Being a leader today – fast, furious and sometimes uncomfortable

Off the Record

Category Archives: Blog Categories

Being a leader today – fast, furious and sometimes uncomfortable

In order to help your organization grow, it’s important to be uncomfortable heading the charge for change, which might make your team feel uncertain and uncomfortable.

Below are six things every leader should do to become a more agile leader.

  • Erase your comfort zone: One of the responsibilities of a leader is to try new things by creating new abilities for your team and organization. Be ready to switch gears in order to stay competitive.
  • Think fast and move quickly: Some decisions can’t wait for you to “sleep on it”. Know when to seize a moment because timing is everything.
  • Build confidence even when uncertain: in today’s world it’s about how fast you can adapt. Some of the most critical moments won’t give you all the answers before you need to make a decision – and that’s okay!
  • Lose the anxiety of failing – it helps no one: Don’t let the thought of something failing hold you back from making a necessary change in your organization. Holding back from a decision due to being scared to fail could keep you on the status quo.
  • The unpopular decision can sometimes be the right one to make: some decisions can be stressful for not only the leader, but the whole organization.
  • It’s important to go with your gut and make sure everything is done to support the direction you want to head towards.
  • Think Globally: We’re more connected than ever before – take advantage of that and understand the impact you can have on the global stage – this will only help you better create agility in your management approach.

The tech sector thrives on delving into the unknown. And some of your best opportunities and wins can come from the hardest decisions and biggest chances.

As a leader, It might make you feel uncomfortable to take a gamble with a team behind you. But with the right talent, a clear strategy and a hunger to succeed, the rewards of being an agile leader will continue to put your organization steps ahead of your competitors.

Many corporate accelerators are adding to ‘innovation theatre’

With this growing interest, comes a line of partnerships and spaces that have emerged over the years. Unfortunately, not all of these efforts -corporate accelerators to be exact- have lived up to their mission.

The sad reality is many corporate accelerator models are “by corporates for corporate interest”, adding to ‘innovation theatre’, otherwise known as innovation just for show.

Today, many corporate accelerators have become a place to draw up excitement by experimenting with innovation, but failing to help scale and commercialize any startups. A large part of this is because many corporate accelerators are not truly unlocking their internal resources and extensive networks to solve the problems they say they care about.

The fact is, many of these corporate accelerators haven’t found a formula that gives both startups and corporates what they want. The current state of these spaces have not established a ‘win-win’ for both parties.

So, how can corporate accelerators do better?

To become a constructive part of the global innovation ecosystem, it’s necessary to build a model that can help startups leverage corporate assets in order to scale and grow (instead of it feeling like it’s the other way around).

Stop working in silos – there are a number of great incubators and accelerators within the ecosystem. Instead of putting resources towards something new or hiring an incubator/accelerator to run an accelerator, find ways to support what’s already working within current incubator/accelerator programs that can also support your end goal.

If you’re a corporate going forward with an accelerator program, then you need to understand the playing field. Trying to add corporate bureaucracies and fixed procedures will not be conducive to an environment that should be focusing on startup growth.

In many cases, there seems to be more effort, time and money being put into launching corporate accelerator spaces than there is notable opportunities for entrepreneurs. And until these points are addressed, startups -the ones who can’t afford to waste time during a pivotal part of their growth- will feel disconnected and dissatisfied by the efforts of such spaces.

Canada: The need for more

Canadian entrepreneurs have the opportunity to create a global impact. Our startups and innovators are world-class leaders. However, if we don’t create an ecosystem where they can flourish, our prosperity is at risk. And unfortunately, that’s where we are now.

Creating a successful home-grown business benefits all stakeholders. We see this with countries that are currently leading today’s innovation economy. They do it on the back of entrepreneurs and by commercializing their ideas. However, in Canada, Blackberry (launched by RIM) is still the only company that has been listed among the world’s top innovators. And that was almost 20 years ago.

If we want more Canadian tech companies to become household names around the world, we need to stop riding waves and become market leaders. Our government pumping money into an innovation agenda isn’t enough. There needs to be a shift in our mindset and strategies. We need to be more aggressive and assertive in our approach.

It’s time to understand what role we each play in making sure critical steps are taken to help us transition from being a country with potential to one that is prosperous.

