Behind the Scenes at FounderFuel: Sam Haffar

April 29, 2015 at 11:47 am

Sam Haffar, Principal at Real Ventures

Sam joined Real Ventures in August 2014 after spending 8 years in Silicon Valley helping build some of the fastest growing companies in their category; Chegg, Kno and Eat Club. After starting his first company while in University, Sam helped scale companies from 5 to 300+ employees and helped grow revenue from $0 to $100 million. This was all in the span of a few years after university. 

Today, Sam is a Principal at Real Ventures where he helps lead seed deals, connect companies to exceptional talent and prepare companies for success beyond their seed round. His most recent investments include Vanhawks and Breezy HR.

At FounderFuel, Sam helps drive the recruitment and selection process of new companies into the program. He helps teams define their product strategy, build their go to market, refine their pitch, connect with customers, and plan their round of funding after the program. A current FounderFuel team working closely with Sam describes him as having genuine insight, a ton of experience and willing to roll up his sleeves to help get the job done (whatever it may be).

When it comes to funding the next big idea, Sam looks for ambitious teams that are maniacally focused and are hardcore geeks in their fields. He’s incredibly excited about AI, Robotics, VR/AR, the Internet of things and how automation will shape our future, but also is a sucker for obvious ideas that fulfill a huge present day demand that haven’t been so obvious to everyone else.

When asking Sam what’s the most rewarding part of FounderFuel to him, he described watching the transformation of the teams from the day that they walk through the door for their interview as raw entrepreneurs with a good idea but with far more potential, to the day that they are on stage at Demo Day pitching like world-class entrepreneurs with a massive idea and the confidence and know how to make it happen.

He explained that the success of a team hinges on the people involved, their passion and vision, and their ability to clearly communicate goals and objectives.

If you think that this describes your team and you would like to find success with Sam’s help, apply to the FounderFuel program here!   

Founders On A Bus

April 20, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Interested in coming to Demo Day on May 7th but you’re based in Waterloo, Toronto and Ottawa and it seems like a bit of a trek? We’ve got the perfect option for you! Hop on a bus with some of your fellow Founders. 

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On May 7th, FounderFuel is inviting Founders on an epic bus ride to party, pitch judges and network with fellow Founders. The final destination is our Demo Day in Montreal! You’ll get to watch the companies from the Spring 2015 Cohort pitch and then network the evening away at our massive cocktail party (close to 1000 VC’s, Entrepreneurs, Community Members and Press attend).

This isn’t your Grade 3 field trip to the zoo. During the ride there will be lightning pitches with judges, Founder talks and a whole lot of geeking out. The top lightning pitch gets a guaranteed interview with FounderFuel for their Fall 2015 Cohort.

Hurry, seats are limited so RSVP quickly.

Register here.


Demo Day Sneak Peak: Aquaculture

April 15, 2015 at 3:46 pm

It’s no surprise that our current cohort is diverse. They’re working on a wide range of products to be introduced on Demo Day. In the meantime, we’re giving quick snapshots into some of the different spaces. We’ve already discussed 3D Printing. Up next is Aquaculture. 

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Aquaculture, or aquafarming, is the farming of aquatic organisms. Here are three fun facts: 

1) Aquaculture is the fastest growing animal food-producing sector

2) Infact, Aquaculture was a 200B USD market in 2008 and is growing by 10% every year. Yet, the industry is still lacking in insurance policies, sustainable practices and traceability because living aquatic organisms are difficult to count. Microorganisms are still being counted with spoons and hands. 

3) ” Whether you’re raising fish in an offshore cage or in a filtered tank on land, you still have to feed them. They have one big advantage over land animals: You have to feed them a lot less. Fish need fewer calories, because they’re cold-blooded and because, living in a buoyant environment, they don’t fight gravity as much. It takes roughly a pound of feed to produce a pound of farmed fish; it takes almost two pounds of feed to produce a pound of chicken, about three for a pound of pork, and about seven for a pound of beef. As a source of animal protein that can meet the needs of nine billion people with the least demand on Earth’s resources, aquaculture—particularly for omnivores like tilapia, carp, and catfish—looks like a good bet.”
National Geographic 

We can’t wait for you to see what the FounderFuel startup is doing in this space. Don’t forget to grab your tickets for the big day! 

