Rebooting DemoCamp

 

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DemoCamp was conceived in 2005. I have hosted approximately 30 events (I only missed one and that resulted in 2 companies that eventually exited: Bumptop and Sysomos). It has been 7 years. But the world has changed. There were no accelerators or cyclotrons. There was no iPhone or Android. And while Demo and DemoCamp continue to work (see mHealthDemoCamp, Hamilton, Guelph, Edmonton, Eclipse and others). The format is simple (DIY instructions here).  But I’m feeling like it is time to open a broader discussion about the role events like DemoCamp should play.

mHealth DemoCamp

Craig Netterfield (LinkedIn, @cnetterfield) described DemoCamp as “DemoDay for companies that aren’t in an incubator”.  It was an interesting observation about the role DemoCamp played as a structured social process for entrepreneurs, funders and the community. My challenge is that DemoCamp in Toronto can not continue in the same incarnation. I am hoping to have an open conversation and gather feedback from students, founders, employees, funders about how we make it better. There are lots of events in Toronto. I don’t want to do an event for the sake of an event. I want to build something better, something that solves a need that is a catalyst for success of entrepreneurs.

Sources of Event Inspiration

I keep wondering about what is the role of an event like DemoCamp. Is it one of the following?

  • PR and Awareness
  • Recruiting
  • Inspiration
  • Education
  • Social

Does an event like DemoCamap need to exist?

“Good things happen to you at events” – Nivi

Events are great. They allow individuals an opportunity and to interact in social norms, we are inherently social animals. And events “are the place to meet people who won’t meet with you. People who aren’t available over email or one-on-one go to events to make themselves available”. But it is the social norms or the event dynamics that can make for meaningful experiences. There is an assumption that we should continue hosting events like DemoCamp and Founders & Funders. The assumption is that these events are valuable to entrepreneurs, developers, designers, marketers and others.

The thing about events is that someone has to organize and pay for them. What are the costs? Facilities, audio/visual, ticketing, insurance, bar staff, liquor license, etc. While we strive for $0 or low cost to attendees, there are still hard costs that have to be covered. (And this doesn’t include lost opportunity costs of not working on other things). The Brad Feld book tour event for example had costs of approximately $17000. These costs included books, space rental, food, and staff. The books were the offset/proxy for the travel expenses for bringing a guest speaker. We had basically 2 revenue streams: sponsorship and ticket sales. But the goal was to host an amazing event with a great speaker that derived real value for entrepreneurs and policy makers.

What would you do to completely reboot DemoCamp? How would you change the event? What do you find valuable? Is it worth rebooting? What changes would you like to see?

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Hiring a Growth Hacker on StartupNorth.ca

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Did you know that we run a job board for startups? It does allow companies to reach an audience that is interested in startups.

“Amar joined us 3 weeks ago after a long trial of hunting down and applying for the “Growth Hacker” position we posted on StartupNorth. We couldn’t be happier with his progress, hunger and efficiency. Over to you Amar!” – Michael Litt, Vidyard

There are great stories of people find companies and roles like Amar Chahal (LinkedIn) and the Growth Hacker role at Vidyard. If your a looking for a new gig, go read about how Amar was hired at Vidyard. It will blow your mind how much he committed to the process. I’m actually shocked that no one has socially hacked our job board as a candidate, i.e., it’s not that expensive but you could pay to highlight your resume or portfolio, because it will only work once.

Post Your Job

Postings are only $25 for 60 days. Postings are embedded on StartupNorth.ca and all postings are shared on our Twitter account. For example:


New job posted: Technical Marketer / Maintenance Assistant Inc / Toronto, ON, Canada http://t.co/WQkBUV6v
@startupnorth
StartupNorth

It’s a quick, relatively inexpensive way to post jobs to a targeted audience. Get a little bit of distribution and hopefully find candidates like Amar.

We are open to discussion about how we can improve the Jobs Board for both candidates and companies. Got a suggestion for how we improve things? We are all ears.

