On Ritual’s Chicago Expansion – Live Broadcast


The fine folks at TastyTrade in Chicago invited us at Ritual to join their live broadcast show Bootstrapping in America a couple weeks ago. Big thanks to Tom Sosnoff and Tony Battista for making it a fun time on the air.

In the 20 minute segment below, we spend some time talking about some of Ritual’s early moves entering Chicago, our second major metro market and first area of expansion into the US.

After the show, they asked what three tips I had for growing a successful B-to-C business (below). Do you agree?

uni-campus-walking

The Importance of Learning: Random Musings from a Coffee Shop


We all know that continuing to learn new things over time is important.

I arrived a few minutes early to a coffee meeting this morning I had booked with a fellow entrepreneur, and found myself with a few extra minutes to look out the window at Balzac’s on Ryerson University campus.

There have been few times in my life that I’ve had an opportunity just to sit and watch the movement and body language patterns of people about a university campus. Looking outside at the students walking to their first classes of the day, it’s interesting to see the sense of urgency in some and the casual pace of others, carefully balancing the need to go to class and their hangover from the weekend; a loose metaphor for outcomes in life.

What’s amazing is that each person holds almost infinite potential to change the world in some way. The problem is, many of them don’t know (or realize) and/or believe that they have the capacities and capabilities to do so. Some people attend a university because they think it’s the right thing to do without knowing why, some think it will help them get better jobs yet are following the continuum of life rather purposefully, and then there are the small few who see it as an opportunity to soak up as much knowledge as possible and use that knowledge to do something truly transformational.

I wish more people were part of this last category. Like this person sitting at the table next to me at this coffee shop, working on a document. As he alternates looking down at his document and up at the ceiling, I can see his intense will to create, solve, improve – or whatever he is doing – as if trying to infuse and inspire his mind with answers from his surroundings. The look in his is eyes was almost ferocious, suggesting strong drive – a key trait of many successful entrepreneurs.

It’s amazing. Virtually 100% of university students start out at the bottoms of their industries, and need to learn as much or more than their current industry counterparts to be competitive enough to get jobs, succeed, and then surpass those already in industry for decades. No small feat. Yet it happens daily. Those are the fruits of hard work, drive and commitment to a purpose.

Or is it simply that others have become more comfortable in their jobs and became okay, over time, with delivering mediocrity?

Largely, I think the cycle works because most people don’t bother continuing to learn with the same tenacity as freshly minted students. As a result, they become lackluster at delivering results as industries, businesses and technologies change, and their contributory value to their employer or industry declines proportionately. This inability of most to remain at the cutting edge of their industry fuels the opportunity for the next generation.

This is why large companies constantly infuse themselves with fresh, young talent (yes, they are also typically cheaper hires too). An analogous, yet more “proven” approach to attract the smartest young talent commonly seen in the tech industry is acqui-hiring, which Marissa Mayer is now all too well known for using. In addition to Yahoo!, the largest performer of talent acquisitions are Facebook, Twitter and Google.

If you’re not ready to throw in the towel, keep learning and growing. Don’t assume all you’ve learned today will carry you forwarded indefinitely. Go to a university campus, and have a cup of coffee and look out the window… think about each student as somebody looking to take your job in just a few short years, and you’ll be reminded of the essential need to keep learning; heck, it might even energize you.

Photo credit (above): Temple University.

Startup Vitamins and Maximizing Energy


Running a startup is like nothing else I’ve ever done. It’s an exhilarating 24×7, always-on series of experiences, interactions and product evolution. If you’re running or working at a startup, you’ll probably understand the need to have your brain (and body) functioning at 110% at all times.

If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to squeeze another hour out of the day — answer 5 more emails, return 3 more phone calls, finish up one more proposal — however you want to justify it to yourself. Then you get home super-late, just in time to shovel down something that shouldn’t be described as “dinner”, spend a few moments enjoying the company of family and friends, and then hit the hay for the night. Oh, and you may have skipped a few meals during the day as you were plowing through some back-to-back meetings.

Well if that sounds like your normal routine, it’s probably not a huge stretch to say you’re also constantly striving to maximize your energy, performance and endurance, and minimize the stress that you put on your body — so that you can do even more! If you’re a poor eater, then you may also find yourself with a foggy mind. That’s no fun for anyone.

I’m no nutritionist, but I recently went to see one and learned some great things. So… I thought I’d share my learnings with the community for it’s collective good.

In less than 2 weeks, I’ve gone from from having a foggy brain, feeling light-headed and slightly dizzy (after working solid for most of the day), exhausted when I got home at the end of each day to feeling sharp in the morning, no signs of dizziness throughout the day and feeling full of energy when I get home at the end of the day.

It turns out that there are a number of factors that contributed to this change. Nothing hugely substantial, just some basic changes, some scientific rationale/reasoning and finding a small bit of time to cook and eat better foods.

My learnings have shown the following to make a huge (positive) difference in my energy, mental clarity and general well-being (in no particular order):

  • Cut alcohol and caffeine
  • Drink 3-5L water each day
  • Sleep more than 6.5 hours each night
  • DHA and other healthy oils are important
  • Supplement with other energy boosting vitamins
  • Increase protein intake at breakfast and other meals
  • Avoid problem foods (food sensitivities)
  • Graze throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady
  • Stop making excuses, go back to the gym

The first three points above are fairly straightforward; however, if you’re sleeping from 3:00am-10:00am your sleep will not give you the same restorative effects and benefits as a sleep that is from 10:00pm to 5:00am. There are built-in processes tied to your circadian rhythm and if you’re awake and not sleeping during those times, your body essentially skips those cycles. Do this repeatedly and you’ll feel like crap in no time.

DHA is one of the Omega fatty acids (healthy oils) that is primarily derived from fish. I recently learned that it is absolutely critical for a high-functioning brain. Also, I don’t eat fish. Your brain is a very fatty tissue and DHA is required for a number of synaptic signaling mechanisms; if you don’t get enough DHA in your diet, your brain can’t signal as effectively and hence runs slower or becomes foggy. Boom.

Of course, I had an added issue which was that I didn’t really eat much fat or cholesterol-containing foods — stayed away from butter, fatty meats, yadda yadda — in efforts to be healthy, but was achieving an opposing end. Again, I was recently reminded that the cells in our bodies have a phospholipid bilayer (a cell membrane that is composed of fatty acid molecules as well as cholesterol to keep it loose and fluid) and mine was leakier than it should be because I didn’t have enough fats in my diet. The leaky membrane causes more water to flow out of the cells, leaving them slightly dehydrated and more susceptible to oxidative damage (hint: eat lots of anti-oxidants, they’re good for you too)! Nonetheless, this has been a fatty, tasty and scrumptious problem to solve and cure.

To get my required oils, I’ve supplemented my diet with DHA (2 capsules / day) from Metagenics, Omega 3 capsules, liquid flax seed oil (added to my green smoothies), coconut oil (used to stir fry at higher temperatures) and butter.

To improve my energy, I’ve supplemented with an active form of Vitamin B12 called Methyl-cobalamin, B100 complex (warning: your urine will turn a highlighter form of yellow), and Siberian Ginseng (caution: don’t take for more than 30 days; don’t use Korean or Canadian Ginseng, it’s not as good as the Siberian stuff, they know how to make it right!). Take these in the morning and not before bed, or you’ll find yourself wired all night. Also, I believe big contributing factors include proper sleep, drinking over 3L water everyday and working out at least twice per week (at a minimum, and even for 30 minutes if time is tight). Cutting caffeine and alcohol will help here.

If you’re stressed out, Vitamin B complex will help you cope, add Vitamin D (if you don’t get much sun) and consider yoga/meditation — or if time is even more constrained — find 5 minutes every hour to get up and walk down the hall while doing some deep breathing. You’d be surprised, but it makes a difference, just don’t let people catch you in the act or they may think you’re a bit strange.

One last tip: I’ve been starting my day with these green smoothies and they rock because it’s a fully balanced meal packed with protein, fats, carbs, antioxidants, fibre and calories to burn. My green smoothie contains spinach, kale, frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, fresh kiwi, banana, POM juice (optional), 1 serving of whey protein powder, 2% fat yogurt, kefir, flex seed oil and water. Blend it up and you’re good to go!

Let me know if you decide to adopt any of these recommendations, I’d be curious to know and hear about whether or not any of the changes worked for you as well.

Disclaimer: As I mentioned above, I am not a nutritionist so please consult one or a physician before you add any vitamin supplements to your diet, especially if you are taking any prescription medication.

Improving Canada’s SR&ED Program for Startups


Today, during Ontario’s Civic Holiday, I finally got around to filling out Deloitte Technology Fast 50™ CEO Survey. There was an interesting question that sparked a thread that I’ve been thinking about lately:

“Specifically, do you think the SR&ED tax credit program is pretty good as is, or needs improvement? If it needs big changes, what would be the first change you would make?”

For those of you who don’t know what the SR&ED program is, go learn more because it can save your business tons of cash over time and help you finance your business with non-dilutive government assistance.

For those of you running (or have previously run) early-stage stage startups, here are my thoughts: Currently SR&ED will refund a portion of a startup’s R&D costs based on expenses incurred during the previous year – some of those earliest expenses claimed were incurred 18 months prior to the claim. For startups, this is an eternity. Today, startups can grow and die violently before they get their first SR&ED claim, which could have helped them to pay one more employee, solve one more problem or help one more customer.

The Canadian government should consider modifying the SR&ED program to include a faster-reimbursement timeframe for startups (making less than $1,000,000 in revenue per year). For example, this could mean making claims quarterly and being reimbursed within 60-90 days – this would massively improve startup financing in the short-term. A modification, as requested, would help startups build value and growth potential more quickly and help the overall competitiveness of the Canadian technology sector.

Will anyone help to stand behind an initiative to get the Canadian government to improve the SR&ED program for startups? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Guardly: The First 300 Days


Originally posted on the Guardblog at: http://blog.guardly.com/guardblog/2011/06/28/the-first-300-days/

Guardly has transformed from an idea to a best-in-class application that helps people stay safe everyday. There’s an exciting story behind our journey, and it has only just begun. I already have many people to thank for getting us this far so quickly – so, let’s get started!

Litmus testing.

Great concept, but will it work? That was the enigma facing Extreme Venture Partners’ Amar Varma, when I first pitched Guardly to him in its early days. He wasn’t sure if Guardly would be successful, but he liked the market opportunity and that we were solving a real world problem. So, Amar (and Farhan) let me squat alongside the Xtreme Labs team, fellow portfolio companies and Xtreme University startups. That gave me an opportunity to connect with other bright minds, leverage some of their resources and build my team within of the best startup-culture environments I’ve yet to see in Toronto. Even for technology startups, sometimes Location, Location, Location is everything. Thanks Amar and the Xtreme family for helping to raise young Guardly.

These times have been recorded in the Guardly Culture Book and it will be a time to remember: working at random desks, storage areas and even the floor, at times; taking important phone calls in closets, stairwells and every meeting room or abandoned office. Two to a desk all other times – it was a team bonding experience.

Toronto’s startup community and a bit of luck!

I’d like to personally thank all the organizers and facilitators that run events and bring the Toronto startup community together – namely David Crow (and Albert Lai) for DemoCamp, Sarah Prevette and Erin Bury for SproutUp, and Bryan Watson for Startup Drinks. You all make Toronto a better place to launch and run a technology venture. It was at a Startup Drinks that I first met Nolan Dubeau (now Guardly’s VP Product Engineering) through a mutual friend – Steve Dixon (now at Wave Accounting – another very cool Toronto startup). Only a few weeks later, I would be introduced to Mark Pavlidis (Lead Mobile Engineer at Guardly) and Bretton MacLean (UI/UX Designer at Guardly) through Ken Seto, who runs Massive Damage (previously EndloopX) out of YearOne Labs.  Thanks Steve and Ken! In October 2010, Guardly grew its team by 300% in 2 short weeks. And then we were four.

