Entrepreneurial Advice from a 20-year veteran: Corinne Bryson, INEX Inc.

Building a company from the ground up can be an equally risky and rewarding process for entrepreneurs. To learn more about what it takes to start a business, we sat down with Corinne Bryson, the founder and CEO of INEX Inc, an Ottawa-based business that creates emergency and end-of-life executor kits. Corinne shares many interesting insights based on her decades of experience as a veteran business owner.

The full conversation can be found on the IP360° Podcast.

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IP360°: Tell us a little bit about INEXinc and what inspired you to start this organization?

Corinne: I started the company back in 2000 when my husband’s grandmother passed away. His mother was named as the executor, and even though she felt up to the task, it was still a very difficult loss for her to cope with. I figured there must be an estate settlement package to help women like my mother-in-law who must assume the role of an executor as they face overwhelming emotion. I had been working in the finance industry at the time, so I was equipped with the knowledge to create this toolkit for other struggling families who couldn’t find one.

Many Ottawa funeral homes also expressed a lack of expertise in estate planning and were therefore interested in the executive resources I planned to offer them. 21 years later, we provide these kits to funeral homes across Canada and the United States.

IP360°: How and when did you know that it was time to scale INEXinc and bring it to the next level?

Corinne: I knew it was time to scale INEXinc because I was listening to our clients and regularly asking them, “What is your primary frustration?”. The answers we got to this question fueled the development of our various product lines. For example, the idea of a “comfort cub”–a teddy bear that can hold keepsakes or cremated remains–emerged from the lack of products to help children grieve. Therefore, what’s truly allowed us to scale is circling back to our clients and finding out what they need. It’s a lot easier to create a solution to a need that exists, rather than to create a product and try to generate the need.

IP360°: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the funeral industry and the products INEXinc offers?

Corinne: With the pandemic, more people are focused on preparation. About a decade after the launch of our original kit, we started to offer a preparedness package that keeps all of your core documentation assembled in one place in case of an emergency. There’s going to be one of three emergencies that everybody’s going to experience in their life: a death, an incapacitation, or a displacement from disaster. This kit gives families secure access to these documents that will help facilitate further decisions as they rebuild their life. The notion of an uncertain future caused by the pandemic has sparked a renewed interest in toolkits such as this one.

Additionally, due to limited contact with clients, funeral homes are now demonstrating a growing interest in the digital versions of our products that offer systematic and seamless communication points with grieving families.

How does IP Private Wealth Help Business Owners?

IP Private Wealth is a wealth management firm that provides 360° financial planning for affluent families. Our family office model helps entrepreneurs to plan for growth, expansion, exit, and succession; we gather together a round table of experts from many disciplines, and together we create a coordinated action plan to drive you and your business forward. You can learn more here.

IP360°: In your opinion, what was the most important factor in establishing a successful business?

Corinne: Surround yourself with a good team of good people. An important adage is, “Hire slow, fire fast”. It is equally as important to find valuable stakeholders to join your team. Once you have your systems in place, you simply work the systems to grow your business. Personally, I value Richard and the IP Private Wealth team; they are my first resort anytime I face a finance-related question. They are my trusted advisors who are always available to help me put the pieces in place.

IP360°: How were you able to identify when you had the wrong versus right people around your table?

Corinne: The best barometer is your bank account. If there’s suddenly more money going out and less value coming in, it is a strong indicator that you’ve got the wrong person. It is also important to trust and follow your gut, and the sooner you do so, the better off you will be as an entrepreneur.

IP360°: Entrepreneurs tend to get excited about adding new ideas and products to their business. How do you determine what to pursue or decline when you’re presented with multiple opportunities?

Corinne: Many entrepreneurs thrive on adrenaline, creativity, and the chaos that comes with that. However, it is oftentimes easier to stick to what works, reap your harvest and invest your funds so they can grow in other quieter, easier ways. When it comes to making tough decisions, it takes a lot of introspection to determine my overall intentions as well as the credibility of the information I am given. Similar to a windmill, if you change something by a slight degree at the core of a system, this will ripple into a major difference that affects the whole machine or organization. It is so important to take your time with small decisions so that they do not suddenly fester into major chaos.

IP360°: How does an entrepreneur protect what they have on both a professional and personal level?

Corinne: First off, it is paramount to protect your intellectual assets, from your intellectual property to your valuable stakeholders. Ensure that you invest in those relationships and make time to remain connected to your team. Secondly, it’s not always easy to generate revenue, so it’s also necessary to protect your dollar. By working with the team at IP Private Wealth who manage my balanced portfolio, I am able to not only preserve my hard-earned dollar, but simultaneously watch it grow.

IP360°: Helping those in mourning can oftentimes be challenging on an emotional level. How do you take care of yourself as well as those on your team?

Corinne: For me personally, Richard has taught me the importance of rewarding yourself with items that bring you joy, but to also remember that there are only so many hours in the day to reap their benefits. Overall, be mindful and intentional with these purchases, but don’t be afraid to invest in your own happiness. For my small team of employees, we offer a health and wellness plan that fosters flexibility, education, and transparency. This plan plays a crucial role in making sure our employees remain committed to our purpose and always demonstrate compassion to our clients.

IP 360°: What’s one piece of advice that continues to resonate with you today?

Corinne: A piece of advice that I’ve come to appreciate over time follows an analogy that I’m sure many have heard before. If you’re flying from Ottawa to Vancouver, the vast majority of the time, you’re actually off course. In fact, it’s the 1,000,001 mid-course corrections that will actually bring you to Vancouver. When you’ve got a sense that you’re off course, it is crucial to remain calm, correct your mistakes, and ultimately reach your destination. Once you have a vision in place, you will reap the rewards if you work the plan and do what needs to be done to remain on track.

IP360°: Based on your experiences, what would you tell an aspiring entrepreneur who is currently starting to get their business off the ground?

Corinne: First of all, don’t let the fear stop you. Many people are hesitant that their idea will get stolen. However, it’s important to understand that others can never duplicate your passion, your conviction, and your commitment because it’s your idea. If you stay true to your core, you’ll still come ahead.

Number two: always set the bar high as a barrier to entry. I knew that my product could easily be duplicated, so I made sure to invest a lot in the quality of the product. These costs will add up for potential competitors and hopefully dissuade them from challenging an already established player. If you’re the first one out the gate, you have to run fast and hard to keep that bar as high as possible.

Finally, part of it is just believing that things happen for a reason. When you stumble and fall, you will likely learn a lesson and move on. Ultimately, if you have that fire in your belly, success is meant to be yours, and then it is meant to be shared. Have gratitude, a sense of generosity, and give back. Being an entrepreneur comes with its challenges, but you will also have a lot of fun while you are at it.

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Corinne Bryson

Corinne Bryson founded INEX in 2000. After witnessing a family member struggle with the task of settling her mother’s estate, Corinne realized there was a need for a simple but comprehensive tool to assist executors, and Closing Affairs was born--now the #1 resource given to executors by funeral homes in North America. Corinne has developed a number of other products for the deathcare profession and recently launched In Case of Emergency, an estate organization tool that is being used as a relationship-building premium by both deathcare and financial services professionals.