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Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

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Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

Event recap: The DMZ’s Founder Dinner

Latif Nanji, Co-Founder and CEO of SaaS platform Roadmunk, connects the dots of his entrepreneurial journey at the DMZ’s Founder Dinner, uncovering his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit.

Founded in 2012, Roadmunk is product management software that solves how product innovators build and communicate their strategy. Roadmunk has an impressive track record, from being listed as one of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 and their acquisition by Tempo in 2021 to serving over 3,000+ customers, including Amazon, Visa, Nike, Adobe and Morgan Stanley, to name a few.

Latif’s history is also not one to miss. Before Roadmunk, he co-founded several companies, including Pokerspace, an online social network for poker players, and Pragmatic CEO, a Toronto meet-up group for tech entrepreneurs. He also spent five years as a Product Manager at Miovision, working on intelligent traffic infrastructure, where he developed his passion for helping product managers build the right things for customers. Latif enjoys biohacking, rock climbing, scuba diving and angel investing in his spare time.

Looking for inspiration to build the next big thing? Check out Latif’s insights on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit from our latest DMZ Founder Dinner – an event series designed to bring DMZ’s community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections. ​​Watch Latif’s full founder talk below, or keep reading, to discover his top tips for being a successful entrepreneur and building an acquirable business.  

Go team!

“One of the early things I instantiated in the business was a core value called ‘Start with empathy.’ It was a family-like core value, and I thought it was a great idea.

Eventually, I realized that the mentality I had was one of protectionism — a high empathy and high loyalty culture. There’s nothing wrong with these values, but as an investor, I want to know if you are going to make the hard decisions.

Sometimes the teams need to change their structure or formation, just like they do in a sports team, to get to the outcome. If you want to level up through the divisions in soccer, you are going to different players as you progress. It’s not that you can’t thank the players before, but the new ones have to come in.”

The secret to reliable hiring: homework

“There were a few key things we did to fix our ongoing issue of short-lived new hires:

  • Anyone who walked through our doors looking to be hired was assigned homework on neutral ground that had nothing to do with our company or product.
  • This homework was assigned in an open-ended exercise that allowed us to have a dialogue and observe how responsive a potential hire is, how they write emails and how they ask questions.
  • We invited team members from other departments to sit in on meetings and presentations to get a chance to spar with candidates and provide feedback. This was the single most important thing we did when hiring in the early stages of the business.“ 

Students don’t interview the teacher

“We had to hire a software architect in 2020. I interviewed him, and I thought he was great, but I didn’t think he was that impressive from a cultural perspective.

I had my two top senior engineers interview him, and they came back to me and said, ‘We don’t think he’s the right fit.’

My COO walks in, and he asks us what we were doing. I said, ‘We’re interviewing.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not; students don’t interview the teacher.’

It was a simple concept, but it felt like a hammer hitting me in the head. So, we brought in the VP of Platform at Ritual and two external CTOs, who gave him a test on how to scale Google Drive. They came back with a report and said, ‘If you don’t hire him, we will.’ 

This was a great lesson in making sure not just other people that feel like they’re more senior, but people that have experience in the domain that understand your business and your business needs, are part of that process.” 

The key to winning the valuation game is pacing

“The problem isn’t with raising a little bit more money; it’s when you get further down the valuation trap.

If you raise five, six, seven million bucks when you only need  $1m, your post-money is maybe between $30 to $35 million instead of $5-10m. That means in the next 24 to 36 months or less, you’re going to grow >$30 million in valuation. That’s where things get really complicated. Going incrementally at a reasonable pace is how I think the best startups function before they see some version of a breakout growth path.”

Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

Want a front-row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other inspiring founders? Apply now to join our next Incubator cohort at dmz.to/incubator.

 

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Hear from the DMZ’s first-ever unicorn founder for his advice on building a billion-dollar company

Event recap: The DMZ’s Founder Dinner

Co-founder and CEO of brand interaction platform Ada, Mike Murchison, spilled the entrepreneurial tea at the DMZ’s Founder Dinner earlier this month, sharing lessons learned from scaling the first-ever DMZ unicorn company the ground up.

