26 September 2013
How NOT to Run a (Hardware) Hackathon

image

Last weekend there were no less than 100 hackathons happening all over the US and Canada. They were held for a variety of reasons, everything from trying out new SDKs, to causing Social Good. I can’t speak from personal experience, but what I can sense from Twitter is that most of these hackathon were very well run, very organized, very focused on hacking, and generally a very good force in the world. With one notable exception: the Energy Hack event at MaRS.

And worst of all, it was kind of our fault.

For starters let me give you a little background on MaRS. MaRS is a semi-private, non-profit organization, funded largely by government tax dollars with the stated mission to “drive social and economic prosperity and create global businesses through innovation”. They spend many millions of dollars a year. They occupy one of the poshest buildings in Toronto. They pay their CEO about $600K a year. And they have “launched” approximately zero successful companies, let alone global businesses, in their 13 years of existence. In fact there is an almost perfect negative correlation between the good startups and the MaRS startups.

So needless to say there is some tongue-in-cheek joking that happens between the good / real / successful (ish) startups in Toronto about MaRS.

But, they’ve actually been trying to get better lately. They hired my good friend David Crow for a little while, they’ve rolled over a lot of the upper brass (don’t worry :P, CEO Ilse still makes bank), and they’ve apologized, at least in person, for how shitty they’ve been. So when they reached out to us to help them with a hardware hackathon, despite my better judgement, we agreed to help.

OK… Let’s shelve that for a second, and talk about hackathons.

Hackathons are this pretty amazing mechanic of Social Good. A whole bunch of really smart people get together in a room and they work on stuff, often even working together, not for money, or even for fame really, but just because. Because its fun. Because they get to do something different. Because maybe they’ll learn something. Because they work on ideas instead of tickets. And because they get to work with their friends, instead of the assholes they normally work with. If the tech tree from the game Civilization was a real thing, “hackathons” would sit somewhere towards the end of it, probably right beside “open source”.

But nestled into the whole idea of a hackathon, right next to all of these amazingly positive qualities, is their greatest weakness. PEOPLE DON’T NEED TO SHOW UP. And they especially don’t need to stay. And if you don’t respect the hackers, their knowledge, their power and their motivation, they will absolutely and unquestionably “ruin” your event. They will eat your food, drink your beer, and leave. And they won’t ever come back.

Our role as organizers is to be the janitors, the line cooks and the gardeners. Our entire job and our only responsibility is to enable these hackers. Get them to show up. Empower them to hack. Give them a reason to stay. Help them to communicate. Feed them. Fill them with sugar and booze. Bribe them with other smart people. Promise them you won’t do any of the shit they deal with at work. And stay out of their way. Our only job, is to do EVERYTHING POSSIBLE, to enable people to do something that they shouldn’t want to do. At Upverter we try to take it a baby step further and not only provide this type of an environment, but also provide hardware hackers with a product that has most of these ideologies baked in.

Ok, so back to MaRS, what went so wrong that I felt the need to write this? I think there were 3 big things, and 1 giant one:


Paperwork

When the hackers showed up they were presented with a table full of paperwork. This was the first thing they saw when they walked through the doors and it framed and set the tone for the entire event. Before being allowed into the space the hackers needed to read, and sign 3 different documents. Before they did anything. No ideas. No teams. No energy. No whiteboards. Just a giant stack of paperwork. It’s a bit like the difference between the jobs where you have to sign a contract before you meet your co-workers, and the one where you’ve shared a meal, had a couple of beers, met the whole team, and started work before someone realizes you should probably sign a contract. In the end, this goes back to friction. Do they really need to read that right now? Do they really need to sign that? How much better is your event going to be with paperwork, versus how many fewer people will show up?

Rule of Thumb: If they absolutely do need to sign something it NEEDS to be short, to the point, and it needs to be in English, (NOT in legalize).


Look & Feel

The space felt passive. I felt like I was at a conference or a seminar. I didn’t feel like I could build, destroy, or change the space I was in. There was no creative energy (read, chaos). The room was big round tables, a stage, and a powerpoint presentation. No whiteboards. No list of ideas seeking hackers. No list of hackers seeking ideas. It felt a lot more like a workshop than a hackathon, more like a conference than an un-conference. This one goes back to the raw creation that a hackathon is supposed to represent and our duty as organizers to be the janitors to that creation. If a space feels passive then its attendees will act passive. If hackers don’t feel like they can change the space, they will sit and watch, or worse get discouraged and leave.

