Month: April 2014

Imagine Your Civil Rights Disabled

Something’s always more appreciated when it’s lost. Wallet, glasses, keys, and phone seem more valuable when they’re gone. Despite some inconvenience or concerns about identity theft, they’re replaceable. There are some things a trip to the mall can’t fix. Imagine losing something that’s not replaceable.

Losing your mobility, your dexterity, or your senses will likely leave you depending on the care of others. How valuable is your independence and identity? If you’re able-bodied and fortunate enough to have all of your senses: appreciate your good fortune.

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According to the World Health Organization, disabilities is an umbrella term that also encompasses impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.

Disability is thus not just a health problem. It is a complex phenomenon, reflecting the interaction between features of a person’s body and features of the society in which he or she lives. Overcoming the difficulties faced by people with disabilities requires interventions to remove environmental and social barriers.

Removing barriers and creating equal access is good, and is often a highly visible like special parking spots, and ramps into our buildings. However, these symbols don’t necessarily equate to delivering a high standard of care for the disabled.

In theory all citizens have equal rights, yet in practice people with disabilities are not extended the same considerations as every other able-bodied Canadian. How many of us have read and fully understand our Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Having real rights means having access to real remedies.

In 1990 the US passed the Americans With Disabilities Act. Inexplicably, Canada does not have the equivalent. Being disabled in Canada means you’re a non-citizen in some circumstances.

There is no existing legislation guaranteeing an appropriate and reasonable standard of care for British Columbians with disabilities who are in community or institutional care. For some this means living in a situation with absolutely no confidence for their personal safety. Living with freedom and dignity doesn’t exist. This tragic reality can largely be attributed to the excessive amount of discretion available to government workers and contractors respecting the services provided to people with disabilities.

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Documentary filmmaker Colin Ford explores this sorry state of affairs in Hope is Not a Plan. For sixty minutes you’ll be taken beyond statistics, examples and facts. You’ll experience living a life without dignity, independence, and freedom.

According to the film, “it’s estimated that 56 per cent of Canadians over 75 are disabled. The majority of Canadians will live into their 80s. This means you or someone close to you will likely get a disability. Canadians with disabilities are about one-and-a-half times as likely to be victims of violence as other Canadians. Most Canadians with disabilities do not have a practical way to enforce their civil rights.”

Burnaby B.C. lawyer Don Renaud is a strong supporter of the film, and works on behalf of people with disabilities shares, “this film makes clear that the disabled are the most vulnerable among us to suffer injustice. For some reason, society believes it can trample on a disabled person’s right to liberty because it is providing charitable services. As a consequence the rights of a disabled adult often mirror the limited rights afforded a child.” It’s a disconcerting realization when you’re confronted with the fact according to Renaud ” that a disabled person can be allowed to die negligently in a medical facility and there is no recourse in damages so nothing is done.”

Paul Caune is central to the film serving in both a key role and as the executive producer too. Beyond working with Ford to create Hope is Not a Plan, Caune is actively involved with Civil Rights Now. Guided by the core value of “freedom and dignity for all”, the group’s ultimate goal is to see the government create a British Columbians with Disabilities Act.

Caune is all about action and not just stringing empty platitudes saying, “awareness campaigns are worse than useless. Most Canadians with disabilities and many seniors do not have a practical way to enforce the civil rights guaranteed them by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; therefore we need effective, focused political action to get laws passed that will give Canadians with disabilities and those who are seniors the tools they need to protect their freedom and dignity… When your civil rights are violated, you don’t need a good hug, you need a good lawyer.”

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It’s time to take this awareness, and turn it into action by lending your voice and support to Civil Rights Now. Don Renaud sums it up best by offering this straightforward insight, “a right without a remedy is no right at all.” Imagine being a slip and fall, or maybe being a confused chromosome away from being dependent on the care or quite possibly the lack of care by others, having the same rights as everyone else is a theory worth putting into reality.

This story originally appeared in the Huffington Post BC

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You Might as Well Be Drunk!

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Imagine the most important pitch you’ve ever given. Now imagine doing it drunk.

If you’ve just put in five, six or seven consecutive sleep deprived days of work, that’s what you’re basically doing. Working insane hours and claiming you’re a hard-charging, successful entrepreneur is folly. At some point poor sleep habits lead to fatigue, which in turn significantly diminishes your performance. You might as well be drunk.

There’s solid science behind debunking the entrepreneur that never rests will be successful myth. Vancouver’s Fatigue Science recently shared some insightful data worth keeping in mind. CEO Sean Kerklaan looks at sleep this way saying , “I don’t care about how many hours I’ve slept. It’s not about giving me metadata around how I’ve been performing. It’s no different than inputting how many steps taken or calories consumed, and then doing nothing with the data that’s life improving. It’s about understanding how I can do better for tomorrow. It’s understanding how my 4, 6, or 8 hours of sleep yesterday is going to affect me today on the job, and tomorrow on the job.”

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Kerklaan shared the results from having charted the schedules of two CEO’s. They show that both CEO’s are working about 255 hours over the course of a 21 day schedule. CEO1 isn’t getting much sleep and is spending 37 percent of the time in a fatigue-impaired state (below the 70 percent effectiveness threshold). CEO2 is getting more sleep, and spending 0 percent of his work time fatigue impaired.

