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Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Develop an Innovative Product Quickly

Vaughan scaleup swiftly develops COVID detection device

Like other businesses in Vaughan, Kontrol Energy Corp. was disrupted by government measures to contain the pandemic. Instead of dwelling on how it impacted them, Kontrol considered what this meant for their clients and for the entire global economy.

Kontrol is one of Canada’s top new growth companies with triple-digit revenue growth and 70 employees. They’re a smart building technology company with two verticals: 1) reducing energy cost and consumption and 2) improving air quality and emissions. They work with large commercial real estate clients in Canada and the US, outfitting multi-residential, industrial and institutional buildings with their technologies.

CEO Paul Ghezzi remembers when the pandemic began, “The first thing we noticed really was a lot of our customers started to worry about having service companies like Kontrol on site. And that immediately led to a recalculation of when they could do their capital projects. When could Kontrol come on site? Was it safe?”

“And so around that time,” he continues, “we started to ask the question: if being safe in the space that you’re in is going to be a big challenge for the global economy, what can we do about that? We’re already at industrial facilities managing air quality in real time. Is there a way we could participate in helping solve this global pandemic?”

This problem, combined with their expertise in air quality monitoring, was the seed of a big idea: could they develop a technology that detects the COVID-19 virus in the air, in real time?

Fed by ambition and allies, that seed quickly grew into the Kontrol BioCloud Analyzer. This success story offers a peek inside the R&D process, and how to navigate it as quickly as possible.

Five takeaways from Kontrol to develop an innovative product quickly

1.   Lean into your expertise

They weren’t sure at first, admits Ghezzi. “Essentially we got together as a group and we said here’s what we’re thinking. Is this even feasible or possible? Half of us thought we were crazy. Half of us thought we should proceed.”

The logic behind the decision to proceed was that Kontrol already owned a company that had been measuring air quality on a parts per million basis for the past thirty years. The Kontrol team is very adept, knowledgeable, and sophisticated with air quality monitoring equipment. Their extensive expertise includes air sampling and looking for very specific things in the air that should not be there.

The part they were uncertain about was the chemical process. “COVID is not just a particulate in the air; there’s got to be some kind of chemical reaction in terms of identifying it. That part we didn’t know. So we reached out to a number of labs and started the process to find out what it would take to design a system that could detect COVID in conjunction with our continuous air sampling and monitoring. And that’s where it really started to come together,” notes Ghezzi.

2.   Recruit new partners

During the Research & Development (R&D) process, Kontrol partnered with independent labs. “The ImPaKT Facility actually has a live COVID virus available, so we were quite fortunate to get our independent testing against the dormant virus and then move very quickly to the live virus,” says Ghezzi. “What we’re working on now is setting a lower detection limit, which is a measure of how sensitive the technology is to the virus. Once we establish that, we move into commercialization. We’re looking to have production coming off the line of BioCloud units in November.”

Another important partnership that Ghezzi was sure to mention is the National Research Council of Canada, which has provided $50,000 of funding to Kontrol. “What’s important about the National Research Council is not the amount of funding because we had the funds in place to do the testing. But when they become part of the process, they go through their own independent validation of the work we’re doing. So it’s very helpful to have that. And they’re essentially the government of Canada scientists. From a controls perspective, it’s external validation, which is very helpful.”

3.   Leverage existing relationships

By keeping their initial costs down, Kontrol did not have to raise capital to do the testing. Ghezzi shares, “Our view is we can take the product to production and as customers make purchases, those deposits will help fund some of the production.”

“We’ve got 70 employees,” he adds, “and the approach we’re taking is we’re not building new factories, we’re not building new warehouses. We’ll run the logistics, sales, marketing, and production. All the manufacturing is going to be based in Ontario with third-party manufacturers.”

“What that’s allowed us to do is keep our overheads very low but allowed the manufacturing to happen in Ontario through third parties. We just leveraged our existing relationships to move very quickly. But we’re always looking for new manufacturing partners or third-party contracting manufacturers to talk to,” he says. Heads up then, local manufacturers!