Government programs, university incubators and industry organizations.

In fall 2010, Guardly was awarded a FedDev Advanced Research and Commercialization (ARC) grant and access into OCAD’s Mobile Experience Innovation Center (MEIC) incubator. We owe a big thank you to Michele Perras, who listened to Guardly’s mission and vision, and decided to support us in our grant and incubator proposals. The FedDev ARC grant has led to Guardly’s development on Android (still in progress) and the MEIC incubator was home to Guardly for just over 5 months, when Guardly grew from 4 to 6 FTEs + a few interns. Welcome Robert Lendvai and Kamran Shafi! We have fond memories of the incubator, starting our Guardly BINGO square and our domination of every whiteboard in our immediate vicinity. Thanks Michele, OCAD, MEIC and FedDev for the opportunity to take our next step.

In early winter 2011, I learned of a great program run by the Ontario Centre’s of Excellence (OCE) called – the First Job Program. It’s a fantastic grant that startups can apply for and redeem up to 80% of a recent grads first-year salary. In just a few days work, with the help of Martin Lord at OCE, we put together a winning application and were awarded one of only a few grants during this granting period. Thanks Martin – you’ve been an instrumental help during Guardly’s early days.

Closing the seed round.

Any startup founders that have had to raise money can attest to the time and dedication it takes to convince other people to part with their money to back your vision. Before starting Guardly, I had the opportunity to work in venture capital, on the other side of the table, as an Analyst at RBC Venture Partners and the BlackBerry Partners Fund.

In that role, I had the chance to work with some extremely intelligent folks and learn more about how the mind of the typical VC works, the attributes that make businesses exciting and the dynamics that lead to making deals happen. By understanding the economics that VCs look to achieve and bringing that mindset to the table, it makes the funding conversation much easier. I’d like to thank Kevin Talbot for bringing me onto the team as well as Matt Golden, Rob Antoniades, Dave Unsworth, Alex Baker, JD Begin, Jeannette Wiltse and the JLA Ventures crew who all contributed to my learning experiences.

Even with this hyper-focused entrepreneurial education, as I sometimes refer to my VC Analyst days, I still had to have approximately 70 conversations with family, friends, angels and VCs before I was able to find the right group of investors and close the seed round. Ultimately, Guardly ended up with a fantastic mix of investors that includes employee’s family members (so they could increase their ownership), friends, angels and VCs, including Extreme Venture Partners and Bryker Capital. Most importantly, we have patient investors that care about our success and are aligned with our vision of success. Thank you to all our early investors, for taking this early-stage risk and for believing in our ability to execute and build a strong, sustainable company.

DEMO Spring 2011.

Neil Silverman (DEMO organizer) and Matt Marshall (Editor-In-Chief at VentureBeat) came through Toronto to screen companies to invite to launch on the DEMO stage. We applied (~50 applications) and Guardly was selected (1 of 10 companies) to pitch to Neil, Matt and the Rogers Ventures crew; shortly thereafter, we received an invitation to launch at DEMO Spring 2011.

It was a fantastic opportunity for Guardly. The whole team flew down to Palm Desert, California to take part in this historic unveiling. It was an all-hands-on-deck type experience. We worked around the clock perfecting our demo application, the demo script, selling at the pavilion and networking at the bar! While traveling to the conference, a number of us pushed code from the plane (Virgin WiFi, YYZ to LAX) en route to DEMO; more interesting, one final tweak was made to our server-side code-base during on-stage setup, just 2 hours before the demo. A single flaw would have been devastating, with an eager crowd of 600 media, VCs and technology professionals watching – faces behind laptops and various Twitter clients – and waiting to see how Guardly works.

Fortunately, the demo went off without a hitch. Soon, you should be able to see the full-story behind Guardly’s DEMO experience since Microsoft commissioned a documentary and we were selected as 1 of 2 startups to participate from over 50 demoing companies. Daryll McDade at Microsoft was awesome to work with and the film crew at Ten100 made “acting” loads of fun. The feature-length documentary, called “Inventing The Future”, is set to complete editing this summer. Details to follow.

