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Our commitment to creating an equitable future for Black founders

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Our commitment to creating an equitable future for Black founders

Last week, I released a statement voicing the DMZ’s support for the Black community and our commitment to strengthening Black entrepreneurship in the tech ecosystem.

To enact real change for an equitable future, it is our responsibility as leaders in this space to do more than just express our support. We must action it.

Here are the first steps we’re taking to uphold our promise to our action: 

  • Recruit more Black founders: We pledge to recruit 30 new Black founders by May 2021 through our Black Innovation Fellowship (BIF) Program (up from 10 BIF founders last year).
  • Expand programming and resources: Since launching the BIF program in May of 2019, we have identified opportunities for widening our programs to support aspiring Black entrepreneurs that have not yet established market traction. Yesterday, we launched a free two-week bootcamp open to pre-incubator stage Black founders around the world to get their tech-business ideas validated. Full details and the application for this bootcamp can be found at dmz.to/BIF.
  • Giving back to the community: Each year, DMZ staff are encouraged to spend up to 40 hours volunteering in the local community in lieu of regular work hours. Starting today, we are asking staff to take paid time off to volunteer with the Black community on initiatives that will drive impact on things such as racial justice, equity, supporting Black owned businesses and many more. 

A prosperous economy is one that fosters diverse perspectives and actively removes barriers for those hindered by systemic discrimination. 

Black founders, we pledge to help level the playing field and clear the pathways to your entrepreneurial success.

Abdullah Snobar
Executive Director, DMZ
CEO, DMZ Ventures

Cinchy helps healthcare and financial service industries accelerate response to COVID-19

DMZ alumnus, Cinchy, is using Data Fabric technology to help Canadian banking and healthcare sectors unlock IT efficiencies and address the immediate impacts of COVID-19

Congratulations to the company on their recent announcement of securing $10M in Series A funding to support growing demand for Data Fabric Technology!

Cinchy’s Data Fabric technology is being used to unlock efficiencies so that banks and healthcare providers can deploy real-time solutions with existing or even reduced IT budgets. How can the tech community and public sector work together to accelerate the delivery of new customer and employee solutions without compromising on data privacy? Keep reading to find out.

More applications mean more data silos

Today, there’s an app for everything – meaning there’s also a data silo for everything. Do you ever feel like your business is drowning in complexity? The proliferation of new applications poses huge problems for organizations of all kinds, across all sectors. As explained by Cinchy CEO, Dan DeMers, data integration can easily consume 50% or more of the delivery budget for new solutions. In an IT model where we are constantly doing this, data integration grows more and more complex over time, and this simply isn’t sustainable for organizations. It’s a waste of time and money.

How data should work

So, how does Cinchy’s technology solve this issue for organizations? Cinchy believes there is an inevitable future about how data should work, and it involves shifting to Data Fabric technology.

Cinchy is an enterprise-grade Data Collaboration platform that merges data management, data protection, and data governance capabilities under one umbrella. It is Data Fabric technology that delivers the data management layer, and it is used to connect data from apps, as well as new data created directly in the fabric, to form a sort of internet of data tables. One of the key benefits of this architecture is that it removes the need to make data copies (a.k.a. integrations) when launching new solutions. Instead, data is “linked”, and this process actually gets faster and more efficient as the fabric powers more solutions. Think of the Data Fabric as generating a network effect for IT delivery where more projects translate into faster and cheaper delivery, not rising costs and complexity.

Why has Data Fabric been gaining so much traction recently? The reason is that organizational leaders are being asked to deliver solutions faster than ever before without being given additional budget or headcount. Therefore, they have been searching to find technologies that increase both speed and efficiency while not putting data privacy and protection at risk. As you might guess, the list of software categories capable of delivering all of these outcomes is short; Data Fabric technology has quickly risen to the top of the list.

Connect, protect, collaborate

Society is moving to a future where data owners, whether individuals or businesses, will demand more control over how their data is used. With conventional approaches, data is effectively managed by making a lot of copies, and, once copied, full control is simply no longer possible. All this changes with Cinchy’s Data Fabric design, where data owners (whether employees, customers, or supply chain partners) are able to grant access permission to fellow fabric users to see, change, approve or delete their data. With no copies of data to chase and protect, these controls become universal in nature and can be set all the way down to a single cell of data.

