There’s a new grassroot technology event in Montreal called “Tap in Tuesday“. Its goal is to have regular monthly mentoring events for startup entrepreneurs (aspiring and existing).
I’ve been chosen as the first “mentor” and I will be sharing advice and answering all types of questions about the fun life of a funded startup entrepreneur.
If you want to attend, you need to reserve your spot by emailing Gabriel Sundaram at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s happening this coming Tuesday August 10th at Café Des Éclusiers, 400 Rue De La Commune Ouest, Montreal at 6PM
More info on Montreal Tech Watch.
June 2, 2010
As a startup entrepreneur for the last three years, I’ve had the chance to observe the online scene both locally (Montreal), nationally (Canada) and internationally (US and Europe mostly). I’ve organized and participated in many unconferences and camps (most recently last week at WebCamp Montreal) and I’ve spoken at conferences in Europe, the US and Canada. I’ve met many entrepreneurs all over the world and I’ve coached aspiring ones. I’ve traveled to Silicon Valley countless times and had the opportunity to breathe the air there, trying to identify the various cogs of that ecosystem. I’ve realized that, if the right conditions are present, tremendous value can be created by building Web products.
My perception of the local online industry (Montreal specifically) is that we’re really good at online marketing / communications / advertising and we use this as the main method to generate value. We do build many online products but they end up being used in specific time-sensitive ad campaigns, ephemeral things, and when these ends, these products become orphans. This perception is obviously influenced by my product management background. I’ve been building Web products for more than 10 years and some of the things I’ve created have influenced whole industries and are generating millions of dollars in revenues.
Montreal has all the ingredients to become a hotbed of Web development and startups (I wrote about that a few months ago). After all, we already did it for the videogame industry. There is a lot of money for interactive projects, especially in large organizations, but we’re trying to replicate the old broadcast/advertising model online. There must be a better way to do things.
To re-think the way we work as an industry, I’d like to inspire myself from ecological terms coined in the last few decades: sustainable development and the waste hierarchy (known commonly as the 3Rs, reduce, reuse and recycle). Environmental science learnings can teach us to create more value with less “material”. Based on my personal experience, here is my manifesto for sustainable Web development, to create a better, more innovative, more valuable Web ecosystem.
- Think “product”, not “ad campaign”. Use budgets to create things that will last. Think how you can achieve your communication goals by building stuff instead of buying media placement.
- Do not re-invent the wheel, Focus on building value on top of existing material. Re-use existing standards. This is how we’re going to accelerate the pace of innovation.
- Use open source software. You’d be amazed to see how many technology components are now available in open source. You get access to whole communities when you use those technologies and you speed up innovation.
- Leverage existing APIs. You’d be amazed to see how many content and technology components are now available via public APIs. Use them, again, to speed up your development.
- Less talk, more build. We love our social time, drinking beers with industry colleagues and imagining a better world. If you want the world to change, go in action mode. Just do it!
- Give back. At the end of a project, if you’re not going to reuse the code, open source it. If it’s not going to be used at all, give it back to the community.
- Do not focus on “competitors”. The online market is huge and will be so for the next 20 years. Think about disruptive ideas, think about incremental ideas but focus on your business and the opportunities.
- Work with other companies. This is the corollary of the last bullet. Can you participate in common projects that will benefit multiple organizations?
- Use locally-produced technologies in your projects (when possible). This rewards risk-taking in the local ecosystem.
- Share your best practices with others. Blog, speak, be open, You win on execution, not on ideas.
- Mentor others. Make sure other people benefit from your experience. Be generous with your time even though that’s probably the most precious resource you have.
- Participate in the ecosystem. Attend events, write blog posts, take position on important topics.
- Learn from failure and respect those that failed. Silicon Valley folks believe you can learn from failures. Do the same.
- Think out of the box. Don’t be afraid of pathways less traveled. Challenge people.
- Launch your own company. If you really believe in your ideas and your current professional environment doesn’t allow you to execute them, start your own company.
- Listen to builders, innovators and “crazy” people in the industry. They sometimes sound crazy but listen to them. They see things you don’t see.
