The local product design economy

Update: I changed the verb acquiring to joining. A lot of the chatter has been about how this is not an acquisition. And I agree. It is not. As the post states at the top, TeehanLax is shutting down. It is reminiscent of the Smart Design closing (see Dan Safer’s post) and some of the reasoning behind the Adaptive Path acquisition by Capital One. It sucks. But I’m not planning on leaving Toronto, and I’m celebrating my friends like a wake and trying to understand the implications. 

TeehanLax is shutting down. This is getting a lot of coverage:

Why so much coverage? Well it is because TeehanLax was one of the best design firms around, if not the best in Canada. They designed 2 of my favourite apps: Prismatic and Medium. You could see the tension between the services side of their business and the desire/pull of being a product company.

BarCamp Toronto

I first met Jon and Geoff back in 2004. It was after the release of their PVR report comparing the user experiences of the Bell and Rogers PVRs to TiVO. They had an interesting approach, doing interesting work, just trying to build a different kind of company. That was evident when Jon agreed to host BarCamp Toronto in November 2005. It was a different approach than Sapient, ModemMedia, Scient, Viant, Razorfish or other agencies in Toronto were taking. It wasn’t a client development strategy, it wasn’t a recruiting strategy, it was an offer to participate in the conversation.

Photo by John Lam

Photo by John Lam

The shutting down of a company that I described last week as a “building big, impactful [indie] company” is interesting. Jon, Geoff, David (Jeremy, Peter, Tamera and the entire team over the years) you built a company that I respected. And I am very happy that you’ve made the best decision for you and your families. It’s your company, you get to make the decisions, so don’t listen to the naysayers.

Photo by Tom Purves

Photo by Tom Purves

Here are a couple of observations about one of my favourite design firms shutting down in Toronto.

  1. Short term: design talent availability
    There is a bunch of design and development talent that is available for other Toronto companies to hire. These people have been trained in one of the best design cultures in Canada.  They produced an environment that produced some of the best products in the world.  If anyone from the TeehanLax team needs connections to interesting companies please drop me a note and I will do my best to connect you.
  2. Short term: More people evaluating Toronto companies for acquisition
    This is the third Toronto design and development company acquired in the past 24 months. JetCooper acquired by Shopify. Xtreme Labs acquired by Pivotal. Now TeehanLax shutting down and joining Facebook. This is important. Toronto is a great place to acquire talent. Hopefully there is an equal respect for the design and development work being done here. (This excludes the amazing talent like Mike Beltzner, Mike Shaver, Scott Boms, Sam Ladner and others).
  3. Longer term: The loss of a gravity centre for design talent
    There are other places that are gravity centres. Pivotal Labs is a great place for engineers and designers to learn the power and efficiency of paired environment. Farhan and team are doing wonders to explore and implement a very powerful cultural tool. TeehanLax built a culture that produced great digital products and experiences.

    “We were happiest when the products we were creating reached our standards. We were happiest when we spent time thinking about how to create the conditions and circumstances for this to happen. We were happiest when we were working with our team members.”

    It will be interesting to see if the T+L diaspora can have an impact on the ecosystem like the Trilogy diaspora in Austin or IDEO diaspora in Palo Alto.

  4. Services firms are not destined to be huge companies
    The back of the napkin math I use to calculate a services business is approximately $200k in revenue per employee. Sold at under 5x EBITDA (given a 20-30% margin and averaged revenue of past 2 years plus forecast using error correction of previous forecast, lets say 1x revenue). There is great business, it’s just a hard business to scale nonlinearly. And when “someone slides a number across the table big enough that you just can’t say no”  a product company that is scaling like crazy is likely to be able to slide a bigger number than a services company. It feels like we’re seeing that ceiling being hit by XtremeLabs (sold to Pivotal), TeehanLax (joining Facebook), JetCooper (sold to Shopify), maybe BNotions (AK has departed for Gallop Labs).
  5. Opportunity in the product/design/user experience space
    TeehanLax was a design firm. It was a design firm that respected technology. There are other firms in Toronto that are a mix of product, design and technology including Normative, SayYeah, BoltMade, Nascent, TailoredUX among others (including those with a more technology focus VennPivotal LabsOK Grow!Isle of CodeThe Working GroupBNOTIONSEndLoop StudiosUnspaceRangle.ioPeople & CodeDigiflareFunctional ImperativeMetaware Labs).  TeehanLax showed that it was possible to build a world-class design shop in Toronto. I’m hoping someone realizes this is the combination of the caliber of the output, the process to build the culture and the requirement of building the business/revenue streams.

Interesting times in Toronto. Congratulations to Jon, Geoff and David. Thank you for being amazing. And the best of luck on your journey.

