August 27, 2017No Comments

Featured In Chatbots Magazine’s Top 100 Blog Posts

This past week, Chatbots Magazine, the #1 place to learn about chatbots, published their list of their Top 100 blog posts.

Between April 2016 - August 2017, the community there has grown to more than 270,000 readers. They've received more than 1,000 guest posts.

Making The Top 100

I'm excited to have written a post that was well received and made the list!  (Coming in at #79 0n that list. 🎉🎉🎉)

"How Bots, Messaging & AI Are Evolving" was a summary and analysis from several interviews that appeared on Hack To Start.

Many thanks to our guests, including:

And of course to Tyler Copeland, my co-host at Hack To Start for all the help in speaking to these awesome folks and making the blog post happen!

Congrats to all other authors who's amazing posts not only made the list, but continue to push the space to new heights!

November 1, 2015No Comments

Startup Grind Ottawa: Interview with Aaron Zifkin, GM, Airbnb Canada

Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Aaron Zifkin, the country manager for Airbnb here in Canada at the WorkshopX offices in trendy Hintonburg.

Some of the most important points Aaron had to share with us about business, community, and the future of the sharing economy included:

  • Airbnb isn't a tech company - it's an experience and people company.
  • Do things that don't scale - don't just say it. Do it.
  • It took Airbnb 4 years to get to 1 million bookings. On August 8, 2015, they did 1 million bookings in a single night.
  • Don't assume others are thinking about what you're thinking of - ask the tough questions and critical questions.
  • Do a couple of things really, really, well. At the end of the year, you'll only be remember for a few things you did really well or tanked at.
  • Getting "in trouble" is healthy because it forces you to re-evaluate the process.
  • You can't assume people understand what you're doing. Be invested and educate others.

You can watch the full video of the event here.

Thanks to Robert Decher for recording the event. Thanks to Jason Connell & Invest Ottawa for their help & support as well.

June 19, 2015No Comments

Hack To Start Featured On 500 Startups Blog

While I haven't had an opportunity to blog about it since announcing the launch, Tyler Copeland and I run an awesome podcast called Hack To Start - where we're on a mission to interview cool, interesting, and innovative people who are out there making it happen in some way or another.

It's been an amazing journey so far as we ended 2014 with our first 25 episodes - we wrote a recap post about it then - and now quickly approaching our 50th (new post due soon!).

But one cool opportunity developed a few weeks back that I wanted to share. We had just finished recording an episode with the awesome Susan Su from 500 Startups and Susan asked if we'd be willing to write a blog post about our experience and insights building Hack To Start for her to share with other founders.

While not being experts on the subject, we accepted none the less and you can find the post on the 500 Startups Blog here.

But the story isn't ours alone to share. Both Tyler and I have been greatly influenced by many other entrepreneurs and podcasters. I wrote a list of some of them here a few weeks back.

Some of these entrepreneurs I mentioned in the post that appeared on 500 Startups, notably:

Espree Devora from We Are LA Tech, and
Ryan Hoover from Product Hunt Radio

But there are so many more that also deserve credit, so thanks to everyone who's help us get here, to all those who are willing to share their stories and time with us, and most of all to those fans and listeners who support us and Hack To Start.


June 6, 2015No Comments

Some Of The Top Podcasts

Since I co-host my own podcast, Hack To Start, with Tyler Copeland, I often get asked what podcasts I myself listen to or draw inspiration from.

Even before we started podcasting, I was drawn to the medium. There have been a bunch that I've listened to and used to learn and grow from as I continue to learn and improve.

I'm still a long way from perfecting the art, but it's been lots of fun and I get a lot of enjoyment out of the entire process: from meeting new, awesome, guests; to producing the episodes; to marketing and overall growth of the brand - I love every minute of it. Listening to others do their thing is highly motivating and inspirational for me.

So, in no particular order, here are some of the Top Podcasts on my listen/inspiration list Product Hunt also returns great results & collections worth checking out as I can't list them all here. I'd also recommend checking out Max Tempkin’s Podcast Thing and Mubashar Iqbal’s

The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes
Freakonomics Radio by Stephen J. Dubner and WNYC
This Week in Startups by Jason Calcanis
Product People by Justin Jackson by Rob Woodbridge
Dorm Room Tycoon by William Channer
Happy Monday Podcast by Josh Long & Sarah Parmenter
Product Hunt Radio by Michael Sacca, Joelle Steiniger, and Matt Goldman
The Tim Ferriss Show by Tim Ferriss
We are LA Tech by Espree Devora
The Start, by Patrick Johnson & Nick Rovisa
Design Details, by Bryan Jackson & Brian Lovin
The a16z Podcast
500 Startups Podcast

May 7, 2015No Comments

Startup Grind Ottawa Interview with Ethan Song, CEO, Frank + Oak

Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Ethan Song, the co-founder and CEO of Frank & Oak at the WorkshopX offices.

