Beyond Toronto: State of Halton Tech Scene

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Rick Stomphorst who is a co-founder of Silicon Halton . Halton Region is in the West end, it includes Burlington, Oakville, and Milton.Population is >500,000 people. I would have called it a bedroom community, but there is a strong set of tech companies like Ivara and Awareness Inc. We focus on Toronto, Waterloo, Montreal, Vancouver and Halifax but there are strong communities around Canada that have emerging tech startup communities.

Five years ago the state of the tech community in Halton was “virtually non-existent”. Polite conversations about tech startups would have met by shoulder shrugs, glossy eyes and guessimates of the number of startups in the low single digits (if not zero itself).

Asking those same questions today, and you’ll get a wildly different answer.

Number of Tech Companies in Halton RegionWe have been committed to connecting high-tech entrepreneurs, companies and enthusiast. Two major vehicles for connecting the community are Silicon Halton (full disclosure: I am a cofounder of Silicon Halton) and HalTech. Silicon Halton was launched in 2009 by 2 people with 2 events. In 2012, it has grown to almost 800 members and 80 events. Silicon Halton is a grassroots hi-tech community of people who make a living, make meaning, and make things happen in technology in Halton Region. HalTech is an Ontario Network of Excellence Regional Innovation Centre providing education, advisory services and industry-academia collaboration programs and hosted an additional 35 events for entrepreneurs in 2012.

The primary focus of the events been education, building local connections and increasing exposure to local companies. At the Silicon Halton’s monthly meetups, one activity is to “get to know your members” where two entrepreneurs introduce their company. These two intros per month have translated into 24 tech companies connections per year enabling collaboration, shared resources, recruiting and other local opportunities. Additional events have been added to the calendar including DemoNights and PitchNight. Feedback from participants it that the ability to connect with other entrepreneurs and professionals has helped accelerate local companies and local ecosystem. Other Halton region events include contests like Pythons Pit.

The early stage nature of the community has included a focus on shared resources and co-working. The goal being to help connect early stage companies to the broader ecosystem and reduce the risks often associated with commercial leases and real estate during the initial startup phases. The discussion around co-working spaces including 2 at concept stage and a member created app, SpaceSurfers, for finding and sharing workspaces.

Halton has a strong educational resource with  “the Harvard of animation schools”[1], Sheridan College, in Oakville. Sheridan has a strong history of great applied research in digital media, health and advanced manufacturing. It’s a great local talent pool that is easy for entrepreneurs to access through events like BIZTECH Career Fair or through campus the job posting service. [Ed. – I’m intrigues by the Bachelor of Interaction Design and the Bachelor of Game Design in providing students with design oriented skills].

Incomplete List of Halton Tech Companies & Startups

Halton companies and entrepreneurs have easy access to the activities in Peel (RIC Centre) and Hamilton (Innovation Factory & Software Hamilton) regions.

If you are in Halton Region consider joining Silicon Halton and get connected to other locals interested in high growth, high tech companies. Silicon Halton provides a platform for Halton tech companies and to enable a stronger ICT and Digital Media cluster in Halton Region.


  1. “As Sheridan’s animation department continued to grow, it produced hundreds of animators into Canadian and international studios, at one point in 1996 being called “the Harvard of animation schools” on “a worldwide basis” by animator Michael Hirsh.” on Wikipedia

Hiring your first sales rep: 10 tips and common mistakes

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How many times have you been at an event and met someone who gave you the pitch “I have this great idea, I just need someone to build it for me” or some variation of that?

This has become such a cliche in startup circles that it’s almost cringe-worthy. If all someone has is an idea then they’ve basically got nothing. As the old Edison quote goes “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

That being said, the other side of this pitch doesn’t get a ton of attention even though the problem is just as common.

There are lots of startups that build pretty solid products but never end up getting traction because they don’t figure out the sales and marketing side of things.

You don’t see a lot of technical founders searching for business development help, mostly because many engineers don’t even know they have a problem. They spend a year in their basement building the most amazing solution to a problem nobody has. When they do finally surface they discover that 6 of the 10 assumptions they made were wrong, and usually give up soon thereafter.

I’m an engineer, and I’ve seen this problem come up first hand. One of the most basic ways to avoid it is to start focusing early on customer validation. What that means in the most basic terms is to not write a single line of code before you talk to a few dozen customers who tell you unequivocally that they will buy the thing you’re thinking of building.

As you talk to customers tweak the pitch until you have 9 out of 10 potential customers telling you that they will pay money for what you’re planning to build (hint: 8 of them are lying.) This is your first step towards developing a sales process.

