Rss Feed
Tweeter button
Facebook button
Reddit button
Myspace button
Linkedin button
Digg button
Stumbleupon button
Youtube button

Dealing with mistakes

We all make mistakes. Lots of them. Rarely a day goes by without me making at least one, whether it be forgetting to run an errand, coming home late without warning my wife, being late to a meeting, making a bad trade, or losing patience with one of my kids. It’s OK to make mistakes because it’s part of makes us human. I would argue that our demanding lifestyle makes us prone to make much more than our parents.

I believe there are two types of mistakes: the ones that negatively impact us, and those that affect others. It’s unpleasant to be on the receiving end of a mistake, whether it was yours or someone else’s.

People have different ways to deal with mistakes they make that affect others. Some will try (and often succeed) to convince themselves that even though it wasn’t planned, the outcome of their action is better for everyone, including the people affected by it. Others will try to hide it, acting as if nothing happened, hoping no one will notice or that time will heal all wounds. Others will plainly lie, scheming, hoping they’ll never get caught. Others will look for excuses, blaming others, the weather, the market, the cell phone battery, traffic, etc.
Continue reading →

Montreal, the best city in the Whole Wide World

I live in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, one of best cities in the world. As of 2005, more than 3.6 million people lived in the MontreaI metropolitan area. I love Montreal for many reasons. It is diverse and international with close to 1 million people members of 80 vibrant ethnic communities: Haitian, northern Africans, Italian, Greek, Arab, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Berbers, Russian, Jewish, Brazilian, Portuguese, Germans, Scottish, Spanish, Lebanese, Polish, etc. It’s bilingual (French and English), the second largest French city in the world (after Paris) and hundreds of thousands of people have a different native language.

Montreal is also pro entrepreneurship, pro enterprise and pro startups with low corporate taxes, the best research and development tax credits in the world (free money for tech companies, up to 80% of R&D spending) and government support for the venture capital industry. Real Ventures just closed a $50M seed fund that will invest in 50-60 startups over the next 3-4 years. Montreal has a 60 member strong angel network that meets every month. There are 2-5 startup events every week, from product camps, to demo camps to UIX events. The city also counts half a dozen incubators/accelerators. Montreal is close to major North American cities including Toronto, New York and Boston (1-hour flight) and between a 4-5 hour flight away from San Francisco and Los Angeles. Montreal is very well positioned for the new convergence of Mobile, Gaming and Web. Some of the largest gaming studios are in MTL, including Ubisoft, EA and Warner. Nokia and Ericsson have hundreds of employees in Montreal. Montreal is world renowned for its machine learning, natural language processing and operations research talent, and the local web development community is thriving.
Continue reading →

Montreal is on fire

As I was planning my day this morning I realized that the Montreal startup community is on fire. I keep saying to whomever will listen that Montreal is the place to be if you want to start a company, but it’s nice to see proof points to back all the talk. Just today we have a number of great events to attend:

DigitalPuck Happy Hour
Techno Montreal Cocktail
Conversion Camp

and the main event

Jacques Bernier (Managing Partner at Teralys Capital) VS Francois-Charles Sirois, (President of Telesystem), a boxing match pinning the largest VC LP in Canada against one of his GP for charity

Where else on the planet can you find a startup networking event that combines great people, great food, booze, fundraising for a great cause, blood and violence involving an LP and a GP?

The implications of combining excess supply of capital with the war for talent in the digital economy

The world of early stage investing is changing in ways that are reminiscent to the tech bubble of 1999. As Fred Wilson points out in “Storm Clouds” that investors are behaving badly, making $5M to $15M investments in web startups in days, without proper due diligence. Even larger web companies like Facebook and Google are contributing to the madness, paying tens of millions of dollars to acquire companies to shut them down, just to get access to their engineers. According to a story by Mike Arrington, Google even gave an engineer a $3.5M package to stay with the company. Are we in another bubble that’s about to burst and take us all with it? What does this all mean for entrepreneurs, engineers, investors and startups?

I believe we can use the simple laws of supply and demand to understand the situation and give ourselves a framework we can use to better prepare ourselves for what lies ahead

We can look at our ecosystem as the combination of two markets: the startup market and the IT market. By IT market I mean large companies in the greater IT sector (web, Internet, mobile, software, gaming, advertising, etc.) such as Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook that are an integral part of the startup ecosystem. Both markets need the same basic resources to thrive: infrastructure (computing power, storage and bandwidth), customers or revenues, capital (angels, VCs and public markets), ideas/products and talent (engineering and management). The two markets have also had a symbiotic relationship over the years that is now at risk due to an important imbalance in the supply and demand curves of capital and talent. For years, startups have been considered a resource in the larger IT market. Large IT companies have used startups to fill gaps in their product roadmap (ideas/products) and acquire qualified engineers (talent). Large IT companies have also been a major part of the startup market either as partners, customers, competitors, investors or acquirers, fueling the virtuous circle that makes the startup ecosystem viable.
Continue reading →

