Startup

The Angel, The Horse, The Hardware

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Coming out of darkness, I’m reaching for my shades. Those first morning rays are blinding. Walking towards the railing, I’m hearing two distinct rhythms. Hoofbeats. There’s the easy cantor coming from the training area, that’s gradually getting drowned out by a full gallop. Thundering. Louder, and louder as I get closer to the track. Hoofbeats. My heartbeat. What a rush. Dawn. The track. The daily unexpected.

I witnessed it, heard and absorbed each note. A brutal symphony.  An execution. Was actually more of a choreography as Flight Valkyrie wasn’t pouring over this audience. Yet it was silence searing my brain. Time stopped. Space frozen. Sensationless. No undoing this decision. Senseless.

It was draining. Sad really. The shot still ringing, now barely audible. It was like all I could see that moment was a bluish plumage slowing wafting from the barrel. Instantly no heartbeat. Legs rubberized. Strength and grace, power and beauty is hitting the ground like a pallet of bricks falling from a truck. Half his face covered in mud. Eye’s nostrils and mouth coated with that damp clay like muck clinging to the last moisture of life. Life seemingly drains in slo-motion. Peckinpah like.

Before the bullet crushes through his skull forever short circuiting the future, those eyes, they give me a long lasting look. Deep dark Guinness like, eyes of depth seemingly as big as LP’s glare right through me. He had no idea. Because behind his wish of pastures and playfulness would be nothingness. You’d think with a city full self driving cars, a grid powered by the sun, and diabetes being cured, we’d have come further. A bullet between the eyes. Still fucking savages.

So much potential. But breaking that bone, breaking it like that, no collision no contact no race, one hoof out of rhythm, off the pace… snap! That sickening snap. In a split second it was reverberating in my ears. Watching through my binoculars from the other side of the track. It was like seeing the whole scene unfold in super slo-motion. Seeing him careen out of control, crashing into the turf, and sending poor Alejandro from the saddle to another area code… it was all I could do to keep from puking.

7016763947_0e2893b1fd_oThat snap, that fucking snap tears through me. Just like tearing through the sound barrier, that snap moves like a missile. It’s a missile that blows up a racing career never before it gets to the gate. In a nano-blink it’s done. His last training run. His last lap before his first race.

Thoroughbreds die everyday. At least that’s what I tell myself. Our small team just matter-of-factly put the end to his life. Cold and efficient in execution. It’s the only way the run a business. But I still catch myself thinking that we’ll never get that rush of winning by a nose. A boiling stinking nondescript vat, not the winner’s circle waits for him. Hell, even taking up the rear he’d still get a bucket of oats and bath.

Youth wasted. But I catch myself at that ledge of self-pity. Luck is a continuum, not a one time stroke. Look at his papers, look at his blood-line, look at his breeder, look at the amazing price we bought him for. Each hoof beat dripped of luck. Somehow the best before date was missing. Shit. Shit. Shit!

Fuck it. Sucks, but there’s always another horse, another business, and other flesh to bet on. I don’t want to see a 1000 pounds of investment and potential hauled away anytime soon.  Who am I kidding? There’s another tow truck just around the corner. I just don’t know which corner.

Just like the track, investing in tech startups finds me watching carcasses get hauled away too. Time to head off to my other office, and my other life. No Angel label. It’s not me, just how some choose to see me. While getting the ring kissed seems good for the ego, I’m still kind of just pissing my money away. Worse, I can’t even shoot them when they break down. Fucking shame at times. Especially when you start seeing their real qualities (actually lack of) once they cash that cheque.

Still, my job is better than so many other options. Who’ll shoot me when I break a leg climbing the corporate ladder. Actually some weasel would probably shoot me, and then break it while climbing over my corpse, while on his path to the corner office and underground parking spot.

He’s late. My coffee’s empty. Two strikes. How not to win over your potential lead check. I like the kid, but he’s always got an excuse. If he pulls out “the dog ate my USB with today’s deck”, I’ll be pulling out. Simple. Besides, after the morning track debacle, youthful potential doesn’t have me all that excited.

