The following is slated for publication in the premiere issue of Effect Magazine, based out of Niagra. I was asked by a good friend, Yashvi Shah, to write on the expansive topic of Entrepreneurship.
When I was asked to write about Entrepreneurship, innovation and how it has affected to my life – I thought it only fair to preface the story with the observation that entrepreneurship itself is not one single thing, nor is it the same thing necessary to every person. It is a dynamic term, vaguely defined and very broad. Though I believe for most people, tech entrepreneurship is the opportunity to build something incredible, improve people’s lives by solving real problems, and work with amazing people.
Entrepreneurship is an umbrella term: it describes a set of attributes and personality traits – a mindset of optimism and childlike wonder, a willingness and capacity to see opportunity in nearly everything – that concisely describes a group of people empowered by the thought that they can change the world. It is not so much something I do but who I am. It is not a job to be started and stopped, but rather a concept to describe the continual sub-activities of my life. Sub-activities I consumed myself with far before they were ever labelled entrepreneurial.
For as far as I can remember I’ve loved building things – out of wood, out of metal, of lego and sand – often held together by excessive quantities of hot-glue and bent over nails. As a child I could often be found in the summer months hammering away at plywood and two-by-fours, integrating a ‘pool’ into our wooden patio (Oh! My poor mother) or creating yet another extension to the tree fort.
Though the fun wasn’t just in building for me – it was in seeing people use what I built. Fortunately, I have two daring younger brothers who joyfully took on the role of beta-testing everything from the ‘high-diving board’ (a ladder with a few modifications) to the ‘inter-treefort-transfer-system’ (something resembling a zipline). There was just something mesmerizing about creating something large and audacious – and then seeing people use and enjoy it.
Somewhere around grade two I began to think computers were really cool (mostly because I could print (seemingly) endless quantities of advertisements for the aforementioned creations). This was also around the time where powerpoint was becoming mainstream and digital video editing was cutting edge – these trends, in combination with some really incredible teachers at my elementary school, cast computers within the same context as ‘creating something large and audacious’. I became interested in production technology (sound mixing, etc.), and by extension, theatre.
So: desire to build something big + computer technology + spectacle creation + lack of stage fright = the ingredients that built my Tech Entrepreneurship foundation.
Words are powerful, and I cannot think of a better case as when I truly discovered the word ‘entrepreneur’. What was previously disparate clusters of interests and abilities could now be repackaged and presented concisely. I now had a brand. I now knew what to ‘search for’ – so to speak (see On asking questions for commentary on the importance of context) – in seeking out a community of people who shared many of the same hard-to-define passions.
This was a big deal – there are other people like me! Put a talented group of like-minded people passionate about the same thing – be it hockey, soccer, music, academics, cars, and yes, even entrepreneurship – together in the same room and things will happen (Shad taught me that). So entrepreneurship – as a concept or term – more than anything else has enabled me to connect with a community who share something in common. One commentator wrote down several of these commonalities he saw as fundamental to entrepreneurship, qualities I agree can be found in most entrepreneurs I’ve met.
- Not very status-oriented- Doesn’t follow rules very well and questions authority- Can handle high degrees of ambiguity or uncertainty- Can handle rejection, being told ‘no’ often and yet still have the confidence in your idea- Very decisive. A bias toward making decisions even when only right 70% of the time, moving forward & correcting what doesn’t work- A high level of confidence in your own ideas and ability to execute- Not highly susceptible to stress- Have a high risk tolerance- Not scared or ashamed of failure- Can handle long hours, travel, lack of sleep and the trade-offs of having less time for hobbies & other stuff
The startup I’m building with an incredible group of people (spanning four provinces and five timezones – from BC, to Newfoundland), inflo, would not be where its at today without this community of mutual support. The effect is net-positive – that is, everyone builds and receives value from and for everyone else, the result being that everyone ends up with more than they could have done by themselves. It is a classic example of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts,
Considering inflo’s sole product – photofloTV - is a community building tool, it is incredibly useful to reflect on the nature of community to better understand how we can improve the lives of our grandparents and seniors. photofloTV enables families to seamlessly share photos and other media with their grandparents and elderly loved ones by allowing you send this content directly to channel four of their TV in a constantly updating slideshow. It integrates into the ways you already use technology by interfacing with Facebook, flickr, youtube, etc. as well as integrating with technology your grandparents are familiar with, their TVs.
Having a core understanding of community has allowed us to take what I’ve just described to a new level: aspiring to deliver an integrated community building system to retirement homes.
Entrepreneurship is empowering. At its core is the idea that a small group – or even an individual – can create something that will have a positive effect on lives of a disproportionately large number of people. To build something from nothing – to create value that otherwise will not exist – to turn a mere idea into something tangible, is to me incredibly alluring.