Jevon MacDonald

co-founder of Startupnorth.ca

We Should Be Building Empires

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Last chance to get your tickets to this incredible event!

We don’t build a lot of empires around here.

Empires are big, they grow fast, and they use momentum to determine where to apply resources. Empires don’t respond, they set the new rules.

Carnegie. Rockefeller. Gates. Zuckerberg.

Lutke. McDerment. Baker.

We’ve had empires come and go, but we haven’t built the sort that stick around for 100 or 1,000 years.

We need to startup building empires.

In 2008 we held a conference in Toronto. Some of you might remember it. We were going to call it something like StartupNation, StartupConf or something else,. but we decided to call it StartupEmpire. Why?

We thought it was important to put a stake in the ground about the kinds of companies Toronto startups needed to think about building: Bigger, badder and more resilient.

Next week we are re-doing it. StartupEmpire is taking place in Halifax this time, a startup community that is in much the state that Toronto’s was 5+ years ago. It’s time to focus our gaze out in to the world and to say ‘”I’m coming for you.”

You can hear from some of the most ambitious and experienced entrepreneurs in Canada right now including April Dunford, John Baker, Dan Martell, Bala Kamallakharan and a lot more.

Get your tickets now, there are only about a dozen left!

You are supposed to break the rules

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Great entrepreneurs truly do not care about the rules.

If you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of rules.

Some come and go with the times, others never seem to go away:

  • You are supposed to dress a certain way
  • Finance your company this way
  • You pitch deck should look like THIS
  • You, in your industry, with your product, it’s not the way it’s done

And there are the big rules, the regulations:

Great companies are built by breaking rules. We call them ‘norms’ but they are rigid and they feel real until someone destroys our idea about ‘how it’s done’.

  • Marc Benioff decided to sell software as a service when everyone believed they had to install software on premise
  • Steve Jobs built expensive but beautiful machines when every other hardware company believed they had to be cheap.

and so many more.

And it’s happening, there are more great stories of breaking the rules and the amazing companies that result:

  • Figure1 is breaking the rules in Healthcare
  • Wattpad has done away with not only publishers, but with most of the old creative process

Who else comes to mind?

Sometimes a pure rethinking of technology can completely rewrite the rulebook. Bitcoin is readily looked at as an alternative to fiat currency, something that was unthinkable before a purely electronic currency was conceived.

Breaking the rules goes by many different names like ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’ but they all start with someone rethinking an old way of doing business. When we look back on what they’ve accomplished we often like to call these rule breakers ‘clever’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘strategic’. The truth is that they didn’t get ahead by adding complexity, or navigating what existed. Most of the time they were able to get ahead by pushing aside the rules and focusing on the opportunity.

The rules almost always come to mind later.

As the world becomes more and more ‘wired’ I believe that startups will run in to regulatory hurdles more and more often. Like uber, AirBnB, Lyft and others, the rules sometimes represent a massive opportunity to create efficiencies in a place everyone else thought was off limits.

There are little rules, and there a big rules. No matter which stage a company is at, it’s the rule breakers who get noticed, they are the ones who crack a market open and feed off the the plump center.

Get them out of the building: Travel support from Volta

Graffiti at VoltaWhen Ben Yoskovitz moved to Halifax to join us at GoInstant he left the growing Montreal community and brought a lot of fresh perspective to what needs to happen in Nova Scotia to grow the startup ecosystem.

The #1 thing he noticed was the successful startups were the ones getting out of the building and on to a plane. Spending significant amounts of time in San Francisco, New York or wherever you need to be is an important part of growing your network of people you can rely on to build your business.

Today Volta is announcing a travel support program for startups. You have to be small (<10 employees) and young (<3 years old).

This hits home for me. When I was living in Charlottetown and 19 years old I had my first attempt at a product startup, it was called Blogtrack. It had what seemed like an insane number of daily active users at the time, just under 10,000, and I had no idea what I was doing (still working on that). I also had no money really, certainly not enough to blow on a trip to Boston for Bloggercon. A guy named Lee Brammer at what is now called “Innovation PEI” offered to help cover some of the costs for the trip, which meant it was (just barely) affordable. It was, for me, an eye opening trip, eating dinner at a table for 4 with Dave Wiener, Betsy Devine and Dan Bricklin just about blew my mind.

Anyway, the point is that sometimes you really need to get out there and just do something you might not have otherwise. Good things almost always come from it and the truth is that it can be hard to make up for sitting across the table from someone and really getting to know them.