Don’t Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to Toronto Startup Ecosystem

Rob Go published his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Boston Tech Community, and it got me thinking about how much of the Toronto Tech scene has changed over the years. This is a my view of the players and contributors in the Toronto Startup Ecosystem. It is not a comprehensive list. It’s designed to be an overview. If you want more detail, seek it out.

The first rule of this community is:

” Create more value than you capture.” – Tim O’Reilly

If you can’t figure out how to add value, then you are doing it wrong. It probably means that you’re ruining the experience for someone else.

Monthly/Semi-Regular Events

  • Mentor Mondays – hosted by Howard Gwin of OMERS Ventures. Probably the best networking event for funded and looking to get funded startups. Includes Howard’s network of CEOs, founders, consultants and other crazies that can provide real world advice. This is the best CEO event in the city if you can get an invite.
  • Founders & Funders – An invite only event hosted semi-regularly by use here at StartupNorth. It’s designed to bring together the people the start high potential growth companies and the people that fund them. It is invite only, requirements vary if you are a founder or a funder. For funders, we like to see 2 investments of >$100k in the past 12 months, and we try to vette founders to be fundable (and we’re often wrong)
  • SproutUpTO – Hosted by Jon Spencely and the Sprouter crew. Roughly monthly meetup that follows the startup demos and a big name keynote speaker. Event is approximately $12 to attend. Has hosted big names like: Daniel Burka, Tony Conrad, Matt Meeker, Sean Ellis, and others. Many of the keynote speakers and the startups are “high potential growth technology companies” but I find that  the audience and the networking is mixed.
  • TechTalksTO - Great semi-regular series of talks by technologists for technologists.
  • StartupGrind TO – Semi-regular access to startup speakers including Paul Singh, Eric Migicovsky, and others
  • Ladies Learning Code - focused on teaching development skills to newbies (of all genders).
  • DevTO – monthly developer educational events. Broad focus on industry trends and specific development environments.
  • Creative Mornings TO – Monthly breakfast series for creative types. Tends to aim more agency side but a great show.
  • Pecha Kucha TO – Pecha Kucha is the format that started it all. 20 slides x 20 seconds. It’s another event that tends to be aimed more at designers and agency folks. Presentations are always interesting.
  • Third Tuesday Toronto – Primarily for communications professionals (think PR and media types) with a focus on digital media and emerging best practices.
  • DemoCamp - I have hosted DemoCamps since 2005. They started as a way for entrepreneurs, developers and designers to get together and share what they’ve been working on. They grew to >500 person networking events. There are currently no plans to host anymore.

Smaller Events & Meetups

  • Toronto Ruby Brigade - Great learning series primarily aimed at beginners, but becoming more advanced, includes book club series, hack nights at Influitive, and lessons/lectures about specifics of building and craft in Ruby.
  • Rails Pub Nite - Totally a social event. It’s a great way to figure out who is hiring in the Ruby scene and to meet others using Ruby. Hosted by the Unspace crew at the Rhino on Queen Street West.
  • Django/Python Toronto - This is a set of crazy Python devs. It is also not for the “recruiters” or bullshit artists. Go if you are using or considering Python on a project and you want to talk to the best. And don’t be a douchebag.
  • HTML5 Web App Developers - This is an educational event. It is broadly HTML5 and web app technologies. But the sessions are well put together and cover the craft. Good beginner through advanced.
  • Hacks/Hackers Toronto – The intersection of journalists and technologists. This is a very strong community. But it is really focused on the intersection of journalism and new tech.
  • StartupDrinks Toronto – A monthly social for entrepreneurs. Most recently hosted at Hotel Ocho on Spadina between Queen & Dundas. It’s noisy. I cofounded the event, though I don’t attend very often anymore. I don’t find that I benefit from the networking. And if I really wanted to drink with friends, well I do that.
  • NerdLearn – I have never been. It is hosted by The Working Group and Dessy Daskalov who I think is amazing. I’m still bummed out that she turned down my job offer.
  • TiE Toronto – Interesting with Haroon Mirza as part of the organization committee. Great mentoring group with startups like Cognovision and Verold participating the in the recent past.
  • MobileStartupsTO
  • LeanCoffeeTO - These happen regularly, every Tuesday at 8am. I don’t find a lot of value in the discussions. So maybe I’m doing it wrong. If you are new to the lean methodology, or you just want to talk with other entrepreneurs that are using lean.
  • Hadoop User Group  – Relatively new event. People look awesome. Focused on Hadoop, Map/Reduce and data science. I think it’s going to be good.
  • GeekGirlsToronto - Great networking group aimed at connected geek girls, tech savvy women in the GTA. Events cover everything from women founders to Arduino.

