Jim Estill

CEO of Danby Appliances and ShipperBee

Jim Estill is CEO of Danby Appliances and ShipperBee. Danby Appliances makes over 2,000,000 appliances per year. These include freezers, wine coolers, fridges, microwaves, ranges as well as dehumidifiers and window and portable air conditioners. The Danby Parcel Guard is the latest addition to their products.

ShipperBee is a courier that reduces the greenhouse gas by 73.1% per parcel shipped.

Jim began is career by starting a computer distribution business from the trunk of his car. He grew that business to $2 Billion in sales. During that time, he saw many new technology companies and invested in, mentored and advised over 150 of them. One of the more notable ones was Blackberry where he served on their board for 13 years – since before they went public until 2010.

Jim was awarded EY Entrepreneur of the Year for Ontario Region in 2019.

Estill has been recognised as a leading entrepreneur and humanitarian receiving the Order of Canada (2018), Order of Ontario (2018) and an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Guelph.

Where did the idea for Danby Appliances come from?

I retired but I kept active in business, doing some advising, board work, and mentoring. I did this for almost 5 years. I was not finding that satisfying so when one of the boards I was on (Danby Appliances) had the CEO resign, I jumped at the opportunity to run a business again. When the ownership asked me to sell the business. I said “for how much”. They told me and I bought the business.

I am always thinking about what other products Danby can make. I thought Danby does not just make appliances, we make big boxes. The press was full of articles on the increase in parcel volume and Parcel theft. So we decided to introduce a smart parcel mailbox – Danby Parcel Guard that would email or text people when they got a parcel, that had 2 way voice and an IP camera.

While researching the parcel market, I came to realise how wasteful and archaic the current courier hub and spoke model was. So we invented ShipperBee – a courier that saves 73.1% of the greenhouse gas per parcel shipped.

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

There is no typical day. I wake anywhere from 5:30 to 7.am Depending on what calls or meetings I have, I usually have a short walk. Then I dive into the emails that came in overnight and my To Do file.

Most of the day is spent on calls and video meetings.

One habit I have is planning my day the night before. So 99% of the time, I go with my plan of the day.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I visualise what the idea will look like when it has life. I imagine people using the product. I imagine the impact on the world and how we think of the world around us.

What’s one trend that excites you?

Well of course with Danby Parcel Guard and ShipperBee, it would be the growth in online shopping and parcel shipping.

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

I do the worst thing first. I choose the task from my To Do list that is the most objectionable and I just do it. That habit has gotten me moving further, faster than any other habit.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Be a little more Zen. Most of my life – but particularly early on, I took things very seriously and tried to create change.

I now have the view that we need to be more like gardeners (which I happen to be one of). We need to pull a few weeds, water a bit but mostly just let the plants grow as they want to. Our job is just to help a bit.

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

Entrepreneurs USUALLY should not raise money. There is a trend where people say “I have an idea – now I need to raise money”. True entrepreneurs risk their own time and money to make ideas happen. They are not reliant on outside money.

And not raising cash builds in good frugality habits in a business that will help most businesses to be competitive over time.

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

I exercise. It needs to be done daily. Health trumps wealth any day. And health gives you the energy to be productive.

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

I foster a culture of failure. One of my favourite expressions is “Fail Often, Fail Fast, Fail Cheap” because having a failure does not make you a failure.

This means we do not zap people for making mistakes – we encourage people to try.

We are willing to experiment and try new things. Some idea’s may not work, but it makes a space to grow the idea’s that do work..

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

I have had so many failures that there is not one big one. Simplest example of a recent failure would be Danby Appliances’ foray into tabletop appliances. We found we did not know the market as well as we thought we did and that it is highly competitive.

At the same time, this could be an example of a project that “does not yet work”. We may end up polishing it over time.

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

I love the idea of a video (and text) based learning system that a company could use to train their customers. I call it Train – Verify – Reward. So watch a video or read a PDF, answer a quiz to prove you did it and then get a gift certificate.

Why would this be of interest? Companies need people to understand why their products are good. But customers have limited time and sending sales people to see each customer is expensive (and not advisable in these times).

In Danby’s case, we sell great products. We need the retail sales people to understand why our products are more durable and what our features are. With stores selling products in hundreds of cities across the country, this would be the easiest way to teach people.

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

For me it would always be audio books. I listen to them in the car and also while walking. It is surprising how many books I can get through using what I call “the power of while”. What can I do while I am doing something else.

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

I use the simple alarm on my phone. I set it 2 minute before each meeting I have. That way I am always on time. Some days, I might have 15 alarms set.

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

Recently I read Give and Take by Adam Grant. It teaches the success principle that giving, is often the way to win.

What is your favorite quote?

“What the heck – go for it anyways”. I use this to pump myself up to ask for anything or do anything. What is the worst outcome – someone hangs up or will not meet me.

Key Learnings:

  • Embrace constructive failure.
  • Failure can be a great way to succeed.
  • Use time management tips to get ahead (like do the worst thing first thing)