Technology

Kiss Your Right to Communicate Freely Goodbye

IMG_3882

“To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven; the same key opens the gates of hell.” – As told to Richard Feynman (Theoretical physicist) by a Buddhist monk.

The search query Bill C-51, leaves me wondering how quickly the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) or the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) will come to know about my curiosity. Other than that simple search term what else do they know, or what else do they think they know? What more can they find out about my interest in the subject?

IMG_3907Like thousands of other Canadians, by attending a weekend rally that was vociferously against the attempt to pass this omnibus bill, I’ve knowingly exposed myself even further to the mechanisms of State surveillance. I’ve been surveilled without context. It’s just like searching the internet is now an act of being surveilled without context.

Think back in history, even before surreptitiously cracking a wax sealed envelope and peaking into its contents, communication technology and surveillance have long been strange bedfellows.

Ultimately the mechanisms of State surveillance are rooted in the manipulation of, and projection of power.  “The increased power of officials is an inevitable result of the greater degree of organization that scientific technique {communications technologies} brings about. It has the drawback that is apt to be irresponsible, behind-the-scenes, power, like that of Emperors’ eunuchs and the Kings’ mistresses in former times. To discover ways of controlling it is one of the most important political problems of our times” – Bertrand Russell (The Impact of Science on Society – 1953)

This “Act (Bill C-51) that may be cited as the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015” is being fast tracked to becoming (in it’s own words),  “An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts.”  This is a significant legislative overhaul. This will make us no safer nor more secure tomorrow that we already are today. This is nothing more than a security services power grab.

Bill C-51 is full of murky definitions and offers a troublingly broad definition of what constitutes “threats to the security of Canada.” According to our Prime Minister’s hyperbole ““Jihadist terrorism is not a future possibility, it is a present reality,” Harper said at the announcement. “It seeks to harm us here in Canada, in our cities and in our neighbourhoods through horrific acts.”

Yet, let’s look for these sources of terror. This ominous spectre of terror that’s lurking in shadowy corners and looming over our country, the terrorist threat we all need to fear according to CSIS, is the one that’s “emanating from Al-Qaeda-inspired extremism… Despite recent successful operations targeting Al-Qaeda Core, the Service continues to see support for AQ causes in Canada. Of particular significance is the above-mentioned investigation into an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked plot to attack a train in Southern Ontario, which led to the arrest of two individuals in April 2013.” It’s important noting that this lone terrorist plot was foiled using today’s current surveillance methods and within today’s legislative framework.

I accept that Google, Facebook, and Apple possess a potential treasure trove data points about me. I can accept what these corporations know about me because they can’t bankrupt me; they can’t incarcerate me; they can’t potentially ruin my life. The state can.

I’m not keen on feeling powerless to defend myself against the mechanisms of our State surveillance and security authorities. What does the Canadian State surveillance and security system know about me right now? It’s haunting to think that a faceless and nameless bureaucrat can take shards and fragments of information, of metadata and create a story that’s not mine. The state can create their own narrative for each of us. One day we might find ourselves no longer free to create and communicate our own narrative.IMG_3902

This story of safety, security, and terrorism is supposed to be about trusting our government. We’re supposed to believe that giving up more freedom and privacy is good for us. How is the imposition of self-censorship good for us? Do I have to consider how framing a dissenting perspective about the federal government could be taken out of context? Can my suggesting that we have a government that’s displayed total lack of environmental stewardship while schilling our natural resources to interests that best suit a myopic and greedy fiscal agenda, be potentially deemed a “threat to the security of Canada?”

IMG_3915As well, this state abuse of communications technology could further curtail our freedom of movement. The no-fly list is nothing new, but under the new version of this law authorities will be permitted to use undisclosed secret evidence against suspects. Again we’ll be left powerless to defend ourselves.