Annual Events & Conferences

  • Canadian Innovation eXchange (CIX) – This i An event hosted by Achilles Media, has proved to be a launching ground for some of Toronto’s best acquisitions.
  • HoHoTO – Annual holiday party. It is a must attend event.
  • TiE Quest – hosted annually. $50k non-dilutive prize. Hosted at MaRS. Previous winners include Cognovision.
  • TEDxToronto – Annual event using the TEDx. Great community production.
  • Mesh – Could be described as the grand daddy of Toronto 2.0 events. Usually happens in the spring. Mesh is a 2 day event that focuses on how the web is evolving and affecting every part of our lives: government, policy, marketing, entertainment, etc. Produced by Mark Evans, Rob Hyndman, Stuart MacDonald, Mathew Ingram and Michael McDermett.
  • OCE Discovery – Event aimed at government support of local innovation. I have paid for a ticket in the past, particularly when they’ve had keynote speakers I wanted to hear. But generally this is an event for those connected with OCE. Next one will be May 27 & 28, 2013. Strong focus on companies that have been supported by OCE with strong manufacturing, ICT, and healthcare showing.
  • ThroneOfJS – was the latest in a series on Ruby and Javascript events hosted by the Unspace crew. Prior to Throne of JS, the Unspace crew hosted Future Ruby. These are great local events with world class talent.
  • AccelerateTO – hosted by the C100. Great social event. Keynote at the last one was from Google Canada, interesting but not stellar.
  • AndroidTO – hosted by the BNOTIONS crew. 3rd year. Focused on education around mobile development.

Online Resources and Newsletters

Recruiting Resources

University, Government & Not-for-Profit Resources

Coworking Spaces and Accelerators

Entrepreneurial Design & Development Firms

Canadian Investors

Places to Hang

  • Sense Appeal - Great coffee. Lots of folks from Mozilla Toronto, ChickAdvisor, Nascent Digital and others.
  • Dark Horse on Spadina – It’s downstairs from the Centre for Social Innovation. Lots of
  • Jimmy’s Coffee – Very likely to run in to Rocketr, Jet Cooper, EndLoop Studios, Guardly or Massive Damage.
  • HackLab.to – great hacker space in Kennsington Market, and you’ll see something that will blow your mind, guaranteed. More anarchist hacker than startup entrepreneur. But its an amazing collective of people.

Journalists and News

Looking for Offices Space?

  • I used Jay Littlejohn at Cushman & Wakefield. He helped Influitive and others.
  • Centre for Social Innovation with 215 Spadina and the Annex has great brick and beam space.
  • BNOTIONS has a large space in St. Lawrence Market. They are actively looking for sublet tenants.
  • Companies are located all around Toronto.
    • Wave Accounting is near Queen & Carlaw
    • Wattpad is near Yonge & Sheppard
    • Top Hat Monocle is near Yonge & College
    • There is a big cluster near Queen & Spadina: Influitive, Guardly, Extreme Startups, Endloop Studios, Jet Cooper, Rocketr, Unspace, BuzzData, Big Bang Technology, The Working Group, and more.
    • Facebook Canada is near Yonge & Eglinton
    • Dayforce is located near Yonge & York Mills
    • Xtreme Labs is near Yonge & King St.