Rule of Thumb: Make the space and the vibe of your hackathon just as hackable as the APIs, ideas and parts you’re providing the hackers with.


Don’t Try To Teach

The hackers got lectured at for at least 3 hours before they were allowed to begin hacking. There are two big points buried in that. First, you can’t expect to teach the hackers programming, or hardware, or OAUTH, or XML as part of the event. Education is emergent, not scheduled. If they don’t know it they will figure it out. If they can’t code they probably won’t show up. If they do show up, bet on the emergence of the event, and remember that nobody ever learned OAUTH from Powerpoint. Second, you don’t get to tell them what to do. You just don’t. You’re their assistant, not their supervisor - they tell you what to do. This is also another reference back to friction, all of the Powerpoint, all of the “education” that the hackers needed could have just been emailed to them before the event. Its also a reference back to being custodians to the process, not schedulers or managers of it.

Rule of Thumb: Make resources available and help the hackers to learn, but do not ever try to teach them.


Respect

This is the giant one. Its probably a sum of all the others. You could feel it in the front desk, the overwhelming lack of technical support, the powerpoints, the space, the paperwork, the twitter feed, etc, etc. MaRS, in my opinion, did not respect their guests. At absolutely every step of the way they should have questioned the things they were asking the hackers to do. Do they really need to do that? Can we do that for them? Does that actually need to happen at the event, or could we just send them an email ahead of time? Do we really need to teach them software development, or oauth, or about our API - or could we just give them a link to a wiki page? They forgot these are very smart people, showing up to invest their time into an event with almost zero payback to them, they needed to be respected accordingly.

Rule of Thumb: Respect the hackers. Do everything you possibly can for them. And be incredibly grateful they showed up.


Conclusion

I think MaRS had their hearts in the right place. They tried hard to organize a successful hackathon, and I commend them for that; It just could have been so much better.

Upverter has organized, hosted and participated to dozens of hackathons over the last three years and if I had to give a single piece of advice about how to make an event successful, it would be “Don’t over engineer the event”. Keep it simple and the smart, industrious and enabled people you invite will amaze you, all for the bargain basement price of a bit of food, beer and time.

More Here

8 Questions You Need To Ask Before You Run A (Hardware) Hackathon

How A (Hardware) Hackathon Should Be Run

26 September 2013
8 Questions You Need To Ask Before You Throw A Hackathon

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In an effort to help and to make sure the MaRS event never happens again, especially at an event we are associated with, here are some questions you should ask when setting your next hackathon.


Why are you doing this

  • Have a clear purpose and tell the hackers
  • Be as broad as possible, try not to limit creativity
  • If your software is super alpha, and part of this is to test it, tell people that!


What style of hackathon

  • Are hackers prototyping or just designing?
  • Are you providing a service as part of the event (ie manufacturing)?
  • Do you expect hackers to bring parts, or prototypes, or just ideas?


What are the key logistics

  • 1 day event? 24 hours? full weekend?
  • Are you feeding people?
  • Beer or dry?
  • Are there prizes? or take homes? or a give away?


What about teams

  • Solo or teams?
  • How big are the teams?
  • Are you going to help with team formation?


What about ideas

  • Before the event or during?
  • Are you providing whiteboards?
  • What is the scope of the hackathon?
  • Give the hackers some “seed” ideas to start with


What are you doing to bring / provide

  • This is based on the style of the event
  • Tools?
  • Parts? Prototypes? Shopping Lists?
  • Laptops?


What do the hackers need to bring

  • This is based on the style of the event
  • Tools?
  • Parts? Prototypes? Shopping Lists?
  • Laptops?


What is the schedule for the day

  • Morning or afternoon start?
  • When is the first food served?
  • Registration?
  • Presentations? How long? When?

 

26 September 2013
How A (Hardware) Hackathon Should Be Run

image

The following are a bunch of open source documents that we’ve been collecting at Upverter over the past bunch of hackathons we’ve run. Please take them, use them, and hack them. And obviously let me know if you have any ideas for making them better!

 

Learn to hack hardware

http://upverter.com/learn/

This site is a great place to send your hackers for some intro and education content to get them up to speed on how to hack hardware.