Vanhawks: From door to door lawn care sales to the the highest funded Kickstarter campaign in Canada

April 14, 2015 at 2:34 pm

One of the Principals at Real Ventures, Sam Haffar, just launched a blog / podcast about successful people who have past stories of failure that made them what they are today.

Check out his first podcast featuring Ali Zahid, Co-Founder & COO at Vanhawks

Full post here.

Behind the Scenes at FounderFuel: Gabriel Sundaram

April 13, 2015 at 1:29 pm

[We're going to introduce ourselves over the next few weeks. We want to show you the faces behind FounderFuel and Real Ventures. That way, you’ll be able to see how and why we can accelerate your company.]

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Gabriel Sundaram is Director of Platform at Real Ventures. His arrival coincided with FounderFuel’s launch, so he’s been involved in its development since the very beginning. 

After having worked for a FinTech startup in the US, Gabriel moved back to his hometown of Montreal and dove headfirst into impacting the direction of its startup community. He seeks to give back, leveraging MTL talent to help the city’s business community thrive. Consequently, he’s become cofounder of Startup Open House, a mentor for Startup Weekend, as well as co-organizer of both Startup Drinks and TechNoel. His work at Real, FF and in the community coincide; his projects at work directly align with his startup network, access to information and ability to bring the right people together.

His specialties lie primarily in product development and management, as well as in fundraising strategy. His background in startup metrics and product road mapping, as well as his experience working with companies preparing for series A or Seed rounds, brings value to his part in FF’s selection committee and to his mentorship to FF companies. While working with FF, he works at Real on forcing new deals, the investment committee, back office projects and more. 

In his opinion, one main factor distinguishes a good FF company from a great one: their willingness to hustle. “If you find a way to leverage the resources that the program has to offer, as well as take seriously the artificial time constraint, you’ll find success,” he explains.  

His two favorite parts of the program? The selection process and Demo Day. Although the former can be gruelling (with application numbers now reaching the 400’s), he enjoys meeting excited and often first time entrepreneurs. They help him keep his finger on the pulse in terms of what’s happening within tech, both within and outside of MTL. Demo Day, on the other hand, brings together some of Gabriel’s favorite things: seeing the hustle pay off, the presentation of soon-to-be successful startups and, of course, community.

Hopefully we’ll see you there. 

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We’d love to hear from you! Let us know who you’d like profiled next, if you have any questions, or if you’d like to get in touch with Gabriel. You can find us on Twitter @founderfuel


Day 45: 3 Interesting Tidbits on the 3D Printing Space

April 9, 2015 at 2:22 pm

As you’ve probably read in our past blogs, we’ve got quite the wide ranging grouping of companies in the current FounderFuel Cohort. From aquaculture to 3D printing to transportation to education, we thought we’d start giving you some snapshots into the spaces that some of our companies are in.

Let’s begin with 3D printing. Check out some of the interesting tidbits they shared with us about the space.


1) The buzz around 3D printing has finally worn off and people are starting to really to understand and appreciate the space. 3D printers are becoming the norm, no longer just a fancy product that 1 in every 1000 people might own.

2) Following on point 1, we’re now seeing 3D printers being sold at stores such as Home Depot and Staples. Which means that it’s no longer just early adopters but there’s mass consumer adoption. 

