UW VeloCity Evolving

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December 31, 2011 marked the end of my reign as the Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EiR) at UW VeloCity. The VeloCity residence announced a new leadership team before Christmas Holiday. I’m still affiliated, I’m still an alumni and I’m still an avid supporter.

I was lucky enough to spend 6 months with the students and their companies in Waterloo. I made the trek down the 401 to Waterloo almost every Tuesday night for dinner. The dinners were modelled after the YCombinator dinners. We brought in our friends and acquaintances from the world of high tech entrepreneurship to talk to the students. To share their experiences starting companies, raising funding, working with cofounders, etc. The goal was to provide a social, educational experience for the students and hopefully teach them something about the industry and software culture.

I was an undergraduate back in the early 90s. I wrote Objective-C on NeXTSTEP boxes. But no one at Waterloo really promoted starting a software company as a career path, maybe I’m just an idiot, but I never thought that I could start a company and sell the software I was writing. There were a few startups (MKS, RIM, Maplesoft) but this wasn’t a career path that was promoted. You could argue may this was because I was in the Kinesiology department. But spent a significant portion of my time in CS and SYSDE (SYSDE142, 342, 542 and others). The closest was a class about database management in the department of Management Sciences but it definitely wasn’t about entrepreneurship (how much do I still hate Access).

It wasn’t that hadn’t been exposed to entrepreneurship. I grew up in an entrepreneurial household, my Dad had left Clarkson Gordon to start his own small business accounting and consulting firm in the early 1980s. And my first real job was with a small usability consulitng firm, but I thought that I would get a job at CIBC or IBM or maybe Delrina. I was never provided the skills, the experience or even the awareness that entrepreneurship (software entrepreneurship) was a career path. I went to CMU for graduate work, and I was exposed to founders from MIT, CMU, Stanford and other places. My first job after grad school, I did research at UIUC and was exposed to things like early Netscape. But it wasn’t until I started working at Trilogy Software with a bunch of Stanford graduates did it become clear that I could start a software company. I always wished that someone had shown me entrepreneurship (beyond consulting) as a career path.

My view about VeloCity comes back to my own experiences at UWaterloo. And the role that VeloCity needs to play in exposing and educating UW students about high-tech entrepreneurship. It will be great to see the evolution with Mike Kirkup (LinkedIn, @mikekirkup) and Brett Shellhammer (LinkedIn, @bashome). VeloCity represents something that wasn’t available to me when I was a UW student. For me, VeloCity represents the next stage of evolution for the University of Waterloo cooperative education program:

” the solution was not just classroom instruction but “the co-operative program,” which offered students alternating terms of paid work in industry to get practical experience.”

Velocity feels like a starting ground for the next set of education at Waterloo. With the launch of MITx in addition to Open Courseware, MIT is attempting to change the face of higher education. There is inspiration and direction from TED, TEDx, and SingularityU. There is also the rise of self-learning platforms like Codeacademy, Khan Academy and others. It is time that UWaterloo explored evolving the cooperative education program beyond the constraints of the existing program. For me VeloCity represents the start of a new academic experience.

I can’t wait to be a part of what is next.

 

Viagra for Startups

Startups read this.

Great Companies

Dave McClure has a great pitch presentation. It’s all about the information that investors, VCs in particular, want to see. It’s a great summary about how investors want to see a company, the problem, the technology, the market and the secret sauce presented. My favourite is that Great Companies do 1+ of the following:

  • Get you LAID = sex
  • Get you PAID = money
  • Get you MADE = power

All entrepreneurs should read Startup Metrics for Pirates.

Software, support & visibility

microsoftbizspark It’s funny, I’ve asked about startups building on .NET in the past. And with the development of programs like BizSpark the continued support of events like StartupCampMontreal and Founders & Funders, and yesterday’s funding announcement at Xobni, there a number of new opportunities for startups to get access to free software and exposure.

Microsoft Blue Sky competition for the so-many startuppers using MS technology” – Heri

BizSpark is a program aimed at providing startups with access to software, support and visibility. Startups need to meet the following requirements:

  • Is in the business of software development,
  • Is privately held,
  • Has been in business for less than 3 years, and
  • Has less than US $1 million in annual revenue

There are no initial costs. At the end of the three years there is a US$100 fee. Startups can participate in BizSpark for up to 3 years, (assuming they haven’t changed ownership or gone public in years 1 or 2). The program includes Visual Studio Team System Team Suite (VSTS) with MSDN Premium for development, testing and demonstration purposes. There are also production licenses for Windows Server, SQL Server, BizTalk Server, and Office SharePoint Server. It’s a pretty complete package for startups looking to gain access to the tools for design and development.

