Bringing ‘big technology’ to books
Trevor Nichols - Jan 02 - Biz Profiles

Image: Trevor Nichols

A newly launched Kelowna startup hopes to harness the power of the web to transform the way people in the community buy and sell used books.

Local Reads is the brainchild of book-lover Camille Jensen, who says she started the online service to fix what she saw as “problems” with the book market.

Often, she explains, people buy a book, use it once, and never think about it again. After the first readthrough, those books gather dust on a shelf, or worse, end up in a landfill (because of the glue in them, books generally can’t be recycled).

More industrious readers might schlep their old books to a used book store to offload them, but Jensen argues that can be a time-consuming process.

On the flip side, she says, because most used book stores have little or no online presence, finding a book you want can also be annoying.

Of course, used books abound on the internet, but ordering from a big online retailer can come with its own set of issues for local-minded consumers.

Jensen explains that shipping books in Canada is quite expensive, so almost any used book you buy here will come from quite far away.

“I really started to realize how difficult it is to buy used books in your local community,” Jensen explains.

She believed she could fix that problem, so she brought on co-founder Dan Arbeau to build a platform that would allow local people to quickly and easily sell their used books to other readers in their community.

“In some ways our whole market never went online, so we thought, OK, there’s an opportunity here for a local response using big technology,” Jensen says.

Essentially, Local Reads is a classifieds section for used books. Users list the books they have for sale on the site (descriptions and pictures are automatically generated for users by the site), and other users can browse the selection.

All the payments are handled online, and after buying a book users can pick it up from the nearby seller.

“There’s a lot of books out there, and this is a way to not only help get some value out of them, but also have a little bit of a green aspect as well,” Arbeau says.

“If it was easier to buy used, I think people would,” Jensen added.

With that philosophy in mind, Jensen and Arbeau officially launched Local Reads in September, and now say they have well over 500 books listed on the site.

They’ve also  made an agreement with High Browse 2nd Hand Books, which is the first used book store in Kelowna to use the Local reads, listing several of its titles online.

Arbeau points out that Local Reads has the potential not only to make it easier for individuals to sell books to each other, but help historically technophobic used book stores create a better online presence.

“Books, and people who love books, are a community of their own, and we’re kind of excited about that element with Local Reads, and where that could go,” Jensen says.

For more information, check out Local Reads online.

Indigenous students build futures
Special to Okanagan Edge - Dec 20 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed.

Cameron Jack was just 17 when he first stepped into the carpentry shop at Okanagan College.

Two years and two levels of apprenticeship training later, Jack is inspiring others around him to follow in his footsteps while he continues down the path of a family member who inspired him.

A member of the Okanagan Indian Band, Jack is one of eight students who completed the Construction Craft Worker (CCW) 2 Aboriginal Journeyperson Preparation program this month.

He and his peers were recognized in front of family, friends and community members at a ceremony in the Trades Complex on Dec. 15.

“For me, the highlight of the program has been seizing the opportunity to become a mentor,” says Jack. “I’ve been able to be a role model for some friends who are now going to the college for trades and culinary arts. I’m really proud I was able to inspire them to do that because the college has definitely made a difference in my life and I’m excited to see the impact is has on theirs as well.”

Jack and his fellow students represent seven distinct bands and First Nations from across Western Canada – from the Adams Lake Indian Band, Neskonlith Indian Band, Okanagan Indian Band, Ulkatcho First Nation and Westbank First Nation in B.C., all the way to the Kawacatoose First Nation in Saskatchewan and the Peguis First Nation in Manitoba.

Friday’s ceremony closed the loop on a two-year educational journey for Jack.

This time last year, he was crossing the stage in the very same spot to pick up his CCW Level 1 credential (he was among the second class to graduate from Level 1 of the program since it began in 2015). It also brought into focus for him a much longer tie to the trades within his family.

“My great grandfather built the house we live in by hand,” notes Jack. “So it means a lot to me to be on the same path as he was.”

The 19-year-old won’t have to wait long to begin his new career. With both credentials under his toolbelt, Jack will start work with local construction company Wibco in the new year – a connection he made during his training this fall.

