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.

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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

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.

Needium is One of the 7 Canadian Start-Ups to watch in 2011

Flickr picture by Gerlos

Very exciting news this morning.  We’ve been selected as  one of the seven Canadian Start-Ups to watch in 2011 by TheNextWeb. The buzz around Needium has been increasing since our participation in the startup competition at LeWeb in December and we’re now engaged in several trials with reseller partners in North America and Europe. By the way, if you’re interested in reselling Needium, our social media local lead generation service, you can contact us at sales AT needium.com

Other startups mentioned (including two others from Montreal):

  1. KiK Interactive Inc
  2. Interaxon
  3. 2XM Interactive
  4. Wajam
  5. Visibli
  6. Tynt

Congrats to all on the list!

Upcoming Tech Startup Entrepreneurs Mentoring Event (Montreal)

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 tapintuesday@gmail.com

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.

A Manifesto for Sustainable Web Development

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Work with other companies. This is the corollary of the last bullet. Can you participate in common projects that will benefit multiple organizations?
  9. Use locally-produced technologies in your projects (when possible). This rewards risk-taking in the local ecosystem.
  10. Share your best practices with others. Blog, speak, be open, You win on execution, not on ideas.
  11. 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.
  12. Participate in the ecosystem. Attend events, write blog posts, take position on important topics.
  13. Learn from failure and respect those that failed. Silicon Valley folks believe you can learn from failures. Do the same.
  14. Think out of the box. Don’t be afraid of pathways less traveled. Challenge people.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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…

Jack Dorsey On Coming Up With the Idea for Twitter and Developing His New Startup

Just listened to a fireside chat with Jack Dorsey, Inventor, Founder & Chairman, Twitter. A few interesting insights:

Jack Dorsey Twitter Paris LeWeb December 2009

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!)

Square Demo LeWeb Paris December 2009

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.