Name: Andrew Louis
Job: Co-founder and developer of ShopLocket.
In one sentence or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
The main thing I do is code the site, but there are a lot of other things too, like talking to customers and figuring out what they want, helping out with marketing, and fixing bugs.
When did you first start working with computers?
I was always into computers. My dad got us a family computer when I was in Grade 1 or 2, and I was always tinkering around with it, playing SimCity and trying basic programming. I learned a bit through school, but it was mostly things I was figuring out myself through the Internet, like how to create webpages. By the time I finished high school, I was working at summer jobs writing software. I wasn’t really that good, but I was good enough to be somewhat useful. Then I went to the University of Toronto and studied computer science for six years, including a one-year internship at IBM.
What was working at IBM like?
It was really interesting. I worked on a good team, and it was cool to see how a company that large developed software. I got to do a bit of traveling and go to conferences, which was really great as a student. But I realized that working at a really big company was a bit stifling; there’s a lot of bureaucracy, and it’s hard to get your ideas across. I realized that I should try to stick to smaller companies or do my own thing.
When your internship finished, what did you do next?
I took an extra year to finish school, and in that period I got some media experience by working as the online editor for The Varsity, and participating in political stuff that friends were doing. That gave me a taste for doing freelance work for smaller organizations, and I started working as a freelancer. I really liked it; it allowed me to choose what kind of work I wanted to get involved with. So, at first, it was a lot of media organizations.
Was it hard in the beginning to get clients?
I never found it too hard, because technical skills are in high demand. I had a pretty good situation where I could choose who I wanted to work with and kind of target them directly. I was freelancing for two years, but then this opportunity [with ShopLocket] came up and I decided to go for it. Working for a startup is definitely a lot busier—a lot of more of my time is taken up now, and I can’t just take a day off to work on my own thing anymore. But the flipside is that I get to work with people again everyday, rather than working in a coffee shop or at home, which gets boring really fast.
Where did the idea for ShopLocket come from?
I was working with my co-founder Katherine [Hague], and she wanted to sell some t-shirts really quickly online. She realized that if she just wanted to sell 10 shirts fast—rather than selling something on ongoing basis—there weren’t a lot of good options online. From that, we came up with the idea of creating a product listing that you can put anywhere. If you have a lot of followers on your blog, on Facebook, or on Twitter, and you just want to sell a couple of things really quickly, you no longer have to send people to a separate site. We’ve made it so that you can embed the product listing directly into your your site, and it’s as easy as sharing a YouTube video.
Who do you see as the clients for ShopLocket?
I think primarily it’s good for people who have an audience already, whether they are bloggers or have another online presence. It’s also good for an organization or charity, if they have some swag for a specific campaign and they just want to sell it really easily off their own website. With ShopLocket, they can start selling in minutes.
How did you guys get the resources to launch the site?
First, we got some angel investments from some friends, which allowed us to put a prototype together and start working on it. In the last month, we were accepted into an incubator program called Extreme Startups, which gave us quite a bit of funding, as well as access to mentors and office space. There’s a lot of startup activity these days, and people getting funding for their ideas, so there’s a huge demand for developers who have flexible technical skills. People who can code and design, for example, are in high demand. I’m not the best software developer or the best marketer, but I can do both, and that’s valuable at a startup.
What are some important things for people to keep in mind when launching a startup?
I think it really comes down to having a good, flexible team. If you try to get started without any technical skills, it’s going to be hard to get a prototype off the ground. At the same time, if you don’t have anyone with business or marketing know-how, you aren’t going to be able to reach people. If you can put together a team that can work hard and do a lot of different things, there’s a good chance you’ll be okay. Right now, there’s quite a bit of funding floating around so, if you have a good idea, you can probably find some money.
How do you know if you have a good idea?
You can’t know ahead of time, which is why it’s really important not to over-invest in it before launching. What you should try to do is put together the smallest version of your product—using the least time and resources—and get it out to users, to test whether people actually want it or not. That’s known as MVP—a minimum viable product. If there is traffic, then you can build on it and develop it further. A common trap is to spend years building something and then finding out once it launches that nobody is actually interested in it.
One of your investors is Heather Payne, the founder of Ladies Learning Code. Do you think opportunities are increasing for women in the tech world?
There’s way too may guys in tech [laughs]. I think it comes down to cultural prejudices, and women are told in very subtle ways that they’re not welcome in this space. That’s a fault of the tech culture, and it’s really a shame because it means losing access to a diversity of opinions. That’s why something like Ladies Learning Code is so great, because it helps try to fix that.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
My least favourite is dealing with errors—when we screw up and have to ask a user for forgiveness. That kind of sucks, but it’s also a good opportunity to talk to the customer and find out how we can make things better. The best thing about this job is being able to shape something that you really care about—to have so much control over something you want to do. What’s great about the internet is that it can make certain things more democratic, and we feel that we can make sales easy for anybody by cutting out large distributers and allowing people to do commerce directly with their audience. I really care about empowering people to sell things easily, and this job is a lot of fun.