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From Zero to Hero: Crowdfunding your first investment


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From Zero to Hero: Crowdfunding your first investment

Crowdfunding sites are increasingly becoming the go-to place for novice entrepreneurs looking to get their business off the ground. A boom in the number of money-raising websites and new crowdfunding rules that allow the average Joe to take direct equity in Canadian startups has also helped popularize the concept.

While raising money online isn’t new, platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe have made it much easier. According to a 2015 report by Massolutions, a research firm based in New York City, crowdfunding platforms raised $16.2 billion in 2014; up from 167 per cent from the previous year’s $6.1 billion.

If you’ve ever considered crowdfunding we’ve done all the heavy lifting for you and asked some few Canadian tech entrepreneurs how to make your next campaign a success.

Q1: Is crowdfunding an effective strategy for startups?

“It depends on what your product and service are, so for example. If you’re doing something that is very B2C (business to consumer) focused [and] you think your creative endeavor is going to resonate with the consumers, one of those [crowdfunding] platforms is applicable. You can then pre-sell and look for funding … it’s not a big risk.”

“From my experience… if you’re going in to sell a software product or something that needs to be built, you should show the potential customer that you have great expertise.”

Q2: What are the two most common forms of crowdfunding?

“Typically, with rewards-based crowdfunding, you are providing the buyer with a good or product, while equity crowdfunding involves raising money in exchange for ownership in your company.”

“Equity crowdfunding is raising money for a product or service. You typically need to do it through a registered portal, which has to follow a number of different rules. It can be effective for some companies, but the uptake in Canada hasn’t been as explosive as it has been in the U.K. and the U.S., partly because of the rules and restrictions. It can work, typically if you can create some buzz around your company and the prospects.”

Rubsun Ho, CEO at Crowdmatrix

Q3: What crowdfunding platforms would you recommend?

“It depends on what you’re looking for. In terms of rewards, I recommend Indiegogo, RocketHub, Kickstarter or GoFundMe. For equity crowdfunding, Micro Ventures and Angel List are great platforms.”

Mike Cotton, Director at Ryerson Futures Inc. & COO at Toronto Esports Club Ltd.

Q4: What advice would you offer entrepreneurs?

“Crowdfunding is a more efficient way to facilitate the fundraising effort that you have to do anyway. You still need a good story and good investment pieces, you still need to go sell your story and generate interest. It allows for word of mouth after to help build your campaign.”

Rubsun Ho, CEO of Crowdmatrix

Q5: What are the pros and cons for raising money online?

“You have to have a lot smaller [incentives] to get to the number of dollars you need, because [your audience] will be writing you smaller cheques. However, I think the pros are perhaps that you’re scrutinized less because you’re not dealing with super savvy investors who are managing a fund that has to have a certain return on investments. You’re opening yourself up to a bigger world with a broader appetite.”

Rokham Fard, Founder of PsychologyCompass

Five scientifically proven ways to be more productive

It’s all too easy to get distracted or lose focus, especially when you’re an entrepreneur and juggling day-to-day responsibilities, client requests and company obligations.

Here are some of the best tips for tech entrepreneurs, backed by science, to help you get more done with what little time you have.

Take a break every 90 minutes


Having a hard time staying focused? A few mid-day breaks sprinkled throughout the day might actually help. While it may seem counterintuitive to step away from your desk when you’re in the middle of a big project a 2011 study from the University of Illinois found it may be the best thing you can do for yourself and your coworkers. So called ‘mental interruptions’ throughout the day can not only help startup employees who spend most of their days at a desk avoid burnout and also boost long-term productivity. Next time you’re feeling exhausted instead of that extra shot of espresso just take a simple 15-minute break instead and you’ll be surprised by how much you’ll get done.

