Canadian VCs: Wake Up!

Canadian entrepreneurs give Canadian VCs a really hard time. Suzie Dingwall Williams on the CVCA blog, VC Rants (which at the time of writing was not responding to http requests), puts forth a great challenge to Venture Capitalists. 

If Canadian innovation is to scale, there needs to be a call to action for all participants in the ecosystem. This is a marketing exercise that needs to be led by you, the VCs. When was the last time you went to a bootcamp? Provided sponsorship dollars to entrepreneur-generated initiatives? Extended your channels in the US to provide a broader network for your portfolio? Many of these events are not immediately accretive to you, but they are vital to community creation. Let me re-phrase that; there has never been a more vital startup community, but it is one being fostered largely without VC involvement. This must not continue. The need to take a long-term approach to deal flow has never been greater.

This is the reason that Jevon attended the CVCA conference. It is the reason we supported the Canadian Innovation Exchange. It’s the primary reason that we decided to host Founders & Funders events. There are a lot of potential misunderstandings between the people that start high-potential-growth technology companies and the people that fund them, it’s about bringing them together that these differences begin to resolved. Rick identifies VC’s and entrepreneurs need to talk early, these helps work out the kinks (I also love the tension between VCs and angels identified in Rick’s observations).

I’m unfortunately not at StartupCampWaterloo tonight. The only VC present was Peter Frisella of TechCapital. I love the Waterloo events, they are small, they are focused and there is a lot of feedback for entrepreneurs. I attended StartupCampMontreal last month, which is a totally different experience for me than a Toronto event (as I’m pretty quiet and reserved mostly due to my perceived language concerns). There is a definite understanding by the Montreal VC community that there is a lot of talent and potential dealflow that happens at these events. There were 32 submissions for the last event, with 5 presenting companies. The benefit for Montreal is the facilities provided by SAT, we’re just missing a common gathering venue in Toronto. Yeah, same old rant. Maybe a challenge to my colleagues at MaRS and BOT to move beyond breadth/reach events and to let us focus on a couple of depth events. Or maybe a challenge to the local VCs to help sponsor a series of events in FY08 and FY09 in Toronto.

As entrepreneurs we give Canadian VCs a bum wrap. Suzie makes a great point about innovation, wealth and the responsibility of entrepreneurs to be aware of impact on local innovation.

Every dollar of investment that comes from outside Canada ultimately leaks profit and wealth creation outside of Canada. There cannot be sustainable growth if the benefit of local innovation is reaped beyond our boundaries by private equity tourists. Every entrepreneur should feel a moral (if not economic) imperative to include Canadian VCs as part of its growth plans, and to serve as ambassadors for you abroad, directing deal flow from beyond your way (leak unto others as they leak unto you).

Canadian VCs are good people. They’ve build some great companies. The last 10 years haven’t been kind to them. An average 10 year return of 1.8%  when compared to the US average 10 year return of 18% (thanks Heri) coupled with the strong community connections being built to the US, is shifting the mindset of entrepreneurs south. However, Suzie has done a great analysis about the mindset of the Canadian VC community.

Many VCs will tell you that their job is to deploy capital, not to support the entire startup community. They cannot monetize spending significant portions of time with entrepreneurs and companies that may never need their money. Fair enough, in one sense. In another, it represents a huge lost opportunity.

Canadian entrepreneurs are in serious need of help in understanding how to build a $1B business (well even a $100M business would be great). As Canadian entrepreneurs we should by reaching out to our local VCs.

9 days until Founders & Funders

It’s only 9 days until Founders & Funders Toronto. The challenge is to find a group of companies, in Toronto in the software and media spaces that are high growth, and high potential to raise venture capital. We have an excellent group of attendees. Think you should be attending? Nominate your company, we’re looking to bring together the people that start high-potential-growth companies and the people that fund them.

