Startup Series Posts

July 7, 2015

All Aboard The SoftLayer Startup Train!

This year, SoftLayer partnered with ThreeFortyNine, a co-working space in Guelph, Ontario, to offer founders, funders, and anyone else heading to Montreal’s International Startup Festival an amazing first class ride on the SoftLayer Startup Train.

I sat down with Brydon Gilliss, the founder of ThreeFortyNine, to learn more about the experience.

Now in its fourth year, the Startup Train is quickly becoming an institution for entrepreneurs, funders, and professionals traveling from Toronto to the International Startup Festival. What was the impetus behind creating this experience?
The travel time to conferences is often wasted time. We wanted to try and make better use of it. Also, it can be lonely when you return from an exciting conference but don't have anyone to connect with after who had that shared experience with you. Having a group of people from your city who you travel and share the experience with creates a longer-term alumni effect in your community.

The International Startup Festival in Montreal draws one of the largest audiences of tech entrepreneurs out of any event in Canada. What do you think makes it so popular?
The city, for one. Montreal is one of the best cities to visit in the summer. There is always an attraction; a reason to make the time. The festival venue is completely different ... right on the water in Old Montreal. The festival-atmosphere makes it a unique and an enjoyable experience.

How has the Startup Train experience changed over the past 4 years?
Startup Train alumni know what to expect. There are always new people to meet and learn from, and we don’t complicate the experience with too much programming. There is enough to keep your business-busy if that’s your goal, but it’s also easy to relax, enjoy the service and views while meeting and chatting with people with a cocktail in hand. This year, VIA Rail, is doing us a favor and giving us one of their cool dome cars typically used for the longer-haul cross-Canada trips.

We’re really excited to do some speed mentorship on the observation deck of the train this year. What else can attendees expect to experience on the SoftLayer Startup Train this year?
There are plenty of people to discuss your ideas with. You can take advantage of the networking with like-minded startups, running your ideas past some of the old hats on the train, or getting some quality advice from the mentors on-board.

The train experience attracts people from around Ontario, not just Torontonians. What do you think gels the Ontario tech community, and how does this play out each year at the Festival in Montreal?
I'm not sure I know the answer. Certainly the train, as with other events in our community, is a gel point in itself. In Canada, in general, we're working to find our way quickly in this fast moving startup world. Events like the train and Startup Festival, are important ways for our lonely entrepreneurs to come together and build our energy; share battle stories; etc.

With around 2,000 people attending the International Startup Festival in Montreal it can get pretty hectic at the venue and in the Old Port in general. What are some tips you can give founders traveling, on or off the train, to Montreal for the Festival?
Getting to Montreal is half the battle. Those choosing Startup Train travel can expect to exert minimum effort with the payoff of maximum enjoyment. Train travel is so easy especially when compared to flying. To fly these days (we won’t even get into the 401 or driving in Montreal), travelers need to be hours early in order to be processed and searched. You have to deal with luggage hassles. You end up losing valuable time in an irritating environment. The actual flying experience itself isn’t an event compared to the romance and fun of train travel. From the moment you get to VIA Rail’s first class lounge prior to leisurely boarding, the actual experience itself is so relaxing. In a plane you’re not likely to get a view, but on a train, that’s all you have. It’s easy to meet and make authentic connections with people on the train right away, so that by the time you arrive in Montreal, you’ve already got some necessary work done. Near the Festival site, you’ve got plenty of social options in the city (walking distance and otherwise). It’s easy to sneak off and grab a beer on a cobblestone street in Old Montreal with startup train passengers if you need a break from the Festival.

For anyone interested in riding the SoftLayer Startup Train, please visit http://ibm.co/1HHV2QZ. If you are a member of our Catalyst Startup Program and would like to travel to the Festival on us, please email me ASAP.

-Qasim

July 1, 2015

Canada’s Funding Roadshow Recap

Fundica helps accelerate the online funding search for entrepreneurs in Canada. Once a year they take their mission offline and organize the country's only Funding Roadshow. In 2015, the SoftLayer Catalyst startup program partnered with Fundica to take the Roadshow to 11 cities across the country where they listened to over 200 entrepreneurs pitch their tech startups to panels of funders.

I recently sat down with Lana Tayara from the Funding Roadshow.

So, tell us about the purpose behind organizing the Funding Roadshow.
The mission of the event is to better facilitate connections between entrepreneurs, funders from private and public sectors, and startup community leaders across Canada. The event aims to fulfill its purpose though a series of events, planned in 11 cities across Canada, by providing educational content designed to help early-stage technology based companies either start and/or grow their business. The one-day event is split into two streams throughout the course of the day. The first one allows up to 20 selected tech companies to present their business in a private room to a panel of investors, mentors, and service providers and get candid feedback to help them validate their business model. The second stream is open to all participants, comprised of all company stages, community developers, investors, and services providers, to listen to great presentations provided by industry leaders that will cover a wide range of topics designed to help them succeed with their business.

