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Andrew Peek
Andrew Peek. Photo by Nadia Papineau

Serial Entrepreneur

To create your own business, Andrew Peek understands the importance of flexibility, risk-taking -- and play

Cool Job: Serial Entrepreneur and Angel Investor

Andrew Peek (BBA 2006 UTSC) understands entrepreneurship. He was partner in a tech-and-design firm (Jet Cooper) that was sold to e-commerce giant Shopify, is co-founder of film studio Next to North, and recently has become an angel investor to upcoming startups. But his Camp Reset venture, which reintroduces digitally overloaded adults to the art of play, may best capture the flexibility and sense of possibility that he believes has been key to his success.

Were you a lemonade-stand type of kid, the kind who is an entrepreneur early?
I was. Then, at 16, a best friend who was a singer-songwriter and I began a promotions company that would put on concerts at various locations in downtown Toronto. My friend would be one of the acts. We had no training – we just gave out a one-pager to the different venues explaining what we were trying to do. Certain venues started to give us a couple of nights to call our own, and we went from there!

What is your biggest strength, in business?
I help entrepreneurs set up as best they can to succeed. That’s what I do at opinion research firm Vox Pop Labs; I’m working with them to create a more sustainable business model. I think that’s where my forte is. I’m often not the inventor or the artist, but I do love to work with them on the business modelling side of things. I will pick and choose companies I think have a lot of untapped upside potential.

With Jet Cooper, we made a bet that the user experience of technology was going to become more important. When we started out, a typical software project would spend 80 per cent of every dollar on the back end of development, and 20 per cent on the design. Our bet was that that ratio would become 50-50 – and we were right.

You’ve co-founded five ventures, but also lived for months off the grid, in the Amazon. How is personal flexibility related to entrepreneurship?
Remaining flexible is not just in location, or mindset, but also in lifestyle, being very mindful about the things we add to our lifestyle. They decrease our risk tolerance if we’re not careful.

As you add things to your life, whether that be payments on a car, or a mortgage, etc., these things inflate your cost base. As a result, your tolerance for risk goes down, and that really decreases your ability to consider entrepreneurship.

Do you have a car and a house?
I tend to bicycle around or take public transit. And I just purchased a home, but with a minimal mortgage. I’m not saying that cars and houses are bad things, just that the timing of when we pursue them is paramount, because opening that door does close many others.

You co-founded the non-profit Camp Reset, which features non-digital fun – from face painting to scavenger hunts – for adults. Tell me how it works?
It’s two parts. One part is digital detox, which means we take everyone’s technology at the gate. So there’s no access to phones, cameras, computers, for three and a half days.

And the other part of it is a return to play. As adults, we’re very efficiency-focused, but we wanted to give people a chance to rediscover that inner child. So we built programming that strips people of their identity – there’s no work talk allowed, no real names allowed… and once we’ve stripped all that away, we really rediscover play as adults.

You recently gave a TEDx talk where you mention being bullied as a kid, being expelled from school and feeling on the margins. Does that experience still inform your outlook? How?
I think it does, in subtle ways. Being on the margins did a couple of things for me. For one, I’m very prone to expect change. I’m always of the belief that eventually something’s going to come along that teaches me something I don’t already know or proves me wrong in some way. It’s a healthy skepticism.

But then also, being on the margins has encouraged me to embrace different beliefs, norms, cultures, values – try them on for size, get to know different spaces – and then to bring that which resonates most with me back into my self-image.

Watch: Andrew Peek counts down his entrepreneurial journey for TEDx Toronto:

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