A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support, and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.
Our community is strong and growing with record speed and maintaining connection through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic, we've got a plan.
Introducing, The Faces of #OKGNtech. A showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters, and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth, and more excitement. Follow along (on the blog and on Instagram @OKGNtech) to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.
Meet John. John Sechrest is the founder of the Seattle Angel Conference and the catalyst behind the OKGN Angel Summit. When John isn’t working on improving the startup ecosystem in Seattle, you’ll find him in his garden, riding bikes with his wife, or planning his next trip to Estonia.
We recently caught up with John to learn more about his passion for ecosystem building and how he got plugged into OKGNtech.
What got you involved with entrepreneurial ecosystem building?
“The Chamber in Oregon hired me as their Economic Development Director back in 2006 and the way I saw it was with economic development you have four choices: recruitment expansion, retention, tourism, or startups. I knew that Oregon wouldn’t put enough money into recruitment and that expansion and retention would only give us more of what we already had. Then there was tourism but that had its own budget so that only left Startups. So the question is how do you get a town of 50,000 people to get used to startups? Do an Angel Conference to change the conversation completely. So that's what we did. As of today I have launched conferences in San Diego, Kelowna, Anchorage, and Seattle. So we now have California, Oregon, Washington, BC, and Alaska. The full west coast!”
How did you get plugged in to OKGNtech?
“I am constantly working to build more startups and make better angels. One of the things we see with startups is they get angel-funded the first time, then they don’t all make it to the second round of VC funding. Which makes me wonder what are these other companies going to do!? I began looking into what companies have to do in order to go public in Canada. So in the process of trying to figure that out, I started talking to lawyers in Seattle to uncover the differences between going public in Canada versus the United States. Through that process I got introduced to Mike Mccauley from Lawson Lundell. The Lawson Lundell team are partners of Accelerate Okanagan and the OKGNtech community and it wasn’t long before he invited me up for a visit.
Why do you love your job?
“I am passionate about making things better. The next time you see someone walking down the street with a sign saying something isn’t right, I bet you that the answer to solving that problem is a scalable business. At the core of angel investing is the ability to produce the next economy, whatever that is. And if you’re able to do that well, not only do you make that change but you now have more money so you can do it again and again. It’s a sustainable mechanism for making the world a better place.”
What was it like being involved with the OKGN Angel Summit?
“You guys ran it at a different level than most of the places that are running it. You guys had a much different flavour and structure than what I am used too. I really think you guys pulled off a great process. It was different having this backend engine that is Accelerate Okanagan during the process because there were a bunch of things that I would have worried about where you just sort of shrugged your shoulders and took care of it. I am used to doing most of the heavy lifting so that was entirely different for me. You are also the only group that has ever done swag! That was interesting, I have never had angel summit swag before!”
What surprised you about running the OKGN Angel Summit here in the Okanagan?
“The thing that has been the biggest change for me is that I have always been in control of certain components of the process. In the last 6 months, I’ve had to explain it to three different communities that are fundamentally different from each other, and so I’ve learned a lot about where I have to explain things and where I don’t. Your team probably felt like you were drinking from a fire hose with this process, but so was I! I was constantly trying to understand what are the components that are necessary for this to move forward.”
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“The one piece of advice that I am constantly going back to is something I first heard while doing Kung Fu in College and that advice was ‘slow down, go back to basics, make sure you have the foundation’. So whenever I have been overly excited - which I tend to do a lot - I have to remind myself that slowing down and staying attentive makes all the difference.”
What is the biggest mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
“Customer development is fundamental. What I have learned is that some entrepreneurs don’t want to be wrong. They don’t want evidence that proves that they aren’t right, and so they don’t test things because they think that it is a waste of their time. They believe that if they just muscle their way through they’ll get what they want. But that’s not the reality. The world is going to do what the world is going to do and if you don’t want to adapt it is going to be a much harder lift.”
Can you speak to the value of mentorship?
“To be an entrepreneur and to create a startup is to be crazy. You have to be motivated to do something abnormal, which usually means that you don’t know what it is that you’re about to get into. However, there have been other people that have ran down that road with the same set of crazy and they’ve bumped their heads against things and can at least tell you about those bumps.
So the real value to mentorship is perspective. Perspective from the people that have done whatever crazy thing it is before you. Doing good customer development can cut your risk in half and having a mentor can cut it in half again. Their experience and point of view is hard to get any other way, and it’s so important, otherwise, you’re running really fast forward blindfold on.”