August 19, 2020

Learning from failure inspires entrepreneur - Alberta Innovates

A photo of Air Trail CEO Bradley Poulette at an information booth.
Air Trail CEO Bradley Poulette

Bradley Poulette believes that learning from failure is part of “showing up for class” if you want to be an entrepreneur. “Learning from failure helps you to grow—to become better as an entrepreneur,” says Poulette, an Edmonton-based startup entrepreneur.

Poulette knows these lessons full well from his own experience. Four years ago, in 2016, Poulette founded Tablespace, a small software startup focused on the hospitality industry.

Over the next year and a half, he worked with developers to create a location-aware app enabling hotel guests to pay for meals with their mobile phone. He talked to interested hotel and restaurant owners in Edmonton.

Then, when a breakthrough seemed imminent, things fell through in 2017 (an agreement to pilot the software at a prominent local hotel was cancelled suddenly after a change in hotel ownership). With capital running out, he had to start over.

“We’d spent a lot of time developing the technology—and not enough understanding the business needs,” says Poulette, who graduated from the University of Alberta in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and computing science.

Persistence is an asset

Never one to give up, in late 2017, Poulette spotted another opportunity. Teaming up with business partner Lanre Adebambo, he started to develop the concept behind Air Trail, a new software platform aimed at the smaller airline industry.

This time Poulette invested substantial time up front to fully understand business issues faced by his target market—small regional airlines, charter operators and air ambulance services—before embarking on a software solution.

“We’ve learned to ask more questions—to be really curious about our target market,” says Poulette, Air Trail’s CEO.

With this knowledge, the company is building an innovative software system to help regional operators take the pain of paperwork out of flight planning, tracking and other reporting tasks. From the beginning, the company worked with Alberta-based charter airline CanWest Air and is currently in early discussions with other airline operators.

“When we talk to operators, the feedback is that our product is definitely what the industry needs right now. There’s a lot of excitement about what we’ve built here,” he says.

Coaching, community and capital

In sharing his story, Poulette readily gives credit to Alberta Innovates for early help. While working on Tablespace, Poulette met Rick Davidson, a technology development advisor (TDA) at Alberta Innovates. 

In developing Air Trail, Poulette turned to Davidson to get business coaching and access a former incubator program administered by Alberta Innovates.  

‘To be able to access Alberta Innovates’ support system and get coaching from Rick has been huge,” Poulette says. 

“My role has been to offer some business perspective and guidance to a young entrepreneur who has some really great ideas,” Davidson explains. 

With this experience, Poulette has become a strong advocate of entrepreneurial learning in Edmonton’s startup community.

A few years ago, he organized an informal group called Fail Club to provide a place for Edmonton-area entrepreneurs to meet and share business lessons. Today he continues to share his perspective with other aspiring entrepreneurs through Startup Edmonton.

“I’ve found that for us as entrepreneurs, our stories of failure can be just as inspiring as our stories of success.” 


Thoughts on learning from failure 

Bradley Poulette, Air Trail CEO and co-founder

“Failure is the best way to show you where your blind spots are as an entrepreneur. Ignoring failure is like not showing up for class.” 

“Learning from failure is a self-sustaining process that builds confidence, enables you to take more risks —and ultimately to be more successful.” 

Rick Davidson, Alberta Innovates TDA 

“Being resilient—picking yourself up and constantly learning from mistakes—is key to the entrepreneurial mindset.” 

“Learning from failure requires maturity and the ability to look within to ask the tough questions.”