Growing successful companies

I am sick of hearing there is no money for #startups in Canada. BULLSHIT! It might be there is no money for YOUR startup in Canada.
David Crow

Mark Evans (LinkedIn) wrote a blog post about my tweet. The blog post captures much of my sentiment and frustration around entrepreneurs. I commented about entrepreneurs learning about how to build a successful, high growth emerging technology companies. And there are lots of ways to learn what is considered a successful company. And a great way to learn is to learn from others that have been in the trenches. Debbie Landa (LinkedIn) and her team at Dealmaker Media have done most of the hard work for you.


They have brought together a great event. Attending the event won’t bring you investment. It won’t make you a successful company. But it might increase the odds. They are bringing together an amazing set of entrepreneurs. And they are bringing them to Toronto and Montreal to share their experiences, stories about what worked and didn’t work for their companies.

Local Events Matter

You can and should get your ass on plane and head to New York City and San Francisco to attend events. But you don’t always have to. There are advantages to attending these events locally.

  1. Local connections can help you see The First Rule of Real Estate – you can find and connect with local talent. Whether that is for funding, moral support, hiring, etc. There will be people you do not know yet. Easy way to find them out.
  2. Travel costs are less for regional travel. If you live in Ottawa or Montreal or Halifax, you can make it to Toronto or Montreal by plane, train or automobile for a lot less than travelling elsewhere.
  3. Travel time is lessened. You can spend a day.

This all assumes that the event is providing amazing content that you would travel to consume.

World Class Content

The content that Debbie and team have assembled is unbelievable. If you don’t know who these people are, my advice is take a little bit of time and use the GOOG. These are entrepreneurs that have seen the ups and downs, the ins and outs of successful businesses.

Every single person is worthy of a keynote presentation at a larger conference. This is not a vanity presentation. They are on stage sharing information about their specific expertises in building successful businesses. It’s not Mark Organ talking about random things, which is fun, but Mark Organ talking about leveraging disruptive technology in fund raising. Holy crap! You want to learn how Mark used AngelList, LinkedIn and other tools to raise 2 of the most impressive rounds of capital in Canada…quickly.

Every single person speaking, every one, will be providing expertise about what they did to build a successful company.  Here is the list of presenters in Toronto:

You want more details, check out my first post. Do your homework. But this is an amazing opportunity.  The lineup is different in Montreal. It includes 2 of my close friends, but they are 2 of the best people in helping startups become successful. Mark MacLeod and Alistair Croll . Unbelievably kind and intelligent people, who beyond that know WTF it is startups need to do to become successful. They like the others are the best of the best.

Our Commitment to Successful Companies

There are initiatives like Startup Visa Canada and the Upside Foundation that we strongly support. And we’re committed to helping provide education to entrepreneurs to help them to build successful companies.

We’ve committed to provide a limited number of $100 discounts. I am not going to tell you how many. If you are building a successful startup, and you want to hear the tactics and advice of other entrepreneurs that have been massively successful in building their startups, sign up now and save $100 before the discount expires.

  • GrowTalks Montreal – February 19, 2013Register use promo code: startupnorth
  • GrowTalks Toronto – February 21, 2013Register use promo code: startupnorth


Build It

There is this idea you keep telling friends about… you know it is promising because a day or two after you mention it, they circle back via email “I’ve been thinking about X and it would be pretty cool, any progress with the website / app?”

Or perhaps you just found some new tech that seems promising… no justification to implement it at work, but you are itching to take it for a test drive.

Well sometimes you just have to build it. 

Put it out in the world. Even a rough prototype. And if it is interesting… it might take on a life of it’s own. Who knows were it might lead… a startup? a new job? fame? fortune? Often enough big things have pretty humble beginnings.

Still on the fence? Fine, let us sweeten the pot. How about you build something awesome this weekend (anything you want) and we (care of LinkedIn Hackday) give you a new Macbook Air (assuming it is the most awesome thing built at the hackday). I’ll be the judge of awesome (well a few of us)… but I can already tell, what you are going to build is awesome!