The Pending Talent Wars

 

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Did you know that accelerators are heading for a shake out? We’ve talked a lot incubators, accelerators and cyclotrons. And the proliferation of the accelerator model is generally positive, it started me thinking about a possibility for slightly different model. One that Kevin Swan posted an insightful comment on the talent shortage for Canadian startups. I don’t think I’m the first to propose this, but it starts to make sense. Incubators/accelerators don’t need to only hasten the formation, creation and ideation of companies. They are fertile grounds to accelerate people. And it’s not just incubators and accelerators, companies participate in HackDays to find talent.

Need proof?

Vuru acquired by Wave Accounting

Vuru founders Cameron Howieson and Yoseph West reached out to the Wave Accounting team for advice on building a free, web-based financial services tool. Over time, the two companies traded notes as Wave took on a an informal advisory role, and that led to a sense that Vuru’s talent and direction were something that would be well suited to the Wave Accounting mission. — Darrell Ethrington, Aug 21, 2012 in BetaKit

Vuru was a 2 cofounder team in the FounderFuel (full disclosure: I am mentor in FounderFuel and I now employed by Wave Accounting investor OMERS Ventures). They were building a “investment tracking tools aimed at managing personal finance, which is not something Wave currently offer[ed]”. It was a great fit, a team that had the entrepreneurial culture to make a difference at Wave and a product that filled a known product roadmap gap.

Algo Anyhere acquired by 500px

Ok, before Zach Aysan slaps me for being totally incorrect. AlgoAnywhere was not in an incubator or accelerator program. But they had raised a seed round and were building very interesting technology.

The 500px founders met Algo Anywhere at their Pixel Hack Day last year, and were impressed by what the team brought to the table. Algo Anywhere’s tech was originally intended to be sold on an SaaS basis, providing companies with the data crunching power of sophisticated recommendation algorithms, without the need for those to be developed in-house or hosted on a company’s own servers – Darrell Ethrington, July 9, 2012 in BetaKit

The interesting point here isn’t about incubators or accelerators. It’s about founders of early-stage companies looking for relationships and gaps in the market left by other players.

Pulpfingers acquired by 500px

It seems that 500px has been strategically acquiring companies. It looks like both Pulpfingers and Algo Anywhere were part of the PixelHackDay (see photo from TechCrunch). Which gives 500px access to see designers, developers working in their domain space. It’s a great way to round out the product roadmap, Pulpfingers was a iOS discovery application. And they aren’t alone. Hootsuite acquired Seesmic and Swift.

Built to Last versus Built to Flip

I’m not arguing that founders should be looking to build companies to flip. There is lots of conversation about building lasting value. I’m arguing that companies that have raised capital to scale are looking for alternative methods to acquire talent. Get access to the API, build a meaningful service, acquire shared customers and go forward, it’s Biz Dev 2.0 (as Caterina described back in 2006). What’s new to the game for Canada (well Canadian startups) is that for the first time since RIM we are starting to have web startups that are reaching scale and are able to acquire talent, teams and companies. The goal isn’t to look for a acqui-hire or a manquisition, but to look at where working with an existing company or API gives you immediate access to distribution or monetization that you might have to work harder to build on your own.

I’m betting that companies like Wave Accounting, 500px, Influitive, Hootsuite, Shopify,Freshbooks, Top Hat Monocle, WattpadUpverter, Chango, FixmoDesire2Learn, Lightspeed are all actively looking for teams that are building on their APIs or filling product gaps (it becomes a buy versus build decision).

If I was a developer or looking to get into an incubator program, I’d start looking at the hackathons and APIs that are aligned with my vision where I could accelerate customer adoption.

Events

APIs and Developer Starting Points

Find an API (be it local or otherwise) that aligns with your vertical, figure out if you can solve one of your immediate challenges (like distribution and customer acquisition). Maybe strike up a conversation with the product teams at shop. But build something that delights customers and users! Go! Now!

Who has something built on one of the above APIs?