We can only do this if our country’s universities, businesses and political leaders come together to consider programs, policies and initiatives that work hand-in-hand with entrepreneurs. It’s time to boost links between our most important stakeholders and stop working in silos. Our ecosystem, and the players within it, have matured. And now, it’s time for us to make some hard decisions. We need to double down on our high potential startups and programs in order to guarantee success. Spreading our resources equally to all players is no longer an option if we want to get to the next level.

The stakes have gotten higher and it’s no longer about creating a vision to help startups grow and compete in the global innovation economy, but developing a path to make sure they win on the global stage.

From startup founder to founder blues: The growing mental health issues in the tech sector

Almost half of Canadians -49 per cent to be exact- have experienced mental health issues at one point in their life, according to a new national survey by Sun Life Financial Canada.

From work-related stress to living with depression, mental illness has affected a whopping 63 per cent of millennials, 50 per cent of Gen Xers and 41 per cent of “late bloomers” Sun Life says in a news release.

It should come as no surprise that mental health issues affect a broad swath of society. However, the increase of mental illnesses has costed the Canadian economy more than $50 billion every year. For businesses that means a total of $6 billion in lost productivity, which works out to almost $1,500 per employee each year.

Unfortunately, one-quarter of Canadians have never discussed their mental health problems to a professional. And a new generation of startups are stepping up to solve that. These entrepreneurs see the issue as a chance to make a difference and lucrative opportunity to truly innovate an underserved (and oft forgotten) market.

Canadian startups — like Inkblot, WellCalm and Newtopia — are building new solutions that can prevent, diagnose and even treat mental health issues across Canada. Of course, working in the space is no easy feat. For a long time mental health was rarely discussed, often underfunded and a burden placed on our overstretched health system. Today’s health gamechangers are working to solve that.

Making a difference and making money

There’s no cut-and-dry solution to fixing the country’s mental health woes, but technology can help, explains Jeff Ruby, founder of Newtopia — a health and wellness company that raised $10 million in Series A funding to expand its health management and coaching offerings.

It can play a role in connecting people with the tools they need to take charge of their overall health, although it isn’t the ultimate solution most people want it to be, he emphasizes.

“Innovators who are hoping to play a bigger role in the space need to think about solutions pragmatically,” Ruby advises. “I think there’s an important role for technologies to play, but there’s also a caution. Technology alone is not the sole answer. It’s a combination of technology-enabled services that have a human component. Solutions (like wearable devices or apps) aren’t the answer alone.”

WellCalm founder Samira Ramzy couldn’t agree more. Since co-launching her wellness business that offers massages and mental health workshops in 2015 the company has seen a bevy of startups enter the health and wellness space all looking to hit it big.
“It’s not an easy money-making industry to get into,” she says. “We have to work twice as hard to educate consumers and help them understand that mental health support isn’t a weakness and then provide the services that they need. You can’t just start a business and then expect people to line up around the block to access it”

Of course, despite the hurdles Ramzy and other entrepreneurs like her experience, for those that make it there are several opportunities to grow . According to CB Insight [link], health and wellness tech startups saw a record number of investment in 2017.

Some of the biggest deals include a $40 million Series B investment for Quartet Health [link], one of the largest mental health tech deals since 2012 that featured heavyweights like Google Ventures , OAK HC/FT Partners, Polaris Partners, and F-Prime Capital. Not too far behind was a $37 million Series B deal with Headspace [link] and a whopping $35 million deal for Lyra Health.

The entrepreneur effect

72 per cent of entrepreneurs are dealing with mental health concerns, compared to a mere seven per cent of the general public, according to a study from the University of California. This has lead to the term “Founder Blues”.

Between 2011 and 2015 “Founder Blues” have led to several high-profile suicides in the startup world, including the death of Austen Heinz, a biotech entrepreneur and the founder of Cambrian Genomics; Aaron Swartz, the co-founder of Reddit; and Jody Sherman, the founder of Ecomom.

“Being an entrepreneur is an emotional enterprise. There’s a lot of unknowns… their companies become their identities,” say Dr. Arash Zohoor, family physician, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot, an online therapy platform. “Their level of anxiety when it comes to running out of money, meeting investor expectations, the reality of marketplace… they all are very difficult.”

So how would an entrepreneur know when it’s time to seek help with their mental health? Are these online mental wellness platforms the answer to the stigma found in the startup ecosystem? And how does Dr. Arash balance the stress of being an entrepreneur while helping treat mental health issues in his patients? Take a listen to Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Dr. Arash Zohoor, family physician, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot.

