Extreme Startups

Extreme Startups

Rob Lewis and TechVibes is reporting that ExtremeU (you can read our past coverage 2009, 2010, 2011) has launched a new Toronto based incubator that leverages their experience over the past 3 years. Mark Evans provides additional details that includes “$7-million in funding from Extreme Venture PartnersOMERS VenturesRho Canada VenturesBlackBerry Partners Fund and BDC.”

Extreme Startups includes a who’s who of  the Toronto startup scene as mentors:

  • David Ossip
  • Daniel Debow
  • Anand Agarwala
  • Michael McDermentt
  • Ameet Shah
  • Albert Lai
  • Leila Boujnane
  • Ali Asaria
  • Noah Godfrey
  • Ray Reddy
  • Rick Segal
  • Salim Teja
  • Derek Seto
  • Nick Koudas

Congrats to Andy Yang, Sunil Sharma and Amar Varma in getting this thing launched. Plus how can this not be awesome with Andy Yang as Harold and Sunil Sharma as Kumar in Extreme Startupping.

Andy Yang and Sunil Sharma go EXTREME STARTUPPING

 

An incubator for grownups…

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David Crow and others (Huffington Post, TechCrunch) have suggested we’re experiencing an incubator bubble?

Incubators are built for the young. Students exiting school are already living the ramen lifestyle. That means they’re cheap, they have no kids, no meaningful obligations and there’s a good chance they’ll work close to 24/7. It sounds dreamy, if you’re an investor.

I’m old. I have kids. I’m not moving to Boulder or California for 12 weeks. I don’t play games in the office or do busy work. Why aren’t there incubators for me? I look at the incubators like 500Startups, YCombinator and TechStars and that is what I want. I just can’t participate. I can’t do the work and change my family life the way they’ve structured it.

What I need from a incubator is…

To Pay My Own Way

While new graduates come cheap, grownups are capable of paying their own way. I’d rather work with someone who has some skin in the game over so-called low-cost labour. I’m willing to make an investment in a startup as a career choice.

While most incubators offer low, bordering on zero, salaries that barely cover living expenses for someone living on the ramen diet. This doesn’t work for me. I need to be able plan for my family and my kids. What I need is something closer to an executive MBA program or a sabbatical. Continuing education programs are interesting because current employers and banks will let you borrow against your assets to get started. It requires larger savings or a working spouse to be able to fund my family during the initial startup experience. I’m willing to buy in to make this happen.

Hunger, Drive

Many new graduates will compare working in a startup with a plain old job. This startup thing is cool and all but it’s a ton of work and my buddy working at AcmeTech is already done work for the day and playing XBox online. Building a business offers you freedom. Freedom from what? Corporate politics, busy work, crappy work, basically the standard boredom of the 9 to 5. How can you value that if you’ve never had a shitty boss?

I work for more than myself. My family and their future is what drives me forward everyday. I work hard when I’m working. When I’m not, I’m with my family and friends, I’m taking my kids to hockey, piano etc. What I’m not doing is placating my boss with more busy work.

I want to build a successful business for me.

Access to Mentors

Tell me if you’ve seen this. You’re sitting around a table discussing your projects and companies. Someone leaves the table early. One of the people remaining at the table proceeds to lay out in detail why that guys venture is going to fail. Why didn’t you tell him that when he was here?

The solution is for the guy who left early to get a cheque from the remaining person. As soon as she writes that cheque, she’ll sit that guy down and tear him apart and he’ll be better for it. Startups can drown themselves in mentors and advisors. I want to be at the table everyday with people truly invested in my project. Failure for no reason is not an option.

Learning The Right Skills

If you have a job today in technology and aspire to be an entrepreneur, typically the first step is to quityour crappy day job. You don’t have a team and project for your new business so you start consulting to pay the bills. You’ll be a great consultant, you’ll learn how to sell your hours, how to find clients, how to deliver services well. Skills that have almost nothing to do with taking a product to market. Once you head down this path, the likely destination is lamenting over some pints how “I was going to do product back when I left my job”.