Scaling Companies to Watch (probably hiring)

Some to Follow

Entrepreneurs, Thought Leaders, Gadflys and Others

  • April Dunford  - April is probably the best marketer in Canada. If you are a startup and you are marketing, thinking about marketing or just want to learn about marketing go read her stuff. She’s the BEST.
  • John Philip Green  - John is an EiR at Hedgewood. In the past he was the CTO at CommunityLend/FinanceIt.ca. He was also the founder of LearnHub. His style is second to none.
  • Zak Homuth  - Founder of YC alumni Upverter.
  • Farhan Thawar  - VP Engineering at Xtreme Labs. Absolutely amazing. I think he’s Hot Shit.
  • Jonas Brandon  - My friend and cofounder of StartupNorth. He’s been in at least 2 deals I wish I listened to him on.
  • Amar Varma  - Founder of Xtreme Labs, Extreme Venture Partners, hustler extraordinaire.
  • John Ruffolo  - Runs OMERS Ventures, previously at Deloitte & Touche. Connected at all levels.
  • Howard Gwin  - I’ve referred to Howard as the best VC in Canada. He has the midas touch.
  • Matt Golden  - New fund. Making waves. He’s going to go far.
  • Mark Organ  - Founder of Influitive. Just raised a massive round. Previously founder of Eloqua.
  • Mike Beltzner  - Director of Product at Wattpad. Previous ran Firefox at Mozilla.
  • Mark Surman  - Director of Mozilla Foundation. Unbelievably forward thinking in technology, community and family.
  • Scott Pelton  - I think Scott had the best IRR of any Canadian VC. He’s kicking off Round13. Someone to watch once the fund is closed.
  • Sandy Scott – Partner at Tandem Expansion Capital. Time in Boston and Silicon Valley. HBS. Very smart.
  • Sue McGill – Executive Director of JoltCo accelerator at MaRS.
  • Krista Jones – Practice Lead for ICT or ICE at MaRS
  • Andrew Peek – Founder of Rocketr, previously at Freshbooks.
  • Andy Yang  - Andy runs Extreme Startups. They had a small but amazing first class.
  • Satish Kanwar  - Founder at Jet Cooper. Founder at Lean Coffee TO.
  • Chris Eben  - Partner at The Working Group. Organizer of StartupWeekend.
  • Derek Smyth  - Partner at OMERS Ventures. Doing amazing deals. He’s the work horse.
  • Roger Chabra  - Partner at Rho Ventures. Dividing time between Montreal, Toronto, SF, NYC, and other places. New fund. Very stylish.
  • Sunil Sharma – Connector at Extreme Startups. Connected to more people than are in Canada.
  • Allen Lau  - Founder and CEO of Wattpad. Big vision. Just raised from Khosla Ventures, Union Square and GoldenVP.
  • Kirk Simpson  - Founder and CEO of Wave Accounting. Big raise from CRV, Social+Capital, and OMERS.
  • James Lochrie  - Product lead and founder at Wave Accounting.
  • Adam Goucher  - Principal at Element34. Focused on Q&A and testing. Wrote Beautiful Testing.
  • Greg Wilson  - Founder of Software Carpentry. Loves the Python. Former CS prof at UofT. Wrote Beautiful Code.
  • Heather Payne  - Founder of HackerYou and Ladies Learning Code.
  • Kunal Gupta  - Founder of Polar Mobile and Impact at UW.
  • Joseph Puopolo  - Founder of Printchomp. Previously at StickerYou
  • Mark McQueen  - President & CEO of Wellington Financial, Chair of the Toronto Port Authority. Great blog focused on Canadian growth captial.
  • Daniel Debow  - Founder of Rypple. Part of the Workbrain diaspora.
  • David Ossip  - Founder of Dayforce, Workbrain and other ventures.
  • Richard Reiner  - Angel investor and operator. Founded security firm Assurent. Sold eNomaly.
  • Saul Colt  - The Smartest Man in the World. A great PR/media hacker. Expert at word of mouth and social media.
  • Amber MacArthur  - Entrepreneur, television host, podcaster. Writes for Fast Company.
  • Leila Boujnane  - Founder of Idee and TinEye. Often host of DemoCamp, GeekGirlToronto and other events. Wickedly smart.
  • Jesse Rodgers – Founder of TribeHR, former director of UW Velocity, now running Rotman Venture Lab. Strong insights in to incubator metrics.
  • Dan Servos – CEO of Locationary. Previously sold SocialDeck to Google.
  • Rob Hyndman – Awesome startup lawyer. Founder of Mesh.
  • Mark Evans – Former/sometimes current journalist. Consultant focused on startup marketing and media communications. Founder of Mesh
  • Michael McDerment – CEO and Founder of Freshbooks. Founder of Mesh
  • Rick Segal – Founder of FixMo. Previously VC at JLA Ventures.
  • Ali Ghafour – Founder and CEO of ViaFoura
  • Suresh Bhat – Associate at ExtremeVP
  • Bram Sugarman – Associate at OMERS Ventures. Previously at Uken Games and Extreme Ventures.
  • Damien Steel Senior Associate at OMERS Ventures
  • Jennifer Lum – Cofounder Adelphic Mobile, previously at Quattro Wireless. Extreme Startups mentor.
  • Estelle Havva – Industrial Technology Advisor at IRAP. Been involved in this community since the beginning. Practical and can help you with IRAP
  • Ilse Treurnicht – CEO of MaRS. Big budget, big real estate, big salary and hopefully big impact.
  • Albert Lai – Working on Big Viking Games, previously Kontagent, Bubbleshare and others. Original cohost of DemoCamp with me.
  • Ali Asaria – Founder of Well.ca, creator of Brickbreaker. Just awesome.
  • Tonya Suman – Centre for Social Innovation. World leading thinker and doer on social innovation and community ecosystem. Based here in Toronto.
  • Pete Forde – Founder of BuzzData, Unspace and other things. Photog, audiophile, and all round great guy.
  • Jay Goldman – Jay has moved on to Klick Health. Jay founded Radiant Core, did the UI for Firefox 2.0, helped build ZeroFootprint. If you can get his time to talk social or product, it is worth it
  • Jon Arnold – Big in the telco and smart grid space.
  • William Mougayar – CEO of Engagio. Previously Equentia. The man and the product allows him to participate in comment conversations across the web. Responsible for helping bring Fred Wilson to Toronto.
  • Follow @heygosia – CEO and founder of LearnHub. Technical, product, leadership, growth. She’s amazing. Doesn’t get enough credit.
  • Jim deWilde – Teaches in B School. Wrote much of the policy on innovation, government fund of funds, key behind the scenes player. Plus he’s awesome.
  • Zach Aysan – Big data guy. Currently 500px. Previously Algo Anywhere and Rocketr.