Empowering brands to automate customer interactions, Ada brings a VIP experience to every customer and employee through its platform. Since 2018, Ada has increased its revenue by 764% and in 2021, raised its Series C at a valuation of $1.2B, officially achieving unicorn status.

The first in-person DMZ Founder Dinner since 2019, the events are designed to bring the larger DMZ founder community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections.

We thought we’d share some of Mike’s insights and how he built the first-ever DMZ unicorn company for other founders looking to build the next big thing. Watch his full founder talk below to learn more about Ada and Mike’s journey, or keep reading for a recap of the tips and learnings Mike shared with the audience during his talk.

Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal experience

“We in this room are all united by this shared dream of building something important, big and world-changing. The journey that we’re all on is a very, very unique one, but we’re all unified in that shared ambition.”

The value of improving your rate of learning

“I think the single most important thing I’ve learned over the course of this journey has been a deep inward focus on improving my own rate of learning.

I think that’s one of the things I so admire about the community here at the DMZ, is that we’re all committed to learning. We’re all highly curious people who are eager to learn new things.

I encourage you to ask yourself, ‘What is piquing my curiosity? What problem am I facing that may seem insurmountable that I may be able to learn something new from?'”

Founders have a responsibility to support one another

“We all have a responsibility as founders to support one another in our own growth. I encourage everyone making progress themselves to share it with others.

We’re not competing against one another, we’re supporting one another. We all win when a startup in our ecosystem succeeds.”

Mike Murchison talking with another guest. - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Sometimes the easiest path IS the right path

“I was dealing with a hard problem and someone asked me, ‘What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?’

I’ve grown up and trained myself into thinking I need to do the hardest things, and what I’ve learned in the course of building Ada is that sometimes the easiest path, where you’re feeling the pull, is actually the right path.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

“Looking back, something I would’ve done differently is not taking myself so seriously.

I wasted a lot of energy thinking about what the ideal path was meant to look like. I wish – earlier on – I would’ve let go of my perception of the right path and been more excited about the path that was unfolding before me.”

DMZ card that says "Changing entrepreneurs' lives." - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Want to have a front row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other founders who have made it? Apply to our upcoming Incubator cohort kicking off this fall at dmz.to/incubator.

Introducing Nathaniel Bagnell: Alumni-in-Residence Spotlight

Hear from Nathaniel on why he’s excited to give back to the DMZ community, the experiences of an Indigenous entrepreneur, and how he conceptualized the MVP for LiveGauge


The DMZ is thrilled to introduce Nathaniel Bagnell, the co-founder of
LiveGauge, and our newest alumni to join the DMZ’s Alumni-in-Residence (AiR) program

Nathaniel’s breadth of business expertise will provide founders guidance in accounting, resource planning, hiring, product management and corporate strategy. 

The AiR program brings alumni back to the DMZ to act as mentors to the founders in current DMZ programs. Whether it’s offering sound business advice to new founders or providing guidance on personal development as an entrepreneur, AiRs play a vital role in the success of current startups at the DMZ – they were once in their shoes, and they know exactly what it’s like to be an early-stage founder.

A marketing technology entrepreneur with over 12 years of experience, Nathaniel is an ambitious founder with a strong interest in creating and participating in innovative ideas, projects, and products that impact the world in a positive way.

At the DMZ, we are committed to creating an equitable future for all founders; a prosperous economy is one that fosters diverse perspectives. The underrepresentation of Indigenous founders has been a persistent issue in the startup ecosystem as they are met with a disproportionate number of barriers when trying to break in. 

We sat down with Nathaniel to learn more about his expertise, his entrepreneurial journey, the evolution of LiveGauge, and the challenges and opportunities Indigenous entrepreneurs experience.

 

What are your areas of expertise? What can founders come to you with questions about?

“My core expertise revolves around operational and financial aspects of business. This includes resource planning, hiring, product management, go-to-market strategy, product planning, budgeting, forecasting, and vertical expansion planning. I can also help with managerial accounting and financial accounting from my years of being the sole bookkeeper at LiveGauge.” 

 

What made you decide to come back to the DMZ, now as an AiR?

