2023 marks another year of uncertainty for the financial markets and technology. Nervous chatter and speculation of what the near future holds could be observed from all corners of the web— long before the clock struck 11:59 PM. Permeation of AI, more tech layoffs, and uncertainty in the markets create a trepidatious workforce.
Major industries that took a particularly hard hit were airline and travel companies. They’re slowly recovering as most major airports have been opened with restrictions dropped in most countries. However, it’s still hard to forget that an $840 billion industry suddenly came to a halt last year. Meanwhile, the tech sector was booming. Government-mandated lockdowns meant that work was changing and moving online. Software was no longer a luxury; it was a necessity to power our work and lives.
Now we’re in a situation where flights are back on, yet, tech stocks are plummeting. This predicament might worry the average person working for a tech company, or investing in tech—but it doesn’t warrant concern for Fred Rego. As a veteran in the aviation software industry, Fred built his career upon uncertainty.
When he sold his company, Boeing Vancouver, to Boeing in 2000, his years as interim CEO didn’t come without its hurdles, particularly, after 9/11 when closure felt like a pending fate.
Nevertheless, he’s not only made it through hard times during economic downturns but has ascertained a type of winning formula for success in the tech industry. As an investor, entrepreneur, and developer, Fred is confident that the demand for tech skills will not perish anytime soon.
He shares with us in this interview his journey from developer to entrepreneur, selling and scaling Boeing Vancouver, and his newfound passion for teaching entrepreneurship at the Global Startup School at Tamwood College.
Interviewer: You worked with and started over 10 startups since you were barely an adult—did you always have the drive to innovate? What do you think is the key to success as an entrepreneur?
Fred: This is a great question because I don’t have a degree in computer science or engineering. My degree was in business economics. I happened to get into software development because of a programming course I took when I was only 16 and in High School. After that I self taught myself all the programming languages I used during my career. When I was a contractor at Canadian Airlines in the early 90’s,I developed 70% of the maintenance planning application for their new airplanes through self-learning of the tech stack.
In terms of background skills, my mom is a painter and my dad was an architect. I grew up in this artistic environment and I have three sisters who are also artists. One is a fashion designer and teacher and the other two are architects. My brother is a lawyer, and I’m in the tech business.
I never expected to become an entrepreneur, but I always had an intuition of seeing businesses from an innovative perspective. I think this was developed and harnessed during the time I worked at my first startup right when I entered University. Although I love software development, I think I possess an unconventional skill set to what you might think of when you think of a “tech person”. I always think about ways of making applications and devices better or more functional. This really has helped me come up with innovative ideas for my business ventures.
Additionally, I want to emphasise the power of a good partnership that complements your skills. In my first startup, AeroInfo Systems, I co-founded the organization with three other partners, and I was in charge of our customers because I had project management experience. Richard Macdonald was an excellent promoter, great in sales, and knew everything about aviation, so he was the obvious CEO. We had great respect for each other and more importantly, we trusted each other. We built a unique application for maintenance planning of aircraft and we ended up selling our company to the Boeing Company, four years later.
That’s how I went from not being a tech person, to being a tech person and becoming an experienced entrepreneur. I learned by doing.
Interviewer: What inspired you to teach entrepreneurship and how has it changed your perspective?
Fred: I fell into teaching almost serendipitously. I was talking to a great colleague of mine who co-founded a business consulting company called Volition. I was looking into consulting gigs at the time, and he gave me a couple of companies to start. A couple of months later he contacted me and asked if I could substitute him at Tamwood, since he was planning to go on vacation and needed someone with great business management experience. Tamwood is an international business college with around 5000 students based out of Vancouver.
He asked me to substitute him for one week, and although I never did anything remotely close to that, I thought, “Why not? I love challenges.”
Despite the initial nervousness I got from teaching 25 students, I found myself thoroughly enjoying teaching after the first week. I got familiar with the class curriculum, and the students liked me because I taught using real-life experience. When my time was up, one of the people responsible for the business management school asked me if I wanted to teach another course. From there I took on many other courses until I started with the Global Startup School. That was right up my alley. I teach innovation and ideation where we start by having the students explore an existing problem, and come up with ideas until we find a feasible solution. They develop a proof of concept in four weeks, and their final assignment is a pitch. It works like an incubator.
Interviewer: Besides funding, what is one common challenge tech entrepreneurs face— how do you help them mitigate that?
Fred: Simplicity is a common issue. When you look at Apple, the products speak for themselves—you barely need tech support. User experience is critical. If you are in an application and an error pops up, you’re going to have a different experience than a product that has no issues. The product has to be simple to use and the experience for the user has to be amazing. There are many tech people that come up with great ideas but don’t have that simplicity aspect unlocked.
Even when you’re doing a MVP, you have to put in your best effort. I give you one example, I remember in the late 90’s, most people used Yahoo to search the web, but its main page was busy and complex for the average user. Then came Google, with a white screen and one field in the middle— a search field, where you could type whatever came to mind and get immediate results. Simple to use and any person in the world knew how to use it.
Interviewer: You mentioned how crucial consistent sales is for a tech company in a previous interview. Do you advise startups to double down on one aspect of the business before moving on to others, or do everything simultaneously?
Fred: My recommendation is always to have a partner with skills that complements yours. At AeroInfo, the complementary skills between our four partners were the beauty of the business. One of us acted as project manager, another was in product and software development, and the other one was the innovator. The CEO was a promoter. The four of us knew how to develop, and we all knew the market inside and out.
Richard, the CEO, had a talent for presentations and explaining things well. He would use the same terminology from mechanics to engineers and they loved it—so it would sell to those folks instantaneously. The problem is to go up the company ladder, you have to sell up. I believe any entrepreneur will eventually need a partner with complementary skills so it allows both to divide and conquer.
Interviewer: Are there any current projects or ventures you’re working on?
Fred: I still have my company, AeroTrack but I’m no longer involved in its daily operations. I lost a couple of contracts; one with GogoAir and another one with LMI Aerospace during COVID. The software we built for them helped aerospace engineers manage and track maintenance service requests.
Currently, the company is mostly me working under contract for various organizations, including Praxis Spinal Cord Institute, where I am responsible for their IT division. I’ve also started a separate consulting and advisory business for startups— Fred Rego Consulting and a remote recruiting company called TalentRemote focused on providing remote software development for companies looking for highly skilled software engineers.
With the era of hypergrowth behind us, the 2023 economic recession can provide a time for startups to double down on their strategy. When spending capacity is reduced, it forces companies to focus on how they can improve existing products and services. Whether that pertains to improving customer experience to lower churn or improving existing products, a recession can either be the downfall for a company that can’t adapt or an opportunity to become a better version of itself when the economy does make a comeback. Stories like Fred’s indicate that the road to success is often treacherous, but the reward of persistence often outweighs the worst of stormy nights. This is a bit of optimistic sentiment that tech workers, investors, and entrepreneurs alike might need in the coming days.