Day 44: Only 40 Days Until Demo Day!!

April 3, 2014 at 4:03 pm

It seems like the closer we get to Demo Day the faster time passes. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we installed a countdown calendar saying that there were 75 days left until Demo Day?? 

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The teams are in full stress mode and working 7 days a week to make sure they have an MVP out, achieve high levels of traction, launch successful Kickstarters and/or get lots of valuable press coverage before the big day. Let’s just say they have very high mountains to climb but they’re getting there! 

Tickets for Demo Day are going fast! Over 600 people have already registered. Make sure you get yours before we run out! You don’t want to miss your chance to watch the pitches from our best cohort yet and to mingle with the entire Montreal startup community. 

Day 43: Even the Maple Syrup Industry is Going High Tech

April 2, 2014 at 4:42 pm

It seems like every industry these days is becoming a “tech industry”, but the last one we thought would follow in this trend was the maple syrup industry. Armina Ligaya published an article in The Financial Post yesterday all about how the maple syrup industry is in the process of entering the 21st century.  


We all might picture the maple syrup industry as one that is quite antiquated, a spout in a tree with a metal bucket attached but it is one that is in the process of undergoing a bit of a renaissance. Since the early days of maple syrup tapping there have always been issues with loss from holes in the tubes which transport the syrup. One of the only real ways to find and fix leaks was to have full-time staff walking around the sugar bush and searching for leaks. That’s about to change though! 

A frustrated maple syrup farmer decided things needed updating and once he realized he wasn’t going to be able to find a technology solution he decided to create his own. He recruited a developer and began to build what is known as Tap Trek Technologies. In her article, Armina describes this as a “system [that] uses solar battery-powered radio units strapped to trees, each unit monitoring the vacuum pressure on about a half-dozen lines and transmitting that information, real time, to a computer or smartphone”.

tap trek

This is a major breakthrough in an industry that has been lagging for decades. It wouldn’t be surprising if it became very crowded in the coming years, after-all it is almost a half billion dollar a year industry in Canada alone! 


Day 42: Community Events – AccelerateMTL

April 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm

As several of our teams come from outside of Montreal we make an effort to expose them to the local community in the hopes that they chose to permanently establish their companies here. A perfect example of one of these events is AccelerateMTL which is happening on April 10th.


AccelerateMTL is an exclusive event hosted by the C100 that celebrates the local startup community. Montreal’s hottest tech companies come together to connect with leading investors and influencers to further accelerate their development. This year’s focus is Scaling Innovation and the speakers will give a behind-the-scenes look at what this really means, the pros and cons of working with big corp and an inside view of investment negotiation. The day features exciting speakers and insightful panel discussions to give entrepreneurs a platform to build high speed companies. You’ll also have the opportunity to network with the Montreal and Silicon Valley tech communities.

The day runs from 12:30pm – 6:30pm at the Theatre Rialto. Tickets cost $20 but if you use this exclusive promo code “TWO2TANGO” you’ll get to bring a friend for free!

Get your tickets here

The majority of our teams will be attending this event, will you? 


Day 41: 7 Tips On How To Leverage AngelList

March 31, 2014 at 4:28 pm

AngelList is crucial for young companies to get their names out there and if optimized properly can be a very strong tool. 

We’re at the stage in the program where the teams need to make sure that they’re using every resource that’s available to them, especially AngelList. In order to help them out, Ian Jeffrey gave a talk today on “Leveraging AngelList”. 


He went over topics such as how to optimize their company profiles and the steps to take when opening up the fundraising section to the public. 

Here are some of the key learnings that stuck with the teams:

1. Always keep your profile up to date

2. Find a good referrer 

3. Get strong endorsements on your profile

4. Don’t be secretive about your product

5. Don’t open up your fundraising until you have at least one commitment

6. Traction, traction, traction. Without it, people will lose interest in your company/product

7. Shoot for as much social proof as you can. 

Do you have any hacks for AngelList? 

Day 40: Bringing Product Management to a Scaling Startup (Guest Post)

March 28, 2014 at 11:13 am

[This is a guest post by Isaac Souweine, Head of Product Management at Frank & Oak]


Early stage startups don’t generally need a discrete product management function, a point I’ve made here. As startups scale, however, most do add product managers to help them deal with increased complexity. Like any major organizational change, the process of adding product management to a scaling startup is at once transformative and full of challenges.

At Frank & Oak, a Montreal-based e-tailer, we’ve recently gone through this exact transition. As Head of Product Management, I’ve worked with our Founders and Head of Technology to manage the change, focusing on four key areas: defining the product manager (PM) role, setting a weekly rhythm, establishing key operations, and solidifying our tools. The results are a work in progress, but I hope nonetheless worth sharing here.