What set’s these companies apart? Their ability to explain their business in 140 characters. Maybe. Are they connected to the power players in this industry? Calling Jevon and I power players is flattering, but untrue. The Founders & Funders event is not a training event, it is not a sales event, t is not a recruiting event. It is not for service providers looking to sell services to these ventures.

Lots of folks didn’t really understand the venture capitalist are in the business of making money and that means investing into an idea that will turn itself into a pile of money with a 5-7 year timeframe; sooner would be better.  Lots of questions about how to buy us out causes me to make the point here  I made in meetings: If you aren’t into taking an idea, giving up some equity and getting to a liquidity event, we shouldn’t be an option for your funding.” – Rick Segal

It is a networking event focused on the people that start high-potential-growth companies and those people that fund them.

VC’s and entrepreneurs need to talk early.  I made the case that the early you speak with me the better which apparently was counter to everything others are saying.

Founders & Funders is designed to provide a social forum to help the money and the talent talk. As I used to say to Sutha at Ambient Vector, “it’s not that I don’t think there will be a YouTube for mobile, just convince me why you’re going to win”. Don’t tell me that your exit strategies are one of the following:

  • IPO
  • Acquisition
  • Diversification
  • Failure (please don’t let it be failure)

Help me understand why you’d be a candidate for IPO or acquisition. Is a would be acquirer buying your team? Your technology? Your customers? What business development are you doing to get acquired? Have you talked to the M&A folks at RIM? Or Yahoo? Your job is to get people excited about your company and your product offering(s). These aren’t questions that I ask because I like to hear myself talk, I want to know that you’re building a high-potential-growth business. I want to understand your business, market, product, business model, customers, strategic relationships, competition, barriers to entry, etc.

Nominate your company to attend Founders & Funders.

Startups on .NET

I’m not alone is wondering about where are all the .NET startups, Sasha Sydoruk wrote ASP.NET startups. I asked about startups building on .NET (though, from a survey design perspective the link was lost in a long, deep post). My friend Aaron is building on .NET and Mono, check out Mindtouch‘s DekiWiki. Geoff is building Moonlight with Miquel and the team at Novell. Don Dodge, Lynda Ting, Dan’l Lewin and the Emerging Business Team write an excellent blog for early-stage companies in the Microsoft technology sphere at Microsoft Startup Zone. There is a growing list of Canadian companies, now that former Toronto VC Lynda Ting has joined the EBT in Silicon Valley.

Lots of these companies aren’t sexy but they solve real problems for real customers and generate real revenue. And that is sometimes a much harder problem.

Are you building something on .NET? Drop me a note.

How to Demo like a Demon

David Crow + Leila Boujnane W00t! Leila and I are part of the MeshU schedule. We are co-presenting a session titled “How to Demo Like a Demon“. The original title was Raise Money, Win Friends and Get Laid (aka How to Demo and Pitch for Fun and Profit). The idea, we need to teach entrepreneurs how to present and communicate their ideas. We’re really trying to help improve the quality of pitches, demos and presentations.

Raise Money, Win Friends and Get Laid  (aka How to Demo and Pitch for Fun and Profit)
Co-presented with Leila Boujnane, Idee, Inc.
Boring! Get off the stage!
How many times have you wished you could say this to a presenter at a conference? Or a demoer at DemoCamp? This workshop will help developers understand that doing demos is a marketing task because it generates demand for the software.
Technologists and designers need to be able to create demand for their ideas. They need to be able to tell compelling stories that convince audiences that there is ‘wow’ in what they are doing. Successful demoers are more likely to raise money, have friends, and get laid.

I’ve talked about my awe of the MeshU line up previously, and now that the line up includes me, no serious, the rest of the lineup is fantastic. The rest of the MeshU lineup includes a fantastic program. If you’re looking for a meaningful conference in Toronto, MeshU is only $239.

Wild Apricot – Biz Analyst/Web Application UI Designer

Full time position in downtown Toronto (near Union)

Requirements

  • Analytical skills: Top-notch experience and skills in user-centered need analysis and design.
  • Usability skills: Hand-ons in-depth understanding of user experience and usability principles and heuristics.
  • Interface design/prototyping for web applications:
    • On paper and using software tools like MS Visio
    • Note: graphic design skills are not required/important
    • Good understanding of design constraints for web apps
    • Great communication skills.
  • Knowledge of Russian language would be an extra bonus – making it easier to communicate with our colleagues in Moscow office.

Responsibilities

Working with product manager, you will interact with marketing, support and development team to translate user feedback into detailed requirements – and then will be involved in actual implementation and quality assurance. More specifically, you will be:

  • Developing in-depth understanding of our market segments and users
  • Analyzing, structuring and prioritizing user needs/feedback. Documenting it from user’s point of view (what users want to do).
  • Coming up with proposed solution (new/changed product functionality) to meet users needs (how to do it).
  • Prototyping User Interface.
  • Coordinating and collaborating with representative clients and other team members (marketing, support, development, QA) to see designs implemented and rolled out.
  • Working on User Documentation, demos and tutorials. What’s in it for you:
  • Pride and excitement working on a world-class product used by hundreds of thousands
  • Fun and friendly environment, where your contributions are valued and respected
  • Quick growth environment to advance your career faster and learn a lot quickly
  • Competitive salary plus bonus linked to company results and meeting your professional goals
  • Full-time on-site job, minimal or no travel
  • Flex hours possible
  • Work from very nice downtown office (by Union station)
  • A cool title like “Interactive Apricot”

About us

  • Wild Apricot: young and quickly growing software company – see http://www.wildapricot.com. Our membership website platform is already used by thousands of associations, clubs, groups and communities, – and we are on our way to become a leader in this sector.
  • Ease of use/usability is key cornerstone of our product philosophy – it has to work out of the box for non-technical people.
  • We take results seriously – while making work fun and enjoyable.

Are you passionate about great user experience?

There is a lot of software out there. And most of it is very cumbersome and painful to use. For us, delivering exceptional user experience is our key marketing and business strategy. Furthermore, our agile software development means that we release updates every few weeks so that you can see your ideas taken from concept to implementation in a month instead of in a year. We already have thousands of users and only with truly great product we can meet our expansion goals and make Wild Apricot the world’s leading software for millions of groups, clubs, associations and non-profits.

Apply

Send your resume to jobs@wildapricot.com.

Nokia – Interactive Media Designer

Burnaby, BC, Canada

Position Description
Interested in joining a small team of highly motivated usability and user interface design professionals? Excited by the prospect of bringing best-in-class user experiences to Nokia’s next generation of devices?  If so, we are currently looking for an individual with talents in creating stunning interactive experiences to join our team.  You must be creative, passionate about what you do, and able to thrive in a highly collaborative team environment.

Your role and responsibilities will include:

  • Collaborating with cross-functional teams to brainstorm new design concepts for future music-centric software and services, translating them into mockups and simulations using best practices for visual and interaction design.   
  • Supporting usability and user research efforts by creating and iterating on simulations that may range from a single feature to an entire application.
  • Understanding and aptly applying Nseries and Ovi style and branding guidelines, working with other visual design teams to help evolve those guidelines.
  • Engaging in the user experience design process by producing quick concept designs & prototypes of candidate solutions, demonstrating a flexibility to iterate frequently.

Requirements

  • Minimum of 3 years of professional experience in a commercial product environment, ideally related to mobile and web applications
  • Expert in using Flash/Flex/ActionScript or similar tools to code robust and extensible applications
  • In-depth knowledge of Photoshop and Illustrator
  • Strong visual design sense and graphical/illustration skills
  • Understanding of user experience fundamentals, including user-centered design process, information design, and industry UI standards
  • Must be a highly collaborative team player who will thrive in a fast-paced environment
  • Willingness to travel to collaborate with partners
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills
  • BS degree or equivalent experience in human-computer interaction, interaction design, web design, graphic design or a related field
  • Must have excellent portfolio to demonstrate media design expertise

To apply, please visit the Canada/Vancouver section of our careers website at:

www.nokia.com/careers

We thank all applicants for their interest, however only those selected for interview will be contacted.