For large, highly-regulated organizations, the fabric acts as the secure, real-time engine for the delivery of unlimited new solutions with embedded data protection. Again, this not only enables secure, cross-team collaborations but actually accelerates and improves the organization’s IT delivery process. That’s the way it should be.

COVID-19: making a difference across industries in the months to come

During this time, organizations need to meet the sudden demand from employees and customers for new solutions to their needs. In the new COVID-19 world, it’s important that organizations not only address these demands quickly but find ways to do so that are hyper-efficient. For Cinchy’s enterprise and public sector customers, their platform supports this incredible challenge and even provides a competitive advantage when business returns to a focus on growth.

Helping Canada’s financial sector do more with less

All areas of financial services heavily rely on data as a key asset in the delivery of their digital transformation strategies: from paperless banking and accelerated loan approvals to remote staff management and increased service personalization.

There is now more data, and more types of data, than ever – making it more difficult to manage. This is where Data Fabric technology will play a key role in helping the financial sector respond quickly to new demands from customers and employees alike. Banks will need to harness data in the most effective way possible to accelerate the delivery of new solutions for remote workers, secure office spaces, and the and fully-digitized customer experiences. Canadian banks can leverage Cinchy and reap the benefits of its Data Fabric design to achieve data centricity and accurate data extraction for successful decision-making. Data Fabric will be the answer to helping the economy bounce back.

Powering secure, real-time healthcare solutions

The ongoing healthcare crisis raises important questions about the use of personally identifying information (PII). For example, should citizen GPS and Bluetooth location data be used to help augment contact tracers in their incredibly important work to track viral transmission and reduce spread? How can the technology community and public sector work together to respond to the current situation and help society be more proactive when addressing future outbreaks?

COVID-19 has highlighted the need for public health agencies to move beyond legacy data management systems based on Data Sharing/Data Integration and explore new approaches such as Data Fabric technology that improve data protection and IT solutions delivery. These new approaches will support the rapid delivery of large scale solutions ranging from augmented contact tracing to intelligent PPE inventory management, front-line worker support, and secure vaccine research collaborations.

Click image to see expanded infographic.

Cinchy’s Healthcare Data Command Centre solution uses Data Collaboration and Data Fabric technologies to help healthcare providers leverage data from sources like legacy healthcare systems, hospital apps and databases, mobile phone apps, laboratory research, third party PPE inventory systems and more. By drawing this data into a central, secure Command Centre where owners retain full control of how their data is used, public health agencies can quickly develop the data models required to deploy the real-time solutions that are so urgently needed in order to address the crisis.

Cinchy believes that it is imperative that public and private stakeholders join forces in order to take advantage of connected Data Fabric design – a made-in-Canada innovation that can be used to help address a global problem without compromising on data privacy or data protection.

Interested in learning how your organization can benefit from Cinchy’s platform? Reach out to the Cinchy team and book a demo here.

How PocketHealth is fueling healthcare innovation, attracting investment and scaling company growth despite COVID-19

PocketHealth’s patient-centric product introduces a new way of thinking in healthcare and has been instrumental in keeping hospital departments afloat during the current COVID-19 crisis.


The company recently announced a $9.2M raise in funding – while it seems hard to believe a startup could be pursuing growth and attracting investment in this environment, PocketHealth isn’t at all surprised that demand has skyrocketed.

Healthcare institutions have traditionally been slow to embrace innovation. However, Rishi Nayyar, Co-Founder & CEO of PocketHealth, explains that many have had no choice but to adopt new technology in hopes of relieving burdens on resources.

PocketHeath has completely modernized how sensitive medical imaging is shared between hospitals, imaging clinics, doctors and patients. The platform has stopped patients from making unnecessary hospital trips and being exposed to potential risk, and given institutions more resources to deal with COVID-19 screening and other related activities.

We caught up with Rishi to pass along our congratulations on the company’s raise and to learn what’s next in store for the company given the news – which includes big plans to scale.

Check out our Q&A with Rishi below.

Tell us about how you and your brother co-founded this business together.

The idea for PocketHealth began with a simple experience that my brother, Harsh, had while he was working in the Bay Area in Silicon Valley. He was playing tennis and sprained his ankle quite badly. He was required to get an MRI and an X-ray, and when he was done with that MRI, he was handed two CD-ROMs.