Make sure to also visit our official iTunes page.

Why e-commerce stores are going from click to brick

Warby Parker. Alibaba. Frank and Oak.

All three e-businesses are based in different countries and target very different markets yet have one big thing in common: They’re transforming the retail industry one brick-and-mortar store at a time.

For a long time e-commerce was seen as the more attractive option for businesses selling consumer goods. These internet-first companies favoured the internet because it was cheaper than physical spaces that often came with high overhead costs (think: expensive leases, paid on-site staff and more).

But, that’s all changing now. The biggest trend in the tech e-retail space is now offline stores. Big names that cut their teeth online are opening up flagship locations. What started as test pop-up shops lead to an unprecedented surge in physical stores.

For example, in 2017 womenswear e-retailer Everlane launched its first store despite for years vehemently claiming it would never open one. Meanwhile, last year bed-in-a-box startup Casper unveiled its first retail outlet with plans for more to come. More impressively last month Chinese e-giant Alibaba announced a $2.6 billion plan to open a series of brick-and-mortar stores across China.

So why are so many internet-first companies suddenly pursuing offline spaces? Easy: Experts are finding for the few that run physical stores right there’s a lot of money to be made.

The death of (offline) retail has been greatly exaggerated

Amazon first started the offline trend back in 2015 when it opened its first bookstore. Since then the internet juggernaut has made $1.3 billion from its in-person stores. It makes sense considering a majority of retail spending still takes place in brick-and-mortar stores.

A 2017 study by the Retail Council of Canada, Microsoft and research tool WisePlum found that shoppers prefer physical retail store experiences. Why? Offline stores offer instant gratification, the ability to compare prices and inspect products up close all at once.

These facts don’t surprise Jen Koss, co-founder of Brika — a retail store that sells artisan crafts from indie designers. The company launched its first brick-and-mortar store on Queen Street West five years ago and hasn’t looked back.

“I was surprised by how a physical store can have a very deep connection with the customer,” she explains. “[My co-founder and I] have seen how customers will remember the smell of candle, how the store is organized, the people working when they walk in,” she explains about how the little things often to bigger sales and create long-term customers.

Entrepreneurs should also understand is that customer service really matters with physical stores, she says. “A lot of it comes down to investing in the best quality store staff,” the Harvard graduate explains. “It comes down to personal relationships that you create in the store. Focus on who you hire, how you train your ambassadors and how they become part of the brand.”

IRL: Location, location, location

Another critical point to remember is to always choose the right location. Physical spaces can easily be judged based on their surroundings and how accessible it is for customers. If you have the best products, but it’s incredibly hard for the public to get to your store you’re doing your company a disservice.

One popular way for startups to dip their toe in the real-to-touch store market is to experiment with pop-up shops. This allows companies to visit unique locations and get to know their customers before signing anything long-term. This middle-of-the-road approach can also help generate brand awareness, take entrepreneurs to where their customers often work or live and a simple way to reach a whole new demographic. For looking for on-the-ground advice Shopify has created a guide that outlines everything from location to pricing includes everything an entrepreneur needs to know.

Choose your own adventure

Of course, e-stores don’t always need to invest in the physical real estate to stay profitable. Companies like Etsy rely solely on partnering with existing space-focused companies like Hudson’s Bay or Macy’s for short-term leases or “stores within stores.” These special arrangements can end up lowering the financial burden for emerging entrepreneurs while providing a lot of the same retail benefits.

Another unexpected bonus of this approach is that it can easily position an e-commerce company among other quality brands. For retailers looking to emulate an offline store success they should focus on finding one location (i.e. a store) that customers can associate with their brand, but for everyone else complementary company to work with can work just as well.

Out of office: How to make remote teams work for your business

When technology firm IBM revealed it was rolling back telecommuting perks many called it the beginning of the end for the work-from-home trend. The tech giant helped pioneer remote working in the 1980s and since then has gone on to be a leader in the space. Before the announcement, a whopping 40 per cent of its employees in 173 countries around the world worked outside the office.

Of course, out-of-office arrangements — which let employees work from home or shared co-working spaces — in Canada remain incredibly popular. Almost half of all Canadians work remotely, according to workspace provider RegusCanada.

For IBM, the office reversal was part of a bigger strategy to increase collaboration and boost productivity after 20 consecutive quarters of falling revenue. Other companies that have invoked similar policies — think Reddit, Bank of America and more — espoused similar sentiments.