Fatigue Science is founded using US military technology. Kerklaan’s team has acquired a fatigue model developed in 1996. It was programmed into an actigraph known as the Sleep, Activity, Fatigue, and Task Effectiveness (SAFTE) Model. This has been applied it in the creation of a Fatigue Avoidance Scheduling Tool. Originally this software focused on optimizing the operational management of aviation ground and flight crews. This journal article “Fatigue Models for Applied Research in Warfighting” details the science behind the technology.

This science is all about optimizing performance. They are working with clients including professional sports teams like the Vancouver Canucks, the Dallas Mavericks (NBA), Seattle Sounders (MLS), and a soon to be announced NFL team. The correlation between performance and the bottom line is obvious for both the franchise and the athletes. Entrepreneurs need to be giving themselves the star sleep treatment too.

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Getting a consistent eight hours of sleep in isn’t always going to happen. Kerklaan is living the startup life, and shares “look at the 24 hours in a day. No one is suggesting as a CEO that you don’t have to work a crazy amount of hours, because you do. There’s always that pervasive sense of having way too much to do and you’ll never get it all done. If you start by prioritizing the need for at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night it still leaves you 16 hours a day to be on your phone, dealing with people, designing your product, wading through email, or prepping for the next pitch. You’ve got 112 hours to work each week. That’s a lot of work time. By prioritizing sleep, you’ll be more effective on the job.”

Work hard, play hard, and incorporate good sleep hygiene into your daily schedule. Here’s a few valuable things to consider:

  • Have a consistent bedtime and an awakening time. Your body will be conditioned to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed.

  • Avoid alcohol four to six hours before bedtime.

  • Avoid caffeine four to six hours before bedtime

  • Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods four to six hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep.

  • Use comfortable bedding. Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep.

  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.

  • Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible.

  • Don’t have a television in your bedroom.

  • Reserve the bed for sleep and sex. Don’t use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room.

  • Let your body “know” that the bed is associated with sleeping.

(Source: Sleep Hygiene | University of Maryland Medical Centerhttp://umm.edu/programs/sleep/patients/sleep-hygiene#ixzz2qglEh7R0)

Looking ahead, Kerklaan’s vision for Fatigue Science isn’t as a consumer-based wearable device. Optimizing people’s performance for the boardroom to the locker room is good for business. But at the heart of this company is the core value of knowing how critical worker and workplace safety is in key sectors like the resource industry, transportation and manufacturing. For him  “It’s moving beyond our watch, it’s about embedding the algorithm and creating a ubiquitous platform that’s device agnostic. It works with scheduling software, smartphones, other wearable devices and even connectable fabrics one day. It’s starting with asking the question how does sleep affect your safety, and your overall performance, and how we help you get better.”

Here is some bonus reading about the “business” of sleep: From the Harvard Business Review “Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer.”

From the New Yorker, “Up All Night: The Science of Sleepiness.”

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Is Canada Even In the Cleantech Race?

The report of my death was an exaggeration.” James Tansey the Executive Director of ISIS, at the Sauder School of Business didn’t invoke Mark Twain when opening their first Clean Capital Conference in Vancouver. While clean energy investment has been in decline the past few years, it still saw $254 Billion flow into the sector in 2013. A decline in investment does not signal the death knell for the industry. These numbers don’t reflect the $6.8 Billion invested in Cleantech  for 2013. The space is rebounding, reloading and reinvigorating itself.

The sold out conference brought together entrepreneurs, investors,and business leaders from the clean energy and clean technology industries. Public sector policy makers who are charged with growing Canada’s clean economy were also in attendance.

This was a full day of dialogue about creating partnerships for Canada’s clean economy. For Tansey, “it’s great seeing lot’s of people in the room who are meeting for the first time even though they are all in the cleantech sector. Part of our goal was about bringing people together who don’t normally meet, and introducing them to some great content.”

In terms of content, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson started the series of keynote presentations and panel conversations. Robertson highlights the role that Cities need to play in leading clean and green initiatives. He says “rather than boosting fossil fuels, governments should be working with industry to reduce them and the emissions they create.” Robertson’s green credentials and vision have also earned him an invite to participate at the C40 conference in Johannesburg South Africa. He’s Canada’s only mayor with that distinction.

Fresh off the recent $3.2 billion acquisition by Google, everyone appreciated the opportunity to learn more of the Nest story from their Director of Business Development Andy Baynes.

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Having started with the thermostat and CO2 detector, according to Baynes, “they plan on reinventing all of the homes unloved devices.” As well, he offers that in the past two years Nest has saved an estimated 1.5 billion kilowatts hours of energy. That’s equal to taking four medium sized gas fired power plants off the grid.

The four panel discussions covered topics including, how cities can use their infrastructure and expertise to partner with the private sector to overcome the challenges in meeting their sustainability goals. Cleantech is key to environmentally responsible resource development, which is also part of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, was a conversation. With the US pledging approximately $80 billion, and the U.K $3,8 billion (GBP) to sustainable energy projects, it was fair asking where Canada fits on the global stage. Near and dear to every entrepreneurs heart was a good talk about financing the growth of the clean economy.