The thought of receiving CDs back then, which was in the mid-2010s, was quite absurd – especially considering the work he was doing in the Valley. At that time, he was an early engineer at a startup that eventually got acquired by Google. He was working on app virtualization: streaming large quantities of data to mobile devices all around the world, gigabytes of data. Meanwhile, in healthcare, hospitals and imaging centres had these small image files being placed on a CD-ROM to give to a patient. This patient was, by definition, sick. They’d have to come to the hospital, pick up the CD-ROM and then drop it off at their doctor’s office to continue their care. Harsh thought, why is this a primary way that imaging records are released? That’s something that stuck with him. He called me and said, “Look, this is a problem and we can build the tech to solve it.”

Time passed. The startup he was working at got acquired by Google. He eventually left Google and I left my job where I was working in banking. We saw an opportunity to create a cloud platform that would completely change the healthcare industry, and that’s when we started PocketHealth.

Can you tell us more about PocketHealth’s product?

PocketHealth is a cloud platform that allows hospitals and imaging clinics to share imaging records virtually with patients, physicians, and other hospitals and clinics. From the patient’s perspective, PocketHealth allows them to access and control their medical imaging records in the palm of their hand, in full diagnostic quality, and then share it with any physician in the world – instantly.

What has PocketHealth’s journey looked like since graduating in 2018?

The DMZ helped us ensure we had the systems in place to grow responsibly. We were surrounded by companies at the same stage of growth, and we were able to learn from these companies and the mentors. When we hit hyper-growth upon graduating, we were prepared.

We grew our product scope, significantly enabling hospitals to not just share with patients, but to also receive imaging inwards. Those products made a great impact in the market. It allowed us to grow our client base significantly – to the scale we’re at today.

In the early days of this pandemic, did you have any worry that it could negatively affect your company?

No, we knew from the beginning, especially working in health care, that COVID-19 would dramatically increase demand for PocketHealth. Burning CDs was no longer an option. COVID-19 has put a spotlight on the need for hospitals and clinics to modernize the way they share medical imaging. There are still patients who need imaging, who need to undergo diagnosis, who need treatment, and they require a copy of their exam to further their care. However, requiring patients to come on-site to pick up a CD is just not possible anymore.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for a product like PocketHealth?

We’re having Directors of medical imaging and CEOs of hospitals calling us saying, “We needed this yesterday”. We’ve increased the number of sites deploying on our platform by over 300 percent monthly as imaging clinics and hospitals across North America grapple with this problem.

We’ve been advantaged: one, we have a product that is extremely strong in the market and is patient-centric, and two, we’re built for rapid deployment. We’ve been able to go live at a hospital in days or even hours. From an I.T. perspective, it’s unheard of – to completely switch how you perform a job function or a data-release function in such a short amount of time.

It was recently announced that PocketHealth secured $6.5 million USD ($9.2 million CAD) in funding. What does this first round of funding mean for the company?

This capital will allow us to scale our team significantly. We are hiring across all teams: customer success, sales, marketing and engineering. We’re hiring a mission-driven team to achieve our expansion goals. We want to reach out to the millions of patients that we haven’t touched yet, as well as thousands of hospitals and clinics where we aren’t deployed yet.

What does the future look like for PocketHealth? What are the company’s next milestones?

We’re trying to attract top talent in all of our roles who care about the problem that we’re trying to solve. We know that we have a platform that is unique in the market, that has this amazing ability to resonate with patients and with the providers. We’re driven to expand PocketHealth beyond the scope where it already is. We’ve been able to get this far as a mission-driven, but bootstrapped, company. We’re excited to see what the next phase brings. We think it will bring more patient centricity, more patients who are empowered and involved in their care, and hospital departments that aren’t burdened with the inefficiencies of slow and outdated imaging release systems.

We have some exciting deployments outside of our traditional geographic markets that will be announced soon. This is definitely a global issue. We know that patients’ desires to be in touch with what’s going on in their bodies are universal. It transcends geographic and political boundaries. The product and infrastructure we’ve built it on is designed to scale globally very quickly.

What advice would you have for founders who are riding out the current pandemic?

