“Futurpreneur has done a lot more than they probably think. They’ve allowed small communities to grow. They’ve allowed people to grow. They’ve given careers and opportunities to so many young people. It’s a great organization.”

Working in different parts of Canada after graduation from the University of Prince Edward Island, Sean Aylward knew that he wanted to return to P.E.I.

While he considered law school and wrote a successful LSAT, he felt a strong desire, as he says, “to create something to move back home.” With the full support of his wife, Caley (now a successful entrepreneur in her own right), Sean was not interested in taking the regular “job route,” but was “looking for what we could make happen, filling a need in the market that wasn’t there.” Recalling a positive and enjoyable experience at a barbershop in Newfoundland, when his wife suggested that he become a barber, he immediately knew it was what he wanted to do. As he says, “I like working with my hands. I liked the idea of running a business and making it a different kind of business.” After completing a six-month training course, Sean was ready to establish his new venture. The Humble Barber opened its doors in April 2015. While the six years in business have seen many changes, Sean has never regretted his decision. He now jokes, “If I had gone to law school, I would have just finished last year. I made the right decision. It’s given us the lifestyle we wanted for ourselves and our daughter.”

While Sean has created a thriving business that reflects the kind of life he craved in P.E.I., he does not sugarcoat the challenges of a startup and the work required to build a business. As he points out, “It’s funny looking at it now after being in it for six years, but I had no idea what I was doing at the outset.” Sean’s modesty belies a well-thought-out idea that started with creating a different kind of barbershop experience and extended to products that reflected his views about men’s style and health. As Sean recounts, “A focus for me was in just making a place where men could come and feel comfortable, relax and learn. I wanted to dispel the idea that men don’t care. I’ve always cared.”

Like many young entrepreneurs, Sean faced the obstacles presented by debt and an absence of any meaningful collateral against which to borrow the necessary funds for a startup enterprise. As he points out, “I had student loan debt, car debt, and had just quit my job. We had no money and few prospects. It’s really hard to get a bank to take that on.” But, committed to starting his own business, Sean scoured websites and government funding options until he hit upon Futurpreneur. He was immediately taken with what Futurpreneur offered, describing it as “an organization that focuses on the person first, rather than the risks.” Presenting a solid business plan – one that he reports he “had written 25 times while in barber school” – he viewed Futurpreneur as “the only thing that worked for me.” Describing its response to his idea and the requirements of the application process as “seamless,” Sean had found the organization that would help him realize his aspirations. Looking back at his engagement with Futurpreneur, Sean points out, “They asked, ‘what do you need from us?’ which is a really nice thing to be asked.”

With financing in place, Sean used the funds as operating capital to buy inventory and to fit out the shop. While he had already sourced his first chair, the loan from Futurpreneur “just gave me the ability to make the chair into a shop.” While he had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the business, in thinking back to his relationship with Futurpreneur, he recalls the value of having a mentor: “It helped me by ensuring that I was confident in what I was doing, rounding out my thinking, and looking at the business from a different perspective. It’s a lonely part of life, running a business. Aside from Caley, family and friends don’t understand it. They don’t understand that it eats up every second of your day, especially when you are starting. So, to have somebody who understands that and is totally judgment free, that’s a help.”

Once the first shop with its single chair opened, Sean was bent on expanding his offering and creating the experience that he wanted his customers to have. Within six months of launch, he relocated to a new space with street-level access and room for two chairs. At almost the same time, he established a second shop in Charlottetown. In articulating what drives him as a business owner, he says that, “It’s that willingness to constantly reevaluate, to be thinking about it. It has its own life, it’s always on your mind. Everywhere I go, I’m either looking at haircuts or looking at places and wondering what they serve. I take cues from everything.” While he concedes that there have been rough spots along the way, he has learned from them. “There have been a lot of lessons: I’ve had bad employees, people who have taken advantage of me. I’ve gone through the wringer of social media shaming. But you learn. You get a tougher skin because you want to keep going and growing.”

One of Sean’s coups was gaining provincial approval for a liquor license in his establishments, after repeated attempts. Realizing that being able to offer his customers a drink would add to the atmosphere and sociability of the experience, he finally convinced P.E.I.’s Finance Minister to grant him a license, a milestone that generated substantial national media attention. While enjoying the brush with country-wide fame, Sean points out that the license “just helps people walk in and feel more at home.”

True to his mantra of “constantly re-evaluating,” in 2020 he purchased a building that now houses the Summerside shop, a move that he describes as “extremely positive.” Now set up for three chairs, it meets all of his expectations for a great customer experience. With 11 employees across the two locations, Sean views his accomplishments with some pride: “The primary part of it is building a future. And to do it for others. My employees are able to do something they love. That’s also true for me.”

New Stories Released Every Month