But while reining in remote workers may seem like the perfect fix for productivity issues, it’s only a temporary solution. Why? It’s simple: The same problems that plague employees outside of the office can easily carry on in a new environment. To truly make a difference executives need to better communicate their expectations, say experts.

Starting off on the right foot

Tech startups have long relied on remote workers to help them rise in the industry. In fact, most companies these days offer up flexible work schedules in order to attract the best talent, especially since a majority of full-time workers,  aged 18 to 29, now prefer it. And, since millennials make up most of today’s active workforce — outnumbering both Gen-X and Baby Boomers — business leaders are keen to keep it.

82 per cent of millennials say they would be more loyal to employers if they had flexible work options, according to @FlexJobs.

Michael Prynor, founder and CEO of popular task management software Trello has found an effective way to manage remote workers that startups can employ in their own business. It all starts with the interview process, he explains in a CBNC interview. He and his team screen applicants via video conference to make sure they can effectively communicate without being face-to-face. It’s also a test to find out more about their work environment and set them up for long-term success.

“If we decide to hire someone then we go through this process of asking, ‘Do you have an office with a door that closes? If you don’t and you live in a studio, then you have to go find a coworking space if you take this job,” he says.

Trello’s requirements for remote success:

  1. Good wifi: This one isn’t a surprise since an Internet connection is required for even the most basic office work these days.
  2. Access to work resources. Workers need to be able to “log into [their machine as a local administrator” and also have access to a standard VPN for privacy.
  3. Working headset. Bad, static-laden connections are a big no-no, so workers need to have a reliable headset.
  4. An office with a door. To cut down on distractions Trello asks employees to work in an office with a door.
  5. Prioritizing responsibilities. Just like at regular offices, employees can’t expect to take care of household chores, care for children or pets during working hours.
  6. Over communicate. This piece of advice could apply to any worker. Employees should make sure stick to scheduled hours and communicate if/when problems arise.
  7. Be reachable. Employees should be able to reach remote workers via phone and other work channels.

Beat Buhlmann, general manager for note-taking app Evernote, uses a similar approach for remote workers, he explained in a podcast interview with Lisette Sutherland. That’s not all either, he explains. His team also interview employees via video and outline expectations as well as responsibilities to ensure staff understand the job requirements beforehand.

“It is important to establish communication rules in a joint team-code-conduct manner that includes teams and their wishes directly in the creation,” he says in a publicly shared guide that includes advice from some of tech’s biggest players. “When do we use chats? Why do we write emails? At what point do we pick up the phone? These answers should be a joint effort and one that is reflective of the team’s efforts versus that of one person.”

Laying the financial groundwork

Creating a so-called paper trail is critical for remote workers as well, especially since most companies don’t have one in place. Two out of five companies with remote work policies don’t have formal paperwork that outlines expectations, according to a report by Workopolis.

Related: Why community plays a pivotal role in startup success

Enter: Workable. The remote-focused company created a series of templates that both small and large businesses can use to help their company operate as effectively as possible. Another template can be found online at  Workplace Analytics that specifies everything — from pay to hours of operation– startups can utilize for their own workplace policies.

Meanwhile, for Patty Azzarello, the best thing a startup can do to help streamline remote policies already in place is designate specific work-at-home days of the week to optimize office togetherness. The entrepreneur and business advisors to companies, like Adobe and Hewlett Packard, has spent years crafting work-from-home policies that, well, actually work and shared her advice in Fast Company.

“Require pre-approval for specific work-at-home days versus people having the expectation that they can just send an email on any given day saying ‘I’m working at home today,’” she shares.

At the end of the day there are great reasons for companies to embrace remote workers, but in order for it to be effective companies need to make sure they have policies in place that will allow them to be successful and help their employees thrive.

Posted in People

Comments Off on Out of office: How to make remote teams work for your business

Ex-500 Startups partner Elizabeth Yin on breaking into the U.S., finding investors and more

Elizabeth Yin has spent years mentoring, managing and meeting with top entrepreneurs from across the globe. Her personal rolodex includes contact details for innovators at today’s biggest companies and since graduating from Stanford University and MIT in the early 2000s she’s helped founders raise millions in venture capital.

Some of her most notable accomplishments include cofounding B2B advertising platform LaunchBit — that was later acquired for an undisclosed amount — joining Google as one of its marketing managers, overseeing 500 Startups’ accelerator program and most recently starting her own pre-seed fund called Hustle Fund.

