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

Building a city that thinks like the web


Today marks an interesting day in Toronto. Today Toronto joins Washington, D.C., Vancouver, San Francisco, New York City, Australia, and the US in opening city data to citizens, companies, and the world to improve the quality of life. It begins a great journey to creating a strong new economy in Toronto around an infrastructure of city data.

It’s the data, stupid

(I feel like I’ve said this before).

“More and more governments state that opening government data is their priority, from the U.S: to the UK, from Australia to Belgium. Application contests (or mashup or idea contests) to engage citizen developers in creating new and valuable applications that leverage government data” – Andrea DiMaio

David Eaves identifies that data is the infrastructure for the next economy. It is the baseline upon which applications, value, and wealth can be built. I’ve talked about the benefit of data collection and the value-added analysis services in relation to personal health care. Data is the backbone, it is the building blocks from which developers can begin to build new applications and new services.

Mark Surman provides a great vision for the role that data plays in the development of a city. Re-reading his post has me thinking about a couple of challenges that need to be overcome to continue to enable the opening of city data.

  1. Costs of open data
  2. Economics of contests

Costs of open data

I think there needs to be an active discussion with citizens, politicians and staff members that open data is not free. There are costs associated with the production, release, maintenance, and up keep of the data sets. Additionally there may be a “build it, and they will come” model of development. Open data is not a replacement for city procurement. The city will still need to purchase software and look for ways to innovate to improve citizens lives. Open data is a building block to enable citizens, companies and communities to create applications the enable under-served (or self-served) parts of the city.

Economics of contests

Many of these cities have elected to host contests to encourage and incent local application developers to build upon the data sets.

I’m curious at the effectiveness of contests to engage the developer community and create a sustainable ecosystem. There is no question about the initial effectiveness as a tactic to create value. Apps for Democracy has shown a very strong contribution to the citizens, companies and communities of the District of Columbia.

“A $50,000 dollar investment in changing processes and offering prize money has so far yielded $2.3M in value. That’s a 46 times return on investment in one year.” – David Eaves

I’m curious about decay rate for contests. My feeling is that it is similar to the Chatter of the New Cycle. Where the contest and the data sets spike and then flow through the developer sphere just like news flows through blogosphere. 


I could be totally wrong, Sunlight Labs API shows a steady growth of the number of API calls. Apps for America 2 drew 46 submissions versus 44 for Apps for America, only a 5% growth in the number of submissions. (You might value measure of the applications as increasing with the increased API calls). More interestingly there are only 3 repeat submitters: ForumOne Communications; Jeremy Ashkenas; and Todd Fine in an initial pass of submitters. It’s actually highly probable that the number of repeat submitters is higher given submissions are often submitted with the name of the product or project.

Sustainable economies

Next I need to spend some time looking at sustainable digital ecosystems and economies. Looking at Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook and Amazon for examples of engaging developers and creating an ecosystem for developers.

Any suggestions for reading would be appreciated.

Motion Media – Web Developer

Fort St. John, BC

Motion Media, a growing media production firm based in Fort St. John, BC, is looking for a well-rounded Web Developer to join our team as soon as possible.

You will work closely with clients and the rest of the team to build exciting marketing and communication solutions for our clients. We will rely on your expertise to help select the best technical and creative solutions for each project. You will work closely with our designer and programmer on integrating solutions that work.

What we are looking for:

  • Strong foundation and training in web development, web programming and web application development
  • Confidence in your ability to deliver solutions that work
  • Ability to learn, adapt and change
  • Excellent communication skills, telephone, email, networking
  • Great documentation skills
  • Knowledge of Flash and Actionscript
  • Strong knowledge of HTML, PHP, MySQL, jQuery,
  • The ability to learn new concepts and skills quickly
  • Experience with Joomla and Drupal content management systems
  • Strong sense of usability and design
  • Deadline oriented
  • Ability to branch out, try new ideas and new tasks within the company

You’ll be based out of Fort St. John, BC – Please look at a map before applying :) It may be north, but Fort St. John, the Energetic City, is one of the most exciting places in the country. The growth and energy of the community is unlike anywhere else. We are looking for someone who wants to be a part of this exciting community while working for a very community-minded, young and progressive company.

