Entrepreneurship

Musician, Entrepreneur, Author: Riffing with David Usher on Creativity

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I was going to make a book in the digital world, I wanted there a reason for it to exist. I wanted it to feel like an artifact , and still deliver a meaningful message.”
David Usher:  Let the Elephants Run: Unlock Your Creativity and Change Everything

Sure he’s sold more than 1.4 million albums and won 4 Junos, but that didn’t really grab my attention. When I connected David Usher with being a technology entrepreneur, and that his company CloudID has worked innovative projects for clients like Cirque du Soleil, Deloitte and TIFF, reading an advance copy David Usher’s new book “Let the Elephants Run: Unlock Your Creativity and Change Everything,” was an easy choice.

The overall design of the book made it easy to pick up. There’s a playfulness to it, highlighted by the wide variety of font styles, the creative use of whitespace, and different paper colours, making for a great visual experience. Even the choice of paper stock made for it being a very tactile experience. It screams, pick me up, open me, bend my pages, and scribble in the margins. It the first book that I’ve picked up in a long time that says, “deface me.”

Talking with Usher, I agreed that the book is a good fit with a couple types of reader. He shared that, “after the talks I was giving about creativity, people were coming up to me wanting to engage with the idea of the creative process; how to get back and re-discover that long forgotten sense of childhood wonder and imagination.”

For someone already doing something creative, but looking to explore the process, this book could give them a different lens on what they are doing. For both the young or the inexperienced entrepreneur, Usher offers some valuable insights. Here are a few nuggets off the pages worth keeping in mind –

  • “When you start to see creative thinking as independent of genre or discipline, suddenly you can work on almost anything.”
  • “Unpredictability opens the door the the possible”.
  • “Talent matters, but work is what delivers you.”
  • “Artist or entrepreneur, in my mind we are all hustlers and thieves…”
  • “There maybe a few rare geniuses that can pull incredible brilliance out of the air without any prior knowledge or contextual influence. We build off the work of others.”
  • “Today, value is measured by attention.”
  • “Protecting your idea becomes far less important than your ability to execute them.”
  • “When you learn the language of creativity it alters the lens through which you see the world.”

The book is full of some great non-Usher quotes, and this one in particular every startup entrepreneur should keep in mind: “As a startup CEO, I slept like a baby. I woke up every two hours and cried.” – Ben Horowitz

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Usher’s affinity for lean startup methodology weaves its way throughout the book. “It’s a synthesis of those ideas, I think how artists take in their creativity and the process of the lean startup is very similar. It runs in parallel. A lot can be learned by looking back and forth between the two,” he said.

Asking about what sparked his interest in technology startups, it was having a front row seat to “watching the music business implode from the inside out.” Usher added, “I watched EMI, who had been doing the same thing the same way for 100 years, and watched their whole infrastructure, everything that was of value to that company dissipate over a few years. That gives you a choice as an individual; hold onto the old or really go down the rabbit hole for the new.”

With the recent success of Moist’s new album “Glory Under Dangerous Skies”, Usher is preparing to head out on the road for the Summer festival circuit. And with the added focus on this book he admitted that tech isn’t top of mind right now. He indicated that “I have the bug to do something that is some kind of integration with tech for sure. But I’m really looking for something very specific. I think that what you learn from those things that don’t go as expected, is that you get a clearer understanding of what you’re looking for.”

“I watched EMI, who had been doing the same thing the same way for 100 years, dissipate over a few years.”

We circled our conversation back to the book itself. In particular I was curious about his choice of title. Usher talked about how in his own brainstorming sessions, “whether it’s music, interdisciplinary theatre, or tech, we use this technique that’s about letting the ideas (the Elephant) be large. We try to keep at bay the idea of reality. We try to eliminate the word NO. If you put no on all of the ideas outside the realm of reality, by the time you actually get through the grind of the creative process, the idea you have is probably pretty average and already been done.”

Entrepreneurship, innovation, and creativity are unquestionably connected, and it’s important to see creativity as something more than an artistic endeavour. Usher wants to make it clear that, “beyond a tiny bit of inspiration, the creative process is wrapped up in a whole lot of structure and grind. As well, it’s not just about building some big project. Creativity exists in the small moments.”

Furthermore he challenges everyone to see that “it’s in conversations, it’s in negotiations. These are all opportunities use creative thinking. Look at the patterns you’re imposing on a situation, and then try to impose a mutation on that pattern to see if you get different results.”

Beyond ideas, and beyond products, the startup business is a human endeavour. “Just like there are waves to building or launching anything, there are also emotional waves within that whole process,” Usher has learned. He knows that “the more complex your structure, the more people involved the more complex those emotions can be.”