What are some of the biggest business lessons she’s learned throughout her career? Entrepreneurs should focus on the facts during investment meetings, understand networking is crucial for success and make smart hiring decisions.

Why Canadian entrepreneurs should stay home

For years, Canadian entrepreneurs were told that to grow their company or find investment they had to relocate to the U.S., and in particular Silicon Valley. That’s not technically true anymore says Yin, who credits Canada’s ever-growing reputation on the global stage for the change.

“Before you’d have to trek down to Silicon Valley for one to two months to network, but now VCs are coming up here … take advantage of that to get to know them and network at events.” Elizabeth Yin, cofounder of @hustlefund

“Here’s the dirty secret about staying in Canada,” she explains. “VC schedules are really busy with back-to-back meetings in the Valley. It’s really hard to get a meeting with them there, but when they’re up here their schedule is a lot more open. They’re here to learn about the ecosystem, mingle with startups at places, like the DMZ, and open to spending more time just talking.”

And, that’s not all. The high cost of living in Silicon Valley can be a detriment to bootstrapped startups. Why? Because they’re forced to spend most of their money on day-to-day living costs. A recent report by CNBC backs up this claim. It found startups in the San Francisco area are having a hard time recruiting tech talent because of high living costs.

“The cost of living — compared to San Francisco — is better here [in Canada] … you have access to grants that U.S. citizens don’t have and because more VCs are starting to come up here there’s more potential to network without having to spend money.”

Ask employees the right questions

Regardless of product or company, every founder needs a team of dedicated employees. Of course, onboarding new employees can be one of the most stressful, yet rewarding responsibilities for an entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, that also means hiring new employees can easily go wrong and cost entrepreneurs a lot of time and money. In an industry where startups are expected to scale as fast as possible, one bad egg can set a founder back years. For example, Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh estimates bad hires have cost him approximately $100 million.

“Your first couple of hires solidify your company culture, which sets the tone for the rest of your company,” explains Yin in her blog. “And most entrepreneurs tend to look at candidates purely based on skill. But looking at a person based on just one axis is a huge fallacy.”

Hiring the best people means analyzing their personality. For instance, like how they’ll operate under stressful situations or go above what’s expected.

“The people with the best skills for the job can be your worst performers if the environment isn’t a good fit for them.” Elizabeth Yin, cofounder of @hustlefund

A Harvard University paper found that even highly sought after employees who engage in harmful behaviour can hurt a business’s long-term prospects. Bad hires, it states, lower productivity, negatively impact employee morale, and can cost up to $12,000 due to employee turnover.

What entrepreneurs should know to survive in tech

Passing the investor smell test

While at 500 Startups, Yin worked with a variety of tech startups. One thing she noticed during that time was that investors all too often would fund companies that looked great on paper or spoke a certain way. However, those characteristics didn’t necessarily correlate with success. What did matter in the end was execution. This is why at the Hustle Fund, Yin does most of her early investment conversations via email. It helps her focus on a startup’s figures, success and more.

“When I’m doing due diligence I’ll ask a lot about execution and timeline. I want to understand what the velocity of this startup is. Is there some signal these companies are doing something worthwhile and moving fast enough?” So far, Hustle Fund’s innovative process has produced interesting results. In 2017 47 per cent of its portfolio companies had at least one female founder.

She also looks at how fast a startup is scaling. “Are you doing customer development in three days, three months or three years?” Yin adds. “Every business is different. If it’s taking you longer to reach certain metrics than others in the same industry that looks bad.”

“I’ll ask questions about unit economics. Do I think, based on how you’re approaching your business, that the cost to acquire a customer is going to be less than what they’re worth in the end?” Elizabeth Yin, cofounder of @hustlefund

At the end of the day not finding investment isn’t a sign to quit. “If you read TechCrunch it looks like everyone is getting funded, but it’s just not true,” she says. “The good news for [Canadians] is it’s easier to bootstrap here because your costs are lower and you can survive longer to acquire customers and reach a profit without running out of capital.”

Interested in learning more? Check out Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Michael Gord, the founder of MLG Blockchain about how he grew his business, the power of bitcoin and how he’s changing the tech industry.

Posted in Growth

Comments Off on Ex-500 Startups partner Elizabeth Yin on breaking into the U.S., finding investors and more

Why community plays a pivotal role in startup success

Wattpad co-founder Allen Lau has created a million-dollar empire out of building engaging (and hardworking) communities. As a result, it means he understands just how pivotal they can be for a startup’s success.

