The end for Folders (and now looking for my next role)

12 months ago, almost to the day, I started working with my co-founder Christian Lavoie on a new startup idea. After brainstorming for a few weeks, we settled on the idea that would become Folders.

Our idea was very ambitious. In customer interviews with local retail businesses, we realized that most were still storing their product and customer data in spreadsheets or even on paper. Others had data locked in their old point-of-sale (POS) or in their accounting system. And, even worse, they were not doing anything with it. Very few small businesses were using modern CRMs or POS.

So, we set out to build a better solution for the 80% of small businesses who were collecting data, but not doing anything with it. The resulting prototype allowed customer/product data upload (from a spreadsheet), manual entry or sync (from Quickbooks & Shopify). It did not stop there. We also gave them access to best-of-breed marketing/management apps to make that data actionable. Customer data would unlock email marketing, loyalty, invoicing and scheduling functions (and more in the future). Product data would unlock e-commerce functionality and shopping site syndication. We were, in effect, creating a basic dashboard to manage & market a small business. We talked to retailers and many loved the idea. We talked to potential resellers to help us scale sales and many loved the idea as well. We talked to a few fundings sources and many liked the idea.

Fast-forward to the last few weeks, we tried raising a pre-seed funding round on the early interest from all stakeholders. That would have enabled us to move full-time on the project and pay us a small salary, but we did not succeed. Everyone loved the team, but there were recurring doubts about the small business beachhead and how Folders would succeed against larger marketing or CRM platforms. Most wanted to see more traction. And, to get to that, it surely meant 6-12 more months of bootstrapping (getting customers onboard, signing reseller agreements, etc.). In a startup, when that happens, it’s a good time to assess where your project is and what the future looks like. It’s going to take time, so you want to make sure you’re ready to embark on that new round. For personal reasons, I wasn’t.

We’ve therefore decided to wind down the project and I’m now officially looking for a new full-time role. What I’m looking for: senior digital exec role (VP, C-level or General Manager), ideally in product management, strategy, partnership development and/or operations. My core expertise is in local search/local commerce, marketplaces, digital advertising, social media and digital tools for small businesses but I’m definitely open to other sectors. Size of company doesn’t matter, as long as it has a solid entrepreneurial culture.

If you hear of anything interesting in your network (I’m open to relocation to the US or to Europe), do let me know. You will find my LinkedIn profile here and you can reach me by email at sprovencher AT gmail.com.

Update from the startup trenches + some availability for freelance consulting

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Happy new year! As many of you know, I decided late last year to jump back into the tech startup fray and create a new company with a very talented technical cofounder (and ex-Googler) Christian Lavoie. The first few months of a new startup are really about validating hypotheses and blocking & tackling, including things like market opportunity, sanity checks on the idea, early business case, product requirements, first mockups, technical prototypes, incorporation, customer discovery, etc. Things are progressing very nicely on that front and you should expect our teaser site very soon! Stay tuned.

As I did in 2006 when I cofounded Praized Media, I’m doing 10-15 hours per week of freelance consulting. That model allows me to work the rest of the week (40+ hours) on my new company. I just finished a very interesting mandate with the City of Montreal’s Smart City office and I’m now available to take on a new one.

I usually work with tech startups and larger organizations on the following mandates:

  1. Product Strategy & Management
  2. Product Reviews & Improvements
  3. Strategic Partnerships
  4. General Management & Operations
  5. Assistance with VC fundraising
  6. General Strategy

If you’re interested in hiring me as a freelancer, you can ping me at sprovencher AT gmail DOT com or leave me a message below.

Mise à jour au sujet de mon projet de startup + quelques disponibilités pour mandat de consultation

Excellente année 2015! Comme plusieurs d’entre vous le savent, j’ai décidé en fin d’année dernière de me replonger dans le monde merveilleux des startups et de créer une nouvelle compagnie avec un cofondateur technique très talentueux (et ex-Googler), Christian Lavoie. Les premiers mois d’une nouvelle startup consistent surtout à confirmer les hypothèses et à poser des bases solides pour le projet. Nous avons donc travaillé sur des éléments tels que l’analyse d’opportunité de marché, la validation de l’idée, le plan d’affaires de base, les définitions de produits, les premières maquettes, le premier prototype technique, l’incorporation, les entrevues clients, etc. Les choses avancent très bien sur ce front et vous devriez voir apparaître notre site « teaser » très bientôt!

