Blog post courtesy of Dick Synder, Staples.ca.

The founders of Happipad Technologies sure aren’t afraid of a challenge. When the two entrepreneurs set themselves to brainstorming ideas for a new business venture, they decided to focus on finding a solution to an extremely difficult problem.

“We’re both the kind of people who thrive when presented with impossible challenges,” says Kenneth Chau, 38, of Kelowna. Chau is a professor of engineering and entrepreneurship at the University of British Columbia.

“We found that housing is a complex issue,” said 30-year old Cailan Libby. He was born in Golden, B.C., and now resides in Kelowna, where Happipad is located. Cailan works full-time on the business, and the duo has four full-time employees.

“Housing issues deal with problems around economics, affordability, availability and community,” said Libby. “We wanted to work on affordability. It’s an issue that affects younger people like students trying to find affordable space, but also older adults who may be living alone and feeling isolated. So we felt a home-sharing service would solve two major problems.”

Happipad is one of three fledgling companies singled out by Staples Canada as winners of “This is How I Grow My Business,” a nationwide contest designed to provide start-ups with practical resources and one-on-one mentorship. What attracted Libby and Chau to the contest was the chance to work under the tutelage of Joe Mimran, the well-known businessman who was a former Dragon on Dragon’s Den.

Mimran sat down with the duo for a coaching session that really opened their eyes. “He was able to look at our project with a fresh perspective,” said Chau. “He’s a sharp guy and able to see right into the heart of our business.”

What did he tell them? “Joe told us to be bolder,” says Libby. “He encouraged us not to be scared and to give it everything we’ve got. That meant validating our concept by really digging into the market. So, for us, we’re focusing on being successful in one community, and once we succeed there, we can go hard and spread out.”

Mimran said that a common problem with entrepreneurs is that “they can get lost in the weeds.” He enjoys applying his experience to helping focus entrepreneurs on the salient problems and giving them the tools to tackle them. Validating the business concept is key, he said, which means researching the competitive landscape, testing in the market, determining the right price and margins, making sure the concept can scale.

“For Happipad, their margins were too low. So, I challenged them to dig deeper and figure out ways to maximize revenue. Also, they had an inventory problem — not enough rooms. So, their homework is to go out there and work with the landlords and solve their supply issue.” Mimran also advised them to broaden their thinking and look at Happipad as an inventory control technology that they might sell to other landlords or developers.

The next step for Libby and Chau, they say, is to make use of Staples Canada’s new Solutionshop to create physical promotional materials that they will take into a small B.C. community to create momentum and awareness for their services.

“The biggest barrier we face is our focus on an older market, which is tough to reach with digital methods. So traditional print methods and word of mouth are our most effective strategies. We’re now aggressively building partnerships with community societies across B.C. and we’ll have a floor stand with brochures and some iPads so people can see what we do and register with us. It’s important that we present professional-looking content so that people get the right message.”

As per Mimran’s advice, if all goes well with this local strategy, Happipad will roll out across Canada in about a year — bigger, bolder and ready for anything.

Happipad is one of three winning small businesses in Staples Canada’s “This is How I Grow My Business Contest” held in collaboration with style icon and champion of entrepreneurs Joe Mimran. As winners, Happipad will receive in person mentorship from Joe Mimran, as well as $20,000 worth of technology from Staples Canada and Solutionshop services.