These days his company is more than just a free story-sharing app based in Toronto. In fact, it’s now one of Canada’s most successful tech companies and raised USD $117.8 million from prominent backers like China’s billion-dollar Tencent Holdings, OMERS Ventures and BDC.

Part of the company’s rapid success lies in its ability to create a thriving workplace culture. An important feat in today’s ever-changing tech world where tech talent is in high demand.

In fact, Wattpad’s dedication to culture is a smart business move considering happy and “engaged” employees make better workers. A study from Warwick University found happy employees worked harder and were 12 per cent more productive, while a 2017 Gallup report discovered stressful work environments produced higher employee turnover and absenteeism.

“Culture is the most important part of a company,” explains Lau. “It’s the glue that holds a company together. Creating a supportive environment that allows everyone to thrive and do world-class work.”

How Allen Lau and his team create a thriving community:

  • Spend time with your employees: Wattpad management regularly meet with employees for one-on-one for feedback.
  • Create collaboration: A no-door policy and open space layout help employees work and collaborate more.
  • Keep communication open 24/7: Employees feel empowered to share ideas, thoughts and opinions, no matter their position, through shared internal platforms.

There are all kinds of communities

Of course, building a successful company goes beyond just investing in an amazing workplace culture. Community outreach plays an essential, yet sometimes overlooked part, explains Erin Bury, managing director for communications agency Eighty-Eight. Community outreach, she says, has the power to turn people into brand advocates and boost brand recognition.

“Building community outreach does not require a budget just time and authenticity,” the communication expert says. “Startups just need to identify what those communities are [that they want to help] and how they can help.” That can be something as simple as entrepreneurs volunteering their product or skills.

For example, Bury’s firm works pro bono for a Toronto-based charity called the Upside Foundation. Through its community work, the company works closely with some of Canada’s best tech startups all while making a difference.  

Maya Shoucair, Shopify’s community development manager for Toronto, understands how beneficial working with the community can be as well. The Torontonian has built a career out of helping companies grow and strengthen their local community. She is an integral part of Shopify team that helps solidify the company’s reputation as an important part of the tech ecosystem.

Her advice for companies hoping to mimic Shopify’s success? When engaging with communities outside of your office make sure employees share the same goals.

“Making sure everyone understands what problems you’re trying to solve. And also how you intend to bring your mission to life is crucial. Sometimes, this means over-communicating, so that everyone is on the same page.”

Shopify Community Manager Maya Shoucair shares three things startups should know:

  • Give, don’t just take: Never take more than you give when working in the community. It should always be a mutually beneficial relationship.
  • Be inclusive: Don’t create inaccessible spaces that don’t feel welcoming or open to different voices.
  • Share the wealth: Help employees take the lead on initiatives.

Don’t expect results overnight

Healthy Pets‘ founder Emma Harris has seen firsthand how community outreach can uplift emerging businesses. Despite only launching in 2017 her company has grown exponentially since joining Toronto’s tech community.

One recent success includes last week’s appearance on Dragons’ Den. The TV role garnered a $500K deal from Arlene Dickinson, but what the episode didn’t capture was how volunteering and attending community events was a crucial part of the company’s journey.

“Always raise the amount of money [you need] to support your growth, but you have to get out there and go to events or volunteer to truly impact your business,” she says. “I believe prioritizing community events is worth the cost.”

Dragons’ Den alum Emma Harris’ advice for community outreach:

  • Only attend or volunteer at one event per night: Instead of attending a few events every night for an hour or two, make an impact by choosing one and creating deeper relationships with people around you, so you stand out.
  • Rotate the type of events you attend: Attend a variety of meetups — an investment event one night, a sales-focused meetup the next to get as much as possible out of the city’s offerings.
  • Go in small groups or even alone: Attending or volunteering at an event by yourself forces you to meet as many people as you can and makes it less intimidating when you approach new people.

While community work helped Emma find new opportunities and grow in less than a year, not every founder can count on the same experience.

Shoucair suggests founders or companies dipping their toe into community outreach start small like Harris did. Attend events or volunteer at a manageable capacity to create real impact and change.

“Anyone looking to strengthen their community, whether they are in a community development position or not, is to never focus on growing as fast as possible at the start,” she says. “Your community will grow and strengthen organically if you’re able to provide the right value and direction.”