4.   Accept you can’t control everything

With the first testing beginning in August and a goal of production starting in November, Kontrol has been working at breakneck speed. Ghezzi says, “The biggest challenge with a new technology or a new product is there’s parts that you control as an entrepreneur and a business owner and a team, and there’s parts that you don’t.

“When you’re developing a new technology or product, timing is always a challenge, and BioCloud is no different because we’re racing to solve the pandemic. But when you’re working with the government, it’s different, because they’re a much larger organization with more processes and approvals required. So I would say that’s been the most challenging.”

When the things he can’t control get frustrating, Ghezzi confides that he takes a step back. “We look at it from the perspective that in March, BioCloud didn’t exist. In only six or seven months, we’ve created a new technology that we think can really be helpful to get through this global challenge. So that’s the other side of it is that we’re moving mountains in a short period of time.”

5.   Don’t forget to consider long term application

Ghezzi notes, “We’re not alone in this; there are other technologies coming from the US, and other competitors. I think we’re one of the first in Canada so that makes us fairly unique, but viral detection is a new form of technology that’s coming to buildings and spaces.

“Over the next five years, my view is that every building is going to have some form of viral detection, like we do with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide. It’s a different world. Everything changed for everyone. New technologies are going to help us get through this pandemic and who knows what’s coming in the future. What’s the next pandemic three or four years from now?”

“Right now the detection chamber is single use for a single virus,” Ghezzi explains. “Our detection chamber can be modified to track other viruses such as Legionnaires’ disease or H1N1. Right now COVID is the immediate focus. In the future, our hope is to have one detection chamber for multiple viruses. But that’s going to take a bit more R&D and some more time.”

Rising to the challenge of pandemic problems

Thanks to a lot of hard work and sheer drive, Kontrol Energy has come up with a solution to a global problem. Ghezzi explains, “With today’s challenges, people often don’t feel safe in the spaces they’re in. We have nothing in a space that says I’m okay in the space I’m in right now and that’s really the big debate in the economy: how do we move forward without shutting down? I think technologies like BioCloud can play an important role in that.”

The first units will likely go out to their existing customers in Canada, but Kontrol is building a global distribution network to see the units go far and wide. Back in Vaughan, they’re creating new jobs to support the technology, while maintaining their core business too. Kontrol is doing everything it takes to make an innovative pivot which will ensure that more businesses and people make it through the pandemic safely to the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: How to Become a COVID-Resilient Startup

Hop In Technologies is a startup that created a logistics software platform that helps employees get to work, particularly in areas outside the metropolitan core where transit service is limited. Hop In fills the last mile gap by arranging shuttles on optimized routes.

When Ontario shut down most workplaces in mid-March, commuting plummeted. According to Statistics Canada, public transit trips fell 42% in March and 85% in April. Hop In’s model was shaken to the core. Time for a pivot!

Telling Hop In’s COVID story is Founder Erich Ko. He and his co-Founder Boyd Reid have been hustling to build the business since it launched in 2018. When the lockdown happened, Erich says they knew they needed a new game plan. But while they figured that out, they wanted to help.

Here are five strategies that Hop In found successful as a startup during a pivot

1. Make yourself useful

At the beginning of the pandemic, Erich remembers, “For the first couple of months, everybody was in triage mode, just trying to figure out how to survive and what their place is in this new pandemic world. At that point, we took a step back and asked how we could help others while we figure out our next step.”

In finding ways to make themselves useful, Hop In started offering rides to work for front-line health care workers. “We thought, do what we know. So, we started offering some free rides to work for them and eventually the community came around us and we had Captain’s Boil restaurant in Vaughan, Caterable Inc., and Meringue Kiss (a local bakery in Vaughan) help us out and donate meals. We combined delivering rides to work and meals and we ended up donating over a hundred meals over the course of two months, thanks to our partners,” says Erich.

Hop In also partnered with suppliers in their network to donate and distribute more than 20,000 disposable masks across the country.

