This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Avery Swartz, the founder of Camp Tech, a tech skills training hub based in Toronto, but with branches in Ottawa, Hamilton and Waterloo.
1. Let’s start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Camp Tech is a tech skills training hub. We provide half- and full-day in-person workshops for adults who want to learn web and digital skills. We create a welcoming environment for those who are hesitant around technology, and we emphasize skills that can be put into practice right away. At Camp Tech, we have a good time at our workshops. This isn’t stuffy corporate-style training.
Our workshop topics include WordPress for Beginners, SEO: How to Drive More Traffic to Your Website, The Business of Blogging, E-mail Marketing, Google Analytics, HTML and CSS, Social Media Basics and Advanced, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator, and DIY Online Video.
Camp Tech was founded in Aug. 2012. We offer approximately 75 workshops a year in Toronto, and have recently expanded into Ottawa, Hamilton, and Waterloo.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
I am also the owner of Avery Swartz Web Design, a web design studio where I’ve been designing and building websites for small businesses, arts organizations, and not-for-profits since 2007.
Around 2010, I noticed a digital shift in how organizations were expected to behave. Previously, a website was enough, but now, businesses are expected to have a website, a blog, an active e-mail newsletter, and a thriving social media presence. That’s a lot for small organizations to manage, and my clients started asking me how they could learn more about these topics.
There were many places that offered online tech skills training but there wasn’t an in-person option where my Toronto clients could learn the skills they needed. So, like many entrepreneurs, I saw a need and I decided to offer a solution to fulfill that need.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Typical ‘happy campers’ are small business owners, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and people who work in marketing departments at small- or mid-sized organizations. We strive to be inclusive and accessible. We keep our prices as low as we can and that means we get a great balance of attendees from all industry sectors, including for-profits, not-for-profits, and social enterprises. Camp Tech classes are held during the day, evenings, and weekends so that people can attend either outside of or during business hours.
Camp Tech has a small marketing budget so we rely heavily on the same digital skills we teach in our workshops. Our most successful marketing comes through e-mail newsletters and social media and we have strong word-of-mouth marketing for our workshops. We’re also proud to say that repeat attendance is high -- we often find that someone will take one class at Camp Tech, then want to take more, and bring their friends and colleagues.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
I’m really picky about hiring instructors. I look for people who are experts: working professionals who are at the top of their game but still understand the needs of small business owners. They need to be relateable in order for Camp Tech attendees to put their learned skills into practice right away, and they need to be fun and friendly so they make tech accessible and enjoyable. I believe people learn more when they’re having a good time, and it’s important that the instructor set that tone.
5. You’ve been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
I think a key element to Camp Tech’s success is our commitment to responding to our attendees’ needs. We ask for feedback after every workshop, and we make deliberate changes to our class curriculum based on those responses. We also take suggestions for workshops topics so we stay relevant to the needs of the changing digital landscape. If there’s enough interest in a topic, we find a great instructor and add it to the class roster.
The other key element to our success lies in providing a great experience for our attendees. We hold our workshops in beautiful spaces (like the Centre for Social Innovation, HUB Ottawa, Art Gallery Hamilton Design Annex, and The Communitech Hub in Waterloo). We provide tea, coffee, and a catered lunch, and we hand out some fun Camp Tech swag. We really try to make our attendees feel comfortable and welcome. I find that when people are in a relaxed and fun environment, it becomes easier for them to understand new concepts. Then when I see someone really ‘get it’ for the first time, that’s when I know we’ve hit the mark. I like to say that Camp Tech is for anyone curious to learn more about technology.