To maximize engagement in each city, the Funding Roadshow collaborates with local pro-entrepreneurship groups (accelerators, incubators, universities). In turn, this allows us to better connect our national partners with the local entrepreneurial community and its facilitators. Our national partners get the opportunity to network with each community, gain visibility nationally in the startup scene, and raise awareness about the resources they can offer to Canadian businesses.

What were your 2015 Funding Roadshow goals?
The goals of the 2015 Funding Roadshow were to establish new partnerships with key players of the entrepreneurial community across Canada that would engage participants in each city to generate relevant connections, opportunities, and resources to each person present in the event.

In the 2015 Funding Roadshow, based on a follow-up survey conducted three months later, 31.6 percent of entrepreneurs were offered funding and 33.3 percent of funders funded entrepreneurs. With respect to the funding aspect of our event, our selection criteria for pitching companies were stricter, and presentation guidelines were shared with companies as to increase the quality of pitches and funding probability for 2015.

Lastly, we also offered a wider range of educational topics such as funding, growth models, legal guidance, bookkeeping, storytelling, and other resources available to help startups with their success. We would like to share the value with business owners using technology such as financial management software, online banking, cloud hosting, and secure cloud-based document storage, which can help increase efficiency and productivity within their organization.

What do you think the 2015 Funding Roadshow accomplished?
The 2015 Funding Roadshow travelled through 11 cities from Halifax to Victoria. In each city, up to 20 selected technology-based companies pitched to a panel of eight funders. The initiative was put together with 59 partners, and provided over 96 educational presentations, and engaged 1,147 participants coast-to-coast. The Funding Roadshow was very proud to be able to form new partnerships with two of the most influential hubs in Canada, MaRS and Ryerson DMZ, both of which welcomed the event into their space as exclusive hosting partners in downtown Toronto.

Based on on-site feedback forms we collected from participants across Canada, we received excellent responses:

  • 100 percent of participants who took the survey (funders, pitchers, community members, and general attendees) would participate in the next Funding Roadshow. (Based on a 19 percent participation response.)
  • 94 percent of all participants who answered the survey were satisfied to very satisfied.

We are already in talks with returning sponsors who have reached out to express interest in the next edition of the Funding Roadshow.

Please relate some highlights from across this year's Roadshow. Any themes which emerged amongst all the pitching and networking?

  1. Canadian VCs (venture capitalists) are investing more in early-stage companies.
  2. There is an increase in interest from U.S. investors in mid to later stage companies.
  3. Angel investment in technology companies has increased in comparison to previous years.
  4. Emerging accelerators and collaboration between them.
  5. Government funding varies significantly between provinces.
  6. Early stage companies are still struggling with funding identification.

Overall the Funding Roadshow was a great success, and we can’t wait for 2016. SoftLayer will be there. Will you?

-Qasim

April 17, 2015

A Grandmother’s Advice for Startups: You Never Know ‘til You Ask

Today my grandmother turns 95. She's in amazing shape for someone who's nearly a century old. She drives herself around, does her own grocery shopping, and still goes to the beauty parlor every other week to get her hair set.

Growing up less than a mile from her and my granddad, we spent a lot of time with them over the years. Of all of the support, comfort, and wisdom they imparted to me over that time, one piece of advice from my grandmother has stood the test of time. No matter where I was in the world, or what I was doing, it has been relevant and helpful. That advice is:

You never know ‘til you ask.

Simple and powerful, it has guided me throughout my life. Here are some ways you can put this to work for you.

Ask for the Introduction
Whether you're fundraising, hiring, selling, or just looking for feedback, you need to expand your network to reach the right people. The best way to do this is through strategic introductions. In the Catalyst program, making connections is part of our offering to companies. Introductions are such a regular part of my work in the startup community. In my experience, people want to help other people, so as long as you're not taking advantage of it, ask for introductions. You're likely to get a nice warm introduction, which can lead to a meeting.

Ask for the Meeting
Now that you have that introduction, ask for a meeting with a purpose in mind. Even if you don't have an introduction, many people in the startup world are approachable with a cold email.

Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist for Apple, and author of 13 books including The Art of the Start 2.0, wrote a fantastic post, "The Effective Emailer," on how to craft that all-important message with your ask.

