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“Are you going to eat that?” or “How do you dispose of a dead body”?

February 29, 2012

People are always jumping to conclusions. So, when you’re asked “Are you going to eat that?“, you assume that whoever is asking is asking for your leftovers. If you ask “How do you dispose of a dead body?“, you’ll see people scoping out the exits and react immediately with nervous laughter. I posted Question: what’s the most epic way to say you’re sorry? to Facebook the other day . . . and more than 1 person assumed I did something epically wrong – probably to my wife (which I hadn’t, on this occasion).

In business, people also jump to conclusions. They make these jumps based on the way you look, the way you act, and especially the way you speak and the questions you ask. Let me explain.

Last week, Jason Bailey and I spoke to a group of entrepreneurs at AcceleratorYYC last week, and we gave some pretty basic advice. Jason said something like “don’t be a douche; you’re here to find a co-founder, not to make friends”. My advice was to show credibility – if you’re going to share a business idea with me, show me that you’ve done your homework – tell me something I don’t know about that business, or show me that you’ve done the research, and that you’re ready to send me a document within the next 2 hours. Otherwise, it’s all idle chit-chat, and I’m sure we could all be doing something better than (networking rant later in this post).

So, the first question we get is, “What’s more important: the entrepreneur, or the idea? Why not ask me “What if I suck, or my idea sucks?” or “I have no ideas, and I’m not all that smart. So should I work on becoming smarter, or should I try to find an amazing idea?

My answer is simple: yes. Yes, I think the entrepreneur is important. Everyone wants to work with amazingly sharp and resoundingly determined entrepreneurs. And yes, you want entrepreneurs like that to bring you amazing, world-changing ideas.

I don’t know this person was looking for an answer, or just looking to start a conversation. Either way, there are few stupid questions that I refuse to answer. That’s one of them. Here are some others:

What’s the one thing you did to become successful?

Anyone who has achieved any kind of success at anything knows that it takes a combination of things to become successful. If you’re asking this question, you’re saying “I’m lazy. Tell me the one thing I need to do to succeed”

What are you investing in these days?

If I don’t know you, I’m interpreting this question as “give me money, I’m desperate”. I don’t usually give money to, or talk about investments with people I don’t know. Random strangers that ask me for money usually fall into two groups: homeless people and entrepreneurs. Go figure.
So, how do you like your (car, house, guitar, or anything else that I don’t currently have in my possession – but somehow, the inquirer knows a little too much about)? – creepy and awkward. Is that really what they wanted to know?

Here are the kind of conversations you should be having:

Direct and honest: for example, stop the posturing. Don’t say that you have huge scaling problems when you don’t. Say what you’re working on, what you’ve been successful at, and where you need help.

Pointed and purposeful: ask for advice and suggestions, but don’t create obligation. You’ll find that most people are willing to give at least some advice, but you’ll have to be really interesting if you want your audience to do homework for you – so let that one play itself out.

Information-rich: don’t be stingy with info if you want a real conversation. Nothing kills a conversation like “I need you to sign an NDA before we can talk further”. If you’re pitching, give the best 30 second pitch on your company, product, and performance to date.

Interesting: “networking event”  is just code for “consultants and service providers in a room with crappy food and free drinks so that they can corner you and sell you stuff”. If you’re a legit entrepreneur with a real business at one of these events, you’ll be the belle of the ball.

So, while there may be no such thing as a stupid question, your questions might just lead others to jump to conclusions about the type of entrepreneur that you are.

Hearts, Minds & Wallets

November 14, 2011

I love hearing a great story – whether it’s over a drink with a group of friends, over dinner with family, or at gatherings with colleagues. I especially love it when they come from unexpected sources – the unfiltered observations of a 5 year old, to far-out tales from panhandlers, and the hopes and dreams of students out to change the world – great stories abound in this city.

And great stories are what you’re going to get at the next iF Series Conversation on November 21, 2011. That’s because you won’t find the standard slate of business executives and politicians on the agenda. Instead, you’ll be hearing from a group of people that are passionate about their work, their art, and their lives. They’ll be telling stories from their hearts.