In spite of his successes to date, I asked him about managing emotions. “I’m better at the roller coaster now, but even with this book there’s nerves before it comes out. How will people respond to it? What the hell am I doing? But like anything, I’m learning as I go. When this is over I’ll do what I always do; I’ll do a post-mortem and an analysis on my process.”

Title: Let the Elephants Run: Unlock Your Creativity and Change Everything
Publisher: House of Anansi Press
Price: $29.95  CDN

The books are available in the chain bookstores like Indigo/Chapters/Coles as well as your local independent bookstore. Also available to purchase online via amazon.ca / chapters.indigo.ca etc.

This was originally published in BetaKit

photo credit Sabrina Reeves

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REFLECTING ON 2014: THE BIG ISSUE, THE BIG IDEA, AND THE BIG WIN

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Every Canadian technology startup that’s delighting and delivering value to its customers, while creating a meaningful workplace culture, is a story worth sharing. Every entrepreneur earning the opportunity to keep the lights on another day deserves a high-five.

I’m not big on picking favourites. So with a twist on the usual list-bait, here’s a look at the year that was by reflecting on the biggest issue, the biggest idea, and the biggest win.

These words are homeless without the internet. Despite being 25 years old, the promise of an open and free internet seems like a pipe dream. The architect of the world’s information network, Tim Berners-Lee, believes that “we need diversity of thought in the world to face the new challenges.” Yet the social value of today’s internet is being challenged and undermined everyday by the actions of deceitful of governments and plundering corporations. OpenMedia-11-of-17-1050x700

Former Google developer advocate Tim Bray has lent his voice to this biggest of issues, and his words resonate throughout: “It’s OK to be Pro-Privacy Without Being a Crook, Pervert, or Terrorist.

I imagine being with my kids and marvelling at the beauty of a rainbow revealing itself after the dark deluge of a winter storm blasts through, and it passes as our conversation about climate change. Talk about fleeting and borderline delusional thoughts. I do imagine a world where our relationship with fossil fuels isn’t driving the climate change debate.

Rather than just imagining how such a world will look, Dr. Michel Laberge and his General Fusion team is working towards delivering “the Promise of Clean Energy.” This is not only the biggest idea of 2014, but it’s possibly the most meaningful endeavour for our children I’ll never know.

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It was a shot in the dark, emailing info@ in the hopes in securing an interview with one of Vancouver’s more successful startup entrepreneurs. On the heels of raising $42 million in new funding for a business completely off my radar, I figured the odds of catching up with Stewart Butterfield to get the story of Slack was firmly entrenched between slim and negligible.

The personal reply from Butterfield caught my attention. More so, our conversation left an impression and no accompanying sense of shock when the news dropped he’s now leading Vancouver’s newest billion dollar company. Raising $120 million for this new communication platform counts as the biggest win, and confirms “This Guy’s No Slacker.

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Orange jumpsuits aren’t my idea of high fashion. I’m fond of suggesting good entrepreneurs have to be rule breakers, or makers of new rules. Just not breaking them to a felonious point. Being true to my word and breaking my editors rule, there’s a fourth Vancouver startup story that’s of the big “pie-in-sky” variety.

Actually, it’s a two big HD cameras in the sky story that caught my attention. Like our tenuous and tempestuous relationship with the internet or re-imaging the powering of our world, Urthecast is changing how we can see our planet. Maybe if we look at our world from a different point of view we’ll start treating it and ourselves better. Let’s move forward into 2015 taking action for good and being most mindful that “We’re All in This Together.”

This story was originally published in BetaKit

Saying Goodbye to the Lunchtime Blues. Food.ee Delivers on a High Note.

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“An army marches on its stomach” – Napoleon Bonaparte

This time tested and true observation is so often overlooked in the workplace. How many teams in business aren’t performing to their peak levels because their stomachs are empty or full of the wrong things? Google might be viewed as an anomaly in their approach to the company cafeteria, but it’s hard to overlook the correlation between high-performing people eating highly-nutritious and great food.

Vancouver’s Foodee is a rapidly growing marketplace that’s in the business of bringing great food straight to the company lunchroom. Cofounder Jon Cartwright and managing partner Ryan Spong talked about their mission and highlighted the three key Foodee tenants:

1) Great teams eat together

2) Quality food tastes better

3) Reduce your carbon foodprint

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Spong Comes to Foodee with a background in the corporate world, having worked in the financial services space in Toronto, New York, and London. He came home to Vancouver, and is now experience in the hospitality industry, having purchased Tacofino Cantina, a local food services company in 2011. “Our goal is to change corporate lunch hour. I’ve had the tied to a desk career, and know the challenges of getting out of the office. Even getting out of the office, it gets to be a pretty drab offering after two months. You can only go so far, and often don’t have many great choices. It easy to fall into a routine that’s often unhealthy.”

