fast, and (try to) fail cheap. As long as you learn from your mistakes, it will always benefit you in the long run.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

I don’t believe in the notion of a work-life balance. It just isn’t for me. All successful people I know love to work and are extremely driven. Pitting work and life against each other means that one thing is more important than the other. All things in your life serve a purpose. You have to work to live, and work isn’t bad as long as you’re doing something you find fulfilling. If that is the case, you will not find yourself worrying about making it a balancing act.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I am a strong believer in continuous learning and I strive to learn something new every day.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Go into a niche and own it. Dominate a small market with huge demand. At Danby, we are known for bar fridges – not major appliances. We are the leading brand in North America for these niche appliances. We are doing the same thing with Danby Parcel Guard. The demand is already high and is growing for parcel mailboxes, and we are first to market in the smart parcel box category.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I see all of my failings as key learning opportunities. There has not been one time I did not learn from my mistakes. However, I have invested in over 150 tech startups and lost all of my investment in 100 of them. What makes it worthwhile are the other 25 plus companies that I have invested in and they have succeeded.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

In Ontario, someone should buy all of the high tension power lines from the power companies. They should create a hyperloop train between Sudbury and Toronto. The industrial corridor exists and just needs to be utilized. Sudbury could become the new suburb of Toronto.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I recently purchased a sit-stand Ikea desk. So I can stand up when I work and be a bit healthier. I also purchased a 40-pound weighted vest I can wear during the day to help maximize my use of time.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I use a Tabata timer for short exercises while I am at work. This gives me a short break and helps reach my fitness goals for the day. It is incredibly easy to adopt a similar method to other tasks. Set a short time limit whether it’s 10 seconds or five minutes to respond to emails or go for a quick walk around the office. I find it allows me to get much more done in my day.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. This book shows that there is great intelligence in groups of people. Often it is true that the “experts” are not always the smartest people in the room.

What is your favorite quote?

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Will Durant

Key Learnings:

• By utilizing the Power of While, what can you do while you are doing something else, you can maximize time management and overall efficiency
• Work is not the enemy of life – your drive will determine how successful you are in both
• There should not be a mistake or failure that you do not learn from.
• The best ideas are born from groups of people – not individuals.


LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/jimestill
Twitter: www.twitter.com/jimestill
Company Site: www.danby.com
Personal Blog: www.jimestill.com