2. Address COVID head-on

Meanwhile, Hop In was still working on their pivot plan. A new idea emerged that dovetailed nicely with their original vision for the company.

Erich admits, “If you look at a transportation company, you’d think you’re kind of dead in the water with COVID happening. But we looked at it as an opportunity to reassess and help where we can. We looked at the essential companies, like food processing or consumer packaged goods (CPG), and thought okay they have to stay in business. How can we help them?”

In order to safely serve these companies during COVID, Hop In revamped their entire sanitization policy to make it as airtight as possible.

“It starts with the bus. It’s sanitized daily – sometimes twice a day,” Erich explains. “We get video sent to us regularly by the company to show us that it’s happening. Our drivers do checks to make sure that your mask is pulled up above your nose and it’s covering your chin.  We’ll supply disposable masks if we need to – if somebody doesn’t have it. We do social distancing in the buses. We have sanitizer. Taking all those precautions that we need to.”

He continues, noting that, “Hop In has just finished designing our mobile app, so there’s a ticketing system put in place. So we make sure that we can track the people coming on and off. I won’t say too much, but we’re working with another company right now to provide symptom tracking as well on the mobile app. So, we’ll be able to offer that to companies pretty soon. I’m very excited about that because we can kind of create a little NBA-style bubble for corporations if you will.”

The pivot worked and they picked up a major new client in July: Maple Lodge Farms in Brampton. The pandemic had intensified two challenges for the company and Hop In offered solutions.

Hop In conducted a survey, which included Maple Lodge Farms. The survey revealed that a lot of employees from the companies were not comfortable with public transit just yet. “We said we can help you with this,” says Erich.

At the same time, he observes, “A lot of the manufacturing companies are going through hiring phases right now. Maple Lodge is kind of falling in line with that as well, and we were able to help them expand their hiring pools through our accessibility. They actually hired their first two employees from Scarborough, which is unheard of if you’re in Brampton. So, we can definitely fill that gap as well for the time being.

3. Plan for the long term

Fundraising is such a huge part of the startup experience and can be difficult to access at the best of times. But, in this pandemic environment, Hop In finds little change in the process for raising capital.

“You hear all these horror stories about raising in a time like this, and I think a lot of the startups that raised back in the 2008 recession will tell you some of those stories. But to be honest, I haven’t found it to be too much more difficult than before.

“You know, you might have to prove out your metrics a little bit more to the investors, but at the end of the day I think they still understand when there’s a good business. We’ve been able to become COVID-resilient, I guess I’ll say, so we’re on track. We’re actually raising right now and as long as we hit our metrics, I think we’re okay and we’re good to go. Investors are still open for business and I think everybody should be approaching them,” he advises.

As for long-term growth, Erich indicates that many of Hop In’s new business strategies and pivots are here to stay, even post-vaccine.

“I think what COVID’s taught us is that we do really need to take more care in terms of things like sanitization and making sure we’re tracking symptoms, because even flu season hits everybody. So, I think we’re going to keep a lot of these measures in place, just making sure that we are being as clean and efficient as possible all the time. It’s a lifelong lesson that we’ve learned from this, definitely.”

4. Leverage your advantages

Hop In undeniably managed to find its niche in a post-COVID economy. Hop In’s early stage status, as a small startup, was a factor in their ability to pivot – a positive one.

“Definitely, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing. For startups, it’s all about perspective and how you solve the problem in different ways,” Erich shares. “We looked at it that we’re a small lean team and we can move very quickly, so we pivoted towards a COVID-safe model very quickly and leveraged the different initiatives that we had. We don’t have 50 – 100 employees. We didn’t have to worry about moving everyone together that way. We were able to move very quickly, and I think that’s why we’re coming out of this pandemic stronger than we actually entered it.”

5. Leverage your network

Ask for help from your connections, whether that is other colleagues in your network, economic development organizations, business coaches, or your own team members.

