Closed For Business

1 year, 5 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

In case anyone’s been listening all these years, things have been quiet here for a couple of months. As best I can tell, I started writing here with this post in Jan 2006.

I don’t know if I’m shutting this site down but for the time being, I’m going to be writing over at ThreeFortyNine so keep an eye there and join our email list.

Thanks for showing up here and reading…

The Rise of the Entrepreneur

1 year, 7 months ago
[ General ]

In Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sachs suggests that the broadcast model of marketing is coming to an end and we’re seeing a return of the oral tradition:

“the oral tradition that dominated human experience for all but the last few hundred years is returning with a vengence. It’s a monumental, epoch-making, totally unforeseen turn of events.”

The point being this is not something new but rather an undoing of this short lived experiment with the broadcast model. I often use the line, if it’s less than 100 years old then it’s an experiment and the broadcast tradition fits that.

In the broadcast model, the Gutenberg press was one of many elite devices that controlled access in this model:

“In this model, information begins life in the mind of its creator but quickly makes the jump into a machine that relatively few people have access to. Because these machines – letterpresses, radio transmitters, TV cameras – are expensive, access to them is exclusive. This means an elite gatekeeper gets to decide which ideas are allowed in and which die a quick, merciless death.”

Jonah’s analogy applies equally to this entrepreneurial revolution that most of us feel we’ve entered. This revolution isn’t something new, it’s an undoing of the major parts of another experiment called the industrial revolution. As with the Gutenberg press, the industrial revolution created many elite gatekeepers, such as large corporations. They decided which ideas were allowed to go to market and which died quick deaths. As Youngme Moon discusses in her book Different, great ideas are indistinguishable from insane ones in their early days and they often need protection to survive.

While this revolution is well underway in software, movements like 3D printing and scanning are driving this disruption into every industry. In the entrepreneurial revolution, elite devices lose the power to squash potential new businesses. New businesses will live or die not unlike memes and genes:

“In the natural world, memes, or ideas, must ensure their survival by exciting listeners to keep passing them along, carrying the same core message in a chain of transmission.”

Here’s the rub, as we rapidly remove existing elite gatekeepers we need to be very cautious about inserting news ones. Creating a new business isn’t a beauty contest. With the rise of incubators, accelerators, angel investment groups, pitch contests, innovation centers, etc we cannot allow these to become the new gatekeepers with the power to decide which businesses live and die. In the same way no good joke survives a committee of six, these gatekeepers need to be minimized or kept out.

On the other side, most of us grew up watching our fathers work at the same company for 43 years while we spent decades in a school system where we succeeded as long as our prof loved us. Those experiences left some of us with the instinct to look to these elite devices for validation. Is my idea good? Am I allowed to build a business around this? Do you like it?

As always, I don’t have any answers but I’m more excited everyday to watch the rise of the entrepreneur! Our weekly Founder’s Club meetings at ThreeFortyNine are heavily inspired by these ideas. Our meetings are like group therapy for those of us crazy enough to try creating something out of nothing. We support each other, help each of us get better, provide feedback etc but we aren’t here to validate or decide if your business gets to live or die.

A recent success that a friend shared with me that’s a brilliant example of this disruption at work:

Respect The Game, Love The Grind!

1 year, 9 months ago
[ General ]

[Cross posted at StartupNorth]

You have David saying we can’t all be founders, you have Jevon being honest about why he’s a founder, and then you have me ranting about vomiting on your footwear and then there’s Debbie Landa‘s “club of crazy“. Start reading the comment sections on those posts and things get even muddier…..You have to love problems or not, know your role, find your motivation? If you’re considering being an entrepreneur and starting your own business, how do you decide whether to make the leap?

There is a game to this entrepreneur deal. It’s a thing, you can point at, and you have to respect that game. In my opinion, it is the greatest game out there, period.

Creating something from nothing is the most difficult thing you can do. In business, I have the utmost respect for anyone who is able to create a viable business out of nothing. A few stories to add some colour….

In a previous life I rock climbed. It’s likely the coolest sport I’ve ever participated in. Few other sports require the mix of physical requirements, mental fortitude, training, preparation, and ability to deal with plain old fear. I know lot’s of folks who consider themselves climbers. They bought nice gear at MEC and hit the indoor gym every week.