You (or your co-founder) need to learn to sell. Frankly, it’s not that hard and it’s mostly about persistence when it comes to getting a few pilot customers – they’re going to be early adopters, they won’t expect a polished sales pitch. It’s essential that this basic sales and marketing expertise lie within the core team. Which brings me to the first tip about hiring your first sales reps:

1. Learn how to sell and develop a basic process.

The most common mistake technical startup founders seem to make is to try and cop out on the sales part of the business. They feel they don’t know how to sell and are worried that people won’t take them seriously because they don’t have grey hair. So they hire an experienced sales guy (a friend of a friend,) give him ownership of all sales and just sit back and wait for the deals to flow in. It seems like such a plausible idea (it’s exactly what I did with Top Hat Monocle) and yet I’ve never once seen it work out. You need to learn to sell. It’s actually a skill very similar to raising money, so it’s something you’ll need to do anyway. Learn to sell just well enough to close the first few customers and develop a basic process that you can plug someone into.

2. Find reps who have experience with the same deal size and sales cycle as your product.

If your product costs $200 per month and has a 1-2 week sales cycle, don’t hire some with enterprise experience who’s used to closing three $500k deals a year, it won’t work out. A match on deal size and sales cycle is probably the best predictor of whether the rep will be a good fit.

3. Experience within your industry is useful but not essential if your product isn’t too complex.

Focus on item 2 above. Unless you’re selling a very complex product with a long (6 month+) sales cycle, don’t worry about industry experience.

4. If it’s a technical sale, tech savvy matters.

Don’t hire someone who barely knows how to use a computer to sell a software product. Frankly in general you should only hire people with basic technical literacy because otherwise you will be explaining to them how to use the CRM and your webinar software 5 times a day.

5. Sales reps are great bullshitters – ignore their words.

Only look at verifiable track record to assess the rep. This means getting a printed record of their quota attainment at every sales job they’ve had, then verifying that record with their supervisor. Anyone who hasn’t consistently blown away their quota at every job is a risk.

6. Place minimal value on prior contacts and rolodex.

The rolodex runs out after about two weeks. After that it’s all about prospecting and hard work. Don’t ever overlook a lack of experience or cultural fit because you feel the rep has a rolodex of clients they claim they’ll bring with them (they’re probably exaggerating anyway, see #5 above.)

7. With personality, focus on work ethic and motivation.

Sales is repetitive hard work. When hiring reps look for work ethic and drive. Look for people who need to earn a certain amount of money to maintain their lifestyle due to financial obligations – a big mortgage is the best motivator to hit quota.

8. Over time start to specialize your sales team.

Lead generation and research. Appointment setting. Follow ups and closing. Each is a separate role. You should segment by task and eventually by customer size or market. It may not even take that long for it to make sense to do this – we started specializing at Top Hat Monocle when we had just 3 reps.

9. Sales reps will maximize their paycheque above all else.

At least the good ones will. You need to ensure your compensation plan incentivizes sales and has relatively short term rewards. This typically means at least 50% of overall earnings should be from commission and there should be a monthly performance based commission payout. Don’t try to hire people on 100% commission, because you will likely only attract flakes who waste your time and never deliver.

10. Metric everything. Obsessively.

How many calls per day does each rep make. How many emails. What is the conversion rate on email responses. How many meetings does each rep go on per day. How many inbound leads are being generated. What is the time from inbound lead to follow-up. How many foliow-ups does each rep do per day. What is the mean time between follow ups. Everything. Metric everything.

Less boardrooms, more dinner tables.

People have become really good at pitching. The art has turned in to a bit of a science and if you do ever find yourself in front of a room of people it is par for the course for you to “nail it”. The pitch, it seems, is dead media.

It’s time to stop obsessing with your pitch and start building relationships.

If you are going to raise financing for your new product then you need to learn what it means to build relationships.


We started Founders and Funders on the basis that you would never want to accept investment from someone you couldn’t eat a meal with. What better way to find out than to eat a meal with them? It works incredibly well.

You need to find ways to end up at more dinner tables and in less boardrooms.

Also: Eat with your mouth closed ya filthy animal.

Funny story. When I was raising an angel round for my latest company I met a fairly prominent investor for lunch. I ordered a $15 sandwich combo. He got two doubles of Grey Goose, the Rib Eye, and a glass of wine. Then dessert! The shithead then stuck me with the bill! I kid you not. He then got in his car and drove off, I contemplated calling in the DUI. The hell if I was going to let him invest in my company. It was worth the $120 it took to figure it out.

I tell every entrepreneur that story, and I name names!

Then there was the time I met with Steve Anderson at a crowded bar. You should consider an invitation to meet an investor at a bar or restaurant a golden ticket. Steve came in, he was starving. I was a bit nervous so I didn’t eat much but we shared some appetizers. He was cool as shit and I knew I wanted him in my round before that meeting was over. Having a coffee and being forced to sit in a corner of a busy bar helps you get almost every “is this guy/girl legit? can I talk to him/her without needing to watch myself?” sort of stuff out of the way.

I met another investor at a Yogurt shop (he gave a fake name and told them my name was Mike). Another one in a Tiki bar and another in a co-working space.

Get out of the boardroom. Loosen up. Your pitch sucks but your product is cool, and you are even cooler.