Archives for posts with tag: Vancouver

In my search for entrepreneurs in Vancouver who have used Lean Startup practices, I am finding that there is a class of entrepreneurs who are accidentally lean. They came to the same conclusions about the need for validating assumptions with a rigorous experimental process and iterating with low cost trials because they discovered these best practices on their own. Their approach is more unintentional lean startup.

Take Sean Clark, for example, who started Shoeme.ca in the basement of his parents’ house in Vancouver. Sean and his team have emerged as a Canadian e-commerce success story, but his early days were anything but glamorous. He tested his model with what Eric Ries would call a “concierge minimum viable product.”

This is a fancy way of saying that he put up a $60 website and through a few hundred more in pay per click advertising, tested his site’s flow and landing pages. When someone would buy something from this sandbox in the very early days, he would have to run out and buy it from the shoe store down the street and ship it himself at the post office. This practice matches perfectly the definition of the MVP, yet Clark was not aware of Eric Ries or Steve Blank.

Daryl Hatton learned the value of Lean Startup practices, but only through the hard way of nearly running out of money first and then, by necessity, pivoting the customer segment under the urging of a new partner, PayPal.

His Fundrazr crowd funding platform started as a tool for community groups and sports teams to raise money together. This plan met initial success through a partnership with Facebook that allowed their app to post to the users’ feed. For unrelated reasons, Facebook clamped down on apps’ ability to do this, just as Fundrazr began to see traction.

PayPal approached Hatton with a proposal. They said ‘partner with us and we will drive traffic through your platform.’ The approach was a shift in their original strategy. Instead of community groups, they focused on personal fundraising. He knew that they had made the right decision when they had the first campaigns starting within a few hours of going live.

“At the time of the pivot we were aware of Lean Startup practices, but not using them,” reflects Hatton. “The pivot set us on the path but it still took a long time to sink in.”

Tom Kineshanko started Habitat Enterprises in 2008 in his garage with cofounder Rob Drapala. In the first 24 months after founding they had done over $1.5M in revenue through their software and services business that helped turn reductions in carbon into carbon credits for the European Carbon market.

When this market started to dry up, and with a little cash in the bank left over, Kineshanko and his team began the search for another business. They employed the Business Model Canvas from Business Model Generation and the Minimum Viable Product from The Lean Startup to apply what they learned about the energy markets to create a product that answered a real customer pain point. Their work became Gridbid, an online auction to get multiple offers from solar installers and save on rooftop solar.

While shoeme.ca, Fundrazr, and Gridbid share little in terms of their business models, their founders all approached the process by iterating their way towards a successful product/market fit. As Eric Ries concludes The Lean Startup, the best way to learn these techniques is to embed oneself within a community of practice. I feel that Tom Kineshanko, Daryl Hatton, and Sean Clark have done just that.

Advertisements

I have seen a number of articles and blogs lately where the authors attempt to persuade readers that Vancouver is the place to be when it comes to the next great startup capital after the Valley. Of course, my choice of reading material is selective and my contacts and connections lead me disproportionately to the material about Vancouver. I read and like many of the articles without thinking too much about them. I might have left it there, but something bothered me about these articles.

6 Reasons Vancouver is Hot for Start-up” is a typical example. Among other things, the author talks about the travel time to Silicon Valley and the fact that Vancouver is ranked as a great place to live. While these are certainly true, there is a part of me that remains skeptical and bothered by the gist of these articles. They all appear to be written by folks who are based in Vancouver already. As such, they appear biased and lack credibility. (Full disclosure: The subtext of my own blog’s theme too could be subject to such a critique. I am certainly based in Vancouver and don’t want to have to move to take my career in technology to the next level.)

The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of cities that claim to be in line to become the next Silicon Valley, and Vancouver is pretty far down the list. Vancouver remains pretty much in the middle of the pack for startup cities even though external forces are driving changes.

Some charge that it is simply a reflection of Canadian modesty that Vancouver remains pretty average. However, I don’t think that it is the Canadian habit of not tooting your own horn enough. Instead, I think that it is simply just not high on the list for venture capital and entrepreneurial investments because it has yet to reach the scale and diversity of companies needed to create the talent pool based here with enough experience, credibility, and cojones. Each time those of us in the Vancouver entrepreneurial community believe that this is changing, we lose another ambitious young person to California (or you name the place where they might go).

It reminds me of a lesson in population science. If birth and death rates are equal, then nothing changes.  If the growth of another new Vancouver venture represents the potential ‘birth’ of a new set of soon-to-be-experienced founders and the move of another experienced entrepreneur out of the area represents a ‘death,’ then Vancouver might at best be just treading water. If the birth rate equals the death rate, then we are not gaining momentum. This conclusion is, of course, not a conclusion at all, but only an intuitive guess based on my conversations with individuals within the community.

What needs to change? As they say in time management classes, we need to ‘work smarter, not harder.’ I believe that Vancouver can overcome this stagnation by analyzing and celebrating the successes that we have had in the area of intelligent startup management practices. By this, I mean Lean Startup and Design Thinking practices that Eric Ries and others have argued are central to making startups work better. We need to learn faster, and over the coming weeks and months, I intend to document how the Vancouver startup community is learning these practices.