Another great take on the email ask is from venture capitalist Brad Feld, "If You Want a Response, Ask Specific Questions." This post offers advice on how not to approach someone. The title of the post says it all, if you want a response, ask a specific question.

Ask for the Sale
Many startup founders don't have sales experience and so often miss this incredibly simple, yet incredibly important part of sales: asking for the sale. Even in mass-market B2C businesses, you'll be surprised how easy and effective it is to ask people to sign up. Your first sales will be high-touch and likely require a big time investment from your team. But all of that work will go to waste if you don't say, "Will you sign up to be our customer?" And if the answer is a no, then ask, "What are the next steps for working with you?"

Empower Yourself
It's empowering to ask for something that you want. This is the heart of my grandmother's advice. She is and has always been an empowered woman. I believe a big part of that came from not being afraid to ask for what she wanted. As long as you're polite and respectful in your approach, step up and ask.

The opposite of this is to meekly watch the world go by. If you do not ask, it will sweep you away on other people's directions. This is the path to failure as an entrepreneur.

The way to empower yourself in this world starts with asking for what you want. Whether it's something as simple as asking for a special order at a restaurant or as big as asking for an investment, make that ask. After all, you'll never know unless you ask.

-Rich

March 23, 2015

Redefining the Startup Accelerator Business Model: An Interview with HIGHLINE’S Marcus Daniels

In this interview, SoftLayer’s community development lead in Canada, Qasim Virjee, sits down with Marcus Daniels, the co-founder and CEO of HIGHLINE, a venture-backed accelerator based in Vancouver and Toronto.

QV: Y Combinator has become an assumed standard for accelerators by creating its own business model. What do you think is both good and bad about this?

MD: Y Combinator (YC) not only created a new model for funding tech startups, but it also evolved the whole category. Historically, I like to think that Bill Gross's Idealab represented accelerator/incubator 1.0 and YC evolved that to 2.0 over the past decade, resulting in a hit parade of meaningful startups that are changing the world.

The good is that YC has created a “high quality” bar and led the standardization of micro-seed investment docs for the betterment of the whole startup ecosystem. It proved the model and has helped hundreds of amazing founders with venture profile businesses that are changing the world.

The bad is that there are now thousands of accelerators/incubators globally running generic programs that don't help founders much. More than half have a horrible rate helping startups raise follow-on capital and almost all never had a single exit from a startup they invested in.

HIGHLINE has a strong track record in our short history and now sees a big opportunity to be amongst the leaders in the evolution of the accelerator industry.

QV: Many accelerators focus on streamlining a program to process cohorts of companies at regular intervals throughout the year, every year. Often, the high throughput these programs expect means they must select companies from applications, rather than the approach you seem to be taking. Can you explain how HIGHLINE is sourcing companies for investment?

MD: HIGHLINE gets over 800 applications a year and targets about 20–30 investments during that time. Out of our last 12 investments, all had either come from referral partners or the team hunting the best founders to be part of our portfolio. Over the years, we have moved from the ideation stage, which comprises the majority of inbound applications, to the MVP in market stage, which is our sweet spot now. We will also focus on low-volume, high-touch advisory support, which is why a lot of time is spent building relationships with founders and adding value to MVP-stage startups before investing helps curate better deals.

QV: Traditionally, investment vehicles (such as VC firms and accelerator programs) have been run by financial industry types, but it seems that you are taking a more entrepreneurial approach with HIGHLINE and constantly evolving your business model. What can you tell me about this?

MD: The best accelerator leaders globally are past entrepreneurs who have some investment experience given how hands-on you have to be with the companies. Without the experience of starting and growing ventures, it is really hard to help tech founders navigate the daily challenges. Also, the best founders get to choose, and they want to work with other top founders in a long-term mentor/advisory/coaching relationship.

QV: How does being “VC-backed” differentiate HIGHLINE from other accelerators?

MD: Having several VCs as investors, such as the BDC and Relay Ventures, gives us an edge in several ways. Firstly, they are not only a great quality referral network for deals, but also a huge help in getting our companies venture-ready—even if they may not invest directly. Secondly, they allow us to internally focus on a specialization in helping venture profile businesses raise follow-on capital, as opposed to the glut of programs that are optimized for entrepreneurial education and lifestyle job creation. Lastly, they put big pressure on the whole HIGHLINE team to both get results for shareholders and build something unique that can be a category leader over the next decade.

QV: Our country is physically large and this seems to have created differentiated tech startup scenes between its cities. How does HIGHLINE collapse the geographic divide by having a physical presence in both Vancouver and Toronto?

