Go for lots of walks and follow the writings and blogs of other entrepreneurs.
Ian Hancock is Founder and CEO of iWishfor. Ian has worked in the Education sector for 13 years as technology coordinator/facilitator and school administrator working on integrating new technology into schools and curriculum. He recently completed a Masters in Technology with a focus on online social networks and how they affect group think. He has since helped schools build five-year technology plans and built out strategies for effectively implementing 21st Century theory and practice into school curricula and teacher evaluation. Moving out of education, Ian has also worked with web development companies for the last 6 years as Communications and Business Admin. Ian joined the Abendago Media Group in 2007 part-time, taking on a number of different roles in the company including internal documentation, business project scope and quality assurance. Ian also works closely with clients in implementing and using the Abendago Content Management System and tools. He has been an advisor to startups including Pockettales.com.
Ian has a passion for creating simple tools that solve simple, yet important problems for people, building relationships and creating better ways for education to impact the lives of children through technology. In his spare time, Ian likes to enjoy a glass of fine wine, sing in community choirs and listen to his vast collection of music.
What are you working on right now?
Currently we are working on the iWishfor mobile app. iWishfor is an innovative app that allows users to save and share gift ideas with friends and family; anytime, anywhere and for any occasion. We are available on the iPhone and just recently released our newest version on the Android platform, making us the only social gifting app to be on multiple platforms. We are also going to have a website version coming very soon. iWishfor will help you to give the perfect gift every time!
Where did the idea for iWishfor come from?
One time, about a year ago, a relative of mine gave me a gift that, while I appreciated the thoughtfulness, I didn’t really see a need for or want. I did think about giving it away at several points, but I have always felt too guilty to do that. And that’s where the idea for iWishfor came from. I thought, what if there was a better way to tell people about the things you were interested in and wanted. On the flip side, wouldn’t it be nice to have some way of knowing what to get other people so you didn’t waste time trying to find the perfect gift for someone and be embarrassed when you get them something that they don’t want, need or already have. Gift shopping is so hard and people end up giving cold, impersonal gift cards or just asking you want you want, which ends up being awkward. And now you have periods of time in your year, where you get stressed out trying to do something nice but always worrying about whether you are doing will make people truly happy. With our app, we can make shopping for gifts easy and fun again. Now you don’t have to ask people what they want or be worried about giving someone something they don’t want. Whenever you need to buy someone a gift, you just go into the app to that person’s list, and you immediately have a bunch of ideas for gifts.
How do you make money?
We are still in the process of exploring ways that we can build in revenue streams from the app. However, we are really excited about the possibilities in creating opportunities for the development of business intelligence and advertising through iWishfor.
What does your typical day look like?
My co-founder, Nathan Leggatt and I typically start our day at a local coffee shop checking the numbers of users that we got the day before. It gets us out of the house and away from the distractions of home. Later in the day, we usually head back to Nathan’s home office and work from there. Being involved with Founder’s Institute, out of Seattle, I am usually down there one day a week. Other days, we are working out of our office space in Vancouver, provided by a local accelerator called Launch Academy. Each day is a little different, with meetings, travel and other things happening. It’s one of the things I enjoy about working as a startup. There is always something new to do and experience. Every day we are emailing our users, either welcoming new ones or getting feedback from users that have been using the app for a while. We also spend a lot of time strategizing as to how we are going to bring the app to new markets or verticals brainstorming crazy ideas to get our name and app out there to people. However, we do try to take some time to relax and have some fun so we don’t burn out.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This has always been the difficult part for me. To begin with, I just had an idea. Lot’s of people have ideas that don’t go anywhere, which could have happened to this idea as well. But the idea for iWishfor just kept nagging me. It was constantly on my mind eating away at me, telling me that it had to be done. The problem was that I was not a developer, nor did I have any expertise in this area. Having met Nathan Leggatt a couple of years earlier, I knew that he was someone that I needed to get on board in order for the idea to actually go anywhere, as he was the only developer/entrepreneur I knew capable of taking on something like this. Luckily, as I pitched the idea to him, he right away was excited about the possibilities and was enthusiastic about coming on board.