Cartwright said the initial idea behind Foodee came from wanting to solve their own challenge. “Being at Invoke, we were a little far away from really good food, and often found ourselves whining about it. As well, it was also a challenge ordering for a large group too,” he said. “Starting the company at Invoke really helped Foodee develop a solid technical foundation for solving the logistical challenges. ”

In the last two years they’ve shifted from being a technology focused marketplace to what Cartwright sees “as being part of the huge growth for online/offline businesses. There’s way more success reference points now. It’s becoming a huge differentiator in what we do, and where we see the future opportunity for Foodee. With a whole new service expectation in the offline market experience we see having right online tools as being a significant enhancement.”

They’ve grown the business and are feeding mostly large groups in offices (10-100 meals), and working with offices like Lululemon, Cushman Wakefield, Mozilla, and Microsoft. For customers it’s simple to order online, by phone or by email. There’s no minimum order size either.

There’s simplicity at the surface. But, at the heart of Foodee is a tech enabled platform. “It’s all about having robust backend order management infrastructure, for managing orders and logistics at scale,” said Cartwright. “We currently work with five different third party delivery companies, and all meals are GPS tracked.”

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For Spong,  “quality food tastes better.”

“We think you should still be eating your favourite foods, and want to make sure you’re getting the best version of it,” he said. “We also think you can eat great food, while at the same time treat our environment better. We’re working mainly with restaurants that focus on local, organic, sustainable practices, and at the same time working with zero or low emission energy partners.”

He also offered that “part of reducing the carbon ‘foodprint’ is that our partners agree to adopting our packaging standards. They’re all using recycled paper, completely compostable and recyclable containers. This is really important when you think that our biggest client goes through 25,000 containers a year feeding their staff.”

Right now Foodee is working with Vancouver’s best restaurants such as VJ’s, Meat and Bread, Finches and Tacofino, and will keep focused on delivering premium offerings. Cartwright shared that “restaurants are liking us because we’re providing them another with lunch rush before the doors open. As well, in some case we’re giving some of our restaurant partners as much as 10-15 percent of their yearly revenue.

In many ways Foodee is like the Uber for food. With Vancouver giving them the validation and momentum needed, Food.ee is excited to now be taking care of Toronto’s lunchtime blues too.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

“We’ll be Like the Silicon Valley for Healthcare in Canada”

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It’s been barely a year since it’s launch and Ryan D’Arcy said “it’s been moving like a bullet train: a lot has happened, and there’s a lot of progress.” D’Arcy is SFU’s BC Leadership Chair in Multimodal Technology for Healthcare Innovation, and is referring to the fact that Surrey BC’sInnovation Boulevard is being primed to emerge as a world class digital healthcare technology cluster.

D’Arcy caught the science innovation bug early in his career.

Having the chance to come home with his innovation and collaboration playbook that proved successful in Halifax, he didn’t hide his bullishness on the future of Surrey. He envisions a massive opportunity in front of the Innovation Boulevard.

“One of the rapid ways you can affect health from both an improved care perspective and an economic development one is rooted in technology,” he said. “Engineering, science and the development of new technologies can be fast acting and have impactful meaning for health.”

“The raw ingredients are all here.” He pointed out  “We have the strength of SFU’s Applied Sciences program, Fraser Health corporate head office (the health region serves more than 1.6 million people, and has $2.9 billion annual operating budget – 2010/11) Surrey Memorial hospital (home to B.C.’s busiest emergency room and a $512-million expansion), the City of Surrey itself (2nd largest city in BC and the 12th largest city in Canada with a population of over 468,000). Along with access to some still affordable real estate, the overall formula is here to attract the right people, the right teams, with the right ideas to build a world class health technology cluster.”

There’s an estimated 180 health-related businesses already located in the area. As well, further driving innovation is the addition of SFU Surrey and the city expanding their high-speed Canarie fibre-optic network. All of this is essentially located within one square mile, as D’Arcy characterized the walk down King George Highway “as the spinal cord of the Innovation Boulevard.”

Maryam Sadeghi is the CEO of MetaOptima Solutions, and the science and technology adviser for the Digital Health Hub. She shared how it was question about the future licensing of her technology that lead to a conversation with D’Arcy. With a telemedicine solution for the prevention and detection of skin cancer, she was trying to understand the potential of working with Surrey Memorial Hospital or Fraser Health.

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She candidly suggested that “It didn’t take much conversation before D’Arcy opened up the door to this research lab, with a bunch of computers and said ‘this is all yours’. Bring MoleScope, bring your experience, and bring the vision of creating more companies like yours at SFU.”