Hacking Health

Hacking Health, Oct 19-21, 2012 at MaRS in Toronto

A Hacking Health  event is happening October 19-21, 2012 in Toronto. The event focuses on bringing innovation to health care. It brings together clinicians with developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to look for real world solutions based on real clinical experience. It should be a very interesting event. The Montreal event has a 138 developers, 28 designers, 66 healthcare experts and 32 mentors. This signals a huge opportunity in the healthcare clinicians and practitioners for new tools and change. I wonder if the health care funding mechanisms/decision making will limit both the development and the adoption of any potential tools. It would be an interesting to discussion to have with others at the event.

Hacking Health Montreal Breakdown of Participants


The event in Montreal generated 19 projects, including:

  • HemoTrack – a mobile app that collects real time usage of Factor VIII, bleeding events and uploads that information to a web application accessed by physicians to monitor their patient’s health. This project included Dan McGrady
  • Kinect Burn Area App – Using the off-the-shelf Microsoft Kinect, the 3D depth sensor feature accurately and rapidly provides doctors measurements of total body surface area. The camera feature allows clinicians to visualize and accurately mark the area of the burn on screen and automatically calculate the % of body surface area burnt as well as fluid requirements of the patient.

I’m hoping to get out and participate (weekends are incredibly valuable, taking time away from kid activities and time means this really has to deliver value for my participation).

Blogging More

I wrote my first blog post for, roughly 11 years ago on the day Douglas Adams passed away from a heart attack.  It is hard to believe that I have been doing this unsuccessfully for 11 years. Strangely, I had my heart attack roughly 5 years later on May 30, 2006, maybe heart trouble is the common thread through my blog.

I need to get in the habit of blogging more. I have been woefully neglectful of my blog. Unlike Joey, who seems to have found time to blog multiple times per day. I need to follow the advice of Mark Suster and Fred Wilson (more), and just make blogging part of my daily activities. (I probably need to try to make other things like a walking desk part of my daily activities too). I’ve written a lot of posts for StartupNorth, but I haven’t been as dedicated to my own blog.

Here are some of my favorite posts:

 Back to it I guess.

Mesh is TO’s most important DIY conference

Mesh Conference is Toronto’s most important DIY conference.

Copyright All rights reserved by geoperdis

That’s right Mesh Conference is a DIY event. It’s the Do-It -Yourself endeavour of small dedicated group of individuals. And you can see each of their personalities and interests in the schedule and speakers. Rob Hyndman (@rhh), Stuart MacDonald(@stuartma), Mark Evans(@markevans), Mathew Ingram(@mathewi), and Mike McDerment (@mikemcderment) have been working very hard since 2006 to build a world-class that has attracted renown speakers, mayors, and attendees. The secret is that Mesh is an event that all of them want to attend. The reason they invest time and effort into this event is because it is really for them.

Ingram, Hyndman, Evans, MacDonald - missing McDerment
Copyright All rights reserved by photojunkie

Why is Mesh Toronto’s most important DIY event?

There are great events ranging from my DemoCamp to EcommerceCamp, from MakerFaireTO to Open Toronto, TechTalksTO to HackTO.  There are a great number of local events that have emerged. The thing about Mesh is that it started in 2006. Over 5 years ago, shortly after the first BarCampToronto. And since the very first Mesh, it has always had an air of professionalism that others should strive to obtain. Mesh from the very first event was an event that was world class. It was Canadian in size (about 1/10th the size of a US event). But it has always been DIY, it has never felt DIY.

Rob, Stuart, Mark, Mathew, Mike and Sheri deserve true accolades for building an event that defines the emerging technology, emerging culture, emerging policy in Canada. Thank you!

I hope to see everyone at the Allstream Centre this week.

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:


Outsourced play

Hockey Fan
Photo by shuck

I learned about the idea of outsourcing play from Alex Manu’s book The Imagination Challenge. I’m guilty of outsourcing play from Formula1 to UFC (don’t ask, but it’s cathartic and I feel a little schadenfreude). Evidence of the continued outsourcing of play is the continued meteoric rise of fantasy sports.

“It is estimated that 26 million Americans play some form of fantasy sports league, a fact that has created an industry worth close to $1 billion a year according to the U.S.-based Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

“The average amount that each of these players spends on their hobby might be $500 per year or so, moreover, these figures appear to be growing — even in a down economy — at near-double-digit annual rates.”

If those figures continue at that pace, fantasy will soon overtake reality. Professor Quinn points out that, by comparison, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) total attendance is 25 million per year, bringing in close to $3 billion in the process.” – James Montague, CNN

InGamer SportsThere are a number of new startups attacking this growing market space. There are some changing dynamics with the availability of real-time data that offer a change in the game play that has been the weekly engagement model of traditional fantasy sports pools. There is a Toronto-based startup, InGamer Sports, that is building a new game using the realtime statistics for baseball and hockey to engage players. They launched during Game 1 of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals with The Hockey News. Nic Sulsky provided metrics about their launch. 