Posted in People

Comments Off on Why community plays a pivotal role in startup success

Sales-boosting advice to turn your startup into a million-dollar business

Being an entrepreneur is tough. In today’s startup ecosystem where investment can be hard to procure and one bad customer can make or break a company, finding the right kind of client (read: consistent) is crucial for long-term success.

Of course, this isn’t exactly easy. An always-changing tech landscape and 24-hour startup life can make prioritizing sales efforts challenging. While there are programs that can help — such as the DMZ’s sales accelerator –not every startup makes it into the program.

Danielle Brown, chief marketing officer for Hubba, has seen first-hand how fast the sales industry can drastically change and why it’s important to prioritize sales outreach. “Things are really growing and changing at a rapid pace. It’s a really different world … the way we consume information has drastically changed, so the way we market and sell has changed.”

Being social matters

Canadian startup Shopify analyzed social-driven orders to better understand how social sites can drive sales. They found that:

  • Facebook: Eighty-five per cent) of orders originated from the popular site and it accounted for most of its social traffic.
  • Timing: Companies that launch a product during the weekend saw social orders drop 10 to 15 per cent.
  • Video: Companies that incorporated video content saw a 1.9 percent higher conversion rates.

Brown, a marketing and sales guru, knows what she’s talking about having worked for business heavyweights like Universal Music, SiriusXM and e-commerce loyalty firm Points throughout her career. Now at Hubba, one of Canada’s fastest growing companies — she leads the brand’s marketing and sales vision. For entrepreneurs with limited budgets, the right online tools — that range from email tracking software to advertising tools — can help startups grow without bankrupting them, she says.
“Tried and true things, like Facebook, Instagram and those channels are getting so sophisticated about how you target people so staying on top of those platforms can be a cheap way for you to find the people you’re looking for.”

Outreach tips

Marie Chevrier is the founder of Sampler, a startup radically changing how companies get consumers to try their product. She and her team focus on getting samples to the right consumers instead of just merely distributing thousands of products in high traffic areas. In her business knowing how to push sales and garner leads is critical.

Since launching in 2013 her company has worked with more than 200 brands and reached 25 million consumers around the globe. Chevrier says focusing on low-cost tools played an important role in her company’s success.

“I suggest getting your teams on trials and measuring how much they use the technology before implementing. Everyone thinks they need the shiny new thing but implementing its usage can be tough across teams,” she explains. “Our team started by managing leads on Google Sheets before we moved to a CRM system.”

Another tip? Try cold outreach to potential clients or even partner companies you want to work with. It can yield positive benefits but only when done right. Novice businesses often rely on impersonal, template-based messages to save time, but this is bad for business, she says. 

“Remember to try and be useful in the first few seconds of a call and/or the first line of the email. Get to the point quickly,” Chevrier adds. “Remember to add value and where possible introduce your product indirectly. Share case studies from one of their competitors, a blog post on industry news that makes your product useful but skip the ‘At X we do this’ in the first few lines. Leave that to the end or even for the next email.”

Brown couldn’t agree more. Hubba still relies on cold outreach to connect with new customers, but her team makes sure to always customize each interaction

“Cold calling and cold emailing is very effective. We use it at Hubba and personalization is key. Know what you’re doing [and] who you’re targeting. Also text emails work better than designed emails because people respond faster. Entrepreneurs can over engineer things sometimes.” — Danielle Brown, CMO, Hubba.


The personal touch

In the midst of sales talks, it’s easy to overlook how important the human touch is for every interaction. Sometimes unlikely sales can be found through existing customers, former leads and ambassadors.

Ensuring you approach every meeting, interaction with industry peers or even networking event with a smile can be valuable. “I’ve found referrals and advocacy is way more valuable than tooting my own horn. If the messenger is a peer, I’ve found the message carries more importance,” explains serial entrepreneur Ben Baldwin.

The entrepreneur is the creator of The Founder City Project, founder of ClearFit and sits on Toronto’s Innovation Economy Advisory Council. Sometimes networking can provide long-term sales benefits. Don’t make the mistake of forgetting that people (not just tools) are important to your business, he says. “Peers are incredibly powerful teachers, especially when both parties are comfortable enough to be open and vulnerable with one another.”

Brown agrees. Acknowledging the role people play can either help or even hinder or startup depending on how it’s done.