“A lot of startup companies who have great ideas are challenged to test things in a real environment. It’ crucial getting the necessary feedback to improve on what they’re trying to eventually commercialize,” she pointed out. “It’s a real strategic benefit to be here, having access to the university resources, grants, funding, Fraser Health and Surrey Memorial. It’s going to be very attractive for companies to come here, we’ll be like a Silicon Valley for Health Care in Canada.”

From D’Arcy’s perspective, “it’s an unprecedented example of partnership in BC’s history. Historically the province has under-performed in its ability to connect and partner in order to compete in the global race, and to some degree we’ve shortchanged ourselves.”

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By unprecedented partnership, he pointed to four universities and others incoming, as well as health authorities and businesses generating an excitement around working together. D’Arcy credits much of this to the role that the City of Surrey is playing, saying “the city is like Switzerland in it’s neutrality by allowing everyone to come in to be part of this.”

For the healthcare technology community this partnership is also allowing for the launch of Health Tech Connex. D’Arcy isn’t characterizing this as an incubator or accelerator. He says “it’s first and foremost about location, location, location. Proximity to the healthcare professionals is vital. It’s all about facilitating access to the right people, and helping companies from early stage university spinouts to multinationals to move their commercialization efforts along much faster.”

Entrepreneurs will also be able to count on the support and services of the BCTIA and Life Sciences BC through their roles as founding partners. There are currently about 30 companies in the screening process, and asking for access to the hospital, pilot projects, clinical trials, or university resources. Demand to join is growing at a pace D’Arcy didn’t imagine even in his most optimistic moments.

Sadeghi is so convinced of the potential for this digital health hub and the Innovation Blvd concept, since August 1st 2013 she’s essentially been mentored full time. She plans to join the SFU research team shortly, but said it was question about the future licensing of her technology that lead to a conversation with Ryan D’Arcy: “it’s all about helping realize this vision.”

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It takes more than buildings, pavement and technology to create a winning business cluster. With D’Arcy driving the vision and acting like the connective tissue, Innovation Boulevard stands to be a difference making destination.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Andrew Reid’s Vision Critical: Not Your Dad’s Idea of Market Research

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Andrew Reid is self-admittedly the bad kid who did everything wrong. His mom saw him on the path to jail. She didn’t see the other logical path leading him to become president, founder and chief product officer of Vancouver’s Vision Critical. And while Seth Godin deservedly gets a lot of credit for positing the notion of tribes into marketing’s lexicon, Reid starting building a technology company around the concept well before the 2008 release of “Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

A call from Dad (Angus, who founded his market research company in 1979) in 1999 to rebuild the company website proved to be this bad kid’s real ah-ha moment. Reid said “the realization comes from seeing that the rest of the marketing & communications world is on this technology escalator moving up, and market research has been at a standstill. The way you ask a question hadn’t really changed since 1930. Reports and how you visualize data hadn’t changed either.”

He launched Vision Critical in 2000 around the idea of virtual reality. By simulating the experience of a consumer going into a store and purchasing products, big brands could test things package design, pricing, and self placement.

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In 2002 Reebok asked them to build a threaded conversation around a community of 350 women runners. According to Reid this project “was the inflection point for the company. Six months later, we said this is a community, we can ask them questions, monitor them, filter their responses, and segment them based on their responses. We saw the opportunity to move market research from being reactive to being more proactive. It was the beginning of this whole world of insight communities.”

For others in the marketing community he’s often asked, “how do you monetize them? Send them offers, line them up with products they need, sell them to someone else?” Reid’s answer is always the same, “no. It’s about genuinely understanding people’s attitudes and opinions. It’s about resisting the temptation to over-market to them. There are two tenants vitally important to what we’re doing, the first is trust, and the second is science. There’s enough science involved in our technology that we can deliver really meaningful insights that decisions can be made from.”

It’s also interesting that they’re working at building a bridge, from asking people questions to looking at social credentials to marry up the stated self with the actual behaviour. He suggested “this is a powerful thing, because the whole world of online sentiment is very archaic and cavemanish. What people say versus what they do are often two different things. We need to get to a point where we get more value out of that data.”

This research and discovery is key to understanding more about the key emerging market trend around the sharing and collaborative economy, with the likes of AirBnB leading the way. Going through their report, “Sharing is the New Buying: How to Win in the Collaborative Economy” it’s interesting to note the seismic changes starting to happen in people’s attitudes towards stuff.

  • Rather than buying new goods from big brands . . . customers buy pre-owned goods from each other on eBay.

  • Rather than hiring a moving company . . . customers get moving help on TaskRabbit.

  • Rather than owning a car . . . customers share cars on demand via Car2Go.

  • Rather than staying at hotels . . . customers stay in homes through Airbnb.

  • Rather than getting a loan from a bank . . . customers borrow from each other through Lending Club.