How do I sign up?

First you need to find a Network Partner.

What is a Network Partner?

“Network Partners are active members of the local software ecosystem engaged with high-potential, early stage Startups. They are organizations specifically focused on supporting software entrepreneurs and Startups, or whose activities include a focus on promoting and supporting software Startups, through programs, mentoring, networking, business advices, financial and legal assistance or similar services and activities.” – Network Partner Program Guide

Basically, these are the folks supporting startups. In Canada today, there were over 20 Network partners including:

I keep looking for Network Partners to join the program. I’ve been working on folks in Alberta, British Columbia and on the East coast. Turns out there is a lot of ground to cover in this country. If you have an organization that supports start-ups in Edmonton, Calgary, Sudbury, Charlottetown, Halifax, Dartmouth, St. John’s, Quebec City, Yellowknife, drop me a note and I’ll do my best to get them to register. Or if you think you should be a Network partner, sign up using the Champ ID = davcrow.

If you can’t find a Network Partner, drop me a note.

Other Programs

If you don’t meet the requirements for BizSpark, there are other partner programs. I’m not an expert here, I find that most early stage companies are limited due to the “being in business for less than 3 years”. The other program is Empower for ISVs. I’m not entirely sure where you fit if you’re offering a SaaS solution outside of BizSpark. But there are programs that can help, check out the SPLA and SaaS On-Ramp Programs

BlueSky & Ignite IT

blueskyThere are 2 programs that offer developers and ISVs an opportunity to showcase their products and solutions. The Microsoft Blue Sky Innovation Excellence Award offers Canada ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) a way to gain access to product experts and members of the Emerging Business Team Portfolio Managers (think Christopher Griffin, Don Dodge, Cliff Reeves and others), exposure on MicrosoftStartupZone and a case study, access to new technologies and architectural guidance, software tools, among other things.

igniteitawardsThe Ignite IT Awards are a Microsoft Canada awards program aimed at celebrating the problems that were solved through IT solutions. There are both Developer and IT Professional stories. There are 2 prizes of $5,000 along with exposure. These aren’t primarily startup focused, however, since a lot of startups should be using technology to solve a problem and the Submission Form is nothing more than your elevator pitch. It’s should be good practice to practice giving your pitch and creating a 60 second video demonstrating why your solution is valuable. Think demo or clip of happy users. My thought is that this could easily be repurposed to help explain to your potential customers the power and benefit of your solution.

 

The battle for local

Lost Remote has a great description of the pending battle for local attention and advertising. It’s a great summary of the challenges and opportunities for each media outlet.

  • Television
  • Newspapers
  • Radio
  • “GYM” aka Google/Yahoo/Microsoft et al.
  • Craigslist and paid classifieds
  • Pure play locals
  • City guides
  • Yellow pages and other directories
  • Alt weeklies and local magazines
  • Outdoor

The local market is a huge opportunity. Just evaluating a single player in Canada shows the potential of building a strong advertising business based on helping people find things in their neighbourhood. The Yellow Pages Income Fund reported just over $879.9 million in gross operating profit in 2007 (that’s a total net income of over $527.7 million). The commitment to local focus has seen YPG re-zone their Toronto Yellow Pages to smaller areas to “improve searching and finding both locally and more broadly such as the addition of maps for high traffic retail areas”. YPG has done a great job building partnerships and relationships with regional phone companies and has a circulation of over 30 million copies of their phone directories with approximately 420,000 unique advertisers. There is a huge opportunity to continue to refine the space and services needed by local businesses.

Y Combinator has identified areas like: 12. Fix Advertsing; 20. Shopping Guides and 25. A Craigslist competitor, that they’d be interested in funding. It’s no surprise then to see a plethora of local startups that fit in a variety of the above categories:

I’d love to see an equivalent of EveryBlock for Canada. But until then the recommendations provided by GigPark are enough to help me find services in my neighbourhood.