Schedule for the day

google doc

This is a schedule for a 1-day hackathon. Super simple, but its a good breakdown of how much time to spend on each thing.


Check list

google doc

This is a checklist of everything you need to do when getting ready for the event.


Shopping list

google doc

This is a shopping list of everything you need to buy when getting ready for the hackathon. It includes suggestions for parts, tools, prototyping equipment, as well as the things you need in the space.

6 May 2013
“The increase in internal energy of a closed system is equal to the difference of the heat supplied to the system and the work done by it: ΔU = Q - W”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_law_of_thermodynamics

The first law of thermodynamics observes that the internal energy of an isolated system obeys the principle of conservation of energy, which states that energy can be transformed (changed from one form to another), but cannot be created or destroyed.

See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_Man_3

18 February 2013

The Thing You Love

image by Adrian Sommeling

What is the thing that you love doing?

The thing that you are amazingly good at and no one else seems to get? The thing you know you could do better if you just got more time to spend on it? The thing you want to be or do when you grow up? The thing you will do for others, for free, at a moments notice? The thing that relaxes you? The thing you sleep perfectly, calmly and beautifully after spending all day on? The place you feel at peace?

And, why aren’t you doing it every day?

Why is it not your startup? Or your day job? Why aren’t you trying to make your thing everyone’s thing? Or at least make it easier for everyone else? Why haven’t you hired people to do everything else so you can focus on your thing?

There was a time when most of your startup, and most of what you did were the things that you loved. What happened? What changed?

Founders get distracted

It happens. Most of the time were pretty good. We are relentless. Focused. Gritty. But every once and a while we slip. We get tired, lose sight of the end game, hit a road bump, and forget why we care about the problem were solving. We help other founders with their startups. Give advice that we don’t listen to ourselves. Go to too many dinners, too many networking events, too much air war and not enough ground war.

It happens

And its ok. But why aren’t you doing the thing you love? The thing that you’re good at? The thing that comes effortlessly? If you got to do more of what you loved would you be more focused? More gritty? Would the schleps get easier?

17 February 2013

Disruption: Hacking Startup Travel

Image by Takk B

I am currently in the midst of my once a quarter travelling-startup-CEO mega trip. This trip is by far the longest in a while and its got me thinking about the ways we’ve architected Upverter to reduce our aggregate disruption at the expense of massive disruption to my life.

Back Story

A really long time ago we decided the best place in the whole world for us to build Upverter was in Toronto. We relocated the company for the 3rd time, found a space, set roots, and hired a team. It was probably the single best decision we ever made.

But

  • Toronto isn’t the at the center of the startup universe.
  • Toronto isn’t at the center of our customer’s universe.
  • And Toronto isn’t at the center of our personal networks.

So why pick Toronto then? Because we aren’t a flashy consumer web social coupon startup, we aren’t yet well positioned to fight a talent war, and we are building a giant and extremely technical product that needs a ton of R&D spend. Toronto has a surplus of amazing talent, magical employee retention, and the government helps pay about 60% of our R&D spend.

Long story short Toronto is amazing at satisfying the needs that our startup has, with the painful limitation that our financing, market, and support network are all somewhere else.

So I travel.

Lean

We have worked very hard to stay lean over the past two years at Upverter - and this leanness extends whole-scale to my approach towards business travel. I try almost religiously to avoid hotels, couch surf, share meals, eat at Safeway, beg, borrow and steal. There are a lot of side-perks of these hacks, but primarily they simply cut down on spending.

And in an almost circular way it all goes back to disruption - the lower the cost of my trips, the less disruptive they are to the rest of the company.

I’m not sure if I’d feel any differently about the disruption if I travelled in “style”, but it doesn’t really matter. It would be the wrong optimization at our company’s stage unless it mitigated the effects almost entirely.

Math

I firmly believe in the following formulae:

Travel = Disruption

▲Disruption ≈ ▼Productivity

Grit > Disruption (for sufficiently small disruptions)

Disruption ≈ Fatigue (for sufficiently large or frequent disruptions)

Hacks

So what does it all mean? These are my hacks - and the things we’ve done at Upverter to try and build the absolute least disrupted company we can - despite the limitations of our geography.

First, avoid travel if at all possible. Skype works great. It’s impossible to reduce travel to zero - but any travel you can avoid translates almost directly into increased productivity.