The program was made possible through a partnership with BC Hydro and with support from the Okanagan Training & Development Council, Aboriginal Skills Employment & Training Services, Canadian Home Builders’ Association, New Relationship Trust, and Okanagan Kids Care Fund Society.

The organizations provided tuition and books, tools, lunches, safety gear and transportation, meal allowances and accommodation, day care support and living support for out-of-town students.

BC Hydro provided the funding for an Aboriginal Trades Transition Planner – a Red Seal electrician – who was on hand for cultural, academic and employment support. The students also worked with Aboriginal peer mentors, one-on-one tutors, Elders and the College’s Aboriginal Services team to keep up their grades and their spirits during the program.

“It has been incredibly rewarding for us to follow the achievements of the students in this program,” says Steve Moores, Dean of Trades and Apprenticeship at Okanagan College. “I’m very proud of the students, for their hard work and dedication, and am appreciative of BC Hydro and all of the employers and organizations who have invested in these students and in the program since it began.”

Opening doors to the workforce for Indigenous students from all over the province was one of the key factors that propelled BC Hydro to partner with the College on this intake and last fall’s intake of Level 1, notes Nadine Israel, Indigenous Program Specialist – Southeast Region for ‎BC Hydro.

“By starting here and preparing candidates, working closely with the Indigenous communities, BC Hydro is being proactive in training our future workforce and the workforce needed by our many contractors and the communities we serve across B.C.

“It’s wonderful to see community members like Cameron and his fellow students seize those opportunities.”

More information about the Construction Craft Worker program is available at

From scurvy to dress shirts
Trevor Nichols - Dec 13 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed

When the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama and his crew first discovered how to fend off scurvy in 1497, it took hundreds of years for the citrus cure to become common knowledge.

So if a revolutionary and life-saving idea takes centuries to catch on, how does one man with a sweat-wicking dress shirt make an impact?

Jeremy West has asked himself that question many times—and has spent the last two years working towards an answer.

Before he founded the new Kelowna startup 6AM WorkShirts, West says he spent a lot of time reading about the “science” of diffusion—how ideas spread, and what helps an innovation take off—in his feverish pursuit of lessons on how to become a successful entrepreneur.

West, who moved from Edmonton in 2015 to work at the newly opened Cactus Club in downtown Kelowna, says he was learning a lot about the business world from his job, and trying to soak up as many lessons as he could.

“I was kind of following that path, but I always kind of wanted to do my own thing, you know, I wanted to be the owner of Cactus Club, not just an employee of Cactus Club,” he said.

The summer of 2015 was a hot one, and West biked to work almost every day. He worked long hours in a baking-hot restaurant, which was even tougher when he was sweating through his dress shirt after a ride to work.

Image: Trevor Nichols

He kept looking for a better shirt, but was never able to find anything. Then, one day, it just clicked.

“I went for a bike ride up Knox Mountain, and I noticed that all of my cycling jerseys had a secondary material on the sides—and I kind of just made the connection,” he said. “I realized these jerseys are built for performance, so why couldn’t I just put that into a dress shirt?”

He went to Winners and bought a cheap Reebok athletic shirt, then took it and one of his own dress shirts to a tailor.

That trip eventually yielded the first 6AM WorkShirt prototype: a professional-looking dress shirt with special sweat-wicking material sewn into the sides, designed for people who bike to work.

He started wearing it to his own job and realized it worked, so he began refining it. West says he spent a year or more combing through wholesaler fabric catalogues looking for the perfect materials, continually refining his design.

Eventually he landed on what he wanted, and took it to a pattern maker in Vancouver, whom he continues to source the 6AM WorkShirts from today.

The shirts look much like a simple, traditional dress shirt, except for the pair of seams down the front, where the dress-shirt fabric turns to sweat-wicking fabric.

West said his shirts look just like a traditional dress shirts under a jacket, but are also professional enough to wear on their own. In fact, he says he designed the shirts specifically not to look exactly like an everyday button down.

“You kind of notice that there’s something going on there, which is cool. I wanted there to be an observable difference,” he said.

Harkening back to Vasco de Gama and his scurvy cure, West said it was important to him the shirt’s innovation be visible. It’s just one part of his strategy to ensure the idea has the best chance to diffuse.