A Microsoft venture fund

Kevin Merritt has a great suggestion for creating a Microsoft venture fund. This is not new, I wrote about my displeasure with the proposed Yahoo! deal back. Kevin has thought about a YCombinator-esque microfunding model.
  • A three person team comprised of Ray Ozzie, Don Dodge and Dare Obasanjo would be the investment committee.
  • Anyone can submit a 10-slide business plan. No NDA protection, which is the norm in the VC industry.
  • Plans are reviewed once a quarter. Those that make it through the screening are invited to a 90-minute in person demo and pitch.
  • At the end of the 90-minute demo & pitch, the three-person Ozzie/Dodge/Obasanjo investment committee makes an immediate decision. It’s pass/fail. You’re in or you’re out. American Idol style. You’re going to Hollywood or you aren’t.
  • If you pass, here’s what you get: an investment of $100,000 cash plus $25,000 per founder, but never more than $175,000;  all the Microsoft software you need; unlimited, free use of Microsoft’s cloud computing infrastructure for 3 years; mandatory office space for up to 5 people for the first year in either the Redmond or Silicon Valley Campus; all the non-sense administrative support services that typically saps a startup, a collegial environment working with other Microsoft funded startups.
  • In exchange, Microsoft gets: 10% of the company in common stock with no special preferences or rights; your commitment to exclusively use Microsoft development software and operating systems for 3 years, other than with written exception by Microsoft; your commitment to deploy your software to Microsoft platforms first (i.e. if you build a mobile app, it has to run on Windows Mobile before iPhone).

That’s it. Quid pro quo. Startups need cash, tools, infrastructure and elimination of noise and distraction. Microsoft needs access to innovation and a future generation of folks building software with Microsoft development tools and to be run on Microsoft platforms. My bet is that Microsoft will flat out buy some of the companies during their year of incubation. And if you assume each startup will have 3 to 5 people, even the ones that fail will produce a good stream of folks who could easily become employees. Microsoft probably already spends $50,000 per hire anyway, so it’s not really costing them much if anything at all.

Oh, there’s one more important twist to help stem the tide of people leaving Microsoft to found companies or join startups. Microsoft employees in good standing having spent at least 2 years at Microsoft can quit their job and can be admitted into the incubator program with only a single approval from the investment committee. No business plan, pitch or demo are required. You’re in. Your prior contributions are your ticket. How many young entrepreneurs-to-be are willing to put in two good years at Microsoft just to get into the incubator program? I think more than a few. It’s a VC spin to the army college fund. It’s the Microsoft future entrepreneurs fund.

This is a great, well thought out plan for putting $25M to work. The biggest questions for me are: how does the model scale around the world? What are the implications with respect to existing anti-trust agreements and funding companies?  What are the areas, much like the Y Combinator 30 ideas, that are part of the initial investment thesis? It feels like without a clearly defined investment thesis that this is really a public relations campaign with entrepreneurial leaning technologists.

Links for 2008-06-11

This is posted from ecto, which is a perfectly fine editor, but it’s no Live Writer, looks like I need to auto-run Parallels.

  • Bumptop beta invite
    I received my Bumptop invitation last night. And it looks like I’m not alone, Connor Turner published his experiences running it under XP. I haven’t read the requirements yet, assuming it will install on my Dell m1330, it will be going on later today after a backup. I’ll publish screenshots later.
  • Angel, VC, or Bootstrap?
    Anand Rajaraman from Cambrian Ventures (not associated with Cambrian House) talks about the risks and benefits of bootstrapping versus raising angel money. In particular, he discusses Greg Linden’s post-mortem of Findory, and the risks some entrepreneurs may experience when bootstrapping. It’s interesting model for angels that relies on personal relationships and technology expertise in the area of the company. This makes sense when looking for an individual investor, but I’m having a hard time understanding how this advice impacts organized angel groups, like National Angel Organization, maybe Dan or Bryan can help clarify.
  • The business that are now dead
    Ever since I heard Albert Lai say “How many of you work in traditional media, well, you’re f@&%ed!” at Mesh 2006, I’ve been trying to figure this out. It’s a great article challenging the death of traditional media. These are huge advertising markets, TV, radio, print are still big parts of the ad spend. They may not be growing markets. There may be greater opportunity and less capital risk on the Interwebs, i.e., it takes less money to start a blog network than a newspaper. But NY Times, BBC, World Online (never heard of them, well Django started there), News Corp and other traditional media folks are doing interesting business online. That said, bloggers and online media are not something you can ignore (even though you may think i said something else last week).
  • 9 Companies building on top of SharePoint
    ReadWriteWeb has a story from Enterprise 2.0 about 9 companies launching integrations with SharePoint. I wrote about nForm’s Midori which offers project management on top of SharePoint. There are 9 other companies including: Awareness; NewsGator Social Sites; Atlassian Confluence; WorkLight for SharePoint; Spotlight Connect for SharePoint; Telligent’s Community Sever Evolution; Tomoye’s Ecco and others. Tomoye is based in Gatineau, QC and has been building communities of practice tools.
  • Patterns for Designing a Reputation System
    Yahoo! User Interface Blog has published Reputation Design Patterns. Great work by the Yahoo team including Randy Farmer, it’s a great understanding of the social-design related UI elements for communitys and social networks.
  • The realities of life and startups
    James Robertson responds to Aaron Swartz about what keeps people from joining startups. For the first time since I started doing the startup thing in 1998, I deeply related to James’ comments. I have a new baby, I had a failed startup, and I’ve joined Microsoft. Time is the most important thing. Followed very closely by money. I try to spend as much time with my daughter as possible. Even at Nakama, I had a different viewpoint on work than my 20-something coworkers, I work a lot, but I don’t expect to spend 65+ hours a week in the office. For me, being able to have a pay cheque to pay my mortgage, to put food on the table, to provide the best possibilities for my child (hopefully children), these are the things that require either a well funded company or a job that I define at a company like Microsoft. The long and short of it, if you’re a student or a recent graduate, you should think about programs like YCombinator, even Canadians get accepted.

