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grow 2011

Hi! Techvibes will be live-blogging and tweeting the 2011 Grow Conference all day today. To follow the event, just check back every few minutes. This blog post and our Twitter feed will be updated continuously throughout the day.

8:30 AM. The registration table is buzzing and the networking hall is humming. Howard Lindzon, Co-Founder, CEO StockTwits, will be doing opening remarks for the event in about 15 minutes.

8:40 AM. The seats start to fill as the start of the conference nears.

8:50 AM. The large crowd is wrangled into the conference room. The seats fill. The event is about to begin.

OPENING REMARKS — Howard Lindzon, Co-Founder, CEO StockTwits

8:55 AM. Howard Lindzon takes the stage. “Grow will continue to be the largest entrepreneur conference in Canada.” He asks who has founded or worked in a startup and virtually everyone raises their hand. Says Twitter hashtag is #GrowConf. Introduces Debbie Landa, founder of the Grow Conference.

9:00 AM. Debbie says entrepreneurs need nourishment. Talks about the “next gen entrepreneur.” They grew up online. Their businesses are lean, cloud based, collaborative, viral, social, authentic, metrics driven, and transparent. Old businesses were about location—with the internet, new businesses are about attention.

9:05 AM. Howard returns to discuss philosophies—”social leverage over financial leverage,” “too small to fail,” “punch a banker, hug a developer,” and more. He says you have to be passionate about your startup, build domain exprtise, and expect to fail once, twice, thrice. He says distribution is underrated, don’t worry about profitability immediately. In Today’s world, developers make you, not bankers anymore. It’s important to visualize things and wirte stuff down. Howard advises entrepreneurs to play Risk. Attack incumbents with one core feature that you have mastered and grow from there. Entrepreneurship is a little like Poker, where a young kid can beat an older man. It’s a mix of skill and luck and underdogs can win.

SUPPORTING CANADIAN STARTUPS — Senia Rapisarda, Vice President, Strategic Initiatives BDC

9:15 AM. Senia says 94% of people thought entrepreneurs were the second-most respected sort of people (next to farmers). And 92% of people thought it would be cool if somebody in their family was an entrepreneur. An entrepeneur gathers a kick ass team to build a kick ass product in a big ass market. But it’s more than that Senia says. They need a supportive ecosystem, and this includes funding from angels and venture capitalists. 


9:25 AM. Cameron lists off a bunch of “traits” and the audience is requested to stand up when they meet five of the traits. They are supposed to be the traits of entrepreneurs but are actually symptoms of bi-polar disorder. (The audience finds this out after they all stand up.) Bi-polar is often called “the CEO disease” by the medical community. Many successful entrepeneurs and CEOs are bi-polar, manic depressive, hypomanic, etc. Cameron says you can’t avoid the down periods, you must embrace them.

9:30 AM. At the start of the roller coaster you’re optimistic and high-energy. First stage is called “uninformed optimism.” Next comes “informed pessimism” where you become stressed and depressed. Then comes “crisis of meaning,” where you hit rock bottom. You’ll start blaming others for no reason. You look for escapes. You can’t think clearly. Following this is the crash and burn.  At this point you need support. Reach out to family, friends, doctors, therapists… you can’t do it alone. Once you survive that stage you reach “informed optimism, where you know—not just think—you can make it. 

9:35 AM. At uninformed optimism, do anything outward facing—promotion, sales, team rallying. Don’t buy stuff, do performance reviews, etc. For each stage you must do the appropriate things in your business relative to the stage of your emotional rollercoaster.


Rob Bailey, VP Business Development SimpleGeo; Brian Church, Country Manager, Canada LinkedIn; Mike Ghaffary, Director Yelp; Darrell MacMullin, Managing Director PayPal Canada; Chris O’Neill, Managing Director Google Canada

9:45 AM. What’s a next-gen entrepeneur? One who wears failure like a badge of honour. Thinks big. Moves at a fast pace. Leverages and adapts to new technology. Anticipates customer demand. Consantly innovates.

9:50 AM. What are the best and worst tools to use as entrepreneurs? Mobile is the future. Asia is proof of this. Mobile is growing 8 times faster than the internet did in the 90s. Google apps are great and scalable and easy to use. Most products are good but you have to use them wisely. Twitter is amazing but many use it ineffectively and inefficiently. 