For cleantech and clean energy entrepreneurs knowing the Canadian playing field, and understanding how to effectively partner and collaborate is as important to success, as is having strong IP and accompanying value proposition. Ultimately, all of our social and economic issues and challenges surrounding climate change are Global concerns. Our entrepreneurs need global vision, as Merran Smith (director) of Clean Energy Canada notes “having participants on the panel I moderated had people from the UK, US, and China bringing us some of their stories of what they are doing,  I think Canada has a lot to learn. We are not even in the race to the clean energy future.”

Ben Sparrow (co-founder) of Saltworks took a few minutes, and kindly shares two great bits of advice for any up and coming cleantech entrepreneurs, “keep your head down and work hard. You’re not going to build your business by going to coffee meetings, presentations, or attending conferences. You’ll build your business by building a reliable product and getting a prototype that works. Secondly, you don’t have all of the answers, be open to advice, Learn to listen. Listen to your customers.”

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As well, Jonathan Rhone (President & CEO) of Axine Water Technologies, strongly suggests to “be careful about betting your business future against the demise of hydrocarbon industry.”

Wrapping up the day, Michael Delage, (VP of Strategy and Corporate Development) of General Fusion presents an interesting energy perspective. He relates how a resource based paradigm is about exploiting resources, whereas a knowledge based resource paradigm is about exploiting innovation. It’s also worth pondering his question, “what will assets (oil, coal, gas) really be worth in a carbon constrained world?”

We’re in a global race of figuring out how to better use carbon. The only race that really needs winning solutions, is the human race. It’s entrepreneurs who are creating business models and business practices that are no longer about the extraction of value, but firmly committed to the creation of value is where we’ll all win.

(Images courtesy of Tiffany Cooper Photography)

This article originally appeared in BetaKit

Accelerator Learnings and Lessons

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They come in different flavors, and they’ve been around for a while too. Accelerators and incubators are nothing really new or novel, but, like most good businesses, the ones with great leadership, vision, mentorship, and connections can make a big difference in the lives of many entrepreneurs.

When Vancouver’s GrowLab put out the call for its first cohort in the Summer of 2011, over 350 teams answered. As important it was for those first five startups to join, it also marked a moment when the Vancouver startup ecosystem started to take on a new life.

In March 2012 Mike Edwards assumed the role of executive director. On November 1, 2013 he officially passed the title (and leadership torch) to Jonathan Bixby.

Under Edward’s watch a lot has changed at GrowLab. While not the only “game in town”, it’s fair calling it a key startup hub in Vancouver. We recently had a conversation with Edwards and Bixby about entrepreneurship and the startup life.

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One can’t label Edwards as a member of the Vancouver “tech establishment”, but the trajectory he’s been on might leave a few people breathless. “Three years ago I rolled back into Vancouver and set myself up in a coffee shop, saying to my wife that it would be hard to break in,” Edwards told BetaKit. “Did that for three month, spending two days a week working out of the coffee shop trying to navigate the scene, and figure out how best to break in. Yet two and a half years later we have 12,500 square feet of office space, with 175 people working here, over $20 million raised, and have created more than a 100 new jobs. Being able to add value to the Vancouver, BC, and Canada is incredibly exciting.”

Acknowledging his time is “sliced pretty slim”, Edwards is pleased about bringing Jonathan Bixby on board as the new Executive Director. Bixby has two successful exits under his belt, including most recently co-founding and leading Strangeloop Networks to exit, while maintaining the title of “Best Employer in British Columbia” for five consecutive years. Edwards said the fact that “Jonathan has the benefit of having built companies, built teams, having an established international network, and is already mentoring a number successful Canadian companies in Canada, means he’s coming at this from a much higher and stable place than from what I was coming from.”

They both see the entrepreneurial landscape shifting in a more positive direction, citing the value of some key assets we have in Canada. For instance, the federal government has put $400 million towards the Federal Venture Capital Action Program, then further investing in the whole cycle by allocating $100 million towards early stage tech (GrowLab is a beneficiary). Additionally there’s the important partnership role played by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC), and the federal government also committing another $60 million to the IRAP-CAIP funding program, which could help the likes of Launch Academy, BCTIA, BCIC or WaveFront. Bixby and Edwards said “there’s a community that wants to support growth and talent.”

To that Edwards answered, what can we do better? By suggesting “everyday we can dream bigger. We don’t need to ask anything of anyone else, we need to ask ourselves, how we can do this better, how can we do this faster, how can we leverage these great assets availed to us, because there’s more than enough”

From Bixby’s personal perspective, “once you have a safe place to start something, it’s not as difficult to reach to the next level. This location (GrowLab & Launch Academy) is an example of such a place. Vancouver’s starting way further ahead now than when I launched my first startup. You can look back at a couple of big successes like CREO or MDA, but there was a huge gap after that. Now we’re seeing the gap filled by companies like Hootsuite, Vision Critical, Build Direct. There’s the potential for going public or raising bigger rounds of financing, and it’s setting an example to younger entrepreneurs that this can be done in Vancouver. Seeing success at the top of the market will help pull everyone up.”