Erich has this advice for other startups, “Hang in there. It’s a perspective thing. A lot of startups have gone down or might see themselves going down during the pandemic. But there’s always a pivot to be made, I think, and it’s all about how you look at it. There’s always that silver lining, because I think as startups, we’re always kind of fighting an uphill battle. But there’s a way to get to the end.

“One way is to reach out to your network. They can help you pivot a lot, like the team at the Vaughan economic development department helped us a lot through the pandemic. The community really came around and helped us out with our initiatives through the worst parts of this and we can only go up from here. So I’m excited to see what happens.”

Erich couldn’t say too much, but their plans for the near future include raising money to complete new tech advancements and grow the team. To house the bigger team, they’re hoping to deepen their roots in York Region with their first office space. Then, when the borders open, they hope to expand outside of Canada.

Hop In Technologies is a great example of a Vaughan startup that has pivoted their mindset, leveraged their resources, and found the silver lining to keep rising and come out stronger on the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: Expanding a Real Estate Brand During a Pandemic

You probably know that Vaughan is part of the Greater Toronto Area. You might not know that as of 2020, Toronto is the fastest growing city and metropolitan area in all the US and Canada.

We have a hot real estate market but when the COVID lockdown orders were issued in March, the market ground to a halt. Sellers pulled their listings, and buyers adopted a wait-and-see policy.

Finance Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) is Vaughan’s second largest industry, with real estate and leasing making up the bulk of it. How did our brokerages respond?

To get a perspective, the City of Vaughan talked to Matthew Ablakan, the Founder and Owner of Millennial’s Choice Group of Companies. In the last four years, Matthew quickly grew the Millennial’s Choice brand into a group of companies offering real estate, mortgages, life insurance, and financial literacy education.

The team was on an upward track and started 2020 with a clear game plan for developing the business. In mid-March, that plan went out the window and a new one was hatched.

Matthew had decided, “we’re not shutting down the business, we just have to now adapt to the changing environment.”

Six ways Millennial’s Choice kept growing during the pandemic

Here is what Matthew and his team did to keep Millennial’s Choice growing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Start with the clients that need you the most

Millennial’s Choice focused first and foremost on the clients that needed their immediate time and attention.

“It could have been speaking to a builder that a client purchased from and asking them to extend their deposits,” Matthew shares. “It could have been in the form of talking to the lenders that we work with and extending payments that are due or [arranging] mortgage deferrals… There were so many things. I looked at it from the point of view that I don’t control the economy or a pandemic, but I certainly can control the actions we take.”

2. Identify new needs as they emerge in the market – and provide

Once the fires were brought down to a slow burn, the team saw a new need emerging. The investment and real estate landscape was shifting beneath everyone’s feet and the pace of change was hard to keep up with. Millennial’s Choice stepped up with free, live webinars featuring lenders, developers, building institutions, and even the Mayor of Vaughan.

The webinars filled a gap but Matthew, a trained teacher, saw an even deeper problem they could help with: “One of the biggest things that was quite interesting to see is how many more people are now interested in their financial future and their financial security, and rightfully so. So many people have been laid off, are still laid off or still unemployed and people are wondering, especially with the stock market crash, were they making the right investments, were their investments solid enough.”

Matthew and his team decided to launch an online school called the MC Academy, using an online learning platform.

“Basically, the MC Academy houses a bunch of different topics that we’ve put into a webinar fashion. We’re talking about things like your RRSPs – how can you invest? What is pre-construction real estate? How to qualify for a mortgage in 2020 and beyond? We’re creating all kinds of content now and the cool thing is we actually do hire a professional videographer and editor,” Matthew explains.

“The platform itself is actually an e-learning platform that colleges use. The idea here is that we don’t want to just bring you something that you can Google or YouTube and find out yourself. This is actually stuff that is not available anywhere else.”

He notes, “We don’t expect those people that enroll in the online courses to then become our clients. There is actually no drip marketing campaign for that. The idea is just education. We still need to charge something, but they’re starting from $49.99. Nobody can say that a company with these types of licences and backgrounds are providing this sort of education for that kind of price. So, we’re really excited about that. We want everybody to be enrolled in these kinds of things and just learn – learn as much as you can.”