MD: HIGHLINE tries to curate and unite the best digital founders, institutional investors, and ecosystem partners across Canada. We position our offices in both Vancouver and Toronto as portfolio hubs for founders who want to be headquartered in Canada, but want to take on the world. Most importantly, we spend time in all major Canadian startup ecosystems and have plans for unique events to bring our curated community closer together.

- Qasim

March 20, 2015

Startups: Always Be Hiring

In late 2014, I was at a Denver job fair promoting an event I was organizing, NewCo Boulder. All the usual suspects of the Colorado tech community were there; companies ranging in size from 50 to 500 employees. It's a challenge to stand out from the crowd when vying for the best talent in this competitive job market, so the companies had pop-up banners, posters, swag of every kind on the table, and swarms of teams clad in company t-shirts to talk to everyone who walked by.

Nestled amid the dizzying display of logos was MediaNest, a three-person, pre-funding startup in the Catalyst program, at the time they were in the Boomtown Boulder fall 2014 cohort. What the heck was a scrappy startup doing among the top Colorado tech companies? In a word: hiring.

MediaNest was there to hire for three roles: front end developer, back end developer, and sales representative. They were there to double the size of their team ... when they had the money. In the war for talent, they started early and were doing it right.

I've often heard VCs (venture capitalists) and highly successful startup CEOs say the primary roles for a startup CEO are to always keep money in the bank and butts in seats. Both take tremendous time and energy, and they go hand-in-hand. It takes months to close a funding round, and similarly, it takes months to fill roles with the right people. If you're just getting started with hiring once that money is in the bank, you're starting from a deficit, burning capital, and straining resources while you get the recruiting gears going.

The number one resource for startup hiring is personal networks. Start with your friends and acquaintances and let everyone know you're looking to fill specific roles, even as you're out raising the capital to pay them. As the round gets closer to closing, intensify your efforts and expand your reach.

But what happens if you find someone perfect before you’re ready to hire them? Julien Khaleghy, CEO of MediaNest, says, "It's a tricky question. We will tend to be generous on the equity portion and conservative on the salary portion. If a comfortable salary is a requirement for the person, we will lock them for our next round of funding."

MediaNest wasn’t funded when I saw them in Denver, and they weren’t ready to make offers, so why attend a job fair? Khaleghy adds, based on his experience as CEO, "It's actually a good thing to show a letter of intent to hire someone when you are raising money."

At that job fair in Denver, MediaNest, with its simple table and two of the co-founders present, was just as busy that day as the companies with a full complement of staff giving away every piece of imaginable swag. I recommend following their example and getting ahead of the hiring game.

As long as you're successful, you'll never stop hiring. So start today.

-Rich

February 25, 2015

To Raise Capital You Need a Startup Roadshow

In the world of big finance, before a company IPOs, the CEO along with an investment banker(s) go on a global roadshow to pitch their business to potential investors, including hedge funds, major investment funds, and other portfolio managers. The purpose is simple: Drum up sales of the forthcoming stock issue. In the startup world, there are no big investment banks scheduling meetings. However, there are opportunities to do a roadshow for your startup, which is even more important than the IPO.

There were 275 IPOs in 2014, the largest number since 2000. By contrast, there are around 500,000 new businesses founded in the U.S. each year (not all of which are tech startups), approximately 225,000 angel investors in the U.S., and as of a year ago, there were 874 venture capital firms [read more]. In big finance, a few companies compete for the attention of a small, accessible group of investors. In the startup world, a large number of companies must seek capital from a huge pool of often-hard-to-find, geographically dispersed investors. Because of this, a roadshow is even more important for startups than it is for IPOs.

The SoftLayer Catalyst team works with startups in communities as big as San Francisco’s Silicon Valley to as small as Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The number one thing entrepreneurs outside of the major financing hubs ask about is how to access capital. My response is always the same: Your job isn't to bring more capital to your local community; it's to build a great company. You know where the capital is, so build something worth investing in, and then do a roadshow.

Practice Locally

Thankfully, as the startup world grows & matures, the number of outlets for pitching increases every month. There are opportunities in most cities to stand up and pitch your idea to your peers or investors. Start by getting out in front of your local community as often as possible. In the Boulder/Denver community, there are a few companies that I see pitch all the time, and those companies have fantastic pitches because they are constantly practicing, getting feedback, and refining.

Look for meetups that focus on pitching such as 1 Million Cups and House of Genius, or simply do a search for startup pitch meetup in your city. During startup weeks or similar events, search and sign up for pitch practices and competitions. If your co-working space is like SoftLayer partner Galvanize, they might have a big member pitch competition or a peer-to-peer practice event. Participate in as many local and regional pitch competitions as you can find. As long as the competitions don't take a piece of equity or require a significant payment to participate—either of which should be very carefully evaluated beforehand—sign up, and compete. This constant exposure to your local market will help spread the word about your company, provide feedback on your pitch, and maybe even score some prizes!