“We’re trying to foster the attitude and belief that “hey, it’s okay to be an entrepreneur,” said Bixby. He adds “it’s fulfilling, it can sometimes be lucrative, and you only live once… so we’re trying to create a sense that it’s something to aspire to instead of being fearful of.” The theme of the conversation played back to the importance of creating an environment where it feels safe to try, to test, to fail, and possibly even rinse and repeat a few times.

Given the investments being made, it’s fair asking if someone’s a born entrepreneur or whether entrepreneurship can be taught. Edwards was unequivocal. “Absolutely we can teach it,” he said. “At the core it’s about execution. It’s about putting a team together, executing against bigger and bigger goals, it’s an iterative process, that can be taught, can be analyzed, can be studied, can be ripped apart, and has a metric analysis to it. If you can execute everyday (ascribe to Kaizen) constant improvement you will build a successful company.”

We agreed that it’s also time to reconfigure our view of the entrepreneur life. It’s time to quit reading the headlines, and to quit buying into the myth of glory, overnight success and riches. While encouraging the pursuit, Bixby also has the scars to prove that entrepreneurship “is hard, bloody work; it’s sacrifice.”

GrowLab will grow. More importantly, the current and future cohorts will keep benefiting from a healthy dose of realism too.

This story first appeared in BetaKit

The Wise Owl Talks with the Space Cadet

They were introduced as the rock star astronaut and social media giant. Colonel Chris Hadfield and Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes kicked off the inaugural Innovators Speaker Series event forScience World at the TELUS World of Science last week.

Hadfield shouldn’t need much of an introduction, but it’s worth noting that he’s the pioneer of many “firsts” in Canadian space history. That includes: the first Canadian to use the Canadarm; the first Canadian to board a Russian spacecraft; the first Canadian to perform two spacewalks as a mission specialist on STS-100; and the first Canadian to command the International Space Station (ISS). He’s also currently promoting his book, An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth.

Meanwhile, most of Canada’s technology community is familiar with Holmes’ efforts as the CEO of HootSuite. Beyond changing social media management for over seven million users across six continents, he’s also an authority on the social business revolution. Holmes further serves the community as an angel investor and advisor, mentoring startups in Canada and around the world.

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While he wasn’t the first to tweet from space, he’s certainly prolific with his 140 character musings, so it seems only fitting for Hadfield and Holmes to have a conversation about  science, space, the power of music and social media.

The evenings host, Riaz Meghji, had them each reflect on a conversation that proved to be of early importance in life. Holmes spoke about a Grade 12 teacher relating the story about 15th century workers throwing their sabots (wooden shoes) into the wooden gears of textile looms to break the cogs, fearing the automated machines would render the human workers obsolete.

Sharing the origin of the word saboteur, Holmes said that “change is inevitable, so throughout my career I’ve thought about the resistance to the change of technology, and tried to adopt it, embrace it, and be on the frontside of the wave. I think that has really stuck with me.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when Hadfield revealed that “two guys named Buzz & Neil” were his inspirations.

He spoke in revered terms about the first lunar landing. Above all, he said was “their conversation and making the decision to find a new landing place, in spite of limited fuel. It was a lifetime of building the knowledge, awareness, and professionalism that allowed them to find safe place to touch down. They only had 16 seconds of fuel left.”

With Buzz and Neil averting disaster and announcing “the eagle has landed”, Hadfield’s deciding against extraordinarily long odds to become an astronaut was set. His advice for what it takes to become an astronaut is pretty good lifestyle advice in general. He says “take care of your body. Eat smart and exercise a little; get an advanced education; practice decision making. The more decisions you choose to make the better you’ll get over time.”

Holmes asked if space tourism is realistic? As Hadfield pointed out “private citizens have paid up to now some $30 million to go, including the founder of Cirque du Soleil who bought a ride with Russians. He spent six weeks training in Russia to fly aboard Soyuz. As well, you’ll soon be able to spend $250,000 and fly Virgin Galactic to get the sense of weightlessness.” Hadfield likened the future of spaceflight being an everyman experience to that of the history of buying an airline ticket. One day it will be commonplace.

Hadfield asked Holmes about how business plays an important role in the community, noting that it’s not just about being a revenue generating endeavour. Holmes shared his excitement for launching a new foundation, The Next Big Thing, which “is about the discovery of the next generation of entrepreneurs. Ten 17-18 years olds (who are probably asking themselves what’s next?) will be given the opportunity to discover anything from a new twist on the lemonade stand to a new software idea. We’ll get them set up at Hootsuite HQ, and connected with a bursary to lessen the risk, and with mentors who will help propel their ideas forward.”

Crediting his nephew for the question, Holmes line of scientific inquiry moved to a little body function junction when asking  “what happens when you fart in space?“ Hadfield had some fun, and patiently offered that “gravity won’t let you burp in space.” You can reverse engineer the answer to gas, as he further suggested that “it’s non-propulsive, which is likely result of poor nozzle design.”

With almost one million Twitter followers (@Cmdr_Hadfield) (and a YouTube success with his remake of Space Oddity, garnering over 19 million views), Hadfield doesn’t just talk a good social game. He thinks the popularity of the video is because it  “crosses over between the fantasy and the reality of spaceflight, and gets people thinking of what’s going on in the Space Station.”