This week LinkedIn Hackday comes to Toronto. It is free. You keep your code. The only rule? Start development Friday (advance planning is fine).

Register here to build it:

LinkedIn Hackday

The companies I should have paid more

Building a startup is hard and managing ops is really hard. Devops are hard and expensive.
Luckily these days there are some amazing companies making it way easier to build the startup of your dreams. Frankly, I don’t think they are getting paid nearly enough while some are getting paid way too much.

What apps are a key part of your day-to-day and which could you live without? 

Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 1.18.04 PMGitHub - Paid: $50/month. Should be: $500/month
GitHub is the lifeblood of our dev team. Everything lives in it and it has allowed us to avoid hiring devops for years. You can hack it, glue it and spew it all over the place. All the while it is secure and reliable, almost never letting us down. It has a ton of “good enough” features like Issues and the Wiki and they are “great” because they integrate right in to the most important parts of GitHub.

I want this company to live a long and healthy life. May they never be acquired and may they reign for all time.

HipChat - Paid: $2/person/month. Should be: $150/month all-in
Screen Shot 2013-01-29 at 1.18.44 PMWe have a love/hate relationship with HipChat. We wrote our own robot which connects GitHub in to Hipchat and that is useful for managing a big chunk of our dev process. Hipchat also does a great job of maintaining conversation history, so we can find almost anything we need to in those “what was that thing?” moments.

Hipchat does however have a horrible Adobe AIR desktop client and one of the worst mobile clients I have ever seen for chat. HipChat on the iPhone has no sense of message status. It tells you “you have a new message!” but then you have to, literally, hunt every chat room and look for a new message. It is also extremely slow to load. We call this “Hipchat anxiety” when we are out of the office. If they can fix these issues then it would be a huge positive for HipChat users. The reason I should have paid HipChat more is because it is clearly useful but they also clearly need the money in order to improve the product.

Google AppsPaid: $50/user/year. Should be: $150/user/year
I cannot overstate how awesome it is to have Email, Calendar and Docs out of the box for every new employee. Rock solid service and the apps are always improving. It saves having to buy a MS Office license for every new hire and it has collaboration/sharing baked in. Google apps I love you and I will never hurt you.

Skype –  Paid: nothing. Should be: $30/user/year
Skype has been free for Skype-to-Skype for so long that I think Governments would be ousted if they tried to charge for the basic service, but wow we used a lot of Skype calls in the early days. Skype video chat is still the best, even if Google Hangouts are getting better, and it’s very reliable.

TrelloPaid: I don’t think we do. Should be: Something more than $0

Trello polarizes. Some love it, some hate it. We clearly love it because we use it to prioritize anything and everything. We should be paying something.


Things we paid too much for:

Some apps are just too expensive for startups and really aren’t worth even doing the free trial.

My cellphone. Paid: $60 to $600/month. Should be: $60/month.

A cellphone bill strikes fear in to a startup’s heart. You make a few trips out of the country and you are greeted with a gigantic roaming bill when you get back. You aren’t the bankers and the lawyers that the phone company is targetting with these crazy roaming rates but you still have to run your business and you need to be able to communicate while you are on the road. I wish I could have just paid a consistent amount that would have let me plan for cellphone expenses. Paid $15/user/month (and tricked in to a 1-year contract). Should be: $10/user/month with no contract.
Box does this thing where when you sign up for a paid plan they have you click a box that says “I agree to the terms of service”. When you go and look at that terms of service it commits you to a 1-year contract. It really is absurd. Other contract-based SaaS providers are much more transparent about contracts. Dropbox was a cheap alternative that we used even though we were paying for Box.

Webex/Gotomeeting. Paid: didn’t. Should be: cheap.
Even if you are a co-browsing startup you need screensharing occasionally believe it or not. We avoided using it mostly but when we did need it there were much better and cheaper options than Webex or Goto.