9:55 AM. What does the panel think about Daily Deals? It’s scaled well but its relevancy is questionable. Inherent customer value is not present. Retention and profitiability is lacking. It is local an social which are very next-gen but it isn’t being done very well right now. It’s important to close the loop between digital and real-world. Businesses need to focus on targeting users who will actually come back and tell their friends. Daily deals companys are good for themselves but not that great for businesses especially small ones.

10:05 AM. How can David beat Goliath? Use the cloud. Use SEO. Use SEM. Emphasize connectivity. Get mobile, get social, and do it seamlessly. 


10:10 AM.  Vy talks about going back to the basics. To focus on the “obvious”—delivering a top-notch customer experience. They’re ultimately what matters. Simple can be beautiful. Secret shop your own business. Make your promise to the consumer ring true. Tech lingo doesn’t sell—communicate effectively. Take the smart risk. Provide instant gratification.  Know that consumers want to give you feedback for free. This is hugely vauable. 

HOW MOBILE IS DRIVING THE GLOBAL ENTREPENEUR — Rick Witham, Head of Developer Management & Evangelism Nokia

10:25 AM. Rick talks about the rise of mobile. 4 billion people have access to mobile. 1.8 million new mobile subscriptions daily. Emerging markets are gaining mobile adaption rapidly. In 2015 83% of the world will be in emerging markets. 45% of these people will be under 25. Key regions for mobile are Latin America, Africa, India, and China.  With fast market growth comes big opportunity. Barriers to entry are falling. 

10:35 AM: Characteristics of successful entrepreneurs: Passionate, tenaciously driven, endlessly optimistic, strong leadership, able to handle rejection, not afraid of feature, takes advanntage of expertise and niches.



11:10 AM. Ryan taks about why he chose Vancouver. 10. Success is not a place. 9. Vancouver has a record of success. 8. The echo chamber effect. 7. Great community. 6. It’s a small world. Skyep, airplanes, web makes business mobile and global. 5. Better beer and bacon. 4. Engineering talent. 3. Great financial support. 2. Investment trends are changing in our favour. 1. Most livable city in the world.

11:20 AM. Ryan boasts about finally making the number one spot in our BCIC Canada Startup Index. 


11:25 AM. Brian talks about six things entrepreneurs should keep in mind when founding a startup. 1. You are the most powerful force in your life. Ask. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you wannt. And ask again. The worst that can happen is “no.” And Pitch, pitch, pitch. Always be pitching. 2. Stand up for yourself. Listen to your gut and instinct and intuition. Stick to your guns. 3. Think big. Use fear to rally people around your vision. 4. Use your youth. Stay up late. Everyone has 24 hours in a day, use them well. 5. Build relationships, don’t acquire. Stick to long-term quality connections. Focus on people you really like and develop with them organically. 6. If the fight’s hard, then it’s worth even more to fight it. 


Michael Duda, Managing Partner ConsigliereRob Hayes, Managing Partner First Round CapitalMike Parker, President, Tribal DDB US Tribal DDBMark Silva, SVP Emerging Platforms Anthem Worldwide

11:35 AM.  What is a brand? It’s what you stand for. Build a promise that becomes the soul of your company. Branding is more than a logo. If you described the brands a person likes, you should get a feel for that human, know what they look like, without even seeing or meeting them. A collecion of brands can define a person. Generic brands don’t. Don’t sweat branding early stage. It should come naturally with your vision and passion. Brands also determine what you aren’t. A good user experience should be at the heart of your brand. Branding is both an art and a science.

11:45 AM. Are domain names important? If you can afford to buy a good domain go for it but it isn’t necessary. The brand is most important, name second most, domain name after. You create meaning for your name. Can your startup name become a verb? That’s powerful. Branding fundamentals before social media and internet still ring true. The name is very permanent. Taglines can change, ad campaigns can change, but the names are concrete.

11:55 AM. Founders of startups are part of the subsance of a brand. Take Steve Jobs from Apple for example. Your persona and attitude in the early stages of a company can help shape it. You are a significant component of your companys’ brand. In crowded markets such as daily deals, branding is life or death. If you can’t stand out you will not survive and your brand is a major factor in this.

INTERVIEW: THE “VISION HIGHJACK” — Howard Lindzon, Co-Founder, CEO StockTwits interviews Garrett Camp, Founder StumbleUpon

12:10 PM. Digg’s idea came about in 2001. At the start of Digg the growth was slow. Garrett says at half a million users, which happened while he was still in Canads, realized his company was “real.” Went to San Fran to seek investors.  Switched from toolbar-based to web and mobile to accelerate growth. Ebay bought StumbleUpon. A year in he got tired of the policies and regulations though. The company lost its agility and freedom. He started thinking about buying the company back, and did, and grew it from 15 to 85 employees, and 6 million to 15 million users.

