Inside the Lean Startup

Very late notice, but I have been busy running a startup. I’m joining my friends Leila Boujnane (@leilaboujnane) and Satish Kanwar (@skanwar) tonight at the Inside the Lean Startup event at MaRS. We’ll be chatting about our startups. The customer development process. And some of the tools we use. If you’re not in Austin for SxSW, and you need to get out of the garage/basement/office and chat with others that are struggling/succeeding/striving/doing it to. Come out tonight.

You might also consider checking out the AppSumo Lean #SxSW Bundle which includes access to a set of tools I use including:

Plus there are some new tools that I’m excited to try:

The 2 books that are not included in the Lean SxSW Bundle that are must reads:


Meet with me in Vancouver

Grow Conf, Aug 19-21, 2010 Vancouver, BC

I’m heading to Vancouver for the Grow Conference. If you’re a startup, an investor or a service provider in Canada you should be at this event. Read my Top 5 Reasons to go to Grow. (Random note: I’m surprised that Peer1 or Q9 or MyHosting or iWeb or RackForce didn’t see this as a potential sponsorship and marketing event. Further evidence that tech startups are the Rodney Dangerfield‘s of Canadian businesses).

Bootup LabsI’ll be in Vancouver Monday, August 16 through August 20. On August 19 & 20, I’ll be at Grow Conference (I am currently open for breakfast on the Thursday August 19 if you’re interested). I am staying downtown so if you’re up for breakfast, lunch or dinner and you want to talk startups, product/market fit, marketing, BizSpark, technology, or better yet if you can show me where to get a bourbon manhattan. I’ll be working out of Bootup Labs, 163 West Hastings Street – Suite 200, Vancouver, BC and WavefrontAC, 1055 West Hastings Street, Vancouver BC.

I’m looking to talk to entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs, investors, policy makers, technologists and designers. I’d love to learn about new companies in Vancouver that are:

  • Building on the Microsoft stack including Azure, SQL Server, Silverlight, Windows Phone 7, IE9, and other emerging Microsoft technologies. I’m happy to chat about BizSpark and other programs available for startups.
  • Not building on the Microsoft stack, I’d still love to talk to you. I’d love to learn about your choices whether they be PHP, Rails, Android, iPhone, AppEngine, BigTable, Hadoop, Solr, Cassandra, RIAK, VoltDB, open web, etc.
  • Startup fund-raising and Vancouver. I’d love to get an entrepreneurs take on the funding scene. What’s it like to raise capital form W Media Ventures, GrowthWorks Vancouver, VanEdge. Who are the angels? What works? What’s broken?
  • Pitching StartupNorth. We get a lot of submissions of standard press releases. I’ll tell you what works in getting our attention and maybe this can help you get the attention of other bloggers and more credible press.
  • How to demo like a demon! I’d like to see entrepreneurs demo their wares. Come show me your software, the coolest thing about your solution, something that changed your life. Real software always makes me happy.
  • Emerging business models and go-to-market strategy – I’d love to talk about new pricing models, new consumer advertising models, economic and growth models that will allow startups to monetize and survive.
  • Health 2.0 – I’d love to see startups in the patient care space, new health tracking, personal health informatics, aging population support. I think this is a fantastic market segment, though highly regulated, but it’s a area that I have a personal interest in.
  • Social CRM – Microsoft just release CRM5 (ok CRM 2011). Salesforce continues to evolve their platform. There are new competitors like Jive and Lithium. I keep looking at HighRise and BatchBook for my personal contacts. Love to chat about the space, the players, what customers are looking for, etc.

These are all just suggested topics. I’m in town, I actually don’t have an agenda for 3 days.

Find time on my calendar and book a meeting with me at

Everything on the Internet is true

I want to believe
Image by megaul

Maybe I’ve watched too many episodes of The X-Files. Or maybe this is my search for the damn Smoking Man. Enough retro television.

The Communitech team published a blog post linking to a speech from Anne Golden, the President and CEO of the Conference Board of Canada. The speech, titled Canada’s Innovation Conundrum, claims that “two-thirds of Canada’s high-tech start-ups” are in Kichener/Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph.

“But the fact is that the so-called “technology research triangle” of Kitchener/Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph, home of the Blackberry inventor, Research-in-Motion, accounts for about two-thirds of Canada’s high-tech start-ups. 1 The Blackberry is the exception, not the rule. We need ten more Blackberry’s across the country.”

They’ve kindly added a link to the original source of this “reference” material. It’s an article written by Toronto Star columnist David Olive that provides no reference and link to any of the statistics provided.