Second, when travel/disruption is unavoidable disrupt the grittiest person. Someone should be the traveller. They should be the least susceptible to the disruption travel causes. It would also be great if they were the CEO or face of the company.

Third, disrupt a single person. There is a big difference between everyone travelling a little bit and suffering a little bit of disruption, and one person being thrown fully under the bus, so that everyone else can operate at peak productivity.

Fourth, when the disruption is going to be large scale, or the travel extended, expect massive fatigue. Build a schedule that gets gentler as the trip goes on. Book the nicest couch late in the trip, when you’re going to need it, not on the first night.

Lastly, friends and family seem to help reduce the effects of the fatigue. If you don’t have any friends in the city you’re travelling to - make some. Go out for dinner with real people. Use GrubTonight or any other service to find a dinner with real people. Don’t hide in your airbnb room alone. If you do it right it won’t even cost any more money.

Edit: See here for some great hacks and details I glossed over.

Good Luck

If you have end up living the life of the travelling CEO, running a startup that puts you on a plane, or regularly disrupted in a similar way, you have my respects. And if you’ve got any hacks I’ve missed please add them in the comments.

5 December 2012
Lean Startup Day @ Mars

I spent a bit of time on Monday sitting on a lean startup panel at mars with my good friend David CrowSacha Chua was doing sketches of the talks and I found it kind of neat to see what someone else got out of what I had to say - a sort of peak inside my own brain. Kinda neat.

Anyways, this is what she came up with!


8 August 2012
25 Hardware Startups That Will Exist

We design through lenses.

For a while the best lens we had was mechanical. Divinci invented some pretty incredible devices through this lens - things like helicopters that we only much later realized were helicopters.

We also have a tendancy to use the newest or most familiar lens. 

We have advanced to the point that we now have many, many lenses availible. But despite their availibility lately I’ve noticed that most of the engineers I interact with see the world and its problems through only the lens of software. And so they try to solve everything through software, including many things that have much easier solutions if looked at through a mechanical, social, political, or electrical lens. As an engineer try to remember that you have a toolbox full of lenses, not just one or two.

The following is a list, in no specific order, of problems I think will get solved. Some are very close to being solved already, and others are much further away. But in comon, I think all of them are best solved through the lens of hardware engineering.

Hot Topics / The Next Big Thing

These are all devices that fall into hot or up and coming markets. They are the biggest and furthest out there.

1. Bio Tools / Home diagnosis equipment (MRI, X-ray, etc)

PG Talked a bit about this here. Find a way to diagnose me 10 times a day, everyday when I walk into my bathroom. Have my doctor call me for a checkup, instead of everyone just waiting until I’m really sick. See BioMEMs. Why don’t cellphones have carbon monoxide sensors in them?

2. The Next Apple

ie. The next great consumer electronics company. Apple will probably fail (#5), none of the existing players will fill the void and a startup will probably become the next great consumer electronics company. Start by building a consumer product for visionary users, and continue to scale it into the majority (like Apple did). Pre-sell on kickstarter. Maket socially.

3. Battery technology

We need a 10-100x in batteries. That company will be worth 100BN easy. Think Tesla Motors, Electric Cars, Electric Planes, the increase in portable consumer electronics and the growing gap between expensive peak power and cheap (almost free) non-peak power. Don’t tackle it head on… Think nuclear batteries. Think grid power usage stabilization. Think usage patterns instead of chemical engineering.

4. Non-lethal weapons

Build a way to win a war without killing anyone. Think about non-lethal police forces, non-lethal big game hunting, mid-western americans with non-lethal purse guns. Note: I’m not advocating the morallity in any of this - just that someone, somewhere will build a huge business on this tech.

Things That Need Replacing

These are all old tech solutions to daily problems that need an update. Think cheaper, better, faster, and more connected.

5. Replace Fixed Phones, IP Phones And “Home Phone” Style Routers

How many phones do people need? Or businesses? Why aren’t we able to run our cellphones off the highly distributed, underused copper network, instead of the massively oversubscribed cell network? Especially when everyone in the office already has a phone or two in their pockets.

6. Replace Paper Notebooks

I fucking love my Blueline notebook, but it is painfully offline. There is isn’t an online version of working with pen and paper that has the same user experience (ie you don’t even need to be better!). iPad got 20% of the way there, but its just not distributed or availible enough yet.