Divvy up large tasks into smaller tasks


You know that satisfying feeling you get when you finally cross something off your to-do list? Well, you’ll be able to do more of that and actually see better results if you make sure to follow this golden rule.In 2014 American psychologists from Pennsylvania University discovered that cutting up huge projects into bite-sized tasks helps large teams finish their work faster and as a result rewards our brain’s pleasure centre, which in return pushes employees to do better work throughout the day. An added bonus: Completing smaller tasks also provides an easy way for team members to feel like they’re making progress and achieving a notable goal.

Skip the multitasking


The ability to multitask is often viewed as a desirable trait that most entrepreneurs take great pride in. However, what most don’t know is that working on more than one task at a time actually lowers overall work quality since brains aren’t designed for “heavy-duty” multitasking over an extended amount of time.Noted psychologist Robert Rogers found that on average it took individuals twice as long to complete tasks to a satisfactory level when multitasking compared to when they focused on one task at a time.

For entrepreneurs living in today’s techy world where time often equates to cold, hard cash this can be the deciding factor between what makes or breaks a company. Rogers suggests entrepreneurs instead assign time limits for certain tasks so they can concentrate on completing projects to the best of their ability whenever possible.

Turn off pop-up notifications


There’s nothing more distracting than battling a series of non-stop notifications when at work. Whether it’s email pop ups, Slack messages or IM pings, these types of digital interruptions can easily disrupt and distract even the most dedicated workers.A study from Florida State University suggests that notification and text messages can be just as distracting than phone calls for workers and those around them. One of the easiest things to do is to simply turn on ‘Do Not Disturb’ features during working hours or assign a member of your team to handle these types of on-the-go requests.

Skip email and converse in person


The amount of time wasted on email threads can be infuriating. Sometimes it can take minutes (if not hours) for workers and colleagues to respond to simple questions, which wastes time and often impedes other important tasks.One practical way to avoid this is to prioritize conversing in person or over the phone about important issues. A story published in the Harvard Business Review found that emails often resulted in more wasted time than phone calls or emails. Next time you have an important question about a sale or client, try getting up and visiting your colleague at his or her desk or picking up the phone instead of emailing them.

How a Toronto startup can help your business profit from VR

Due to VR being known primarily for gaming, many see it as an unappealing and unrelatable platform. One DMZ-based startup, Pinch VR, is showing consumers and brands that immersive virtual experiences are capable of going far beyond gaming and can even be available at a low price. Pinch VR provides printable and disposable VR headsets and controllers that allow you to “pinch” yourself into a different reality using your smartphone. Unlike other VR options on the market, Pinch VR’s handheld controllers go further than the sometimes shallow visual-only experience.

Pinch VR co-founders Vlad Dascalu and Milan Baic went through several shifts and trials in order to develop the product they have now. After talking to a number of companies, investors, and consumers, they soon found out that interactivity is where the VR market is.

“In order for someone to deliver an immersive experience you need consumers to have hardware in their hands”

Pinch VR is able to provide a “cheap solution,” unlike its competitors because their hardware doesn’t include any technology. Instead, all forms of software come from the user’s smartphone. Although Pinch VR is gaining more traction for being able to distribute content on a global scale with its easy-to-use, low price and smartphone accessible VR product, Dascalu understands that there is an expiration date for their headset and controllers.

“There will be an expiry on Pinch in like seven years when everyone will have VR headsets… So, then we move over to the second phase of software play.”

Now, Pinch VR is providing brands an opportunity to explore, design and implement immersive virtual solutions for internal and external marketing. Brands can provide their customers the ability to create whatever reality they wish by jumping into a virtual sandbox using their smartphone and Pinch VR controllers. Imagine using VR to test drive a few vehicles before taking one out of the lot or using VR to view a few homes with your real estate agent. According to Dascalu, the startup’s goal is to become one of the leaders in VR consulting and development for brands and marketers.

Five things a VC wants you to know about network effects

This is why the DMZ recently jump started its monthly investor series, Capital Catalyst, to help entrepreneurs maneuver through the current fundraising environment. Our first official session was on network effects. Often underutilized or not carefully executed, network effects are a key component in what venture capitalists look for when considering whether to invest.