When introducing the PM role, it was important for us to communicate clearly but iteratively. Not everyone has the same idea of what a product manager does, so we tried to be specific about what tasks PMs could own while sharing a vision for what the role could accomplish. At the same time, we allowed the role definition to coalesce over a few rounds of coffee chats, emails and formal meetings. By taking an iterative approach, we were able to customize the PM role to the specific organizational and team context at Frank & Oak.

Introducing the PM role also meant managing its perceived downsides. The addition of product managers can feel disempowering: developers suddenly have less control over feature definition and priority, while stakeholders have less access to the developers who solve their problems. While these perceptions can be discussed, we found the best approach was to simply show the value of the role with great specs, clear prioritization, prompt action on bugs and so on. When it comes to selling the vision of product management, actions definitely speak loudest.


In an office, a week is a meaningful block of time, with its own natural rhythms. This makes it an ideal vessel for building a product team culture. At Frank and Oak, we now start each week with a 30 minute Monday Morning Kickoff. The Monday Kickoff was especially useful during the first few weeks of our new organization as we were iterating on the PM role and product team relationships. It remains our forum of choice for addressing key process issues, maintaining cross-team communication, and setting a good tone for the week. To soften the blow of starting Monday morning with a meeting, we serve free breakfast. St. Viateur bagels make culture change much tastier.

The focal point of the Monday Kickoff is the No Fail Goal, a cultural element we borrowed from Pollenizer, an Australian startup studio where I worked prior to joining Frank & Oak. A No Fail Goal is a non trivial task or milestone that can be closed in one week’s time. The goal is announced on Monday and results are tracked the following Monday. It’s a simple process, great for clarifying priorities and motivating teams without a lot of process overhead. The practice was designed for Pollenizer’s 3-person startup pods, but it’s translated extremely well to the complexity of a scaling startup.

To close the week, we’ve adopted another Pollenizer specialty, Drinks and Demos. On Friday at 4 PM, we buy beer and chips and invite people to present their designs, feature launches, test results, data insights and so on. Originally created for the product team, the session now extends across functions and serves as a nice capstone for the week’s work. It’s also a good forum to introduce new hires and entertain guests.


PM’s spend a good deal of time creating processes that support the work of developers and designers. In a scaling startup, new process layers are a double edged sword. On the one hand, team members appreciate that business growth requires bureaucratization. On the other hand, no one really loves bureaucracy. Like the PM role itself, introducing process is ultimately about showing value. Simply put, process should make people’s lives better. Persistence is also crucial, as some processes take time to bear fruit.

One process area we looked at early in our reorganization was issue tracking. It may seem obvious that developer work should always be tracked, but in a fast moving startup many things “just get done”. Ensuring that user stories get written for all development work can therefore be a fundamental culture change. It’s well worth the effort of course, and in our case we found a few weeks were all it took until consistent issue tracking was second nature.

Another process area we have worked to solidify is release rhythm. With the exception of our mobile team, we have not introduced formal sprints, so our release process boils down to weekly backlog reviews, PM-driven QA, and code pushes as needed. This approach provides flexibility, low process overhead, and the gratification of getting code live quickly. It does lack the rigor of more formal approaches, a limitation we try to make up for in part with the weekly No Fail Goal.

As our basic development cycle has solidified, we have invested more time in building a product roadmap. To build co-ownership of our first roadmap, we held broad-based brainstorming sessions followed by regular communication as the plan took shape. Our first roadmap projected out for 3 quarters. It was a great exercise, but it did not produce a stable operating plan. We are now moving to a 90-day prioritization cycles as inspired by the process run at Pandora.

Tying in with our 2014 goal setting, we are also making a bigger push on metrics. Beyond solving technical problems like incomplete data instrumentation and non-unified data sources, we’ve found that becoming data driven is also mostly about cultural change. In an early stage startup, decisions happen quickly and are often based on intuition and authority. As our product team matures, we are working to make sure that proper data is available, understood and at the center of goal setting and decision making. One project we’re still working on is metrics screens around the office so that key statistics are visually present at all times.


Like any organization, our tools express and reinforce our team culture. Here’s a list of some of the key tools we’re using:

  • Issue Tracking – We use Pivotal Tracker for issue tracking. It’s a great piece of software, though the fit has been awkward at times since we are not running sprints or closely tracking velocity.

  • Wireframing – We use balsamiq for wireframing. It’s a fantastic tool with an easy learning curve. Our UX process is a mix of wireframing and direct design in Photoshop and Illustrator.

  • Analytics – Thanks to our amazing BI maestro, we’re currently transitioning our analytics from RJ Metrics, which is a great dashboarding tool, to Looker which is much more powerful for ad hoc analysis.

