Free Beer in Guelph

12 years, 1 month ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

Now that’s a title! I want to buy you a case of giant beers in exchange for you referring great people to work with to us.

We, at ThreeFortyNine, started a referral program recently with our members that I wanted to open to the public.

You refer a potential coworker to us. They try it out for two weeks for free. They become a full time member for at least three months. I buy you a case of 24 large cans of your favourite Wellington Beer. If you’re not a beer drinker…………sorry that confused me a bit, if you’re not a beer drinker we’ll figure something else out.

I recognize it takes time to refer great people to us. You deserve some beer for your time. Have your friend contact me directly, make sure they mention you referred them.

A Startup Roadtrip!

12 years, 2 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

(Note: Cross posted with ThreeFortyNine.)

What happens when you take the best parts of a good old roadtrip and mash it up with one of Canada’s coolest startup conference? I wasn’t sure either but ThreeFortyNine Roadtrips is my best guess.

Travelling to and from conferences is a massive waste of time. You attend a great conference, hear awesome speakers, and then travel back to your home city, which is filled with people who didn’t share that experience. There’s no one to continue the conversation with, no one to hook up with next week for a coffee and keep the flow going.

We’re fixing that by getting a first class car on the Via train and travelling to, and from, Montreal for the International Startup Festival.

We’ve been working madly to get the prices as low as possible for this trip. We’re excited to announce today that we’re reducing the price on all tickets by 20%. The costs for a startup are now $600. That includes your Startup Fest conference ticket ($295) and your first class Via train, to and from the conference ($470).

Not only will you have focused travel time with a train full of startup junkies while being pampered with first class service but you’ll be saving money! Really, we’re too good to you….

Space is limited so grab your ticket now. For the next 10 people who buy tickets, we’ll post your profile in our “who’s coming” section on the site. As we ramp up publicity, we hope that will drive some traffic to you and your project.

How I Regrew My Attention Span

12 years, 2 months ago
[ General ]

I received an auto reply from my friend Alistair today apologizing for his slow email replies as he’s on a “media diet”. He referenced this My Paleo Diet post. I also read how Abid gave up on wheat in his diet. I don’t often write about my personal life and related choices but there are two threads that confuse people the most. Jim’s post interested me as he mashed them together.

1. Smart Phone?

If you know me personally you’ll know that I haven’t owned a smart phone for over a year now. I make myself highly available by phone(519.489.0116). Email, twitter etc are tools I only use a few times throughout the day. When I receive what appears to have been an urgent email, I respond explaining that I don’t check email often and to please phone me if you need an urgent response. The result is I don’t get a lot of urgent emails anymore. Oh, and I don’t get very many phone calls either. My hunch is that this approach forces people to reflect on the matter at hand, which usually results in recognizing it may not be as urgent as they first thought. If it is then they phone me, we talk and deal with it immediately.

I’ve had a John’s Phone for that time. It was an experiment but we’re well over a year into it so I think we’re officially past the experiment stage. When I ditched my smart phone, I picked up a Kindle and literally last night I received my new Kindle Touch 3G. When I leave my house, I bring three things without fail. Those are my John’s Phone, kindle, and a field notes book and pen. Oh, and I haven’t received or sent a text message in over a year.

Not owning a smart phone confuses most people. The responses are typically variations on….

“How can you not own a smart phone when you work in computers?”

“I would love to not own a smart phone but there’s no way I could do it.”

“I wouldn’t ever be able to leave the office if I didn’t have my smart phone.”

They explain to me how important their smart phone is to their survival. They then explain how they have the perfect system which prevents them from turning into all those other people who are addicted to their smart phones. I listen, having not once suggested that they should ditch their smart phone. I’m not asking anyone to make the same choices I’ve made. It’s always interesting how people feel the need to defend their choices to people who’ve made ones different than theirs.

Some people get around to asking me about what it’s like not to have a smart phone. My answer is simple in that it slowly gave me back the ability to daydream. I’ve learned over time that my ability to daydream is core to my personal and business success. I have more time to stare at the wall. When I wait in line at the bank, I look at people’s faces and watch the tellers. When I’m at my son’s hockey game and there’s a break in the action, I watch the refs and how they interact with the coaches. I don’t solve big problems by working on them directly. They’re solved by my subconscious, often while “wasting my time” daydreaming. Owning a smart phone slowly reduced my ability to do this.

Part of the inspiration for this experiment was to be more present with the people physically around me. If you’ve made the effort to join me for a coffee or a pint then I want to be as present for that as possible, not wasting your time while I interact with my lazy friend sitting on his couch at home watching the hockey game instead of joining us.

The combination of no smart phone and always having a Kindle means I read a ton now. I now read books again. When I have 10 minutes to spare in a waiting room, I jump into my current book. I believe I’ve read more books in the past year than the previous 5 years combined. I love paper-based books and had a lot of reservations about ereaders in general. I eventually realized I’m a fan of reading and writing not the Gutenberg press.

Smart phones can do incredible things and I certainly miss some of those. For me personally, the negative impact far outweighs any benefits they offered me.

2. No More Grains

July of last year, while at the cottage, I read The Primal Blueprint (on my kindle of course). Mark’s book inspired me to experiment with removing grains from my diet altogether and moving to a high fat diet. Literally within days I noticed a huge difference in my daily energy levels. It was as if a mental fog had been lifted. My daily energy levels became far more stable. I no longer had those moments where I felt like I was melting physically. I really do feel better than I ever have in my life.

I also lost weight, which I wasn’t hoping for. In fact, heading into hockey season last fall I was hoping to put some on. That means I consume a lot more food daily than I used to and it’s a high fat diet. I don’t know all the science but I can tell you from experience that grains, not fat, cause me personally to put fat on my body.

Something else I’ve been watching is my overall health. Since I stopped eating grains last July, I have had one cold which I have as I type this. It’s a small cold and I’ve only had it a few days and my guess is it’ll be gone in a day or two. That’s almost a full year without getting sick once, which is unusual based on my history.

As with the smart phone, I still consider no grains to be an experiment. At this point I have no reason to turn back when you consider my increased, and more stable, energy levels along with my overall good health. Not being wiped out a few times a year by colds and flus almost justifies it alone. Oh, and if it’s the placebo effect, I could care less because it’s working!

PS, I’m not suggesting you stop eating grains or ditch your smart phone. I just figured I’d share some of my experiences.

Confusing Cause and Effect

12 years, 3 months ago
[ General ]

I recently attended another Founders and Funders event in Toronto. It was a great event primarily because of who was in the room. Afterwards Jevon wrote about how you can change the ecosystem.

I wanted to pile onto Daniel, Jevon, and Ken’s thoughts around this. For me, part of this is about the risks in confusing cause and effect.

Cause: RIM, OpenText, Descartes, Maplesoft and a group of companies built successful technology based businesses in Kitchener Waterloo, Ontario.

Effect: A thriving technology community including strong universities and organizations like Communitech.

Cause: Joe Blow worked his ass off learning to play guitar growing up. He started playing friends basements with other friends. He went on to play gigs anywhere and everywhere he could. He drove around in a glued together van for years playing gigs in other cities.

Effect: Joe’s a rock star, literally, living the rock star life.

Cause: Your friend spends his early childhood playing AAA hockey, finishing with a ‘cup of coffee’ with an OHL team.

Effect: Your friend is a great hockey player with really nice equipment.

Here’s the point. Mix cause and effect at your own risk. Rarely, if ever, can they be reversed. Buying $700 skates won’t make you a great hockey player. Partying until the sun comes up every night of the week won’t make you a rock star. Building a U of W and a communitech in your city won’t get you successful technology companies(or will it?).

This mixing of cause and effect plays a massive role in product and business development. The obvious challenge is that cause and effect are often distant in time and space, and that only increases with the complexity of the particular system. It happens all too often that we latch onto the effects and build products around those, instead of digging deeper until we uncover the real causes. Focusing on replicating and scaling the causes, not the effects, in your product development strategy is key.

Oh, and back to community, as Jevon and the other founders suggested, focus on building a great company(cause) and the community(effect) will handle itself. While we are building an amazing community at ThreeFortyNine, it isn’t the focus, it’s the side effect. Our focus is making our member’s projects and companies the best they can be. The community just happens.

Work Life Separation and Institutional Funding

12 years, 4 months ago
[ Software Development ]

(Note: This was cross posted with our friends at StartupNorth.)

I met with a friend this week who has a job. He’s working on a side project with a friend. They both hope to leave their jobs in the near future to work on this new side project full time.

Both partners in this side project have kids, young families. One of the questions he asked me was around fund raising. Specifically the concern that raising funds from institutional investors or angels may put them in a position where they’re being forced to work more than the 60 to 70 hours they’re currently working. Ultimately the concern being that they’ve seen people lives ripped apart by this.

My response was reasonably simple. Product based businesses can, and likely will, consume you and everything in your life. Services based businesses are a lot of work, products are all consuming. If your personal relationships and your support systems aren’t strong, they will get ripped apart. You can’t blame that on investors or entreprenership.

Now for the good news. If your project does not consume you then you have the wrong project. Drop it and move onto the next one or go ask for your job back. Investors won’t force you to work long hours. If they need to, wrong project, drop it, move on.

I’ve said this before, I don’t believe in the myth of work-life separation. In fact, anyone who brings it up with me, I immediately know they have a job they don’t like. The topic of work-life separation has never come up around a group of entrepreneurs. Work-life separation was born of the industrial revolution. You need it to shield that crappy job from your life. Now, full disclosure, I’m drafting this post at 4:21am while you’re cozy in bed. People often use that measure “are you excited to get out of bed and get to work in the morning?”. I use the measure, if you’re sleeping well every night then you may have a job.

My work is my life. My life is my work. I bring all of me to both. Work makes my family stronger, it makes my relationships with my kids stronger, they all feed off each other. The last time I had a corporate gig, my family suffered. That’s just me, I’m not suggesting it’s you.

If you have a great work-life separation today, I’m not advocating you change anything. If, however, you want to work for yourself someday then it’s time to start tearing down that divider. Start by bringing more of you into your work and more of your work home. Don’t worry about losing it or maintaining that barrier, start destroying it. It’s the only chance you have of success out there.

Run from feedback…to your demise

12 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

We began Startupify.Me last week and one thing they certainly learned during the first week is that feedback is an entirely different beast in the real world. By real world, I mean the world of being an entrepreneur, creating something from nothing. Not the safe confines of a workplace or school. There’s a quote I was reminded of constantly during that first week.

“Success requires no apologies, failure permits no alibis”

You can pitch to me all you want, it really doesn’t matter what I think. The only value I can offer is blunt, harsh feedback. I can’t validate your idea. I can’t prove you right, wrong, scared or confused. You’re either on your way to having a business or you aren’t. I don’t decide that and neither do you. In this world, all that matters is your customer and your end user.

In corporations, academia, politics, etc it’s about winning favours. It’s about what the people above you think. Your main goal is to please them. Do that and you’re good. Do you like me? Did I do good? Step out into the real world and no one cares if your boss likes your idea. That gets you nothing.

It’s what I love about working in this world. I can sit with a group of entrepreneurs and we all beat the crap out of each other and our projects. The difference is that we all know it really doesn’t matter. It makes us stronger and pushes us to the real success we’re after. When that success comes, a large part of the reward is no longer having to explain and justify what you’re doing. I don’t really care if you ‘get it’, I have customers, revenue, a business.

A musician friend of mine was playing a show a few weeks back. I asked him if some of our common friends would be there. His response was “no idea. We don’t need friends, we have fans now”. Sounds arrogant but that’s not him. They have success, that’s it.

You need feedback from mentors, advisors, peers but it’s worthless unless you can reframe what criticism is. You do need critical feedback from peers. Seek it out. Cherish it. Celebrate it. Thank people for it. Pay them for it. Reward them for it. It’s constructive suggestion and you will be better for it. If you treat it like feedback at a job, ie my goal is to eliminate the bad feedback and attain purely good feedback, then you’re dead. Well you’re project is dead…

What’s Up Pitches?

12 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

What does Banana Tax, Mailman Boots, and Fire Extinguisher Guitar have in common? They were all pitched last night at ThreeFortyNine as real businesses. A bunch of us got together and played a version of Dave McClure’s half baked last night and it worked.

If you can craft a compelling pitch in 10 minutes for something called  Banana Tax, imagine what you can pull off for something you’re passionate about? Here’s how we worked it.

  1. We all wrote some random words on pieces of paper.
  2. We formed into partners and drew two random words for each team.
  3. We then had 10 minutes to brainstorm the first pitch.
  4. One partner then pitched to everyone. You have 2 minutes.
  5. Once each team had pitched once, we all gave feedback on the pitches.
  6. We broke into teams again for 10 minutes to brainstorm the second partners pitch, incorporating the feedback.
  7. Your partner then pitches.
  8. More feedback, done.

This was our first time running this event and IMHO it was great. The feedback in the room was massively valuable and we just don’t get enough chance to actually practice pitching day to day.

I’d love to hear what others who attended thought. Please comment below if you were there.

Startupify.Me Mentors

12 years, 5 months ago
[ General ]

I love the name dropping. Jim Kelly has no idea how miles I’ve gotten out of that handshake in a Buffalo hotel. (Side note, I now have the title of my next song…”a handshake in a Buffalo hotel”)

Goal #1 at Startupify.Me is launching new technology businesses. A close #2 is building up our developers networks and getting them working directly with the people leading our industry. We’re combining those goals with our mentor program. Our mentors have committed to spending time here at ThreeFortyNine working directly with our developers on our projects.

