The Cadre met with UPEI business students Evan Hawley, the founder of Odyssey Virtual and co-founder Michael Thompson to chat about their entrepreneurial venture.
The Cadre: Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Hawley: “I moved to UPEI and switched into business after completing a year of engineering at Saint Mary’s in Halifax, where I was born and raised. While studying engineering, I had aspirations to go into business and start my own. After immersing myself in a new community here on PEI, I met Mike and we started working together. You know, small-time hustles like changing winter tires, buying and selling items off Kijiji and Value Village. Once we raised enough money this summer, we started working 7 days a week to get our company going.”
Thompson: “I’m a third-year business student, specializing in marketing. I have always been interested in entrepreneurship. I would always do small things growing up, like buying and selling things off Kijiji. Taking business was a no-brainer, it has always been my passion. When my family would watch the family channel, I’d be watching Dragon’s Den.”
The Cadre: What does Odyssey Virtual offer?
Hawley: “We specialize in 360 virtual reality marketing, advertising in the form of virtual tours, as well as 360 imagery and videos. We bundle it with a value-added service of drone photography since we target real estate marketing along with hospitality and tourism businesses.”
The Cadre: What made you take the leap into entrepreneurship. How does being a student impact that decision?
Thompson: “We take three courses per semester to free up our time. Time management is important. We work long hours to get work done, and we don’t get a lot of sleep. That’s what you get into when you become an entrepreneur.”
Hawley: “UPEI has been helpful as they gave us an office space on campus, it’s called the LaunchPad. There’s a ton of information available about it if you’d like to know more. Right now it’s just us there.”
The Cadre: What were your biggest obstacles at the start, and how did you overcome them?
Thompson: “Learning how to use our software! We’re dealing with a company from France, so there’s a language barrier too. We were working with them to purchase their software, using the software was a big learning curve as we’re business students with no I.T. background.”
Hawley: “It took hours upon hours to learn the software. Seven days a week, eighteen to twenty hours a day. It was wild. I was unemployed all summer so I could just wake up, and get at it. We made competitive modifications to how we utilize both our equipment and our software to give us an edge. Figuring that out was really hard, but now that we have it we can make the effort to take it one step further.”
The Cadre: Speaking of a competitive edge, do you guys have any competitors?
Thompson: “We have no direct competitors, although there is someone who works with Google Streetview for businesses. But we don’t compete with him at all.”
The Cadre: What would you say is the most influential factor in your business success?
Hawley: Coming to UPEI!
Thompson: UPEI has helped us a lot. They gave us an office, and a lot of professors have helped us. We also put in a lot of hard work and research.
The Cadre: How do you approach marketing your business?
Hawley: We do a lot of cold-callings. I have what I like to call “the map” in my room, which is a big map with a huge list of contacts including all real estate agents on the island and local businesses. I directly reach out and show them an example of our work.
Thompson: In our business, it’s hard to describe what we do, so we try to show them. We set up meetings, and we direct people to our Facebook and Instagram pages.
The Cadre: Is there anything you wish you would have done differently? Any mistakes you regret?
Thompson: There are always mistakes, but there are none that I would change. You learn from your mistakes.
Hawley: We are very calculated with what we do. We think about all the pros and cons associated with a decision together and consider the long-term repercussions.
The Cadre: What would you say was the greatest moment of success in your business?
Hawley: The UPEI sale. We created a sales presentation, and the whole recruitment team was there along with the director of marketing. There is nothing better than presenting something you’re passionate about, but also an expert in.
Thompson: For me, our first sale was a pretty good moment. Another good moment was when we were invited to be guest speakers at an entrepreneurship class here at the university.
The Cadre: Where will the next five years take Odyssey Virtual?
Thompson: Who knows, technology grows so quickly. This technology might be extinct in three months. It’s hard to say, but we hope to export our service Maritime-wide.
The Cadre: Let’s say you grow to the point where you were to hire someone. What would you look for in an employee?
Thompson: We would like to hire students or recently graduated students to give them an opportunity. An attribute I would look for is whether or not the person has an entrepreneurial spirit, if they’re good with people, and if they are good at sales.
Hawley: I would look for someone that had the desire to master something. Someone that is motivated to go above and beyond.
The Cadre: Evan, when we met about a year ago you said something that resonated with me. You said that business students should aspire to be “more than just a number” by the time they graduate. Could you elaborate on that?
Hawley: My personal philosophy on the whole university experience is: it’s not about how you do here, it’s about what you do. Say a company is looking for talent. Just having good grades in this day and age is not enough in my opinion. If you have tons of experience doing all sorts of cool projects, developing both personally and professionally – that’s going to make you stand out. I really do believe that being a business student, you have to fend for yourself. The best way of doing that is by diversifying your portfolio and coming out above.
By: Daniel Timen
Photo: Daniel Timen