Great stories are told in this order: hearts, minds, wallets.

Politicians and business leaders used to tell inspirational stories – stirring up feelings of patriotism, hope, optimism, charity, and kindness. While we regularly quote politicians and business people from 50 or 100 years ago – yet, there are few modern day politicians we can proudly quote today. Today, they talk about the numbers. Their tone has turned adversarial.

Politicians and business leaders tells stories in this order: wallets, minds, (and typically, they leave out the hearts)

I applaud the Calgary Chamber of Commerce’s bold move of putting adventurers, artists, entrepreneurs, research scientists, and restauranteurs on stage. These are the every-day people that make our city truly interesting and great. This appreciation and recognition of our diversity speaks to the creative, open-minded attitudes of Calgarians.

Let’s get together on November 21 and do something for our hearts and minds.

If we nourish our hearts and minds, our wallets will flourish. In other words: follow your passion, feed your mind, and the rest will take care of itself.

Why I like losing more than winning.

May 13, 2011

SSometimes, I like losing more than winning. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to think that I’m #bi-winning as much as the next guy, but I often learn more from my losses. Here’s why:

1) Losing brings introspection, winning attracts the sycophants. Whenever I lose anything that I’ve wanted to win, I try not to allow myself any time to feel sorry for myself. Rather, I compare my efforts and methodologies to the winner’s, and gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to win. In other words, it motivates me to work harder. I never do this when I win – my ego takes over. I’m surrounded by people who congratulate me and tell me how smart I am. I start believing this, and I get lazy.

2) I’m a sore loser. I’m ultra-competitive. I’m the dad that sons hate to compete against because everything is a race. And sometimes, that’s not cool. I need a reminder every so often that we need to enjoy the journey as well. I’ll take a loss to remind me of this, and to become a more gracious competitor.

3) Sometimes, the things that matter don’t come with awards and recognition. Each and every day, I meet everyday heroes that do amazing things, but are never recognized for it. I also meet people that win awards for superficial achievements. Invariably, I like the former much more than the latter. There’s something in the attitude of people who do what’s right, vs. the people whose success comes a little too easily.

4) Anything of value that I’ve won were preceeded by losses. My sweetest victories in life never came easily – I’ve had to work my ass for them. I never got it right on the first try.
This little nugget of self-indulgent philosophy is dedicated to all the students who competed in the SIFE Nationals competition, especially those that didn’t win. You have dedicated yourself to making your community a better place; you’re doing your part to change the world. Please continue to do this, even when you graduate and leave SIFE behind. When I look at the amazing contributions from the thousands of students across Canada, I am humbled. I encourage every student that “lost” to stand proud, and embrace this loss.

SIFE sends Canada’s best team – this year, it’s Memorial University – to the SIFE world championships, and they’re going to do a fantastic job of representing Canada.

Shout-out goes to the SIFE MRU team at Mount Royal University, who I had the chance to mentor this year. They did an amazing job, and it will only get better next year. Also, I loved the story and passion that came from the SIFE Windsor team, where my MBA strategy prof, Dr. Allan Conway, is the dean of the Odette School of Business.

Apple and Google Watch

October 15, 2010

Google just posted some killer numbers last night, and instantly shot up over 10%. Now it’s within striking distance of becoming more valuable than the once-mighty Microsoft Corporation.

Apple announces their earnings on Monday, and is now challenging Exxon in becoming the world’s most valuable company.

Live quotes from Google Finance below:

Killer Demos: A Guide To Presenting At DemoCamp Calgary

February 12, 2010

Let’s set the scene: you’re in a dimly-lit room, with about 100 people in the crowd. It’s a mix of developers, designers, entrepreneurs, angel investors, students and marketers, all there to talk tech and to offer their suggestions on how to create the next Facebook or DIgg. You’ve got a computer, a wifi connection, a microphone, and a projector. How will you impress the crowd? Before You Get There:

Bring Your “A” Game: Plan on showing the best features of your application. For example, show us what pain your product solves, or the killer features your customers just can’t live without.

Preparation: We’ve all seen how registration and logins work, so unless your registration flow is absolutely mind-blowing, we recommend that you have all your demo accounts created and ready to go.