West only officially launched the 6AM WorkShirts website a few weeks ago, there’s lots of diffusion left to happen, but the shirts are available for purchase now.

As he heads into the new year, West says he plans to do everything he can to push the product beyond his network, including a Kickstarter campaign sometime in the spring.

For more information, check out 6AM WorkShirts online.

The video game beer leagues
Trevor Nichols - Dec 11 - Biz Profiles

Image: Facebook
Kelowna’s RewardMob thinks its software has the potential to change the mobile gaming industry.

An up-and-coming Kelowna startup believes its new mobile gaming software has the potential to churn out a whole new generation of casual video game athletes.

If you’re not a big gamer, the words “casual video game athlete” might fill you with confusion, or even disgust. But, if the team at RewardMob has its way, that will soon change.

That’s because RewardMob has created some clever software that allows mobile phone developers to add a system of tournaments and leaderboards to their mobile phone games.

Even if you’re not a gamer, you’ve probably spent at least a few minutes plunking away at Candy Crush or Angry Birds between meetings. RewardMob’s software helps take those ubiquitous phone games you probably don’t think a ton about, and imbue them with a new competitive edge.

RewardMob CEO and co-founder of Todd Koch asks you to imagine competing against everyone else playing those games, not just for fictional, in-game currencies, but for actual, real-world prizes.

Over the course of a RewardMob tournament, players earn points simply by playing the games. The more points they earn, the higher they rise on the RewardMob leaderboard. At the end of the tournament, the top competitors win real-world prizes, like cash, gift certificates, or swag.

Koch says that, if the handful of games already using the software are any indication, this system of incentives dramatically increases the amount of time players spend on the games, and turns them into a kind of casual eSport that anyone with a phone can take part in.

Most non-gamers are only vaguely aware of the concept of eSports, but for a large and ever-growing segment of the population, they are a pretty big deal.

Essentially, eSports are video games played at a professional level. Much like traditional professional athletes, eSports athletes earn salaries, undergo strict training regimes, and take part in competitive tournaments.

The phenomenon has grown significantly over the past five-to-ten years, and the biggest eSports tournaments attract hundreds of thousands of viewers, and award hundreds of thousands of dollars in prizes. In some places, eSports events are broadcast on national television. In South Korea, the most famous eSports athletes are even given special exemptions to their mandatory military service.

Only the very best gamers can make it as eSports athletes, but many still aspire to reach that level.

However, while fans of traditional sports can always join up with their local beer league, there’s very few opportunities for gamers who want a taste of eSport competition

Koch says RewardMob can give them that, for free.

He says RewardMob’s prize-driven tournaments can turn those games into a kind of casual eSport, like the video game equivalent of your beer league hockey team.

Koch claims RewardMob is good for both gamers and game developers: gamers get the potential to win prizes for playing a game they already play, and game developers get people spending a ton more time inside their games.

The company is still in the midst of its soft launch, but Koch says they have a fairly big-name developer coming on board, and will likely launch fully sometime in January.

More information on RewardMob is available online.

‘Not your grandma’s gift shop’
Trevor Nichols - Nov 30 - Biz Profiles

Image: Trevor Nichols

If you’ve been searching for a place to buy some bacon-and-cheese-flavoured crickets in Kelowna, a newly opened Bernard Avenue shop has you covered.

So Sweet, the colourful candy store that recently expanded to Kelowna, also carries a selection of worm-filled lollipops, super-sour jawbreakers, and even sweets that taste like poison.

Rachel Manning, the director of operations at So Sweet, says the store tries to carry items you don’t normally see in candy aisles.

That means, along with some very strange novelty candy, the store also sells a ton of old-school candy, imported candy, and some of the more fringe flavours (chocolate Mentos, anyone?).

“We’re a candy store, but we’re kind of a mix of a Spencer’s Gifts as well,” Manning explains. “We’re very fringe.”

So Sweet only recently expanded to Kelowna, but has been operating in Penticton for more than a year.

Owner Rene Carloni, who also owns a chain of payday loan centres, got the idea for the store when he visited Las Vegas a few years ago.

While strolling through Sin City, several unique candy shops caught his eye.