For more advice on your pitch, read my previous post, Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas.

Maximizing Your Startup Roadshow

Now that you've refined your pitch and practiced in front of as many local audiences as possible, it's time to start planning your roadshow. Traveling on a limited budget means you must plan a highly focused trip with a specific goal in mind. Maybe you're traveling from New York City to Philadelphia for a competition, or from Portland to San Francisco for an investor meeting; no matter the reason, it's imperative to maximize your trip. A good roadshow involves getting the absolute most out of your travel budget, and this means booking meetings with potential investors or customers.

For example, while attending StartSLC, I visited with a friend from Colorado, Ryan Angilly from Ramen. Angilly traveled to Salt Lake City to participate in the pitch competition, but he made the most out of his trip by filling his calendar with investor meetings throughout the week. Before his trip, he reached out to his contacts in the startup community in Utah and asked for introductions. After following through with the contacts, he met with investors he would have otherwise never met.

Start by either allocating a budget for travel or identifying the most important pitch competitions in your region or industry. Once you have your trip scheduled, immediately start looking for connections within your network. It's far more effective to say, "I'll be in town the 12th to the 14th; what does your schedule look like?" than a non-specific request such as, “When are you available?” Look for connections with ties to your local community as they are more likely to be helpful and make intros on your behalf. And ask around locally about who has ties to your destination. Get your meetings lined up, and get ready for a whirlwind of pitches on your first ever startup roadshow.

I'll leave you with this final point: In 2014, venture capital firms raised nearly $33 billion, a 62 percent increase over 2013 levels. They'll spend the next few years investing that money in startups. The money is out there, and you need to do a roadshow to find it.

-Rich

February 17, 2015

Asia Startup Series: Putting a Twist in the Job Industry—Power to the Job Seeker

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines.

*This is Part 3 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

Before we dive into the Asia startup of the month, let’s discuss how the 2014 Asia Series A saw some of the largest investments to date—startups in China alone racked in US$130 million, and if we go by the frequently released trends, 2015 is set to break all records. The sheer number of investable startups coming out of the region will only open doors for more entrepreneurs. Here’s a look at some of the big winners:

  • Renrendai, a Beijing-based financial services startup received a whopping US$130 million last year
  • aCommerce walked away with US$10.7 million
  • Appier, an artificial intelligence, big-data ad-tech company won a US$6 million series A investment

Check out some interesting infographics on my Startup Trends in Asia Pinterest page, including this infographics shared by TechinAsia and the 2014 high-value investments. Ping me if you have some more we should pin (LinkedIn or Twitter).

Temploy

With so many job search websites, portals, apps, and agencies dedicated to getting the employer the right employee, I found Temploy to be quite uniquely positioned and hence, the focus of this month's startup story.

Temploy, founded by Mark Koh, is a marketplace that automates the anonymous matching of temporary workers to employers while aligning expectations. This translates to a platform that essentially targets not only semi-skilled, low-skilled, blue-collar, and transferrable job positions, but a portal where students searching for summer jobs, individuals searching for part-time placements, or those looking for double income avenues can design the work they want based on parameters of locality, remunerations, schedule, and skills.


Mark Koh, Temploy founder

Basically, the portal connects the job seeker with the right employer.

Having worked two jobs while studying in Australia, Mark went through the grind of finding jobs to fit his schedule. He also saw firsthand the often unfair treatment of temp-workers as well as the flickering loyalty of the temps towards their interim-employers.

"I realized there was a huge mismatch in what the candidate was expecting and the actual job requirements. There was a core demand in most cases of having the flexibility to maintain work-life balance so that the candidate could meet their other commitments. So, we decided to put the power in the hands of job seekers, and the idea of Temploy was born," Mark shared when we caught-up last week.

Understanding the Market

Temploy looked at targeting the ASEAN market due to the sheer demand of skilled workforce in the region. Mark found that Thailand and Philippines had a high number of day semi-skilled and blue-collared jobs. Because these paid daily, there was a great demand from candidates to find multiple jobs to fit in their unpredictable schedule.

On the other hand, in Indonesia, especially in the Bunder, Surabhaya, and Jakarta districts, the average users were teenagers and college students looking for comparatively higher salaries for temp jobs.

"It is surprising to note that employers actively encourage such candidates to pick up a second job to meet these expectations," Mark noted.