At one point it seemed as if Hadfield was actually channeling Holmes, when talking about social media having to be a social experience. He suggested that you need to really care about what you’re communicating with 140 characters. It’s an opportunity to engage in meaningful thought and the exchange of ideas..

However, appreciating the sight of our planet from space Hadfield leaves us all with the most important thought to ruminate on, simply saying, “we’re in this together. “

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Standing out in Canada’s Poorest Postal Code

Since 2009 I’ve spent substantial time walking around the streets of Canada’s poorest area code. The Downtown Eastside (DTES) is unquestionably a neighborhood of manic extremes. Where else can you witness utter despair and decay juxtaposed with all that’s trendy and triumphant? Within a few short meters and split seconds this neighborhood defies all sensibilities. Walking by someone pulling on a crack pipe while pulling in for $3 donuts is head scratching experience.

I wonder how much has really changed since the Globe and Mail reported that in the decade leading up to 2009, three levels of government had collectively spent $1.4 billiontrying to create a better neighbourhood. I also have little doubt there’s been a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars flowing into the Downtown Eastside since 2009. The reality is that simply throwing money into the DTES won’t actually make it any richer. It actually takes people who care about their neighborhood to make it better.

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Here’s another head scratcher. How can a guy who lives here, cares about his neighbors, and puts his own financial resources on the line be subject to the vile spewed forth from some selective haters?

Since opening his first business in 2007, Mark Brand has heard the negative commentary. He’s getting used to having the “gentrification” label applied to his efforts. He shakes his head and rolls his eyes in disbelief when being accused of marginalizing the poor.

Brand knows some his critiques are good with a sound bite, yet woefully short on articulating real solutions to significant challenges. As he recently shared with me, “I’m not difficult to find, and always open to having conversations about finding ways to improve the lives of my neighbors.”

Talk is cheap, and Brand exemplifies the social entrepreneur who’s all about getting things done. Brand’s business isn’t about stuffing his personal bottom line. Over coffee at his diner,Save On Meats, he shared his vision and goal for being a leader and creating a social business model that’s independently sustainable, while supporting the local community.

Instead of relying on any form of direct government funding to make a difference in the lives of his neighbors, here are a few things Brand is doing:

  • Money generated from Save On Meats’ operations goes directly to supporting people in need.
  • Save On Meats prepares over 450 meals a day, seven days a week, for local single room occupancy residents
  • By the first quarter of 2013, he hopes to triple the amount of meals provided to over 1,500
  • Brand recently launched “A Better Life Foundation” that goes directly to subsidizing multiple community initiatives and food security to women, children and those in assisted living
  • Employs over 65 workers, many who live in the community and struggle with employment barriers.

2013-03-04-MB2highresresized2.jpgThis year, Brand launched the Save On Meats meal token program that allows people know exactly where their donations are going. You can buy tokens for $2.25 that can be redeemed for a hot breakfast sandwich and give them out personally, or leave it for Save On Meats to distrbiute through their community partners like Vancouver police patrol officers.

The reality is that people are hesitant to give money rather than food to people who they see on the street. The meal token program now delivers up to 120 breakfast sandwiches daily.

“The meal token program isn’t just about being able to provide someone with a nourishing meal, but also the engagement into your community and the power of real human interaction,” says Brand. “This is our city and we want to make it better every day with unconventional solutions.”

If you question the difference Brand is making, simply go talk with him or talk with the people working with him. Maybe instead of hurling empty slogans or protesting a business deemed too fancy for the neighbourhood, people might start making a difference by channeling those same energies into chasing away the drug dealers and pimps who are the real scourge of the Downtown Eastside.

This story originally appeared in The Huffington Post BC

Being Daddy

*I pulled this from a “remnant of the past box” while settling into our new home. This was written about 20 years ago, officially as assignment #5 for English 371. One of my favorite, and most inspiring SFU professors Janet Giltrow even gave me a generous grade, but more importantly a comment that’s always been with me: “a rich moving expression of sentiment that is not sentimental  – but contemplative.”

                               Giant steps, try those bunny hops

                               stop, stare, think of what?

                               Birdies seen and heard

                               fly away, just like thoughts

                               Run, toddle, sway a little

                               stoop, bend, reach out for what?

                               Plucking buttercups, yellow and bright

                               blow away in the breeze

                               just like thoughts

Dear Paige,

PaigeThere are so many things to write about, but few are as engaging and entertaining as you my little girl. You’re almost two, and I often wonder if the time has gone by as quickly for you as it has for me – we’ll probably never know, and it probably doesn’t matter.

It’s been said a man falls in love twice in his life, first with his wife, and then with his little girl. There is a shred of truth here, except every new day I see your smile, and hear “Daddy”, I fall in love all over again.

As you continue to grow you’ll see your pictures and hear your stories – fun with different food group times; bubbles and bath times; learning to crawl, walk, and talk times; up at 3AM times; temper tantrum times; uncontrollable giggle times; Grandma, Grandpa, Auntie, Uncle and Cousin times; kitty, puppy, and car ride times; and of course a lot of Mommy, Daddy and Paige times.