Image: Trevor Nichols

He was charmed by the novelties and interesting candy selections they featured, and wondered why he couldn’t find anything like it in his hometown.

So when he got back to Penticton he decided to try it himself. That attempt was the original So Sweet, which opened on Main Street last year.

At first, the store sold only candy–essentially whatever Carloni thought was cool–but before long it expanded into novelty items like funky socks, old-school lunch boxes, and soaps.

Manning said So Sweet’s Penticton customers responded well to the expanded collection, so they continued bringing in more of it.

“There were all these gift stores, but they’re…” she paused, and lowered her voice slightly, “like your grandma’s gift store.”

“The thing about us is we’re not your grandma’s gift store. We’ve got different options outside of that,” she said.

At So Sweet’s new Bernard Avenue location, Manning beamed at the metres-long “sock wall,” where dozens of colorful, novelty socks hung.

She said she tries to bring in unique items that will put a smile on people’s faces. Her favourite part of her job, she says, is watching people when they first walk in.

Image: Trevor Nichols

“I get to see the reactions that everyone has when they come into the store–and that has been really that much more motivating to do that much more with So Sweet,” she said.

Manning also runs Carloni’s 12 Venue Financial offices, which can be a serious and sometimes difficult job.

She says that, as much as people appreciate financial services, there’s nothing quite like watching people walk into a candy store

“It’s so much fun here. People are basically always excited to come in,” she said, adding that most of her customers aren’t kids, but 25-to-35-year-olds who stop in for a hit of nostalgia, or some funky stocking stuffers.

So Sweet’s Kelowna shop is located at 287B Bernard Ave. For more information visit the shop online.

Image: Trevor Nichols

From pharma to farmer
Trevor Nichols - Nov 16 - Biz Profiles

Image: Trevor Nichols
Russ and Helen Johnson work the apple press at Truck 59 Ciderhouse.

Not long ago, on a brisk afternoon, Russ Johnson stood on the edge of a construction site, gazing across a young orchard.

Dressed in bright yellow overalls, heavy boots and thick gloves, his breath curled in in faintly visible puffs.

The air smelled like frost and apple juice. Nearby, machinery hummed and scraped.

As Johnson surveyed the half-constructed building behind him, the corners of his eyes creased and he broke into a big grin.

“This time last year, there was nothing here,” he said.

Johnson stood next to what will soon become the Truck 59 Ciderhouse–a West Kelowna cidery he has been working for years to make a reality.

Six years ago, he and his wife Helen bought the West Kelowna land the cidery now sits on.

Johnson grew up on a farm, but worked for most of his life as a pharmacist. At the time they bought the land, Johnson says they didn’t know exactly what they wanted to do with the land, but after some research and look at the market, it didn’t take them long land on cider.

“I’ve always looked for something a bit different, something a bit out of the norm,” Johnson said, and cider “was just kind of an easy fit.”

Three years ago, he and Helen sold their last pharmacy, so they could focus all their energies on the then-theoretical cidery. Since then, Johnson says the whole thing has “has just been full time planning and developing.”

Although growing up on a farm had given Johnson a basic idea of what it would take to run a cidery, he admitted it’s been a lot of work getting things off the ground.

Image: Trevor Nichols
The view from Truck 59 Ciderhouse

He began by learning about apple trees and the different varieties of apples, and eventually enrolled in a course at a special “cider academy.”

“And then it was just practice,” he said. “There was lots of reading and lots of practicing and lots of relationship and asking other people what am I doing wrong and how do I make it better.”

Reflecting on the very first batch of cider he and Helen made, Johnson laughed.

“It could have stood for a bit of improvement,” he said. “It definitely takes time to learn how to do this right.”

Johnson believes he has put in the time, and Truck 59 is now on the verge of putting out its first commercial cider.

The day he told his story to Okanagan Edge, he and Helen were (almost literally) knee-deep in apple juice, as they ran pallet upon pallet of apples through a whining press.

“Helen and I have worked 24-7,” Johnson said, as apples tumbled into the hopper. Inside a warehouse-sized room, tanks and touts sat in lines, waiting to be frozen or fermented before they eventually become cider.

Truck 59’s first commercial ciders should be on the market by the end of January, available in local pubs and liquor stores.

Cider is an exciting industry, Johnson said, because “there’s so much room for improvement and growth.”

Everyone knows the Okanagan for its wine, he said, and it’s thrilling be part of an industry that’s still, in a lot of ways, establishing itself.

HE said he hopes Truck 59 will continue to be a part of that process.

Fire is just the beginning
Trevor Nichols - Nov 07 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed

A lot can be done with a single patent, and one Kelowna entrepreneur is a prime example.

Bill Ferguson runs iGuardFire, the company that produces the iGuardStove kitchen fire safety unit.

The unit uses a motion sensor and automatic shutoff to help prevent kitchen fires before they start, but Ferguson has taken that relatively simple technology and built it out into a surprisingly comprehensive home safety system.

For years, Ferguson’s uncle held the patent on the technology, but Ferguson admitted the man “wasn’t much of a marketer,” so the business never really got off the ground.

However, even though the iGuardStove languished somewhat, Ferguson’s uncle still held a patent on stove safety technology involving a motion sensor.

That legal lockdown has proved important, Ferguson says, because it prevented anyone else from putting a similar product on the market, sidelining products that would be potential competitors today.

“A motion sensor is the logical way to control a stove if you’re not going to be around, so having that patent was a big deal,” Ferguson said.

Several years ago, Ferguson took control of the iGuardStove, after licensing the patent from his uncle and completely redesigning the unit.

Ferguson is an electrician by trade, and a bit of a tinkerer as well. He said his uncle’s former device was fairly clunky, and looked kind of like “cold-war-era technology.”

When he set about overhauling the unit, he realized it was built around a technology that presented far more opportunities than simple stove safety.

The iGuardStove is built on a simple concept. The device links to the oven, and monitors movement in the kitchen through a motion sensor.

When the stovetop or oven is on, and the sensor doesn’t detect any movement in the kitchen for a set amount of time, it shuts the heat source off.

However, Ferguson realized the product also put a motion sensor directly in the heart of the home. By linking that sensor to a wireless network, Ferguson was able to transform the iGuardStove from a simple safety device into a far more comprehensive emergency system.

“You’ve got a motion sensor in there, and it’s triggering certain data events all the time, why can’t you have the motion sensor do this, and all these other things?” he asked.

Anyone who buys an iGuardStove can sign up for an online account, where they can remotely access all of the data from the sensor.

One of Ferguson’s biggest markets is adult parents who use the iGuardStove to help keep their aging parents safe in their own home.

The online account means users know exactly how often the emergency shutoff is triggered. They can also remotely shut off the stove, or even set up an override so it can’t be turned on at all.

They can also set it up so they receive direct text message alerts if the emergency shutoff is activated.

Ferguson even tells the story of one customer who’s aging mother was beginning to suffer from dementia. The mother always seemed tired, but since no care workers were at her house overnight, they had no way of knowing what was going on.

However, using the motion sensor tools on the online account, the daughter was able to see her mother activating the iGuardStove’s motion sensor multiple times a night, telling her she wasn’t sleeping.

That information allowed doctors to adjust the mom’s medication to help deal with the problem.

“All that is just in your stove device because we’ve got a motion sensor. So we’re protecting the house from fires, and we’re giving information you just can’t get elsewhere,” Ferguson says. “This is just such a simple thing to use, but it can help in so many ways–it’s incredible.”

Taking on the ATV industry
Trevor Nichols - Nov 02 - Biz Profiles

Image: Trevor Nicols
Kelowna’s David Sullivan is taking on the ATV industry with the Quadbar.

Although many big-time manufacturers are trying hard to make him fail, one local entrepreneur is on a mission to make all-terrain vehicles a whole lot safer.

David Sullivan is the president of Quadbar Industries, the Kelowna company that manufactures the quadbar, a “crush protection” device Sullivan says has the potential to save hundreds of lives.

The Quadbar is a highly engineered, U-shaped piece of pipe that riders can attach to the back of their ATVs. If their machine flips, the bar keeps the rider safe by creating a space between the ATV and the ground.

The Quadbar stops the ATV from completing a full roll when the rider loses control, or even when the machine flips backwards.

It’s a simple design, but one that is incredibly important to Sullivan.