Comme je l’ai fait en 2006, lorsque j’ai cofondé Praized Media, je garde de 10 à 15 heures par semaine pour la consultation avec des clients. Ce modèle me permet de travailler le reste de la semaine (40+ heures) sur ma nouvelle startup. Je viens d’ailleurs de terminer un mandat très intéressant avec le Bureau de la Ville Intelligente de Montréal et je suis désormais disponible pour prendre un nouveau contrat.

Je travaille habituellement avec les startups et grandes organisations sur les mandats suivants en technologie :

  1. Stratégie et gestion de produits
  2. Améliorations sur produits existants
  3. Partenariats stratégiques
  4. Direction générale et opérations
  5. Assistance à la souscription de capital-risque
  6. Stratégie

Si vous êtes intéressés à m’engager en tant que pigiste, vous pouvez m’envoyer un courriel à sprovencher arobase gmail point com ou me laisser un message ci-dessous.

Photo Flickr: Esparta Palma – “La Quebrada Cliff Diver statue

Mission accomplished. Now looking for my next opportunity.

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Flickr photo by Crystal

Two years ago, I was offered an amazing opportunity by Craig Smith, HomeAdvisor’s President, to join the exec team of this IAC company as Vice President – Product Innovation, open up their Canadian office, assemble a team of tech rock stars and operate as a startup within this larger organization. It was the perfect professional segue after six years at Praized Media/Needium, my own startup.

Over the last 18 months, we’ve built this great local marketplace, HelpedBy, where Canadian consumers can find trusted home improvement service professionals. Thousands of professionals have signed up to be part of this new vertical search site. And last week, we launched the complete vision we had crafted in 2012. Check it out at www.helpedby.ca. I’m very proud of my team and the work they’ve done.

And now, it’s time to move on. What’s next for me you ask?

First, I’ll take a few weeks of vacation and try to go offline. Summer in Montreal is beautiful.

Then, I will start looking for my next opportunity. I’m looking for an executive position in an entrepreneurial tech/Internet company and, like last time, I’ll keep an open mind and listen to ideas, suggestions and proposals. Potential roles that would be of interest include VP Product Management, Chief Operating Officer, General Manager, or other similar senior positions. As a well-rounded technology exec, I bring general management, product management, business development and strategy skills to any team. I am willing to relocate to the US (preferred cities: New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco) or to Europe for the right opportunity.

As I’m not in a hurry to pick a new role, I will also make myself available for consultation mandates. I will also use some of this spare time to move forward a connected hardware pet project I’ve wanted to work on. My LinkedIn profile can be found here. Ping me at sprovencher AT gmail.com if you’d like to start the conversation. Talk to you soon!

Mission accomplie. Et maintenant, à la recherche de ma prochaine opportunité.

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Photo : Crystal sur Flickr

Il y a deux ans, Craig Smith, président de HomeAdvisor, m’a offert l’occasion extraordinaire de joindre l’équipe de cadres supérieurs de cette société du groupe IAC en tant que vice-président, innovation produits, pour ouvrir leur bureau canadien, assembler une équipe de vedettes du Web et opérer comme une jeune pousse au sein de cette grande organisation. C’était l’enchaînement professionnel parfait, après six années au sein de ma propre startup, Praized Média / Needium.

Au cours des 18 derniers mois, nous avons bâti une grande place de marché en-ligne, HelpedBy, où les consommateurs canadiens peuvent trouver des entrepreneurs en rénovation de confiance. Des milliers de professionnels se sont abonnés à notre service et font désormais partie de ce nouveau site de recherche vertical. La semaine dernière, nous avons finalement livré la vision complète que nous avions définie en 2012. Vous pouvez voir le résultat à www.helpedby.ca. Je suis très fier de mon équipe et du solide boulot qu’ils ont accompli.

Maintenant, il est temps de passer à autre chose. De quoi à l’air la suite me demandez-vous?

Tout d’abord, je vais prendre quelques semaines de vacances et tenter d’être le plus possible en mode hors ligne. Après tout, l’été à Montréal est magnifique !

Ensuite, j’amorcerai des recherches plus actives pour choisir ma prochaine opportunité professionnelle. Je cherche un poste de direction dans une société en technologie/ Internet opérant en mode entrepreneurial et, comme la dernière fois, je garderai un esprit ouvert et écouterai les idées, suggestions et propositions. Les types de rôles potentiels qui pourraient m’intéresser incluent vice-président gestion de produits, chef de l’exploitation (COO), directeur général, et autres postes similaires de direction. La compagnie qui m’embauchera bénéficiera de mes grandes habiletés de direction générale, gestion de produits, développement des affaires, et de stratégie. Aussi, pour la bonne opportunité professionnelle, je suis prêt à déménager en Europe ou aux États-Unis (villes préférées : New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco).

