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  • How challenging is it to launch a successful tech startup on Vancouver Island? see more

    After helping more than a hundred First Nation Bands across Canada conduct a variety of mission-critical voting events including referendums and elections, one successful First Nations startup based in Victoria is providing safe and secure voting technology to professional associations across Canada.

    Lawrence Lewis and his Victoria-based team behind the successful First Nations technology company OneFeather are getting ready to launch another new software product. SmartBallot is a voting registration and vote management tool that makes it easier for organizations to engage and communicate with membership, conduct mission critical voting events, carry out legitimate decision-making and reduce the costs and strain of administrative management.

    In this interview, Lewis discusses some the lessons he's learned while building technology businesses on Vancouver Island.

    How challenging has it been to launch a successful tech startup (OneFeather) on Vancouver Island?

    Lawrence Lewis (LL): While OneFeather has been able to take advantage of a local Victoria accelerator program for startups, it has been very challenging. Compared to other tech startups, access to capital for First Nations early stage companies and young entrepreneaurs is essentially non existent.

    Going out and raising capital is equally hard. This is because traditional VCs do not understand the First Nations space, and consequently cannot evaluate the very real opportunities that exist in this growing market.

    On top of that, there are just not that many First Nations programmers or other highly qualified technical experts in emerging technologies or innovating new ones.

    How has your team overcome these challenges?

    LL: OneFeather’s approach has been to build our business one client at a time with a solid core product offering and value proposition. It takes a little longer to build up an inventory of clients, but by focusing on individual clients needs we have been able to develop trust and really strong word-of-mouth. We’ve built a service and product our clients will happily refer to others.

    This approach has served OneFeather well, and has kept us lean and focussed on service and product development that truly matters to our clients.

    You already have a successful career as an administrator and community leader. What made you decide to develop, commercialize and market your own software solution?

    LL: At some point I had to make a choice. I had to decide: do I support, or do I lead?

    Either choice makes sense, depending on who you are and what your goals are. But for me, running my own company and building a vision for something I believe in requires a certain fortitude and commitment. And it’s not for the faint of heart because there are a lot of ups-and-downs and mistakes along the way.  You have to be prepared to learn and adjust all the time, and grow both as a person and as a company.

    Building something new and disrupting elections, referendums and governance -- a space that has for the most part continued to oppressed First Nations people through its antiquated processes -- is something I am excited to tackle each and every day.

    What has made your success so far possible?

    Quite simply, building a company around aboriginal values and principles has made our success possible. We strive to lead with integrity. We speak the truth and stay solution focussed. These values not only ensure we provide a valuable service that facilitates sustainable governance and bringing communities together, but also helps us build a technology that customers trust so much they recommend to others.

    What encouragement do you have for people with a First Nations or indigenous background who are considering an entrepreneurial path?

    I am a big believer in hard work. Entrepreneurs must be focussed, and we must be determined.

    Successful technology entrepreneurs must be smart about how we invest our precious, limited time. This means reading everything about the business you’re in, and surrounding yourself with good advisors and mentors.

    We must also not be afraid to fail, which means we always need to be testing assumptions and what is regarded as “truth”.

    Finally, we need to make sure that what we are working so hard toward is something that is inspiring, brings satisfaction and will leave the world or community a better place.

    Lawrence Lewis, a technology entrepreneur based in Victoria, is the CEO of OneFeather. Lewis and his team will soon launch SmartBallot, a voting registration and vote management tool that makes it easier for organizations to engage and communicate with membership, conduct mission critical voting events, carry out legitimate decision-making and reduce the costs and strain of administrative management.

  • Tessa Bousfield posted an article
    Without having looked at the app, Mod responded that he had found a few bugs and would be willing... see more

    Source: Times Colonist
    Author: Andrew Duffy

    After-work networking has been a blessing for a new local software firm that was just recognized as one of the best mobile application developers in Canada.

    FreshWorks Studio, named by technology research firm Clutch to a top-10 developers in Canada list based on market presence, portfolio and client satisfaction, can trace its early success to a few networking meetings and a beer-inspired social media conversation with one of its new contacts.

    “I just wanted to catch his attention,” Samarth Mod says of a late-night note sent via Facebook to tech veteran James DeGreef, founder of ChatterBlock. Mod and business partner Rohit Boolchandani had been struggling with their company, AirSenze Solutions. Mod responded to DeGreef’s social media request for feedback after ChatterBlock launched a mobile app.

    Without having looked at the app, Mod responded that he had found a few bugs and would be willing to share his findings with DeGreef, who he had met briefly at a VIATEC networking event.

    The ChatterBlock CEO offered to meet and provided an incentive — a pint or restaurant item — for each bug Mod could find.

    For Mod and Boolchandani, it was a case of having nothing to lose, but knowing they had something to offer to the Victoria tech scene as application developers.

    The pair did manage to find bugs, had the meeting and the pair ended up working on ChatterBlock’s app for Android devices. DeGreef was impressed and invested in what would become FreshWorks.

    “It was the jockeying, not necessarily the horse,” he said. “Rarely do you find more than one guy who is really awesome [in a company], but I found two who had worked together a long time and had complementary skills. Both were very smart strategically and both were hustlers.”

    DeGreef also saw opportunity in mobile applications, and the fact Mod and Boolchandani had a stable of engineers they could source work to in India, while keeping the design and project management in Victoria.

    The bet has started paying off. Apart from recognition by Clutch, which Mod said immediately translated into clients and new business leads, the nine-month-old firm has more than $500,000 in work booked this year and has grown to a team of eight employees.

    Some of the mobile apps created so far include work for the City of Victoria, B.C. Highways, Vancouver International Wine Festival and provincial ministries.

    It all seems to have started with a few beers.

    Mod and Boolchandani came to Canada, and the University of Victoria, to do their MBAs.

    Boolchandani, chief operating officer and co-founder, was the first to come in 2012, choosing UVic because of the climate, affordability and the people.

    “[In India], we were making an application for RBC Royal Bank and for Bank of America and Barclays, but there was always something nice about talking to Canadians,” he said of his old job.

    So when the pair decided they would leave India to establish their own firm, Canada moved to the top of the list. That was solidified, said Boolchandani, when they realized visas, immigration and being able to start their own business would have been much more difficult in the U.S. Mod came to Canada a year later.

    He said most of the advice he was given suggested he needed to immerse himself in the tech scene. That meant networking whenever possible.

    “My first email was to Rob Bennett at VIATEC and he said come down to an event, and that he would be the tallest guy serving beer,” said Mod. Bennett, an industry veteran who is as well connected as anyone in the city, introduced Mod to a few people. One of them was DeGreef.

    Mod said the networking sessions showed him there was an opportunity in mobile applications, and that there was a shortage of software developers. “We thought there was a real opportunity.” While the pair admit they made plenty of rookie mistakes, they also kept learning from other company leaders. “And we didn’t quit. We just started to listen more,” said Mod.

    Their eyes are on serious growth, defining a niche within the mobile application space and cracking the U.S. market.