The Age of the Entrepreneur

I have been reading about the changing landscape of how technology companies get their initial outside funding after friends and family have chipped in. Seed or early stage investing, as it is referred to by entrepreneurs, angels, VCs and their investors (limited partners) is a critical part of the technology innovation and funding ecosystem because it has historically been the only consistent source of returns for the industry. This is where angels and VCs make their money and why so much has been written about the subject over the past 6 months. Paul Kedrosky started the discussion with “The Coming Super-Seed Crash” in which he argued that a crash was inevitable as a result of too many companies getting funded by too many angels and third string VCs at skyrocketing valuations. Entrepreneur, angel investor and blogger Chris Dixon picked it up and wrote an interesting post about how the changes were caused mostly by entrepreneurs getting smarter about raising money, which I believe is part the reason. Successful venture capitalists and bloggers Fred Wilson, Mark Suster and Brad Feld felt compelled to chime in and describe their approach to seed investing and their thoughts on the evolving funding landscape. Dave McClure, the most outspoken of the angels wrote this now infamous post “Moneyball for Startups” in which he called traditional VCs dinosaurs and on the way to extinction and talked about how investors had to innovate to remain relevant. Angels and VCs even publicly discussed the evolution of deal terms and the pros and cons of straight equity versus convertible debentures at the seed level. As you can read my post “Equity vs Convertible Debt: What’s best for Entrepreneurs”, I believe equity is the way to go for investors and entrepreneurs alike because it aligns the interest on both sides.

Then Michael Arrington dropped into the conversation in dramatic fashion by accusing a group of “Super Angels” of collusion and price fixing at the seed level in his post “A Blogger Walks Into A Bar…“. These events are now referred to as Angelgate. Finally, Paul Graham, the founder of Y combinator which is at the center of this storm wrote this great essay “The New Funding Landscape” which claims that the changes Y combinator companies are currently experiencing (convertible debt, faster and bigger rolling seed rounds, higher valuations, etc.) and that the competition between Super Angels and VCs are here to stay. Although he makes a lot of good points, his essay mostly reflects the realities of Y combinator, which graduates less than 50 companies per year. Continue reading →

Should entrepreneurs raise a seed round?

A lot has been written about seed funding. How much should you raise, from what type of investors, under what terms and conditions?

I believe the first question an entrepreneur should ask himself or herself is whether they should raise a seed round at all.

Unless you’re building semiconductors or hardcore hardware, it is no secret that the cost of starting a company and achieving market validation, the ultimate value creation milestone for startups, is trending to zero for engineer founders that can moonlight or survive three to six months with no or limited income. Dave McClure’s “Moneyball for Startups does a great job explaining this. An incorporation and simple shareholder’s agreement will cost a couple hundred bucks if you do it online and use some of he free templates. The open source software stack and its numerous development frameworks like ruby on rails are free and have sped up development cycles to the point where a common mortal can build a brand new application and release it into the wild in months. In fact, a team of two should be able to build the first version of its product or service between one to three months, depending on the complexity. Accelerators like Y Combinator, Techstars, Seedcamp and Launchbox Digital have proven this assumption over the past few years. On the hardware side, cloud services like Amazon Web Services allow startups to scale their computing, bandwidth and storage costs as their business grows, limiting the initial costs to less than $100 per month. With a first product in hand and a scale-as-you-go infrastructure, a team can then deploy and test customer fit and market adoption assumptions for free (except for a few hundred $$ Adwords) on multiple platforms and channels including Social (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Gmail), Search (Google, Bing), Mobile (iPhone, iPod, Andoid, Blackberry, etc.), each with audiences of hundreds of millions or more and the emerging Business Marketplaces such as Google Apps and Salesforce’s AppExchange, to name a few. Continue reading →

Real Ventures is here

After a long journey which started in 2007 with the creation of Montreal Startup, Real Ventures, a $45M seed fund, is finally here.

For those of you who don’t know, Montreal Startup is a $5M seed fund that was founded by John Stokes, Daniel Drouet, Alan MacIntosh, Austin Hill, and yours truly. Mark MacLeod has since joined the team for Real Ventures. We invested in 15 web, mobile and software companies between February 2008 and March 2010, including Beyond The Rack, Status.net, Whatsnexx, Vanilla Forums, Recoset, mConcierge, Oneeko and SocialGrapes. For the majority of our investments, we were the first money in, acting as the lead investor. We hold board seats in most companies. Montreal Startup was created for two reasons. First, we all shared a passion for entrepreneurship. I for one love entrepreneurs. I believe they are the driving force of change, innovation and evolution, our modern day conquerors that are making our future. They are are future leaders. Participating in the shaping of these men and women and supporting them in the building of their respective empires is a fulfilling and gratifying experience. We also started Montreal Startup to take advantage of what we believed was a disruption in how technology companies were being built and financed. In fact, we set up the fund to test the following assumptions which are now some of the pillars of Real Ventures’ investment strategy:

