This week on “Canada, eh?”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Spencer Thompson. Spencer is the co-founder and CEO of Canadian tech start-up, Sokanu, which is set to launch within the next couple of months. Now, why would I choose to interview someone whose business technically hasn’t done anything yet? Well, when a 19 year old who decided not to go to college to focus on his business full time receives offers from major Silicon Valley VCs, mentorship from uber successful tech entrepreneurs and has even turned down offers of employment from major social networks (sorry that all of this must remain confidential for now), I felt I should be the first to shed light on the business before reaching Spencer was next to impossible!
What is Sokanu?
Sokanu is a social learning platform aimed at helping individuals find their passion in life. The idea came about last year when I was finishing high school and I noticed that the majority of my classmates had no particular idea as to what they were going to do with the rest of their lives. Most people ended up taking generic courses at the same universities. Around the world, people struggle with the question, “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”.
So we decided to start a company with the focus of solving that problem. The site combines a social networking platform with a unique content contribution model. The aim is to create separate “portals” for every single career path that you can think of on the planet.
Our goal is to be the place on the Internet that people go to find the career that matches their passion.
Why Did You Start The Company?
When I was in high school, and it came time to apply to university, I saw a huge struggle from most students when it came to applying to the right program at the right university. Many of their decisions were made based on the course their friends were taking, what the guidance counselors said were “the right courses to take” and what their parents told them to take. This is not the way to start your life off. I saw the virality coefficient in Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn and thought, why can’t we build a social platform to help people find their passion in life?
Through the process of starting the company, this mission has been reinforced in many ways, both through customer development & reading. One of the most influential books that has kept us on course is The Element by Ken Robinson. Anyone that wants to know the purpose behind our company should read that book. We started the company in order to help every individual on the planet find their passion in life, and that’s the driving force each and every day.
After high school you decided to work on the company full time. What inspired this decision?
I view higher education a lot differently than most people. I believe in university as a learning institution first, and as a place to advance a career (or get one) second. Therefore, making the decision to pursue something I was so intensely passionate about full time was simple. Even though every single person in my high school told me I was crazy, I thankfully had made my mind up so strongly that nothing could deter me. And it has been a great decision.
A lot of what inspired me to work full time was the constant barrage of entrepreneurship books I was reading while in high school. I encourage anyone that wants to do anything instead of formal education to be a huge self-learner. It’s not like I sit around and don’t read. In my first year working full time, I was reading between 3-4 books a week on business. I love self-learning, and so it was a fun process.
What Is It Like Running A Canadian Tech Start-up?
It’s interesting. I don’t think that the media should focus too much on what are “Canadian” companies versus the rest of the world. I am super proud to be Canadian and that is why I am sticking around in Canada to help build and grow the company. Canada as a country is lacking in the tech department, and that is not because of lack of talent. It is generally an adverse perception of entrepreneurship among the population. I think if the media did more to make entrepreneurs heroes in our country then a lot more people would take the risk. But if most people are focused on security in life, why would they make the leap without a role model saying it can be done?
One of the great things about running a Canadian tech start-up is that you have the ability to be a big fish in a small pond. Compared to Silicon Valley, Seattle or New York, Canada has a small tech scene. But this means when you build a great tech company, you can really stand out. Plus, my favourite feature of both Canada and my role models is humility. Canadians are generally humble people, and this goes for the tech world as well. We have so many talented people that the world has never heard of.
How Will You Stay True To Your Canadian Roots While Operating Across The World?
One of the things that I will always do is promote our company as being Canadian. People have to understand that Canada is one of the safest, richest and best places to live in the world. Lots of Americans and people across the world are clamoring to get into Canada. Any PR coverage across the world will always trace back to my Canadian roots.
Since technology is an inherently global concept, it is sometimes difficult to express “Canadianism”, but if you look at an entrepreneur like Dan Martell of Flowtown, he is constantly saying how proud he is to be Canadian. Even though he is in San Francisco, everyone knows he is from New Brunswick. Another thing that I will do is join boards of directors promoting Canadian science, business and technology development.
Like I said, Sokanu is one of those businesses that we’re going to hear lots about in the coming months, so why not be an early adopter and sign up to the receive updates at www.sokanu.com?
Talk to ya’ll soon, eh!
Check out the first post in the series: Why Not Start a Business in Canada?
Dave Hale is the founder & CEO of Soshal Group, a company based out of Ottawa, Canada that manages interactive online customer service for their clients across North America, saving them time, money and resources. A writer, speaker and advocate for youth entrepreneurship, Dave is an active member of the GenY community in both Canada and the Unites States and would love to connect on Twitter: @DaveCHale or through Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Subscribe to the Podcast