Crazy train

On the trip home from a conference last year, it struck me how lonely it was. Yes I talked with people on the train. I had wifi and a phone but I didn’t have anyone who had shared the awesome conference experience I’d just been through, I wanted to keep it going. Returning to my city, I wanted to keep it the momentum rolling there as well.

I happened to have attended an amazing conference named BitNorth. In the case of the crap conferences, the travel back and forth is even more torturous. BitNorth is unique in that it really attempts to leverage what are typically considered the fringe elements of conferences.

All this left me wondering if we could make crappy conferences better and great conferences awesome by explicitly building up the fringes. We, at ThreeFortyNine, are taking our first shot at it this July. We’re cheating by starting with an amazing conference with The International Startup Festival in Montreal. We’re getting ourselves our own first class car on a Via train to travel to the conference and back from Toronto, Guelph, or Kitchener-Waterloo. We’re filling the car with founders, funders and startup junkies. For us this experience starts when we hop on the train and it doesn’t end when the conference ends. It won’t even end when we get off the train since you’ll be returning to your city with a group of friends who’ve shared this experience with you. We’ll conspire, plan, meet and keep the momentum going.

In the case of the best roadtrips of my youth, I can hardly recall what our destination was. It’s the getting there I remember. It’s the getting there that was the starting point of something bigger.

Join us this July as we bring the Ontario startup scene to Montreal and give them a peek at who we are and what we’re building. Clearly we have limited seats on our train car so when we sell out, we’re sold out for realz.

Go big and stay home

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Wattpad announced today a $17.3MM raise from Khosla Ventures, Golden Venture Partners, Union Square Ventures and Jerry Yang. This is huge.

“It has been recognized as highly significant due to having two top-tier US funds investing at this level in a Canadian-based consumer internet company.”

We are seeing Canadian entrepreneurs build companies and demonstrate global traction. The changes to foreign investment related to Section 116 changes in the Tax Act, have allowed Canadian companies to go big and stay home.  The changes to Section 116, coupled with the desire of Canadian entrepreneurs to go big and stay home. Evidenced by Wattpad’s big raise, Wave Accounting’s $12MM series B from Social+Capital, Hootsuite’s $20MM round from OMERS (sure they’re not foreign capital but its a big round), Shopify’s $22MM ($7M series A + $15M series B from Bessemer), Beyond The Rack’s $36MM raise, Fixmo’s $23.4MM Series C from KPCB, Achievers’ $24.5MM Series C from Sequoia, and others. There are startups and there is capital. It’s possible to build a growth company in Canada and raise foreign capital. The game has changed for Canadian VCs, geography limitations can help these funds identify early but it potentially will relegate many to second tier status if they can not enable their startups beyond their geographies.

The great thing in talking with many of these entrepreneurs is that they want to build successful companies in Canada. Allen Lau, CEO of Wattpad, mentioned that his desire was to grow a large successful company in Toronto. He is not looking to move the company. The same is true of my conversations with Kirk Simpson at Wave Accounting, Tobi at Shopify, Mike at Freshbooks, etc. There are a lot of reasons to want to be way from the tensions and pulls the exist in the Bay Area. Canadian startups have access to great talent. While there is some pull between the different startups, many of these companies aren’t competing with each other for employees or mindshare. Just check out Shopify’s recruiting video and tell me why you wouldn’t choose to work for Harley and Tobi instead of a financial institution or a government organization.

It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur in Canada. It’s a great time to work for a startup. You should check out the opportunities on the StartupNorth job board.

Meaningful metrics for incubators and accelerators

Editor’s Note: This is cross posted from WhoYouCallingAJesse.com by Jesse Rodgers, who is a cofounder of TribeHR. He has been a key member of the Waterloo startup community hosting StartupCampWaterloo and other events to bring together and engage local entrepreneurs. Follow him on Twitter @jrodgers or WhoYouCallingAJesse.com.

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Incubators and accelerators are businesses just like the businesses they intend to help develop as they travel through the startup lifecycle. As with any business, there are indicators that they can measure to give them a better idea of how they are performing besides the big public relations buzz around a company being funded.

You need to measure these numbers so that when a success happens you can hopefully gain some insights on how to help the other companies better. The problem is that even though the model of an incubator or accelerator is generally known, how to take 10 companies and have 10 successful growth companies come out the other side of the program is not.

The issue of what metrics to use is an important but complicated problem to solve.

Set the baseline at the application process (pre-program)

There are far more applicants than slots offered in an incubator or accelerator program. However, it is at this point that a program is gathering it’s best intelligence. You need a baseline measurement at the start of the program that you can measure every team against. What you should be tracking:

  • Who applied to the program that you didn’taccept (this is your control sample)
    • Track their progress on Angellist, Crunchbase, and/or go back to their web site in 3, 6, 12 months.
    • Keep a ratio of who is still in business and what their status is.
  • Maintain, in a CRM system, information on the applicant founders and their team members.

Measure the incubator/accelerator clients (in-program)

At this point there are X number of startups with Y number of founders and maybe Z employees. What you want to measure are things that demonstrate they have improved (or not) and which are things you would expect to see improve as a result of the services provided by any incubator or accelerator:

  • Current customers and revenue per customer (for most that will be 0 at the start) that will work across revenue models: CAC, ARPU, churn rate.
  • Sales funnel – do they have leads? How many? Are they qualified leads? What are they worth?
  • Average user growth in the last month.
  • What mentors or advisors did they meet through the program? What role did they take with the company?

Run these numbers at the start and at the end of the program. If you are a pure research focused incubator, ignore this section. You have a much longer time to see success – but few are truly research focused.

Monitor the graduates: Alumni (post-program)

This is a very important thing an incubator/accelerator can do — build and maintain its alumni connections. These folks not only help at every stage of running future programs but their success lifts the profile of the program, just like how alumni of prestigious business schools make the business schools prestigious.

There should be reporting milestones at a set interval (probably financial quarter based) where you gain the following insights on the company:

  • Customer growth percentage: CAC, ARPU, and churn rate all expressed as percentage growth.
  • Sales funnel growth expressed as a percentage.
  • Average user growth in the last month.
  • What mentors or advisors are currently active with the company?

Ideally you should have a position that is equivalent to a close advisor or board observer with the company once it graduates from the program.

Defining success

If an incubator or accelerator program is successful, the graphs should be heading up and to the right at a much faster pace than they would have been had startups not entered the program.

The only baseline data I know of is from the Startup Genome. In their report they explain the stages and the average length of time it takes a company to go through them. For an incubator or accelerator to demonstrate that they work, I would expect a successful company to move through the stages faster than the average. I would also expect them to fail faster than the average.

Tracking metrics puts a lot more overhead on an accelerator. It is likely more than they budgeted for to start. However, if you want to know if the program is successful it is worth the investment of an admin salary to track and crunch data. This is just a baseline, track more and figure out what the indicators of success are for you.