Dan Blair - Addicted To Technology

Starting Up

Starting Up

I gave another awkward speech to students at Red River College recently. This might not be awkward to most people but I’m not used to it. The topic was jumping off a cliff or doing what I did and jumping off a shit load of small hills.

The talk was for entrepreneurship students in the Business Information Technology program at RRC and is about building your network of mentors, gaining support and taking a leap of faith.

The Annoying Student

Before I started the Red River College BIT program I was super into computers and super interested in business. I got the bright idea that I was going to start some sort of business around using Linux. I was kind of wrong but it was that mentality that got me motivated to go to Red River in the first place.

Now I am done and I made either the best decision or the worst decision; I am ready to reflect on my decision and plan for the future. While going to RRC I started to panic, it was my life goal to start up a business but I figured that was for later, I needed to find a job first and I didn’t want it to be corporate.

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Finding The Best

Around my second semester at RRC I started thinking about the coming summer. I didn’t have a job lined up as a full time student and I didn’t want to work at McDonalds or a lumber yard like I had in the past. I started looking for tech companies in the city like Tipping Canoe and Shopify and thought, I want to make Android apps or work with Ruby, I will try to work there.

I created a few things that I heard on a podcast were important. I started a blog called CMDann.ca which is still in operation. It was focused on the stuff I liked, server side computing and reviewing electronics like the Raspberry Pi. This site is still operational and gets over 300 visitors a day (success!). I created a LinkedIn and a GitHub, if you are a dev student and you haven’t then get on that tonight. I also created a portfolio site to tie it all togetherdan-blair.ca.

As a student with absolutely no experience other than what I had taught myself and whatever I learned in the first couple semesters at RRC, I didn’t have much to offer other than my weirdly huge amount of enthusiasm for technology.

I found Shappify! I thought to myself, shit these guys must be the Shopify app team, I’ll bug them. I got in contact with Yvan Boisjoli and asked him for advice and bombarded him with my GitHub, portfolio, website, and everything I ever did. He actually took the time to write back to me (like 4 months later), giving me awesome advice and giving me the opportunity to plan a co-op with them for my work term later on. I invented a job for myself in an industry I had no experience in.

When I was finally in the talks with Shappify for a job, I realized they were actually called Bold all of a sudden (I was confused), Shopify moved away from Winnipeg and I found out they were not the same company. It was for the best, I was looking for a small team to join. This is what I found.

This was nuts, I avoided working in a corporate environment so good, I found the startup. My family constantly asked me if we did real work or just played Mario Kart and I told them I never worked. This was our dev team at the time.

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This team is way larger now spanning multiple departments and a wide variety of projects.

Learning Everything

Almost immediately I found out that everything I learned in school up until my co-op barely mattered and the only thing that did was my attitude towards learning and how quickly I could adapt.

I was challenged by my mentors and quickly moved from doing the basic coding to actual development, making some cool stuff like the Bold Apps API and some internal tools, and eventually Picticipate.

Bold is a totally unique company in Winnipeg, they are doing everything correctly and I wanted to help them more than anything else. I started dragging them out to community events, and even convinced them to get involved by helping me start my own: The Winnipeg Android group. This community involvement ended up actually making quite a difference and attracted some of the best developers for me to learn from. I didn’t even come close to learning everything.

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Finishing Off

My term with Bold was a co-op work term. This means that it had an end date when I would go back to school. I was afraid of this so I decided to convince them to let me continue to work (I’m sure they hated this) part time while in school. I tried my best to be productive but working remote is the hardest thing ever.

While I was gone from Bold for the fall, I of course got right back into the culture of the exchange district and the startup community. This mentality poisoned my brain even more making me think what I needed to do to be happy was start my own company, I pitched ideas and tried multiple things all while being super careful I was not stepping on Bold’s toes.

I figured out what I wanted to do to start, and I started meeting people who I needed to meet to accomplish this. I finished Red River, with good marks, all while juggling being a dad and working 2 part time jobs (Bold and my own) not counting any of the other personal challenges that were going on at the time. This should have probably satisfied me.

Decisions

I returned to Bold after graduating, but something was different. When I walked away in the summer to do school and work remote the team changed quite a lot. There were people I didn’t know, teams had formed and people were doing awesome stuff. I never felt like I fit back in. This made me kind of sad, the team that I was on had more than doubled and I was suddenly just the junior developer working on whatever.

Bold is doing everything perfectly. I would be a liar if I said I wasn’t trying to emulate their success as much as I can. These people saw an opportunity and invented jobs not just for themselves but for a lot of other people. Over the course of the spring I started seeing if I could scale my ideas, they were just small things but there was a lot of potential.

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Its Just Business

Bit Space Development came out of nowhere. I invented it out of the need for me to see if I could do something. It is still super new but it is mine and I am super passionate about it. I decided I wanted to help people, I wanted to work with the artists and the not-for-profit organizations who need me to help them get their business up and running.

I was suddenly working 18 hour days keeping up with the contract work that was coming in, the opportunities to pitch on projects, and the attention that comes with the whole startup scene. You see it is fashionable to run a startup, people love that. They have no idea how much work it really is though.

I was fortunate to not make Bold hate me while starting my company. I would not be surprised one bit to hear them tell me they got tired of me talking about it to them, making them read my business plans, critique my ideas, and guide me into an industry they are already in. I don’t see myself as competition though. I am really looking for ways for everybody to work together for the greater good (and money!).

The opportunities that came up, allowed us to take on co-op students for the summer and secure some contracts were a direct result of networking early on in RRC.

Bit Space Development

Everybody wants to know what Bit Space Development is. I don’t know if the name is amazing, I like it and it stuck but it is long. It is a tech startup, the direction is still flexible because different opportunities keep coming up but the main focus is helping the people who need it.

Bit Space Development is making websites for not-for-profits and artists, dealing with their social media, managing their hosting, and developing killer apps for them. So far so good, we will see where the summer takes us.

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The Startup Community

You have so many options. It doesn’t matter if your decision is to own something or work somewhere. There are risks and rewards to both. It is all about the journey and what you get to learn, and of course the people to meet along the way. I am fortunate to not have burnt my bridges, I want more than anything to maintain the friendships and opportunities for the future.

Depending on who you talk to there is a different path you should take. It might be drop everything you are doing and start up! It might be stick around and try to bootstrap, it might be somewhere in between. There is no perfect way to start a business.

It is important to get out into the community, check out the meetup groups and get involved. That is the kind of thing that is going to get you noticed in the industry. This doesn’t matter what you are doing. You can be a developer, designer, or business person. You will benefit from getting involved.

Resources

If you are in Winnipeg and you are just looking for information or resources, here is a good list for you. You want to look into these companies and check out the services they offer:

There are more, and I will add them when I remember, but this is a solid list to start. How much do people love the startup community?