The internet is a door that opens two ways. While we can see a world of good and evil, we also have to allow for the reality that this door also lets both walk through it too. One of those evils should not be our own supposedly democratically elected government. Echoing Edward Snowden, government needs to recalibrate it’s relationship with us. That relationship can not be defined as those ruling the ruled; it must be one that’s between the electorate and the elected. Bill C-51 is about being ruled. It’s the real looming spectre of terror that’s in our midst today.

“There can be no doubt that behind all the pronouncements of this court, and in my case, behind the arrest and today’s inquiry, there exists an extensive organization […] And the purpose of this extensive organization, gentlemen? It consists of arresting innocent people and introducing senseless proceedings against them, which for the most part, as in my case, go nowhere. Given the senselessness of the whole affair, how could the bureaucracy avoid becoming entirely corrupt?” (Kafka – The Trial)

Advertisements

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

Urthecast

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.

john

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.

unnamed-1

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

#NoFilters. Social Media, Representation and Responsibility

No filters

It’s time we stop prefixing media with the word “social.” It’s media. It’s also a free-for-all, that’s both filtered and unfiltered. Everyone with an internet connection has access to the platforms and ability to use the applications of their choosing. Everyone is free to participate, create and communicate.

Everyday at BetaKit we get to celebrate, question, and sometimes deride, technology. Thinking about, talking with, and writing stories about the people behind the technologies empowering us to communicate in ways unimaginable even 10 years ago is an opportunity I’m grateful for.

For instance, it’s staggering to consider that we’re uploading and sharing over 1.8 billion photos each day according to KPCB analyst Mary Meeker’s 2014 Internet Trends report (see slide #62). How tall would that stack of polaroids be?

Technology is more pervasive than ever. There’s a deluge of stories to share and sift through, and no shortage of shiny new gadgets to communicate or consume media with. Yet everyday I find myself thinking more about the meaning of representation. I ask myself about what representation means with respect to context; or how does representation come into play in terms of my understanding the relationship between an object or a subject. Most importantly, I think about how representation comes with responsibility.

It’s worth remembering, representation is the use of signs that stand in for and take the place of something else. It is through representation that people organize the world and reality through the act of naming its elements. Signs are arranged in order to form semantic constructions and express relations.”

Generate Kris Krug

Images coming from the filtering app Generate jumped off my Facebook feed one day. It was Galiano Island photographer and entrepreneur Kris Krug’s creative touch applied to TEDxVancouver that pushed me to thinking more the relationship between technology filters, representation, and responsibility.

Is the representation and therefore our relationship or understanding of a person, a group of people, a place or thing, impacted by the filters we apply to any medium – be it visually, through our choice of words, or the soundscapes we create?

Any images, words or sounds we digitize and submit to the public domain puts us in the position as both a creator and communicator. As a creator and communicator what is your responsibility? It’s one thing to misrepresent yourself, but it’s altogether another issue when you’re misrepresenting the world around you.

Using filters, or changing the appearance of an image is nothing new. The history of photography and film is one of alteration through development techniques, and using different materials such as paper and chemicals. The difference between then and now is cost and accessibility. Then, you had to be a professional or well-heeled amateur to own the equipment. I wonder if photographers like Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, or a National Geographic contributor like Jim Brandenburg would use #nofilter?

Think about it, photoshopped is now an adjective, but photoshop the application is barely 25 years old. As well, it originally cost $1000.00. Today we have sub ten dollar to free photo apps at the disposal of everyone carrying a smartphone. It was overwhelming scrolling through the app store at the number of photo-filtering apps; I quit counting at 35.

Instagram has over 200 million users, and you can apply filters to pictures with the mobile Facebook, Twitter, and native iOS camera app. So mainstream they’re the source of some great humour like this Oatmeal cartoon, and this YouTube video.

All joking aside, it’s important to think about representation as related to what we see. Consider the intent of what’s being created and communicated. Is there a relationship between representation and some form of truth and reality? Does the use of a filter make that person an agent of change? Does it potentially alter our relationship or sense of reality?