While Reid’s focused roles of on social and location, he’s also looking seriously at the quantified self. He thinks when you marry up the FitBit’s, Fuels, and Recon Instruments of the world with the questions you can ask people, “it gets really interesting. You can really learn a lot about people when you combine the devices you wear that track what you do with the questions you answer, and your social behaviour.” He thinks there’s a huge opportunity to transform this information into the creation and delivery of more meaningful, and personalized content.

The company has 16 global offices and more than 650 employees across the globe. Reid has led Vision Critical from a $1 business to over $100 million, and it’s an example of the potential to build a successful global technology company in Vancouver. Yet, the city’s own capital climate is still a barrier to others following his path. He said “unfortunately we don’t exactly have a brilliant venture capital community. OMERS Ventures, who did our last deal, has the bulk of their money tied up in Vancouver on some big bets that any of these guys in Vancouver could have made, but shied away from.”

I asked Reid to comment on being included in the recent story of OMERS Ventures’ John Ruffalo saying that several Canadian technology companies could be going public soon. He shared “we’re a good size company now, and it’s exciting. We’re also at the point where those are things you contemplate. There’s a bunch of financial outcomes you have to think about. I don’t particularly want to sell this company, because we want to make it as successful as we can. It’s an option on the table that we’re actively looking at, but we’re not ready to push the button on anything.”

He summed things up nicely, saying that in this software space, “if you’re not moving fast, you’re not going anywhere.”

The article originally appeared in BetaKit

This Guy’s No Slacker: In Conversation with Slack’s Stewart Butterfield

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Having recently raised $42.5 million in new funding Vancouver’s Slack is proving to be anything but a bunch of coffee-sipping West Coast slackers.

Slack is a communication platform, delivering real-time messaging, archiving and search.

President and cofounder Stewart Butterfield said the team often think of Slack as a search app disguised as a message app. “People might think they want messaging but the real value is getting all of your communications in one place and having it easily searchable. Think about the waves of change in general, dealing with the soaring amount of information is the one we’re most closely riding.”

“We’re designing for teams not the company. Individuals are kind of an atom, but teams are the atomic unit of any organization because they’re expected to be functioning together,” he added. “But the reality is that at big companies like when I worked at Yahoo, you see how the matrix type organization makes it more complicated for people.”

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The increasing volume of messages we receive are not just from other people but other computers. The stream of social media notifications alone increases the daily noise. Butterfield sees that managing all of this messaging is something providing more value than people realize.

He estimates that his team of 20 each get about 100 messages a day from other people. The business has between 5,000 to 15,000 messages coming in from things like tweets, help tickets, bug reports, sign-ups for the service, when new teams are created, every crash report, and on and on. It’s not uncommon for teams these days to use 15-20 different services, so getting all of these messages in one place he said is a “huge win.”

The model is about encouraging people to have conversations in public, instead of one to one. Even if they’re not people on your team, at least engineers can see what the marketing department is talking about and customer support can see what engineering is talking about. Butterfield believes in “creating an ambient awareness of what other people in the organization are doing. It’s about coordinating without having stand up meetings, and getting status updates.”

Slack has grown out of a late 80’s tool pre-dating todays internet. Butterfield’s team found that using IRC chat met their internal communications needs. “It was missing a bunch of features that we thought were important, like being to log and archive messages. Once we had the archives, we wanted to search them. There was no good iPhone client so we built an HTML5 front end to browse the archives, and once we had that we wanted to be able to post from it. We wanted announcements when people uploaded files to the file server, database alerts and more. Basically hack, after hack after hack got all of the communication flowing into one place. A side effect of this was the fact the company didn’t use email at all. It wasn’t a policy decision, it just happened that no one would email each other because it was better to do it in IRC.

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They rolled out a preview versus the less trustworthy sounding beta release in August 2013, and spent six months trying to make it easy for teams to switch over. Feeling it was good enough, they officially launched Slack in February 2014 and hit 20,000 paying customers.

Butterfield called it startup anthropology. What’s working for the Slack are good startup lessons to remember.

  • Do a lot of research. They talked with people about how they used it, and what their reactions were. Get as much feedback as possible.
  • They made sure all of their emails could be replied to
  • They encouraged people to send them tweets

With the better of 20 years of business and startup experience to draw upon Butterfield shared that “people over-attribute a lot of success particularly in startups to the skill, ability and talent of the people doing it. Whereas, a lot of it is luck. Hard work counts, but there’s also the zeitgeist and little factors like the name, colors you choose, and your decision making process.”

With Slack’s early trajectory, Butterfield’s decision-making process is looking pretty spot on.

This story was first published in BetaKit.

NoteworthyOctober 31, 2015 Slack announces raising $120 million with post funding valuation equaling $1.2 billion

Taking Social Further: Exclusive Conversation With Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes

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June 2009 doesn’t seem that long ago. Still etched in memory is seeing that life size owl mascot for the first time working a room full of Vancouver startup folks. I thought 140  characters of micro-blogging was a bastardization of the English language, so why does the world need a dashboard for it.

In this case eating humble pie didn’t taste so bad. Turns out that early Summer night, the early stage startup Hootsuite walked away with the “Peoples Choice” award. My tune about Twitter also changed less than 6 months later as a co-founder of the visualization application Mentionmapp. Seemed like Twitter and Hootsuite might turn out to be something afterall.

Since closing a $165 million Series B financing the past 14 months has seen Hootsuite on a tear. With last weeks news of having raised $60 million in new private equity and debt funding their total outside financing is $250 million. Add in the most recent acquisitions of startups BrightKit and Zeetl, founder and CEO Ryan Holmes is guiding the company towards realizing his long time commitment to building a Vancouver company that’s making a big impact on the local ecosystem, and beyond. Plus he’s been unwavering in about creating a $1 billion (plus) Canadian tech company.

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With a rare stop over these days in Vancouver, and even rarer 20 minute window of time in his schedule, I was fortunate to share an exclusive conversation with Holmes.

“It’s been a great week, and great month and really good year. We’re excited to share that the company has doubled revenue, doubled valuation, over 10 million users, including 744 of the Fortune 1000 as clients,” he highlighted. With their existing investors joining this latest round, and a new Boston based investor (he didn’t comment on the Wall Street Journal reporting it being Fidelity Investments, nor the IPO rumours) Holmes thinks “it also validates their excitement for the business.”

The acquisitions are all about “building out the social suite.” Holmes sees the Hootsuite platform akin to what “Microsoft Office or Google Apps does for office productivity. We’re creating a suite of tools to help our clients manage social.”

Being on this aggressive fundraising journey, and experiencing the subsequent rocket like growth trajectory I asked him how tight he’s keeping the seat belt buckled.  “It’s been a real blessing to be able to participate in the huge evolution of the social business. It’s fantastic to be creating a great Canadian tech company and story.” He touched on his excitement for attracting some of this country’s best and brightest here working with the team and the product. Just as importantly according to Holmes is “seeing people have experiences that will last throughout their careers.”

As well, he talked about the notion of creating the ‘MapleSyrup Mafia’ saying “some of the folks from Hootsuite may go out and create their own product, or maybe even be acquired by us or others. Hopefully they’ll go on to create other Hootsuites throughout the country and really help build an even more vibrant tech community.”

Asked if he sees a societal relevance of social beyond being simply the marketers best friend, Holmes replied with an unequivocal “absolutely. It’s so relevant, I think that conversation thankfully for the most part has died. As we’ve seen Twitter and Facebook IPO for instance, I have little doubt that social media is here to stay.”

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Channeling my inner Marshall McLuhan, I pressed that beyond the medium being the message can social media be a medium of mobilization? “I think we’ve already seen this, with it being a spark of revolutions and contributing to the toppling of governments,” he said. “We’ve seen how much it can transform society. It’s not just a marketing tool, it’s a way we’re reorganizing and communicating societally. It’s a channel everybody’s paying attention to.”

Holmes added that “with both governments and protesters using our platform, we have an interesting and unique perspective to see how people communicate. get messages out, and bring dialogue to leadership and democracy around the world.”

Looking into the crystal ball, I asked him what he’s seeing in the future for social media. He mentioned how social commerce and social advertising two interesting trends. Furthermore he suggested, “just like search has become a blend of organic and paid, I think we’re going to see the same trend with social. There will be a blend of paid social, and organic social.” Holmes pointed out the Hootsuite is currently powering 5 million organic messages a day.

With offices open in London (UK), Singapore, and now looking at one in Latin America, and expanding Vancouver operations, Hootsuite continues to soar. On the strength of that overstuffed owl mascots tiny wings, Holmes and his team have carried themselves well beyond what many people probably imagined this past five plus years.

A Big Nerd Talking Data. Meet DataHero’s Chris Neumann

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There’s no escaping the fact that data is a hot topic and big business. However, so much of the buzz about data is usually prefaced with the word “Big” these days. Somehow, the conversation has moved from the fact there’s this huge proliferation of data and the fact there’s potential gold attached to mining it, to the size matters story.

There’s also no escaping it: Chris Neumann, founder of Vancouver’s DataHero is a really big nerd. With almost a ten year lens on the business, Neumann can talk about data in the sense of size really not mattering.