His last gaze still sears through my minds-eye. He was doing what he loved, going flat out doing what he knew best. Full tilt. Fatal misstep, but no excuses. Of course he never signed up for a shot at the crown. Sure as shit didn’t sign up to get shot. Period. For him, unrealized potential was the trainer being short an apple or two after a good morning cantor.

No point in getting sentimental, the horse is gone. This morning is gone. No point in waiting for another wantapreneur. Talk, talk, talk, pitch, pitch, pitch. Look the part. It’s like being something rather than actually doing something. I’m packing up my stuff , and letting out this big sigh of exasperation.

Guess it wasn’t as under my breath as I’d thought.

“Excuse me. Hope my timing isn’t completely off, is it okay asking if you’re…” Another occasional downside of being known, it’s being known and managing these random encounters. It’s not like I was rushed, I was just pissy and cut the person off. “Yes, I’m that guy. What do you want?”

I stepped back. Had to collect myself. Who’s this? She’s a little more mature than most people who choose to spend time working here. Even with a little more grey hair than me. Not trying to cover that earned wisdom? I’m sure I’ve seen her quietly grinding away here before. Never loud, never holding court, never slinging bull shit. When I did notice her in a meeting, while jovial she’s reserved, mannered and on-point. Seemed like someone hell bent on getting shit done.

“I’m sorry, but it’s like someone pissed in my Cornflakes this morning. Let’s start over. Cool cane by the way.” Shaking her hand, she firmly introduces herself as Joan, and says she’s curious to learn more about a couple of my portfolio companies. More so, she’s curious how a material sciences guy finds working with reality twisting tech toys aligns with solving big real world problems. She points out the obvious disconnect in my life.

Interesting gal. No fear. Asks tough fucking questions too. Ones I’ve been asking myself. It’s not like we’ve got a talent pool in this town that’s at the tip of the tech spear. Sometimes you hope they’ve got the runway and the savvy to shift course quickly and insightfully. amor-church-cupid-4339

Not every exit has to be massive. Getting behind the few people who’ve done it two or three times over the last 15-16 years is preferable. People with the money lined up after them. The right people, doing the right tech, at the right time are hard to find. Still, you listen to so many pitches at times it’s mind numbing. It’s like Charlie Brown’s teacher droning on… “wawawawawa”, and hearing that it’s a robotic AI for this or encryption program for that.

The overnight success myth still permeates. In fact, as I look up from the new cup of coffee Joan puts in front of me it’s Mr. No Show now turning into Mr. Stupid Late. I look at my cuff, no text, no email, no missed call. Just a few specks of horse blood, Damn! Gross how’d I miss that.

Rolling up my sleeve I hear from across the room, “sorry dude, I couldn’t get a sitter for my girls dog. She’s expensive and has serious anxiety issues.” Which one I think, the girl or the dog? With this guy, has to be both.

Before he can barge in, back pack, foamy and massively tall beverage, doggy kennel, and one of those obnoxious, yappy, well groomed and bejewelled toy dogs, I hold up my hand, and say nothing. The look I fire his way should be enough for him to get the message. Stop, do not pass go, you’re not getting a check. In fact, just fuck off.

Not this guy. Sees persistence as one of his strong qualities. He’s yapping. The dog’s yapping. If I hear “sorry dude” one more time. So irritating. So obnoxious. This is what it feels like to have an aneurism.

Deep, deep breath. I lift my ass off the chair, look down with my eyes burning right through him. He had to feel it, the way he started squirming. He and the dog both shut up. In that moment of peace, I simply said “we’re not meeting now; we’re not meeting tomorrow; in fact we’re not meeting… ever. We’re done. Why would I get behind a Tinder for dogs app, when you’re here with that mutt?  If it doesn’t work for you in spite of all those KPI’s you brag about, it sure as shit doesn’t work for me.”

No big scene, just a really long face. The dog took care of the tail between the legs moment. Off he skulked. What was I thinking? Him. An app. I don’t even like fucking dogs. Am I slipping? Not even lunch. I’m 0 for 2, with a headache and indigestion. I pause, imagining the voice bubble popping up; “So Joan, what do you think of me now?”

“I’m so sorry Joan. Still some time to chat?”

