The Kelowna-based co-founder of a virtual world for kids is a new addition to CBC’s Dragons’ Den
1. What kind of persona will you bring to Dragons’ Den?
It sounds a bit cliché, but the producers said, “Listen, we asked you to be on the show because we’ve spent enough time getting to know you and watching you and seeing the way you operate, so just be yourself.” And that’s what I’ve been. There’s times where I’ll be blunt with someone and a bit more aggressive, and there's times where I tend to be more optimistic.
2. Disney bought Club Penguin for US$700 million in 2007. How did that change your life?
You can’t go through an experience like that and not change. But because I was pretty passionate about creating a safe space online for my kids and other kids around the world, the success or the money didn’t radically alter why I wake up every day. It wasn’t really about the money; for me it was about accomplishing what I set out to do. If anything right now, one of the fun parts about being on Dragons’ Den is being able to use some of the money that I got from that experience and invest in other entrepreneurs.
3. After selling Club Penguin, you started another company in Kelowna, a learning platform called FreshGrade. What’s the business climate like there?
One of the things I love about Kelowna is that the city itself is a bit of a startup. There’s been a ton of change in the last five years—the university has grown like crazy; the college has grown like crazy. People don’t think of Kelowna as a college town, but with close to 30,000 college and university students, it’s absolutely become one. We’ve got access to great talent, there’s a huge tech scene there—way bigger than people realize—and it’s just a great place to operate.
4. How about the province as a whole?
Overall, I think business in B.C. is great. I think there’s always room for improvement. There are certain oddities with government decisions, like not allowing ride-sharing companies—B.C. is one of the last places in Canada to still not allow that—that are just head-scratchers to me. Every time one of my tech or investor friends comes up from the Bay Area, one of the first things they say is, “I opened up my Uber app, and I couldn’t use it. What’s going on?” I love how progressive B.C. is on the environment; I love how progressive we are on natural resources and other things. But there are still a few areas where we have some catching up to do, and I hope our government gets it done.
5. What advice do you have for anyone pitching their business in the Den?
I’m not a big fan of people who come in and try to act like they’ve got it all together, and are overly smooth, overly polished and don’t want to hear any advice. They just want to say, “Give me some cash and let me keep doing my awesomeness.” I don’t have a lot of tolerance or patience for that.
The other side of that is people who aren’t prepared. They haven’t done their homework or research and don’t have good answers to the questions. There’s part of me that’s so thankful to be there, and when I’m watching them I’m like, “This this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; take advantage of it.” We had someone who asked Arlene, “So, help me understand what your investment company does again.” Arlene Dickinson, one of the most esteemed, longest-standing Dragons—all you had to do was look her up, but you’re asking for her money. I have a hard time with that.