We want you! – Looking for contributors

Finish Line, CopperDog 150, Calumet, Michigan by Lina Blair (linainyoop) on 500px.com
Finish Line, CopperDog 150, Calumet, Michigan by Lina Blair

I was talking to April Dunford . It’s was a private message, so I am hoping April will forgive me for sharing, but it indicated how Jonas , Jevon and I have felt about our role and the role of StartupNorth.

“We’re all making this shit up on our own when we should be sharing best practices.” April Dunford

We can talk about how Toronto is broken, as long as “this is not a complaints department, but a solutions playground” (great quote from Mark Kuznicki at the first TransitCamp in 2007). When we started StartupNorth in 2007 because there were not a lot of people talking about high potential growth, emerging technology companies and emerging business models (if it is easier, you can think venture backable technology startups). There was a lot of great technology companies being built in Canada. We wanted an easier way to bring together people who were interested in the new companies and the ecosystem to support them.

“We launched TechStars NYC with the goal of enriching the New York City entrepreneurial ecosystem; tapping into the rich resources and energy of NYC and galvanizing the community through mentorship.” David Tisch

We launched StartupNorth in 2007 after 2 years of a completely unorganized effort (that supposes that this effort approximates organized vs the anarchy that it is) of hosting events like BarCampToronto, DemoCamp, a public Skype chat, and a Google Group. We didn’t have a fund. This wasn’t our full time jobs. We’ve never thought of StartupNorth as a high potential growth technology business. We thought of it as a way to help other entrepreneurs like ourselves. We tried to build what we thought was missing.

  • Funding in Canada
  • Getting access to foreign markets
  • The amazing talent in Toronto and across Canada
  • Events that bring together others interested in the same space to enable collisions (finding cofounders, hiring employees, business relationships, potential mentors, etc.)
  • Events like StartupEmpire, DemoCamp and StartupCamp

We are contributors to both the solutions and the problems that exist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t contribute.

We are Canadian entrepreneurs.

Back in 2008, Jevon told us about “how startups will save venture capital in Canada“. You can look at the recent acquisitions (including Jevon’s GoInstant) are providing liquidity and bigger better investment opportunity. (OMERS Ventures has participated in rounds totalling >$112MM in the past 2 weeks alone: $80MM Desire2Learn, $20MM Vision Critical, $12MM Hopper Travel). Canadian entrepreneurs

We want you!

We are looking for new contributors to StartupNorth. We don’t want puff pieces. We don’t want press releases. We want to highlight Canadian startups, founders and technology. We want interesting stories. Let me help all y’all, launching is not an interesting story. I’d like to see posts on:

  • Cost effective solutions to common back office problems, tell us about how your financials, payroll, A/R works.
  • Look at the Upverter Under-the-Hood article and tell me about your infrastructure, personally I’d love to hear about Hopper’s Hadoop or Wave Accounting, etc.
  • Marketing automation and optimizing customer engagements. What tools are you using?
  • We’ve heard about Facebook’s Growth Team and their decision making, what about Freshbooks? Or Dayforce?
  • The impact that CRTC and Competition Bureau rules have on Canadian startups? I’d love to get Michael Garrity to tell the Community Lend/FinanceIT story. But there are more.
  • Examples of effective use of Facebook, mobile or other early customer marketing

This list is no way comprehensive. There are lots of interesting stories. Got an insight, tip, cobbling together of tools that can help startups save money, grow faster, go further. We want to share. As April said, “We’re all making this shit up on our own when we should be sharing best practices.” and we want to help share.

Just send me an email (davidcrow at gmail ) with a draft of your post. I will read, provide initial feedback, socialize with Jonas and Jevon and then we will set up an posting schedule.

 

7 Ways To Rock a Startup Accelerator Mentor Day

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by serial entrepreneur and marketing executive April Dunford who is currently the head of Enterprise Market Strategy for Huawei. April specializes in brining new products to market including messaging, positioning, market strategy, go-to-market planning and lead generation. She is one of the leading B2B/enterprise marketers in the world and we’re really lucky to be able to share here content with you. Follow her on Twitter  or RocketWatcher.com. This post was originally published in August 31, 2012 on RocketWatcher.com.

I spent the day yesterday at FounderFuel for their Mentor Day. If you aren’t familiar with FounderFuel they are a very successful startup accelerator based in Montreal. And what a day it was – 8 startups pitched and then did roundtable breakout sessions with over 50 mentors including VC’s, angel investors, entrepreneurs and senior executives. Here’s my mentor’s perspective on how a startup can really get the most out of a day like that:

1/ Pick your Target Mentors Ahead of Time: 50 mentors is a lot and they represented a wide cross section of folks that have deep experience in different consumer and business markets, and have a range of skills from technical expertise to sales, marketing, finance, and legal experience. Selecting a subset of the mentors with experience relevant to your business will help you target your discussions.A handful of the teams that needed marketing help reached out to me by email before the day and that helped to make sure that we connected at the session which I thought was pretty smart.

 7 Ways Rock a Startup Accelerator Mentor Day2/ Ask for Feedback on your Pitch: The mentors are both experienced pitch artists, and listen to pitches a lot. What better folks to give feedback on what worked and what didn’t work with the pitch you just gave? In this case the companies are all still in the early stages of the accelerator program so it’s a great time to get feedback that will improve the ultimate pitch you give on demo day. The feedback will also give you a feel for the differences in what an Angel investor might be looking for over what the more traditional VC’s are looking for in a pitch. “Tell me one thing that would have made my pitch better” or “What was missing from my pitch?” would both be great ways to start that discussion.

