A strong community can promote new ideas and ensure accountability. It can also act as motivation, support, and even provide a little friendly competition. The power of community is undeniable and the Okanagan tech community is no exception.
Our community is strong and growing with record speed and maintaining a connection through a period of growth like this can be a challenge. Nobody panic, we’ve got a plan.
Introducing, The Faces of #OKGNtech. A showcase of Okanagan tech entrepreneurs, partners, supporters, and cheerleaders designed to fuel more connection, more growth, and more excitement. Follow along (on the blog and on Instagram @OKGNtech) to learn more about our growing community and what makes them awesome.
Meet Jason. Jason Lotoski is the founder and CEO of Tonit, an app that provides a community for motorcycle riders around the world. When Jason isn’t finding more ways for motorcyclists to connect, you’ll catch him riding around Area 27 on his BMW S1000RR.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
“When I was 12, my Dad was helping with the accounting for concerts at The Bluff [Editor’s note: those were the Zee Zee Top days]. I thought it would be a good idea to sell glow sticks. I was a kid – I was 12 – I thought glow sticks were the best thing ever! I was also trying to raise money for my dog’s $4000 cataracts surgery.
I asked my Dad if I could set up a booth and he said sure. I ordered a bunch of glow sticks online. They were 2 cents for a bracelet and 3 cents for a necklace. I turned around and sold them for $2 and $3 and I ended up making a profit of $4500 on the first concert .”
What inspired to start your company Tonit?
“Quite a few years ago I created a Facebook group called Sport Bike West so I could find people to ride with. It wasn’t long before I was booking show-and-shines and selling branded clothing.
Sport Bike West grew to a point where it was hard to run. People were wanting to start Sport Bike Wests all over Canada, but they weren’t keeping up with their rides or putting in the effort. I started thinking about how nice it would be to have one place where riders can connect with their community.”
What do you love about the Okanagan tech community?
“I love the people. Everyone’s here to help. Everyone’s here to get along and grow businesses. There are no egos involved. It’s not about whose business is bigger, or whose grew faster. Every one of us is having ups and downs. But we all support each other. That’s what I like.
What’s your journey been like with Accelerate Okanagan?
“The programs and the mentorship have been amazing. The mentors are there to help you grow a business, and they genuinely care. The cool thing is, even when they don’t have all the expertise, they’ll pull in another mentor to help.”
What was the most valuable thing you learned from the Venture Acceleration Program (VAP)?
“The Venture Acceleration Program (VAP) focused a lot on validating your idea. That’s the greatest thing. Are you going to have a real business? Is this something people will want to use? Find that out as quickly as you can. Survey people, ask questions, and get everything organized.
My engineering background trained me to validate plans, designs, and the overall process and VAP really complimented that. VAP really allowed me to improve my surveying skills. I was able to ask better questions, assess audiences, not just my sportbike club. It also ensures I don’t forget to validate the new ideas. Now I know you have to build your alpha, revalidate, debate, rebuild. It’s a process”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
“Jeff Keen once told me my job was to build the biggest, best, fastest, most amazing company I could build. When I’m planning with my team, I put that bug in their ears, and you can just see everyone is like ‘f*ck yeah we are!’”
What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
“Go for it… and get a mentor. Go for it as fast as you can, learn as much as you can. I was working on Tonit for six or eight months alone — I had no one. I didn’t know anyone else that was starting their own business. I didn’t know organizations like Accelerate Okanagan existed. That can make it stressful. But, hell yeah it’s awesome! Best thing ever… Very stressful though…”
What impact has mentorship had on your business?
Let me put it this way, if I were an investor, I would not invest in an entrepreneur if they didn’t have a mentor. The value of a mentor is huge. It doesn’t matter who you are. I don’t think it’s impossible to build a business without a mentor. But if the same person had a mentor, they would probably build it twice as fast.
Mentors aren’t always there to tell you you’re right or wrong. They’re there to remind you of high-level goals and to pull you out of the weeds. They’re not in your business day today, so it’s easy for them to keep you accountable to those long term goals.”