By Jesse Semko and Lindsey Norris / photographs by Curtis Trent
Timo Ewalds, owner and CEO, Nexopia.
A job ad seeking prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush might have read something like this: “Wanted. A self-starter willing to get hands dirty and work long hours in high-risk situations. Wealth beyond your wildest dreams possible. Losing fingers to frostbite probable. Faint of heart need not apply.”
Other than the frostbite warning, the same ad would work for the archetypal contemporary prospector: the dot-com entrepreneur. Striking it rich used to require pitching a tent in inhospitable locales, but today people can make millions without leaving their parents’ basements. That’s an appealing thought to tech-savvy speculators who think they have Google-sized concepts. But the burst of the dot-com bubble should serve as a reminder – don’t head out into the cold unprepared.
“Marketing a site online takes a lot of work and I think people are still surprised by how difficult it is to create a presence on the web,” says John Beauchamp, coordinator of the E-Future Centre at a government-funded non-profit called The Business Link in Edmonton. “It’s almost a double-edged sword; it’s good to be exposed to the entire world, but you’re also competing with the entire world.” Still, e-business is e-booming. In 2005, Canadians bought more than $7.9 billion worth of goods and services online. And even though the Internet gold rush has been declared dead several times, it always seems to revive. Bottom line: it remains one of the last frontiers where Davids can take on Goliaths and win (though entrepreneurs with limited startup capital would be wise not to compete with the eBays).
Beauchamp warns that many aspiring entrepreneurs get carried away by tech possibilities. “I’ve seen people contract a web designer before they’ve done a business plan or researched the challenges that exist,” he says. “It’s important to stay focused on business and let the technical staff create the tools to achieve those business goals.” In other words, the Internet won’t magically make a mediocre business successful. Even a cutting-edge idea needs to be framed within a rock-solid – and old-fashioned – business plan. “Business is business, whether it’s online or a storefront,” Beauchamp says. “There will always be new and different technologies, but ultimately the Internet is just a tool to further your business.”
Nexopia: Timo Ewalds
Two years ago, seven people worked for Timo Ewalds in a room in his parents’ house in Edmonton. Today the 23-year-old owner and CEO of Nexopia has 22 staffers in a 60,000-square-foot downtown office, where he runs the largest social networking site for twentysomethings in Western Canada. Here, in his own words, is how he got there.