It’s important for entrepreneurs to fully grasp what network effects are and how to gain them positively, especially from an investor’s standpoint. Network effects are straight forward: increases in usage lead to direct increases in value. And although it may seem like an obvious component in developing a successful company, many entrepreneurs are missing some key details.

This is why we invited Angela Kingyens and Boris Wertz from Version One Ventures -a $35 million fund that backs startups across North America- to break down the layered concept of network effects, how to best utilize them to grow a business and more. We’ve broken down the top five takeaways from the session:

    1. Have a strong founding team According to Version One, it’s the combination of domain expertise, talentand passion that makes a strong founding team. As a founder, you need to have the knowledge and experience within the market you’re tackling, have the talent to execute those plans efficiently and of course, exhibit the passion and drive to build and scale your company.
    2. Leverage network effects The basic concept behind network effects is that the value of the network increases the more users you gain. As a result, your company is able to build momentum and create shields against new potential entrants into the market, and those larger existing rivals. Companies that sufficiently and positively use network effects to their advantage are what Version One Ventures is looking to invest in According to Version One Ventures, network effects can be unlocked by connecting people and through data at scale. A great example of such effects is Uber: the more drivers they onboard, the more ground they were able to cover, the more pickups they were able to make (simultaneously driving wait times and pricing downwards), leading to faster pickups and increased number of users, which in turn lead to a greater demand for more drivers. As you gain more users and the value of your product/company goes up, you’re then able to build a better market strategy and scale your business in different directions using the data.
    3. Use the bottom-up approach The bottom-up network driven approach targets the user base first, as opposed to the traditional approach that targets the larger clients at the top first. This gives your startup a better understanding of the market, validating your product, as well as giving you leverage when targeting the other side of the equation (the larger companies/clients).
    4. Target a market that people care about Version One highlighted that they’re ultimately seeking companies that are targeting a market in high demand (and relevant). At minimum, this early-stage fund is looking for a startup that has minimum viable product (MVP) with the potential to grow on a global scale.
    5. Solve an important problem in a unique way Last, but definitely not least, Version One (like many other investors) are looking for a startup that is able to stand out from the vast number that flood the tech industry. Therefore, it’s important to provide a one-of-a-kind value proposition and solution.

The four pillars to make sure your startup stays on track

Dave Chalmers, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the DMZ, helps startups with growth, operations and strategy.

Building a tech company is a pressure filled experience that requires founders and their employees to have a great work ethic, be multi-talented and open to change, all while executing against sound business fundamentals. Often founders look to the billion dollar unicorns for inspirational and guiding examples for what business methodology they should consider following for their company in the hopes of finding a path of least resistance or a proven path to success. In reality, there are a multitude of potential business blueprints that can provide founders with guidance and insights with respect to how they can structure their organization, build their teams or establish their go-to market strategies/

Here are four important attributes that will help startup CEOs and founders establish a strong foundation from which to build their team, their marketplace and their company.


Time management

For tech founders, one aspect of time management that is often overlooked is attending external events (invitations aplenty for entrepreneur meetups, speaking engagements, you name it) whereby there are no strategic initiatives attached to the event that correlate with the corporate goals. Often founders talk themselves into the value proposition by remembering the great connections that were made, the branding/exposure their company received, the wonderful speakers that they heard, or the size of the audience that they had a chance to be a panelist in front of. But it’s important to take the time to properly gauge the value of every event by properly considering the amount of time required to support going (travel, costs, preparation required, total time out of the office, etc.) and what that means from the perspective of lost productivity. Your time is valuable, and you’ll never get back the hours you dedicate to external events – so make them count.


Detailed planning

You have a talented team, or maybe you are the talent. You have the hustle, you’re serious, you dedicate long hours, you have MVP established and you have the personal aptitude to do amazing things. Most companies that are well poised to take the next step in their corporate maturity and revenue growth also have one additional ingredient that they leverage as their secret weapon: a go-to-market plan and strategy. It’s a plan that is succinct, clear in action items, built on (the right) measurable goals and that can be tracked. Everyone at the company knows who’s accountable for which pieces, like who’s going to drive client engagements and secure revenue. The plan helps to set in motion a framework that you can edit, pivot and benchmark success against. Don’t be afraid to build and execute simultaneously. The market doesn’t wait for those who are slow to perform – don’t let others out-execute you or your company.