Canadians at YCombinator

Wow, at least 2 Canadians were accepted to this session of Y Combinator in Cambridge, MA. It looks like Y Combinator program is becoming the MBA program for entrepreneurs. Graduate from a degree program, work for a couple or 3 years, and then decide to start a company and get the unbridled focus offered by Paul Graham and the Y Combinator gang.
Michael Parkatti and Mike Marrone are writing about their experiences for the Globe and Mail in the Y Combinator diaries.
Michael provides some details about their backgrounds in the first post,

It’s been almost three years since I finished my post-graduate degree at the London School of Economics. In that time I’ve begun a career as a management consultant, worked for an Internet startup in Calgary (taking my finances to the breaking point), worked for a startup in Vancouver, committed to start a PhD program and now have started my own company.

Mike Marrone has a similar story. In the three years since finishing his Bachelor’s at Trent University, he’s worked at a small technology company in Ottawa, an Internet startup in Calgary, and Yahoo Inc. in Sunneyvale, California.

What a fantastic opportunity to get exposure to world-class Internet and software entrepreneurs. I had the pleasure of meeting Paul Graham at FooCamp07, and was just completely blown away by his personality, insight and engagement of entrepreneurs and designers.

My favourite part of the blog post is the description of what they are trying to do:

“we’re simply two guys trying to make something that people want”

Imagine that. Software that solves a problem. Makes peoples lives better. Changes the world. I’m curious at what was their Y Combinator submission. I’m curious to see what comes out at the end of the process. I’m curious if Michael and Mike decide to return to Canada after the Y Combinator experience. Whatever ends up happening, my hats off to these guys.

I can’t wait to see this story develop. I hope it turns out better than the 90 Days blog.

What would you do with $44 Billion?

Forty four billion dollars! It’s a huge sum of money. It’s a lot of money to pay to create Pepsi (apparently I prefer Coke). Others have provided their analysis of the deal. There is a mad rush to create a true competitor to Google in the rapidly growing online advertising market and now that a combined Microhoo/Yahsoft which would have created a set of highly trafficked sites and a huge amount of ad revenue, it is now off the table.

Cash. Stock. Debt. It doesn’t really matter because $44 billion is a lot of money. It’s more than the combined venture funding in the US in software since 2002! The actual amount according to PricewaterhouseCoopers MoneyTree is closer to $31B. Interestingly, angel investors in 2007 put $26 billion into 57,120 ventures according to a study by Center for Venture Research at the University of New Hampshire!

To hell with a $10 million dollar Facebook Application Fund. Never mind a $100 million dollar iPhone Fund. What about a new huge software fund aimed at funding new solutions on the Microsoft platform?

Going on an acquisition spree seems to make a lot of sense, Kara Swisher calls it Project Granola, but imagine the power of creating MicroBook, FaceSoft AND all of the other properities already out there. Digg. TechCrunch. GigaOM. LinkedIn. Meebo. The list is almost endless. Building a open media ecosystem to compete with Google, Yahoo and others. What about investments in non-North American properties? It’s a great time to be building media properties. It’s not the first time that it has been suggested that Microsoft could benefit by encouraging entrepreneurs to build successful media businesses.

With the $30 billion left over, it could be like Christmas in July for the geeks and venture firms of Silicon Valley. But Microsoft could scoop up a lot of good stuff, even if prices are high.

Here’s a list: LinkedIn. Digg. Flixster. Slide or RockYou. Veoh. WordPress. Sphere. Sugar. Some international stuff. And more.

Then, some noted, Microsoft would have to give massive financial incentives to those entrepreneurs to stay and thrive. Most importantly, it would have to keep its Redmond hands from interfering.

Time to take the lessons from building a successful software business, and see if the proceeds can be used to build an online media business(es).