Bouncing back from an entrepreneurial eff-up

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The startup and entrepreneurial journey, while always exciting, can sometimes throw unexpected challenges into the path to success. Kevin Franco, Executive Advisor and Entrepreneur in Residence at Platform Calgary, is more than a little familiar with that journey. Prior to acting as this year’s Moderator for the “Entrepreneur Eff-Up Stories” panel at AccelerateAB, we connected with Kevin to get his insight on overcoming challenges and how AccelerateAB helped shape his resilience.

Let’s start with your background. Are you originally from Calgary?

My family has been in Calgary since about 1910, so I am a Calgarian a few times over. I dropped out of technical school so that I could gain experience through work in the field I was most interested in at the time: advertising. That experience paid off many times over when I built a successful creative services company developing advertising and marketing campaigns for many companies. All of the companies I have founded or co-founded have been in the creative space in one form or another. Building that company was one of the highlights of my career — we had an amazingly talented team.

Sounds like a fantastic foundation. So where did the idea for your startup originate?

The idea came when I spoke for the first time at the Internet Archive in San Francisco. I had many of the attendees point out the significance and importance of what we had developed (a small part of a transmedia storytelling platform). This was a departure from our original product but the opportunity could not be ignored. We invented a new form of digital rights management (DRM) for ebooks which worked across all reading systems. Within three months, we began to build a company around this technology and that would eventually become the Walmart Ebook Store and a platform delivering ebooks all around the world.

That’s a huge pivot in almost no time at all. Was there a stumbling block?

One of the most challenging days I faced was when we were in a Walmart store in Mississauga with a huge ribbon and scissors in hand waiting to officially launch our program, when we received a phone call informing us that we had to include some changes to the contract before they could launch the program. These new changes took almost two months to negotiate even though the build was done and the product was ready. Staff were deflated, the investors were anxious and each day of the delay cost us thousands. That delay ate up nearly all of our runway that year. We almost never recovered from that.

And then you discovered AccelerateAB. Given what you’d already gone through, what was your experience like as an entrepreneur participating in the conference?

The conference was the single most important event I went to as an entrepreneur. What I learned was there was this entire community of successful tech entrepreneurs that are giving back and sharing their learnings with up and coming entrepreneurs. Their elevator has made it to the top and they’re sending it down for others. I learned a lot at my first AccelerateAB, and I am forever thankful for the A100 for what they do and how they helped me.

You’ve experienced significant growth personally and professionally. Tell us about your journey since AccelerateAB and where you’re headed now.

My company ultimately faced a major change in the market which was so drastic we were forced to liquidate our intellectual property and technology. I was inspired by the A100 and when the opportunity came to work as an entrepreneur in residence I jumped at it. I enjoy working with entrepreneurs and sharing my learnings with them. My entrepreneur journey is not over, however. I’m building a new company with two partners and our plan is to launch in the fall of this year.

Congratulations! Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur. Any parting words of wisdom for other startups?

There’s lots of great people in the ecosystem that want to give back and help new entrepreneurs. Reach out to them, but be mindful of their time and be prepared!