I’d gotten this far, she’d grabbed my attention. Might as well see where the conversation goes.

“May I grab you a fresh one? and could you please excuse me for a couple of minutes.”

She smiled and nodded yes.Startup Stock Photos

Relieved, I went for relief. The bathroom refuge. Empty bladder. Cold water on the face. Clear head. Composed, and ready for Joan’s story. A bit of adult conversation would be good. It’s been lacking lately.

Her iSkin lay flat on the table. Left hand caressing the coffee cup, and looking over what seemingly looked like complex chemistry formulas, Joan looked up. I locked into the depth of her dark eyes, while she was slowly cracking one of those grins that said, “I get it.” This day just exponentially improved.

Rolling up her device, she wrapped it around her wrist, noted the time and gestured it into sleep mode. Leaning back with the steaming cup approaching her lips, she asked my thoughts on what’s next for multiferroic nano-composite films. She catches me by surprise again. Questions I’m not use to getting, and answers I’m not used to coming with lately.

Anyhow, at least I could suggest that type of nano-composite film had done a great job of helping displace smart phones, watches, and eyewear. It’s been liberating, and I suggested that I liked the way she wears her new device. Saying I usually like mine on the cuff too.

“What’s your story Joan? All this time hanging out in the same space but this is the first we talk.”

“The timing is right. Idle chatter. Small talk. Wasting time doesn’t work for me. So why put that crap on someone else.”

Now she’s got my attention. Leaning in. Focused. “I get the sense you’re not pitching me a VR porn game or AR version of some popular casino game. You do know that you’re in a material sciences wasteland.”

Silence. As I’m reaching for my coffee she says two reasons. She’s a healthcare tourist. Not only has it been a 16 months wait to see one the the worlds best orthopaedic surgeons, but he’s also willing to let her be the first test subject.

This is where reason number two comes in, and where the conversation moves from social and curious to business.

“I want you to be my lead investor.”

Joan’s so calm, cool and unwavering.

“This place might be the back water of material sciences, but you’re here. And you’re no fucking amateur. You’re biggest win might be fifteen years behind you, but you’ll want to drop all that pithy shit clogging up your portfolio. How about financing the way our bones and bodies will heal themselves tomorrow?”

“I’ve been chin deep in generative design, nanoparticles and synthetic biology for the last 20 years. I know you’ll get what I’m doing, because you were in early. You figured out a killer use case and delivered a commercially viable product. What you did yesterday, still matter todays.”

Interesting that she noted how sometimes the lifestyle we choose dictates some of the business we can do. I live here for the place, scenery, activities, pace and climate, not world class R&D labs and talent. But it also means that I’m not at the top of my game. Maybe too many hobbies?

“I’ve been around too many researchers, too many academics, too many people who couldn’t get something to market even if it meant saving us from a zombie apocalypse. Peer reviewed journal citations matter more than creating a meaningful product and a valuable business.” Joan’s racing away from that world view.

She asked how it was for me coming back from knee replacement surgery? I caught my jaw going slack. Slack for just a moment. The way she asked the question with that genuine sense of care and empathy hit a chord. What really resonated was the fact she knew I’d had it done. She’d done some digging. Talk about making the fucking massive first impression.

I didn’t even know what she’s selling me, but I feel a very faint itch coming from my check book.

The story started connecting as Joan went on, “having my left hip replaced five years ago, I really didn’t take it seriously. While I paid for my lack of discipline with a horrible recovery, it actually was the catalyst the pushed me out of the Ivory Tower lab and into developing Nanosteozine.” WW92378

Simple idea, but a bitch to deliver. Joan goes on. The body often isn’t fond of new materials; big-Pharma and the medical device industry isn’t fond is new materials that aren’t theirs; doctors often aren’t fond of new materials; regulators often just don’t like anything new period. Fast paced this space isn’t. Many shit piles to step in, lot’s of big feet ready to step on you. Squish the living shit out of you.

She’s not telling me anything new. All really big reasons I’m out of that game. It’s exhausting. Yes all startups are hard. But what’s in front of her is really fucking hard. At least she’s not totally delusional. Good that’s she’s coming at the problem having lived it. Living with pain is a hidden motivator very few can tap into. Fighting through pain. Differentiator.