Measurable goals

Once the plan is created and your team is engaging with clients, driving traction and working towards closing revenue, it’s very important to have structure as it pertains to corporate milestones, goals and objectives. This can help measure success, build team alignment and chart the course for corporate strategy to determine which pivots or tweaks need to be made to your go-to market plan. Information is king and the more you have, the better your measured strategy will be. Your goals should cover a very defined view of being specific, measurable, achievable (debated depending on your level of aggressiveness), relevant to the company and narrowed to a particular time frame from the standpoint of them being yearly, or quarterly or monthly goals. In the view of emerging tech companies, often quarterly goals (broken down monthly) help to produce very focused and ultra aggressive seven day ‘sprints,’ which can be extremely effective for combining planning, execution and measuring achievements within a short period of time.


Alignment of activities

Often overlooked as a strategic pillar within the day-to-day operations of a young tech company because of the ‘hustle’ and busy calendars that everyone has, aligning activities can often be the carbon monoxide of your calendar if you’re not paying attention. Meaning, most organizations equate effectiveness to their levels of activity. The person who makes the most outbound sales calls or who is able to send the most emails is clearly superior to everyone else in terms of speed and aggressiveness. Not so. Activity is nothing without the proper focus and discipline. Often startups CEOs and founders will begin their week with high hopes and big plans, having a functional strategy with goals and milestones in place that has them brimming with confidence. Then Friday afternoon hits and they do a quick review of the mountain of emails, meetings, calls and texts that were reviewed, sent and shared, and ‘the week that was’ ends up as ‘the week that could have been.’ All that activity didn’t align to anything, and unfortunately if there’s one thing that stands out above all the rest, it’s that startups don’t have the luxury of wasting time.

Six things to consider before hiring your first sales rep

Rajen, an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the DMZ, helps startups gain sales traction and build high performing sales teams

Once startups land a few customers, they often face the point where they wonder: “As the founder or CEO, I’m the only person responsible for sales on my team. I’m thinking about hiring a sales rep because I just don’t have the time to focus on sales and I want to grow faster. What should I look for?”

While having a few paying customers is great (and I applaud you for getting there!), it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to bring on a salesperson to scale for growth. Before you hire anyone, it’s important to ensure you’ve actually built out some type of working, repeatable process for getting new customers.

Here are six things to consider before making your first sales hire.

  1. Are you ready to add distance between you and your customers?

    The best part of being a founder running sales is that you can use every sales call as an opportunity to engage in customer discovery. As you try to bridge the gap between the product you’re building and the market you’re building for, outsourcing these conversations and customer interactions can be a huge crutch. The true risk here is that the impact of this can go beyond sales and into product development as well. As an early-stage company that’s still finding product market fit it can be a huge risk and can ultimately slow down your entire company.

  2. Do you have a working sales process?

    Have you actually built out a working sales process (even if it’s hacked together initially for 5-10 deals) that you can then hand off to a new sales rep? This doesn’t have to be complex, it can be a basic sales funnel, but there should be some type of consistency to generating leads and closing deals. The best way to check is to look back at the deals you’ve closed and map out this basic process, even if it is just on a whiteboard initially. If you look at your closed deals today and the process to find and close them looks totally different across all of your deals, then you don’t have a working sales process just yet.

  3. Do you have measurement tools in place?

    Have you put some measurement tools in place that allow you to effectively capture data on your deals, track your sales activity and monitor results? Having a CRM is typically just the starting point, and often, spreadsheets are used in the early days. This is fine when it’s just you as a founder, but before making additions to your team, invest the time in researching how to best use your existing CRM to monitor both pre-sales activity (i.e. lead generation, lead enrichment, opportunity progression, etc.) and post-sales results (i.e. revenue, onboarding process, engagement, etc.). You’ll need this to track your progress or else you’ll be flying blind when it comes to managing your new sales rep.