7. Replace Whiteboards

Kinda like #6. Find a way to take brainstorming and get it online without changing user behaviour (ie. its still going to happen with markers in front of a whiteboard). Think intellegent displays & interactive spaces. Think smart phones, markers and walls working in harmony. “Share this image on the west wall”, or “Save this wall as a png”.

8. Replace Art / Displays Everywhere

Art exists for 2 reasons - bad ass wall coverings, and the vanity of ownership. Im talking about solving the first problem. Why can’t I get a big color e-ink wall canvas that updates before I get bored of the picture? See this. Maybe this is an extension on #7? TV’s very quickly fall into this problem / solution.

9. Replace Power Cords & Audio Cables

Plugging stuff in was soooo the 20th century. This could mean wireless power, more nuclear power, or maybe its just #3. And don’t stop at power cords - I want all cables to die. See this, and this.

10. Replace HID

Think mind control. Think keyboards that don’t suck. Think useful iPads. This gets incredibly important if 3D continues to take off. See this.

Hardware That Enables An API For Something Previously Untouchable

This is probably my favourite category. There is a huge opportunity in taking the “offline” and getting it online and accessible. Im not talking about the programatic APIs themselves but instead adding the capabilities to the devices such that an API could exist. Sandvine did it to aggregate internet traffic (analytics & billing). Meraki did it to wireless (replacing IT). Square did it to credit card stripes (replacing credit cards). And Lockitron is doing it with door locks (replacing keys).

11. An API For The Lights In My House / Office

Think smarter buildings and greener spaces. It would enable managing light based on occupancy, based on power prices, based on time of day, etc.

12. An API For Garage Doors

Lockitron for my garage. Why do we still have RF transceivers to open and close it? Why can’t I loan my garage to my neighbour without giving her a clicker or a key?

13. An API For Appliances

This is admittedly very internet of thingsy (adding a better UI/ UX/ Input/ Output to dumb appliances). But like the TV API I think you open up a tremendous, and mostly unknown set of apps when you put the worlds appliances online and build an API to control them. Dont do this. Do do this.

14. An API For My Environment

Think Nest and EcoBee which are both trying to do this by building better thermostats and the apps to control them. This ties into #1, #11 and #12.

15. An API For My Car

Cars have all kinds of cool sensors and micro-controllers in them… Why the hell aren’t they more accessible?

16. An API For My Pets

I can drive a robot dog from my cellphone, but when my real one runs away I have to wonder the streets yelling its name?!?! Where is the $50 collar and a $7 a month maintenance plan? How many pets are there worldwide - like a billion? Start by building super cheap M2M tech.

17. An API For My Friends

Not so much for control… Im thinking some sensors, GPS, 4G, etc. Maybe its a square like device for my phone? Think wearables, Google glass, and Pebble.

18. An API For My Cabinets / Bathroom / Fridge

Sensors rock. Why aren’t they everywhere? Why do I run out of drugs, food, toilet paper, etc, etc. This is the sense side of #11 and #12.

19. An API For My Health / Blood / Weight / Fitness / Heart

Think real-time health diagnostics. This is probably version 1 of idea #1. Think about a Square-like sensor for blood for non-diabetics. Think about embedable sensors. Think about a tricorder. This is a mashup of #1 and #17 / wearables.

20. An API For Human Memory

This one is probably a little further out there. But, we are already doing cool things with mind controlled devices. I want to see it get pushed from write-only (active control based on brain waves) to read-write (query the brain, active & passive control). You need to look at this.

Misc

These are ideas that didn’t really fit anywhere else…

21. iRobot For _______

Why is the coolest and most advanced robot I can buy a really, really dumb vacuum cleaner? I want more robots! I want them to solve more of my problems! Maybe the first step is just building things & spaces that are more accessible to our mechanical overlords?

22. Totally Low Tech Heated / Cooled Jackets / Clothes

Its cold here! But the worst part is that in the same day it can be 5C (cold) and 25C (warm). How do you dress for that? Why do I have to carry extra clothes? Can’t we solve this problem with tech? This is a 5W resistor and a LiPolly battery. 

23. Smarter Cars, Trains, & Planes

Why can I still drive into the back of the guy in front of me? Do we still really trust people to make the best decisions when driving 140Km/Hr? Similar to #15 but much more active. Planes can fly themselves. Cars can almost fly themselves. But there is much more that can be done here by just augmenting the people.