Comme je ne suis pas pressé de choisir une nouvelle fonction, je vais aussi être disponible pour des mandats de consultation. Je vais finalement utiliser une partie de mes temps libres pour faire progresser un projet de matériel connecté (connected hardware) sur lequel j’ai envie de travailler depuis quelques mois. Pour plus d’information, vous retrouverez mon profil LinkedIn ici. Contactez-moi à sprovencher AT gmail.com si vous souhaitez discuter avec moi. À très bientôt!

Soirée-bénéfice des entrepreneurs technos pour la Fondation Marie-Vincent

fondation marie-vincentEn ce début d’année, j’ai décidé de donner un petit coup de main aux organisateurs (notamment Dominic Becotte) d’une soirée-bénéfice pour la Fondation Marie-Vincent. Cette soirée, animée par Gregory Charles, aura lieu le 25 mars prochain au Théâtre L’Olympia. L’événement réunira acteurs et entrepreneurs du milieu technologique de Montréal. Elle mettra en vedette une dizaine de leaders du milieu qui, dans un élan d’audace livreront une performance musicale sur scène.

Outre le divertissement et le réseautage, l’objectif fondamental de la soirée consiste à amasser des fonds pour permettre au Centre d’expertise Marie-Vincent de continuer d’offrir ses services spécialisés aux jeunes victimes d’agression sexuelle. Étant papa de 3 enfants qui ont complètement changé ma vie par leur simple présence, c’est une cause qui me tient à coeur.

J’ai convaincu Frédéric Harper d’être un des chanteurs de cette soirée et maintenant, j’aimerais vous convaincre d’acheter votre billet et de venir avec Annie Bacon et moi pour l’encourager. J’aimerais avoir 8 autres de mes ami(e)s avec nous autour d’une bonne table ce soir-là. Ne soyez donc pas surpris si je vous envoie un courriel dans les prochains jours vous invitant à participer! Et si ça vous intéresse, envoyez-moi une note.

Merci de tout coeur.

Why The Philosopher’s Mail is One of the Best Things That Happened to The Internet in a Long Time

The Philosophers Mail
Over the last 12 months, if you’re like me, you’ve slowly seen your Facebook feed transforms itself into a river of feel-good garbage posts and trashy news report about drunken mayors and Hollywood stars mug shots. The Facebook dream of “if the news is important, it will find me” has slowly dissolved into the equivalent of the high-calorie, low nutrition meal. Growing frustrated, I have to admit thinking about shutting down my Facebook account many times but have not done it. I still find value with the real-time connections I have with my friends and acquaintances but I keep wondering why people feel the need to share worthless (in my opinion) content. Last week, the Philosopher’s Mail quietly launched and I finally started getting some answers to those questions.

Described as “a new media outlet rooted in popular interests, sensibilities and inclinations of the day – but that tries to read and caption the news with an eye to traditional central philosophical concerns – for compassion, truth, justice, complexity, calm, empathy and wisdom.”, the Philosopher’s Mail is a mash-up of typical tabloid-style newspaper articles with deep philosophical insights you can find… well, that you usually don’t find anywhere!

Led by Alain de Botton (one of my favorite young philosophers) on the editorial team, each article starts with a very mundane or typical daily news but ends up with deep insights into why we tend to focus on that news. Some examples:

In “Emma Watson on Caribbean holiday helps us to find love“, we start with paparazzi photos of starlet Emma Watson with her rugby-man boyfriend and we end up with a lesson in “tenderness and appreciation”.

In “Simon Cowell, on holiday in Barbados, proves that suffering is part of the human condition“, starting with pictures of Simon Cowell on vacation in Barbados,  we now understand he “is one of the earth’s perfect examples of a philosophical experiment about the role of money in a fulfilled life”.

Beautifully written, the Philosopher’s Mail
i) helps us understand why we’re attracted to trashy news
ii) creates meaning where we thought there wasn’t any
iii) helps us forgive ourselves and our friends for sharing these kinds of trashy articles.

Even though I still see as many trashy articles in my Facebook feed, I’m now much less frustrated by the situation. If only because of that, the Philosopher’s Mail is probably one of the best things that happened to the Internet in a long long time.