Today, we listed a glimpse of some of the people our developers and clients will be working with. If you’re a developer who feels you have the chops to get into the world of building software based businesses, then let us know. We’re hiring, like right now!

Safety Nets Are For Failing

12 years, 5 months ago
[ Software Development ]

A friend who’d been freelancing for the past 6 months recently accepted a job. In speaking with her about her short experience freelancing, she talked about safety nets. They just took on a mortgage, have two cars, etc. If she goes out on her own again, she would prepare better by reducing her income requirements as low as possible. Makes sense right? Prepare to live lean, aim to be ramen profitable. Investors love hearing this stuff!

My response was to disagree. Here’s my concern with ramen profitability, as a goal. A large part of entrepreneurship involves gambling on yourself. You have to become very good at measuring, and taking on, risk. No risk, no nothing. Risk is a requirement. You have to measure that risk effectively so that you aren’t taking unnecessary risks. Once you do take a risk, preparing a series of safety nets is just you deciding you’re going to fail.

“Every person who wins in any undertaking must be willing to burn his ships and cut all sources of retreat. Only by doing so can one be sure of maintaining that state of mind as a burning desire to win, essential to success”

Your subconscious is powerful. If there’s an exit available, it’ll take you there. I speak in public occasionally. I swear, in every case, had someone said to me right before I went up “hey, sorry, we’re running behind, do you mind going next time?”, I’d be all over it. Exit available, exit taken.

There are times when you should be removing failure as an available option instead of preparing it. Did you take driver training when you got your license? Remember being taught about the point of no return when driving into an intersection? As you’re approaching, you are aware of the green light and that it may turn yellow. You explicitly pick a point in time, after which it doesn’t matter if the light turns yellow, you are going through that intersection. It it turns yellow before that point, you hammer on the brakes and stop safely.

What’s the point? The point is that once you pass that point, you can focus and things get simpler. You no longer care about the colour of the light. If the light changes, you don’t flinch, tap the brakes, you just focus on the traffic in the intersection and your only job is to drive through it.

Remember jumping off bridges as a kid? Someone triple dog dared you? Why accept dares like that? Simple, you’re using peer pressure to remove your safety net. You no longer have any choice except to step off that bridge.

Parkinson’s Law says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. For entrepreneur’s it’s worth considering the role safety nets play. Is it possible that success only expands so as to fill the safety nets available?

Schleping. Sales Solves All.

12 years, 6 months ago
[ Software Development ]

Paul Graham wrote that part of the reason great startup ideas lie dormant is because of hackers schlep blindness.

“No one likes schleps, but hackers especially dislike them. Most hackers who start startups wish they could do it by just writing some clever software, putting it on a server somewhere, and watching the money roll in—without ever having to talk to users, or negotiate with other companies, or deal with other people’s broken code. Maybe that’s possible, but I haven’t seen it.”

The cliche ‘sales solves all problems’ applies here as well. I spoke with friend recently who is a seed stage investor. I asked them what is the one thing they look for in an investment above all else? Product management skills, user experience, rockstar coder? Their answer was the ability to sell. They require all of those other skills but those can be augmented, taught, hired for. If the person they’re investing in doesn’t appear to have the ability to sell themselves and the product then no deal.

If I wake up in the morning stressed about a product or business I’m working on, I’ve trained myself to focus on selling more that day. If I wasn’t able to sell yesterday then my current plan is flawed. So I make a new plan and go to work selling it. Lean startup folks like to call this a pivot but believe me it’s nothing they created. This is a quote from 1937:

“If the first plan which you adopt does not work successfully, replace it with a new plan, if this new plan fails to work, replace it, in turn with still another, and so on, until you find a plan which does work. Right here in the point at which the majority of men meet with failure, because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail.”

Remember that selling isn’t just about revenue. Selling is about acquiring a customer. Acquiring a customer gets you someone to work for, deliver value to. It gets you your list of todos for today. It gets you out of your office. You can’t hide in your office if you’re selling.

“Thomas A. Edison ‘failed’ ten thousand times before he perfected the incandescent electric light bulb. That is — he met with temporary defeat ten thousand times, before his efforts were crowned with success”

If you’re in software, chances are slim you have any experience selling. Selling doesn’t always mean you’re literally on the road selling. Sales support is selling. Product development is selling. Software development, done well, is selling.

I’m exciting about hosting our half baked session because of that, get us some time to practice selling. You’re given two random words, 5 minutes to prepare, then you have to pitch. You have to focus on who the customer is and what they’re problem is. Fail. Great, you have another 5 minutes to make a new plan and your partner pitches again. Rinse, repeat. The hope is this practice helps us all sell better.