Guardly for iPhone

Of all the early accomplishments we had as a company, launching Guardly on iPhone has been the most rewarding for me (and hopefully for the team as well). It was the culmination of everything we had been working towards for the 6 months prior.

I want to thank all our employees for the hard work and dedication they’ve shown, working long days and nights to make sure Guardly would fulfill its mission – to help people stay safe. You guys rock!

When a product is built, most people only see the finished product, but don’t have an opportunity to see all the attempts, failures, redesigns and thoughts that go into making a product. One of the things that I love about the Guardly team is their attention detail and their passion for making sure that each component of the Guardly service is as good as it can be for our customers. Their collective creativity, resourcefulness and teamwork have already led to a number of post-launch product iterations that better address customer needs, recommendations and feedback. Improvements continue today.

And beyond…

Since we live in a poly-smartphone world, we’ve been busy bringing Guardly to BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android. Sign up to be notified when Guardly becomes available for your device.

We are also building a platform for the educational sector, which will disintermediate the way the college and university campus emergency phones work to connect students and campus security. Today, most post-educational institutions have emergency poles on campus (sometimes called “Code Blue” phones). Unfortunately, emergency phones are relatively hard to find, predators can avoid them, they require maintenance and most importantly, they are fixed and not mobile during an emergency. Guardly works to make student and faculty phones into emergency poles that are location-aware; further, Guardly would let students reach campus security by phone or instant-message. Today, campus security can only be reached by phone. We are looking to work with universities and colleges that are innovative and forward thinking – please contact us and ask how you can become an early partner.

Advisors: The supporting cast.

Any early-stage management team is only as good as the people that surround it. Guardly has been fortunate to have a group of strong, responsive and caring advisors.

Our earliest advisors included Matt Golden and Mark Ruddock. I had the pleasure of working closely with Matt on three investment transactions at the BlackBerry Partners Fund. He brings a wealth of knowledge in operations, building teams, business development and securing financing. Mark and I first got to know each other around a similar timeframe, back when he was CEO of Viigo and I was an Analyst at RBC Venture Partners (Viigo was our portfolio company). Mark has been helpful in vetting early hires, providing insight into contracts and negotiations and acting as a great sounding board for several key decisions made in our early days.

As we’ve grown, we’ve added April Dunford and Louis Toromoreno to our advisors. April is a local marketing maven, who has given us some extremely insightful advice on the D2C and B2B marketing fronts; she’s super responsive and extremely thoughtful in her suggestions and recommendations. Louis manages campus security at OCAD University and sits on the Board of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators. He is active in thinking about how Guardly can be continuously improved to suit the needs of post-secondary institutions.

Guardly is also a MaRS client. We’ve been lucky to have not just one, but three advisors that have taken interest in Guardly and have provided useful feedback and a number of introductions to relevant people in our space. Big thanks to Mark Zimmerman, Peter Evans and Sue McGill for constantly offering your help and support to our team.

The next 300 days.

Guardly’s future is bright and boasts a number of exciting opportunities to pursue. We’ll be launching a number of new products and programs.

If you’d like to contribute to the Guardly story somehow, here’s a few ways that you can get involved:

  • If you’ve used Guardly, please help us improve by giving us feedback.

  • Work at or attend a college or university? Mention Guardly to your IT/Security department or contact us and we can help.

  • Want to join our amazing team? Apply to a job opening.

  • Do you mentor, advise or invest in other startups? We are always open and eager to work with great people – so please reach out and see if there’s a good potential fit.

  • If you like our story and would like to cover Guardly on your blog, newsletter or podcast, or would like to feature our story in more conventional news outlets, please check out our press kit and send us a note.

Migrating Life to the iPad


As a first-generation iPad skeptic myself. I have been quickly converted to the opposite side within 1.5 days of tinkering, downloading apps and discovering how the iPad can change my life.