12:20 PM. Uber was a side project for Garrett, a “Saturday afternoon thing” that addressed his own personal needs and solved problems he experienced. He says being an investor and a CEO are both fun; they’re different, but one isn’t better than the other. He says you must be persistent in all that you do.  What is StumbleUpon’s one-line pitch? He still doesn’t really have one, but likes “The easiest way to explore the web.”

THE C100

12:30 PM. The C100 is a non-profit, volunteeer-driven located in Silicon Valley focused on assisting Canadian entrepreneurs. 


1:35 PM. Calgary’s Cardinal Media founder Cory Smith sings an original song about entrepreneurs getting VC funding.


1:40 PM. Matt talks about how he wanted to get the attention of Digg and created a campaign to market the Apple iPod Shuffle. The local campus-based campaign ended up going nationally viral. After tons of attempted networking and emails this bold move finally got Matt hired at Digg. How to reach people you have no relationship with? Use Facebook or LinkedIn. Guess people’s email addresses. In startups this can be as easy as first name @ startup domain dot com. Cold call corporate numbers at odd numbers to avoid “gatekeepers” AKA filters. Make a cold connection a warm one.

1:55 PM. Use instant messaging. They’re not public but once you know them get it. Within 48 hours of meeting someone, send a quick 2-3 line email. Mention at least one unique thing you talked about to help them remember you. Add them on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Then have regular lunches, dinners, coffees, etc. Schedule them. Go through address book, “ping” anyone from an area you’re visiting, meet with whoever you can. Keep it casual.

2:00 PM. Build a “personal board of directors.” Seek out influential people you respect and can learn from. Ask them for mentorship. Keep monthly contact with mentors. Set goals for networking events—make Facebook friends, hand out business cards, schedule follow-up meetings.


2:05 PM. Hussein talks about how to found a startup that doesn’t need funding. His 5 key tips: 1. Find a co-founder who works as hard as you. You’ll motivate each other and create synergy. 2. Your first few hires need to be superstars. A strong team shapes your startup’s success. 3. Focus on one thing and do it really well. Don’t always jump onto the next shiny thing. 4. Find innovative ways to save money. Work out of a bedroom. AdParlor uses a personal mastercard, prepays it right away, over and over, collecting massive rewards points that convert to travel and furniture, eliminating operating costs. 5. Don’t be scared. DO what needs to be done, you can sleep later.


Jeff Clavier, Founder and Managing Partner SoftTech VCMatt Galligan, Co-Founder, CSO SimpleGeoJeff Lawson, Co-Founder TwilioTyler Lessard, VP, Global Alliances and Developer Relations Research In MotionIsaac Saldana, CEO SendGrid

2:10 PM. Panel talks about APIs. There was a time when they weren’t sexy like they are now. Not easy to get developrers to build for them. SimpleGeo marketed itself as a consumer internet company which had pros and cons: it got into the consumer psyche but it also got a bad rep from those who actually compared it to “similar” companies like Foursquare. Twilo hosted weekly contests for various  progamming codes. Companies like RIM have to look at developers like customers in a way. You need to appeal to them. Just like customers you need them more than developers need you. 

2:20 PM. Cultivate a community and foster an ecosystem where developes have incentives to not just use but adovcate your business. Bad experiences will result in developers complaining online and scare away other developers. But pleasing developers helps bring on other developers. Make developers believe in your product and your beand.

2:25 PM. Through Dave McClure’s 500 Startups, he and Twilio forged the Twilio Fund, a reserved batch of investment money from Dave for startups using Twilio as the backbone. This becomes an incentive for potential Twilio users because they know there are targeted investments in that niche. 

2:30 PM. Even the cloud is based on servers on shelves; it can and will crash. Even Amazon is not immune to this and those using cloud srvices need to be prepared with backup plans and strategies to avoid crashing. Hackathons are a good way to draw in potential developers. Show them what they can do with your API; don’t expect them to come up with all the ideas themselves. Inspire them. Design your API before you write any code and ask developers what they think. You wouldn’t build a professional website without a UX designer. And APIs can’t be easily changed so do it right.