  • Documentation – We use google docs for just about everything. There’s still a few .ppt and .doc files that get passed around, but we’re on a mission to phase out all attachments that don’t end in .xls.

  • Testing – We use a mix of optimizely, in-house tools, and taplytics for mobile. We track all tests in a single archive and circulate results regularly via email and in meetings.

  • Group Chat – We use hipchat to foster communication. It’s been a big improvement over gchat and the price is competitive compared to some of the other solutions we looked at.

  • Archiving – We have been trying to crowdbase as an archiving tool, though with limited success. This has less to do with the tool and more to do with the challenges of implementing our documentation plan in a fast-growing company.


In a fast growing startup, it’s hard to say what’s next. We have big plans though, so please stay tuned for another post in a few months with updates from Rue St. Viateur.


Thanks to our content guru Kirsten Weisenburger for reading a draft of this article and to our PM team Eric Azran, Nima Gardideh and Jeff Talajic for their comments and for being awesome.


Day 39: Frank & Oak Office Tour

March 27, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Yesterday the teams were lucky enough to get a tour of the Frank & Oak offices by the one and only Hicham Ratnani their super talented co-founder & COO. We started out in their newly set-up Atelier where Hicham explained the vision behind the brand and how their storefront helps convey that to customers.


Next, the teams moved on to the Frank & Oak warehouse where they learned all about the massive amount of work and effort that goes into shipping all of the product out. Hicham also highlighted how, as much as possible, they try and keep everything in house. This means that from beginning to end, the shipping process is completely managed by them. They’re even building their own warehouse management system.


The tour moved on to their upstairs office space where we went through each department of the company and got to meet some employees. Along the way, Hicham grabbed employees who were passing by and asked them to give the teams words of advice on building a company, startups and even just life itself. What really resonated with the FounderFuel Founders was that Hicham knew the name and hiring date of every single one of his employees, an impressive feat with a company that’s gone from 8 employees to over 100 in under 18 months.


We ended up in their kitchen space and listened to a short talk on the history of Frank & Oak and some of the key startup lessons that they learned along the way.

Hicham’s final words of advice were to just never stop, don’t give up and have the courage to accomplish greatness.

Day 38: Life’s too short for crappy UX

March 26, 2014 at 11:20 am

Here’s a little sometin’ sometin’ to get us all through hump day. Enjoy!

Day 37: The Substance of Silicon Valley

March 25, 2014 at 3:36 pm

The teams got a visit from today from the awesome Aron Solomon who came to talk to them about The Substance of Silicon Valley.


During his talk, he highlighted 10 key features of Silicon Valley that anyone wanting to do business there should understand.

Here are some of the key takeaways from his talk.

1. Innovation produces growth

2. The Valley is almost exclusively a knowledge economy

3. The pace of the Valley is faster than almost anywhere in the world and never stops (or sleeps!)

4. Everyone wants to fail fast and grow huge

What are your thoughts on the Valley? Leave them in the comments


Day 36: How to perform inception on your customers

March 24, 2014 at 10:28 am

There was an interesting post published in Medium recently, entitled The Single Most Important Startup Lesson: How to Perform Inception on Your Customers.

In the post, James Faghmous, explains that within a startup, the customer is the key to your success and to get that customer you must always start with the most basic value that your business creates for them and then go from there. As competition within the startup world explodes, it’s becoming increasingly more important to pull in customers and keep them loyal to your company. More often than not, this is seen as secondary to other aspects of building your business. Unfortunately, what a lot of founders realize too late is that you don’t have a business without the customer. So, how exactly does one go about doing this? Inception or course! You must plant the idea in their mind. Basically, convince your customer that they made the decision to go with your product.

One of the key points within the post explains that, “Just like with an inception, starting a business requires some thinking and planning ahead — well before you write a single line of code or make a sales call. Taking the time to distill your business to its most fundamental concept — how it makes the lives of its customers better — will save you a lot of time, money, and agony down the line.”

Check out the post to find out the step by step on how to perform “inception” on your customers.

Day 35: How did your board meeting go?

March 21, 2014 at 3:14 pm

This week was when the teams were supposed to hold their first formal meetings with their FounderFuel Board. We encouraged them to think outside the box and hold fun and creative meetings to really pull their board members in. As far as we can tell, these meetings were hugely successful.


For this Friday’s “interview” with the teams, we decided to ask them their thoughts on how these meetings went.

“Amazing! They really responded well to our vision and our product”

“The lead-up was stressful but it was worth it in the end”

“We didn’t have ours yet, we had to postpone. Sadface”

“Stressful!!! But everyone responded really well!”

All in all, seems like a successful week for the teams!

Think your team has what it takes?