No doubt one day you’ll say spare me the pictures, spare me the stories, spare me the lectures, and Daddy will become Dad, and with that changing sign will come a whole new set of meanings.

Change is inevitable, unavoidable, constant. Because I’ve had more than two years to really think about being a Daddy (remember, for 9 months you were the little alien inside Mom; during that unforgettable pregnancy we thought about parenthood a lot) there are two essential things I hope change will not erode – the love of listening to you, and the love of giving you time. I hope this letter can be a reminder to each of us of the why being Daddy is forever meaningful.

Listening is about hearing, and thus understanding. Listening is about being active  not passive. Learning to distinguish your different cries was a big step. There was the feed me, change me, burp me. hold me, and let me sleep cires. Feeding a wet baby didn’t stop the crying. Changing a dry but tired baby didn’t cut it either. From your first day home, we forged an understanding about meeting those needs – you cried and we listened. Listening and responding to the cry of the moment not only makes baby happy, but makes me feels good about being a better Daddy.

Of course you’re not simply a crying machine wanting to be fed, burped, changed, or put to bed. Listening to your laughs, giggles, “screams and squeals” of wonderment also get’s a response… laughs and a sense of wonderment right back at you. We always talk, there’s no time for goo-goo gaa-gaa babble, because tuning you out seems to guarantee you’ll tune me out.

From your first words, the flood-gates open to the world of language. Language is our love affair. Paige says “there he is, Barney, Big Birt, kitty, puppy, care rite, all done, up pease… ” and seemingly every single word you know pours out – without pause. Everything is said with the greatest intent, attention, and meaning; my listening, translating, and encouraging seems to validate all of your hard work. I just say “tell me a story”, “sing me a song”, “be a chatter-box”, now you amaze me and at twenty three months I hear, “ABCDFHIJMPOUXW… 12345679…” not always in perfect order, but always fun to hear. I firmly beleive listening encourages speech, but most of all, I hope the ability to communicate. Active listening may result in a few more conversations, instead of the “spare me the lecture” sentiment.

By listening to you and hearing what’s important to you, I can make it important to me. By spending time with you in your world makes being Daddy more meaningful and more significant. For Daddy to have real meaning, Daddy needs to be a presence. It’s not always what I do, or what I want that gives my life reason and purpose. Getting down on the floor and coloring, or going for an imaginary “car rite” to see the “moo’s”, or reading stories, or just trying to see the world from where you see it, gives me all the meaning I need – it also reminds me of the vacuuming that needs doing!

Paige, you’ll probably read this one day and wonder if I wrote it to you, or did I write it for you, or did I write it for me, or did I try to write it for other daddies? Hopefully my answer will be E – all of the above. Because, even though I’m a skeptic about the validity or existence of universal truths, I genuinely hope that being an active listener and giver of time – and not just a paycheck – will always be enduring and endearing values.

Love Daddy

Mobify’s Igor Faletski: “We Need to Prepare Ourselves for a Mobile-first and Mobile-only Future”

igor_faletski-1050x700Mobile is massive and it’s getting more so everyday. Yet for all of the phones, the tablets, and what I pay my wireless carrier, the mobile web still largely sucks. Everyday I either search for something or click a social web link, and wonder why I even bother. By now I’ve quit counting my sarcastic mutterings, “nice mobile optimization, you totally fail user experience 101.”

Being curious about the future of the mobile web and other things, I recently had a conversation withMobify’s CEO and co-founder Igor Faletski. Rumours around the Vancouver startup community suggested he’d know a thing or two. Turns out the rumours are true. The young guy who moved to Canada with his family from Vladivostok, and co-founded the company with SFU classmates John Boxall (CTO) and Peter McLachlan (Chief Architect) in 2007, has a lot to share.

Flashback to the state of the art for cell phones in 2007: there’s not really a connection between the phone and software apps as we know them today. Faletski shares that “starting the business kind of just happened to us. While in Prague studying, drinking beer and reading Kafka, we saw phones with colour screens and being marketed as a platform.”

The real ah-ha moment was realizing “if I can play a game and make a game, why can’t I write an app that would be useful for my productivity, and my work… this is coming, this is going to be big, we need to do something about it,” thought Faletski. “We saw that mobile and software was going to change the world, but didn’t know how. We decided to take on the challenge of doing something for the phone, rather than the desktop.”

We might still call it a phone, but the time we spend surfing, gaming, sharing pictures, or socializing exceeds the minutes we spend talking. The way Faletski sees it is “how we use our devices isn’t about the phone, it’s about apps, and remember the browser is an app too. The way websites present themselves to users will drastically change. Websites will soon, more and more feel like native apps do…instant, personalized.” His mission is making this come true.

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“We’re bridging the gap with new technology, allowing developers to build faster web sites, optimizing them for all screens, and making the web more user friendly, responsive, and an overall better user experience.”

The world moving to a ubiquitous computing experience, and the notion of a screen hierarchy is giving way to the experience of getting my information or entertainment anytime, anywhere, on any device. To Faletski, “people are now expecting companies to deliver the instant experience… answering questions or delivering information ‘now’  It’s about dealing with customer service through the website or answering questions via Twitter, and interacting with businesses anywhere and anytime via the mobile device and social web. This is a huge shift for how we live our lives versus just a technology change.”

