Back when we got started, our professors and mentors at the Master of Digital Media program suggested connections and helped us set up meetings with everyone they could think of to help speed us along our journey of building something we thought pretty audacious: a sharing economy platform where you could rent almost anything from people nearby — snowboards, pressure washers, sewing machines, a chicken coop.
Almost anything. We drew the line when someone tried to list their yacht for rent. (Oh, Vancouver.)
Around the time we were beginning to build our online platform, we witnessed the ground-breaking on what would become the Emily Carr complex.
Two of Quupe's co-founders (from left, Zeeshan Rasool and Vijay Ramaswamy) working at Centre for Digital Media.
One of the people our professors set us up to chat with was the then-president of Great Northern Way Trust, who showed me a few blueprints of what new buildings were planned for the complex. I went on a walking tour with him one day (he had on a hard hat), and I loved envisioning all the buildings that would one day exist but were at that time, just overgrown woods.
I am like this about construction sites. It astounds me how these things are possible. It absolutely floors me that a group of, just, regular people like me (but with much larger forearms) can start drawing up plans and writing things down and then, if some of them consistently show up in the same place every day moving big objects around and attaching things to each other and they do that enough times, eventually that turns into a building.
Not only that, but it’s been what’s required to make every building in the world’s history. It blows my mind every time I stop and think about it, and I often do. Every time I pass an active construction site, in fact, of which there are many in Vancouver. Is it appropriate if I tell you about my reverse trend where I stand beside building sites and ogle the construction workers? Because I’ve got that on lock. Although of course, I don’t catcall them, I just stand and marvel at their fortitude and willingness to show up day after day until they have created an entire building with their bare hands, like some kind of literal damn superheroes.
The four cofounders at work at Centre for Digital Media in early 2017. From left: Zeeshan Rasool, Amanda Shou, Angela Hamilton, Vijay Ramaswamy.
I love to build. I envisioned the task of building Quupe like building those buildings. I thought, “I just need a plan, and to show up for it day after day.”
My time in the Master of Digital Media program helped me formulate that plan, and then it helped me to refine it. I knew from Larry’s class how to start simply and build iteratively. I knew from Dave and Jason’s class how to make the work fun and how to create a memorable experience. And I knew from Patrick’s class the importance of taking risks and putting yourself out there."
November 2016, presenting in Portugal, the day before the Web Summit, at a smaller investor-only event that was arranged by ICT in partnership with Portugese Ambassadors.
In 2016, before we had even a landing page to point people to, we did an audacious thing and flew to Lisbon to pitch at Web Summit. We held some promising introductory calls around being a pitching startup, and we held practice pitches in the Centre for Digital Media Hangar for feedback, during events like the annual MDM Student Showcase.
But we had no platform! We had an idea, and a logo, and some paper prototypes that we’d hung up outside of our Centre for Digital Media project room wherein our fellow classmates listed things they wanted and things they needed.
We managed these early transactions via Excel, before we’d written a line of code, just to prove the idea worked the way we thought it could. (Again, thanks to Larry’s class and the importance of starting small and building on whatever is working well.)
The opening ceremony of Web Summit (Nov 2016).
The Web Summit pitch happened on the day after the U.S. election in 2016. The four of us had stayed up as late as we could watching the election returns, first at an expatriate bar in the Bairro Alto, and then back at our AirBnB, late into the night, as it looked increasingly bad for Hillary Clinton. One by one, we went to bed. I went last, even though I had to be up at 8 a.m. to go do our pitch.
I’m American, and I will never forget the sinking feeling of walking into the exhibition hall knowing I had to stand on stage and pitch our idea to dozens (hundreds?) of international onlookers and judges, after having had the audacious idea to fly halfway around the world and do this. Just as we crossed into the hall, we got news alerts on our phones that Hillary Clinton had conceded to Donald Trump. It suddenly all felt kind of pointless, like the world as I knew it was crumbling around my ears. I usually love getting on stage, but that day, it took all my willpower not to run screaming from the hall.
I called upon my training from the Master of Digital Media program once again. Patrick had taught us how to walk in a room and simply stand, exist in space with your feet firmly planted. Steve had done the impossible and taught us all an entire year’s worth of business classes, somehow, in 16 weeks. I felt well-armed by everything backing me up, both back here in Vancouver and by those in the room with me: Zeeshan, Vijay, and Grant.
The Quupe team during the New Ventures BC awards ceremony in 2018, when we placed in the top ten and received the venture growth prize. Clockwise from bottom right: Angela Hamilton, Grant Meek, Zeeshan Rasool, Ramineh Visseh, Vijay Ramaswamy, Paul Mendoza, Alice Henry, John Gelou, Mikaela Abrams.
So I was able to stand and deliver the pitch for a product that didn’t yet exist (but would soon!) I remember absolutely nothing from it, and have no idea what questions I was asked, so it can’t have been my best pitch ever, but the fact that I got through it at all felt like a win.
This audacious moment that felt like such a personally scary cliff edge resulted in something we couldn’t have planned for: An angel investor back here in Vancouver, who wasn’t even at Web Summit, heard we had gone, was excited about the idea and the chutzpah, and she became the first person to cut us a check to help build Quupe.
The presentation we did that took place in fall 2016 at Science World. From left, the four cofounders: Vijay Ramaswamy, Amanda Shou, Angela Hamilton, Zeeshan Rasool.
That first investment was our springboard to bringing on other angels, and building for our first 18 months of runway. We stretched it for every penny, enough to lead us into that sweet spot of having the business support itself off of its own revenue, month after month. In the years following the launch of Quupe, we were able to celebrate what we'd accomplished and also share what we'd learned with fellow Master of Digital Media alumni and students through events like the annual Alumni Startup Demo Day.
With the vagaries of Covid, Quupe’s recent path has been rocky, but we were prepared for rocky when we started a startup, and if we hadn’t been, our early experiences at trying to build it would have made that case.
The Master of Digital Media program was our safe launching pad for all of it, and the program is a powerful testament to that old Archimedes quote (I’m a longtime fan of this one), “Give me a place to stand and I shall move the world.”
Angela Hamilton is a 2017 graduate of the MDM program. She is the founder of Quupe, Supersnack, and Lane Editorial, a consultancy for entrepreneurs who write.
Want a peek into what our current Master of Digital Media students are working on? Attend our annual MDM Student Showcase on July 8th!