Radiant Core acquired

Cross posted on StartupNorth

Radiant CoreRadiant Core has been acquired by Zerofootprint Software. Radiant Core was a Toronto-based web design and development shop led by Jay Goldman and Mike GlennZerofootprint is a Toronto-based company that “provides information, products and services for the global network of consumers and businesses who wish to reduce their environmental impact”. Radiant Core is best known for the visual design of Firefox 2, and has been recognized by Taschen as a leading web design agency. Jay and I have presented together at Web2Expo, FSOSS and Ignite. We’re also co-conspirators in this whole DemoCamp thing.

zerofootprintsoftwareZerofootprint has been a client of Radiant Core. Radiant Core designed, built and launched the Zerofootprint Calculator Facebook application (add the application). Zerofootprint has a laudable goal to empower people and change their collective footprint.

Our goal is to mobilize and empower large groups of individuals and organizations worldwide, to reduce their collective carbon and ecological footprint. We do this by harnessing the power of social networking, the Internet and software.

Why acquire a consulting firm? It’s a great acquisition method, Ron and the Zerofootprint team really managed their risk by engaging Radiant Core to evaluate capabilities, working styles, and the quality of team deliverables. In Radiant Core they get a world-class design firm with strong experience designing and building accessible web and social media applications. Radiant Core also has deep roots in participating and building vibrant, open creative communities. Jay and Mike have been involved with TorCamp, DemoCamp, TransitCamp, FacebookCamp/Facebook Developer Garage and other activities here in Toronto. The Zerofootprint team had the opportunity to evaluate the Radiant Core team and their ability to deliver on the design and development of the Zerofootprint Calculator Facebook application.  Zerofootprint and Radiant Core have worked together and can begin to have informed conversations about cultural compatibility and employee integration based on real experiences.

No financial details have been released.

What does this mean for Toronto?

  • One less world-class web design shop.
  • One more awesome software startup, now with world-class web development team!

It means that Zerofootprint just acquired one of the best web development shops in Canada to be their product team. Running a consulting business is a tough slog. It’s a linear growth business, i.e., you grow revenues by increasing the number of billable hours, increasing the billable rate, or increasing the number of people. It hopefully gives Jay and Mike an exit. It gives Zerofootprint a huge accelerator to continue to build products and services that will help to change the world.

Interested in what it really means, try calculating your footprint at http://toronto.zerofootprint.net/ and see how Zerofootprint is working with the City of Toronto to create a greener city.

FreshBooks – Agile Web Development Manager

FreshBooks is a company that really believes in great customer service. We want our product to reflect that by shipping frequently, staying bug-free, and building exactly what our customers want and need.

The magic of web development is that you can do a lot with a few dedicated developers and designers. Do you really know how to do more with less? Have you been in the trenches? Have you learned first hand how to invest in your development team to keep delivering the highest quality code? Are you a proven manager who has led a team of web developers and is looking to step into an important leadership role here at FreshBooks?

You will:

Be a leader and manager of our product and our development team. You will work together with other business groups to drive product enhancements and new products to help grow the FreshBooks service and online community. You will be unafraid to ask the tough questions of both other managers as well as product developers. You know how to get the most out of people and have a keen sense of “what counts” when it comes to product and business decisions.

We need you to have:

  • Real-life experience developing web applications in the trenches
  • A strong desire to build a development team and optimize their performance
  • Technology, product, and market vision.
  • Zeal for agile development
  • Experience listening to users, translating their needs to the business owners, and helping the developers build the right thing.
  • A developer’s heart
  • An ability to teach, mentor, coach other people in the Tao of Development

How to apply

If you are a proven web development manager who is ready to lead the FreshBooks product into the future, and you’d like to work with a great team in our bright Toronto office, get your resume and cover letter in to us at careers@freshbooks.com today!