Plan B: In case your application/product blows up in the middle of the demo, be prepared to roll out your backup plan.

Practice on your friend:. Unless you’ve done this a million times before, practicing on a group of friends and family helps take away the jitters some people encounter in front of large crowds.

Remember: DemoCamp rules state that you must show a working application/product – no slideshows are allowed. In addition to a ban on PowerPoint and Keynote, DemoCamp organizers will pull the plug on your demo if you are using static webpages as slides for your presentation.

At The Event:
Talk to a DemoCamp organizer (Sarah, David, John, or Patrick), and get organized:

obtain a wifi password, if necessary
find out when you’re presenting
check to see that you have the right connection for the projector

The Presentation:

Your introduction will consist of a DemoCamp host asking you the following questions:

What is your name? What do you do?

What is the product you’re showing today, and what does it do?

How can the community help/What are you hoping to achieve with this demo?

From there, you’ve got a maximum of 5 minutes to impress the crowd. Remember, you’re addressing a tech crowd, so unless you keep their interest, they’re going to be reaching for their iPhones and blackberries. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Paint a picture – but make sure it’s something that everyone can interpret. Assume that everyone in the audience knows about the top web applications. But if your product deals with a specific industry, you may want explain in very simple terms, why your product is important. For example, “In my industry, this problem results in the loss of over $50k per day. The product that I’m showing you today will eliminate those losses“.

Keep rolling – presenters often get stuck on one or two features, and dive deeper into the details than necessary. For a great example of a presentation that uses a ton of slides to stay interesting, check this out – while it is obviously a powerpoint presentation, the point is clear: don’t dwell on any particular point.

Keep it short – you have 10 minutes, but don’t feel like you have use all of it. In fact, some of the best demos in the world only last 6 minutes (check out: the demogods on demo.com). Also, check out Guy Kasasaki’s tips on how to be a Demo God.

Have fun – while this may sound scary to first time presenters, the community is actually quite forgiving, friendly, and informal. The environment is casual, and nobody is there to criticize you for not having a “monetization strategy“. Check out videos of past DemoCamps at BarCampCalgary.com, and you’ll get a better feel for what happens at these events.

You’ll have time for a few questions and answers after the presentation. The best Q&A sessions have a ton of crowd involvement, with lots of questions, and plenty of short answers. Here are some tips:

If there isn’t a microphone in audience, repeat the question you are about to answer.

Resist the urge to spew out long, technical answers. It’s an intelligent crowd, so someone might just ask a really good technical question. Your best answer is a short 30 second explanation, followed with “see me after for the details”.

Don’t get defensive or critical – Sometimes, the audience will ask why you did things a certain way, or how you match up against the competition. Again, your best strategy is to respond with a quick explanation, without sounding negative or defensive.

Other things to keep in mind:

The DemoCamp Calgary community is eager to help. So, show up prepared – for example, have beta and promo codes ready, and be prepared to talk code, marketing, and partnerships.

Invite your friends, families, and colleagues – a cheering section is not only allowed, but encouraged!

Be a social butterfly – DemoCamp’s main goal is to develop a community of tech entrepreneurs – so introduce yourself to new people, and help introduce new and interesting tech people into the community.

Pat is a short sighted, destructive idiot.

May 22, 2009

It’s been an amazing month so far. I just started a new job at Fotolia, and the folks at TechCrunch were kind enough to blog about it. Today, we launched a new site – PhotoXpress, and TechCrunch blogged it once again. Registrations and downloads on PhotoXpress were brisk, and we’re looking forward to growing this business aggressively. I’m very optimistic about the prospects for both Fotolia and PhotoXpress.

But apparently, Rick Dahms, in commenting on the TechCrunch story about PhotoXpress, says I’m a “short sighted, destructive idiot”. (hey, who’s he calling short sighted?):

It’s really hard to believe that after all these years there are some people who still think that a profitable internet business model starts with making your product free.

All this does is drive another nail in the coffin of stock photography. As it is, since the invasions of Photodisc, Getty and iStock, it’s almost impossible to make a living shooting stock.