REAL GROWTH: HOW TO MEASURE WHAT REALLY MATTERS — Yona Shtern, Co-Founder and CEO Beyond the Rack

2:35 PM. Beyond the Rack measures every metric they possibly can. You must measure, analyze, test, optimize, and repeat. Track variable costs, conversion, gross margin, turn over, fixed costs, overhead, inventory turn, gross margin, employee satisfaction, ROI, NPS, CPA, and more. Then build a model based on these data points. Become a metrics-driven, bottom-up view company. Measuring brings value; providers visibility to key break points; allows you to focus around KPIs; answers fundamental questions of viability. Measuring is iterative and can yield more questions from its answers.

ON REVENUE: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMINS — Munjal Shah, GM, Boutiques Google

2:45 PM: Zero costs allow an alternative to the traditional model. Symmetric vs Asymmetric, Symmetric = user of product is same person who is paying company, Assymetric = people who benefit aren’t the one who pay (think Google users searching, versus advertisers paying). In symmetric models revenue = customer satisfcation, in asymmetric it is more abstract. Symmetric = Salesforce, Groupon, Amazon,. Zynga Asymmetric = Gmail, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook. Symmetric models need to consider rveneue plans immediately. Asymmetric models can build a userbase first. The best investors let asymmetrical business ride out and not focus on financials right away.

2:55 PM. Don’t shoot the moon or over-learn from Facebook. There’s always companies with huge success and everyone wants to emulate their models. Don’t believe in two business models. Don’t invent a new business model. Closed platforms will eventually always tax you. Build on open standard public platforms like HTML5.

3:05 PM. You can’t move a number if you don’t focus on it everyday. Push/email it to every employee everyday. Not a link on a page; it must be pushed. Start planning for reveue a year haead of when you’d run out cash. It usually takes this long to gain traction and fine tune your model.



Neeraj Arora, Principal, Corporate Development GoogleJason Bailey, GM of Virtual Currencies Super RewardsHoward Lindzon, Co-Founder, CEO StockTwitsAmin Zoufonoun, Director, Corporate Development Facebook

3:40 PM. If you want to be acquired, build to sell. Be aware of how the big players in your space are playing; what they’re interested in, what gaps they need to fill. Watch out, says Jason, these big companies will clamp you down. But Google counters, saying mor than 70% of entrepreneurs stay with Google after it acquires them; Facebook says the same applies to it. Google acquired over 40 companies last year and Facebook has already acquired more than 10 this year.

3:50 PM. There are also “talent deals” where a company is bought essentially only for the unique and rare skills of its founder or team (this typically happens to 1 to 5 employee companies). Big companies want entrepreneurs do be excited about being acquired by that specific company. Jason notes to command a premium price you must effectively manage potential acquiers while still running your company—if you’re busy spending time talking to lawyers and investors and potential companies your company may suffer and suddenly be worth less during the process of selling.

4:05 PM. Two people win BlackBerrys.


The Investors: Wesley Chan, Investment Partner Google VenturesJeff Clavier, Founder and Managing Partner SoftTech VCRob Hayes, Managing Partner First Round CapitalLars Leckie, Partner Hummer WinbladEghosa Omoigui, Founder EchoVC PartnersAydin Senkut, Founder and President Felicis Ventures.

First up, Rocktr pitches. It’s a little like Evernote but social-built from the ground up. VCs question if it fills a big enough void. It could benefit from voice-to-text, email integration. Rocketr wants to target people who use paper notebooks, use email to take notes.

Second, Summify pitches. Says there’s too much info in too many places. There needs to be better consolidation tools. A complex algorithm chooses relevant stories to your summary and becomes smarter the more you use. VCs wonder how it differentiates from other products; Summify says it’s all about quantity over quality, relevance, and connecting you to who delivers the best content. VCs question whether the company can grow signficantly. 

Third, Tiipz pitches. Traditional market is big business but consumers don’t like participating in polls, surveys, etc. Tiipz wants to leverage your opinion—or “micropinion,” a socially shareable tweet-like opinion of a brand, product or service—to benefit consumers using a configurable rewards program and giving market reseaerchers highly valuable data. VCs wonder if the gamification component is valid. The sign up process needs to be simple. Rewards need to be achievable in short terms.

Fourth, Unbounce pitches. Old way of marketing focuses on impressions and clicks. New way is to use targeted landing pages with smart analytics. With Unbounce marketers can craft landing pages with no coding or IT in a matter of minutes. VCs question whether the extra cost is worth it over free similar services, and whether the SMBs know that they need landing pages.

Unbounce wins!