He admits the iPad wave both caught them by surprise, and is now driving a whole new conversation.

The market has sped up so quickly. He also sees North America being fragmented in terms of accessing information by using the phone, tablet and laptop, whereas countries like China and Brazil are more phone-centric. Faletski says “these developing countries will be adopting more tablets as a work enabled device to compliment the phone, which will further impact the evolution of the web. There’s no question we need to prepare ourselves for a mobile-first and mobile-only future.”

When we talked content, Faletski had little doubt that aggregation of content is here to stay, courtesy of Facebook, Flipboard, PaperLi and the like. He thinks “aggregation won’t challenge the idea that the web is an open and ‘free to play’ experience with no gatekeepers.” He quoted Jeff Bezos, saying “even the kindest gatekeepers restrict innovation.” He said app stores are slowing down innovation: “the web is beautiful because it’s open and anyone can join it and make it better. To us the opportunity of helping people build the web is a bigger opportunity than aggregating content in one spot.”

The Mobify team currently stands at 70 people, and Faletski is looking toward starting 2014 in a new head office, and growing the team to north of 100. They have an office in London (UK), and a partner team in Tokyo, and he says business is “all about learning how to serve our global clients, and global team members.”

Having grown Mobify without external investment, Faletski shares one of his most important  challenges involves “maintaining the culture as we grow. Culture evolves over time, but values stay  more or less the same. I’m really cognizant of the fact that while we focus on our vision, revenues and growth it’s important not losing the culture we’ve built, and making sure that every year we’re a better company to work for.”

Knowing Faletski has entrepreneurship hard wired into his DNA, as is evident from his TEDxSFU talk in September, I closed our conversation asking him to give out advice for the three person startup toiling away in some coffee shop. Without hesitation he simply says “get to the first dollar quickly, regardless of the plans to bootstrap or raise funding… things you create need to be useful to people, and money is a great metric to validate the usefulness of your product.

This was originally published in BetaKit

These Apes are Creating and Innovating

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Metrics like headcount and revenue can only go so far in terms of defining a startup. For some startups, its the culture that defines its success.

With a team of sixty and growing, and with hit mobile games such a Kingdoms of War, Party in My Dorm, and The Meego, labelling Vancouver’s A Thinking Ape as a “startup” is almost a stretch.

For co-founders Kenshi Arasaki, Eric Diep, and Wilkins Chung, it’s the hacker culture that defines the business. They’re never far removed from their Y Combinator roots.

We recently discussed the challenges of running a business that’s largely driven by creating a new hit with every release. From an outsider’s perspective, it seems like being in the constant state of startup mode with every new game would be the norm. Is there a sense of perpetual uncertainty?

It turned out my hypothesis was wrong.

Since launching their first game as a three man team, Chung’s view is one of “making things more efficient internally (such as making the data more efficient) and methodology.” They’re not focusing purely on game design or creating artful masterpieces. For Chung it’s about “accomplishing more with less.” Diep added that “the scale in terms of bodies has made a difference. Much of our learning has been organizational learning”

From Arasaki’s perspective, “we’re getting better at optimizing processes.”

“Improving our execution, is allowing us take on projects of a bigger scope, and to make bigger bets. We’re seeing the process internally flat out getting faster, and faster,” he said.

When talking about creativity Arasaki admitted that “ideation can’t be looked at through the pragmatic engineering lens. We’re always asking ourselves how to continue to create games people will love”

Diep said their “biggest focus in building a culture of craftsmanship leaders jobs is to instill and reinforce that culture.” Arasaki added “ideas that come from the top that while useful can also be fragile, and it doesn’t scale as well.” He also acknowledged how the team is working at pushing more of the ideation down to the trenches. “You can’t force creativity, but you can nurture it.”

The team has built a strong reputation locally by inviting the community to participate in great hackathons. In fact, they probably organized the biggest all-women hackathon Vancouver has ever seen. It’s been through this experience that they’ve brought the hackathon onboard as part of the internal creation and innovation process.

Diep sees “internal hackathons helping reinforce the culture of building stuff… a sign of a great maker is someone who always has ideas, and is always thinking about things to build. It’s not about forcing to people to build something company specific, it’s really a creative exercise and in a way a welcome break for everyone’s primary and secondary tasks.” (In fact, a small team has been spun off to work on a specific project as the result of a recent hackathon).

They admit not having a set process for filtering through ideas. There’s a spirit of self recruiting creativity, with the litmus test being whether anyone’s ideas pass the peer test. The culture of ownership is paramount with this team, and as Chung pointed out, “leaders help make sure teams with new ideas are focused on the right metrics.”

In terms of things to look forward to, there’s new games in the pipeline. More interestingly, Chung shared how they are “looking at tools and supports services beyond just games. We’re considering what can be created around the games, and potentially distributed into new markets.” In some ways it didn’t strike me as shocking when Diep said “it’s a little known fact that we didn’t specifically hire any game engineers, so it will be no surprise to them if they build something amazing that’s not a game.”