Most of us know fear. But real, excruciating physical pain, chronic agony. That’s the real test of character. No excuses. Get into it. Being in the game everyday. It will wear you out.

I’d lost track of time. I’m still listening, but my stomach reminds me it’s time to eat. Wonder if Joan wants to join me?

After agreeing there’s time for lunch, we also agree to move the conversation from superficial to something substantive. Her hip, my knee we know the pre-op to post-op trajectory is long (up to 18 months) arduous, painful, and needs more self-discipline than ever imagined. She was honest saying she failed at getting herself in optimum shape the first time around, No core strength, no stamina (both physical and mental), there was no strengthening of the muscles around the hip. Pre-op pain made for an easy excuse. It got easier to do less and less especially when the actual surgically date got closer and closer.

Connecting with Joan’s motivation was easy after she said, “my physiotherapist got to the point of telling me it was a waste of her time and mine if I wasn’t going to at least do the basic stretching exercises. I can’t help you if you can’t help yourself. You’ll regret it after surgery. At the door she said, don’t bother coming back. Ever.”

It’s a few weeks of hell after surgery. I’ll never forget just how much time and space were twisted. It was a cocktail of drugs. There’s drugs for pain, nausea, constipation, and sleep. There’s an array of bags hanging from the IV. It’s like a spindly Christmas tree hooked up to my left arm. Lit up by the patient controlled drug dispenser delivering a hit of joy every 8-10 minutes when you hit that button. The magic button always at hand. Reality of the moment was whatever I conjured up. Whatever I dreamed to be true. It was. 8116093796_e6b4072f6b_z

Every few hours someone comes around with a mini dixie-cup full of pills. For two days visitors were nice, but they we a lot like alien encounters too. Too much probing, and not enough quiet observing. For two days I was floating around a very, very disconnected place. Out of touch with the gravity of what they’ve done you. Out of touch with gravity itself.

Pain meds only masked feeling bad or having bad feelings. You go from joint pain to feeling no pain in that joint, but it then turns into massive fucking pain all around the joint. Everything that made sense, seemed normal and straightforward flies out the window the minute the anesthesia starts wearing off.

Everything’s straight fucked up the moment you thaw out. Breathing, thinking, hearing, seeing, feeling, pissing, shitting, walking. It’s all fucked up. Some for hours, some for days, and some for a few weeks. Fucked up. It’s like describing running your startup to someone who’s never done it. They’ll never get it.

The plan is to be taking the healing process to warp speed. Joan wasn’t wasting her time on trying to come to market with a 10x solution. Healing bones at a speed of downloading 100 hi-def movies in under a second. Ridiculous rehab results. I’d get behind that. Still, I needed way more.

She’d done an amazing job prototyping the product. With the state of 3D printing biologicals, tissues, and materials she walked through the IP, the process and being able to trial Nanosteozine on “real” human tissue instead of real humans. Talk about blowing up the arthritic pace of clinical testing.

“So what next?”

She glances at her wrist, and says “my next appointment. Meet at your office tomorrow at 9:00am? You’ll have a term sheet ready?” Shakes my hand.

Holy shit. Self-assured. Understatement of the day. Pausing to check my calendar, I notice out of the corner of my eye she’s collapsing her cane and tucking it away in her bag.

“Sure. 9:00am works. I’ll share a term sheet with you before end of business today.”

She’s out of the chair, and heading to the doors. The bright light’s pouring in and obscures her into only an outline, one of striking elegance. What the fuck, no limp! All I could notice was a swagger. She had this swagger like a Kentucky Derby winner.

I piped up after her, “by the way, great job and when’s your surgery?”

She turned, her head glancing over her shoulder just enough that I could just make out her grin and just make out her lips slowly form the word, “yesterday”. That word, it’s sound ripped through the air, and through my skull like this mornings bullet. I shuttered. The William Tell Overture strained in the background. Imagined the horse. That senseless moment. Eyes swelled. The tears ran.

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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

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.”