Those people don’t love climbing, they love the idea of climbing. They love the way it looks in a magazine and on tv but that’s not climbing. There’s a filthy grind to climbing. It’s constant cardio work, training in the indoor gym, stretching. It’s packing up all your camping gear every Thursday night in order to leave town as early as you can Friday to get to the crag and setup camp before it gets dark. It’s getting up with the sun, climbing all day. It’s getting home late Sunday night, dropping your gear on the kitchen floor and crashing. Then Monday night you spend the evening cleaning ropes, gear and tents. And on and on.

Pick another sport, ice hockey. Yes we all dream about raising the cup, skating in front of massive crowds, making millions but that’s not hockey. Hockey’s being in the gym five days a week, 6 am practices, lost teeth, chipped elbows. Very few people have the raw skill but even less have the determination required to survive the grind.

What do NHL players say when they retire? Almost universally they say something along the lines of “I still love the game, I love coming to the rink, I love my team, my fans. But I realized I couldn’t put my body through another off season of preparing”.

Creating something from nothing isn’t about techcrunch, billion dollar acquisitions and launch parties. Those may come and when they do, the best will enjoy the moment and then sneak away from the party, head back to the office to return to the grind. If you’re going to do this, remember to respect the game we play and love the grind!

ThreeFortyNine Happy Hour

1 year, 9 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

ThreeFortyNine isn’t hosting our weekly Founder’s Club this week as it falls on Wednesday night, which is too scary of a night for it. Instead we’re hosting a happy hour down at The Ebar on the following night. While our primarily goal is to get our all our members in a room together to catchup and have a drink, it’s also a chance to meet other folks in the community. Who should attend? As we say on our site…

“We’re a small group of aspiring entrepreneurs. Some of us have yet to launch our first business, others are on their second and third.”

If you’re the least bit curious about launching your own business, or already have, I’d suggest you stop in for a drink and meet us.

So this is my invite. If you’re in Guelph Thursday and have an entrepreneurial bent then you’ll likely get along with our crew. Please come out for a quick drink and meetup at 5pm Thursday. If you can make it, please register here and we’ll see you Thursday.

Maybe, The Dangerous Answer

1 year, 9 months ago
[ General ]

I had a great chat today with Dave Estill where we got into yes and no and maybe. Dictionary.com defines “maybe” as “perhaps; possibly: Maybe I’ll go too.” I have a new definition for entrepreneurs:

maybe [mey-bee]: redirect to No

  1. an utterance of the word “no”
  2. a denial or refusal.
  3. a negative vote or voter.

For entrepreneurs, accepting maybe often leads to what I refer to as the false prophet syndrome. You ask your mom for $10K to start your new facebook app. She says maybe, let me think about it.

You think “yes, $10K to get started!”, you buy that macbook on your credit card, lease an office and get rolling. A month later your mom finally admits she’s not comfortable lending you money. While you were spending money you didn’t have buying laptops and leasing office space, what you weren’t doing is hunting for that $10K you need. You were in a holding pattern under the assumption something was forthcoming.

How do you fix this? First, do us all a favour and start answering questions with a concrete yes or no. Sec
Not to pick on them but you often see this with VC’s as well. Rarely does a VC actually say no to you, you’re just “not at the right stage yet for them”. If a VC says that to you, do not head back to your office to tell the team “they love us, we’re just not quite ready for them but we’ll meet with them again in 3 months”. Do go back to your office and say “it was a no, how do we fix that?”ond, start treating all answers, except for yes, as a no. Maybe isn’t allowed. It’s that middle ground that can be harmful to an entrepreneur and the wider community.

My point in all this is that entrepreneurs survive only by the action they take today. You, as an entrepreneur, must never accept maybe. Mush-mouth, soft-no responses are worthless to you. You need to practice and become proficient at pushing for yes/no responses.

If you’re raising money, every response except for a signed cheque is a no.

If you’re selling your product, every response except for a paid sale is a no.

Unless you have your yes, assume you failed and get back to your lab and get back to work. Why did they say no? Refactor your pitch, improve your product, better define your customer, whatever it takes. Do not fall into the trap of treating a maybe as a yes. To help, I’m providing a simple framework/cheatsheet below….

Yes = Yes

Maybe = No

Let me think about it = No

I have to speak to my team first = No

I love your product and what you’re doing = No

We’re in, but we’ll need to hold off until next quarter = No

No = No

DemoCampGuelph

1 year, 10 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

We took a break, someone had a kid apparently, but DemoCampGuelph is back this November for our 20th instalment. Hopefully you remember us?