Initially, I thought that I should wait for the second-generation iPad, which would likely contain forward and backward facing cameras, a faster processor, more RAM, better resolution, 4G network support (WiMax, LTE), etc… needless to say, I’m not too upset that I made the switch earlier than originally anticipated.

The ultimate use cases include the ability to connect to all my cloud-based documents, spreadsheets and presentations using documents-to-go premium (connects to Google Docs, Dropbox, MobileMe and other services) and to have a form factor that allows me to easily read RSS feeds (using Feeddler) and quickly clip news stories to Twitter, Facebook, email and Evernote. It also doubles as a good mobile blogging client (writing this post from WordPress for iPad).

Speaking of Evernote, I have also recently made the switch to clip and tag various elements of my life through its MacOS, Windows7, Google Chrome (browser extensions), iPhone and iPad apps — awesome!

Some essential news apps include Bloomberg, WSJ, NY Times, AP and Globe2Go (if you subscribe). For weather, get Accuweather Cirrus.

One disappointment was that I couldn’t download and register with Netflix, which I wanted to use for streaming movies and TV shows; Netflix, if you’re listening, please come to Canada soon!

I’ve included screenshots of my first 2 pages of apps for your complete review and you’ll notice that a few legacy apps from the iPhone have still made it to my list including Skype, which allows me to easily call anyone using Skype-out minutes (bonus: connect via Bluetooth handset for a very phone-like experience.


Page 1


Page 2

So, what am I still missing?

TEDxToronto 2010 Coming Soon


This year I got involved with TEDxToronto2010, an independently organized TED event held in the great city of Toronto. If you’ve never seen a TED event, go watch a few talks online. You’ll be inspired.

The theme for Toronto’s 2nd annual TEDx conference is “A Call to Action”. We, the organizers, want to see real change come out of the event. We want speakers to challenge attendees and we want attendees to challenge themselves and each other. A Call to Action is our challenge to everyone who comes across TEDxToronto to be passionate, excited and driven to make positive change happen.

So far, we’ve got an extremely good lineup of inspirational speakers who are doing magnificent things. The line-up (so far) includes:

My role in this event is to help drum-up some sponsorship activity. After all, what company or organization doesn’t want to be affiliated with thought leadership, passionate and driven individuals and folks that change the world?

We are currently seeking sponsors for the following categories:

  • Innovation Sponsor: $10,000+
  • Inspiration Sponsor: $6,000+
  • Conversation Sponsor: $4,000+
  • After-Party Sponsor: $2,000+

Most companies and organizations choose to sponsor TED events because they want to leverage ideas, technologies, design, and education to help create a better future; because they will be investing in the creation of a community who believe in the power of ideas worth spreading; and because they believe in bringing together corporations and individuals who want to be change agents surrounding remarkable thinking and ideas.

Please contact me or leave a comment below with your contact details if you’re interested in sponsoring this year’s TEDxToronto event. I’ll make myself available to answer any questions, concerns or comments that you have and make sure that your organization gets the spotlight it deserves at the conference!

More info @ TEDxToronto 2010 Announcement

The Five Whys and Three-Minute Rule for Startups


Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve come across some great “rules” and “methodologies” for customer development and understanding your customers.

The Five Whys

The Five Whys, which has its origins in the Toyota Production System, believes that the root of every problem (including technical problems) is actually a human problem. As demonstrated by Eric Reis on the HBR Blog, here is The Five Whys applied to a startup:

  1. A new release broke a key feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
  2. Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
  3. Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.
  4. Why didn’t he know? Because he was never trained.
  5. Why wasn’t he trained? Because his manager doesn’t believe in training new engineers, because they are “too busy.”

The Three-Minute Rule

This rule can and should be used to better understand your customers. The Three-Minute Rule should be used to better understand the broader context around how your customers are using your product (and what other features may make sense, given their typical use cases). If you’re a CEO or a Product Manager, chances are you are living and breathing the product. Typically, surveys and focus groups can tell you a lot about your customers, but sometimes other approaches can be much more valuable. Enter, the Three-Minute Rule: call up a customer and ask them what they are generally doing three minutes immediately before using your product and three minutes immediately after using your product. Having them run through this scenario allows you to better understand their challenges and complexities; you may learn new sales techniques, develop new insights for potential product features or identify a cross-selling opportunity with another product/service that your company already offers. Anthony Tjan offers some additional insights on this at HBR.