Technology startups: 10 sectors to watch in 2014

Boule de cristal 2014

Photo: Mark Skipper

As an observer of the local and international technology start-up scene, I have the opportunity to be quickly exposed to emerging trends. In this post, I’d like to share with you ten areas that I think are particularly promising in the coming year. And whenever possible, I’ve also identified Montreal startups already operating in the space. Without further ado, here’s what I see in my crystal ball for 2014.

1)  Local vertical marketplaces.

Players like Airbnb (hotels) or Uber (taxis) have shown in recent years that you could create next-generation local marketplaces by addressing a very specific vertical. These players are generally characterized by content depth, better consumer decision-making tools and/or complete vertical integration up to the final transaction. Knowing that there are 4,000 vertical categories in business directories, we are still in my opinion in the infancy of these next-gen vertical sites.

2) Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools for SMBs

2013 saw the emergence of companies offering a variety of SaaS software for SMBs (small & medium-sized businesses), especially in customer relationship management, accounting and marketing. I believe we will see other small enterprise software tools launching in 2014 particularly in the offline-to-online space, to optimize sales when a potential customer physically visits a retail store.

3) Small hardware + software products

Following Google’s acquisition of Nest for $3.2 billion last week, this is the sector that will be the most active in the next few months. The democratization of hardware development in recent years is mainly due to the emergence of tools enabling rapid deployment (whether in prototyping or crowdfunding). Top projects usually include a user-friendly, well-designed software layer and are made by the best industrial design talents. With its smart watch, Montreal-based Neptune is a good example of this trend.

4) Digital currency platforms

In 2013, everyone was talking about Bitcoin, the emerging electronic currency, but very few people know that there are now dozens of other so-called cryptocurrencies. Most news articles focus on the increasing value of Bitcoin, the speculative side, but what’s really interesting with electronic money is the emergence of distributed currency/transaction platforms (and the potential around micro-transactions). If the topic interests you, do read Marc Andreessen’s take in the New York Times. Montreal startups Bylls and BitCredits operate in this vertical.

5) Cable companies ready for disruption

I think disruptive innovations will soon threaten CableCo monopolies especially around television broadcasting. Netflix’s strength, the “cord-cutting” trend, the availability of legal streaming content, forced bundles that consumers don’t want are all elements that support this trend. In my opinion, there are dozens of interesting opportunities linked to this trend.

6) Artificial Intelligence and ambient technologies

In 2013, my biggest revelation was Google Now, the almost magical mobile application that analyzes my data exhaust (geo-location, Gmail inbox content, etc.) to provide me with useful real-time alerts such as travel time, weather, flight itinerary, package tracking, etc. We talked a lot about “Big Data” in 2012 and 2013 but 2014 will be the year where we try to proactively make these large data sets useful to users. There are dozens of interesting opportunities here also.

7 ) Security and privacy

Revelations of massive spying by the NSA and targeted advertising abuse by large Internet companies is leading to the rise of new products enabling users to better protect their privacy. Montreal-based Syme is building a software solution that allows you to share content and messages in a private environment. Multiple opportunities exist in this area too.

8) Health

2012 and 2013 saw the emergence of the “quantified self” movement and the launch of multiple applications related to physical health improvement (sleep better, eat better, etc.). This sector stays red hot in 2014 with new applications that can help improve your mental health (relaxation, yoga, stress, etc.).  Montreal startups OMSignal  and Hexoskin operate in this sector.

9) Food

New food technologies in either infrastructure (better distribution, traceability, etc.) or next-generation food products (nutraceuticals, organic and local food, new types of food, etc.) will be top of mind in 2014. Lufa and Provender are proud Quebec representatives in this technology sector.

10) Robotics

Directly linked to trends # 3 and # 6, and the rise of the drone market and Google’s acquisition of Boston Dynamics a few weeks ago , I predict a great future for this area in the coming years .

This article originally appeared in French in my Journal de Montreal blog.

Update:  Boris Silver, Co-Founder and President of FundersClub, just blogged about 10 things the broader tech venture capital community is paying close attention to:

  1. Drones
  2. Bitcoin
  3. Wearables
  4. Big Data
  5. Crowdfunding
  6. Quantified Self
  7. 3D Printing
  8. The Internet of Things
  9. Mobile
  10. Virtual Reality

Definitely some overlap with the things I’m watching. Always interesting to compare.