Prior to starting Quadbar Industries, Sullivan worked in the agricultural health and safety field. Seven years ago, he was at a conference that featured a speaker talking about ATV safety.

It was while he was at that conference that he learned a family member had flipped his ATV and severely injured his back.

“I just thought, oh are you frigging kidding me?” Sullivan remembered. “I just thought, there has to be something we can do about this, there has to be something that can be designed for these machines to make them safer.”

Image: Trevor Nichols

He started digging into the statistics, and said he was “staggered” by how many accidents and deaths were caused by ATVs each year.

Although current information is difficult to come by, the Canadian Safety Council has estimated that an average of 182 Canadian die each year while riding ATVs. On top of that, tens of thousands are admitted to hospital with ATV-related injuries.

“If we had Quadbars on those ATVs, we could have reduced those fatalities by at least 40 per cent,” he said. “That’s at least 80 people each year, and who knows how many injuries.”

Sullivan began working with an Australian partner, David Robinson, to design the Quadbar. Today, after extensive safety testing and design tweaks, riders and safety regulators are beginning to take notice.

Sullivan, an experienced rider and former motocross racer, says one of the things he appreciates most about the Quadbar is the fact that it sits lower than the rider’s head, and its light weight means it’s hardly noticeable on most ATVs.

“Once you put on the helmet, you don’t even know it’s there,” he said.

They’ve even designed a special model that folds down in the middle, so riders with their machines in the back of their trucks can still fit through a Tim Horton’s drive through.

Sullivan admits there hasn’t been a ton of interest in his product locally, but in Australia there is a rebate program for people who install a crush protection device, and a few local insurers are offering rebates to customers who install one.

The oil and gas and forestry industries, both in Canada and the US, are also some of his biggest customers.

That’s a good start, Sullivan said, but he wants to see crush protection devices gain a lot more traction, to help make a notoriously dangerous pastime a little more safe.

“We’ve got to protect lives at the end of the day, and right now there’s too many Canadians dying; 185 is unacceptable, and that’s just fatalities, that’s not including injuries, and severe injuries,” he said.

Sullivan says safety regulations in Canada could be much stronger. He also pointed the finger at the big ATV manufacturers, which he says have been actively lobbying against products like his.

“Why manufacturers aren’t doing more about this is beyond me. Why haven’t we stood up and said ‘hey this isn’t right?’”

For more information on the Quadbar, check out Quadbar Industries online.

‘Better not to know the rules’
Trevor Nichols - Oct 26 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed
Lance, Jesse and Jade Davidson at the 2017 Business Excellence Awards, in Kelowna.

Most of the time, when Lance Davidson sketches out his next design improvement, the engineers tell him it can’t be done.

Usually, of course, they’re eventually able make it happen, and Hybrid Elevator Incorporated’s machines get a little more efficient.

“Sometimes it’s better to not know the rules,” Davidson says with a smile.

In the six years since he first bought the Kelowna residential elevator company, Lance and his son Jade have grown the business from what was a two-man, boutique operation to one of the city’s most innovative businesses.

According to Jade, six years ago the company was building about five elevators a year.

Through constant design iterations, many that began as “napkin sketches” from Lance, Hybrid now has the ability to produce as many as 10 in one day.

Jade’s mother lives with multiple sclerosis, and years ago her mobility was beginning to become a challenge. The Davidsons were looking for a solution when they stumbled upon Hybrid’s residential elevators.

Before Lance and Jade took over, Hybrid was run by an engineer who Jade says had a great product, but little concern for sales or marketing.

“We came across this company, and we ended up buying it, because we just couldn’t find many products out there that we actually wanted to put in our house that we could see were either safe or aesthetically pleasing,” Jade explains.

“The product itself it quite different. It’s based on the same idea, the same system, but it’s really changed,” Jade says.

Today, he says, they’ve lowered the price by about $20,000, and redesigned it to take up only half as much space.

Jade explains the big innovation has been in the way they produce their elevators, designing their own components that serve multiple functions, rather than trying to build brackets and braces to force a bunch of parts from other manufacturers together.

This year, for example, Hybrid put out an entirely new generation of elevators that take advantage of that synergy, significantly reducing the cost and time it takes to put them together.

“We took our three most expensive parts to manufacture…and we’ve combined it into one part now, that does all three jobs,” Lance says.

On the factory floor, this philosophy allows them to keep all the parts they need in stock, so when an order comes in it’s just a matter of gathering together the components they need and shipping them to the job site, something Jade says they can do in as little as an hour.

That, says Jade, is a competitive edge he believes will allow Hybrid to continue its impressive expansion.

“We knew the market was fairly large, so it’s not inconceivable we could be $50 million in sales in the next four or five years,” Lance says.

He tells a story about a representative of their much larger competitor showing up at their shop to ask some questions.

Lance suspected he might be scoping them out with the intention of buying them out, so after a few minutes Lance asked the guy is he was interested in selling.

“He didn’t stay long after that,” Lance recalls with a chuckle.

On the one hand the comment was a pretty cheeky power play, but it was also rooted in Lance’s belief things will continue to go up from here.

Phone bill warrior
Trevor Nichols - Oct 12 - Biz Profiles

Image: Contributed
Michael Lavigne’s clever startup promises to save people hundreds on their phone bills.

A local entrepreneur’s clever new startup is helping people slash their ballooning phone bills.

Time Brokers, the brainchild of Kelowna’s Michael Lavigne, negotiates with telecom companies on its customers’ behalf, snagging (sometimes substantial) discounts for those unhappy with how much they’re paying.

For as long as he can remember, Lavigne has negotiated his own bills, phoning up companies and talking his way into cheaper phone, cable and internet prices.

“I just don’t accept full price, that’s just me,” he says.

That urge probably stems from the entrepreneurial drive that was instilled in him when he was young, as he helped with any number of the companies his “serial entrepreneur” father built.

Lavigne even admits that, when Time Brokers first “fell into [his] lap,” he was already building a different, social enterprise company.

It all started about two years ago, when a friend was griping to Lavigne about his outrageous phone bill.

So Lavigne offered to work his negotiating magic; he called up the provider, and managed to save his buddy about $500 on his contract.

Word got around and another friend asked him for help, and again Lavigne earned her some serious savings. When that friend told him “I would totally pay for this,” the lightbulb went on.

He reached out to a few close friends and offered them the service, to see if he had a viable business model on his hands, and things just grew from there.

Less than a year ago, Lavigne shelved his social enterprise and incorporated Time Brokers. Turns out, he says, people are hungry for the service he’s offering.

“Necessity is the mother of all inventions, and people need to save money on their telecom bills,” he says.

With Time Brokers, Lavigne has wedged himself between competing telecom companies, capitalizing on their obsession with customer retention.

“Because there’s always going to be customers going from one provider to the next, the providers fully understand it’s cheaper to cut the bill in half and keep the customer than to try and go and acquire another customer,” Lavigne explains.

Lavigne says he has a deep understanding of the telecom market, and agrees to explain his methods “without giving away too much of my secret sauce.”

Essentially, he says, he plays the companies off one another, as they vie to keep their customers from jumping ship to their competitors.

The providers are used to these kinds of calls, and have entire departments dedicated to customer retention.

So when people come to Time Brokers with ballooning bills, he looks at what they’re paying for, what services they’re actually using, and how he can spin that into discounts.

“I call the right person, I say the right thing, and I convince them to lower the rates,” he says.

Lavigne says he’s often able to save his customers hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars on their contracts this way.

He takes a third of anything he saves them as his cut, with no risk to his customers. That means if he doesn’t save them any money, they don’t have to pay him anything.

That “no risk” approach was an important one for Lavigne, because he says it has allowed him to shake any perception that Time Brokers was some kind of scam business, or multi-level marketing company.

“I think it’s really important from the customer’s point of view, because if I was just like ‘no matter what I’m going to charge you fifty bucks,’ then they might not take the time,” he says.

Right now, he says, he has a few hundred clients, whom he’s saved about $250,000 in total.

Lavigne says he’s now considering scaling the business up, bringing in more team members and stepping away from the phones to take on a more management-oriented position.

For the moment, however, he is happy operating as a “boutique” business, serving mostly local clients and flying largely under the radar of big telecom companies.

More information on Time Brokers is available online.

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