24. Elon’s 5th Mode Of Transportation

You need to see this. It sounds pretty awesome. Someone should build it.

25. Disposable Electronics

I mean both a solution for the fact that we all through out our phones every 18 months anyways, and that our landfills are seemingly uncontrollably filling up with an impossible amount of electronic waste (most of it containing trace amounts of both really bad stuff, and the worlds most valuable minerals). And the solution might not be to stop the throwing out…

Notes

When assembling this list I took a page our of PG’s book and tried to think of the things we’ll look silly for in the future. What will future races of humans think was ridiculous about our culture, practices, devices and lifestyles? This is my list:

  • Batteries
  • Charging
  • Keys
  • Anything signed
  • Carrying a phone / Having multiple phones
  • Filming / Taking pictures
  • Syncing
  • Not having a plug near by / Not having power
  • Wall warts
  • DC -> AC -> DC
  • High voltage transmission lines
  • Not having a signal
  • Ink / Toner / Printers
  • Car Horns
  • Reverse cameras / backing up / driving
  • Symptom based diagnosis
  • Thermostats
  • Doorbells
  • Burglar alarms
  • Waiting for anything (think drip coffee makers)
  • Anything that doesn’t have an API / Interface
  • Non learning appliances
  • Light switches
  • Running out of supply of food / drugs / milk
  • Music in bars / elevators
  • Mechanical steering / steering wheels
  • Mechanical toilets
  • Mechanical suspension
  • Public transportation drivers
  • Mechanical keyboards
  • Going to the bathroom?
  • Searching for info
  • Going to the gym / staying healthy / loosing weight
  • Video game controllers
  • Alarm clocks
  • Debit card machines at the table
  • Parking (illuminated Curbs & roadways?)
  • Garbage
  • Electronic waste
6 August 2012
Toronto Is Broken

Image by John Cavacas link

I’ve got bad news. And I don’t really know a better way to say it, so I’m just going to tear the bandaid off, one motion, no fucking around. Here goes…

Toronto is broken.

Ugly right? We’re the 4th most active startup ecosystem in the world. We’re the largest ecosystem in Canada. And were the best non-US city for funding.

But there are some very serious problems under the covers.

Toronto is a young startup ecosystem, largely because it wasn’t always possible to run a startup here. This has 2 effects as far as I can tell. The first is that most of the entrepreneurs here in Toronto are very young, the average age is definitely lower than the Startup Genome Project average of 33. And the second is that almost all of us aren’t tied to Toronto. We have all been somewhere else, worked somewhere else, and got money somewhere else. 

Weak Founder Network

Being young & unconstrained means we don’t brag about or lean on our native networks in Toronto. We brag about our investors and mentors in the valley (like we all haven’t been), we try to impress our Toronto network instead of learning from them, and we don’t trust our peers here to help us succeed. Its ok. And its pretty normal from what I’ve seen in other fledgling startup communities.

BUT until we can trust and work with our peers here in Toronto the community will continue to flounder. We will continue to leave (not necessarily a bad thing). We will continue to NEED other networks. And getting together will continue to be about bragging instead of helping and learning.

Small Ideas

I’m not sure if this is because the ecosystem is so young. Or because our service providers think they run startups. Or because we’re a largely Canadian club. But our ideas on average aren’t world changing. We dream of things that already exist. We dream of parts of other company’s visions. We dream of features. We dream of being an Instagram for Instagram rather than Facebook, Go instead of Google, CRM instead of Salesforce.

This is a theme across the startup galaxy right now. But we aren’t helping. Why not be the place big ideas come from? Why not be known for dreaming bigger? Lets be frighteningly ambitious. Lets change something. Fuck the $25MM Google acquisition. Can we please do a little bit more than building another feature for Salesforce?

Crossing The Scale Gap

We have almost zero entrepreneurs and early employees experienced at scaling. It might even be the real reason for the pre-scale acquisitions lately. We can’t cross the gap. Who are you going to hire to scale your marketing? What about sales & bd? Or support? Or product management? Have they ever done it at a startup before? Better still, will they - without a question - give you an unfair advantage because of how awesome and repeatable they are at it? I doubt the list is any longer than a few names for each - and I bet most of them are running their own startups or have retired.

