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Movers and Starters: Andrew Echenberg
Igor Bonifacic chats with the founder of Toronto-based startup Panvista

Movers and Starters is an exclusive series that profiles the individuals who drive Toronto’s startup community.

As the president of Panvista, Andrew Echenberg has helped some of Canada’s largest companies navigate and understand the mobile app space. Here, he and I talk about how his company got its start, the challenges along the way, and some of his charitable work.   

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m a kid from Montreal who loves to travel, meet new and interesting people, and loves technology.

Can you tell us the story behind Panvista?

When I graduated from University I had an offer to go work for a Wall Street firm. Instead of taking the job offer, I decided to take a year off and travel; it was an opportunity that I would only have at that point in time, and so I wanted to fully capitalize on it. I traveled across the world, including Antarctica, South America, Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe. When I came home, I had this amazing collection of photographs from my trip that I wanted to share with people, and so I tried to get my photos published in National Geographic. Part of the idea was to one day create a career for myself as a freelance photographer. Unfortunately, I never managed to get those photos published.

Still, I wanted to share them, and needed a way to do so. At the time, Flickr was just about to take off, but what the website was offering at the time didn’t satisfy my need to get my photos out to everyone. It’s out of that desire that Panvista was born: I wanted to create a powerful piece of software that would allow content producers to deliver their content to their audience in a meaningful way.

That said, Panvista’s current focus is on building mobile applications for enterprise. How and why did you pivot the company away from publishing? 

The initial goal of Panvista was to create a platform that would allow anyone to publish something online. In chasing that goal, however, I definitely made a lot of mistakes: One, was getting too caught up in the hype of the Web 2.0 boom; two, I focused Panvista on a market that I thought would adopt our technology much more quickly than it actually did.

Of course, everyone makes mistakes. We gave it our best shot and quickly realized that we still had this great piece of technology; we just had to gear it towards the right market. So after chasing the publishing market, we switched our focus towards the enterprise. At the same time, we realized that mobile was starting to quickly take off, and that it was going to be the next great piece of widely adopted technology. So instead of fighting all these big industry juggernauts in the desktop publishing world, we decided to focus strictly on mobile development, because we thought it would give us a much better chance to make a meaningful impact on the market. It’s in that space that Panvista has operated and succeeded ever since.

Still, even after you made the switch I imagine there were still obstacles that had to be overcome?

Absolutely. The tech sector is a tough industry, because of how quickly it moves–and that’s both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, it gives a business a wide range of opportunities to pursue; on the other hand, it can hurt that business because of how that speed distorts things. Technology can present so many opportunities, that an undisciplined company may get wound up in too many different projects, instead of just focusing on one. And that’s something we suffered from initially: not having a focus, and so we had a hard time aligning ourselves with the opportunities that were going to lead our company to success–there’s this great book on the subject called Crossing the Chasm, which I’m sure others you’ve interviewed might have mentioned at some point.

Being from Montreal, why did you decide to start Panvista in Toronto and not Montreal?

I love Montreal–and if you’re reading this interview and find yourself in Montreal, then you need to go to St-Laurent Street and visit Schwartz’s, because they have the best smoked meat in the world! But to answer your question…when I started Panvista, Toronto had a couple of advantages over Montreal. Toronto is the economic capital of Canada, it’s the 4th largest city in North America now and has great access to talent and potential customers so its a great hub to start a business. For these reasons, I decided to start Panvista in Toronto, and not in Montreal.   

A photo Echenberg took of the students Panvista helped in Cambodia

Judging from your website, something that you’re very proud of  is the charitable contribution you’ve made to a school in Cambodia. Care to tell us about that? 

On one of their trips, my parents visited this school in Cambodia, and when they came back they told me all about it. So when I spent a year traveling the world, I visited this school and met these kids that had nothing, and yet they were still doing their best with the few things that they did have. Our family started helping them by giving them some school materials, and over time, it progressed to our family being fully committed to the cause–so helping with everything from salaries for the teachers to food for the kids, to computers and Internet access. We also helped put up a new building there.

I’ve met a lot of entrepreneurs and they’re all great people, but that type of charity usually isn’t a trait I see among them. Do you think there’s a reason for that? 

It’s interesting… (Andrew takes some time to consider his answer) it’s difficult for an entrepreneur to contribute money and time, especially because both of them are in such short supply. I don’t want to think that entrepreneurs are selfish people–it’s more a question of balance. What I have seen more recently is that entrepreneurs are giving common stock in their companies to charities. The charities can’t liquidate the stock, but should the company have a profitable exit–$50 million, for example–then the charity has something. It’s an interesting idea, right?

Definitely. 

So I think entrepreneurs do want to give back, and they already do in a sense–they’re creating jobs and technologies that do amazing things. I think their contribution to the greater good is already happening, but for the part, it’s not happening through a not-for-profit. Again, it goes back to what I said earlier: time and money are in short supply.

That said, you seem to find time and money to help. 

A big part of it is that I come from a family that has allowed me to be charitable. I go to Cambodia every year and we support the school throughout the year. As far as Panvista goes, I honestly feel like if I got hit by a bus, this company would be fine; there are a lot of capable people here, that already help me with managing the company. Having a great support team will afford you those luxuries and opportunities, and if you really care about something, then you will find a way to make time for it.

What inspires and motivates you beyond your work?

One thing that inspires me is meeting people that are extremely talented, but that have a humble perspective. These are not arrogant people, and yet they’ve done things that are phenomenal and world-changing.  

____

Igor Bonifacic is a writer working for the Toronto Standard. You can follow him on twitter @igorbonifacic

For more, follow us on Twitter @TorontoStandard and subscribe to our newsletter. 

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