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Inspired by Square, Shopify, and IDEO at Ignite Fest Edmonton

September 21 Nathan Beck


People talk about the entrepreneurial spirit and more often than not you are left wondering what the entrepreneurial spirit really is. The Ignite Edmonton Festival put a strong definition to what it means to be an entrepreneur in Edmonton, which left a lasting impression on many who attended.

Over two days, there was so much information and experiences to absorb. Whether it was through the main stage talks, the breakout groups, the in-between workshop networking, or the off-site sessions, there was a little bit of something for everyone. Each of these sessions were complemented with an absolutely beautifully built environment, especially the breakout sessions, which were hosted in smaller pavilions located in the main hall. Even the off-site sessions, which were located at the new Edmonton Ice District, the Telus Innovation Center, Startup Edmonton, and DDB Edmonton were incredibly engaging. Back at the Shaw conference centre (where the food was amazing!) the main stage talks often revolved around thoughts and advice based on professional experiences from individuals who have successfully built their entrepreneurial ideas into full-fledged companies. These talks included everything from learning how to be “scrappy” from Michele Romanow of Dragon’s Den, to a conversation about the power of gaming on making us more resilient by Jane McGonigal, to the psychology of the ‘hook canvas’ and the impact of habit-forming products which was presented by Nir Eval. While those talks were great there were three presenters that really resonated with me and helped infuse my own entrepreneurial spirit and I just want to really quickly touch base on what they said. Credit: Ampersand Grey care of Ignite Edmonton Festival Credit: Ampersand Grey care of Ignite Edmonton Festival

1. Steve McPhee - Square

Steve, who is the head of partnerships at Square Canada, spoke about how square was able to break into the traditional industry of credit cards and banking by finding a service offered by banks and improving it by creating an easier, faster, and cheaper version of mobile transactions. At the core of it, they are focused on making commerce simple. He posed three key questions to think about when breaking into a traditional industry:

  • What internal and external forces are creating new market opportunities in the industry?
  • What are your defensible competitive advantages?
  • How can there be disaggregation in your industry?

Even when launching something completely new, you need to think about how to beat competitors because they’ll show up soon enough. Square was able to quickly build a moat around data, relationships, and missions, they understood their customers better than any new competitor and they made ease of use a priority. They did all of this while targeting new sectors in the banking industry and applying their business to those.

2. Satish Kanwar - Shopify

From Shopify, Satish presented a discussion around product development - “How to Build Products That Don’t Suck”. It really came down to focusing on the minimum viable product, which is a valuable lesson for companies to take a step back from their “catch all” products. Satish’s advice really centered around core values for a product:

  1. Is it a good idea?
  2. Does it give value to the user?
  3. Could it be a scalable business?
  4. Incrementally build the product based on feedback
  5. Measure success based on the user’s goal

The core of Satish’s presentation was about taking your time with product development and making sure you understand why you are building a product or feature. Allow the development team room for failure, iteration, prototyping, and the ability to talk to real customers of the product. Also, to treat early users of a product like consultants to help iterate towards success. At the end of the day, the key piece of advice from Satish was that the first version of your product does not have to solve all of the customers problems, but it should at least solve something.

3.  Eliza Rosenbaum - OpenIDEO

Eliza from OpenIDEO had one of the most engaging and important presentations of the entire conference and that was How to Build a Creative Culture. In my opinion a company that can’t build an innovation and creation friendly environment won’t be able to do what Shopify or Square was able to, and so this is the core of a successful small business and it’s also a key piece of what we are trying to create at Localize. Eliza shared the core values of IDEO and the biggest insight was how they create a positive, vibrant, and creative culture  as soon as an employee starts.  The Little Book of IDEO is given to each new employee to share their core values which are built around the following key words:

  • Optimistic: assumes solutions exist
  • Generative: ideas without constraints
  • Collaborative: accounts for the whole system
  • Embrace: ambiguity

The values translate right into their culture. IDEO is creating a culture of innovation around human-centered design - there’s no food chain, no hierarchy, they’re all responsible for ownership and creativity. Around creativity, Eliza spoke about it being a muscle that can be built up and flexed.  On top of this, they have a strategic plan, “It’s called doing things - talk less, do more.” It's always inspiring to hear about a company like OpenIDEO who has such a connection between their vision and values. Credit: Ampersand Grey care of Ignite Edmonton Festival Credit: Ampersand Grey care of Ignite Edmonton Festival As an employee of a startup, Ignite offered me the experience of walking into a room of like-minded individuals. I was surrounded by other entrepreneurs along with members of the established business community in an environment of learning and excitement as we all looked to understand what it meant to have entrepreneurial spirit. I walked away wanting to share all the pieces that I learned with the rest of my team at Localize and I am very much looking forward to next year!

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