Stop Window Gazing

By Ray DePaul

Just before my mother passed away a few years ago, I published a book of her short stories called Window Gazing. Most of the stories were her memories sitting at her window in 1940's Scotland suffering from asthma and unable to experience the world down below. Heart-wrenching stories of watching her father go off to the war followed years later of observing celebrations at the end of WWII. In perhaps the worst segue ever, I believe entrepreneurs have to stop window gazing, and get into the action.

A couple of years ago, a Calgary company called TikTiks was founded to improve the way sports tickets were bought and sold. I'm sure the founders (two-thirds of which are Mount Royal alumni) would readily agree that they didn't have things completely figured out when they launched version 1 of their app, but it got them in the game. The secondary ticketing market is very competitive and very complex. It is not an industry that can easily be understood if you're observing it from a safe distance. TikTiks decision to launch into the market, rather than sitting on the sidelines studying it, is why they are a more valuable company today (full disclosure: the author is an advisor to TikTiks). They now boast an intimate understanding of the players, strategies, gaps, and opportunities of this industry.

Another Canadian software company, Top Hat, recently announced a staggering $29.5M investment to disrupt the textbook market. It would be wrong to think this was another new startup with a naive dream of toppling the broken textbook publishing industry. Top Hat was founded in 2009 and has been quietly building respect and knowledge in the postsecondary market by supporting professor-student engagement. Starting with a simple app that allows professors to take polls, run quizzes, and other ways to drive student engagement has resulted in over 2M students and 500 universities using their product. They have been in the postsecondary game for 8 years, learning, engaging, and identifying opportunities. Disrupting the complex textbook publishing industry looks easy when you're gazing through a window. The only hope for success is to get into the hallowed halls, in the classroom, and understand the incentives and challenges of professors who want and need to publish.

If you're currently staring at an industry from the comfort of your window, I encourage you to find a way to get on the ground and experience that industry. That might mean launching a niche product, but it might also mean joining an existing company who is already in that industry. As beautiful as my mother's stories were, I'm always left saddened by the fact that she was forced to observe history unfold rather than experience the joys and agony of being part of it all. Stop gazing and start engaging.