Startups ride the highs and lows of Calgary's sharing economy

Three Calgary entrepreneurs make the case for launching sharing-economy businesses.

'You don't necessarily have to be an expert to excel at something,' John Minchin says

New businesses in Calgary are seeing success by using technology to make simple services easier to use, like finding a handyman, dog walker or a parking space downtown. (Park Champ)

John Minchin doesn't miss his accounting job at all.

In the face of a changing economy in Calgary, he and his business partner — an oil and gas worker — founded a dog walking business that works a bit like the ride-sharing company, Uber.

Now he spends his days talking to pet owners and dogs. His app called Spot matches freelance dog walkers with pets that need exercise.

Mark Lester, left, and John Minchin, take pooches Howard and Debbie for a walk. They created Spot, an app that connects dog lovers with busy dog owners. (Dave Dormer/CBC)

He and two other Calgary entrepreneurs — Wuilder Torres of JobJar and Maggie Young of ParkChamp — made their case for starting sharing-style businesses to the Calgary Eyeopener.

"If you're sitting in a cubicle and you're working on something every day that doesn't inspire you, then, yeah, what do you have to lose?" Minchin said. "Especially if you're young, energetic, no mouths to feed, I'd say go for it."

That's not to say starting a business or running a sharing-style business is without challenges, he said.

JobJar facilitates tradespeople bidding on homeowners' small jobs, which can be hard to find a contractor for, let alone multiple bids. Interest is growing every day, Torres said.

To be successful, Torres said, he tries to be always making the platform easier for tradespeople and homeowners to use, based on their feedback, and to block out time each week to stay active.

"Just get ready — don't think everything's going to be nice and dandy," Torres said. "You're going to have tough days. You're going to have to work long hours."

JobJar connects tradespeople with homeowners who have small jobs that need doing. (JobJar)

All three have found their businesses grew quickly. 

Maggie Young launched ParkChamp — which matches empty parking spots with commuters — seven months ago. 

We're creating new things in the economy without actually needing to build anything.- Maggie Young, ParkChamp

She now has 75 locations renting parking spots through her app, 500 active monthly users and every listed downtown spot rented all the time, she said.

Sometimes, she said, there's a new way of looking at an old problem, such as the race to find parking in a busy city.

"We're creating new things in the economy without actually needing to build anything, manufacture anything. We use technology to create a new way for people to do things," Young said.

"That's actually really good for the economy, taking space and making money off of it and then saving money and time using technology to do something that you really need to do every day."

Maggie Young, the founder of ParkChamp, says it's another tool in the online sharing economy. (Park Champ)

That innovation can also mean a low barrier to entry, Minchin said, versus an unaffordable rent for a brick-and-mortar shorefront. The technology can be a challenge to develop and learn but the tried-and-true standards of good customer service and business management apply.

"We're living in a pretty cool time where you don't necessarily have to be an expert to excel at something or to at least learn about something. Access to information is a few clicks away," he said.

"And that makes it pretty easy for us."

With files from Falice Chin and the Calgary Eyeopener