Singapore faced a big labor crunch, and the main reason behind this was an image perception that certain jobs were considered un-cool by part-time prospective candidates looking to fill their summer holidays. These candidates also demanded higher pay than what employers could afford. Here flexibility and work-life balance are more important than the actual compensation. Mark also noted there is a stigma associated with working two jobs.

In Vietnam, where the workforce population is the youngest, localization still remains a major challenge but there is still a huge potential. Cambodia, on the other hand, does not have the necessary penetration of smartphone and Internet connectivity needed for the platform to succeed currently.

The Platform and All That It Entails

After developing their customized optimized man workforce system (OMWS), Mark launched the company in mid-2014. Since then, there have been tweaks and updates based on their ongoing understanding of the region and to improve the employee-employer match algorithms.

The platform empowers job-seekers by allowing them to design their own jobs, including how many and what hours they would like to work, salary expectations, and the type of jobs they are looking for. This then undergoes a sophisticated linear optimization algorithm that matches jobs anonymously, mapping the job-seeker's criteria with current openings posted by employers. Contact details are only exchanged once both parties accept that the match is to their satisfaction.

When I asked Mark what was different about Temploy, he said, "The unique proposition lies in the database being non-extractable, hence discrimination based on last name, race etc. is avoided. Plus our competitors cannot poach our client or our candidate listing."

Mark and his team selected SoftLayer as a foundation for building their platform. "It helps that the data center is located in Singapore, which reduces the latency for our audiences. Getting data replicated is easy as well. I have no worries whether my data is safe since we can auto-replicate it across other DCs, including geographically disparate locations. In addition, features like auto-scaling are helping us tremendously in dealing with traffic spikes emerging due to our recent marketing tactics. Moreover, the benefits of the Catalyst program and the support from SoftLayer's support team are second to none," he shared.

The video gives a quick explanation of how the portal works.

What's Next

Within seven months of its launch, Temploy has seen over 1,600 registered users. The team has been progressively looking for ways to improve the platform, which will soon include a SMS-based signup for low-Internet penetration regions. Temploy recently participated in numerous startup competitions. The latest includes a spot in Channel News Asia Start-up Season 2. Mark has decided to launch a non-profit event, Skillup 2015, for youth and the young-at-heart to explore what he calls, Epic Career Options outside the ordinary—part time work, freelance work, entrepreneurship.

Temploy is in the spotlight, and for all the right reasons.

Cheers,
–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

January 19, 2015

Asia Startup Series: It's All About Making the Most of Your “Professional Social Life”

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines.

*This is Part 2 of the Asia Startup Series. Read Part 1: Drawing Board Events: Event Planning Goes the Way of the Cloud

Australia is a hotpot of ideas and over the years a number of local startups have shot to fame. Seedstarsworld released this overview of the Sydney startup scene. In April 2014, Insight Venture Partners invested US$250 million in a Sydney-based email marketing company. Much more recently, U.S. venture capital fund Technology Crossover Ventures invested US$30 million in an Australian online hotel distribution company. With all the momentum Down Under, this seems like a great time talk about one Australian startup that has a pretty cool idea to share.

ChannelPace
Working with startups is brilliant because there are no limits to how much one can blur the lines, extend the lines, distort the lines, join two lines to reinvent the boring the stuff, or bring in something brand new. ChannelPace is perhaps one of my favorite examples of such line-blurring ideas.

Picture this: As a business, it is imperative that you have a complete track of who your customers, your prospects, and even your potential employees are. When the world recognized this, we saw some really nice CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools come to market. The problem, however, with such tools is that the contact ownership is with the business, while the relationships are built by the people (the sales, marketing and support teams). Attrition is a reality, and when an employee leaves a company, the contacts, relationships, and information they’ve made often slip through the cracks. Of course that individual could continue to nurture those relationships through popular social channels. But keeping track of the hundreds, if not thousands, of contacts is nearly impossible, especially if the contacts themselves change companies.

And, this is where ChannelPace, an Australian-based startup, managed to merge and blur the lines. Greg Furlong, CEO of ChannelPace, attended SoftLayer’s Melbourne data center launch party last October, and that's where we started discussing the unique value his startup provides. Greg defines ChannelPace as the world’s first crowd-sourced contact management system.

He said, “The contacts we make during our working lives are some of our most valuable assets. And at its core, ChannelPace is designed to enable users to get their contacts organized in one place and available across all their Web-capable devices. The premise is that individuals own contacts, and our system enables sharing between users at the same company, thereby harnessing the knowledge of co-workers. When a ChannelPace user moves to another company, they take their contacts, and an imprint is left behind.”