- Create long-lasting value, not short-term results. ‘Nuff said.
Do you agree or disagree with what I wrote down? Have I missed anything? Feel free to leave a comment. This is the beginning of the conversation…
Just listened to a fireside chat with Jack Dorsey, Inventor, Founder & Chairman, Twitter. A few interesting insights:
Q:How did you invent Twitter?
A: “It took a long time. I’ve always been fascinated with how cities work, fell in love with maps, obsessing with maps. I taught myself to program maps when I was a teenager and put dots on maps. I eventually got a rich picture of everything that was happening in a city (in this case, Manhattan). But the citizens ( (i.e. my friends) were missing from the map. The idea came out again later in 2006 when I was at Odeo. We created the first version of Twitter in 2 weeks.”
Q: Did you expect twitter to be this big?
A: “No. I knew the concept was big but velocity has been surprising. I’m also surprised at how the users are defining the product. Many features were defined by users: hashtags, retweets, mentions, replies, etc.”
Dorsey then talked about his new company: Square. He mentioned that three concepts emerged from Twitter: immediacy, accessibility, transparency. Starting with the iPhone, the application is called Square. You can take credit card payments without having a merchant credit card account. They built a piece of hardware called square. It’s a swiper that connects into the headphone jack and it transforms the information from the swiped credit card into sounds for the iPhone application. They’re going to give these away for free starting March 2010. Consumers can add their picture on the Square Web site so the merchant can verify your identity. You sign on the iPhone with your finger and you receive an e-mail/sms receipt. You can shake the phone to erase your signature. Jack Dorsey did a demo with Loic Le Meur’s credit card and charged him some money. Asked by Michael Arrington (Techcrunch) how much money he has collected from “demos”? Dorsey answered $650 so far. He added it’s been the best startup to demo and he’s managed to charge money to a few VCs he presented to (which made all entrepreneurs laugh!)
He left us with an inspiring thought: “the hardest thing about any idea is getting started”. Given the success Twitter has attained, I think all aspiring entrepreneurs should “get started”!
Update: Techcrunch has a post on this presentation as well.
Seeing Niklas Zennstrom’s name on LeWeb’s list of speakers along with the news that Joost’s assets were being acquired by Adconion Media Group got me thinking about the dynamics of that specific startup. Joost was founded in 2006 to build a online video portal with the core idea that legal video streaming would be more efficient if it was built on peer-to-peer technology. The company signed content licensing agreements with major media companies, they had major funding ($45M), 150 software developers and experienced founders/entrepreneurs (Zennstrom and Janus Friis) who had had major successes with Kazaa and Skype. It seemed they would be successful once again.
It didn’t happen. Why? CNET explains that their technology choice of a downloadable application certainly impaired their chance of success. The arrival of Hulu, a big hit with users, also didn’t help but I was specifically struck by this other reason: “Some of the big-name content partners seemed to be putting in a halfhearted effort with Joost, offering up reruns and esoteric programs instead of the new programming that people actually wanted to watch”. Hmmm…
Think about Kazaa and Skype. What did Zennstrom and Friis successfully achieve with these new initiatives? They directly attacked major players in large mature markets using industry weak points. Kazaa was an assault on the music industry, Skype took on telcos. They didn’t say “let’s work with these guys”. They just did it and leveraged the fact that these two industries were very profitable and slow to innovate. They foresaw the disruptive impact of technology and created a lot of value for their shareholders. Venture capital firms usually love these startups. When they created Joost, they changed their entrepreneur paradigm and it failed. Zennstrom and Friis’ new startup Rdio is in the online music space and it looks like they’re going to be working with the music industry. Will it impair their chance of success or has the music industry matured enough in the last 10 years to embrace innovation?
It got me thinking about newspapers, directory publishers, the movie industry, radio, magazines, and other traditional media companies. At one point or another, all these industries (who generate or used to generate fat profit margins) fought technology and we’re slow to innovate. I think it’s getting better (still not fast enough in my own opinion) but I was reminded it is still very slow in Canada by this blog post (in French) written by Yannick Manuri. He says that 40% of all online advertising spent in the country benefited foreign media companies and anecdotally he doesn’t see the sense of urgency in Canadian media companies. It’s a reality in other countries as well.