InGamer Numbers from Game 1 (Nic says “small but powerful”)

  • 0$ spent marketing only a link on
  • 113 Unique Visitors
  • 40:19 Average time on site
  • 52 Games created (46% conversion)
  • 37 Registered Games
  • 18 Unique Taunters
  • 228 Taunts
  • 28 people had their browsers open to the end of the game

I don’t have any ability to judge the metrics, i.e., I’m not an expert at the existing traffic or conversation rates for fantasy sports and The Hockey News. It’s a fun game, you pick 5 players who get points for their performance. You have the option to select new players that change at each period. You can then in real-time taunt and challenge your compatriots. The interaction is currently 100% web-based but it’s not a huge stretch to see the UI move beyond the browser to mobile in particular. Great fun, too bad it’s not Toronto (like the Leafs are making it to the Cup, pipedream) and Calgary I can hear John Bristowe taunting Mark Relph in real-time.

It’s great to see InGamer build an application that extends the impact that leagues and players have with their fans. It’s a great opportunity to build deeper experiences and help get fans to that flow state of engagement while watching their favourite teams. It’s not full baked and they are changing based on customer data.


You can play tonight during Game 3, and the best part the Sutter family will be playing InGamer. Check out or to play.

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.

DemoCamp Ramen Edition

Photo by frippy

It’s time again for DemoCamp. There are a few tickets remaining. But this is DemoCamp Ramen Edition. Why ramen? Well it’s pretty easy. The first is an homage to being ramen profitable. The last event with Gurbaksh Chahal was great, my only complaint was that by 9pm I was hungry. The great folks at Liberty Noodle have offered to help us out. They are providing take out boxes of noodles or rice as part of the DemoCamp registration. Hopefully this should make it more tenable to spend time watching a stellar line up of local startups and a keynote. This is all made possible by our friends at SIFE Ryerson, who have recently launched StartMeUpRyerson to be the SVASE of Canada, go have a peek.

April Dunford is keynoting.  April is one of my favourite marketers in the world. She has lived in big organizations (IBM, Nortel) and at small organizations (DataMirror, Infobright, VersePoint). She has a wicked grasp of customer development  and this #leanstartup thing. April has agreed to talk about the myths of product market fit. Well at least the challenges about figure out if you’ve got product-market fit and how to know when to begin to transition to go-to-market. This will be a must attend discussion for startups about products, marketing and corporate development. (Don’t worry if you miss April at DemoCamp, you can see Sean Ellis at MeshU).

There is an outstanding line up of startups:

I’ve seen a few of these demos, and they are fun. It’s exciting to get to see world-class technologies and startups here in Toronto (Ottawa and Montreal). I’m looking forward to hanging out with everyone, learning from April and watching the best demos.

We’ll be heading out for beers afterwards. We’re heading over to the Imperial Pub. And if you haven’t figured this out, let me help you, The Imperial Pub is a great place for a couple of beers, it’s not the place to go for dinner.

Coworking in Toronto – Camaraderie

Yeah, independents, freelancers, emerging startups, web developers and others rejoice. You have a coworking option in Toronto again. After Indoor Playground “moved” in January 2008, Toronto has been lacking a general coworking space. (Yes I know about the Centre for Social Innovation, but it has mission-based selection criteria that helps create it’s ecosystem and not everyone qualifies). But today, Rachael and Wayne have announced the opening of Camaraderie. I provided some coverage over on StartupNorth, I’m hoping that we can again try to rally around a different office space model that is enabled by this emerging participatory culture.

Camarderie - Coworking in Toronto

Camaraderie is a located at 102 Adelaide St E, Toronto, ON. The doors are scheduled to open on Feb 15, 2010 and the space will be free until Feb 28, 2010. I’m hoping that many of the independents that are looking for a part-time, downtown coworking space will check out Camaraderie. The pictures of the space are still very raw.

The Building 102 Adelaide St E, Toronto, ONOpen WorkspaceKitchen AreaBoard Room

The Details

  • memberships will be $300/mo for unlimited use during business hours
  • we’ll work out keys later, but for now the space will be open 9:00am-6:00pm (or later)
  • free wifi, coffee, tea, and hot chocolate every day

Social Media Week + PowerPoint Karaoke

Eli Singer, the team at Entrinsic, and a supporting cast of  people & advisors have organized the first Social Media Week Toronto.

There is a great schedule of events that span the gamut of social media for companies large and small, not for profit, and local case studies. The schedule is a week with independently organized events. Some of the events I’m watching include:

PowerPoint Karaoke is one of my favorite social formats. It is just brilliant. I first saw it executed in 2006 at ETech. And I wrote about as an alternative format to DemoCamp. I’m stoked to see that my friends Tom & Jay are making the effort to make it happen in Toronto. Remember it’s a social event, it’s meant to be a way to have fun!

North by Northeast Interactive

If it feels like there is a push of activities in Toronto, there are.

You don’t need to attend every event, there is lots going on.