Please forward your resume and portfolio to

Rules for Bootstrapping Web Startups

Allan & Steve from LessEverything have a great list of rules for web startups. I learned a lot about # 9 at Nakama. It was all about staying just ahead of the growth curve, and near real-time scheduling. The piece that was missing from our efforts was a revenue model (who paid us for what). And I think that # 1 & # 7 are key for most web startups. Figure out who pays you and why. Then build a product that they love, that they will evangelize for you.  

  1. Build something people need and love. People will talk about it.
  2. Release, release and release. Release it before you think it’s ready, you’re wrong, you don’t need that feature.
  3. Your app will probably fail, most of them do.
  4. Be Ballsy, don’t follow the herd, make a courageous moves.
  5. Build something you want to use. Continue to use it, feel the user’s pain.
  6. Google Adwords isn’t a revenue model.
  7. Find the cheapest, fastest way to 500 paid users. People will pay for your app, if it’s good.
  8. Design is an iterative process, not just development. And you won’t get it right the first time, so don’t sweat so much.
  9. Don’t scale until you actually need to. (The front page of Digg does not count as need.)
  10. Don’t spend any money.

TargetVacations – Web Guru

Toronto, ON

Target Vacations is seeking a one-man (or woman!) web team. Our award-winning company is expanding and it’s time to bring our website in- house so we can react more quickly and have greater control. We are looking for an entrepreneurial travel fanatic who can lead our web efforts, including overseeing any contractors or future team members as we continue to grow.


  • Proven visual design ability with portfolio link (applications without a link to an online portfolio will be rejected)
  • Excellent XHTML/CSS skills, including thorough knowledge of cross-browser/platform issues, semantically-correct code, validation, and accessibility concerns
  • SEO expertise, including knowledge of the latest techniques, and an awareness of marketing vs. technical issues
  • Proven flair for user experience and information architecture design and an understanding that website beauty is much more than skin deep
  • Some ability to produce Adobe Flash pieces (though nothing overly complicated will be done in-house)
  • 3+ years of experience a designer/developer

If you meet these criteria, please forward your resume in confidence
to careers [at] targetvacations [dot] ca.  We thank everyone for their
interest.  Only applicants under consideration will be contacted.

Trapeze – Web Developer

Toronto, ON

Trapeze Media ( is seeking a talented hands-on individual to  join our team as a Web Developer.

What we do

Trapeze is a full service interactive marketing agency.

As a member of the Web Development (UI) team, you will create sophisticated  Content Management Platforms and web applications for prominent high traffic websites. You will work on a range of challenging projects with clients such as CBS, Reebok, Canadian Tire, Disney, Pizza Hut, MTV, Cineplex and Globe & Mail. You will be involved in all stages of development of the project, including ideation, technical specifications and prototypes, application architecture and data models, testing, coding, releases management and deployment.

What we use

  • Standards-based XHTML, CSS, Javascript & AJAX
  • Flash (ActionScript 2.0 and ActionScript 3.0)
  • XML and JSON
  • jQuery
  • Photoshop and Illustrator
  • Ubuntu Linux and OS X
  • Python, Django and PHP
  • subversion and git

We want to hear from you if…

  • you have excellent XHTML, CSS, Javascript skills
  • you have some experience with popular javascript libraries such as JQuery and/or Prototype
  • you build accessible, standard compliant friendly websites
  • you are a creative thinker, committed to scalability, extensibility and reusability of your code
  • you are passionate about the web and you have the ability to quickly learn new technologies
  • you have experience with cross-browsers coding
  • you have some experience working with server-side code. Python and PHP are
  • To Apply

      Email your current resume to with the words “Web Developer” in the subject line. No calls, drop-ins or faxes, please.

Backtype launches

backtype Christopher Golda and Mike Montano have launched BackType. Jevon writes about the BackType launch on StartupNorth. And includes coverage of their previous startup, iPartee and their interview by Austin Hill on StartupNorth. I had the priviledge of meeting Christopher at Mesh 2008 in Toronto, and we’ve shared a number of email conversations about iPartee.