Waterloo

Creating a Referral Engine for Your Startup

This post is recap on some of the highlights from a how-to created by Ilya Lichtenstein of mixrank.com. I feature some of the most impressive startup strategies we encounter at StartupPlays and share them free, here at StartupNorth.ca. Enjoy.

We recently did some work with a brilliant young guy named Ilya Lichtenstein from Mixrank.com, a company which has seen early investments from 500 Startups, Y-Combinator, and Mark Cuban. While in college Ilya was working side jobs with startups and getting deep into the affiliate marketing world. He grew a $300 investment into six figure revenue numbers in his first year. He has applied the behaviours and characteristics of major affiliate programs and adapted them to  smaller scale customer referral programs for startups, this is his “best practice manual for building a customer referral program”:

Major Affiliate Programs

Websites like Amazon and Netflix have elaborate affiliate networks anyone can join and receive an affiliated commission from a signup or purchase on their websites. This works because these companies have determined some of their most important baseline metrics, things like:

  • Cost per acquisition of a customer
  • Lifetime value of a customer
  • On page conversion rate
  • Variants between traffic sources
  • Cost of buying traffic within the industry
They use these metrics to determine what affiliate commissions they can set for the business to turn the channel into a profitable one. If affiliates can purchase traffic at a cheaper price than the payout (typically between $0.50-$4.00 per click) then the program is sustainable. You’ll need to determine what these numbers are for your startup, even if you ball park it, here is an excel template that will help you do it.