Some of the most important points Ethan had to share with us about business, community, and the future of retail / ecommerce included:

  • There are so many things that you have to do well - having the best product is not enough.
  • There was no solid idea, we didn't have a background in tech, we didn't have a background in fashion (...) We wanted to do something that impacted lots of people.
  • The pain point that we had to solve was making shopping simpler and more engaging for the customer.
  • You need to first understand what you want to do as an entrepreneur and then find investors that align with that.
  • If you're not thinking of mobile commerce, you're already 5-10 years late.
  • Having a localized space enables us to have a deeper relationship with our customers and offering them a unique & engaging touchpoint.
  • What you sell and who your target audience is are not the same thing.

You can < a href="" target="_blank">watch the full video of the event here.

Thanks to Robert Decher for recording the event. Thanks to Jason Connell & Invest Ottawa for their help & support as well.

April 12, 2015No Comments

Startup Grind Ottawa Interview with Joe Rideout, Co-Founder, Relay

Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Joe Rideout, the co-founder of Relay (recently acquired by Kik) at Microsoft Canada’s offices downtown.

Joe worked for Google as a software engineer and product managed for over 5 years before diving into startups. At Google he contributed to projects like Google Buzz, Google+, GMail, mobile search and more!

In 2012, Relay was born and several months later, Joe and his co-founder Jon, raised $700k from some really big name investors (Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures, The Social+Capital Partnership, Graph Ventures, and Real Ventures).

In November 2014, Relay was acquired by Waterloo based Kik along with their $38 Million dollar raise.

Some of the most important points Joe had to share with us about business, mobile, and the future of messaging included:

  • How working with larger companies like Google is awesome because of the scope of projects & talent surrounding you, but it can leave you with unrealistic expectations about how easy it is to start something new & acquire users.
  • Recruiting takes time. Ideally you want to talk to people you have an existing relationship with well ahead of time so that timing will eventually be right to bring them on board.
  • Chat is one of the first things people did on the internet.
  • All evidence points to the fact that people love chatting & conversation and content go hand-in-hand. These elements mutually reinforce each other.
  • Animated GIFs was just a hackday project that we added into V1 of Relay just for fun. But pretty soon, the data pointed to the fact that people loved them.
  • You have to obsessively be looking at data. We used Mixpanel to distill down to our most important metrics. For us it was what percentage of new users came from referrals? Basically viral growth.
  • You only need 1 distribution channel that works. When you find it, forget about everything else and focus there. The first part is to figure out where your users are coming from. We used a tool called MobileAppTracking.
  • Your growth can come from anywhere – especially on mobile – and you should do anything you can to encourage that growth. We localize our app and that really helped us.
  • Before you raise money I would spend time really thinking about whether or not you need to. It can be very time consuming and it limits your options.
  • Based on my observations, VC is very binary. Either no one wants to invest in you, or everyone wants to invest in you. So you need to figure out how to become the company everyone wants to invest in you.
  • VCs will never tell you ‘no’, because that would remove them from the opportunity to invest at a later point. So you need to recognize this.
  • Mobile chat has a huge future. People who are coming online now aren’t doing it through a desktop. There’s a convergence between chat, content and commerce.
  • We saw Kik as being one of the last independent messaging apps, extremely large audience, and a company that’s been thinking about messaging as a platform longer than anyone else and there was a perfect fit there.
  • By working together we can build something massive together and we’ve got a better shot at global competition.

You can watch the full video of the event here.

Thanks to Robert Decher for recording the event.

March 15, 2015No Comments

Startup Grind Ottawa Interview with Dax Dasilva, CEO, Lightspeed

On February 26, 2015, Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Dax Dasilva, the founder and CEO of Lightspeed at Microsoft Canada’s offices downtown.

Dax was named Quebec Entrepreneur of the Year in 2012 by Ernst & Young Canada, the same year his company scored a $30-million investment from Accel Partners of Palo Alto, Calif., one of the early backers of Facebook Inc. They recently raised a $35-million Series B round from those same partners.

His company boasts 20,000 customers and has grown from 50 employees in 2011 to 200 now, processing $7.5B in annual transactions with offices in New York, Ottawa, Silicon Valley, and Sydney, Australia.