3. Experiment with bold new offerings

But the content development didn’t stop at education. During the pandemic, Millennial’s Choice launched a new YouTube channel. It will be anchored by a new communication product that will lay the company and the industry bare.

“Most of it is going to be our Vlog. That’s what I’m really excited about,” says Matthew. “That Vlog is going to give you a real insider look, like raw, authentic (obviously we’ve cut out some parts for privacy reasons), but you see everything – you see how we talk to people, how we meet with people, what we’re doing on a day to day basis.”

In contrast to the consistently positive things posted on social media, Matthew takes a different approach with the vlog. “I think when you’re talking about building a business that you need to show people some of the failures, some of the defeats, and some of the hard things you go through. I’m stepping out of my comfort zone to do that and show it to everybody. It’s real, it’s raw and it’s coming.”

4. Make the most of the silver linings

Millennial’s Choice took advantage of downtime at the beginning of the lockdown for strategic planning and taking on the YouTube channel, Vlog, and MC Academy.

Matthew confides, “You know, one of the honest reasons is that we had more time on our hands during COVID. You know, things slowed down for a bit. It’s kind of like the world stopped. And I was spending a lot of time up north [working] at my fiancee’s family’s cottage. And it was nice – the air was fresher up there… I had more time on my hands to do some of those things that were kind of put on the back burner.”

Meanwhile, Millennial’s Choice made another strategic move. While many companies have been anticipating a permanent shift to remote work and letting go of their office space, Millennial’s Choice saw an opportunity to double down on a collaborative work environment where staff and clients can come together.

Matthew tells the story, “We actually made an investment in a new office space sometime towards the end of April, beginning of May. This new office is a bigger space with basically zero office space, like for anybody to come in and get work done. I had looked at concepts from Europe, when I was in Europe last year. I had visited real estate offices and different kinds of businesses that were already embracing this open concept feel and people love it. So, I already had this idea and then when COVID happened, I actually stumbled across a very good opportunity and it worked out for us. So long term I think it was a really good decision.”

5. Create and follow a well-informed game plan

Matthew says the new products they developed have a well-informed plan behind them.

“If you see how we do things at Millennial’s Choice, we don’t just want to do something for the sake of doing it and we launch it and then there’s no consistency or there’s no game plan going forward. So, with all these initiatives, we have a game plan for all of them,” Matthew explains.

“For the education piece, we want to be able to offer licensing courses for different areas and categories like real estate or mortgages and insurance. On the YouTube side of things, we have a plan to grow that and that plan is literally tied in together with our education piece and entrepreneurship.”

Regarding the vlog, he says, “I want to be able to share what I know and lessons and experiences that I’ve learned, and the problem was I didn’t have time to dedicate to that. There were some other important aspects of our business that I have to always be on, and these things take time and they do take money and because of COVID slowing things down in a sense, I had more time to do that.”

6. Don’t be afraid to swim upstream

Millennial’s Choice was doing things differently before the pandemic and they’ve kept that philosophy during it.

Matthew offers this advice: “The natural reaction in situations like this is to contract, stop spending money on advertising, lay off people, whatever, just contract, save, save, save. We take the other approach and we recommend that to other brokerages: expand.

“While everybody is contracting, spend a little bit more money advertising online or wherever. Or come up with a new idea, like the online stuff, just become more valuable, capture some more market share. You could come out ahead if you don’t contract.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, but you know where you can expand. You know where you can grow and where you can change … just work towards that.”

Millennial’s Choice will keep rising, as they pivot, innovate, and go above and beyond what it takes to get to the other side.

 

The information presented in this article is provided solely for the purpose of bringing ideas to the attention of the business community, as a service to the businesses of the City of Vaughan.

The City of Vaughan does not, whether directly or indirectly, endorse, sponsor or sanction the opinions expressed in this article, nor any services or products that may be offered by the contributor/s in their normal course of business.  The City of Vaughan does not intend by this article to recommend the contributor/s nor to promote them as subject matter experts over any other business persons employed or engaged in similar lines of business.

