All posts by Dan Morel

About Dan Morel

twitter: @dpmorel, email dan dot morel at gmail Dan is CTO and co-founder of Peek (www.peek.ly). Previously, he ran around the Caribbean (from Haiti to Trinidad) launching new businesses & products for Digicel - living in Kingston, Jamaica. Before that was a very early employee at Redknee, headed product development on their path to IPO. I'm a hacker and generalist business guy with my roots from University of Waterloo, Computer Science. linkedin: http://www.linkedin.com/in/danmorel

Meet StartupNorth’s Rich New Benefactor…

Yes, that’s right. Our very own Jevon Macdonald reportedly has sold GoInstant to Salesforce for $70mm big smackers.

Forbes – http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericsavitz/2012/07/09/salesforce-com-reportedly-to-buy-goinstant-for-70m-plus/

Tech Crunch – http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/09/salesforce-com-reported-to-buy-goinstant-for-70-million/

Somehow missing from the GoInstant story is that they had picked up an extremely impressive list of customers, including several of the top ecommerce brands for whom I’m sure salesforce.com wanted deeper presence.

In fact its a double pay day for startupnorth. Jonas Brandon also was one of the super early investors in GoInstant and I’m sure is taking home a nice chunk of change.

Big Congrats to Jevon and the GoInstant Team, its not every day a small startup based out of Halifax builds $70mm of value in a short 2 year period and gets acquired by one the most successful technology companies.

Is Code Written To Be Read?

The other day I attended a tech talk hosted by Facebook. Their internal platform team was talking about how they manage the Facebook framework and code base.

The presentation was titled “Code Is Written To Be Read”.

Immediately my gag reflex kicked in. Code is written to be read??? Really??? I literally can’t remember the last time I sat there and thought “hmmm, how readable is this code, I wonder if so and so will be able to understand this”. Having said that, I think I was the only person from a startup in attendance, most were from Google, Zynga, and other larger tech firms. So perhaps I was the wrong audience for this topic.

Whatever their problem is, it is not mine. In my world I have one reason to write code – TO SHIP.

“Code is Written for Users to Use It” (i.e. just ship or shipping is a feature) – that is the startup equivalent mission statement.

And this is where all the “maintainability” coding trolls come in and leave comments like “yeah, but it’ll be huge advantage if we can iterate quickly and get a v2 out and so on and so forth, thus we need code thats easy to maintain”.

No.

Here’s the reality – your product is likely going to fail, so if you wasted time and money making fancy abstractions, doing code golf, and focusing on elite coding craftsmanship… you blew it. You failed. You should have finished it 2-4 weeks earlier instead.

You have to EARN maintenance as a problem. You have to EARN v2. You have to EARN the right to practice expert craftsmanship. If you get there, if you really get to the point where maintaining your code base is a problem for you where many other developers are reading your code… congrats! You’ve succeeded. Go nuts, rewrite everything. You deserve it!! Forget every word I am writing, and go attend the Facebook tech talk and take diligent notes.

But for most of us, we are not going to earn that right. We are going to fail or pivot or leave or get acqui-hired or whatever. That code is going to get thrown in the trash never to be touched again. So how’s that clever FactoryOfTaskFactories abstraction feel now?

And that’s why you probably don’t want to hire Facebook or Google engineers for your startup. And more so, if you are a new grad engineer who aspires to be a startup founder one day, that’s why you don’t want to join Facebook or Google.

Look, it’s not that there is something wrong with those developers. I’m sure working at Facebook or Google is fantastic. It is the closest thing to a tenured prof position you can get in this field. The problem is that they operate under significantly different operating conditions than you do (unlimited money, unlimited time, lots of technical resources, working across massive teams, etc + MASSIVE scale problems, huge performance requirements,petabytes of data, etc). They learn a very different craft than you do.

Your craft, the startup developer craft, is simple – “get things done”. The other parts of the craft, you have to earn.

(caveat – if you are building a startup focused on platform or tools being used by other developers, your craftsmanship should be excellent)
(disclaimer – I have nothing against facebook or google, they are full of friends of mine and other wonderful and smart ppl)

How Rob Ford is Failing the Startup Ecosystem

What has he done for us lately?

I don’t often look to politicians to help out startups. Typically when they do, they mess it up and make it worse than it was before. And probably if I looked at Rob Ford’s track record of do-little-ness, I’d think even less of trying to push him to get involved in our just blooming, fragile startup ecosystem.