This cloud-based system has the best of both worlds: a CRM system and a social channel. Contacts may be entered in the same manner as a traditional CRM system, or via business networking, in a manner similar to LinkedIn. Only one record is ever kept of a business card, keyed on the unique email address, and then people with the same contacts or in the same company all participate in updating the information—all without necessarily being connected to or aware of each other. Crowd-sourcing ensures information is always up-to-date, which is more efficient and effective, giving companies and individuals a competitive advantage.

Here is a snapshot of my conversation and the innumerable email exchanges with Greg:

The crowd-sourcing concept was great, but why would an organization appreciate and implement this system if they were no longer contact owners?

Greg: The first pillar of the ChannelPace system, contact management, provides people with a place to enter their business contacts. As the only way into the system is via a work-issued email address, we bring users from the same company together by creating a dynamic CRM system where everyone in the same company’s contacts are pooled. Individuals still “own” their contacts, but now everyone in the same company has access to the contact knowledge of all other ChannelPace users in their company. When you leave your company, you lose access to the shared knowledge. When you start at a new company, your contacts are now pooled with other ChannelPace users at your new company. In this way, we are providing a contact management system where users have an active interest in using it, as it is their information. Traditional CRM relies on users within the company keeping information updated. ChannelPace does this also, but we extend the updating reach to any other users around the world with access to the same contacts, which makes it more reliable and relevant.

Why did you decide to build ChannelPace as a cloud-based system?

Greg: We began building the company in 2013 with a mission to disrupt the CRM industry and displace dominant players like LinkedIn, Google+, and Salesforce. In order to compete at that level, we realized that ChannelPace needed a scalable, global cloud infrastructure platform that was nimble, reliable, and easy to implement. Hence the move to cloud. We were also looking for local presence, redundancy on multiple continents, load balancing, and as workloads increase in specific areas, high scalability. We considered numerous cloud providers including SoftLayer, Amazon Web Services, Google Compute Engine, Rackspace and Microsoft’s Azure. Finally, we decided to sign up with SoftLayer.

Why SoftLayer?

Greg: Two of ChannelPace’s priorities were global reach and scalability. ChannelPace now operates in 56 countries, and SoftLayer’s growing number of data centers and global network makes it easy for us to expand and grow our business. Also, SoftLayer’s network-within-a-network architecture is quite unique and enables us deliver unlimited traffic “on network” between servers in different data center locations around the world. When you’re looking to make an immediate impact on an industry, it’s important to work with a provider who you truly consider to be an extension of your business.

The system has immense potential. What are your growth plans for ChannelPace in 2015?

Greg: Like any other startup, we want to focus on aggressive market expansion and customer outreach. We have set high targets for ourselves, and towards that we are currently developing iOS and Android apps to extend the ChannelPace service to mobile. We also have a couple of tweaks and innovations in pipelines and 2015 is going to be super exciting for us.

I think it's great that my work life now has the potential to become a “professional social life!”

Cheers,
–Namrata (Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

December 12, 2014

Asia Startup Series: Event Planning Goes the Way of the Cloud

Startups are near and dear to our heart at SoftLayer; just take a look at the Catalyst program. That’s why we are so excited to see the startup scene in Asia growing at a tremendous pace. The fact that venture capitalists are now setting aside funds especially for young technology companies in this part of the world brings to focus the absolute potential of this market. Some of the big funds announced in 2014 include: the Singapore government's $48 million fund distributed among six venture capital firms, Japanese mobile gaming giant GREE Ventures’ new $50 million fund, Softbank and Indosat’s partnership to launch a $50 million fund for Indonesia, and Softbank’s $20 million fund for the Philippines

A key driver behind any startup looking to score funding from these big boys is the ability to handle unpredictable growth and achieve scale rapidly. Over the next few months, we’ll take a look at how we are helping our startup customers grow, scale, and succeed in Asia.

Drawing Board Events
It is hard and stressful planning a party for someone else’s big day. Birthday parties, wedding showers, and retirement parties take a lot of planning and attention to detail. The corporate world has its own set of events and challenges. That's why when I met Terence Woo at one of the startup meet-ups recently, his new venture, Drawing Board Events, made me sit up and say, “Now, that's what I need.”

After sifting online through vendor after vendor for his own wedding and calling each individually, Terence had a brilliant idea. Two years later, alongside co-founder, Samuel Stacey, he created a one-stop shop where users can browse user-reviewed vendors by categories: venues, décor, flowers, photography, cakes, and so on. After completing a quick five-minute event detail eform, users can simply click on “request quote” from as many vendors as they like. Vendors receive the request, and then quotes are emailed back—saving users the hours spent calling different vendors and providing the details over and over again.