It was fun asking them to gaze in the crystal ball and talk about technology in general. They’re stoked about the growing potential impact tablets will continue having, and wearable devices with a specific shout out to Oculus Rift. We wrapped up our ‘future talk’, collectively admitting to being in awe of Elon Musk’s recent video sharing his take on the future of design.

These are really smart guys, as exemplified by Arasaki recently being chosen to attend the Gaming Insiders 30, which brings together the gaming industry’s leaders to exchange ideas.) More importantly they represent hard work and humility with the genuine commitment to helping the Vancouver technology ecosystem grow and prosper.

It’s interesting how all three talk about the positive impact they felt in terms of living in a community of shared ideas, mentoring and advice during their time in Y Combinator, and working in the Bay area. This is the attitude they are fostering. As Diep put it, “we want to help put Vancouver more on the map. We want to figure out how to turn Vancouver into a destination for talent and resources.”

This was originally published in BetaKit

Big Data is More than Just Big Hype

ID-100220001According to Gartner’s 2013 hype cycle for emerging technologies, big data resides almost at the summit of “the peak of inflated expectations”. This means that the next stop is a deep dive into “the trough of disillusionment”, and that big data will reside in a period of technological purgatory for at least 5-10 years.

Needless to say, it looks like someone at Gartner doesn’t buy all of the headlines this past few years..

In hosting an event titled “CIO’s and Big Data” the Vancouver Enterprise Forum attracted enough skeptics, fence sitters, and fan-boys to sell out the VanCity theater. The panel discussion moderated by Delloite’s Jacob Kuijpers featured:

  • Cameron Uganec, Director of Marketing at Hootsuite

  • Stephen Ufford, Founder & CEO of Trulioo

  • Bruno Aziza, VP, Worldwide Marketing at SiSense

  • Tommy Levi, Senior Data Scientist at PlentyofFish.com

In spite of the seemingly growing number of headlines about big data these past few years- particularly this one from the Economist in early 2010, which helped sparked my interest in the subject- Kuijpers suggests it’s really nothing new. He points out that big banks and even Walmart having been crunching big numbers long before this became topical. I comes as no surprise, as mathematics doesn’t really make for the most riveting headlines.

Kuijpers framed the conversation by asking “why is big data seemingly ‘all the rage?’ He offered a working definition as one of “volume, velocity, variety (beyond simply, text, and numbers neatly delineated in columns and rows).” With the addition of mobile-generated data and social media, the sheer volume of information to collect and process today is tsunami-like for most companies. For instance, Kuijpers shares that Westjet estimates they capture approximately 10 terabytes of data from each plane on every flight. One terabyte is one trillion bytes.

What kind of data do you need for your business?

Uganec offers up that “Hootsuite is tracking user behavior to create more tailored and relevant messaging to their users” Talk about volume too, as he said its users are sending four million messages a day.

Aziza spoke about “raising visibility, what’s going inside your company? What’s the relationship between effort and impact (correlation vs causation)?”

For Levi, it “starts with questions relevant to the business, not the tech… forgot the buzz word, it’s not magic. Start small… Small samples that are statistically relevant can produce valuable results too.”

On one hand Aziza also made the point that “there should be no constraints in terms of what or how much data to collect as it’s so cheap to store now. Collect it all. In so many cases people don’t know what data to collect.”

Yet Ufford talks about the calculating and computing costs as being potentially astronomical if you don’t have a data science plan. “We got the bill! $130,000 from Amazon Web Services bill to crunch the data to get an answer for 3 questions! Businesses want answers, whereas data guys want data.”

Levi appreciates that there’s huge challenges in terms of collecting and storing data. “How and when, and when to extract data is a further a challenge. As the scientist on the panel points out, it’s crucial to have a well thought out foundation in terms of how you organize the data. It’s data science: form a hypothesis and test it.”

Does Big Data matter?

Uganec has no qualms suggesting “we are at the peak of the hype curve. Delivering insights is what matters most.”

For Aziza “the word big is relative. What’s the subjective value of the data?” He offers up the analogy “that data equals the elephant; the rider of the elephant is the data scientist… ensuring the elephant from simply running amok.”

Is Big Data only for big companies?

Aziza doesn’t see this about the size of a company, it’s about  telling him what he doesn’t know. “Do your infographics actually deliver useful information, or just look pretty, which means it’s just art! Understand what’s going outside your walls… Competitive insights matter.”

From a startup perspective Ufford offers “the best entry point is asking what’s the most difficult, most onerous, pressing question for big companies or an entire market,” he said. “Tackle those answers and with enough runway a startup can be left holding something of value.”

Why do they see in the future for Big Data?

In terms of wrapping up the conversation Levi was on mark by reinforcing that “the value of big data resides in the quality of the questions you ask from it. Know your core business! Data needs to be telling a story!”

Probably the most salient point of the evening was Aziza saying “we need to figure out the relationship of data to people… we need to make data work for “us”.

For the serious and the curious big data can transcend the hype, and make a significant impact beyond just business. It will be a key aspect for improving healthcare for instance.  While machines might churn through 0’s and 1’s at mind altering rates and efficiency, they’ll not supplant our capacity to tell meaningful stories any time soon.

This story was originally published in BetaKit