3) All of a sudden, not only is Canada being put on the map in terms of 3D printing but Quebec and Ontario are becoming major players on the scene with some huge Kickstarter and IndieGoG0 campaigns. Some examples are:
- The Tiko printer, which is what most are saying is the most affordable 3D printer to hit the market at just $179. With 20 days still left to go on their campaign they’ve raised $1,349,500 from a goal of $100,000. 
- ProtoCylcer, who has created a way to recycle waste plastic into 3D printer filament. They managed to successfully fund their campaign by 146%! 
- There’s a 3rd one who is expected to have a massively successful Kickstarter campaign but you’ll have to wait until Demo Day to find out who that is…

 Make sure you come to Demo Day so you can see our 3D printing company pitch on stage!


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Day 43: Founder Talk with Marc Gingras

April 8, 2015 at 4:54 pm

Marc Gringas, CEO of FoKo, stopped by FounderFuel to discuss FoKo, his fourth time around the block and how to build a sustainable product and company. 

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FoKo is Photo Sharing for Companies. Imagined as an ‘Instagram for business,’ it allows employees, customers and partners to share everything from mockups, to event snaps, to culture photos. 

Marc is a big believer in the idea that consumer behaviour will always become adopted – and so leveraged – by enterprises. It was with this premise in mind, paired with the prospect of working with a strong team, that Marc decided to work with FoKo rather than be just an investor in them. 

One of Marc’s tactics in building a sustainable company is creating a company’s own Hierarchy of Needs. One layer might be ‘generate revenue,’ another ‘invest in marketing.’ When you’ve completed the bottommost layer, you move up to the next one. When great new ideas are brought to the table, you wait until your company has reached the right layer to work on that idea. 

In discussing hiring, Marc describes his objective: he hires based on whether a person will have enough tools to leave FoKo after five years to start a business of their own. If that’s not the case, they need not be hired. 

Marc finishes by talking about ego. His parting words: “when you think you’re right because you’re right then you’re wrong – when you think you’re right because of facts, fight for it.” 

Thanks to Marc for stopping by, and stay tuned for next weeks FounderTalk! 

The State of Accelerators

April 3, 2015 at 4:31 pm

As program manager for FounderFuel during the last 2 years…I’ve been putting some thought into the state of Accelerators, what makes an Accelerator world-class and what the future might hold. Below are my attempts at summarizing these thoughts.

Definitions: Accelerators, Incubators

Let’s first review the difference between Accelerators and Incubators, to make sure we are on the same page.

There are various kinds of accelerators, some with a special market or industry focus. At a high level an Accelerator can be defined by 4 main traits:

  1. The program is short, usually lasting anywhere from 3 to 6 months,

  2. Companies coming in to the program have at a very minimum an MVP,

  3. Companies will receive a minimal investment, usually pre-seed and the Accelerator will take equity in return,

  4. The Accelerator will provide its companies with access to Mentorship.

  5. Programs typically end with a demo day, or an event presenting the cohort.

Incubators generally provide the company with a physical space in which they can work to develop their idea over a longer period of time with less direct or managed interaction with those running the space. Incubators usually do not provide funding, so when it comes time to getting their product into market and raising Venture Capital, a company is more likely to go the Accelerator route.

The State of Accelerators Today

I recently attended the Canadian Association of Business Incubation Summit where Pat Riley, CEO of the Global Accelerator Network gave a talk on the state of acceleration and trends to look forward to. Below are some statistics that they’ve collected from their network of Accelerators from the past 7 years. 

  1. On average, it takes companies 4.8 months to raise money after completing the accelerator,

  2. An average of 7 jobs are created per company after completing the accelerator,

  3. 52% of companies that have completed an accelerator raised capital and of those 62% raised over 500k,

  4. 79% are still in business today,

  5. Accelerators help on average 6.4 companies at a time,

  6. Accelerators receive on average 273 applicants per Cohort,

  7. The Mentor network of an Accelerator has, on average, 84 members,

  8. The average amount of equity taken by an Accelerator is 6.3%.

None of this comes as a surprise as it mostly fits within the parameters of an Accelerator that I defined above. However, what is really exciting to see is that 79% of the companies are still in business. This is exciting because one of the main mantras at FounderFuel is that we’ll either accelerate your success or your failure. So to see that 79% of companies that have gone through Accelerators are still in business leads me to believe that the model is working.

