Julien Smith of Breather on Good Ideas, Execution, and Unfair Advantages at Startup Grind

A lot has been said about Breather. It seems like one of the ideas that has grown with its own momentum, passing from one media outlet to another seamlessly. A Montreal-based startup that looks to transform physical space into an on-demand solution that can be accessed at the click of a button. A Montreal-based startup looking to conquer the world around it.

This month’s Montreal Startup Grind featured Julien Smith, the CEO and co-founder of Breather, talking about what goes on behind-the-scenes. (Full disclosure: I have recently taken on an organizational role with Startup Grind Montreal. I previously worked with Breather, but no longer do so.)

Despite what it looks like from the outside, Julien emphasizes that it took him a ton of work behind-the-scenes—small victory after small victory—to get to where he is now. Starting all the way back a decade ago, Julien revealed the breaks he got, from being one of the first podcasters leading to an appearance on Sirius Radio, all the way to the random time he wrote out Breather on a notebook, and thought it stuck as a good name.

Before that, he had continuously created logos and brands he thought were good. Now looking back, he can’t believe how awful they were.

It reminded me of the very real lesson that behind every success lies a series of lessons learned through failing, or as Henry Ford put it: “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”

This is the long hard grind startups are about.

From that grind comes pain, and joy. From that grind, experience is built, and ideas become stronger.

According to Julien, Breather has emerged because of a combination of getting it in front of the right targets, and the word of mouth that has sprung from a good brand that has been thoroughly thought out. That polish was built on iteration after iteration: it was not an instantaneous show of force, but a slow, tinkering process.

That work is never finished, but Breather has something going for it. Julien recommends advertising on Twitter to journalists as one of his tips for getting press coverage, and it’s a good one, but the simple truth is that it takes a well-polished and unique take on an old problem that gets most journalists clicking in the first place. Thankfully, Breather has both the idea, and the distribution figured out.

Even with no direct competitors, Breather always looks to find and take every unfair advantage it can. Julien says they have several, and there is no doubt that they do. Here, the hard truth of entrepreneurship comes through in his talk: as soon as you flip the switch, and the idea becomes more than you, you are no longer supporting just yourself—you are supporting a team. You have to be confident enough to get the money and team you need, but not blind to the fact that others are depending on you for their livelihood. So every advantage that can be seized, from patented technology, to connections the founders have—every unfair advantage you have must be found and taken.

It’s the difference between a good idea gone wrong, and one executed perfectly. Even an inevitable idea has to be done right. As Julien leaves the stage, you get the sense that everything he has conveyed is something he has lived through—the startup grind in all its glory.