The July edition of TechTO delivered a range of perspectives, experiences, style and powerpoint design you can only really get at the city’s pre-eminent tech meet-up.
Can We Just All Get Along? How to Get Business & Tech on the Same Page.
Helen Kontozopoulos, chief product officer and co-founder of ODAIA, was the first speaker. Helen focused her talk on the importance of having an open dialogue between business and technology. Acknowledging the often strained relationship between business and tech, Helen spoke about the need for open communication between the groups. “Mathmen still need madmen or madwomen — they are the ones who are thinking about the customer and how to make money,” she explained. “The mathmen are the ones who can build an algorithm to make it happen.”
Problems can arise when one group engages the other too late in the game, she said. It makes far more sense to have everyone talking from the start. Recognizing that this can be hard to do, Helen suggested asking some questions of yourself and your team — regardless of what side of the business/tech divide you fall on:
- Do we have the right people in the room?
- Are we talking about the same goal?
- Are we all on the same page?
When asked how to break the ice between these two groups who have historically butted heads, Helen recommended being as open as possible: “Start by talking about what pisses you off, what frustrates you. But be constructive. Talk about your objectives for the year, and also what you’re frustrated about.” Breaking the ice is key to forming a productive relationship that ultimately gets everyone aligned.
How to Build an Effective, Supportive Team — Remotely.
Next to speak was Josh Zweig. Josh has built a team of over 60 people who all work remotely for LiveCA — the first virtual CPA firm in Canada. Fittingly, Josh (who currently works in Buenos Aires and has previously worked/lived in Columbia and Tel Aviv) spoke about how to build a company remotely, and shared insights about the hiring practices that work for him.
Because strong writing skills are important for a remote worker, Josh begins by asking a candidate two questions on their application: “Why does this role sound appealing to you?” And, “If you didn’t have to work a day in your life, what would you do?”
Following this stage, his team conducts a video interview that involves asking three different questions, giving the candidate an opportunity to answer each in one minute. This test helps determine a candidate’s aptitude in front of a camera.
That video is then taken to a hiring committee where they conduct further video interviews and should they pass that stage, the candidate engages in two paid trial work days. This step allows the company to see how the individual works remotely. Potential colleagues are surveyed and asked how they enjoyed working with that particular person.
The last piece is the onboarding process, which involves one week of training and a buddy system to smooth the transition.
When asked how he maintains his culture with a remote team, Josh explained that you have to be very intentional about culture. “In an office setting you run into people. But in a remote environment you have to create events that generate interactions with people. We do social Fridays, beer and game trivia night, as well as physical meet-ups. In person and themed events help foster a culture that’s supportive.”
Raise of the Month: 5 Tips for Raising Money .
This month’s raise of the month featured Voiceflow, which has raised $3 million USD led by True Ventures in San Francisco. Co-founder Braden Ream shared his five tips for raising money, told through the lens of the company’s past mistakes.
- Always be raising. While you’re actively raising money, people are going to be judging you, scrutinizing you. When you’re not raising, you can have conversations and talk about your business. This is in fact the best time to raise. “Investor updates are a great way to keep people engaged,” Braydon explained. Do them every single month consistently — even the bad ones — so people know you’re not cherry picking.”
- Know your terminology. Braydon admitted that when he first started raising, he didn’t know what a seed round was. When asked about the numbers he was looking for, he threw out wild figures he had heard on internet blogs. “Talk to other founders,” he implored. “Do your homework.”
- Commit to the raise. Raising is actually really hard. But you’ve got to keep going. “Keep going until there is actually no light at the end of the tunnel. We have been rejected by half the people who are now our investors.”
- Iterate your pitch like a product. The first week of pitching in the valley, Braydon and his co-founder got nothing but rejections. But just like they would iterate an MVP they iterated their pitch so that the most common rejection was positioned as their biggest strength.
- Build strong relationships. The best way to raise funds is actually not to pitch, but to build a relationship. During what ended up being his best pitch, Braydon didn’t even mention his product for the first 30 minutes. He also didn’t bring in his co-founded because he didn’t want it to feel like a pitch. “After 30 minutes we built a foundation of a relationship and got a term sheet a week later.”
The Value of Creativity – and How to Find It Within.
Chris Aimone from Muse by Interaxon Inc. focused his talk on creativity. “What makes us amazing creatures is that we can create something new,” he began. As the inventor of Muse — which measures your brain activity and allows you to get feedback from your mind — Chris is certainly no stranger to creative ideas.
Speaking about the intersection between computer science, neuroscience and contemplative science, Chris talked about the value of tapping into our consciousness to reengineer ourselves to be inventive.
“There is a problem solver inside of our heads. We educate and go to school for years to give that problem solver valuable skills. But it’s the inventor inside us that lets us make headway.”
The problem solver in our heads knows what’s going to happen — it draws on experiences collected over our lives — so it offers nothing new, he explained. “If you’re trying to have a new insight, you have to recognize that the process is like a child exploring the world for the first time. You have to be open. Your state of mind has to be at its most creative, relaxed and curious.”
So how do you connect with your inventive, creative side? Think about those moments that come and shift everything. It’s when you step away, right? “I’ve racked up huge water bills over the years solving problems in the shower,” Chris admitted.
There’s value in tinkering, to building blindly just to test your ideas. Chris said renowned inventor Steven Mann would say, “Let’s just build something. It doesn’t matter what, let’s just build. When we do that, we’ll be able to see around the next corner.”
Looking at things from a creative perspective and coming from a place that’s unexpected can open you up to happy accidents, new insights, and moments that can change the course of everything.
24 Years of Bootstrapping.
The last speaker of the evening was Matt McQuillen of Xello, which he started with friends back in 1995. A solution designed to help students find a good career fit, Xello now employs 150 people and generates $20 million in revenue. And has never once taken on capital.
Matt shared some insights:
- You need to fully commit to going it alone. “We never wanted to take on capital and didn’t think we needed it. We were confident we could take on challenges along the way.”
- You need the right idea. One that doesn’t require a lot of capital to start, and one that offers immediate value that customers will pay for. Your idea also needs to build barriers to entry, so that well-funded competition can’t just scoop up your idea.
- You need to be comfortable living on the edge. “You will be investing everything you have, right to the limit. So if things don’t go right, you’re at risk of losing it all. You have to be comfortable with that.”
“In today’s world, founders are concerned about finding funding for a business and quickly building it to a very high valuation, exiting at the peak, and then going out to found another business. But what if they made the business the focus of their career instead of thinking about ‘what’s next’?” Matt asked.
For his part, Matt and his co-founders had a deep desire to have control of their situation, and not end up somewhere they didn’t want to be. They wanted to fulfill their mission, devote their lives to it, and make their own mark. “Take fulfillment out of operating on your own terms,” he said. “It’s a long path, but a very satisfying one.”
And so wrapped up a rich, enlightening, thought-provoking edition of TechTO. The next meetup is all set for August 12, 2019 from 6-9 p.m. at RBC Waterpark Place.
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