I was recently interviewed by a student and they asked me if the stat “9 in 10 startups fail” can be applied to companies that go through Accelerators. My answer to him was no, it didn’t apply. I justified this by telling him that companies that go through Accelerators are provided with every tool and resource that they need to be successful and if 9 out of every 10 of them failed, we just wouldn’t be doing our jobs. Accelerators would have no raison-d’être.

I was a little surprised by how low the number is for companies who have raised money after an Accelerator. The average stands at 52%. But then when compared to the amount of startups still in business, this stat isn’t as scary. It means that startups have found ways to monetize faster and grow without having to raise additional funding. Raising follow-on funding isn’t the only measure of success for a startup (but more on that later). 

Where does FounderFuel fall within the stats of the average Accelerator? 

  1. It takes a FounderFuel company on average 7.1 months to raise money after completing the program,

  2. FounderFuel companies have, on average, created 6 jobs per company after completing the program,

  3. 74% of our companies that have completed the program have raised capital and of those 40% have raised over 500K,

  4. 83% are still in business today and 11% of our companies have been acquired,

  5. We help an average of 8.5 companies at a time,

  6. We receive on average 389 applicants per Cohort,

  7. Our Mentor network is made up of 151 members,

  8. The amount of equity we take is 6% (or 9% for hardware startups, but they get 100K).

Something interesting that I’d like to point out is GAN has never analyzed the Accelerator space from the side of the entrepreneur, which is necessary to get a full and balanced view of the space. At FounderFuel, we make sure to do detailed and anonymous exit interviews with all our Founders in the weeks following their graduation. These help us regularly rethink and rework the program to ensure that we’re providing a top-level program that is always benefiting the entrepreneur. It helps us measure and evaluate ourselves based on more than just the numbers, which is a common mistake among Accelerators. Numbers can only tell you part of the story. I would highly suggest that every Accelerator out there makes this a standard practice.

The Future of Accelerators

Now, what does the future hold for Accelerators? It’s hard to tell, but one thing that is obvious is that the status quo won’t remain. We’re seeing Accelerators race to grow and rethink their standard practices (whether that means rethinking the classic program, focusing on specific verticals or expanding their reach) it will be interesting to see which ones will be successful in this evolution. During his talk at CABI, Pat (Global Accelerator Network), highlighted 3 points about where Accelerators should be heading.

  1. Accelerators should start hosting multiple demo days, not just in the city you are located in but host Demo Day roadshows,

  2. They should start focusing on one vertical,

  3. Accelerators will be adding locations, it’s no longer just about the 1 city model.

I don’t completely agree with these points for various reasons. Investors are already suffering from Demo Day fatigue. I bet if you planned it properly, you could probably hit up a Demo Day almost every day of the year. Does it really make sense to encourage Accelerators to take their Demo Days on the road, will it really make a difference in the long run?

A better plan would be to continue building your brand, bring in great startups and work very hard to ensure they grow and scale and become successful. Doing so will attract Investors and they will want to travel from other cities to come to your Demo Day. It’s not easy but it creates much more value in the long run, not to mention the right kind of value. The same would apply for adding additional locations to your Accelerator. Is it really worth it? If you build a world-class Accelerator then companies will come to you.

It seems very “in” to start an Accelerator and they’re popping up all over the place, do we really need to move towards over-saturation at an even faster pace by encouraging Accelerators to open in multiple cities? I’m all for top-tier Accelerators expanding, but we’re close to (or some might say have already passed) the tipping point where there are too many Accelerators and not enough solid ideas worth accelerating.

Instead of opening up multiple locations and saturating the market let’s focus on collaboration between Accelerators.

Join us July 15th in Montréal during the International Startup Festival for another edition of the Accelerator Rally. See last year’s edition to get a sense of the topics covered and attendees. Stay tuned, as we will soon announce more details and open the call for speakers and panels.


