How Marc Lafleur went from barely graduating high-school to CEO of a Dragon-backed business

Samantha Schleese

by Samantha Schleese

Published: November 30, 2020

Written by Jacqueline Leung

City MOGULS: Founder Profiles Series

Stories of strength, growth, and resilience. A spotlight series featuring founders and leaders from across Canada and the US whose stories and experiences will inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

A conversation with Marc Lafleur, CEO and Co-Founder of truLOCAL, an online marketplace that connects consumers to local suppliers and delivers locally sourced meat straight to your door.

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“It started off with me being a bad student.”

Marc Lafleur, the CEO and Co-Founder of truLOCAL, is a determined, confident, straight-shooter. When asked why he started truLOCAL, he said he knew quite early in his life that he couldn’t conform – to school or to a regular job.

“What I’m interested in changes a lot,” Lafleur said. “Going through school and having to conform didn’t really vibe with me.”

Getting his first job in door-to-door meat sales was something that Lafleur could get behind. “It was the first time I was actually making money,” he said.

But after four years in that job, Lafleur knew it was time to venture out on his own. The Canadian entrepreneur said, “if I wanted to be happy, I was gonna’ have to start my own business.”

Third time’s a charm

Starting a business is hard enough – deciding to take the risk, putting plans in place, getting organized – but running a growing business is a whole new ballgame.

Lafleur struck out with two different companies before he co-founded truLOCAL in 2016. His first company was an instant messaging app that he started while still in school. When that company failed, Lafleur went on to start his second company, a sharing economy platform. The founder remembers making new mistakes at each turn, every time getting a little bit further. Ultimately, the second company failed as well, making Lafleur take pause.

“Why are these businesses failing?” Lafleur remembers asking himself. “We were always working on these businesses at nights and on weekends, never 100%. I was never able to take the step and quit full time.”

Until truLOCAL.

“Tech guys don’t want to sell meat. ‘Meat guys’ don’t know tech,” said Lafleur. So, he went all in.

Today, the Canadian company connects customers to high-end, locally-source meat products through a meat delivery service that operates in Ontario, Alberta, and B.C.

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ICYMI, a lot of meat comes from the same place – large supply chains that make meat

cheap. What’s missing, Lafleur says, “is processing for smaller suppliers. truLOCAL is developing Canada’s regional supply chain to give more power to the producers.”

Four years ago, Lafleur said his team was just excited about being online, about getting 100% grass-fed, organic meat delivered directly to health-conscious consumers. But about two years ago, they discovered a part of their business that would make the greatest impact.

“We realized we were opening up entire provinces [of customers] for local suppliers,” Lafleur said. “We were enabling the smaller guys to sell to more.” The company has since built a dedicated platform – truLOCAL Connect – that gives producers an e-commerce shop to sell their products. A Shopify for local meat suppliers.

Entering the Dragons’ Den

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Before Lafleur pitched on Dragons’ Den, he had pitched and been rejected about a hundred times. This was not his first rodeo.

Still, the founder remembers the experience being quite nerve-racking. “We were the second pitch of the season. The founder before us came out crying,” Lafleur remembers.

Lafleur and his team entered the Den with the goal to leave with a $100,000 deal. They successfully received offers from four Dragon’s and ended up with a deal with fashion mogul Joe Mimran and tech entrepreneur Michele Romanow. You can watch truLOCAL’s pitch here.

In addition to the cash deal, Lafleur said the experience taught him to pitch and speak slower and also gave truLOCAL exposure that was second to none. When asked whether he still works closely with the Dragons, the founder said, “we work with [Michele] closely and she’s always opening doors.”

Up next

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The company’s next big task is to educate consumers about the misinformation surrounding meat production. Lafleur insists that the idea that all meat is bad is just not true. “There’s a proper way to raise it and then there’s a way that’s bad for the environment,” Lafleur said.

More Canadians are turning vegan to avoid animal products and because they believe the lifestyle is healthier and better for the environment. Since 2016, online searches for all things vegan increased by 113%, up almost 26% since just last year.

But Lafleur is up for the task. Entrepreneurship is “long and difficult,” the founder said. “If you are the person who doesn’t give up; if you’re stubborn, you’ll be successful.”

Expecting the path to be difficult has helped Lafleur get through tough days. The founder says he and his team have started to expect problems. “The big swings are hard, but when you start to expect the problems, it levels things out better.”

Getting to this point – truLOCAL is now a team of 55 and growing – hasn’t been easy. “Nobody teaches you this,” Lafleur said. “When you start, you’re an individual contributor. Every transition into a different role is hell. Looking back, it all sounds smooth now, but I had no idea it was going to be that way.”

On days that feel overwhelming, Lafleur focuses on a simple strategy: celebrate the small wins. Did you get up on time? That’s a win. You answered one email? Win. Lafleur wants entrepreneurs to know that feeling overwhelmed is normal, and sometimes, the goal is to just get through the day.