Startupify Me

STartupify.me

Startupify certainly wasn’t conceived as an incubator for grown ups, however, it does fill a lot of these gaps. While it likely constitutes a pay cut, we pay you to work on startup projects learning new technologies and the startup game. We partner you with established businesses who have a proven track record of creating sustainable businesses that deliver value to their customers. Everyone at the table has skin in the game. We go into our client companies, find and develop opportunities to build differentiated software to grow the stand alone value of their business.

If you have work experience as software developer and are ready to join the entrepreneurial revolution, we should talk.

 

Hiring for Lean Startups: The First Few Hires

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from Flow Ventures written by Raymond Luk (LinkedIn, @rayluk). Follow him on Twitter @rayluk. This post was originally published in January 12, 2012 on Flow Ventures.

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I was having coffee with a founder the other day and we started talking about his hiring plans. Since he’s a non-technical founder (which Ben Yoskovitz claims is a dead-end to begin with) he had several top coders in mind, all of whom were earning big bucks with larger companies.

“I’m paying them a little bit of money but they’ll join full time once I can raise money,” said the founder. It’s something I hear a lot, especially from non-techie founders.

I went back to review some blog posts on Lean hiring, and I came across Eric’s post “Lean Hiring Tips” and Mark MacLeod’s “Fat Hiring for Lean Startups“. Both are worth your time. But I think they’re also written for startups that are already up and running and need to expand. I’m interested in very early stage hiring, e.g. when you’re one person looking for a co-founder or you’re two people looking for your core team.

Companies always take on the characteristics of their founders and in the rush to scale, I find many startups don’t stop to consider how they’re establishing the DNA of their company. The first few hires are the most important ones you’ll make.

  • Hire for an experimental mindset – Look for people who enjoy encountering problems, designing ways to solve them, and finding proof of success or failure. Skill at building, whether it’s software or a marketing plan or a sales funnel, is irrelevant at this point. You need people who will volunteer to scrap their plans, not fight you when you want to change course.

How? Join a hackathon, Lean Machine or just create your own (laptop + Starbucks = hackathon). Give your (potential) team a crazy challenge and see who exhibits the right behaviours.

  • Hire generalists – A lot of people will disagree with this advice. If you can find the best Python developer in the country go for it. But only if she’s also willing to cold call customers, crank out some Web site copy and help you whiteboard the business model. Your #1 focus is to find a business model that works. The latent technical talent on your bench won’t help you unless you graduate from this first phase

How? Again, hackathons are great practical tests. No matter what their skillset, look for passion about your business model and solving customer problems.

  • Prioritize UX over development – This is easier said than done since there’s a shortage of UX talent. But it’s better to have a kick-ass UX person and a mediocre developer than the other way around. UX will help you find your business model and most (good) UX people already have an experimental mindset and generalist attitude

How? Actively seek out UX people, not just developers. You may need to work at a distance if you can’t find local talent. Consider working with less experienced people if they can prove themselves through testing.

  • Get skin in the game – Leaving a six figure job to join your startup for a paycut is not skin in the game, or not enough in my books. Hire those people later when you’ve found your business model, have money in the bank, and need to scale. Skin in the game means working full time, just like you are. It means putting their reputation on the line, raising Ramen funding from friends/family/spouses and saying “I’m going to see this through until we fail.”

How? Stop feeling like you’re a poor startup that can’t afford to pay top salaries. Those aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Think of finding your co-founders like raising your first round. You need to get them excited to invest in your business.

I know this advice seems to apply better to “Web” startups than general technology startups, which is a common criticism of Lean startups in general. But I think it applies more broadly. If you hire for the right attitude, you not only solve the critical product-market fit problem, but you set the DNA of your business right from the start. I guess I haven’t seen too many examples of startups failing because they lacked a specific technical skill. They probably think they failed because of it though.

In the end, I guess “hiring” is the wrong word to begin with. You’re looking for people to co-found a business with you. You aren’t buying their skills, you’re asking them to invest in helping you shape the course of your business from the very beginning. Maybe not all of them (including yourself) will be able to scale up with the business. That’s a problem for another day.

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from Flow Ventures written by Raymond Luk (LinkedIn, @rayluk). Follow him on Twitter @rayluk. This post was originally published in January 12, 2012 on Flow Ventures.