1- The cost of getting a company from idea to the validation of the business model is now 10X less than what it was 5-10 years ago and is no more than a few hundred thousands $ for consumer Internet companies and less than $1M for companies targeting the enterprise:
a) The evolution of opensource platforms and development frameworks means that software or web services that used to take a team of 6 people over a year to build now takes 2 people less than 3 months. In addition, software infrastructure costs are zero (operating systems, databases, etc.)
b) Because of the cloud, hardware costs (servers, storage, bandwidth) are now directly proportional to utilization, meaning that startups can get started for less than $100 per month;
c) There are now many platforms with more than 100 million active users that are seamlessly accessible to third party apps, software and web services providers including Facebook (500M +), Twitter (200M+), Iphone and ipod touch (more 250M+), Android (250K new activations per day), Google search and adwords, Google Apps, Gmail, Salesforce AppExchange, Amazon, etc. These platforms allow companies to transact with their customers with one click in many cases. Combined with a blog and media industry dedicated to technology, it now costs very little for a startup with a good product to get access to customers. Continue reading →

Buying local and how to support our community

Buying local is hot. It is being mentioned by scholars and influencers as a way to reduce our toll on the environment. It also means buying goods and food produced and grown by local companies. When you buy local, you support your community. Your money goes towards quality and freshness as opposed to packaging, refrigeration, freight, fuel, etc. It’s healthy, good for the environment and the local economy.

There must be a way to apply these same principles to our local startup community

I had an interesting call last week with Martin-Luc Archambault, co-founder of incubator Bolidea. Martin-Luc was telling me about how he had heard that Techstars, the very successful and expanding accelerator co-founded out of Boulder, Colorado by Brad Feld of the Foundry Group and David Cohen was inciting its applicants and graduates to use products and services offered by other Techstars companies whenever possible. He pointed to Sendgrid, an email delivery platform and Techstars graduate as an example of that. Martin-Luc’s point was that we have a growing startup community in Montreal with great startups building world class products, and we need to do a better job at supporting them. He has since switched to Cakemail for email delivery, a local company, which he claims has the best product out there. Continue reading →

Startup Lessons: The bike accident

The Accident

On Friday, September 10, 2010, I biked to work, like I try to do 1-3 times per week. It was a beautiful sunny day with barometer over 20 degrees Celsius. I got on my bike at around 5PM to head to Suite 701 Lounge, the trendy bar and restaurant of Hotel Places d’Armes, one of Montreal’s finest boutique Hotel located in Old Montreal, to attend my good friend and partner Mark MacLeod’s 40th birthday party. It was rush hour and the city was buzzing with activity: people on the streets getting out of work and ready to start the weekend, traffic, bixis, the works. I work downtown which is directly at the base of the Mount Royal and at a higher elevation to Old Montreal. As I was coming down Beaver Hall, a small street that feeds into Square Victoria where The Montreal Stock Exchange, the Hotel W, and the CDP headquarters are located, I started to pick up speed to reach about 35KM/h. About half way through the hill I hit the breaks to prepare to stop at the red light about 50 meters below. To my surprise, although I stopped picking up speed, I wasn’t slowing down. I was on the right side of the street, headed for trouble. My first reaction was to look back to see whether I could cross the street in an attempt to slow down. No car, so I made a tight left turn but still no breaks. I was now less than 25 meters from the red light, on the left side of the street with a car parked right in front of me about 10 meters away. I had two choices: go through the red light and hope for the best or jump off the bike and get hurt. Continue reading →

My favorite commute: Montreal bike paths

When the weather and my schedule permits, I like to bike to work. I work in Montreal, one of the best cities in the world. The city gets it name from the old French words Mont and Réal which translate to Mount Royal, the name of the small mountain at the center of the city-Island. I live on the south shore of Montreal and our wonderful bike paths give me a few options. I have two favorites. The first one (19KM) sees me heading east right on the south shore of the St-Lawrence River, under the Champlain Bridge and through the lock in St-Lambert where I cross. I then get on the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve, home of the Montreal F1 Grand Prix. The circuit is opened from spring through fall for bikers and roller-bladers to enjoy. I then ride by the Montreal Casino, cross the Concorde bridge, ride by the funky looking apartments built for expo ‘67 and soon arrive in the heart of the city. The second one (35KM) sees me heading west and then north, again on the south shore of the river and through La Prairie and Ste-Catherine, two charming little towns. I cross a small bridge to get on a beautiful strip of land, right in the middle of the St-Lawrence River where I’m surrounded by trees and water on each side. This path takes me to Verdun and then Pointe-St-Charles through Iles-des-Soeurs, following the beautiful Canal Lachine, or to the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve. Here’s a map of the bike paths in and around the city. It’s a beautiful ride and a great way to start and end the part of my days I spend in the office. Get’s me to break a sweat and oxygenate my brain and body. I can shower at the YMCA next to my office. The short way takes me a bit more than 45 minutes (5-10 minutes more than if I take my car during rush hour) while the long way takes me about 75 minutes. I usually try to take my bike 1-3 times per week. The bike days are my favorite. Continue reading →