Vaughan Rising Blog: Alternative Rock Band Demonstrates Entrepreneurial Insight During COVID Lockdown

Stuck on Planet Earth is an alternative rock band made up of Al Capo (bass/vocals), Adam Bianchi (guitars/vocals) and Andrew Testa (drums). If you’re a rock fan, this proudly Vaughan-based trio is infiltrating your radio waves, Spotify playlists, and Instagram feed with a string of catchy singles from their debut album, Beautiful Nowhere.

And they’re doing it in COVID lockdown. Beautiful Nowhere was released in June, when Ontario was still in Stage 2 with tight restrictions on social gatherings and a ban on traditional concerts. As a result, the band was cut off from their major source of revenue: touring.

Vaughan artists of all varieties got creative in finding new ways to engage their audience and pay the bills. Stuck on Planet Earth joined the wave and made the most of a difficult situation.

Turns out, this band has been bold and entrepreneurial since 2007, when they were just a bunch of recent high school grads rehearsing out of an auto body shop in Concord. Here are some lessons they’ve learned along the way that are relevant for any entrepreneur.

Seven entrepreneurial lessons from Stuck on Planet Earth

1. Differentiate

Every new business needs to find a way to make themselves stand out. They need to offer a unique product or service that no one else is doing in quite the same way.

“The first thing that we thought of when we started the band was to do something different. We didn’t want to be a band that just went and played in venues the typical way that we would have done all through high school,” Al shares. “We said, okay, how are we going to build up our audience from ground zero right now?”

They came up with an idea they called the Backpack Tour. The band would show up at high schools across southern Ontario after school, unannounced, with their instruments and a video camera.

“We’d literally play for kids as they left for the day,” explains Al. “ So, we kind of got a following and then once the Backpack Tour had run its course, we started to record and play electrically and start playing around venues and all of a sudden we had kids showing up to our shows which was great.”

2. Collaborate

The best partnerships create something greater than the sum of their parts. This is especially true of artistic collaborations. Whom a business chooses to work with is a large part of what defines their brand. It demonstrates the values they share with their customers.

Over the next decade, Stuck on Planet Earth steadily built their audience and reputation as their singles received national and international radio play. They toured North America, sometimes alongside major rock acts like Weezer, Motorhead and Scott Weiland.

Then in 2018, the band started working on their first full-fledged album, Beautiful Nowhere. Al says they didn’t have to go far to find a producer.

“We started working with Steve Molella, who’s also a Woodbridge native, and plays in the band Finger Eleven. He’s a few years older than us, but we grew up with him in the music scene. We toured with his old band The Balconies and he would continuously call us and say, ‘Hey man, you guys have got to come record.’ But we were always on tour.

“For about 3 or 4 years, we were really doing North America, going back and forth. Then, a window of opportunity opened up to get in the studio with him and good things started happening – some people got a hold of our demos. Anthem Entertainment, based in Toronto, took a lot of interest in the recordings that we did with Steve and we signed a deal with them.”

3. Delegate

For a business owner to focus on their passion and what they do best, they need to delegate the other tasks to a competent support team.

Anthem Entertainment has been an important part of the band’s support team. Al says, “The label comes in when it comes to marketing the record and giving us certain resources and putting forward money to get us in the studio and give us some advances to live for a bit. The label really forced us to focus on being the musician and not having to put on so many other hats.”

The Anthem deal gave Al, Adam and Andrew the resources and finances to focus a little less on the business hustle and a lot more on the music.

Adam adds, “They allowed us to focus on the art, focus on being creative, focus on our social media. Even though we still have a hand in it, they take care of all the paperwork that is very time consuming.”

4. Dare

Taking risks is an innate part of being an entrepreneur. Often, these businesses are the only source of revenue for their families. It takes a lot of courage and faith to put your product or service out there and then step back and wait to see what happens.