Bringing ideas to life is a fun but a difficult process. Being willing to take a risk to follow a dream is always necessary. Nothing will happen just by thinking about it and willing it to happen. You have to first make a convincing argument as to why it should be brought to life in order to bring people to your side and be willing to help you bring that dream to life. I also feel that the people you bring to your side have to be the right people. This includes your family. Without the support of the family, it won’t matter how much you work and dedicate your life to obtain your goal; you will still have lost. The other factor is your initial team. We have already gone through a few developers that have not shared the same dream as we did. In that case, you have to be quick in making your decision to separate from those people that will only hold you back.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Image recognition! The ability to point a camera at an object, have it recognize the object and bring up information about that object. Google Goggles is a very cool technology that we would love to see more developed and with an api for developers to use.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
The worst job I have ever had was being a mascot for various businesses I have worked with. I was a bunny during Easter for a retail store and Sharky for the Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall. Though it was not fun, what I learned is that sometimes you need to do the stuff that is not fun, the grunge work, to get to where you want to go.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Everything. Seriously. I would probably have gotten involved in an accelerator or something like the Founder’s Institute right from the beginning to learn some of the fundamentals of working within a startup environment. I would probably have been more ruthless in making sure that I had the right people hired right from the beginning so we didn’t lose time or traction.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Go for lots of walks and follow the writings and blogs of other entrepreneurs. You can get so wrapped up and wound so tightly that it is hard to take a moment and get some perspective. Walking is great for just taking some time to think through everything that is happening and look at it from different angles. Following other entrepreneurs and startups is also great to understand that you are not the only one going through the same trials, difficulties and speed bumps. You should also disengage once and awhile and just spend pure unadulterated time with your children if you have some. Finally, don’t make your project your “baby”. Stay dispassionate about what you are doing so that you can make tough decisions without being emotionally tied the decision. Easier said than done, I know.
Tell us a secret.
I had aspirations to be in Musical Theatre. I took a course in London done in association with Les Miserable quite a few years ago. For a week, you got to practice some of the scenes from the musical. For the solo parts, I won the part of Marius, which was great fun. We got to perform the scenes on the actual Les Miserable stage in London where the real cast performed which was a huge thrill. However, reality quickly took over and I moved into a safer career path.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
I love Flipboard. It is so easy to use and beautiful to look at. To have all the huge amounts of sites and resources I want to look at in one place and done so beautifully is a huge benefit to me in trying to keep up with all the news I want to keep on top of. For writing, Inboundwriter is something I use all the time to make sure that my writing is optimized for SEO. Easy to use with lots of impact, make it ideal for me as the communications person for iWishfor. Finally, Balsamiq is a great tool to do nice mockups of websites and apps and share them easily.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I like all of Seth Godin’s books, including Linchpin. Probably one of the best books to read, and, it’s probably been already mentioned here, is Jim Collins’ Good to Great. One of the more recent books I have come across that has been really useful is Steve Blank’s, The Startup Owner’s Manual. Very useful. Sorry, I guess that was more than just one.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
Dave McClure as he calls it as it is though I wish sometimes it was with a little less swearing. C100 to get a great perspective on the Canadian startup scene and Jonathan Caines, who usually has great links to interesting content.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
My children, 2 and 3 years old, always make me laugh. Their energy, goofiness and the hilarious things they say always make me laugh. I can’t think of one particular thing as they are constantly doing funny things.
Who is your hero?
My wife. She puts up with so much and has been so graceful and wonderful putting up with my eccentricities and the constantly fluctuating nature of doing a startup. I couldn’t do this without her and her ability to do all the things, including looking after the house and children to allow me to do this always leave me humbled and in awe of the wonderful woman I married.
When is there going to be significant change in the education system so that technology, new curriculum and new ways of teaching and learning have more impact and integration?
There is so much disconnect going on with what is happening outside of schools and what education is trying to do, or not do, to keep up. We say so much about how we need to better reflect the changing ideals and needs of the world outside of school with how we are teaching and yet, very little seems to be happening. Technology tools and resources take so long to be integrated and used effectively, if they are at all and changing the system is so incredibly difficult. There is a reason why investors shy away from investing in educational technology. It’s just too difficult to get into schools. Something has to change. Maybe it takes partnering businesses with public education systems. It somehow needs to be said that the students who are graduating are not meeting the needs of business or preparing them for the types of work they are going to come across; not the jobs that used to be there. Universities also need to do more to graduate teachers with a better understanding of the needs of their future students. We are still graduating teachers who don’t know how to effectively create learning systems for students that allow them to build real world relevance into their lessons, projects and other curriculum. Teachers still don’t know and are not held accountable for knowing how to use and integrate technology and it has to change.