The upside is that once “businessmen,” like Pat, kill stock photography altogether and put the all those photographers out of business, it will all be free all the time. It will all be crap and it’ll be the same crap every year… but it will all be free.

And that’s what’s important.

He goes on to say (in response to Avi, who posted a note in my defense):

No, Avi. Pat is a bad businessman because his business will fail. The thing that seems to be beyond Pat, and also evaded Mark Getty and Jonathan Klein and Steve Davis, and David Norris, is that if your business is destroying the industry that it lives on, the future of your business is limited.

See, Pat is not innovating anything. Pat is repeating a business model that has failed again and again. I’m not “blaming” Pat. I’m saying that Pat is a short sighted, destructive idiot.

Which is technically not “complaining” but criticizing.

Call me what you will, but I’m not short sighted. The most successful businesses in history became successful because they figured out the magic formula. It’s called distribution.

In 1912, when Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door” his emphasis was on innovation. He was wrong. There are many cases in history where the more innovative product lost out because it had poor distribution. Sony Betamax vs. VHS, for example. (Sony anything vs. it’s competitors, actually, but I digress). They can’t beat a path to your door if they don’t know about it.

Chris Anderson’s article (and latest book), Free, explains it quite nicely. In it, he cites two trends that are driving the spread of free business models across the economy:

The second trend is simply that anything that touches digital networks quickly feels the effect of falling costs. There’s nothing new about technology’s deflationary force, but what is new is the speed at which industries of all sorts are becoming digital businesses and thus able to exploit those economics. When Google turned advertising into a software application, a classic services business formerly based on human economics (things get more expensive each year) switched to software economics (things get cheaper). So, too, for everything from banking to gambling. The moment a company’s primary expenses become things based in silicon, free becomes not just an option but the inevitable destination.

The crowdsourced stock photography business was a specialty, niche business that most people used to ignore. That is, until Canon made the DSLR affordable to the consumer. The quality and the quantity of images at these sites increased exponentially because of Canon’s technology. And today, it’s amazing what you can produce with a sub-$1,000 camera.

Now I’m not saying that just anyone can do what professional photographers like Rick Dahms can do. In fact, very few can even come close. But the reality is, Canon, Nikon and other camera manufacturers have made it so fast, cheap and easy to produce billions and billions of images, that you’d expect someone to take a great picture from time to time.

So if “short sighted, destructive idiot” means “leveraging revolutionary technology to build a business that changes the game”, then I can only hope that there’s more name-calling a few years from now.

Cool Blog Links

October 9, 2008

A few links to some interesting blogs:

Futuristic Play: Andrew Chen, EIR at MDV, has gathered some great insights and analysis on viral marketing, user experience, game design, and online ads. Check out his top 50 list of essays on viral marketing, game design and online ads.

Startup Metrics for Pirates: Dave McClure walks us through the only 5 things that matter to a web startup: Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referral, Revenue . . AARRR!!

Indexed: Jessica Hagy makes sense of the world with venn diagrams and simple graphs. Simply Brilliant.

Digital Roam: Dan Roam explains how to solve the world’s problems on the back of a napkin. Here’s the case for Obama.

Brain Rules: John Medina’s 12 rules for optimizing brain functions. He also discusses how the brain ignores boring things – it processes meaning before it processes details.  You communicate meaning with emotionally competent stimuli. The brain pays attention to three things: Threats: Will it eat me, can I eat it? 2) Pleasure: Can I mate with it, will it mate with me? 3) Familiarity: have I seen it before? Take care of these 3 things, and you will capture the attention of your audience.

STIRR: Kickin’ Butt at Banff Venture Forum

October 8, 2008


Why am I posing with the winners of best presentation awards at the Banff Venture Forum? BecauseSTIRR PitchLab helped guide two of the companies towards the prize.

Two weeks ago, Manford Kwan, CEO of ASAT Solutions, and Dr. Mary Earle, CEO of TheraCarbparticipated in a 4-hour session where we concentrated on fixing the first two minutes of their pitch. That’s how long you have to capture a potential investor’s attention before they start checking their ‘berry.

Both of these companies have been operating for over 5 years, and there wasn’t anything I was going change in their business models the week before they hit the stage in Banff. So the challenge was to make the pitches interesting enough to attract conversations and get a few more meetings afterwards.

Even though there are 10 pitch tips we review in PitchLab, I’ve decided to highlight just a few of the more important ones in this post:

  • Start Strong & Stay Strong: Don’t welcome the crowd, ask them how they’re doing, make small talk, or worse yet, come out with a “don’t you hate it when . . .” statement. Nobody’s going to answer, and you’ll feel like a schmuck. Just tell them who you are, and in two or three sentences, give them a reason to believe that you’re credible.
  • Hearts, Minds, Wallets: Always make an emotional connection before diving into the logic, and always share the logic before asking for money. How do you like being asked for money from people you don’t like for things you don’t understand?
  • Be Attractive: Be confident, but don’t brag. Seek guidance, but don’t appear desperate. Be passionate, but not emotional. It’s a fine line, but you’ll be surprised how investors are attracted to one set of qualities and completely repelled by the other.

I didn’t realize how powerful these rules would be. When Manford and Mary made their presentations last Thursday, they hit the stage with confidence. And when they got off the stage, they were smiling from ear to ear. In my mind and theirs, they had already won – they were already stirring up more conversations in the hallways, speaking with more passion and enthusiasm than ever. And that’s the power of having a good pitch – it follows you right off the stage and into elevators and boardrooms.

At the end of the conference, attendees had voted TheraCarb as best presenter in the Life Sciences stream, ASAT Solutions as the best in the Energy stream, and Akoha as the best in the IT stream.

In the picture: from left to right:
– Austin Hill, Akoha’s CEO, simply one of the world’s best pitch men.
– Manford Kwan, CEO, ASAT Solutions
– me, the proud pitch coach
– Dr. Mary Earle, CEO, TheraCarb

Sir Terence Matthews: It’s not the richest or fittest that will survive.

October 7, 2008


Legendary billionaire businessman Sir Terence Matthews was at the Banff Venture Forum Friday night, and spoke about enterprise creation in the flat earth economy. First, he broke down the costs: really good engineers in India: $7k/year. In China: $6k/year. In Canada: $70k/year. Telecommunications links: 155 megabit cross-ocean link: used to be $2 million/month. Now: $10k/month. Office space in London: 200 GBP/square foot. Puna, India: $5/square foot. Get the picture?

Sir Terry’s message was simple. You can’t ignore the fact that we exist in a world economy these days. “It’s not the richest or fittest that survive, it’s those that adapt. You have to adapt to the competition from China and India”. He continues to start new companies at a scorching pace every year, and he starts them right here in Canada. His formula:

  1. Use a Mothership. For Terry, it’s Mitel. Work with the motherships and develop solutions / painkillers they can sell. Working with a mothership gets you credibility and revenues.
  2. Hire Smart University Grads. Terry interviews the top 20 grads from Waterloo every year, and hires 4 – 5 of them. Canadian university graduates are amongst the best in the world, but you have to structure the deal a little differently to make it work. The offer: $25k/year, along with another $50k in equity. Government can’t tax it, and there’s no spending cash for social activities.
  3. Communicate & Motivate. Terry insists on quarterly reports from his managers, and these reports are sent to every employee. In addition, all his companies hold quarterly all-employee meetings, so that employees understand the past achievements and future direction of the company. Employees deserve to be treated like owners. Give your employees confidence that management knows what it is doing, and they will work harder than ever.
  4. Passion: Motivated people can do anything.
  5. Have fun: work isn’t just about making money, it’s also about excitement, winning, and working with people you like. (amen!)

The result? Every one of his companies ship products and have revenues within the first year. Simply amazing, by any standard.

Overall, it was a very lively speech which stressed the importance of a smart, motivated team.


Later in the night, I bumped into Sir Terence in the hallways of the Banff Springs, and thanked him for his presentation. True to form, he responded energetically, requested that we exchange business cards, and encouraged me to move quickly on my next venture. Now I know why people work for him for $25k/year! I know I would if he sent an offer ever came my way . . .

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