According to Terence, right from the onset, Drawing Board Events decided to go the way of the cloud. There was no question that to achieve scale they needed a strong, reliable and flexible infrastructure. I asked him to give me three reasons why cloud is working for them, and here is what he shared:

  1. A highly competitive industry needs a quick turnaround time.
    Provisioning of events services is a highly competitive, though traditionally slow to innovate, market. Focusing on a collection of sub-industries (photography, décor, flowers, and so forth) as opposed to a single vertical market, requires housing the latest information in one location. By giving the service provider ownership over its own profile, the company is incentivized to keep its data up-to-date. Additionally, ensuring that the users are able to access updated information in real time requires a highly reliable platform.
  2. A growing database depends on a growing IT infrastructure.
    Data storage is infrastructure-hungry; there are no two ways about that. And as a business grows, so does its data. In order for Drawing Board Events to collect information on all event sub-industries, vast databases need to be housed and maintained. These databases can be stored, computed, and managed easily via the cloud. Sometimes the computing and storage needs fluctuate, and because the cloud is scalable, Drawing Board Events can add or subtract storage when and where it is required. The company needs powerful servers to handle its database workloads, as well as a cloud environment flexible enough to scale with its business.
  3. The Catalyst Startup Program got them what they needed.
    Drawing Board Events joined Catalyst after their business idea formalized and was structured. With SoftLayer, they were able to quickly host the website and access storage solutions best suited for their growing business. As a member of the program, they now have access to SoftLayer’s complete portfolio of services and can hop on SoftLayer's global network backbone.

    Although currently in the pilot stage, the startup has a huge list of subscribers who are finding the website an exciting and helpful way to plan events. Moving forward, Terence is hoping to add a real-time booking system for users ready to make buying decisions, as well as develop a more robust, proprietary communications dashboard for users and vendors. He also hinted at some exciting upcoming innovations that will need a heavy tech foundation and greater dependency on the cloud.

Even though I couldn't pry all the details from him, I am already sold and can see myself as the official party planner for my family—that is, of course, with the help of Drawing Board Events. The best thing is that I’ll have over 14 categories to choose from and more than 250 service providers at my fingertips. Planning a party just got easier. Just imagine if I had to contact all those vendors—now that ain't no party my friend!

Cheers
-Namrata
(Connect with me on LinkedIn or, Twitter)

December 4, 2014

Advice from the Catalyst Team: Pitching Like George Lucas

SoftLayer’s Catalyst team hears startup pitches constantly.

We support more than 50 accelerator programs in the Global Accelerator Network, the TechStars programs, five hundred startups, and more. We hold office hours, offer pitch practice, and attend demo days—in short, we hear a lot of pitches.

Condensing the essence of how you’re changing the world into a five minute sales pitch, while still including other key elements like the business model, traction, early wins, team, and “the ask” is incredibly difficult. There’s a lot of ground to cover and very little time to do it, especially when you consider that likely half of your audience is focused on their phones.

A pitch must be concise, informative, and attention grabbing. The worst thing you can do is pitch like George Lucas’ dialogue in the Star Wars  prequel trilogy movies—clumsy and over-explaining.

  • Yoda: Always two there are, no more, no less, a master and an apprentice.
  • Mace Windu: But which was destroyed, the master or the apprentice?

This particular quote is the epitome of terrible dialogue because it communicates the same thing multiple times; the second line is superfluous. I don’t need Mace Windu to re-explain to me exactly what Yoda just said. I have ears. I’m paying attention. Imagine how much more powerful that scene would be with just the first statement.

Most of us have a natural tendency to over-explain a point, but by doing this, we insult the intelligence of our audience. Plus, over-explaining eats up precious time and causes the crowd to disengage. I can’t think of a worse combination.

If you find yourself saying any of these phrases, cut them immediately:

Let me show you . . .
I’d like to tell you . . .
I’m going to . . .
I think . . .
For example . . .
As I said before . . .

Simply put, don’t tell me you’re going to tell me something. Just tell me.

George Lucas did write some great lines of dialogue. Watch the Dagobah scenes in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda’s lines are pure brilliance. The message is simple and powerful, which makes it one of the most memorable lines in cinema.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

During a pitch, you’re not writing a screenplay, so you don’t want to leave your audience guessing, but you still need to explain the problem, the solution, and why you’re the best at solving it. Don’t leave your audience confused from a lack of information, but don’t insult their intelligence by telling them you’re going to tell them something. Just tell it. Or better yet, show it.

You want your pitch to be like a Lightsaber: an elegant weapon for a more civilized age.

-Rich

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