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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

A River of Data Flows Through Vancouver’s Aquatic Informatics

River

Having the “up to my neck” in it feeling is common place for many CEOs. For Aquatic Informatics‘ CEO Ed Quilty, his story starts with water being up to his hips (literally).

Originally a river ecologist as he put it, “not a software guy, not a business guy, but a guy wearing rubber boots, working in rivers, scrapping slime off rocks and collecting bugs and water samples.” Since then he’s led Aquatic Informatics for the past 11 years, growing it to the point where thousands of scientists and over 400 agencies in 28 countries are using the software.

The software is addressing critical water data management and analysis challenges for the environmental monitoring industry. They work with a variety of customers including federal, state/provincial or local government departments, hydropower operators, mining companies, academic groups and consulting organizations, who collect, manage and process large volumes of water quality or quantity data. Located in Vancouver, they’ve also been recently named as a BC company that’s “Ready to Rocket.”

Ed-glassblog

Quilty traces the genesis of the company back to the early 90’s while on a UVic co-op work term for the BC Ministry of the Environment. “They had this cutting edge sensor for continuous water quality measurement. This was a big leap forward from putting samples in a bottle, and shipping them off to a lab for analysis. The lab could tell you the amount of nutrients, organics, or heavy metals. This was only a small snapshot, and the odds of missing some major event were always significant. With this sensor technology we were getting information every minute or fifteen minutes. It was a big change in the industry. We went from never having enough data to being overwhelmed with data ”

With a Forest Renewal BC project, he saw the value of sensing technology and data collection, that focused on water quality inventory. He was seeing the impact of the forestry industry on water.

With an overwhelming volume of the data, Quilty realized that using spreadsheets wasn’t cutting it. “That’s when we starting working on scripts to automate the data processing. It was trying to figure out how we’d manage all this data that really got things started. I was a biologist used to dealing with 30 or 40 samples a year, not per hour.”

They built a very lightweight version of the initial application, one good enough to sell into his professional network in BC. The real break came when they caught the attention of the US Geological Survey.

FieldTrip_DougSchmidt

At that time it wouldn’t scale to meet the needs of the largest water monitoring agency in the world, but they were invited to respond to a RFP calling to model the water flow of water in rivers. Quilty said “we bid, not thinking we’d win it, but to get the exposure and learning experience. Much to our surprise we won the $500,000 contract. We had six months to build it, and were only going to get paid at the end if we successfully delivered. Our chief scientist knocked it out of the park.”

In 2006 all of the USGS hydrologists and flow specialists across the US were introduced to Aquarius.

The AI application allows for the conversion of water level to water flow. This information is important in terms of water allocations for irrigation, dam operations, for drinking water, industry, and for fisheries. “You have all of these competing interests, farmers, fisherman, environmentalists, cities, fighting over water particularly in places like the Colorado River, other arid regions, and then you have issues around flooding,” Quilty told BetaKit. “It’s kind of like Goldilocks trying to right just the right balance.”

Think about the considerations of dam operators, where an inch of water can mean millions of dollars. “They’re constantly trying to do optimization of their reservoirs,” Quilty said. “They want to keep them as high as they can, but they have legal obligations to release water to people below, like fishermen and farmers. At the same time they’re trying to balance Mother Nature, throwing different scenarios at them like flood or drought conditions.”

Without data, without good science and quality information, good policy decisions can’t be made. For AI, it’s about breaking down the information silos. They’re focused on facilitating better communication and creating more efficient networks. Quilty said that “often you see organizations collecting information from the same watersheds and not knowing it. You end up with dense networks in some areas, and very sparse in others.

The value of sharing this data easily is at the core of good environmental management. And without the data there’s no chance of managing our resources well. The opportunity to have a positive global impact is massive: imagine helping prevent resource abuses, like giant lakes and aquifers being drained, as highlighted in this New York Times article about Iran’s Lake Urmia.

Quilty isn’t reserved in sharing the company big hairy audacious goal, “it’s about hosting and managing all of the planets environmental data. We’ll be bringing discrete water quality and groundwater information into the system, and moving into atmospheric, ocean, and soil data too.  It’s critical to be getting the right data from the right places, at the right time. I think about all of these sensors like EKG’s measuring the heartbeat of the whole planet, and we want to be part of optimizing it.”