“I would not be where I am today without the DMZ and the support it has given me. I feel so appreciative of everyone who has helped me get to where I am, and I truly want to help others in the same boat. Being able to support other entrepreneurs through the DMZ is something I couldn’t be happier to do. 

 

Could you tell us a little bit about LiveGauge’s history? What problem were you trying to solve?

LiveGauge is an experiential marketing suite that helps brands and agencies better understand how effective their campaigns are.

“LiveGauge started by combining two ideas from experiences in my career. The concept of tracking people and understanding what led them to buy a product emerged from my time working at Future Shop as a merchandiser. 

Every Thursday, we rearranged the shelf order based on a planogram printed out by the POS system. Some products were positioned based on payments from the brand, but most positioning decisions were made based on historical sales information. 

I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be better to understand how we got to the end result of a purchase versus using end results to generate more end results?’ This is where my desire to understand consumer behaviour came from.

In a later role, I worked in mobile app development. In this job, I learned how it’d be possible to execute on the process of collecting consumer behaviour data. I was researching mobile devices and their technological capabilities and discovered a paper that explained the types of signals that cell phones emit. I used it as the MVP basis to execute on the business concept of LiveGauge.”

 

It has been nearly 9 years since you first launched LiveGauge — how has the company grown and evolved?

“Over the past 9 years, the company has been reborn. Every facet of the business, from the technological foundation, to the customers, to our founding team, has evolved.

Some changes were evolutionary, like adapting components to changing privacy laws and re-developing our algorithms to meet mobile marketplace changes. Others were revolutionary, like completely changing our target customer base, re-structuring our company, and developing new products completely outside of our primary focus. 

There are positives and negatives, of course. Positive growing moments are easy to point out — like moving into our own office space and surpassing revenue goals. Negative ones are hard to recognize as blessings, but they push us outside of our comfort zones. 

One notable example would be the pandemic. We are in the events business, and with in-person gatherings shut down around the globe, we were forced to look into new product developments and other target customers. Now, we are a multi-industry business with revenue streams from different verticals!”

 

What was your experience at the DMZ Incubator back in 2017 like?

“I still remember getting the invitation to be a part of the Incubator — it felt so right for us. We wanted to be part of a community that shared our drive, and understood our struggles and dreams.

Our fellow DMZ startups in the space had an array of experiences and lessons to share, from B2B and B2C companies, loyalty program startups, fintech, to medical training education solutions. Being surrounded by other startups makes you even more hungry as an entrepreneur. Seeing others commit 110% to their business makes you want to commit 150%. It’s a fuel like no other.

The community was exceptionally valuable, not just from the other entrepreneurs, but the DMZ’s advisors and EiRs. Their experience and insights were priceless. Mentorship is one of the best hacks a startup can utilize. A handful of solid sessions with someone who has been in your shoes can save you hours from making their same mistakes.”


“Being surrounded by other startups makes you even more hungry as an entrepreneur. Seeing others commit 110% to their business makes you want to commit 150%. It’s a fuel like no other.”

 

Any insights into your experiences as an Indigenous entrepreneur? What kinds of support can startup incubators, government, etc. provide Indigenous entrepreneurs?

“I often have encounters with individuals who, at no fault of their own, stereotype what an Indigenous founder ‘should’ look like.

When I let someone know I’m Miꞌkmaq they are a bit shocked, which is understandable given the way the media and Hollywood have painted the picture of Indigenous peoples. I think we’ll see that change soon though!

Today, we’re seeing more grants being offered exclusively to Indigenous entrepreneurs and strong business support communities. What I find the most interesting is that there are companies across North America that want to work with businesses that are minority-owned, Indigenous included!

These companies seek minority-owned businesses for a handful of reasons, including government incentives, and preferential selection as a second-tier supplier or vendor if they are listed as working with minority-owned businesses.

The startup ecosystem can always be better, but quite frankly there’s never been a better time for anybody to start following their entrepreneurial dreams, Indigenous peoples included.”

 

Are there any mentors from your early days as an entrepreneur that have made an impact on your personal or professional growth?