That’s all for now, stay tuned, I’ve been putting a piece together on red flags to look for when considering an Accelerator.

Work in the Accelerator space and want to share your thoughts? Reach out! We’d love to chat.


Day 38: Our Videographer has arrived!

April 1, 2015 at 12:59 pm

You know Demo Day is fast approaching when our videographer shows up! 

Marie-Louise Gariepy, President and Producer at Qualia, stopped by to start planning the cohorts introduction video. 

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The theme of last year’s video was Montreal, and can be found here.

Only 36 days left. Don’t forget to grab your tickets. :)  

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Gymtrack, Revolutionizing Fitness

March 30, 2015 at 3:25 pm

[This is the fourth part in a series of profiles on Canadian co-founders making waves in the States. Here's part one, two and three.]

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Gymtrack is out to create the gym experience of the future. 

Lee Silverstone and Pablo Srugo have built a virtual personal training system. With a device that connects seamlessly to gym equipment, users are provided workout monitoring, feedback, suggestions and encouragement.

After running an online marketplace for tutors, the Ottawa based Gymtrack founders realized their true passion was in leading healthy lifestyles and revolutionizing an industry that they believe to be sitting fifteen years in the past. Out of personal need and inspired by the release of Fitbit, they wanted their workouts automatically tracked. They “threw together” some prototypes, talked to a few gym owners and wrote up an LOI for purchase purposes. From this, Gymtrack was born. The company would go on to be accelerated by 500 Startups and raise a $2.5 Million Seed Round in their first year of business.

Each member that’s a part of a partnering gym receives a wristband upon signing up. They keep the cost-effective wristband with them and pick up the clip-on electronic device at the front desk each time they enter the gym. 

The childhood friends have flung themselves into what they believe is a “crazy time for the gym industry.” Lee explains that some of the most high-end gyms that they’ve visited have ten year old equipment, no technology in place to support their trainers, and are using pen and paper rather than software to track membership and usage.

Unlike Fitbit or Omsignal, Gymtrack is not a wearables company – in fact, they’re “wearable agnostic”. They’ve adapted to the reality that not everyone has their own wearable technology yet. That being said, if everyone were to purchase a smart watch tomorrow, Lee says that would be great, but that they’re also “ready for a world where wearables remain branded as high end.” Gymtrack equipment is built for the everyman and everywoman; their devices are durable, strong and made to last as you sweat it out at the gym. Further, they’re built to provide the information that the the average gymgoer is interested in.“Non professional athletes don’t typically work out based on breathing, but rather on power output, range of motion and reps and sets,” Lee explains. 

Lee credits much of Gymtrack’s success to 500 Startups, a Silicon Valley based startup accelerator. Dave McClure, founder of 500S, wrote that 500S “grooms ugly ducklings.” According to Lee, for Gymtrack, this couldn’t be more true. The co-founders found themselves as a part of a group of people that they describe as having been “pure hustle,” in a place that chooses its batch based on “who’s willing to grind it out, work until 6 am and be dropped into any situation yet find a way to make it work”. “The caliber of people that you work alongside  - from all backgrounds and walks of life – was just incredible,” Lee explains. It was there that they learnt that “the first year of building a startup feels like a month” and that “you won’t succeed unless you learn to adapt to the fast paced nature of being an entrepreneur.”Prior to 500, Gymtrack was overlooked because they were seen simply as another Fitbit. “Dave didn’t dismiss us – he gave us the opportunity to work on what wasn’t necessarily the prettiest business idea, and for that we are forever grateful.”

Up next for Gymtrack is pushing out scalable products and getting into hundreds of gyms. Having already secured partnerships with some of the largest chains in the States, they’re seeing that gyms are feeling the pressure from outside parties and apps to leverage cutting edge technology. Right before hopping off the phone, Lee closes with: “We’re helping gyms get to a place that they’ve never been before…and that is incredibly exciting.” 

Thanks to Gymtrack for sitting down with us. Stay tuned for more! 

- Ella

Think your team has what it takes?