Focus on the fundamentals. If you’re around right now, there is some value to your product. In bull markets, there can be a tendency to run a lot of experiments and expand your scope beyond your typical value proposition, but I would advise you to get to the basics. Think about why people purchase your product. How does it make them feel? How does it change their lives? Double down on that. That’s where you’re going to get the highest return. Look inwardly and create a focal point for your team to work towards. That will give you the best shot of weathering this storm ahead.

If you have the skillset to help PocketHealth advance their mission, they want to hear from you! Take a look at PocketHealth’s website to learn about the benefits of working for this high-growth company and the current job openings available.

Questions? Let us know at dmz@ryerson.ca

Will Koffel Talks About How to Make Difficult Tech Decisions at Your Startup

On October 4, 2019, Will Koffel will take to the stage as keynote speaker of this month’s First Fridays, presented by Google for Startups in partnership with the DMZ.

As Google Cloud’s Head of Startup Ecosystem for the America’s, Will Koffel has been leading technology-focused startup teams for over 20 years. His keynote talk will be focused on the topic “Making Tech Decisions”. In advance of the event, we sat down with Will to ask him some questions.

DMZ: Will, can you tell us a bit about your professional background and how you became involved in the startup ecosystem?

Will Koffel: I’ve been deeply embedded in the startup ecosystem my whole career. While completing my Computer Science studies at MIT in 1998, I joined the founding engineering team at Akamai Technologies, experiencing the original dot-com boom (and bust!) from a front-row seat. I’ve been a 6-time serial CTO and startup founder since, and I’ve worked with hundreds of startups as an advisor, investor, mentor, and consultant. My most recent startup, Qwiklabs, was acquired by Google Cloud in 2016. I was then presented with the unique opportunity to work at Google and help build and support the startup ecosystem I’ve been passionate about for 20 years.

DMZ: In your leadership role at Google, what are you currently focused on achieving or advancing?

Will Koffel: We believe that Google Cloud offers the best suite of infrastructure and services for most early-stage startups. We’re focused on raising awareness of Google Cloud and its unique offerings for early-stage startups (like superior developer experience, DevOps with Kubernetes, BigQuery and other data tools, Firebase mobile, and top ML/AI solutions).

One of the key ways we do this is by partnering with accelerators and incubators like Ryerson DMZ, who refer startups directly into our program, pre-approved for up to $100,000 in Google Cloud credits to start building.

We’re also committed to working with startups to remove barriers they may face by providing technical expertise, community networking events, introductions to other teams at Google, and by increasing their visibility in the ecosystem. First Fridays is a great example of this.

DMZ: What are the most important challenges and opportunities facing startups today, especially when it comes to agile product development and technology decisions?

Will Koffel: Many of the challenges that startups face haven’t changed since I was getting started in the 90s, like how to hire great talent, how to close that first critical enterprise customer deal, and how to decide where to focus limited resources in a seemingly endless backlog of feature requests. Each of those topics warrants a separate interview of its own!

When it comes to selecting technology, startups face a wide assortment of choices. They are trying to choose from among the many open-source tools, the landscape of inexpensive and polished API-first services, and from multiple great choices for fully-managed public cloud infrastructure and advanced machine learning/AI solutions.

The biggest challenge for early-stage startups is uncovering the best practices for how all these tech puzzle pieces fit together. Deciding where to adopt cutting-edge tech, and where to anchor on tried-and-true approaches has never been more difficult. The tech choices many startups make today represent a bet they’re placing on the future of their product and business agility, so getting good advice from a tech lead, their community, and their vendors is paramount.

DMZ: What can attendees expect to learn during your First Friday keynote talk, “Making Tech Decisions”?

Will Koffel: I’m so fortunate to work in ecosystems all over the world, and Toronto is one of my favourites, where we see great engineering expertise, plenty of investor attention, and emerging companies creating real value. We’ll be digging into some of my favourite themes and practical advice, including Developer happiness, offloading the undifferentiated heavy lifting, opportunity-driven development, and maintaining technical optionality for the future.

We’ll also discuss anything that attendees want to explore! There’s plenty of time for Q&A, which is always the best way to surface the shared issues that are top of mind for startup founders and tech leaders.