How Building your Referral Engine is Different

A customer referral engine is a lot like an affiliate program only scaled down and involves much higher participant engagement. Building a referral program is not for the light of heart but has massive payouts for everyone involved. When creating a referral engine you won’t want to label participants “Affiliates”, but instead something like “Partners”. Your “Partners” will be composed of two segments:

  1. Existing Users
  2. Content Producers within your Niche

Existing users are easy advocates since they’re already familiar with your brand and understand your offering. Incentivizing them to tell others what they may already be telling people is a win-win.

Content Producers within your niche have clout and often an engaged audience on the web, they may even be looking to monetize their content and this provides them with a non traditional medium that has higher revenue potential and that sucks a lot less than one site ads.

Compensating your Partners

As an early stage startup your base metrics probably wont warrant a direct flat fee compensation for a new lead, you’ll be compensating partners in your referral program based on a percentage of or flat fee per paid conversion. Be careful to avoid revenue share in perpetuity, this may hurt you down the road when approaching investors. Major Affiliate programs will payout anywhere from  $30-$40 for a credit card submit on their site (this is what you’re aiming for). If you have the ability to set up coupon codes on your website, give your partners a custom coupon code, this instantly creates a value add for their audience and makes it easier for them to share with people they know. (People LOVE sharing deals)

  1. You’re an e-commerce vendor: Give partners a commission on each sale they drive.
  2. You’re a SaaS vendor: Give partners straight cash per transaction, if your offering is tiered your affiliate commission can be as well.

When you setup an affiliate program you are effectively sharing the risk and the reward.

If your sales funnel is: visit page -> email submit -> purchase

You can compensate affiliates for either the page visit, the email submit, or the purchase. You will need to compensate the affiliate more for actions that are further into the funnel, as you are placing the risk on the affiliate to convert the user. If you compensate them at the start of the funnel, you can pay them less and the risk is on your side to convert them.

You will need to determine the right risk / reward ratio to determine which action will be most profitable – and attractive – for both you and the affiliate.

Tracking Referrals

You need to use a third party to track referrals, this guarantees no foul play on your side ands building confidence in your program into your program. It also helps limit fraudulent activity, you can review partners as they apply, and send payouts once customer payment has been confirmed on your end.

Here are some third party services you can use to set up a program like this:

  1. Zferral - I prefer Zferral to others because of its ease of use, and support. If you’re having issues with setting up you can use their support centre to screencast your issue and have it resolved within a few hours.
  2. HasOffers - Custom referral programs, easy setup.
  3. LinkTrust - This is a costly alternative, but is the undisputed gold standard within the industry.

White Glove the Entire Program

Send your partners a monthly recap, keep them updated on how other partners are doing, and how the program is a smashing success! It will keep them involved and give them a benchmark for how well they can do, and how much money they can make by being part of your program.

The customer referral engine is a win-win channel for driving online sales generally untouched by most early stage startups. If you have a startup that could benefit from a referral program, talk to us in the comments!

photo credit - armando cuéllar

CIX Top 20 – 2012

CIX Top 20 Canada's Hottest Innovative Companies

We’ve written about CIX Top 20 Follow @CIXCommunity in 20082009, 2010 and 2011. So you’ll be shocked to find that I’m writing about it again in 2012.

What is CIX?

“The CIX Top 20 is an elite index of the most forward-looking companies in the Canadian innovation ecosystem, and connects the key players driving technology-based business both in Canada and beyond.”

Who should apply?

“The CIX Top 20 is open to any Canadian company working in Digital Media or Information and Communication Technology with annual revenues under $10 million.”

Why do you care?

These are some of the leading companies in Canada. Don’t believe me, past participants include:

Alright, there probably is a correlation between the success of these companies and their CIX submission and attendance. But CIX is an amazing opportunity for Canadian startups to generate attention, drive awareness with investors and media, get input and feedback in a safe environment and start to build connections.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky

Nothing is foregone conclusion, as in past performance is not an indicator of future success. But you can’t win if you don’t apply (follow the directions on the bottom of the page).