  4. Have you set targets and realistic goals?

    Have you set internal benchmarks for yourself (that you’ve actually been able to meet) that you can then use to define sales targets for the new sales rep? For example, as a founder, let’s assume you’re able to send 100 emails, talk to 10 prospects and conduct two demos on a weekly basis, knowing that you’re only spending 50 per cent of your time for sales. Then once you have a fully dedicated sales rep ramped up, your sales rep should be able to do twice your activity with 200 emails, 20 prospect conversations and four demos. There is a lot more to defining sales targets and sales compensation, but in the early days it’s particularly difficult when you have virtually no historical data. Every salesperson deserves being given realistic targets, and if done correctly, it can be a huge motivating factor towards sales productivity and growth.

  5. Are you documenting?

    Have you effectively documented the knowledge that you’ve gained on your customer’s pains, industry trends, and product value proposition? Is this documentation good enough that you can use it to teach it to someone with virtually zero experience in sales or your industry? It doesn’t matter if you’ve convinced the number one sales rep from your competitor to join your team. It’s imperative that once you make a sales hire, there is some type of structured training to transfer your knowledge over to them. Far too often, I see companies bring on a sales hire, do a bit of product training, and then just give them a bunch of leads to work. This is a recipe for failure. When making a sales hire, put your new teammate in the best position to truly succeed.

  6. Thinking “sales” is actually a role

    Do you actually know what you’re looking to hire for? Hiring a “sales rep” doesn’t actually mean anything because there are different types of salespeople suited to specific parts of the sales process. Are you looking for someone to help with lead generation? Or do you need help doing demos and closing deals? Does your licensing model even justify having a dedicated sales person? Before finding a solution, you need to have a clear definition of the problem you’re trying to solve for. This is just as true in building a product as it is in making new hires to your team. Know what the bottleneck to your sales growth is and then decide what you need to do (or whom you need to hire) to fix it.

    The common theme is if you haven’t figured out all (if not most) of the above for yourself, then there’s a good chance you’re not ready to add a salesperson to your team. Any founder can learn some basic sales skills, and there is a tremendous amount of information available online to help you build out your initial sales playbook. You absolutely can do it for yourself. This will not only help you avoid making a bad sales hire, but it will also help make you a better sales leader when you’re ready to bring someone on in the future. Like most other items in a startup, build out your initial MVP, get it working and then start investing money and resources to make it better.

The NBI in Fintech – Generating value for startups and banking

startups and banking

As our NBI in Fintech program draws closer to an end, we’ve connected with our friends at BMO to provide an update on our six startups who’ve shown tremendous growth with their innovations that are contributing to a more advanced and robust financial ecosystem in Canada.

Below is Cam Fowler’s, Group Head of Canadian Banking, BMO, take on our partnership and how the program is going so far.

This past April, BMO announced a new partnership with the DMZ. So why has one of the largest Canadian banks joined up with the leading university-based innovation incubator in North America? The answer is simple: partnering is an excellent way to bring the best experience to our customers.

Banks must continue to move quickly in a market that is adapting to digital capabilities. Customer expectations have increased and this introduces new opportunities and operating models. BMO has focused on empowering customers to bank how they want, where they want and when they want. We’re bringing customer-focused solutions to market more quickly than ever before.

So where do partnerships with groups like the DMZ fit in? First, we share a focus on supporting the entrepreneurial community and building momentum to make Canada a global leader in innovation. Through the DMZ we can stay current and be a part of helping fresh ideas gain scale. Together we have broader reach across geographies and industries through our joint strengths – ours in the financial services industry, matched with the technologies of these start-ups.

This is a partnership that benefits both our customers and community – we’re stronger together. Our collaboration will help us maintain pace with the evolving needs of customers and ensures that the next big idea gets the support it needs to become a reality.

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