In our series, “A Start-Up Story”, Industry West talks to Saskatchewan’s start-ups and their journey to entrepreneurship. Meet Paul Burch (his byline should be familiar to Industry West readers) and his venture: EchoLotto.
A huge percentage of new businesses fail in their first year, and the exact odds of a new venture surviving can be widely disputed.1 However, if you ask Paul Burch about the odds for EchoLotto Inc. to last past year one, he’ll gladly quote a number. “Everything is 50/50—either it will or it won’t,,” the EchoLotto CEO smirks. “Mind you, we’re technically in year four!”
EchoLotto has a simple goal: changing the way the world does 50/50 raffles. The company uses a custom built, Gaming Labs International Certified random number generator to work with registered charitable and non-profit organizations to run Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) approved raffles using PCI Compliant E-Commerce that works on multiple platforms using data or Wi-Fi connectivity. Translated, it means the company’s platform allows people to buy 50/50 tickets online.
In 2013, EchoLotto co-founder Jared Donauer came to Burch and pondered why can’t people buy 50/50 tickets with their phones? The obvious answer was found in Section 207.4.1.c of the Criminal Code. At the time, computers couldn’t be used to run raffles. The idea was shelved, but not forgotten.
Things changed when the law began to catch up with technology advances, and EchoLotto was born. The team included Jared Donauer, a serial entrepreneur who funded his mad scientist endeavours as a journeyman sprinklerfitter, and Jody Price and the Prairie Advertising management team, whose experience working with charitable organizations showed the potential of EchoLotto instantly. Add in Paul Burch and his business partner Chad Frentz from OmniOnline Inc. (a Regina web design company) and 101292600 SK Ltd. was born. A consultant, Amanda Gebhardt, joined the team with her years of marketing experience and a fresh MBA. She and Burch hashed out a name for the company during the 2015 Super Bowl. From there, it was acquiring an ace programmer to turn the idea into a reality, and a crack server company to make it run smoothly.
EchoLotto incorporated and filed a patent for their software process which included the sale, selection, and distribution of funds involved in a charitable 50/50. With not much in the way of competition, they began the uphill climb to build an e-commerce enabled software platform in the highly regulated gaming industry.
Friends and family investors helped get the company through some of their first major milestones. Incorporating, filing a patent and starting the journey to becoming a certified lottery vendor took more time and patience than the company would have liked. “It was such an up and down experience,” remarks Burch. “I’d be exhilarated one day when I would see commercials for Apple Pay—people were getting more comfortable paying for things with their phone and I felt the timing was right.” Then, he would be at a Pats game watching volunteers trudge up and down the concrete steps selling tickets, or see people standing in line to get in on the fun and feel incredibly frustrated.
Then, a competitor in Manitoba popped up and hit the media with a splash. The Asper family had kicked in to fund a similar sounding project based in Winnipeg. That company, Funding Change, looked to have a leg up on EchoLotto. “All the regulations are a barrier to entry, and in this case it worked for us,” says Burch. Funding Change doesn’t run raffles in the same way EchoLotto does. Each province is their own jurisdiction and have slightly different pressure points in gaming. EchoLotto was happy to see a company breaking ground in online raffles—helping the public and charitable organizations embrace the technology—and were also happy they would need to stay on their side of the border for a while. Their Manitoba competitor has not been able to operate within Saskatchewan—yet.
For now, the companies that do operate in Saskatchewan tend to be more entrenched with the hand-held devices. The EchoLotto platform lends itself better to multi-day raffles as opposed to the stadium events. The company wants to work with charities and festivals on longer, bigger 50/50 events. Taking the excitement of a 50/50 in a stadium and delivering that experience to help charities raise money year round—that’s the goal of EchoLotto.
EchoLotto has run a few test raffles with organizations like the Regina Pride Festival, the Gear Up with Jon Ryan Foundation, and the Saskatchewan Rugby Union. The test events helped the company get processes down and ensured the platform was market-ready. EchoLotto is excited for the 2019 events with those organizations, plus raffles with United Way Regina and the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame. “We’ve started conversations with organizations across Saskatchewan and we’re really excited about what this is going to do for charities now and in the future,” says Burch.
Using EchoLotto, organizations will be able to make better use of their volunteers, reduce the stresses of hosting a raffle and expand the reach of their potential purchasers. “We’re looking to help Saskatchewan charities use technology to hold more secure, larger, better managed raffles with less strain on their resources.” Burch says.
The EchoLotto team has had some fun along the way, too. “We have loved working with friends and family to build something new in our hometown,” says Burch. “This province has a huge number of people working to raise funds to support charitable organizations and we’re excited to be a part of that—to use technology to help charities, communities, and EchoLotto, grow together.”
1 Key Small Business Statistics – June 2016, Statistics Canada https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/061.nsf/eng/h_03018.html#point2-3