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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.

Day 24 – Do you know how to acquire users??

March 12, 2015 at 11:42 am

 ”A startup is a company designed to grow fast…the only essential thing is growth. Everything else we associate with startups follows from growth” – Paul Graham

This week we had Ian Jeffrey, VP Product Marketing at PasswordBox come in to talk to the teams about User Acquisition. The talk started off with a big laugh as Ian asked, “how does one acquire users? I honestly have no idea…”. He then clarified by saying that it’s different for every business out there, there’s no set formula. It’s all about A/B testing to find out what works for you. 

However, there are 6 KPIs that you can measure to see if the techniques you are using are working. 

1-  Retention: How long does the user tay?
2- Engagement: How active is the user?
3- Activation: This is different for every business, you need to find which metric is yours. What is it that a user needs to do to be considered an active user?
4- Acquisition: How many users can you get?
5- Revenues: How many users are paying?
6- Referrals: How many of my users are bringing in new users?

One key lesson that Ian shared was not to pay for advertising until you’ve figured out your KPIs, otherwise it’s just money down the drain. Once you know how to keep your users, then you can start buying ads. However, just because you don’t have the money to spend or you aren’t ready to buy ads, there are still PLENTY of ways to scale. You just need to find some kind of trick or exploit that is free. Look at some of these, now famous, examples. 

1- Airbnb used Craigslist 
2- Zynga used Facebook
3- PayPal used Ebay
4- Slideshare used LinkedIn

But before we go any further, let’s get back to the basics. What exactly is product marketing? According to Ian, it means “getting the largest amount of people to experience the core value of your product as quickly as possible”.  And this doesn’t mean saying that you’re going “to go viral”. Viral marketing is not a strategy, it’s a result of doing a great job.

At the end of the day, the best way to market your product is to have an amazing product. If you solve a real need, and do it well, then you’ll drive value and users will flock to you. Take Dropbox as an example. It adds storage space to your computer, by doing so it solves a real need and drives value to the user. They have a clear USP (Unique Selling Proposition), if you have that, then you have everything you need to grow. Great marketing should be indistinguishable from magic. 

Check-out some of the articles Ian suggested be read as a follow-up to his talk.

1- From 0 to $1B – Slack’s Founder Shares Their Epic Launch Strategy 

2- Real Engines Of Growth Have Nothing To Do With Growth Hacking

3-  Stealing Traction: How Youtube, Paypal, StumbleUpon and AirBnB Grew Through Piggybacking

4- The One Metric That Matters

5- The Scalable Startup Test: Bumps vs. Engines

6-  Growth Hacker is the new VP Marketing

Day 13: Mentor Day!

February 25, 2015 at 4:59 pm

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Mentor Day

This year Mentor Day was held at home, in Notman House, for the first time ever. It was a successful event with over 80 mentors present. Following the teams pitches, Mentors broke up into tables based on expertise: technology, marketing, business development, customer acquisition, fundraising, operations/strategy and product management. Teams then rotated through the room, having a focused discussion of their business at each table. 

For some teams, today was their first shot at a public pitch.  Thank you to our amazing mentors for their presence and guidance. If you’d like to get involved in the FounderFuel Mentor Program please contact us here: info@founderfuel.com. 

Now, after a long and exciting day, it’s time for drinks! Stay tuned for pictures from the 5 à 7 in the next few days! 

7 Startups for our 7th Cohort

February 6, 2015 at 4:10 pm

“Success is focusing the full power of all you are on what you have a burning desire to achieve.” 
- William Peterson

FounderFuel is gearing up to welcome its Spring 2015 cohort on Monday, February 9th. 7 companies will comprise our 7th batch of startups. This time around, we’re trying something new.

After a deep-dive re-evaluating the past 6 cohorts, we’ve altered the structure of the program in order to capitalize on our strengths and improve upon our weaknesses. We want to more accurately reflect our purpose: to offer an in-depth and mentor-driven acceleration of your startup.