The event will be Tuesday November 27 at our usual location at The eBar. If you’ll be attending, please make sure to register here. If you’d like to demo, email me directly with a short pitch (less than 200 words) explaining why the folks in attendance need to see you demo!

Please help us spread the word and get another great crowd out.

The Future of Mobile Technology

1 year, 10 months ago
[ Geek ]

I was lucky enough to have spent last weekend at another instance of Alistair‘s Bitnorth conference. Core to Bitnorth is that everyone contributes. I gave a short talk with no slides. I figured I’d do my best to share it with you here.

If you’ve been following along here you’ll likely know that I began an experiment almost two years ago in ditching my smartphone. That experiment continues and likely can’t be called an experiment any longer.

What?

What I did was get rid of my smartphone, which at the time was an android device, and moved to an old school, voice only cell phone. Previously I was a blackberry user for years. An interesting side note is that my android device was only a few months old, had cost me $99, and I had signed into a three year contract with rogers. I figured that would be my biggest challenge. I posted on kijiji that I would be willing to give my almost brand new device away as long as the person taking it took on my contract. I had dozens of responses within an hour. I had no idea it was that simple.

How?

I bought a John’s Phone along with a 3G Kindle. The 3G Kindle gave me free 3G access, allowing me to check my webmail on the road, in a pinch. No data plan, more email away from desk, no SMS.

This Isn’t For You…This Isn’t A Crusade

Since doing this, I’ve taken on a part-time role as smartphone therapist. When I explain my odd phone situation, most people explain to me their setup and how they’ve tamed their smartphones and it isn’t an issue for them. That’s great, I’m not on a crusade here, I’m not saving the planet, I’m not asking anyone to get rid of their smartphone or change their usage patterns.

A large majority of people also express their wish to ditch their smartphone and explain to me why that’s not possible for them. Again, you can’t live without your smartphone, that’s cool, keep it.

Why?

So why do this? I had a few reasons to try this. One was to simply be less connected, less open to interruption. For me, a smartphone had opened the door to hundreds, possibly thousands of people to interrupt me 24/7.

I also wanted to be more present and place more value on the people physically around me. If you took the time to come out and meet me for a coffee then I want to be present. My lazy buddy who couldn’t get off the couch can’t text, twitter, or whatever me and take my attention away. He can get off his ass and join us.

I want to solve big problems. I believe that requires something other than direct, conscious work. Solving the big problems in my life requires lot’s of time for me to daydream and stare at the wall. A smartphone stole most of that time from me. I filled in all the gaps with junk from my smartphone.

How?

In my case, I make myself highly available by phone. My phone number is on all my sites and in every signature. You do have to ‘train’ others. That requires responding to so-called urgent emails by letting them know you don’t have a smartphone and to please phone you if it’s urgent. I only had to send a few of these emails.

Results?

I don’t have any upgrade stress. I don’t care about the latest device, app, game etc. I have no idea what number of iphone I should be buying next. For some people, removing that from your life will free up a couple of hours a day.

I really do believe I regrown, or repaired, my ability to focus and my attention span.

Being more present has allowed me to develop stronger relationships with the people around me, including my family and kids.

I have a chance to be curious again. When around others, that requires stopping people from checking their phones for an answer. People, it’s okay not to know something, it’s okay to be curious about something and enjoy that for a bit.

I’ve likely read more books since making this change than my entire life before that.

I do not get more phone calls. My sense is that people take a moment to reflect on their *urgent* email. They consider whether a phone call is required and my guess is that most of the time they decide it can wait. I don’t believe I get more email either but I didn’t measure any of this.

The biggest reason I have no interest in a smartphone is I do believe it’s increased my ability to solve the big problems. So keep your smartphone please! I’ll keep tackling the big problems and keep that advantage to myself.

A Coworking Update….It’s Just Us In Here

1 year, 10 months ago
[ Guelph Tech ]

I had a conversation yesterday that’s occurred a few times over the past year. In speaking with someone about what we’re up to at ThreeFortyNine, they commented about us being government funded or associated with other organizations here in town.

To be clear, we have no government backing and it’s just us here. I’m certainly open to conversations about any/all support and collaborations but the fact is that’s not the case today. I’m biased but if you’re asking me, what we’re up to here in supporting early stage technology entrepreneurs should be at the top of any list related to economic development in a community.

What does that mean? It means ThreeFortyNine is simply an underfunded, struggling business in Guelph, not unlike a lot of others. To date, it’s taken a lot of personal time and investment to build up and we’re not ‘out of the woods’ yet. We’re working our asses off to deliver real value to our members here. If we succeed in doing that, we’ll earn our place in this community and our existence. If we don’t, well let’s not worry about that.