“The so-called “technology research triangle” of Kitchener/Waterloo-Cambridge-Guelph, home of BlackBerry inventor Research in Motion Ltd., accounts for about two-thirds of Canada’s high-tech start-ups. Sarnia is Ontario’s leading centre for chemical production and petroleum refining. Hamilton and Sault Ste. Marie have benefited from high world prices for steel; and Sudbury is riding a global boom in nickel prices. “

Not a shred of actual data. Just opinion and made up, unsubstantiated numbers. But I guess since it’s published in newspaper it must be true.

If it is on the Internet it must be true
If it is on the Internet it must be true from Uncyclopedia

In grade 7 & 8 at Orchard Park Public School, Howard Isaacs taught media awareness and critical thinking to his students. Just because it’s in the media doesn’t make it true. I’m sure that it was part of a campaign to teach media awareness in the 1980s as described in Specific Approaches to Media Education however since this is based on a report, “Specific Approaches to Media Literacy,” Barry Duncan et al. Media Literacy Resource Guide, Ontario Ministry of Education, published in 1989 after I was in Howard Isaacs classroom, it’s not the original source.

For me it calls in to question the validity of the research that an organization like the Conference Board of Canada conducts and the policy that it influences. The Conference Board of Canada:

“builds leadership capacity for a better Canada by creating and sharing insights on economic trends, public policy and organizational performance.”

But how can you conduct contract research or influence policy using made up numbers. There should be great concern for any politician or agency or company hiring the Conference Board of Canada to conduct research. This is shameful use of unsubstantiated statistics and data. It calls into question the legitimacy of any of their research or economic analyses.

Integrity, hunger strikes and plagiarism

Some rights reserved by The Rocketeer
Some rights reserved by The Rocketeer

I asked Mark McQueen to comment on the OMERS/ABP newly announced €200 million venture fund (with €100 million being spent in Canada) knowing full well that he was currently unable to comment. Mark responded with a little bit of the history of the OMERS efforts to create a venture fund.

“This is not the first anyone’s heard of OMERS getting into the direct early stage VC business. CEO Michael Nobrega spoke about it last Spring at the CVCA conference, OMERS Worldwide chief Jacques Demers mentioned in during a panel last September in Boston, and OMERS PE boss Paul Renaud was equally detailed during a CVCA panel in May in Ottawa. I feel as though I have a good sense of what they are planning, and would be happy to share. E100 million over 15 years for Canadian startups is welcome and needed capital, even if it represents one tenth of the money that the Government of Ontario wiped away (for Ontario-based firms) when they announced the end of the LSIF program five years ago.”

It’s too bad that Mark is currently on Day 10 of a hunger strike. His writing, humor and insights on the financial industry and it’s impact on Canadians is unsurpassed. The hunger strike stems from Globe & Mail not properly referencing the originating sources of their published news stories:

“Unfortunately for we providers of the what must have been the original source material, none appear to receive a single acknowledgement as to the origin of the analysis, research, storyline, etc., etc., that made up the key underpinnings of the Globe’s lift masquerading as a bona fide “news” article….we’ve now reached the 10th incident by last count (see prior posts “Google acquires BumpTop part 3” May 3-2010 and “DTM copycats at it again part 8” June 20-08). I’ve broached the topic with the editing team in writing on more than one occassion, but no response has ever come.”

Mark documents at least 10 incidents where mainstream media has plagiarized stories from online resources. And has started a hunger strike to protest the lack of integrity and referencing sources present in mainstream media. It seems that many journalists are able and willing to reference their sources, I’m looking at good guys like ex-Globe & Mailer Mathew Ingram, who referenced Mark’s Bumptop piece in his post on GigaOm.

I’m supporting Mark’s efforts by uninstalling the Globe & Mail application from my iPad and refusing to share any link love.

I’m also accepting food donations and lunch invitations on behalf of Mark. Ping me if you have a hankering for lunch at Cava, George, Spendido or anywhere else that you’re buying 😉

Reflecting on The Low Road

Fred Wilson has a great post about community. It captures the sentiment of DemoCamp, Founders & Funders, and StartupNorth, which shouldn’t be a surprise given the related nature of these vehicles to the communities that read Fred’s blogs. But more importantly you can see the sentiment in my posts:

It’s about building the connections between the people. The greater the number of connections between different nodes allows more opportunities for the exchange of value. Whether this is because the group is large, or because the opportunities are more valuable. DemoCamps are events. But they bring people together. They give them the opportunity to connect. To take the stage. To learn. But it’s supposed to be about the connections with others, it’s about the beers in the bar afterwards. It is a social event. Founders & Funders is a social event. There is no stage. There is no pretension. It’s about the realization that their is an opportunity to connect socially with the people that start high potential companies and the people that fund them.

Read the poem in Fred’s post.

A couple days ago my son “graduated” from 8th grade and in the moving up ceremony his teacher read this section of a poem called The Low Road by Marge Piercy. As she was reading the poem, it made me think of this community and what it means to me. So this is for all of you.


Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.

But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

GovCamp on June 17, 2010

GovCamp June 17, 2010
GovCamp, June 17, 2010 @ TRL

Following up after a great event in Ottawa on June 1, 2010, my partners in crime at Microsoft and at ChangeCamp (Omar Rashid, Julia Stowell and Mark Kuznicki) are working to extend the conversation around participatory government, citizenship, open data and other stuff under the umbrella of gov2.0.

Wordle by Suzanne Long
Wordle by Suzanne Long

The event is a conversation. It’s talking about technocracy, Government transformation, public service renewal, open data, the social web and participatory approaches to public engagement. The event is invitation only. Why invitation only? Space is expensive and having a fixed event size makes it easier to manage. But we are actively looking for entrepreneurs and developers and others that are:

  • Municipal, Provincial or Federal public servant or a public sector agency employee with an interest in these topics
  • Thought leader looking to share and connect with this community
  • Member of the community of developers, advocates and practitioners in public engagement, government communications, technology, open data, open government or “Gov 2.0”

This is a great opportunity to connect with officials from local and provincial government and experts in the space. The invite says “special guests” but I’m hoping it’s conversation leaders include:

  • David Eaves, Public Policy Entrepreneur, Open Government Activist and Collaboration Expert
  • Dave Wallace, Chief Information Officer, City of Toronto
  • Steven Green, Director of Marketing & Communications, Cabinet Office, Government of Ontario
  • Peter MacLeod, Principal, MASSLBP
  • Alison Loat, Executive Director, Samara

I’m looking forward to hearing David Eaves response to the role of institutional oversight in auditing and the limits of public participation. 

Propose a Demo

If you’ve built an application designed to improve the lives of citizens using open data you should submit a demo for this event. This is your chance to get your application seen by people in this space. Are you building on the Did you build on something else? It doesn’t have to be Toronto. It could be another region or locality. It might be using licensed data sets. This is an opportunity to unlock a market.

Monetizing Gov 2.0 by Tim O’Reilly

Watch live video from Inc. Magazine on

Related Readings

Top 5 Reasons to go to Grow Conference

Grow Conf, Aug 19-21, 2010 Vancouver, BC

  1. It’s Silicon Valley in Vancouver
    How can you ask for a better lineup of people? You get the opportunity to interact and connect with Lane Becker, Rob Chaplinsky, Dave McClure, Dan Martell, Jeff ClavierDebbie Landa, Chris Albinson and others. This is a world-class list of angels, investors, entrepreneurs and technologists.
  2. It’s Canadian startup royalty
    Royalty is the wrong word. But it’s a chance to get inspired by some of the best Internet startups in Canada. The event is sponsored by the C100 and Debbie Landa, Chris Albinson, Rob Chaplinsky, Lane Becker and Dan Martell are all Canadian. But it’s the connection to all of the others attending and speaking that is most valuable: Rick Segal, Boris Wertz, Mark MacLeod, Danny Robinson, Amar Varma, Chris Arsenault, Steve Woods, Leonard BrodyJonathan Ehrlich and all of the others that will be involved.
  3. Tickets are cheap
    The super early bird tickets were snapped up. Regular tickets are only US$285. It’s not a lot of money for an event. When you consider that food alone is approximately $15 breakfast + $10 morning break + $25 lunch + $10 afternoon break + $30 cocktails = $90, so your ticket is only costing you $195. You might not like my pricing but I can tell you that WiFi at the MTCC is $30/connections. There are hard costs to running an event.
  4. The food
    Vancouver has some of the best food in the world. Tojo’s, Vij’s, Blue Water Cafe, ReFuel, Gotham Steakhouse, Joe Fortes, Lumiere. The list just goes on and on. If you’re creative you can do this on a budget, step one follow someone who is on an expense account or has already had atleast one successful startup.
  5. The Vancouver peeps
    There are some great entrepreneurs, technologists, designers and thinkers living in and around Vancouver. Ben Skelton, Dave Olson, Kris Krug, Meg Cole, Danielle Sipple, Avi Bryant, Andre Charland, Boris Mann, Dave Shea, David Eaves, Kate Trgovac, Alexandra Samuel, Gordon Ross, Jason Mogus, Dick Hardt, Rebecca Bollwitt, Tod Maffin and others. 

And the unwritten sixth reason to attend, though many will tell you this is a reason to avoid, I’ll be there.

HackTO & DevHouse

HackTO registration has opened with support from Idee, FreshBooks, CanPages and PostRank. Who it turns out all have APIs to use their services:

It’s a great opportunity to bring your laptop, bring your dev environment, connect with other developers, and learn how to build connected applications.

Image by Derek Yu on SuperHappyDevHouse

The PostRank team is hosting DevHouse Waterloo on April 26 (this is the 18th DevHouse).

Dev House Waterloo is an event giving programmers and designers the opportunity to meet other creative people and learn from each other – whatever the topic may be. You can bring an idea, or a project you’ve been working on, and present it to the group for feedback or help. Bits will be flowing (wifi is provided), projector will be available, food will be served, and space is provided by PostRank.

Another great opportunity for developers to get together and show off what they’ve been working on.

Don’t believe the hype

Zombie Money
Photo by rendzu

It sucks to have a reputation problem. But when you take over an organization that has mismanaged $1B of public money.

Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter released a scathing report in the fall that found the agency had mismanaged $1 billion of taxpayers’ money, with little oversight. CBC News

It probably helps explain why I”m so distrusting even when hearing the new leader make noise around doing the things to better help the citizens.

“The sooner we can have a crisper definition of what’s in this for the patient … the sooner the public who’s paying for all of this will see the value of it” – eHealth Ontario, CEO Greg Reed

This seems like a pretty clear question that should have been asked before starting this Billion Dollar eHealth Debacle. The lack of transparency, the lack of accountability, the lack of a measure of success. I find it challenging regardless of the pedigree of the new CEO (former Dundee Bank of Canada chief and long-time McKinsey & Co. consultant) that he will be able to deliver. We need to stand up and demand better from our politicians and those that lead our publicly funded institutions.

When it comes to government agencies and activities it’s the appearance of impropriety that matters most. We as citizens should demand the best for our dollars. One of the cornerstones of open government is transparency (and accountability). We need individuals that dream big, that are willing to report on their actions, and be accountable for the deliverables. Process is important, it is no substitute for results. Meritocracies are not without their criticism, but when looking at the effectiveness of an individual or an organization’s ability to deliver.

Until we can decide on what is merit we’re left to suffer the traditional *cracies that run rampant:

the truth is out there - i want to believe
Image by megaul

We have seen crap keynote speakers, crap politicians, crap companies, crap performance all continue to use their social position and political power to manipulate the system in their personal favour. And as messed up as a meritocracy might be, it focuses on results – improving the lives of citizens, of customers, of the world – provided that we can define objective measures of success

“When I’m in Canada, I feel this is what the world should be like” – Jane Fonda

Reputation and trust matters. So does the ability to critically evaluate the merit of the companies that you purchase your goods from, the speakers at the conferences you attend, the truthliness of your newscasters or comedians. Be critical of the people. Be critical of their stories. Be critical about their point of view. Ask questions about their motives, motivations and desired outcomes.

The lack of critical thinking might help explain the inability to define success in Canada. Step back and ask questions.

Open. Participatory. Distributed. Hackable. Special.

I ran into Mark Surman this morning and he reminded me about the upcoming Mozilla Drumbeat event in Toronto on April 24, 2010. I like the Drumbeat events. Get everyday people who use the Internet and web technologies involved in new ways to understand participate and take control of their lives.

At a practical level, Drumbeat community members use web technology to make things that improve and protect the open internet. They run local events where people propose and work on these practical projects. They encourage others to get involved. Mozilla helps find contributors, funds and advice for the most promising Drumbeat projects. It also directly leads a number of Drumbeat projects of its own.

It’s all about making and building. Getting regular people to understand the impact and the potential the open web as a generative tool on lives, careers and information. It’s about taking the tools, methods and techniques developed through the collaborative development process used at Mozilla and extending it to help support the open web (it reminds me of the evolution of Mozilla as described by my friend David Eaves). Check out Mark’s blog posts about Drumbeat or his presentation below

What are potential Drumbeat projects?

Some of my favourites of the currently submitted projects include:

Universal Subtitles

Universal SubtitlesSubtitles bridge linguistic and physical barriers to video. Help create an open lookup standard that lets any video client find matching subtitles in online databases, along with free and open source tools to enable users to easily create subtitles and translations, a Firefox extension that will look up and display matching subtitles, and an open community subtitle database.

Privacy Icons

This project has a very simple goal: to develop a series of graphical and machine- readable privacy icons that companies can use to convey important elements of their privacy policy to users and that developers can build applications on top of to enable users to make choices based on the disclosures in the policies.

You should check out the projects. Think about how you might get involved. And more importantly, who are those people that are peripheral to our little web technology community that you know that should be participating? Open government folks? Media company people? Real estate technologists? Teachers? Artists? Share Drumbeat with them. Invite them to join you. Invite them to participate.