His data lineage goes back to being employee number one with AsterData (acquired by Teradata in 2011 for $263 million)  and saying “I’d argue that Aster Data had the single strongest overall teamever in the data world.  To-date, Aster Data alum have raised over $300 million for companies they subsequently founded, including Nutanix, Instart Logic, ThoughtSpot, and ClearStory Data. That network has remained extremely tight, with many of us helping each other out over the years in a wide variety of ways as we navigated our post-Aster Data endeavours.”

dashboardLooking back on his experience he said, “in 2005, we knew that volumes of data were growing and were on the verge of exploding.  The problem was, databases couldn’t handle such large volumes of data, and the larger data warehouse software that existed was designed for relatively basic workloads (figuring out simple metrics, aggregates, etc.).  Companies large and small were starting to hit up against the limits of existing products and were forced to choose between complex analytics on insufficient amounts of data or insufficient analytics on larger volumes of data.”

It isn’t only big companies generating large volumes of data. Even small internet companies are generating significant amounts of data. The business challenge is making sense of it. So much of today’s focus is on “Big Data,” and figuring out how to keep pace with the increasing amounts of centralized data being generated by a relatively small number of companies.

“What almost no one is talking about is the fact that at the same time centralized data is increasing in volume, enterprise data overall is becoming decentralized as services move to the cloud,” said Neumann. “This has the potential to be an even more significant shift in how enterprise data is managed.”

“My experiences at Aster Data had a significant impact on how DataHero has evolved from its earliest days,” he added. Seeing firsthand the increasing demand for answers to data questions from people outside of the traditional data organizations, and how those departments were quickly becoming a major bottleneck to enterprise efficiency has led him to get past the size conversation. “Those experiences helped me to appreciate how important access to data is to business users and how much need there is for tools to empower users of all technical levels to be able to work with data.”

Entirely new groups of people are working with data. Until now, you had to be a data analyst, a statistician, or a data scientist to be able to get insights from data. Neumann’s all about the democratization of data, and that anyone who has access to data and wants to ask questions of that data should be able to without having to rely on someone else for help.

He shared that “the biggest challenge in building a product designed to empower everyone in an organization is walking the tightrope of having all of the features people need to answer their data questions, while keeping it easy to use and accessible to the largest possible group of users. Data products have historically been designed for technical users, so we’re really focused on the capabilities we’re trying to bring to business users.”

DataHero meetup

This democratizing access to data is about pulling, processing, and analyzing it from SaaS services, cloud storage drives, online spreadsheets, or even files on a laptop.  Neumann said DataHero has expanded its partnerships to include:

  • Pardot
  • Highrise
  • Zendesk
  • Zuora
  • Recurly
  • Mixpanel
  • Keen IO

For marketing, sales, customer service, and software development professionals, there’s less and less friction to working with data today than ever before. It’s about redefining our relationship to the speed of business. Having data in context it’s now more possible for insightful and impactful decisions to be made. and proving ultimately that the size really doesn’t matter.

Top photo by BusinessNewsDaily

Story originally featured in BetaKit

General Fusion Wants to Deliver on the Promise of Clean Energy

john
When we talk tech moonshots, it’s likely Google X , or maybe Elon Musk’s Hyperloop will jump to mind.
But tucked away in a nondescript Burnaby, BC business park is a project of massive global implications. General Fusion is in the race to transform the world’s energy supply. (Though you really can’t call this a moonshot because they’re building a fusion reactor that’s essentially harnessing the Sun’s fuel.)

Imagine a world with abundant and clean energy with no pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. The team of 65 people at General Fusion can.

john1Recently the Telus Science World Equity Giving Committee invited some of BC’s tech community leaders to share an evening with Dr Michel Laberge, founder and chief scientist for General Fusion as well as a TED2014 presenter. This event also represented an evening of educational alignment between today’s leaders who care about helping foster the development of tomorrow’s technologists and scientists.

It’s important noting that Science World is a non-profit organization playing an important role in the growth of the technology sector, by engaging youth at an early age. They’re inspiring a love of science, and showing them that sciences, engineering and technology offer an exciting and rewarding future. Science World is about helping generate the talent that will invent, innovate and lead companies in the future.

The Equity Program is working with British Columbian technology and health science companies and their principals – professionals who know the pivotal role that science and technology play in developing the province – the program allows for individuals and their companies to either donate securities or to grant stock options to Science World.

It’s been a journey about finding a solution to global melting because of our fossil fuel dependence that made Dr. Laberge a great fit for the evening. As well, having PhD from UBC in plasma physics, and using the mid-life crisis moment of turning 40 as a good reason to leave his position as a senior physicist and principal engineer at Creo Inc, adds to his story too.

john2

In terms of startup stories and basement science experiments (actually an old garage on Bowen Island, BC), it doesn’t get much better than this. Laberge shared how he started it all with a seed round from family, friends and the federal government, to build the first prototype.

It was about the size of your kitchen stove. The key thing was that he managed to make something happen with the plasma reactions, as “the sensors detected excess neutrons, suggesting at least a few hydrogen atoms had fused.”