“There are three that come to mind. I’ll just refer to them by their first names. The first is James, he taught me how to persevere through tough times and adopt a ‘hustler’ mentality. His lessons have helped me identify when to adapt, when to go all in and fight, or cut my losses and move on. 

The second is Dave. He has changed the way I look at and execute sales. He helped me to understand that the qualitative part of sales is equally as important as your quantitative parts. Focus on the psychology of your sales as much as you do your performance KPIs. Sales is an art and a science, and his mentorship has been invaluable. 

The third would be Sheri. Her guidance and advice are not explicitly business-related, but she  helped me to grow personally, which is critical as a business leader.”

 

Connect with Nathaniel here.

 

To access mentors like Nathaniel, apply to our programs today by visiting dmz.to/incubator.

Breaking $1 billion in funding: DMZ startups reach a major milestone

DMZ’s startups and alumni have raised over $1 billion CAD in funding


Note: All figures are reported in Canadian dollars.


DMZ companies have officially surpassed $1 billion in total funding raised. While the DMZ has been supporting startups for the last 11 years, the majority of this funding has been raised by startups in the last five years (over $940 million since 2016).

This milestone is a victory for the entire Canadian startup ecosystem. It’s a testament to the level of confidence that government, investors, and startup support organizations have in Canadian tech founders to lead world-class businesses. It’s true that startups who have proven market traction, strong competitive advantages and IP protection will attract investors. But oftentimes, qualitative traits that a startup has may be even more valuable in the eyes of an investor – like having a solid diverse management team that fosters great company culture or a founder that has tremendous passion and drive to make a difference.

Let’s dive into the numbers to explore tech investment trends over the last decade, from the largest funding rounds to the industries receiving the most investment dollars. 
This major milestone has been achieved through 194 DMZ-supported startups that have received a total of 424 investments from 2011 to 2021. 

The raise that pushed the DMZ to break past the $1 billion mark was Toronto-based Snapcommerce’s recent $107 million raise. Snapcommerce was incubated at the DMZ in 2016. This announcement also marked the largest single funding round on record for DMZ alumni! 

After a year like 2020, with so much uncertainty to navigate, DMZ startups preserved and were able to continue to secure funding. Over $185 million was raised in 2020 alone.


Top 10 startups and top 10 funding rounds

The top ten startups that have received the most investment dollars have collectively raised over $700 million. The top five – Borrowell, Snapcommerce, Sensibill, Ada Support and Flybits – accounting for an impressive $560 million of that. That’s over 50% of the total funding raised by all DMZ startups.


Funding breakdown by stage

These investments come from a variety of funding sources, including equity crowdfunding, government grants, pitch competition awards, and angel and venture capital investments from the pre-seed stage to Series C and beyond.

The sheer number of stakeholders that have played a role in reaching this $1 billion achievement illustrates the importance of industry-wide collaboration and cooperation. 

The way in which this ecosystem plays as a whole determines its success.


Funding breakdown by industry

When breaking down the industries of startups that raised the most money, startups in Financial Tech take the lead. A total of 11 startups representing this industry raised a combined $273 million – that’s over a quarter of the total funding raised by DMZ companies across all industries. The industries that followed were Retail Tech ($213M), Enterprise Tech ($131M), Health Tech ($100M),  Arts & Entertainment ($59M), Marketing ($27M), Education Tech ($32M), Communications ($29M), Consumer Tech ($26M)and Insurance Tech ($25M).


Huge gaps in funding support still exist

The Canadian tech ecosystem has become increasingly competitive – this milestone speaks to the growth and potential of our startups. Yet, startup founders still say that accessing capital is their biggest challenge and roadblock to success.

Seed deals have slowed down significantly in recent years and early-stage financing has become progressively more difficult to secure.

That’s why the DMZ is doubling down on its efforts to help startups in the early stages receive more investment strategy support, access to investors and dedicated fundraising workshops, and mentorship from professionals who specialize in fundraising – especially through our Black Innovation and Women Founders streams to support women-owned and Black-owned startups that have historically been underfunded.

Want to be a part of the next billion? Email us at dmz@ryerson.ca. Learn more about the DMZ’s programming here.