Trevor Bernard is a 30 year old serial entrepreneur who most recently co-founded and sold the company UserEvents to LiveOps of Redwood City, California in January, 2014. Trevor attributes much of his success in his career to pursuing his education, persistence, and finding mentors who can help you navigate the process of building a business from scratch.
When asked if he expected all of his success, Trevor replied, “No, I enjoyed what I was doing. I didn’t have any visions of building a million dollar company and selling it. I tend to be a person who is in the moment. I had no expectations, I was fine doing stuff I love with people I like working with. Having success is just icing on the cake.”
Trevor is from the First Nation community of Gesgapegiag in Quebec but currently lives in Fredericton, NB. He came to New Brunswick to study engineering at UNB but ended up taking computer science as the engineering program was full.
“If I didn’t go to UNB and take computer science, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am now,” said Trevor. “I urge anyone to pursue their education, especially in engineering and computer science. I got a lot out of attending UNB; I met many close friends and I had a really supportive set of professors. School taught me how to be a grown up, to think, to solve problems, and about time management. Those skills were even more important than the computer science.”
Trevor has always been interested in computers. In high school, he started doing computer repair work for his Dad’s company. After that, the first company that he co-founded (with his Dad) was Maritime Poker, a small website where users can play for fun or for cash. He also currently owns another business with his Dad called Aboriginal Software Solutions.
In addition to being a business owner, Trevor spent a few years programming for different companies in Fredericton; Chalk Media, which was acquired by Research in Motion (RIM) and Radian6, which was acquired by Salesforce, before he met his future partners at UserEvents.
When Trevor met Robin Bate Boerop, they clicked. They liked the same things: start-ups, entrepreneurship, and software, so they decided to go into business together, they just didn’t know exactly what at first.
“We started throwing ideas around and then we met with Jim Murray from IRAP (Industrial Research Assistance Program) who introduced us to Jeff Thompson,” said Trevor. “Jeff pitched us the idea for UserEvents and within 2 or 3 weeks we signed papers to work on the project together.”
Since selling UserEvents, Trevor has been on his own doing some consulting work and pondering his next venture. Trevor said that he will probably seek out another partner for his next business.
“There is a lot of work in starting a company, it is far more advantageous to work with someone,” said Trevor. “You need a support network, and you need mentors and a co-founder who are equally as good as you but who have complementary skillsets. Work with people who you like and who give honest critical feedback. An impartial person can help you step back and look at things objectively. It’s far easier to start with a partner. Also, have a good work-life balance. You can burn out so don’t forget about your friends and family and hobbies. It makes all of the difference in the world.”
Trevor is a big advocate of finding mentors for yourself and for your business.
“There is no question that mentors have made a big difference for my businesses,” said Trevor. “I’ve had a bunch of successes but I still have nowhere near the experiences that these people have had in their lives. My Dad has been my biggest mentor, and Jeff Thompson from UserEvents, I learned so much from him. He has a vast experience as he has been building product companies for 10-20 yrs. I was just learning by osmosis; being around his thought process helped a lot. Mike LeBlanc from Chalk/RIM has also been a mentor. There are a lot of people in town who I respect and value their opinion and who I get together with to chat. I try to keep an open mind. Even if I don’t agree with others I like to evaluate what they say. There is value in critically thinking about what others say. There are so many mentors around the Atlantic Provinces that are willing to give advice. I’ve never been in the position where I’ve asked for advice and people have refused. People won’t say no to a coffee. Even if you have a bad idea, mentors can point you in the right direction.”
In spite of Trevor’s success as an entrepreneur, it was never something that he planned out.
“I never explicitly said I want to be an entrepreneur and start a company,” said Trevor. “Basically I just found a problem that needed to be solved. Especially with my dad, we always solved problems. I’ve always been interested in technology and software. One of the traits that I have is that I’m not risk averse at all. I just see if something is a good idea and I pursue it. For the most part, I thought it would be cool to do something and I just did it.”
There are many benefits to having software-based companies. You can run them from anywhere, pick and choose the projects you want to work on, and have customers located all over the world.
“I can choose the time I want to work on projects, I don’t necessarily believe in 9-5,” said Trevor. “Developing software is more of a creative endeavour and you have to be in the zone to do it. Once I’m in the zone I ride the wave and keep working. I like to work when I feel productive.”
Trevor believes that programming and technology provide great opportunities for the future, especially since technology is only going to become more and more engrained in our work and personal lives. Trevor also believes that post-secondary school is very important for everyone.
“It’s important to go to post-secondary school in order to get different experiences,” said Trevor. “I know a lot of people tend to get homesick when they leave home and they don’t have their friends. A lot of people take their education for granted as some don’t sacrifice anything to get it. Education is a gift and it bothers me that people go to school for one semester and then drop out and go back home. Embrace what you want to do. Take advantage of what you are given, suck it up and work hard. It’s all about hard work. Sometimes you are doing things that you don’t want to do but dig in anyway. A university degree opens up so many opportunities.”
Trevor has faced many challenges over the years, starting your own business is not for everyone. However, he has some key advice for those starting out.
“Find something that you like or that you are passionate about,” said Trevor. “Sometimes running your own business is hard, but it’s far easier to keep going when it is something that you care about. In order to overcome challenges, stick to it. Take a step back, nothing is always or never, take a breather and go at it piece by piece. Set expectations and small goals so that you can have small wins. It’s about baby steps, you have to crawl before you walk.”
Trevor’s last piece of advice relates to start-up funding.
“Try not to borrow or take money at all if possible when starting your business,” said Trevor. “You work harder if it is your own dime and you also don’t give up any equity. There is always a lot of work with starting a company. Strive to bootstrap it and only take funding if it is the right fit.”