But, being here in New York the last few months, I have seen Mayor Bloomberg involved in some helpful, innovative projects. In fact, in a fascinating report about the New York startup ecosystem titled “New Tech City“, on page 24, specifically outlines the “Bloomberg Effect” and some of the tactical steps he’s taken to bolster New York’s early stage, rising tech startup community.

“New York’s tech sector has benefited greatly from an unprecedented level of support from Mayor Bloomberg and his top economic development officials.” –New Tech City Report

I’d love to hear this said about any government entity at any level in Canada.

Now I know some of you have distant (errrr… recent) memories of political thoughtfulness gone wrong (cough cough, the inadvertent disappearance of the entire angel investing class). The typical refrain I hear from folks in the tech scene is something like “Gov’t should provide money and get out of the way”. But I’ve seen the Bloomberg administration do a lot more, successfully.

For instance, here are two extremely low cost areas where city politicians can help startups – promotion and their powerful networks. I’ve been at four startup events here in New York in three months, and Mayor Bloomberg has been at two of them.

“He’s visited scores of start-ups, given major speeches at local industry events such as Tech Disrupt and the NY Tech Meetup, and last year installed a chief digital officer to help coordinate promotion efforts. As the “mayor” of City Hall on Foursquare, he’s even become an avid user himself.” — New Tech City Report

The city hosts an event called NYC Big Apps. Basically the city has been opening up up more and more data each year and runs a contest to see who can build the best mobile apps based on that dataset. The event has about $50k of awards, the grand prize winner gets $10k. The event looks to be partially covered by sponsors (BMW’s venture arm seemed to be prominent at the event). Folks from NYC’s Economic Development Council are there en masse, helping facilitate introductions between investors, well networked folks & startups. If you are a winner, you’ll get a chance to pitch to some of NYC’s best investors (many of whom support the initiative and help judge the apps themselves) – Fred Wilson et al. Not only can you see Mayor Bloomberg at events the city runs, but you can see him at other big events in the city – Disrupt, NY Tech Meetup, etc.

Wouldn’t you love to see cities get involved with key startup folks in the city (like say Howard Gwin or Boris Wertz) and run some interesting events akin to Big Apps. I’d also love to see prominent politicians supporting existing events like say Demo Day. How about hanging with Rob Ford at Startup Drinks?? Yeah, didn’t think so… but maybe a hipper, cooler city councillor?

On top of that, politicians could easily use their followership and social media outreach tools to preach and promote local startups. I’d love to see Mayor Ford tweeting about reading his Kobo, or hear Vancouver’s local government talk about their usage of HootSuite. I’d love to see some city councillors buying a new shirt using Buyosphere. Anything really to show they know entrepreneurs exist and can use every piece of help they can give.

Why Isn't Rob Ford Talking About Toronto Startups Like This?

Less talked about in the NYC Tech City report is that NYC is overhauling their own contracting/vetting procedures so smaller startups can bid and have a chance on winning meaningful business with the governments. Why shouldn’t City Hall’s use Freshbooks for instance, or FixMo? Presumably it would offer some real cost competition vs the usual city hall tech vendors.

Or better yet, how about introductions and biz dev help? New York’s Economic Development Committee actually runs events abroad (like in China), where they use their network to provide trade excursions for local New York startups. I know, because we participated in one of them (in China). We had the chance to meet lots of industry leaders in China and received meaningful business development introductions.

And then there are the “dream-big” projects. New York has created a private-public partnership, providing millions in funding to build a new engineering school with Cornell, in New York City. Or how about a high school devoted to software? I mean we have high schools for the arts littered across Canada… and I’m pretty sure that a software oriented high school might have a bit better of a business case than say… the Etobicoke School For The Arts.

Cornell's Proposed New Engineering School In NYC

So, dear Canadian politicians, I dare you to be creative and get more involved. You can actually help startups out! Talk to influential key people in your local startup scene and ask them “how can we help?”. Use stuff created by local startups, evangalize and promote the crap out of them.

And I’d love to hear more from our audience on ways that your local gov’t has helped (or has not helped) from within your own communities.

PS – A weird corollary post might be titled – “How startups should get involved in government and politics”. When are some of you going to become city councillors and mayors? :)