This story originally appeared in BetaKit

Kiip’s Brian Wong is Always Looking on the Bright Side of Life

250px-Brian_WongVancouver’s tech “child prodigy” and Kiip (Founder & CEO) Brian Wong swung through town on his way to SXSW, when Startup Grind Vancouver hosted him for a fireside chat.

Wong isn’t one needing much of an introduction. He has the distinction of graduating from high school at 14, and then graduating from UBC’s Sauder School of Business at 18.

Since founding Kiip in 2010, he and the company have received no shortage of attention. It goes with securing over $15 million in venture funding and making numerous lists like Forbes 30 under 30. He also lent commentary to Frontlines recent documentary “Generation Like”.

Even without free beer and snacks he would have packed the house. True to form, Wong was high energy, entertaining, brutally honest and shared some great startup up stories and lessons. Actually, he shared more than just business insights. There’s the unique and very little known fact behind his onetime childhood visit to Albuquerque, NM, as he shared that “I was in a boys choir. Before my voice changed, I sounded like an angel.”

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Talking about his days as the “lowliest business development associate possible” at Digg, he highlighted living an example of the org chart from hell. “The reporting structure was most bizarre. I

eported to a dude, who reported to a dude, who reported to a dude, and the dude at the top with those three people below him each had only one person reporting to them.” Don’t do this kids.

The Digg experience lasted five months. The layoff meant losing his H1B Visa, and having to fly back to Vancouver.  “It was in May, and I told my Mom what happened. She told me it was the worst Mothers Day present she’d ever got. Every Mother’s Day since I try making it up to her with some kind of nice surprise.”

It proved to be a minor setback, as he grabbed a business tourist visa figuring he’d easily hook up with a new company in that six month window. Wong turned conversations about working for others, into validation for starting Kiip. He said, “after telling Scott Kveton the founder of Urban Airship in Portland my idea, his job offer turned into an introduction to True Ventures.

The genesis for Kiip came from Wong observing people’s mobile game play and “trying to recognize when people are happy, and reward them. But reward them serendipitously.” He credit’s reading the book “Predictably Rational” with building his business around the idea that there’s value in “surprising and delighting people.”

In terms of winning those first customers, Wong noted how important it is to pick your initial investors wisely. “They can help you with a lot of nepotism, and finding relationships where they can just help seed the business. Having investors who were part of the Popchips, and Vitamin Water teams helped with them becoming our first customers. It also helped with bringing other big brands on board.”

He’s also a big believer in always telling people what you’re doing all the time. “It’s awesome, and not about having a big ego, over-sharing, or boasting. It’s about sharing your stream of activity and consciousness so that people will know how to help you. You need to figure out how to generate serendipity in your life. You never know who will help you. You’ll never get any help if you’re not constantly communicating what you’re doing.”

In terms of succeeding as a startup outside of “The Valley” Wong was adamant saying, “the world’s a different place today. There’s Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Angel List, and so many organizations like Startup Grind, and the likes of Y Combinator and TechStars there to help you. You can start something anywhere. There’s a thing called a plane. If you really want to find your customers you’ll find them. Using location as an excuse is lame”

There’s no shortage of evidence that points to Wong knowing the value of PR. “Those people who shit-talk PR don’t understand it’s a tactical tool. It’s great for validation, customer acquisition, for information. Why send someone a slide-deck, when you can send them an article that tells them your story?”

I asked Wong what’s nobody talking about today, that they’ll be talking about in a year from now.

He’s most excited about  “looking at data from connected devices. It’s not creating a brand version of something for FitBit. That’s useless. I think one of the biggest opportunities will be looking at moments that come from those devices. We create a currency that’s universally applicable beyond just apps. I envision an internet connected scale saying you’ve lost five pounds, and then having Special K reward you for that moment.”

The youthful exuberance combined with serious business experience left some of the audience needing to catch their breath. It’s evident that no matter what’s thrown at him, Wong’s someone who’s always looking on the bright side of life. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy so it’s worth keeping the life of Brian in mind.