BackType is funded by Y Combinator. It is a search engine for comments on blog posts and other media. The BackType engine forages the web for comments, allowing them to be searchable, trackable and attributable to authors across the web. Comments can be displayed and searched on the meta-data including by author, by topic, by time, etc. It can allow social media businesses like Radian6 and others to gather conversational data and begin associating reputation and impact of authors and their conversations.

I’m hoping the BackType guys are returning to Toronto. Their blog post indicates that “BackType, Inc is a privately-held consumer Internet start-up based in Mountain View, CA”. There are lots of reasons for a startup focused on social media to be based in Silicon Valley (Paul Graham has a few thoughts on moving to a startup hub).

UWO – Web Communications Specialist

London, ON

The primary purpose of the position is to oversee, and manage web content for the Richard Ivey School of Business, including creating, editing, reorganizing and or repurposing existing copy to meet standards for web consumption. The Web Communication Specialist will work closely with the Web Analyst in IT to implement web communications initiatives that position the Ivey Business School and its people as an internationally recognized, world class organization.

Key Result Areas

  • Responsible for content development and management of the corporate pages of the website, particularly the Homepage and About Ivey pages.
  • Oversees content on all other areas of the website in terms of ensuring that messaging meets corporate communications, brand and formatting standards and guidelines.
  • Responsible for editing, reorganizing and repurposing existing written copy to meet standards for web consumption and posts new content on a daily basis to maintain an evolving high profile web presence.
  • Writes new content for the web as needed, particularly for the corporate pages noted above.
  • Stays current with new web technologies and tools, such as social networking and podcasting, in order to advise and integrate person to person or other elements to engage our stakeholders online.
  • Tracks web statistics and prepares periodic reports; analyzes data and implements or advises on content changes to improve user experience.
  • Demonstrated knowledge of web design, site building and content management software tools for the development and maintenance of web sites.

Required Education, Experience, and Abilities

  • University degree in Communications, English, Journalism, Public Relations or Marketing
  • Excellent overall writing skills with a minimum of three years professional Web-writing experience
  • Extensive experience and skills in corporate communications, marketing, public relations or internal communications
  • Technical understanding of website development
  • Familiar with graphic design concepts
  • Experience in Frontpage/Expression Web or similar content development and management applications as well image editing/creating applications (e.g., Adobe Photoshop)
  • Familiar with content management systems and information architecture
  • Exceptional interpersonal skills and a desire to build effective relationships
  • Demonstrated self-starter and independent worker with initiative and drive
  • Proven ability to think creatively and problem solve
  • Ability and willingness to work in a fast-paced environment with demanding deadlines


Email your resume:

This is a two year renewable employment contract with a comprehensive benefits package

Links for 2008-07-31


  • PDC – $200 Early Registration Discounts ends Aug 15, 2008
    I’m intrigued with PDC. Microsoft will be presenting the future of the platform. There will be an OpenSpace. Sessions on F#, cloud services, building block services, Silverlight for Mobile, IE8 render engine, Live Platform including building Mesh Applications, RIAs in Silverlight,  Project “Astoria”, SSDS, Windows 7, and more. It’s very developer focused. But it will be interesting to hear the direction being set by Ray Ozzie and Rick Rashid.
  • 10 Amazing Visualizations of Social Networks
    SocialMediaTrader lists 10 stunning visualizations of social networks. The goal of each of the visualizations is to give users a better understanding of how social networks work. Fidgt allows you to build and visualize relationships amongst your network (seen above). These visualizations are just incredible ways to view the complex, changing relationships between data in social networks.
  • How to partner with Microsoft
    Don Dodge has a summary about how startups can begin to partner with Microsoft. The program is focused around marketing help, building a sales channel, getting software and support, and engaging you champions. The first step is to sign up as a partner.
  • Nokia To Invest $150 in Venture Arm
    Nokia Growth Partners has seen it’s fund grow by 75% (originally $200M, now $350M). It is probably not coincidence that $150M is exactly the size of the Blackberry Fund managed by JLA Ventures and RBC Venture Partners.

FreshBooks – Bill me already

freshbooks Mike McDerment has helped kick the Toronto software entrepreneur community in the pants. It’s hard to believe that he’s been doing it for as long as he has been. Three Mesh conferences in the past 3 years, building FreshBooks and a number of successful and not-so-successful DemoCamp experiences. Mike has been documenting his lessons and advice for entrepreneurs on his blog, and .

Mike and the FreshBooks team have done a great job going after a under-served market with a product that solves a costly problem for a lot of small businesses. The FreshBooks product helps companies create and manage invoices. They quickly can show clients how much they can contribute to a companies bottom line. There are even rumors floating about the Interweb that FreshBooks has caused Intuit, the 800 pound gorilla, to change their marketing strategy for Quickbooks Simple Start. Why is FreshBooks a Toronto startup to watch?

Quick Analysis

Management Team

The FreshBooks executive team consists of a number of Mike McDerment, Joe Sawada, Levi Cooperman and Mitch Solway. Mike and Joe successfully built a web design professional services firm, Anicon, whose team includes 3 of the FreshBooks founders. The transition appears to be from a professional services firm doing web design and development professional services to a product company (whose name has changed from 2ndSite to FreshBooks). Mitch is an excellent senior marketer with experience of leading a marketing organization during the critical growth year. His LinkedIn profile indicates that Mitch managed a team of 26 people and grew sales from $3M to over $100M. Great acquisition to the FreshBooks team, a seasoned marketing veteran with experience driving traffic and growing sales.It’s a good team with personal experiences with the invoicing difficulties experienced by web design and development firms in managing the financial interactions with clients.


The creator of Quickbooks, Ridgely Evers, has created a company to create a tool to solve business and financial management for smaller companies, he estimates the market size for the number of “True Small Businesses” at 5.1M in the United States. The business accounting market was estimated at $600M in 2005 with QuickBooks accounting for almost 87% market share. It’s obvious that companies need accounting and invoicing tools, and they are willing to pay for a solution that is aimed at enabling a better view into a business for small business owners instead of bookkeeping professionals.


The focus on invoicing is a great strategy for FreshBooks. FreshBooks is a suite of tools that help customers get paid. This is a painkiller. FreshBooks has been aggressively filling in the product suite with tools for tracking time, expenses and estimates, these features help to refine the product offering beyond just invoicing into truly a financial management tool for service based organizations. FreshBooks has exposed most of their functionality through a developer API. The API offers a great way for external developers to integrate their applications to the provided services and for the FreshBooks team to build internal tools and user interfaces to consume and publish upon. Building on an API service, should help FreshBooks in extending the application going forward, adding features requires extending the API and building a browser based client to add to the FreshBooks web site.

The addition of roll up data analytics to provide customers with performance metrics and benchmarking shows that FreshBooks has been working on market leading features that have helped set companies like Mint apart from it’s peers.

Business Model

People pay FreshBooks to use their software. Check out their pricing. Mike McDerment has written about their experiences iterating through pricing models including the impact on conversion rates. But the business model is very simple get people to pay for your software. There are challenges related to the Freemium Pricing Model, where about 3% of registered users become paying customers. There are then 2 key metrics that the FreshBooks guys should be tracking: reach and conversion rate. Reach – how many people in their target market have had contact with FreshBooks advertising, at a conference, through customer evangelists, etc.? Conversion rate – how many registered users become paying users? Does pricing, features, adoption cycles, integration with other products, what are the pieces that drive the conversion to paying customer? The additional questions around customer retention exist, but lets assume that there is a high customer retention rate.

Strategic Relationships

FreshBooks has begun building some strategic relationships including:

Both of these relationships are a testament to the speed and flexibility of the FreshBooks offering. Sunir Shah blogged about the experience of integrating with Amazon FPS and compared it to PayPal and Google Checkout. Freshbooks will benefit in speed to market and additional early-adopter marketing once the FPS is generally available.The Authorize.Net Merchant Toolbox is very straight-forward, being on a list of 21 preferred vendors by a leading merchant account and credit card gateway, should help drive traffic and customers to FreshBooks.

One opportunity for FreshBooks is to seek a strategic relationship with third-party accounting and bookkeeping partners. Creating a referral or associates network for bookkeepers, including a set of offline tools that use the FreshBooks API, could help expand the reach of the product and build a strong indirect sales channel. 


Mike provides his thoughts on his competition in an interview with CenterNetworks

“I think there are two classes of competitors. There are traditional accounting software providers. The other group is other startups like BillingOrchard and BlinkSale.”

Crunchbase lists FreeAgentCentral as an additional competitor in the web-based accounting and money management tools for freelancers. Competition from traditional accounting software vendors including Intuit’s QuickBooks and NetSuite’s Accounting ERP solution. NetSuite is probably less of a competitor as it targets SME with an offering that is closer to small ERP than individual provider. QuickBooks is an interesting competitor because of the large ecosystem of accountants and bookkeepers that use QuickBooks to perform the accounting tasks for small businesses and freelancers. The same can be said for other competitors including: Sage; Peachtree; Microsoft Accounting; MYOB; etc.

BlinkSale and BillingOrchard are focused on invoicing. Where Freshbooks has evolved their offering to include many of financial functions that a small business needs including:  estimates, time tracking, and expenses. Freshbooks has built a suite of financial management tools for generating, managing and tracking invoices. A better competitor is NetBooks whose offering includes SaaS financial tools that include a wider set of ERP features including sales, invoicing, inventory, and costs. NetBooks appears to be focused on product-based businesses, where FreshBooks feels like it is optimized for services-based businesses.

Barriers to Entry

FreshBooks is a execution play. They have built a product that people want. It solves a very valuable problem. And they continue to add more value to the ecosystem than they take out. There is room for another larger, more established player to use their marketing might to box out FreshBoooks but it more likely that they might try to acquire FreshBooks and integrate it into their product offerings. Here’s what differentiates FreshBooks and provides barriers to entry in the market.

  • Intellectual property
    Just as discussed in the LearnHub analysis, there is nothing to indicate there is an intellectual property protection for FreshBooks. But as John Green points out in the commentary, intellectual property protections are not required to build success market play companies. The intellectual property protections may come in the understanding of the small market business owner and their financial practices and mindset. Having a process to quickly gather, assess, prototype and iterate on changing market conditions along with a easy to customize infrastructure should allow FreshBooks to have an advantage.
  • Customer loyalty
    Customer-centered design is in the DNA at FreshBooks. Adding conferences and generating support, while gathering feedback makes customers love FreshBooks. Check out the feedback on the RoadBurn tour. Understanding the needs, wants, desires and day-to-day lives of your customers lets you build solutions to their problems. It might help explain why FreshBooks had a 99% referral rate. I’m assuming that this means that 99% of existing customers sent a referral message to a potential new customer. I wonder what the conversion rate on referrals is for FreshBooks?
  • Advertising
    FreshBooks has not done a huge advertising spend, but they have been very effective in targeted advertising to the Web 2.0 service firms through placement on key sites (TechCrunch, The Deck, etc.) and by having a strong presence at key web design conferences: FOWA, Mesh and SxSW. The FreshBooks team has made very effective use of their marketing and PR budget to generate buzz and get on the radar of many of the Web 2.0 and startup media players.
  • Sunk costs
    Customers have sunk costs once their financial data has been entered into FreshBooks. However, with the FreshBooks API it is easy for a competitor to build a data migration tool and make an easy path for dissatisfied FreshBooks users to move off the platform.
  • Network effect
    The addition of the benchmarking service may help build additional network effect from participating in the FreshBooks ecosystem. However, billing and accounts receivable are a very individual company practice. There is some opportunity to gain improvements by implementing best practices, however, best practices are not network effects. Unless FreshBooks is able to negotiate lower transactional costs on merchant account transactions or leverage the behaviours of the crowd there is no network effect available.
  • Vertical integration
    This is potentially the most under investigated barrier to entry for FreshBooks. Building an integration with bookkeepers and accountants could offer FreshBooks an indirect sales channel and provide customers with both the tools and professional services.


FreshBooks is a company that is truly customer driven. You can see the commitment to the user experience with customer dinners when the FreshBooks team visits a city (San Francisco; the Roadburn and New York). They have build a great product that fills a gap in the offering by the 800 pound gorilla. They have assembled a star team of Toronto technology and marketing talent. They have built a successful business by adding value to their customers ecosystem. I have some questions around customer acquisition costs and the lifetime value of a customer including referrals, but it looks like a great business that needs some marketing muscle to grow to be a multi-hundred million dollar a year business.

FreshBooks is hiring and has openings for: