#AccelerateOTT brings community together to learn how to build better businesses

accelerate ottawa

With sunny skies and warm weather rounded out with a cool breeze, the Horticulture Building in Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park was the perfect setting for Ottawa’s tech community to convene for #AccelerateOTT. The sold-out event featured speakers with experience across diverse stages of starting a business, from scaling lean and embracing failure, to understanding where investors are putting their money and why.

500 Startups’ Selcuk Atli, a 500 Startups venture partner and serial entrepreneur, touched down in Ottawa to speak on how to successfully pivot a business. “Sometimes you need to change your technology. Your solution will probably be the same, but you will probably change your technology multiple times in your product,” he said. He gave the example of Facebook, which invested heavily in HTML5 as it looked to get into mobile, only to realize mobile web is slow native mobile apps were a better investment. “They changed the technology but kept the product the same, with the goal of retaining users.”

And he says that even successful entrepreneurs make the mistake of not pivoting efficiently; taking a walk with one of his entrepreneur friends, Atli heard how his friend had an idea to build a messaging app for professional people; without knowing what kind of professional people he was targeting, he was starting with the product. “Always start with the customer problem. I can’t tell you how many times companies pitch us and they don’t know their customers.”

The event finished off with a fireside chat with Shopify CEO Tobi Lütke and Shopify senior vice president of data and analytics David Lennie.

As technologies like big data gain popularity and companies find ways to leverage it to make their products better, Lennie stressed that you need to know if a technology is right for your business in the first place. He sees data as a resource, and analytics as the techniques. “Only make the investment if you know the questions that you have and problems that you need to solve for your business right now, because this is very expensive and you wanna do it knowing that you have specific problems to solve.”

As with most conversations at Canadian tech events, the chat eventually took a turn towards the best places in Canada to build a business. Lütke, who started Shopify ten years ago, said it’s been gratifying to see grassroots tech communities, especially in Ottawa come together for events like #AccelerateOTT. “I think Ottawa is one of the best places in the world to build a business because we’re so long-term focused and we always have been,” Lütke said, alluding to the fact that much of the tech that makes up the foundation of the internet — like routers and switches — were built in Canada’s capital. “The best way to build companies is to bring people together and say we’re going to aim for the stars, and we’re going to create something really ambitious. That’s not really going to happen tomorrow, we need to take our time and stick together as a group.”