Why do this? The honest answer is I took a leap I had no business taking. In doing that I found an incredible community of people. I fight daily to make this place viable because I really do love working here and I love the people who are members here.

Join Us! Today, there are two main avenues to work for yourself, not by yourself here at ThreeFortyNine. We have a few full time coworking desks left, which gets you 24/7 access to our space. We’re also looking for more members for our ongoing events series, the core of which is our Founder’s Club which I refer to as group therapy for us folks dumb(smart) enough to try launching something of our own. Get in touch with me, let me know what you’re working on and we’ll figure out a time for a tour or to sit in on one of our upcoming events! Or say something nice about us on the twitters!

Nice Words A few testimonials from folks in our community….

“What excites me about ThreeFortyNine goes beyond just the workspace and into an environment created by a collection of driven, imaginative individuals with an aversion to comfort zones. People here aren’t afraid to challenge themselves and, quite frankly, that attitude’s contagious”Matthew

“There’s a value to spending time at ThreeFortyNine beyond just a spot to hang your shingle. There’s an air of collaboration and support there that you don’t find just anywhere. The conversations, shared ideas and feedback among individuals of such varied backgrounds and skill sets bear unlikely but welcome fruits”Danny

“I recently had a chance to hang out at ThreeFortyNine’s Founders Club. I was greeted with friendly entrepreneurs in a relaxed setting sharing thoughts, opinions, and some laughs. I left with new ideas and got to meet some new faces. If you’re looking for a place to connect with others, or just connect better with what you’re doing, this is a good place to be”, Mark

[cross posted at ThreeFortyNine]

“Starving” Startup Train Tickets

2 years ago
[ Geek ]

We’re looking for six startups local to KW, Guelph, or Toronto who’d benefit from being on our train to Startup Fest in Montreal in a couple of weeks. This is massive opportunity for some early stage startups to get focused time with other funders and founders, not to mention some national press folks. You’re on a train, they can only hide in the bathroom for so long!

A big thanks to the BDC, through Startup Festival, who paid for these conference tickets. Please make sure to read the details closely as there are a few simple stipulations.

Apply Today!

Help us spread the word on this!

Do Not Start A Business!

2 years, 1 month ago
[ General ]

In the last couple of years my response to the question “should I start my own business?” has changed dramatically. I used to encourage people. I used to try and build them up, entice them, talk about the good life.

My standard answer now is an emphatic “No! Do NOT start your own business”.

Wait there’s more…If you have a decent job, and can keep it, do not quit that job to start a business. Keep your job, live the good life. Starting a new business will destroy everything good in your life. It will ruin you, your friends, your family.

After that I pause to see their response. Why would I respond with such a negative response and discourage someone from making a leap to starting something new? Simple. Everything I said was true and if all it takes to throw you off this path is me saying this, then I just did you a massive favour. I saved you a ton of cash, pain, and I saved you a good job!

After that pause, a small portion of people will push me further. They’ll explain why they aren’t able to keep their current job, how it’s destroying them inside and why starting their business is their only option. For those few I will go on to explain that starting something new from nothing is the greatest thing you’ll ever do. It’s the most rewarding stuff you’ll ever be involved in but it is only for a select few. It will make your friends, family and everything around you better, stronger, richer.

“Call it passion, tenacity, stick-to-itiveness, true grit, or just plain stubbornness. Whatever it is and wherever it comes from, it’s the most important quality an entrepreneur can have.”

I’m not exaggerating when I tell people I literally have days I’m so stressed out I feel like I’m going to puke on my own shoes, or flip-flips which is clearly worse. After days like that, I hang with my kids, I walk, I read, I rant to my wife, I speak with friends, advisors, I sleep it off. I get up the next day having schemed a solution and excited beyond belief to attack yesterday’s impossible problem and kick it’s ass.

I usually say something to my wife like “so that problem I mentioned last night, it’s ok, I figured it out”. She nods knowingly as she’s seen the pattern hundreds of times.

That process can’t be avoided. You can’t make problems go away, they are in fact your greatest source of learning. You have to look them in the eye, face them head on. That’s painful. You can’t outsource it, you can’t hire to solve this. You also have no idea if you can do this until you try it with your baby.

So please do create something new from nothing but only if you’re ready to puke on your own flip-flops every now and again.