———


First Fridays Canada is presented by Google for Startups. Visit the website for more information and to sign up:
FirstFridaysCanada.com

About Will Koffel:

Will has been leading technology-focused startup teams for over 20 years, as a serial venture-backed CTO, founder, and application developer. In addition to his operating roles, Will has served as an advisor, consultant and mentor-in-residence for many Boston area startups. He joined Google in 2016 by way of a startup acquisition, and is honoring his startup roots by bringing the best Google Cloud solutions to great early-stage companies. Will received B.S. degrees in Computer Science and Music Composition from MIT. He lives with his family in greater Boston.

Three takeaways from our newest program, DMZYYZ

The DMZ is giving international entrepreneurs a chance to experience Toronto’s growing tech ecosystem with the launch of our newest venture, DMZYYZ.

The two-week intensive soft-landing program aims to help growth stage startups integrate within the Canadian ecosystem.

Last week, we wrapped our first cohort comprised of nine companies from seven countries. Visiting entrepreneurs flew in from Lebanon, Hungary, Chile, Jamaica, Norway, Brazil and Uruguay.

A day within the first week of DMZYYZ consists of intensive-programming, back-to-back workshops and desk time to debrief about the information you’ve consumed.

In the second week, participants get VIP access to a world-class tech conference. This cohort gained access to Collision, the largest and fastest-growing North American tech conference. Their participation resulted in locking in 20+ potential customers, hiring talent from Toronto, and pitching to global partners.

Here are the top takeaways from the startups’ time at the DMZ.

Challenge your assumptions

“A lot of my presumptions about product changed significantly after being a part of this program. Defining the right MVP is important to gain quality customer retention, and the entrepreneurs-in-residence at the DMZ helped refine that,” reflects Hussein Salman, Founder of FindANurse, a Lebanese startup aiming to change the face of caregiving within the MENA region. “As a reputable university-backed accelerator with a large community, being part of this program has given me the confidence to now build necessary relationships with potential investors.”

Make meaningful connections

The DMZ is a place that is filled with opportunity – be it from workshops to investor meetings and connections to serial entrepreneurs. “The calibre of network within the DMZ community is huge. The amount of knowledge transfer that happens within the conversations you have is close to none.” Zoltan Czikos, Co-Founder of Hungarian-based startup, Neticle says. The startup aims to boost business decisions with automated text-analysis.

Create global impact

Through worldwide perspectives during the DMZYYZ program, companies were able to learn more with a growth mindset and feel empowered. “We built something on a small island and were looking for the feedback that we got at the DMZ. The thing that stuck out to me the most is that you can make a global impact no matter where you’re from. The ability to bring a fresh perspective to highly regarded individuals within Canada, empowers me as an individual as well.” Conrad Mathison from It’s Pixel Perfect, a Jamaican based startup, aimed at helping brands stand out in the digital space through creative content.

Applications for our second cohort of DMZYYZ are now open. Apply here.

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.

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.

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.

Why legal startups are destined to change the world

The technology boom that disrupted key industries — like transportationteaching and the media — has found a new target. Tech-savvy entrepreneurs are creating A.I.-influenced tools that make it easier for both lawyers and the clients they serve to navigate the legal system.

Everything from drafting new contracts to discovery and due diligence is evolving at a record pace. More and more companies are choosing to offload so-called grunt work once performed by interns and junior associates onto sophisticated machines.

Of course, this has huge ramifications for entry-level professionals. New lawyers and paralegals learn the ins and outs of the profession by working on smaller tasks that computers can now do in half the time.

The future is now

It’s not hard to see how influential A.I.-tech has become. In China, officials are using new tech to run the world’s first ‘cyber courts’. These online systems preside over internet-related legal cases, which free up traditional courts to deal with other, arguably more important, issues. 

Meanwhile, last year, CaseCruncher Alpha (a U.K. robot) made headlines when it beat 100 of London’s top lawyers in a timed legal challenge. The now-famous bot was created by law students Jozef Maruscak, Rebecca Agliolo and Ludwig Bull. 

As technology continues its inevitable march forward new digital tools will rise to change how lawyers and those in the field work.

Interested in learning about how Canadian startups are changing the legal world? Listen to  Robert Gold, host of BusinessCast, interview Hersh Perlis, director of Ryerson’s Legal Innovation Zone. Make sure to also visit our official iTunes page.

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