Why do we need industry disruptors to stimulate innovation in media? Couldn’t it happen by itself?
August 18, 2009
I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now. After having been an “intrapreneur” at Yellow Pages Group until 2007, I’ve had the chance in the last two years to live the full-time life of a Web entrepreneur. Developing a vision and concepts, hiring a team, developing prototypes, raising capital, launching a product, marketing a product, selling a product, managing VCs, executing, executing, executing, working long hours and drinking lots of caffeinated drinks are now part of my body of experience and daily life. We like to say the Praized team’s mind is in Silicon Valley where we measure ourselves with the best but we’re physically located in one of the best cities in North America to do it: Montreal.
Here’s why (all stats I quote are from Montreal International’s amazing brochure (.pdf) on investing in Montreal):
- Talented developers. With its network of universities and technical schools, Montreal produces world-class technical resources. Did you know Montreal is #1 in North America in the per capita number of university students? Montreal also ranks 5th in North America in concentration (%) of high tech jobs in proportion to the total number of jobs, ahead of San Francisco!
- Relatively-low cost of operating and living. Greater Montreal has the most competitive cost structure of any North American metro area. Salaries are competitively-priced (and lower than major tech hubs like Boston, Seattle and San Francisco) and office space leasing costs are the lowest in North America.
- Superior R&D tax credits. The kind of development we do at Praized greatly benefits from provincial and federal tax credits and drastically extends the value of an investment.
- Multilingual population. 52% of greater Montreal residents are bilingual (with English and French being the most prevalent). 18% are fluent in three languages or more. Montreal is often seen as the perfect bridge between North America and Europe.
- Quality of life. Joie de vivre (i.e. restaurants, bars, culture, etc.), lowest cost of housing, lowest tuition and childcare fees and lowest homicide rate in North America makes Montreal a fun place to live.
No wonder Monocle magazine puts Montreal in their top list of most liveable cities. The videogame industry understands Montreal’s strengths with major companies like Ubisoft, Eidos and Electronic Arts having established large offices here. Google also opened an office in Montreal last year. Agendize, a French software company with many customers in the local media space just opened their office here.
Is it a perfect city? No, obviously not. Access to seed capital is sorely lacking for budding entrepreneurs, the ecosystem is not a robust as what you find in Silicon Valley for example and winters are quite rigorous but if you’re thinking of launching a tech company or expanding in North America, Montreal should be a serious option!
Update: Daniel Drouet reminds me (on Facebook) that, ever since Praized got funded, Montreal Start Up arrived on the scene to fill some of the “seed” gap I identify above. He also mentioned Anges Québec, a network of local angel investors.
January 25, 2008
- The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Humans don’t really change. If something feels wrong, it probably is.
- Incentives drive the world. For employees, for business development, etc.
- Truth is told at cash registers and not in focus groups. Look to the data and test a product by selling it.
- Listen to Fred Wilson.
- The network is the computer. It has to be open and all about online applications. Think Gmail, Last.fm, Mint.com.
- Think product first, marketing later. This new connected world takes care of a good portion of marketing if you have a great product.
- Barely enough money is a good thing. It keeps you hungry and makes you focussed. Helps you find what’s the core of your business.
- Companies are bought not sold. It might be a cliché but it’s true. Play hard to get.
- Good guys win in a connected world. Media has been democratized and spin control does not exist anymore.
December 13, 2007
The first StartupCamp Montreal is officially announced! Happening January 23rd, 2008 from 6pm to 10pm at the SAT – Société des arts technologiques (where else?), “Startup Camp Montreal is an event dedicated to everything Startup. A great event for Startups, investors and on-lookers alike. Montreal has a vibrant business community, that is worth celebrating. Come meet and learn from each other on the ins and outs of starting up. This event is not just for Montrealers, all are welcome”.