Generate Kinder Morgan Protest

Is some regards the filtering of a visual experience can be adding commentary to our reality. Are we filtering an angst or dissatisfaction with reality? Blurring the lines of reality? Could we also be representing a filtered sense of joy, marvel, or perspective of what could be better or more beautiful?

Science is largely about the study of objects, whereas much of what’s populating our media feeds are people, places, events, food, and funny animal tricks. I’m all for sharing the subjects of our interest, desire, and love. I’m all for using filters as a form of commentary or creativity.

When there’s a lack of rigour and thought behind what’s being represented, it then becomes a potential act of objectification. Simply put, our world needs less objectification. It’s at the root of so much tension, misunderstanding and anxiety that pollutes our conversations and narratives.

The tools of communication might be free and we’re all free to use them, but it shouldn’t mean we’re free use them free of responsibility. It’s worth pausing and asking “why am I thinking this, why am I saying it,  or why am I seeing it this way?” before pressing submit and post.

“How strange painting is, it delights us with representations of objects that are not pleasing in themselves!”
– Eugene Delacroix

Photographs courtesy of Kris Krug.

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

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

image

“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

tumblr_n3032ojRNT1tw9lkio1_250

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.”

YourNucleus

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”

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 4.02.19 PM

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.

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 4.05.51 PM

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.”

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 4.11.25 PM

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.”

Screen shot 2014-04-03 at 4.08.54 PM

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

rdi

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.

vision

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

Stewart Butterfield

 

 

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.”

huge-slack-logo-on-white

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.

apps-banner.v1391019292

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

Hootsuite-7922

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.

DSC_0744

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.”

hootsuite-lobby

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.

Charles Montgomery, Talks Technology and the Happy City: Part II

Charles Montgomery I

It was thinking about the relationship between people (individually and collectively) our space, and built environments that motivated this conversation with Happy City author Charles Montgomery. It’s envisioning a post-combustion engine, congestion free, non- pollutant spewing transportation grid. It’s future where people not cars claim primacy to the urban experience. This is an idea worth turning into action.

Borrowing lessons from the ancient world, he writes about how Athens captures a human-centric approach to design. “The city was more than a machine for delivering everyday needs; it was a concept that bound together Athenian culture, politics, mores, and history… Anyone who did not concern himself with public life was himself less than whole” (p.19).

Looking at our 20th century car-centric design thinking and urban planning, the detrimental societal and environmental effects are on full display. There’s nothing social about meltdowns in gridlock. There’s also nothing sustainable about a melting planet.

Asked about a future for the self-driving car, and the potential that a vehicle will simply become a node on a distributed transportation grid, Montgomery thought “it’s an exciting possibility.” He added, “because of the errors, the catastrophe of modernist city planning throughout the 20th century that many existing neighborhoods, particularly on the fringes of cities simply can not support public transit.” Something that simply looks like a human driving an expensive automated bus isn’t going to improve a system of infrastructure built for yesterday.

“At the same time I think that the tech fetishes out there fail to see that traffic and congestion are a natural occurrence in vibrant thriving cities,” he pointed out. In other words, having driverless cars is not going to solve the problem of congestion. Montgomery said “as along as individuals insist on traveling alone in their vehicles whether they are driving or a computer is driving, they’re going to get stuck in traffic.”

He thinks, “driverless cars will be useful, even as part of the public transit system in helping people in dispersed areas access say transit nodes or suburban villages so they can reach high quality, high status shared transportation. Ultimately, it still doesn’t solve the problem of squeezing all of these separate vehicles into the limited space in your thriving central city.”

He reported being impressed with Arlington Virginia as a city that’s creating happier experiences. Saying “they are converting boring, blank, horrid, what some people call car sewers into livable neighborhoods. The subway nodes are surrounded by low and mid-rise with building of shops and services and bars and fun with great sidewalk.”

