RINA’s Managing Partner Tom Neff recently celebrated his 4-year anniversary as a member of the Northern California District Export Council, a position appointed by the US Department of Commerce (“DOC”). The DOC recently reached out to Tom to request his participation as a panelist on the Canada-focused event “Establishing a US Presence – Structuring a US Entity: Legal and Tax Considerations, Incentives and US Government Support”.
The discussion was part of a program organized by the Canadian Consulates in Palo Alto and Los Angeles to help top emerging Canadian women-led tech companies connect with targeted investors, advisors, and peers in California.
One of the participants in the program was Shannon Ferguson who currently leads the growing team at tech startup FanSaves – a digital platform that connects fans with deals and offers from sponsors of their favorite organizations. Tom says that Shannon’s perspective and the issues she’s encountering are like those of many foreign entrepreneurs that RINA assists on a regular basis. He suggested we meet with her and share her approach and experience to help others considering an entry into the US market.
In addition to being the co-founder and CEO of FanSaves, Shannon is an up-and-coming public speaker and the current co-host of the “Living the Startup” podcast. She was a 2021 Young Leaders of the Americas Fellow and has been featured in Forbes. We had an opportunity to sit down with this inspirational leader and ask her a few questions.
Congratulations on being a 2021 TechDiversity Accelerator Alum and for being selected for the 2022 cohort of the Women in Tech California program. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and your company FanSaves?
FanSaves was created when my co-founder, Kris, and I we were managing the sales and marketing of two minor league professional hockey teams. One of our jobs was to sell sponsorships, and a lot of business owners kept telling us they didn't just want a rink board or a scoreboard or a wall sign. They really wanted something that was digital, something that activated and engaged fans, and something that tracked customer demographics.
This was back in 2017, and we realized, wow! We can really solve a problem here! In the beginning of 2018, we launched our FanSaves platform. It is a full platform, mobile app and a website, that offers fans discounts and deals from the sponsors of their favorite teams. We do have a strong focus in sports, and that is the vertical that we're really focused on growing in, but we service multiple verticals including chambers of commerce and social media influencers. We like to say you can be a fan of anything, and you should be able to save money just for being a fan. Fans are loyal, and they deserve to be rewarded!
Where is your platform available?
We are currently working with over 45 organizations across North America. We have over 650 different businesses and brands offering discounts and deals for fans. We work with everyone from big brands, like Dairy Queen and Pizza Hut, all the way to mom-and-pop shops that sponsor their local team. We're in multiple discussions with major league teams across North America. We just signed official partnerships as the digital couponing platform for multiple leagues including the American Hockey League, the ECHL (East Coast Hockey League) and the US Hockey League. We're super excited to be growing across North America.
So, our managing partner, Tom Neff, met you when he participated in a panel for the Canadian Women-led Tech California program – can you tell us about this program and your involvement?
Every year there is a different cohort of Canadian women-led startups and this year FanSaves was selected as one of the 16 Canadian companies to take part in the Women in Tech California program. It is a wonderful week that provides scaling startups with the resources, the network and information that's needed as we grow our companies into the US.
Tom was an amazing panelist. He really spoke to a lot of the new challenges that we're facing. We have been incorporated in Canada since 2017, but at the end of last year we created our Delaware C Corp, and are just navigating what that means. Tom has been wonderful and a great mentor for us.
What are some of the obstacles that Canadian firms have when doing business in the US?
One of the main things Tom and I talked about was filing our taxes. Here in Canada, we have great accountant who is really great at filing Canadian taxes, but I am trying to understand what I need to do on the US side. There are so many different forms, and there are so many different loopholes.
When you’re dealing with the IRS as a growing startup – it’s intimidating. You’re thinking, “I don't want to screw anything up.” So that's why it’s been great to have Tom mentor me and answer some of those questions.
There is a lot to learn because we plan to be a global company. With the US being the second country, you want to do it right from the beginning. It's really building that foundation. You don't want to miss filing taxes or get in trouble early on.
As a startup, how important is it to find a good team?
We are a growing team – at FanSaves we’re 11 people working completely remote. Since the very beginning, it's been important for us to surround ourselves with great and very smart people, like CPAs and lawyers who have really helped propel us forward.
We're lucky in that sense that we have built such a strong network in the startup community. And a lot of it is who you know. Or like these programs that you get to be part of and then you meet the people that are involved and want to give back and want to help.
We always judge the people that we're bringing into our team by how clearly they see our vision and want to see us grow. And it's really fared well for us. We say that the people that have been part of our early growth are at the top of the list of who we want to take care of the most. We love reciprocal relationships, and we're always thinking of how we can help and give back as well.
Do you see a big difference between the US venture capital tech industry and Canada?
They’re like, night and day – maybe more like an early evening and a late morning.
It's a big thing that a lot of Canadian startups face – growing in Canada, as is obviously the initial goal, you want to get Canadian investors and you want to get them supporting you early on. But a lot of Canadian investors, unfortunately, are a little bit more conservative, more risk averse.
What we've seen in the US as we're raising our million-dollar seed round, US investors are like, “You're not raising enough! You need to raise more – much more!” They're willing to take risk a lot more than Canadian investors are. That’s not to say every Canadian investor is risk averse. But for the most part, we do see things move a lot quicker in the States, especially California. Things just progress at a completely different pace.
I love Canada, but sometimes you have to kind of prove yourself in a different way. You need to have all this traction and almost be more established to get investment in Canada, whereas in the US, they want to take those early chances.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
Two things come to mind.
The first one is to just start. So many people have so many great ideas, and then they're just too scared to start. They never can see the full potential of their idea, they can never see the full potential come to life. When you start a business, it's going to be hard. But if you just start, you'll figure out the answers along the way.
That goes into the second part of the answer which is just do not give up. Keep getting back up, keep getting back up. One of my favorite quotes is “If you get knocked down seven times, get up eight.”
I and my co-founder both grew up playing hockey. We're super competitive. Anytime we hear a “no”, or we get knocked down, we're getting back up. Because we want to score, we're not going to lie down and cry about it. We're going to get up and we're going to win the game. That never-give-up attitude and our resiliency have really helped us get to where we are today.
For more on FanSaves, their clients and available deals, visit their website at www.fansaves.com.