Explaining the ‘lack of’ Venture Capital in Toronto


I figured it would be appropriate to write about the lack of a growing and robust venture capital community in Toronto since it cropped up in three places over the last 2 days  — once with several folks at Startup Drinks last night, today over coffee with Jeremy Laurin of OCE’s Investment Accelerator Fund and on Quora (the new social network launched by the ex-CTO of Facebook). On a side note, Quora is actually pretty snazzy with super-high-quality people.

Back to the main point of this thread — I’ve been talking about this situation for roughly 3.5 years now — first in the biotech/life science VC community in Toronto and now with the ICT community. I believe there is one problem at the root of both sectors — we need a kick-start in Canada.

What does that mean, a kick-start? Well, most people believe that there is a fundamental funding gap in Toronto’s venture community between pioneering research (in universities, by startups, etc…) and venture capital finance-able deals. That may be the case, but that is a different argument for a different day. I believe there is a more substantial funding gap that exists once a ‘successful Canadian company’ reaches the point of raising a round of capital greater than $15 million. The existing VCs in the community (generally) just can’t get those kinds of deals done. It’s not in our Canadian cards (given the average fund size, risk thresholds, etc…). Canadians need later-stage financing options (or Government money) to back those deals and to create a better later-stage ecosystem.

So, what happens instead? Great Canadian companies knock on the doors of VCs South of the border who are flushed with cash and willing to invest larger amounts in later rounds. For the record, I love US VCs. However, for the purpose of this discussion, or monologue rather, they have tended to bring companies close to home to minimize their geographical risk with the investment. Now, as companies continue to grow and are eventually sold, the successful founders and key employees of those companies often (not always) stay South of the border to further progress their careers — joining US companies, or launching other companies in those locales. Worse for Canada, those successful folks often reinvest in US VC funds or Angel invest in other local US companies rather than Canadian startups.

Envision that cycle reoccurring over and over for the last 30 years. The trend becomes large enough that a substantial amount of capital, and human capital for that matter, gets lost from the Canadian startup ecosystem.

Some say that there is a lack of venture capital in Toronto because there just aren’t great deals. I disagree. I think that there is a lot of talent in Toronto and in the surrounding areas, like Waterloo for example.

Now, the scenario I’ve described may not be the only reason for the lack of capital in Toronto (or Canada), but I feel that it is a significant part of the problem. What are your thoughts?

Choosing Product Features


Today I came across the question of how to best choose product features throughout the course of development of a product.

Of course, there are several approaches that you can take to figure this out. In fact, I’d love to hear feedback from others below. At the onset of determining your feature set, it helps to have a good understanding of what your users want. However, please keep in-mind that the features your business chooses to develop must also fit the long-term vision for your product. If you stay short-sighted for too long (i.e. fulfill immediate needs of your customers), you may fall into a habit of being reactive as opposed to proactive in developing new and innovative feature sets.

One method that I like to use is taking a holistic view of each feature that would be under consideration for development and figure out its net business value ROI, where [Return = (measured) Business Value] and [Investment = Development Time spent (on a given feature)]:

Step 1. Approximate how long it would take to develop/integrate each feature into your product.

Step 2. Measure the Business Value that each feature would add. Business Value could be things like increase user retention, increase monetization, increase viral or other distribution, increase engagement or any other metric that you find adds value to your business. You may need to approximate a business value here. Choose a scale that works for your metrics and try to stick to it.

Step 3. Work our your ROI = (Business Value / Development Time) for each feature. You will begin to see which features are going to be big payoffs in the long-run.

Most recently, I have been using SCRUM processes to manage products. Do you use SCRUM? If so, what tweaks have you made to the SCRUM process that you’ve found improved teamwork, decreased iteration time and led to better product-wide planning?