“Regardless you’re always marketing and selling with everything you do,” she explains. “People will talk about their interaction with you — positive or negative. When startups are launching they tend to be more aware of their early interactions with customers and bigger companies might get lost with that stuff.”

Interested in learning more? Check out Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Michael Gord, the founder of MLG Blockchain about how he grew his business, the power of bitcoin and how he’s changing the tech industry.

Make sure to also visit our official iTunes page for all of our BusinessCast interviews.

Posted in Sales

Comments Off on Sales-boosting advice to turn your startup into a million-dollar business

The new afterlife: How tech is helping people live forever

Technology has transformed everything from what we eat, to international currency and even how we fall in love. Now today’s best entrepreneurial minds have set their sights on disrupting a far more challenging (and taboo) subject: Death.

Earlier this week a Silicon Valley-based startup called Nectome went public with a high-tech embalming process it says can preserve a human brain so it can later be uploaded to a digital cloud. The idea is that an individual’s consciousness — complete with quirks and memories — could then live forever. The downside? The fatal “treatment” is only possible through euthanasia because it requires a fresh, healthy brain for the procedure to work.

“If the brain is dead, it’s like your computer is off, but that doesn’t mean the information isn’t there” says @KennethHayworth, president of @Lets_Upgrade, in MIT Review. ‏

Right now the startup is still years away from commercialization, but the industry seems to be backing it nonetheless. Up to this point, it’s been awarded a $960,000 from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health and raised $1 million in funding (with some of that amount from Y Combinator).

Of course, Nectome’s current success and ability to top news reports around the world isn’t shocking. The death market is a booming billion-dollar industry. It’s also one more reason analysts see it as a sector on the rise not just in North America, but also in influential markets like China.

In Canada, death services is a $1.6 billion industry, according to a report by the Toronto Star. The same story found Ontarians invested approximately $2 billion in funeral arrangements.

Is the ‘death market’ the next gold mine?

Everyone passes away at some point. In fact, death is a universal constant that impacts every person regardless of ethnicity, occupation or nationality. This makes it ripe for disruption and a slew of new startups are ready to do just that.

Entrepreneurs are creating new ways that either preserve a person’s life or make the death process easier.

Jevin Maltais, co-founder of a legal will generator called Willowbee, is one of those forward-thinking innovators. His startup helps consumers create wills that spell out everything from marriage to end-of-life care. Kevin Oulds, the founder of Willfull, another online legal will startup sees the digitification of services like estate planning become more and more popular.

“End-of-life and estate planning is just starting to move online, and it’s an industry that has a lot of potential for growth in the online space,” he explains. “Already I’ve seen everything from online memorial sites, to Facebook’s Legacy tool, which allows you to assign a contact who will convert your profile to a memorial account after you pass away, and of course online wills.”

For consumers hoping to use death services or industry-affiliated ones, it’s important to do your own extensive research first. “There are services online now that didn’t exist five years ago where you can talk with a therapist, invest your money and make an estate plan for an affordable price compared to traditional lawyers,” Oulds explains. “The key with services like [this] is trust, ease-of-use, cost, and time commitment. Users want to know they can trust that the documents created as legally-sound – we worked with several estate lawyers to create ours.”

The money behind living forever

Of course, eternal life comes with a price. Willful charges as little as $99 for its services while Nectome’s deadly procedure comes with a refundable $10,000 deposit.

Death-defying startups

  • Alcor: The Scottsdale company will freeze your dead body for $200,000 US (plus another $10,000 surcharge for users outside of North America or China) so it can be revived in the future.
  • Unity biotechnology: This biotech startup is focused on extending life through medicine that halts or reverses ageing so humans can live longer, fuller lives.
  • Calico: This Google-backed venture is still top secret but it’s working on creating a way to bring people back from major illnesses.

For tech enthusiasts looking at other digital alternatives, Eternime may be able to help. The startup, currently in beta testing, saves an individual’s online activity. It later uses that information to create a digital ghost that can interact with loved ones.

So far, the company has signed up almost 40,000 users. “This isn’t technology that is decades away,” founder Marius Ursache says in an interview with TechCrunch. “Building lifelike avatars is an iterative process. Think of it like search results; they’ll just get better and better, more and more accurate as time goes on.”

While the future is unknowable, the desire to live forever is an existential issue that has fascinated scholars for centuries. It’s only now that technology may be able to solve this complex problem once and for all.

« Older Entries