He only somewhat jokingly called them “my marketing neutrons.”

This is a David versus Goliath story too, as Laberge pointed out a variety of other Fusion projects are being worked on around the globe. Those projects also have considerably more money behind them, but a boatload of cash doesn’t always buy a winner, as Maple Leaf fans only know too well.

The challenge with fusion power, and the reason we don’t yet have it, is rooted in creating a system where less energy goes in than the amount of energy it generates. The science aside, there’s also the business considerations of building such a reactor to scale, and getting the energy onto the grid to actually power our neighborhoods. It’s about transcending scientific theory into reality, and delivering a clean energy solution that’s only pennies per kilowatt-hour.

I’ve toured General Fusion and seen the prototype reactor. Needless to say, very complex engineering is needed to solve a very complicated science experiment. Rather that trying to describe how the technology works, it best to watch Dr. Laberge’s TED talk, or read Michael McCullough’s feature in Canadian Business.

To date they’ve raised in the neighborhood of $50 million. It’s worth noting Amazon founder Jeff Bezos venture capital group, Bezos Expeditions, is an investor. I was told that Bezos has a keen personal interest in the company.

There was nothing “pie-in-the-sky” about Laberge’s vision of the future. Progress is being made, but the day our cities will be powered by the sun’s fuel is still at least 10 years and billions of dollars away.

john4

*Disclaimer – I serve as a member of the Telus Science World Equity Giving Committee.

This article originally appeared in BetaKit

PrintToPeers Software is Adding Teeth to 3D Printing Hardware

Group Photo

Talk about serendipity. Two guys who don’t know each other move into the same Calgary coworking space discover they’ve been working on the same idea, over the same amount of time.

The pair, Tom Bielecki and Kaz Walker along with James Thorne are the cofounders of PrintToPeer, and now call Vancouver home. They’ve been part of  GrowLab‘s most recent cohort.

PrintToPeer is a web platform and printer driver that simplifies the 3D printing process. They envisioned the AirBnB for 3D printing. “Our whole idea was around accessibility to 3D printing. The problem was that we had 3D printers and but it was hard for people to find us,” said Bielecki. “We wanted to build this network of discoverability, where people could easily order parts from us, or we could print other projects for them.”

Doing some deeper market validation they found upwards of 30 similar businesses, but none of them were “making the printing process easier by sending the file directly to the machine” according to Bielecki. “Once you actually send that file to someone, they still have to go through this very complicated process to print off the object,” he added. “It’s because there was no networking. You couldn’t send it from the network to the 3D printer.”

SharingThe printing process for objects is nothing like printing that .pdf file document off your laptop. Many trees would be saved if we had to use three different software applications, and go through hundreds of settings to print a document. Printing objects is a complicated process. “You have to understand the actual physical properties of the plastic that the printer is extruding. All of the settings need to be tweaked based on your own hardware, and based on the different plastic being used,” said Bielecki.

The vision for 3D printing is about breaking down the barrier from idea to product, but today it’s almost the exact opposite, said the cofounder. “You pretty much have to be a physicist or an engineer to create a functional and useable finished product. By adding a network and easy user interface to the printer, we knew that we could deliver a simpler online workflow.”

It all about making it easier for the innovator to use this technology. Seeing it as more than an application for the basement hobbyist, they’re thinking back to how the ethernet made networking office printers possible. PrintToPeer is looking at how businesses, schools, and even new business models will be able to leverage the capabilities of the networked 3D printer. “Still being a scarce and shared resource, there needs to be an easier way to open up access to what this technology is capable of” said Bielecki.

He thinks “there are absolutely huge possibilities when you network 3D printers with a common API.” The hardware itself is quickly becoming commoditized, meaning the space is just as quickly becoming even more software centric.

iPad-screen_camera_smallLooking into the future, Bielecki sees important changes for rapid prototyping. “We see this opportunity for hardware startups and creators of other physical products to bring consumers into the product development cycle. With connected printers it will be possible to A/B test products. This creates a whole new feedback loop of people being able to confirm things like a products fit, form and function. I see being able to iterate on hardware products in an agile process, just like the way software engineers have valued for a couple of decades.”

What has him most excited is “having one design file and being able to print it in a whole array of different materials and qualities. It will expand my choices beyond just what’s on a store shelf. I can choose whether something is simple and prints in two hour, or more complex that will take 10 hours to print.”

PrintToPeer is launching an initiative to build a common OS for 3D printers,  and enjoyed a successful Indiegogo campaign to help move the effort forward. If 3D printing has your attention, this is something designed for a beginner, and configured for a pro. The startup is making the print process as seamless as possible so that your print jobs will work on the first try.

This story was originally published on BetaKit