3/ Ask for Specific Help: The mentors are ready and willing to help but they can’t guess what you need. Coming with a set of specific requests helps shape the discussion in a way that is most helpful to you. Don’t be afraid to ask for specific introductions – even if the folks in the room don’t have the answers you need, chances are they know someone who does.

4/ Listen, Ask Questions (and Filter later): – The mentors yesterday came from really different backgrounds and had worked in a broad range of industries (consumer, gaming, retail, enterprise, financial services). Sure we’re all smart folks but you wouldn’t believe how different our opinons were about questions the startups were asking. For example, at my session with Openera – a tool for automatically organizing files and attachments –  we got into a discussion about selling to consumers versus enterprises as a starting point. I ALWAYS tilt toward enterprises when people ask me that because I know/love enterprise sales. The mentor beside me, Yona Shtern, the CEO from Beyond the Rack on the other hand thought selling B2C (or B2C2B) was just fine. Only Openera can decide who’s got smarter advice for their business (yeah OK, in this case it’s probably the smarty-pants Beyond the Rack guy but hey you get what I’m trying to say here). Another example – in the discussion with InfoActive (a very cool tool that lets you easily create beautiful interactive data visualizations), I immediately saw the applicability to creating interactive marketing materials. I’m a marketer, that’s the obvious use case for someone like me.  The mentor beside me (James Duncan, CTO at Inktank) on the other hand saw the value in selling to IT departments that needed a way to easily create good looking dashboards to help IT communicate to the business side of the house. That’s a great use case that a marketing person like me would be unlikely to immediately think of. Both ideas might be worth investigating but only InfoActive can really decide that. Avoiding “mentor whiplash”, as the FounderFuel gang refers to it, is a critical skill for startups in accelerators that have deep rosters of active mentors. Remember too that time is limited so you don’t want to waste it having a long debate with a single mentor over a specific point. Listen, probe a bit if you need to, and then move on. You can always schedule follow-on time with a specific mentor to explore an idea later.

5/ Take Notes:  You put a couple of CEO’s a VC, a senior exec and a CTO at a table together and guess what happens? We talk. A lot. Not only that but the conversation moves very quickly from one point of view to the next. Some teams were recording the sessions but the room was loud (did I mention we talk a lot?) and figuring out who said what later might be a challenge by voice alone. Having someone taking notes is a good idea to make sure that you’re capturing ideas as they are flowing.

6/ Work the Edge Time: By far the best way to get 1 on 1 time with a mentor yesterday was to do it over the break or over lunch. That also gives the mentor a chance to ask questions they might not get a chance to in a round table session.

7/ Don’t Forget Everyone’s a Potential Investor : The VC’s are easy to spot (and there were a lot of them there) but most of the mentors I talked to are also doing a bit of angel investing as well. For companies at this stage anyone that’s willing to invest time with your company might also be likely to invest cash as well.

So there’s my advice. I’m sure the other mentors all have different opinions – yep, we’re funny that way.

‘Small’ ideas are not the problem

Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post (possibly some sort of reblogging) from Momoko Price’s blog originally posted on August 13, 2012. Momoko Price  is a web writer, editor and communications consultant based in Toronto. She runs a communications consultancy called Copy/Cat and frequently blogs about startup culture and web communications at http://copy-cat.co/.

In a recent blog post called ‘Toronto is Broken’Upverter co-founder Zak Homuth wrote that Toronto’s startup community suffers from an overabundance of ‘small ideas,’ implying that ‘thinking small’ is somehow intrinsically less valuable than ‘thinking big.’

I’m not a web startup founder, but I am an entrepreneur and many of my clients are web startups. And as a writer, sometimes I can’t help but focus on how the wrong word ends up detracting from the soundness of someone’s argument. This is one of those times.

So let’s clear something up right now: There is a world of difference between a ‘small’ idea and a shitty idea. Let’s please stop equating one with the other; it’s not helping to solve the problem (ie: a cultural aversion to creative & original ventures).

CC-BY-20 Some rights reserved by pasukaru76
Attribution Some rights reserved by pasukaru76

Zak isn’t the first person to complain about small uninspired ideas, and derivative product pitches certainly aren’t unique to Toronto. But trying to combat an epidemic of ‘small ideas’ by being ‘frighteningly ambitious’ instead is, well, not exactly great advice. Here’s why:

1. ‘Small ideas’ can be built and launched more quickly.

Creating a successful product involves much more than just the idea, or even the product itself. Testing, marketing, financing, selling, scaling, management — these factors will often end up playing a far more critical role in determining your startup’s success over the long run.

So rather than worry about whether or not your idea is ‘big’ or ‘game-changing’ enough, why not bite off something you know you can chew now, whatever it is, and start getting some real-market experience as soon as possible? That way, you’ll actually know what to do (and what not to do) when that crazy, once-in-a-lifetime idea strikes you.

2. Traction, not ambition, defines a ‘world-changing’ idea.

I often help entrepreneurs structure and refine their pitch decks, and it never ceases to amaze me how frequently they include 5 or more slides about their idea or product, and none about whether the idea is actually taking hold with anyone.

Meanwhile, most experienced investors don’t really care what your solution is, as much as they care about whether lots of people want it.

A product or service doesn’t have to be complicated or even tech-based (as Derek Sivers points out in his popular ‘Ideas vs. Execution’ clip). The important thing is to gauge its market traction.

After all, an idea or product can only change the world if people actually use it. In business, if your solution takes off, then it was a great, world-changing idea. If it doesn’t, then it wasn’t. Simple as that.

Editor’s Note: This is a cross-post (possibly some sort of reblogging) from Momoko Price’s blog originally posted on August 13, 2012. Momoko Price  is a web writer, editor and communications consultant based in Toronto. She runs a communications consultancy called Copy/Cat and frequently blogs about startup culture and web communications at http://copy-cat.co/.