The Beautiful Nowhere album was coming along and by the end of 2019 they finally had a release date: June 26, 2020. Little did Stuck on Planet Earth know what 2020 had in store. They could have delayed the release, but it’s not the path they chose.

“When this pandemic hit, I don’t think we wanted to change our plans anymore. Especially because people are inside now and I feel like people are listening to music now more than ever, as an escape, so we didn’t want to push it back any further. The only thing that it really affected was our touring, because that’s where you really push your album, but you’ve just got to find different ways to put yourself out there,” says Adam.

5. Diversify

Instead of dwelling on all the negatives and things they can’t do, such as go on tour or even shake hands with fans, Stuck on Planet Earth chose to focus on how to stay active and relevant during this time.

Al notes, “Right away we pivoted, and we found a way to do live streams. We called it Stuck Inside and we started featuring Vaughan artists and artists from [Toronto]. We would have a talk show and play music and we saw the relationship growing.”

6. Connect

Al, Adam and Andrew also made it a point to post on social media. Instead of posting once every week or two, as they had pre-pandemic, they started posting 4 or 5 times per week.

They implemented a strategy of, “Let’s post. Let’s talk to people. Let’s connect.” And it worked. Since March they’ve had 5,000 new followers on Instagram.

“We’ve never seen that kind of thing before as a band, even when we were playing shows. Because there’s so much more time now to actually talk to everybody that reaches out to us. And that’s what we’re doing this for. So, it’s been a huge blessing because we’ve been able to really connect with people and we never really got to do that before,” shares Al.

He continues, “So, we say this in the strangest way possible, but honestly the pandemic hasn’t been bad for us at all. Obviously, we want to be playing shows, obviously we want to be touring and all of our plans got cancelled, and it’s been an interesting time but at the same time it’s been very exciting and refreshing because it’s taught us a lot of new skills.”

7. Persist

Nothing comes easily when you run your own business. Income level is often unpredictable, and the long hours can be daunting. Entrepreneurs must be committed to their passion in order to stay determined through the tough times and work hard to create their own success.

“It’s been pretty tough for sure. Live touring is where we make a lot of our money. But we’ve been able to partner up with live streams over the past few months that have all been paying us. And there’s also other funds, like the Unison Fund, which pays artists and gives us money to survive during this time, so it’s not a complete loss, but it’s definitely tougher.” Al says.

Stuck on Planet Earth has been picked up on several playlists, such as Apple and Spotify. The band attributes their success to their ability to stick with the business over the long term.

“I do think persistence works. I think that over the course of our careers, we’ve known so many people in the music industry that have started out as promoters at shows that have [gone on] to work at Apple Music and Spotify that have grown with the band, so yeah we have friends that like the music and are in positions where they can help us out. But a lot of it has been organic and that’s been awesome to see that kind of support,” Al notes. “We couldn’t ask for anything better, but it hasn’t been something that’s happened overnight – that’s for sure.”

Staying focused on the music in Vaughan

With no end in sight to physical distancing restrictions, Stuck on Planet Earth is making the most of livestreams, their Stuck Inside show, and paid virtual gigs sponsored by corporations looking to support the music community. Most recently, they had the opportunity to perform live at a drive-in concert alongside Big Wreck. There are more live streams and special things in the works for the next few months.

Even as Stuck on Planet Earth reaches new heights, the band remains firmly rooted in Vaughan. Al fondly recalls their experience recording Beautiful Nowhere, “We always had to go downtown to record in these nice big studios because that was the thing. And then the moment we got signed and we actually got a bunch of money to go make a record and we could actually go to a big studio, we decided to go back home to Vaughan in Steve Molella’s basement. His mother would be making lasagna upstairs and we’d have these big Italian lunches and dinners. God bless his parents for being absolutely gems of people. We’d go eat at [local] bakeries. The whole album was conceived and made in Vaughan.”

Stuck on Planet Earth is another example of how the City of Vaughan is still rising. During this pandemic, Vaughan’s Arts and Culture sector is deploying the creativity they’re known for in new entrepreneurial ways.

 

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