Some of the most important points Dax had to share with us about business, retail, e-commerce and startups included:

  • Don’t be afraid to charge for your product (and then deliver that value). Revenue from sales is important because it can enable you to grow and hire faster.
  • Tradeshows and partnerships are a great way to grow. Mac World Expo enabled Lightspeed to sell to 150 independent dealers. These initial customers funded the companies growth.
  • Lightspeed had several years of growth and sales before taking on VC to learn about their identity and market.
  • Focus on your target audience – really understand their needs and wants. Lightspeed is focused on independent retailers, all product features are developed for them, not based on tech industry trends and new technologies.
  • As a founder & team you need to have a degree of humility and realize that the company has different needs at different time. Some people are able to grow with the company and others don’t.

You can watch the full video of the event here.

Many thanks to Dax Dasilva for making the trip to be with us.

Thanks to Marc Gagne, Microsoft and Bizspark for hosting us in their office.

Finally, thanks as always to Robert Decher from RDV Productions for the recording of Startup Grind Ottawa, and to Jason Connell for helping with setup.

November 16, 2014No Comments

Startup Grind Ottawa Interview with Justin Mares, Co-Author of Traction

On November 13, 2014, Startup Grind Ottawa had the pleasure of hosting Justin Mares, the co-author of Traction: A Startup's Guide To Getting Customers.

Justin studied finance at the University of Pittsburg and started his first startup, RoommateFit, while he was there, getting accepted into a local accelerator called AlphaLab.

Failing to be able to build a product for the idea, Justin then co-founded CloudFab, am online platform for creating 3D printed products. It was acquired in 2012.

Following this acquisition, Justin joined the team at Exceptional Software as the Director of Growth & Revenue. He was responsible for building out the marketing team in Las Vegas and making sure the product was growing and generating revenue. It was acquired in 2014 by Rackspace.

Justin has been working along side Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO of DuckDuckGo for over two years part-time on Traction. The book is self-published and within two months of launching it, they've sold more than 12,000 copies worldwide.

Some of the most important points Justin shared with us about publishing, startups, and acquiring customers include:

  • I've made tons of mistakes. We raised $30,000 through AlphaLab, but then we hired an outsourcing shop for $15,000 and never saw the money or anything.
  • Knowing your space and doing the right partnerships and negotiations can ultimately help you grow and get to acquisitions.
  • I pitched Gabriel on letting me work with him on Traction. During the process of working on RoommateFit, CloudFab, and Exceptional I saw that the hard part was getting customers - not building the product. There's was nothing like the Lean Startup out there for actually getting customers.
  • It took us roughly two years to write the book. Most of this is because we were both busy, we'd never written a book before, and I wasn't a great writer. The first draft was 380 pages.
  • Gabriel and I are not experts in every channel. And so we did interviews and learned from experts. This lead to two hacks: 1) we learned a bunch; 2) we built a network of experts who became invested in the book.
  • The Bullseye Framework enables you to brainstorm and rank potential growth channels, then you can double down on 2-3 channels.
  • If you ask product managers what's on their product roadmap for the next year, they have an instant answer. If you ask a marketer how they're going to go from 10,000 users to 100,000, most of the time you get an answer like 'we'll do some blogging, buy some AdWords, and hire a growth hacker'"
  • The Lean Startup doesn't tell you how to grow from where you are now and that's where we wanted to fit in.
  • The 50% Rule: startups should spend half their time on product and half their time on marketing and getting customers. Where you see most startups failing today is all in the traction areas. However, they're all spending their time on building the product.
  • I've seen paid acquisition/retargeting, semantic SEO, and sales. People - especially startups - are so adverse to picking up the phone and calling customers.
  • For certain businesses there are some you shouldn't do. For example if you're Snapchat, doing sales doesn't make any sense. If you're building something for enterprise, virality won't work within this small market.
  • The most common mistake is that startups don't spend enough time on traction.
  • The second this is focusing on the wrong things that won't "move the needle". For example, throwing meet-ups to acquire new customers can work when you have less than 1,000 customers. If you have 100,000 customers, meet-ups won't make an impact.
  • For Traction, we looked at how successful self-publishers launched their books and we tried small tests. We released a trailer - didn't work. We did podcasts and email and those worked.
  • Gabriel shares a great blog post about getting traction for Traction here.

My sincerest thanks to Stephen Daze, EIR at University of Ottawa for their help and support. Thanks to Invest Ottawa, Jon Milne and Jason Connell for their help and support. Thank you to as well to Smart & Biggar, Canada's intellectual property and technology firm.

Thanks to Robert Decher for video production and thanks to Lindsay McPhee for helping out with social and more.

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