This is why this cohort will see a refocusing of the program, oriented even more towards the specific needs of the entrepreneur, and towards providing them with what will satisfy those needs. We want to have a higher impact upon the outcome and success of each startup embarking on this journey with us.

Stay tuned for more changes to come.

To remain up-to-date on the progress of FounderFuel and the 7 companies within its 7th cohort, follow us here:

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Day 9: Mentor Day

September 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Yesterday was Mentor Day. Our full-day event where we bring in Mentors from across North America to give our teams feedback on their companies and progress. It’s a crucial day that exposes our teams to our vast Mentor network and helps them form relationships with people who will play a key role in the growth of their company. 

It was a very successful day and our companies took away several key learnings that they can apply as they grow.

Check out some of the pictures from the 5 à 7 at the end of the day. 

Day 57: Sneak Peek of the Teams

April 24, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Just kidding! 

We’re still 21 days away from publicly announcing the companies from the Spring 2014 cohort but we did offer a sneak peek of the teams to a select group of Investors yesterday evening. We invited about 40 Investors to come mingle with the CEOs and get to know the awesome companies that are about to pitch at Demo Day. 

VIP Event

Over a few hours, a few drinks and some great canapés the CEOs mingled with the Investors, pitched their visions and got some really constructive feedback on how to take their companies to the next level. 

We hope to see you at Demo Day on May 13th and finally get to show-off these amazing companies to the world!

 

Day 54: Show & Tell III

April 17, 2014 at 3:32 pm

One of the most stressful things we can say to the companies is “there are X number of days until Demo Day”. Today that number was 26. To highlight just how quickly Demo Day is approaching, we hosted Show & Tell III today. We invited a handful of Mentors to come in and watch the companies give their updates and most recent investor pitches. 

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The results were mixed. Some companies still have a LONG way to go before Demo Day and some are roaring along and really impressing everyone.

As usual there were some great one liners. Here are some of the best:

“At the first Show & Tell all I wanted to know was how can I give you all my money. Today, I’m beyond relieved that I didn’t invest in you.”

“I’m really proud of you, this pitch is 1000% better than it was 1 month ago.”

“I think you thought you would be in a much different position today. As far as I can tell, you just keep getting worse and less impressive.”

“Why do you have a slide that depicts you staring lovingly at a 12 year old? That’s just weird.”

“I don’t think you succeeded in explaining where your company is going. In any way, shape or form. Do you even realize where you’re going??”

“I don’t think what you’re building is useful for 90% of the population. It’s cool, but it’s not useful.”

 

Day 53: Can The Companies Pitch?

April 16, 2014 at 3:20 pm

You can tell the program is coming to a close very soon because Show & Tell III is right around the corner. It’s tomorrow!

This is the last time for the companies to give their updates and present their almost finished Demo Day deck. One of the most challenging tasks for a CEO is to to take their whole business and condense it into a straightforward presentation in plain English. To help them achieve this, we set up a week of training sessions in anticipation of Show & Tell III.

pitch-your-ideas

In preparation for tomorrow the teams had a 5 hour pitch prep session with our lovely Mentor, Austin Hill. Austin gave the teams an in-depth look at various different kinds of pitches and went over the bad, the good and the great. He then listened as each CEO did their pitch and gave them some really honest but constructive feedback. 

To follow-up on yesterday’s session the companies each sat down for one-on-ones with our GM, Ian Jeffrey. In these sessions the final details of their decks were reviewed so that they’re fully prepared to pitch to a room of their peers and FounderFuel Mentors tomorrow afternoon. 

It’s been a hectic week but it should be fun tomorrow to see just how far the teams have come! 

Want to check the teams out for youself? Check them out at Demo Day on May 13th. Get your tickets here.

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]

Isaac

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.

PM ROLE

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.

WEEKLY RHYTHM

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.

KEY PROCESSES

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.

TOOLS

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

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.

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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 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.

Aron

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

 

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