I am thrilled and honored to be featured alongside Ryan Beedie, Gregg Saretsky, and Livia Mahler in the current UBC Sauder School of Business alumni magazine cover story on entrepreneurship and innovation. What company! I hope to accomplish half of what they have been able to achieve in their careers. Here’s to the many other Sauder entrepreneurs out there!
Full text of the article:
UBC SAUDER VIEWPOINTS – FALL 2011
Red Rovr, Red Rovr, We call Chris Coldewey over
BY ALLAN JENKINS AND JENNIFER WAH
With half an eye on the Twitter stream scrolling by one night a few years ago, Chris Coldewey realized with a start that a favourite band, Fleet Foxes, had not only slipped into town for a concert unbeknownst to him, but were playing another show that night just down the road in Seattle.
The MBA 2010 graduate had built a solid resume around futurism and corporate strategy, and felt attracted to the entrepreneurial energy in Vancouver. “With a lot of strategy consulting and scenario planning under my belt I wanted to get experience in the tech startup world and build something myself,” Chris recalls.
Drawn to the idea of a shiny new object in the form of a company, Chris conceived the idea of RedRovr in 2010, a tool to help fans bring the people and the bands they were interested in to where they live. Originally focused on bringing musicians and their followers together, the idea quickly grew to include speakers, authors, and other celebrities.
(Pull quote) “The seed came out of social media tools such as Twitter, which is a fantastic power tool for people who are thought-leaders in any area, allowing them to directly interact with fans. I noticed people who were starting to use these tools in new way, including connecting with fans from around the world.”
AS WITH ANY NEW VENTURE, ESPECIALLY ON THE
web, Chris has course-corrected as he learned more from his users and customers. “I initially focused on helping fans request speakers and bands to come to town. But I found that venues and event organizers wanted to use RedRovr to ask fans who should play at their club or speak at their event, so I am developing that now.”
Chris cites the example of bestselling author and entrepreneur Seth Godin, who started reaching out to his readers and fans, to ask them where they thought he should come and speak. Less formally, luminaries such as author Guy Kawasaki have been known to ditch hotel room service and evening email, in favour of adding a tweet-up (when an online conversation evolves into an informal real-life gathering, usually between people who have connected on the social media platform,Twitter) on to a major keynote presentation.
Chris describes an emerging trend of social networking online—the “interest graph”: not only are you and all your friends connected on Facebook, but others you might be interested in, for reasons other than personal, are also there. These are people you may be connected to incidentally through real-world friendships, work, or geography, but primarily—and perhaps only—because you share similar interests. He sees it as a nexus, where different interests and fields come together—an intersection of real-world event planning, trends, and people. “RedRovr is about activating your interest graph—helping you discover other people in your city who share your interests in people or bands and make something happen together.
“Part of my ongoing strategy consulting work has been paying attention to these sort of early indicators of an unfolding future. Sometimes that’s a data point, but often it’s people who are pointing the way,” reflects Chris, mentioning thought leaders such as author and futurist Kevin Kelley, and social media consultant/author Chris Brogan, as examples of those living in the future. “You can see these outliers interacting with tools differently, making different kinds of choices; harbingers of where we are going.” He references Seth Godin again, who is walking away from the publishing world and trying to reinvent publishing in a more participatory manner.
An entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word, Chris has seized an opportunity out of the democratizing force of the Internet, where the voices of customers can now be better heard by companies. “Social media is all about learning from customers, trying to engage with customers. RedRovr is about giving people a platform to tell you what they want. I had a lot of conversations to get me to that point!”
Alongside RedRovr, Chris advises organizations on innovation and technology strategy. “I am currently working with one of the UN aid agencies to develop an internal innovation system—surfacing needs and ideas from field operations and connecting them with external partners and resources. One of the greatest challenges large organizations face now is how to operate lean, fast, and creatively—essentially like a web startup. Having a foot in both worlds lets me apply expertise from one to the other.”
When he is not dreaming and scheming about RedRovr, or a quiver of other ideas, Chris spends time with his wife Beth, one-year-old son Obie, and says daddy Chris has learned to operate on very little sleep, if he has to. “When I can get away, I go mountain biking on Vancouver’s North Shore, snowboarding at Whistler, or do a CrossFit workout,” he says. ”My best ideas come to me when I am outside, so it’s good for my health and my work.”
“Sauder helped me solidify a toolkit of operational and critical thinking skills that I bring to bear on my work every day.Through the MBA program I met some fantastic people— both students and professors—and got plugged in to the Vancouver tech community.”
Start me up
Entrepreneur Chris Coldewey offers his tips on web startups.
1. Get a team you feel comfortable with. That can just be two people, but in areas where innovation is key, you want a team with capacity. The dynamic partnership is helpful for developing new ideas, products, services and business models. You can bounce ideas off each other and take advantage of different skill sets.
2. Connect to the resources around you. Sauder has a great network, in alumni, and as a school. Professor Thomas Hellman’s technology entrepreneurship classes were fantastic for bringing engineering graduate students together with MBA students in an intensive class to create new products and new businesses. Then they brought in a who’s-who of BC venture capitalists, angels, entrepreneurs, and successful company CEOs to react to these ideas and potentially fund some of them. Vancouver has tons of resources for startups, from Meetup Groups to coworking spaces to startup accelerator GrowLab.
3. On the product side, be ready to reiterate. By definition, innovation is an experiment. Nobody knows the right answer, and it’s rare to hit the nail on the head right away. Being good at innovation means figuring out how to experiment in smart ways. You have to reiterate your product vision: engage with customers, find out if there’s a different customer segment that’s actually much more profitable or much more engaged with your product. Or look at innovations in other sectors and see if you can bring those into the one you are trying to enter.
4. Bring your Sauder skills to the table. In economics class we studied two-sided markets— platforms with two different user types where network effects increase the value to each as the two sides grow. Think about the challenge of marketplaces in general. In the case of RedRovr, fans want speakers to be on the site, and speakers want fans. So I have to design features that attract the segment that is harder to get, so that the easier-to-get segment will just follow along.