Discovery08

theblackswan OCE is hosting it’s Discovery conference again. I’m looking forward to hearing Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. The rest of the schedule looks entertaining and includes Michael Raynor, author of The Strategy Paradox: Why committing to success leads to failure (and what to do about it) and The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth.

List on the Discovery08 web is:

New for 2008: Experience Discovery like never before. Test your pitch on venture capitalists and other business experts. Participate in exciting team challenges that pit your innovation skills against real-world problems. Take advantage of our expanded networking environment. See and hear what’s hot in Ontario’s critical sectors like Cleantech, Energy, Life Sciences, Digital Media and Manufacturing. And connect with some of the world’s best selling authors and pundits at keynote sessions.

The one thing I’m finding strange these days is the number of people mostly from government that are talking about an “innovation sector” and pitting your “innovation skills against real-world problems”. What the hell is the innovation sector? Aren’t companies typically innovative in the previously mentioned sectors (Cleantech, Energy, Life Sciences, Digital Media and Manufacturing)?

What is innovation? Dictionary.com has 6 definitions including “something new or different introduced; the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods”. I just confused by the marketing speak used by the OCE team in promoting Discovery08. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when I read the gibberish on the Ministry of Research & Innovation web site:

Places that invest in innovation, that stroke the creativity of people, that market their ideas most effectively will become the home to the most rewarding jobs, to the strongest economies and to the best quality of life. We want Ontario to be that place where innovation is inevitable.

While government involvement in my life is a series of tradeoffs, it’s great to know that at a provincial level there is support for the creation and commercialization of new technologies and business models. MRI supports MaRS, OCE and other organizations that support entrepreneurs, researchers and students with awareness, funding and policy.

What: Discovery08
How do you ride a curve that is yet to emerge? Or prepare for risks that have no name? Or create the next big thing when nothing is certain? Find out at OCE’s Discovery 2008, Canada’s premiere innovation and commercialization event. Be inspired, challenged and emboldened by influential thought leaders, daring visionaries, and over 1,500 delegates from every aspect of the innovation sector.
When: Monday, May 12, 2008 5:00 PM to Tuesday, May 13, 2008 4:00 PM
Where: Metro Toronto Convention Centre

255 Front Street West
Toronto, Ontario M5V 2W6 Canada

Community Platforms

Apparently I’m not alone in thinking about community platforms. Chris Prillo is talking about the tools available for community owners, operators, moderators and members. Adam Kalsey talks about the work on IMified, SacStarts and ActivityStream. Both are building on top of Drupal, which has generated support from Boris Mann of Raincity Studios. I haven’t done a lot of work on Drupal in recent years, I last evaluated it for a project in 2005. But the superb work of the Raincity Studios and Lullabot continues to blow me away.

But I started to wonder what other software platforms were available for building communities. Here is the list that I was able to come up with:

There are other tools like the Community Platform that powers http://expression.microsoft.com/ and TechNet and MSDN, that are not commercially available.

I’m starting to think about the tools that we’re missing to enable the Toronto community. The discussion has focused around the technical details of the platform:

  • OpenSocial
  • OpenID
  • OAuth

But it’s when Chris talks about the functionality and participation and discovery that I start to think about the potential and needs.

I don’t want a social network, I want a socially *RELEVANT* network (both on-site and beyond). I don’t want a community platform, I want a participation platform where members are rewarded and ranked appropriately. I don’t want a place where people can just blog, because I’m going well beyond the blog. It’s not just about hosting videos, audio files, or any piece of random media – it’s the discovery mechanisms between them that make them more relevant.

It’s discovery – no matter the community, no matter the type of content. Imagine coming to a site and not just reading about what other people are interested in, but what interests they SHARE with you! Imagine coming to a site and seeing how someone ranks in answers pertaining to your own questions! Oh, I’m confident you may have seen these features elsewhere – but what about for your own site, what about for your own community, what about for your own ideas?

It’s about the connections, the participation, and the discovery of relevant details. Time to think about this a little more.