More impressively, Arlington’s transit authority has dozens of people working on transportation demand management. Montgomery said, “what this means is engaging in the good work of changing hearts and minds.  When we think of cities, movement and technology we keep looking for some holy grail that’s going the fix the problems, when really the biggest issue around transportation is in the firing of our own neurons.”

He doesn’t hesitate saying “we habitually and predictably get it wrong when making decisions about our own happiness about maximizing utility. We all do this everyday in making decision about how to move.”

Public health experts and psychologists are doing robust studies on how moving affects life happiness. According to him, what they’ve found out is “that when people switch from driving their cars to active transportation like walking, biking and even taking transit they get happier. This was a shocker, because most people report in surveys that they don’t like taking transit, and that they feel more fear, rage and sadness than in any other mode.”

We need to envision a system of movement. “It’s a system of life choices that occurs whenever individuals decide to move in a different way, so a transit journey or transit lifestyle isn’t just about getting on a bus. It’s about walking through your neighborhood, and the getting on a bus, and then walking through another neighborhood,” he pointed out.

Coming back to Arlington, “what their commuter services is doing is hacking the minds of commuters in their town. Simply by not showing them data but showing them new stories about how peoples lives are changing when they decide to move differently, that’s all.”

Montgomery said they’re succeeding. “More and more people are choosing to move differently, what that means in Arlington is even though they have tens of thousands of people moving to these new transit neighborhoods there are no more cars on the road. Life gets easier and cheaper for everyone, and the municipality ends up paying less for road improvements.”

TEDxVancouver Signage - JonathanEvans

As we both call Vancouver home, I had to ask his thoughts about it’s place on the Happy City continuum. “You can see we’re doing many things right,” he offered. “Those of us who are lucky enough to own here get to drink from that sweet fountain. But, it’s false to rate a cities happiness simply on questions of livability. You also have to ask yourself the question of equity, of fairness and the question is really very simple; is your city really happy if most people can’t afford to live there?”

According to Montgomery this is where the city has failed. “We’ve failed to anticipate and deal with the effects that the global economy would have our city and on our lives. I’m talking about affordable housing. The big question for Vancouver is not how we can be greener, but how can we extend the riches of city life to more people who want to live here and to the people who already live here and are being pushed out.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to write about technology and to share stories about the dynamic people making Vancouver a thriving community. But I also 100% agree with Montgomery when he says “guess what, technology is not going to solve that problem. It means finding new forms of tenure. New ways of owning property that makes it less attractive to speculative buyers, and it means finding new ways of adding supply in our neighborhoods. The kinds of housing supply that again aren’t attractive to speculative buyers. The solution to that problem is policy.”

Technology can be enabling, engaging, and empowering, but will accomplish none of this if it’s not designed for people first. The machine, it’s bits and bites are soulless. More than ever we need to keep humanity front and center in our conversations about technology.

“Whatever creates or increases happiness or some part of happiness, we ought to do; whatever destroys or hampers happiness, or gives rise to its opposite, we ought not to do.” Aristotle, Rhetoric

This story was originally published in BetaKit

Charles Montgomery, Talks Technology and the Happy City: Part I

Charles Montgomery -JonathanEvans

Massive urbanization on a global scale is inescapable. It’s not just a trend, it’s happening. Some research suggests that by 2210 nearly 87 percent of the worlds population will live in a city. This future will undoudtedly highlight both the best and worst of humanity. I don’t harbour visions of the Blade Runner like dystopian future. With meaningful policy, purposeful planning, and the infusion of humanity into technology, I’m hopeful of seeing our collective best.

I’ve written about topics like the connected city and urban mobility. It was a significant consideration for the TEDxVancouver team to arrange a conversation with Charles Montgomery. Reading Happy City was a seminal experience. Montgomery works with the BMW Guggenheim Lab, the Museum of Vancouver and other institutions. He creates experiments that challenge us to see our cities—and ourselves—in entirely new ways.

