Tech Alliance kicked off London Tech Week yesterday with Talkin’ Tech with Sarah Prevette at the Toboggan Brewing Company. The business-casual event was a talk-show style discussion about what it takes to succeed and thrive in today’s business world and all things entrepreneurship.
Prevette teaches creativity and design thinking to some of the country’s biggest business leaders. Her history of innovation as a serial entrepreneur, high profile investor and strategic advisor to numerous organizations, led to her being named by Inc Magazine as one of the top entrepreneurs in North America and one of the “Top 20 Power Elite” by Canadian Business.
A London native and Western graduate herself, Prevette told The London Beat that it was great to come back to her hometown, and host the show.
She interviewed London tech stalwarts Taylor Ablitt, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Diply; Mallory Brodie, Co-Founder and CEO at Bridgit, and Jeff Evans, Founder of Tiny Titan Games. The three companies were chosen because they have had success on a global stage.
Prevette spoke to each entrepreneur one on one, before opening it up to the audience. The discussions were both frank and informative.
Diply’s Taylor Ablitt was first, and told his tale of coming to Western, “stumbling” into Ivey and going into accounting. He started working at @TrojanTech, and in 2013 launched the Facebook page that quickly grew to millions of fans in just months. He talked about sitting in the basement, “hacking and aggregating content.” Ablitt said, “We had this great audience, but Facebook didn’t give us any opportunity for revenue.” So he launched the Diply website.
Now Diply employs 180 full time people, in London, Toronto, and Chicago. While 80% of their revenue comes from the U.S., they continue to base their operations here in London. Why stay here in London?
“It punches well above it’s weight class. The amount of young talent in the city is phenomenal,” said Ablitt, who estimates that Diply’s average employee is about 25. He added that tapping that resource was important, “Finding really good talent within an organization and developing that – have a great team, but filling out VP and director level positions are a key focus.”
Prevette was next joined on stage by Brodie from Bridgit – a construction management software company. Brodie got the idea when a construction manager expressed frustration with the paper / manual process to communicate with subtrades. She interviewed over 500 construction professionals before creating her product. “Go talk to your customers or potential customers.”
Brodie also spoke of lean start up principles. She used co-op students to develop a prototype to get feedback from customers, and that allowed her to hire people to build the software she wanted.
Brodie told the story of telling a construction manager that the product was $100, and how that manager reached into his pocket and tossed over a $100 bill. She realized then that her price was too low.
When asked by Prevette if being an Ivey student helped her entrepreneurial endeavours, Brodie offered that Ivey gave her the tools to be able to be able to make decisions, which was important because, “There’s not been a single decision at Bridgit that we’ve had all the data points to be able to make a perfect decision.”
Brodie said that now that they have a team of 35, she has realized that her individual efforts can’t make as big of an impact as when there were just three or four people. She added that, “Bigger teams need shared vision and focus versus individual “doer” efforts.”
The knowledge she accumulated allowed Brodie to raise $2 million quickly because of experience in previous rounds. She offered, “Tech is a balance of what you’ve achieved versus perception of what you can achieve. Metrics matter to a point – but the vision you’re creating also matters.”
Jeff from Tiny Titan Games took the stage next, to tell of his eternal yearning to make games. He spoke of mailing ideas to Nintendo just so that he could see his games come to life. Not for credit, just to see it get done. His first venture, Antic Entertainment, didn’t make it and Evans talked about that learning curve. After first launching a free game with ads in it, and then later a paid version, the free version did much better – so it became the new focus. “If I make a game that they stay three times as long, I’ll make 3 times as much money,” Evans exclaimed.
Tiny Titan Games currently employ 22 people. They have three games that they’re actively supporting, as well as four new games being developed. They are now looking at some multiplayer larger impact titles after historically focusing on retrogaming. Jeff said he wasn’t particularly interested in the virtual reality market as it is “still too niche and requires a lot of space,” and he sees AR as a “gimicky approach” that he feels will stay a niche game market.
He did perk up when Prevette asked him about eSports: “People don’t have a grasp of the impact of video games and potential is absolutely insane. E-Sports levels the playing field as people who have a console and the skills – they can compete.”
When Evans was finished, they opened the floor for questions from the audience.
David Billson from rTraction was graciously handling TechAlliance’s twitter feed during the event, and live tweeting throughout.
Check out London Beat’s Twitter Moment containing all of the questions:
Once again, the TechAlliance event was a wonderful combination of business and pleasure. If you’ve never been to one of their events, they somehow find a way to blend just enough casual into the mix to make everybody comfortable; without jeopardizing the business at hand, or the goals set to be reached.
Special thanks to Sarah Prevette for hosting the show, to the guest panelists, and to sponsors Ferrara Wealth Advisory Group, CarProof and LEPC.
Congratulations to all of the staff that put it together, and kicked off London Tech Week in style.
Read more about today’s London Tech Week event Munchies With Mentors in London Beat’s Full Tech Week Primer.