There is a huge void here that doesn’t exist in SF or even NYC. We have very, very few startups that have achieved scale, cycled, and produced experienced founders or employees that want to go back out and do it again. This is why so many of our startups open offices in San Francisco or Palo Alto. Will you? Does it bother you that you have to split up your team, or move? You need to move if thats how you win - but could we ever help each other to do it here at scale?

Mentorship

Its pretty weak in Toronto. Its a side effect of the same lack of experience. The same lack of cycling. And there just isn’t the same kind of culture of free giving that exists in the valley. We have this sort of East Coast I work to get paid mentality that doesn’t jive so well with mentorship. All that being said I can’t fix this. This is a huge problem that has cultural roots, a lack of raw material, and well all be dead (or at least our startups will be) by the time it gets fixed.

My advice: Get a mentor in the valley, and figure out how to use skype.

Capital

Don’t waste your time raising in Toronto. If you can and do raise elsewhere Toronto will pay attention. If you can’t, they still wont. And the best part is you don’t need permission to be in Toronto anymore if this is the right place to run your business.

My advice: Raise the money where you can, run your business where you need to, and get the fuck back to work.

But…

There still are some pretty great things about Toronto. Hell, I haven’t left yet. The talent here is A+, the money goes further, the government helps, its one of the biggest economies in North America (ie. fuck loads of customers), and you can build a first class startup culture of first class talent that has worked at startups in the valley and abroad.

So lets fix the broken parts. I think its still worth it.

Too much words? In picture form!

Problems I’m trying to fix:

  • Build a stronger founder network
  • Encourage and enable bigger ideas
  • Fill-in or otherwise enable companies to cross the scale talent gap

Things I’m NOT trying to fix:

  • More and better mentorship
  • More and better capital

About Me

Upverter is my 3rd startup. I dropped out of highschool, and then university, both times to run startups. I’ve worked in Ottawa, Waterloo, Stuttgart, Bangalore, and Mountain View. I have never lived in Toronto before, so it’s a first for me, but we’re here because it’s where our team wanted to be. And I’m not ok sitting back and letting this opportunity - to make Toronto kick more ass - pass me by.

Wanna join the cause?

Shoot me an email (zak@zakhomuth.com)

5 August 2012

My Coach & My Scorecard

Image by Richard Findlay link

I aspire to be a great CEO. I want to be on list with Elon and Branson and Bezos and Jobs. And if I play my cards right this may kill two birds with one stone and get me into the running for “The Most Interesting Man In The World”.

Assuming I’m not there yet means I need to get better - so long story short, I went out for dinner the other night with one of my advisors to figure out how far away I was. I asked for feedback, something I am now convinced we should all be doing more of (this article was my inspiration) and Paul was nice enough to invite me over, cook me dinner and sit and talk with me about where I was, where I could be, and what I need to be doing better.

Essentially he gave me a no-bullshit scorecard based on what he could see. And it looked a little bit like this….

  • Relentlessness: 90
  • Vision: 90
  • Financing: 90
  • Recruiting: 90
  • Marketing: 0
  • BizDev: (no score)
  • Evangelism: 50

Not terrible… But there is some areas that definitely need improvement. For starters fuck marketing. I didn’t say fuck acquisition. And I don’t undervalue the need for growth, acquisition, or any of the activities that create inbound interest in your product. Its just not me. I’ve spent time with some of the best and worst web marketers ever to exist, and I can see what makes the great ones great. I just don’t love the analytics, the tweaking and the blind persistence that make it work. If I were an artist I’d probably paint with a power washer. So I/we need help…

[Plug] Upverter is actively hiring an incredible startup marketer / growth hacker. [/Plug]

Now, with that out of the way, I need to talk about Evangelism. A completely subjective 50 out of some undefined denominator (probably 90). Fuck. And he is probably right too. This is something I need to fix. If I do anything to elevate Upverter over the next 3 months, its going to be making damn sure engineers understand why we have been killing ourselves for the last 2 years. Its going to be talking about what hurts, why it hurts, and what we’ve learned about how to make it hurt less.

Talking with Paul about evangelism also made me realize that what I was doing in and around the Toronto startup ecosystem was a half-assed attempt at evangelizing Toronto startup founders. This is something I will need to write more about too, but there is much work that needs to be done here too.

Not really sure how to end this… get ready to give a shit.

Read some useful shit here: The Art of Evangelism (Guy Kawasaki)