Asked if a city can be happy with technology attempting to make it smarter? “An interesting question” he suggested. “I’d turn it around. I think we need to be asking how is the smarter city going to make us happier? How can it? It may not always.”

Montgomery offered that “there’s a relationship between the use of information and technology in urban systems that may make our lives a little easier. But I’d like to also talk about limitations.”

Mobility’s importance starts the smarter cities conversation. Considering public transit, Montgomery commented that some of the greatest anxiety for transit users involves a sense of uncertainty. “If you don’t know when your bus or train is coming and if you don’t know about making connections, stress levels spike.”

Reducing this stress on shared transit systems isn’t rocket science. This is where information and technology can play a key role. “Just by give people better information make a huge difference,” he said. “When institutions curate more information for customers, doing things a simple as including information or light boards at train and bus stations telling you when the next bus is coming is found to decrease stress.” People feel more in control just having the perception of a shorter wait time.

He talked about the growing number of jurisdictions offering open data. This is allowing app developers the chance work with around transportation systems to give people the information they want in their own pocket. As a Radar user for the Vancouver transit system, he said, “it’s terrific. It shows me where my buses are. It’s not about projected arrival times, I find cognitively that it’s more reassuring to see where the bus is.”

The open data movement can also be empowering for people who just need to get around town. Montgomery sees “it’s powerful for both transit and sharing networks like ZipCar and Car2Go.” He added a unique take on Car2Go, likening it to recycling a pop bottle. Find a car with an app, pick it up, use it, and toss it (leave it curbside). “I think our mobile technologies are essentially enabling these new systems of sharing that are making us more free in cities,” he says.

But he highlighted an important limitation, musing that “we have so far to go.” Recounting a conversation with a leader of the Paris bike sharing program who said, “we know we need to shrink our environmental footprint, and the good news is that it can actually make our lives easier.” He kept returning to this theme of freedom, “what we want is to be free, to move unencumbered through our cities” he said this without mentioning any specific technology or specific mode of movement.

There was a stated desire that more and more Parisians, “want to leave the front door, and want to reach a destination using any mode they please without having to think about it.” Montgomery said further that “he suggested the problem with the old fashioned model of mobility is that you need to own a thing, typically an expensive thing like a car or even a bike. It’s useful for only a few minutes or up to a couple of hours per day, and the rest of the time you have to worry about maintaining it, storing it, and even protecting it.”

The wondrous thing about the Velib bike sharing system in Paris is that it brought a new kind of freedom. A freedom from having to own things, which sounds like Socialism to “us”, but he was talking about valuing experience more that stuff. And guess what, the psychologists and behavioural economists are now telling us that experience is the key to happiness.”

Touching on Aristotle’s notion of Eudaimonia he offered that, “happiness is feeling empowered to reach your full potential. So the question is, how can our cities help us get there? How can they empower us so that we can take on the great challenges of everyday life, and thrive?”

There are current technological limitations relating to shared mobility supply, demand, logistics and fulfillment. Montgomery points out, “in some ways open data and mobile technologies are helping us get there, however I don’t think we can detach ourselves from the realities of the material world. By that I mean, as wondrous as a bike share system or a system like Car2Go is, all you have to do is look at your bike share or car share app to see that at certain times of day there are no vehicles in your neighborhood. They all disappear in the morning, and they all come back at night. So this tells us all the data in the world is not going to fix the issues arising from urban design.”

He talks about intensifying the mix of uses right across the city. “Some people might not like the sounds of this, but if I had more offices, or auto body shops near my house I would have more cars available. And I think the smarter city of the future is necessarily a city of fine grain and mixed uses”

The self-driving car, plus interesting examples of what the cities of Arlington VA, and Vancouver, BC are doing highlight Part II of our conversation.

“It’s impossible to separate the life and design of a city from the attempt to understand happiness, to experience it, and to build it for society.”Charles Montgomery, Happy City

This story was originally published in BetaKit