Accelerate Okanagan’s mission is to give new and growing businesses in the technology industry the levels of competence, connections and community they need to thrive.
Client Spotlight highlights AO Program client successes, challenges and entrepreneurial insights.
Internet latency is a gamers worst nightmare. In 2009, Rob Bartlett co-founded WTFast, a global data network "express lane" for multiplayer online gamers. The WTFast Gamers Private Network is now used by gamers in every major city around the world increasing game connection speed and crushing lag time.
Here's what Rob had to say about becoming an entrepreneur, the value of being involved in the tech community, and what advice he would give to aspiring entrepreneurs.
What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I started working at a pretty young age; paper route, washing dishes, buffet chef, Radio Shack clerk, produce clerk, waiter and even a fibre glass guy for speedboats (horrible job). This last job made me hurry up and get to school. While going to college I took a single introductory web design course as part of my diploma program at Grant MacEwan.
I then started designing websites for others, and also launching some of my own websites. I didn't really like doing websites for other people, but I liked working on and promoting my own websites. While I was still in college, I was actually offered a job by one of my teachers, but I turned him down. My free clip art site really started to take off so I stopped working for other people and focused on my own websites; this is what I have been doing for about the last 20 years now.
How did the idea for your business come about?
In one of my previous businesses I experienced a lot of malicious online activity, hacking, fraud, DDOS, phishing, etc. I saw all this happening and decided that there must be a better way to protect online accounts. We created patented technology that can be used to identify unique computers over the Internet with 99.5 per cent accuracy. With this technology, we can protect online accounts from hacking/fraud/phishing.
We created this new technology and we were struggling with how to make a business out of it. Why would any big company trust us with their security? We came to AO at this point in time and had a good chat to discuss the predicament. We decided to create a proof of concept and test the technology so we could prove that it works. I did market research and found all these generic proxy and VPN services claiming to make games faster. I did my own testing to confirm what they were claiming is possible, and it was.
The next step was to create our own competitive service and embed the security technology into it. We got our MVP done in a pretty short amount of time, launching in December 2009. WTFast took off, and we recognized there was a great opportunity to continue to grow this business. WTFast has been our focus for the last 6 years. We are the clear market and technology leaders, and we have 6 additional patents pending, mostly wrapped around novel applications of proxy technology.
Tell us about your product:
WTFast is a client/server solution that optimizes the middle mile for online game connections. Gamers can go to our website and download our PC application and try it out for free. We grab latency-sensitive online game data (user inputs) and we send this data over our global proxy network to optimize the routing that the data takes. This results in reduced average latency and reduced flux, spikes and packet loss for the game connection. We also have rich reporting stats that show what is happening with the game connection, both before and after using WTFast.
The result for gamers?
We help them to win and have more fun playing games online!
What problem do you solve for your customer?
We help gamers to win in online games. We speed up their game connection and also really smooth it out. The result is a much more enjoyable game experience to help gamers compete with others online.
How has AO helped accelerate your growth?
We started working with AO before they were AO (I think they were called OSTEC before). We were with AO since the inception of WTFast, to where we are today 6 years later; AO has been a tremendous help every step of the way.
As an entrepreneur, what keeps you up at night?
Usually, revenue and funding are top of mind. It seems like we never have enough. I want to be able to do more, but we are limited by our funding.
How would you describe the work culture and environment at WTFast?
It is pretty relaxed and easy going at WTFast, but we know how to get work done. We are doing a lot of R&D and creating some really cool technology. I am driven to create innovative technology that satisfies a real need. I aim to fuel this same drive in our employees.
What's the value of being involved in the tech community?
It feels like the tech community is like one big family. Some companies are in different stages, but many of us are going through the same things at one point or another. Everyone is very open to chat and provide help where they can.
The greatest value in being involved with the tech community is that you might learn something from the community that can save you a ton of time and money - or do the same for someone else, which feels pretty good!
How has being an entrepreneur impacted your family, social life, or relationships?
With WTFast I am very busy. My family and the business always come first, which means that I usually have to come last. Right now what I miss the most is being able to play on an organized volleyball team. It is very difficult for me to commit to a team since my schedule is so variable. I do drop-in volleyball where I can, but I am not nearly as active as I used to be. I've put on a few pounds recently, so I am in the process of figuring out how I can stay in shape while growing the company. I'll probably have to get into a gym routine instead of playing sports like I am used to doing.
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
1. Make sure you are super passionate about what you are doing. This passion will help drive you to succeed.
2. Get traction/revenue as soon as possible. This is going to validate your opportunity, prove you have a business and help you with funding.
3. Be data driven. Know you a. cost per acquisition, b. lifetime value, c. churn/retention. Collect as much data as you can, look for trends and drive your business intelligence. Good data analysis can have a major impact on your company.
What are three attributes needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Be data driven
What have been some of your challenges and what have you learned from them?
When the .com bubble burst, it virtually destroyed my clip art business overnight. We tried to adapt, but the change was so big that we had to abandon the business and try something else. This taught me that sometimes you just have to cut your losses and move on. I have also learned that if something really negative happens to your business, you shouldn't focus on it. Focusing on negativity is not going to have a positive effect on you, your family or the business. You are better off focusing on positive goals and driving the company towards them.
What roles are you looking to add to your growing team?
Immediately we are not looking to add more to our team. Fall/Winter is our on-season, so we will probably be doing some hiring then. We are also in the process of doing a Series A raise, which could get us hiring more people sooner.
What's next for your company?
We are now pursuing Series A funding, which we hope to close before the end of the year. Moving forward, we are going to keep making cooler & better tech, it is my passion to do so. In the next 12 months, we expect to be making some big deals and see some very strong growth. I am really excited with where we are headed.
Who do you look to for mentorship/advice and why?
AO and everyone who we have met through AO have been a huge help for WTFast. Moving forward, we are looking to shake things up and we have been adding new people to our advisory board who have deep industry experience and connections. Most recently, we have added Nolan Bushnell to our advisory board. He is the creator of Pong, Atari and Chuck E Cheese and a founding father of the video game industry. By the end of the year, we anticipate we will have a very strong and diverse advisory board.
In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur: