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Your golden ticket to business success: customer relationships

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Your golden ticket to business success: customer relationships

How to harness the power of relationships to drive business innovation and success


As an early-stage founder, it’s all about your customers. Want to create a unique product? Looking to catalyze your startup? Ready to soar above the competition? Strong customer relationships are your golden ticket to business success.

Think customer values, needs, and wants. Is your product or service truly hitting the mark? There’s no one better to ask than your customers. Establishing relationships with users is a key competitive advantage — from real-time suggestions and feedback to brand advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing.

But it doesn’t stop there; the benefit goes both ways. Organizations working with early-stage startups get access to innovative products and services catered to their specific needs. Agile startups move fast, and recommendations are met swiftly.

It’s a win-win! 

We sat down with Leonard Ivey, Co-Founder of Softdrive (DMZ Incubator ‘23) and Michael Robinson, Chief Technology Officer at The Plus Group, to discover how they harness the power of relationships to drive business innovation and success.


Leonard, what inspired you to found Softdrive?


“My professional career started in the architectural engineering construction industry (AEC). I held various roles at several companies within the AEC industry. 

There was a common theme at all of these organizations: the computer experience I had or the computer solutions I was given were not adequate for me to be productive in my day. Unfortunately, anytime I asked for a computer upgrade, IT responded with, ‘We don’t have the budget’ or ‘We’re stuck within a three-year provisioning cycle,’ leaving me unproductive and frustrated. This wasn’t IT’s fault, it was just the reality.

Alan Daniels [Softdrive’s Co-Founder] and I chatted about computer issues at our jobs and how we could improve the experience. We brainstormed and looked at the incumbents in the space but couldn’t find an adequate solution for the experience or price, so we built Softdrive in 2019.”


Michael, what intrigued you about working with an early-stage startup? 


“At The Plus Group, we enable staff to work from anywhere. A couple of years ago, we were looking into VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure] software, previously called Remote Desktop. Over the years, I would test different VDIs, but I never found a solution where I could feel the difference. 

A year into the pandemic, Leonard approached us. We tested their software, and although it was very new, it was fast. 

They proposed a partnership where we would test their software and give feedback. Of course, there were kinks, but Softdrive always keeps improving. We’ve rolled out Softdrive to two architects, and now we’ve begun rolling it out to other companies in our portfolio. They love it.”


Leonard, what are the benefits of working so closely with a customer? 


Our relationship has evolved to where The Plus Group directly influences and advises our roadmap. Michael is easy to chat with and the nicest individual, but he’s pretty no-bulls**t. Having a CTO as a resource that we can tap into who’s also your customer is awesome. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s very much a partnership.”


Michael, how does working with tech startups drive innovation in your organization?


“The Plus Group is one of the big three in architecture for residential design. We’re a forward-thinking company constantly pushing the boundaries of where we can take technology. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we transitioned everyone to virtual seamlessly within 12 hours. You should always try new things and position yourself to take on anything.

We had a problem with an architect who couldn’t open a large file. With Softdrive, we took the load time from 12 minutes to just 30 seconds. He told me it saved him time from working on the weekend. The savings are significant.

Being able to log in anywhere, do anything, and pick up right where you left off without having a physical computer is the future.”

“At the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey,
your customers are everything.”
– Leonard Ivey, Co-Founder, Softdrive

Leonard, how do you grow and foster your customer relationships? 


“At the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, your customers are everything. You have to learn from them and treat them as if they are royalty. Some things may give you pause and think, is this better for the organization, or is this just a customized feature that will only help them?

Besides that brief pause, you must listen and work with your customers. Otherwise, your organization will end up like any other enterprise product. 

Try to touch base with your customers frequently without annoying them. Have as many open channels of communication as possible — phone, text or slack channels — and always be sure to get back to them immediately. They are the lifeblood of your organization, treat them as such and give them the best possible experience.” 

Softdrive is a cloud pc software redefining the personal computer. They leverage the power of cloud computing and fast internet speed to stream a computer to any device. Check it out >

The Plus Group combines digital marketing with architectural design and real estate software to revolutionize the real estate industry. Learn more > 


Looking to access customers, capital and community?
 Discover how the DMZ can help you to uncover your golden ticket to business success.

Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

Event recap: The DMZ’s Founder Dinner

Latif Nanji, Co-Founder and CEO of SaaS platform Roadmunk, connects the dots of his entrepreneurial journey at the DMZ’s Founder Dinner, uncovering his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit.

Founded in 2012, Roadmunk is product management software that solves how product innovators build and communicate their strategy. Roadmunk has an impressive track record, from being listed as one of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 and their acquisition by Tempo in 2021 to serving over 3,000+ customers, including Amazon, Visa, Nike, Adobe and Morgan Stanley, to name a few.

Latif’s history is also not one to miss. Before Roadmunk, he co-founded several companies, including Pokerspace, an online social network for poker players, and Pragmatic CEO, a Toronto meet-up group for tech entrepreneurs. He also spent five years as a Product Manager at Miovision, working on intelligent traffic infrastructure, where he developed his passion for helping product managers build the right things for customers. Latif enjoys biohacking, rock climbing, scuba diving and angel investing in his spare time.

Looking for inspiration to build the next big thing? Check out Latif’s insights on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit from our latest DMZ Founder Dinner – an event series designed to bring DMZ’s community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections. ​​Watch Latif’s full founder talk below, or keep reading, to discover his top tips for being a successful entrepreneur and building an acquirable business.  

Go team!

“One of the early things I instantiated in the business was a core value called ‘Start with empathy.’ It was a family-like core value, and I thought it was a great idea.

Eventually, I realized that the mentality I had was one of protectionism — a high empathy and high loyalty culture. There’s nothing wrong with these values, but as an investor, I want to know if you are going to make the hard decisions.

Sometimes the teams need to change their structure or formation, just like they do in a sports team, to get to the outcome. If you want to level up through the divisions in soccer, you are going to different players as you progress. It’s not that you can’t thank the players before, but the new ones have to come in.”

The secret to reliable hiring: homework

“There were a few key things we did to fix our ongoing issue of short-lived new hires:

  • Anyone who walked through our doors looking to be hired was assigned homework on neutral ground that had nothing to do with our company or product.
  • This homework was assigned in an open-ended exercise that allowed us to have a dialogue and observe how responsive a potential hire is, how they write emails and how they ask questions.
  • We invited team members from other departments to sit in on meetings and presentations to get a chance to spar with candidates and provide feedback. This was the single most important thing we did when hiring in the early stages of the business.“ 

Students don’t interview the teacher

“We had to hire a software architect in 2020. I interviewed him, and I thought he was great, but I didn’t think he was that impressive from a cultural perspective.

I had my two top senior engineers interview him, and they came back to me and said, ‘We don’t think he’s the right fit.’

My COO walks in, and he asks us what we were doing. I said, ‘We’re interviewing.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not; students don’t interview the teacher.’

It was a simple concept, but it felt like a hammer hitting me in the head. So, we brought in the VP of Platform at Ritual and two external CTOs, who gave him a test on how to scale Google Drive. They came back with a report and said, ‘If you don’t hire him, we will.’ 

This was a great lesson in making sure not just other people that feel like they’re more senior, but people that have experience in the domain that understand your business and your business needs, are part of that process.” 

The key to winning the valuation game is pacing

“The problem isn’t with raising a little bit more money; it’s when you get further down the valuation trap.

If you raise five, six, seven million bucks when you only need  $1m, your post-money is maybe between $30 to $35 million instead of $5-10m. That means in the next 24 to 36 months or less, you’re going to grow >$30 million in valuation. That’s where things get really complicated. Going incrementally at a reasonable pace is how I think the best startups function before they see some version of a breakout growth path.”

Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

Want a front-row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other inspiring founders? Apply now to join our next Incubator cohort at dmz.to/incubator.

 

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Introducing the DMZ’s newest Bootcamp cohort

Meet 16 new transformative companies that are innovating across a diverse range of industries

Our newest Bootcamp cohort is in full swing. The DMZ is thrilled to present 16 tech companies hand-selected to take their businesses to the next level. For the next 16 weeks, the DMZ will help these founders validate their business idea, establish a minimum viable product and build a roadmap for implementation to launch their startup.

Our Bootcamp founders participate in peer-to-peer sessions, founder roundtables and expert-led workshops, receive 80+ membership benefits valued at $470,000+, have one-on-one support from our DMZ Program Leads and much more.

Keep reading and join us in welcoming our newest batch of cutting-edge companies!

Introducing our Winter ‘23 Bootcamp cohort:

ace it logoAce It
Ace It is an Edtech software company based out of Toronto focused on simplifying the learning experience for students using an ecosystem that distributes user-generated content to leverage learning and increase engagement.

ask a fox logoASKaFOX
ASKaFOX is a France-based startup helping manufacturers find suppliers efficiently via an NLP-powered search engine and experts-assigned marketplace. They are rebuilding a more agile, resilient global supply chain that benefits SMEs.

aversa logoAversa
Women Founders and Black Innovation streams
Aversa is a robust platform for collaborative care between patients and specialists focusing on inclusivity and delivering timely, holistic, preventative and accurate information.

better resto logoBetter Resto
Better Resto is a no-code e-commerce builder for restaurants to accept online orders for pick-up and delivery using third-party delivery companies such as Uber Eats and DoorDash.

connected community logoConnected Community
Women Founders stream
Connected Community has built the first fully integrated Real Estate Management software, making it easier for different teams to share information and drastically reduce implementation costs.

docere logoDocere
Docere is an all-in-one integrated telemedicine platform that makes the interaction between family doctors and patients straightforward through self-health checkups to 3D Animations.

flowjin logoFlowjin
Women Founders stream
Flowjin is an AI clip generator that finds the best highlights from podcast episodes and automatically creates videos.

fuse FUSE
Black Innovation Programs stream
FUSE aims to solve problems at the intersection of video-conferencing and collaboration in educational institutions. It eliminates reliance on multiple applications for different purposes and improves collaboration.

guhuza logoGuhuza
Guhuza is a full-service recruiting platform unlike anything on the market. By eliminating steps in the hiring process, Guhuza makes it possible for employers to interview candidates live within minutes of inputting their job descriptions into the platform.

ooomaker logo
OOOMaker
OOOMaker is the world’s first all-in-one out-of-office management platform that resolves work-life balance challenges through powerful workflows and integration.

pxp logoPxP
Women Founders stream
PxP’s crowd-powered publishing platform gives authors all they need to grow and harness the power of their fanbase, bring their IP to its full potential, and build a successful business through a gamified social reading experience.

strAIberry logoStrAIberry
Women Founders stream
StrAIberry is a multi-platform app developed to monitor an individual’s oral hygiene. Users can do check-ups, while organizations, insurers, and dentists can monitor and manage treatments, insurance claims and more.

summationsSummations
Women Founders stream
Summations is a research-focused educational content provider that transforms academic journal articles into instructional content for college and university students using NLP-driven summarization.

tinga logoTinga
Tinga is a platform that delivers personalized nutrition in one convenient location, solving the translation gap between diet aspirations and retailers.

untangle money logoUntangle Money
Women Founders stream
Untangle Money aims to close the financial security gap by helping women take control of their “now money” and “future money” with affordable products and services made specifically for women.

vidBoard logovidBoard
vidBoard is an AI-powered video platform that converts text to human-led videos without the need to visit a studio. Human presenters are created by transforming a human picture into a talking avatar.


Are you an early-stage tech founder interested in building your business? Discover more about our Bootcamp program and apply to our next cohort here.

Introducing the DMZ’s newest Incubator cohort

15 startups who are transforming the tech space

The DMZ is proud to announce our newest Incubator cohort. Out of hundreds of applications from around the world, we’ve hand-selected 15 tech companies to join us for 18 months to help them execute their go-to-market strategy, acquire lighthouse customers, gain media exposure, explore global expansion, prepare for the next round of funding, and beyond. This competitive program is for venture-backable pre-seed and seed-stage startups that have a full-time founder, early traction, and proven product-market fit.

Startups accepted into the program receive up to $25,000 in grant funding, dedicated office space in the heart of downtown Toronto, 60+ hours of one-on-one mentorship time from in-house subject matter experts, support with fundraising strategies, and introductions to investors and customers.

New this cohort, six companies were selected to join the Incubator’s PropTech stream, giving them specialized industry programming developed in partnership with GroundBreak Ventures.

Keep reading to learn how these high-impact startups are transforming the tech space.

Introducing our Spring ‘24 Incubator cohort:

Datz Solutions LogoDatz Solutions is Canada’s only complete, connected brokerage operating system. Their platform streamlines and automates key workflows, providing full transaction management, trust accounting, and integrated payments.

Formaloo logo

Formaloo is a no-code collaboration platform that helps businesses create custom data-driven business applications and internal tools, automate their processes and engage their audience.
Iluminai
Ilumin.ai
is an early-stage RegTech company focused on the Real Estate market. They provide automated PCMLTFA compliance for Real Estate Agents and Brokers through an advanced KYC 2.0 solution.

Kaitongo logo

Kaitongo is an AI+Human in the loop platform that helps B2B sales teams on their journey to becoming Trusted Advisers.

Let's logoLet’s is an online tool that empowers skilled influencers with valuable content and a fan base to design themed group trips, then market, sell and manage them.

Manr logo

Manr is an online platform that facilitates the buying and selling of real estate – without real estate agents. Manr is a seamless service that helps to simplify the process of buying and selling real estate while helping save tens of thousands of dollars for users.

Mr. Turing logoMister Turing is an AI no-code platform that allows companies to train artificial intelligence to search text-based documents. From manuals to contracts, Mr. Turing provides answers to complex questions in seconds without having to be pre-registered.

Oppos logo

Oppos is a RegAI, a natural language processing (NLP) AI survey response tool that saves companies time and effort by answering security surveys in an automated, accurate and complete manner.

proptexx logo

Proptexx is a computer Vision AI image enhancement solution delivering value to agents and brokerages by improving imagery quality whilst opening the door toward property intelligence.

Silver Homes Logo

Silver Homes Technology Inc. is a SaaS solution designed to automate and optimize the management of a real estate portfolio with minimal human intervention.

SiteMax logo

SiteMax is a full Construction Management software solution that has generated millions of daily logs, safety reports, photo records, time entries and more, all over the world.Souqh logoSouqh is Canada’s only all-in-one real estate and home services marketplace, providing technology and services to help service professionals deliver unparalleled client experiences. Souqh is a one-stop shop experience for home buyers/owners looking to connect and transact with real estate and home services professionals – all in one place.

Structure plus logo

Structure Plus is an AI startup in ConstructionTech that saves money and time for construction firms by optimizing their building structures. Their AI-powered technology allows users to optimize the building’s structural design, resulting in fewer materials such as concrete and steel, ultimately leading to millions of dollars in savings annually.

Troop logo

Troop is a social impact tech platform for SMBs that engages employees monthly, letting them vote on where their company’s social impact dollars will be allocated. Troop allows businesses to meet the social responsibility demands of employees and customers.

Zewallet logo

Zewallet is a QR-based payments platform that allows customers to scan a QR code to tip, split, and pay their bill at the end of a meal. Zewallet saves time and money for both merchants and customers at restaurants, bars, cafes, and retail stores.  


Get to know more about our Spring ’24 cohort of startups by visiting the DMZ’s Current Startups page. Are you an early-stage tech founder interested in growing your business? Discover how the DMZ Incubator can help
here

It’s time to elevate your social (impact) game

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup’, a blog series dedicated to positioning women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

For this week’s feature, we handed the reins to Kelly Emery, the Founder of Troop and expert in startup development, to speak to social impact and what startups can do to not only add it to their business models but also elevate their social impact game.

Guest blog: By Kelly Emery, Founder of Troop

When a company helps the community they work in, people take notice. From clients to customers and current employees to prospective talent, social impact initiatives make people feel good about being a part of an organization that does good.

It gives people that warm and fuzzy feeling.

I’m not going to BS you — when times are good, it’s easy to give back and when times are difficult, it’s not. However, when times are tough social impact initiatives are needed most and your employees and customers take notice of how your organization responds to pressing needs in society.

Turn towards social impact initiatives, not away

No doubt, you’ve heard the saying, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going.’ During uncertain times, companies that choose to step up to help are the ones that are set apart. Businesses that engage in social impact initiatives are the type of purpose-driven organizations employees and customers want to align with, especially as we live in a post-pandemic world.

Oodles of research has been done on the topic and I’ve highlighted some in the Troop Guide to Social Impact. For example, studies have shown: 

  • Purpose-driven companies have 40% higher levels of talent retention than their competitors.
  • 88% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when they can make a positive impact on social and environmental issues.
  • 66% of consumers would switch from a product they normally buy to a similar one by a purpose-driven company.

All this is to say — now is the time to ignite a social impact program, if your company doesn’t already have one, or double down on any current ones.

Make a greater impact with social impact

Amp up your organization’s impact by engaging your employees in new and interactive ways. Did you know that:

  •  78% of employees would work for a business if it sought their input into the charitable causes it supports
  • 80% of employees are likely to provide input into the organizations a business donates to if given the opportunity

Employees want to do good at work, and for SMBs looking to make this happen, it’s not always easy to know where to start. Enter Troop.

Troop is a technology-based solution that brings together businesses and their staff with local charities and non-profits. It gives your team a voice in how your company can best help your community with a plug-and-play solution that’s easy to implement and requires minimal ongoing management. 

So how does it work?

Each month your employees receive a curated list of vetted needs in the community and will pick the one that resonates with them most. Based on votes, Troop fulfills the selected need and provides a follow-up so they can see and feel the difference being made in the lives of the people they’ve helped.

Ready to elevate your social impact and do good with Troop? Download our Ultimate Guide to Social Impact, visit the Troop website, or connect with me via LinkedIn for more information.

Lemons to lemonade: Turning a setback into a comeback

We’ve all heard the famous saying, but when’s the last time we put it into practice?

Turning life’s lemons into lemonade is obviously easier said than done, but it’s impossible to cash in on business milestones without laying down the right foundation.

We asked our founders to share their recipes for taking the sour setbacks thrown at them and how they bounced back to create sweet, tangy successes.

Make sure to keep your ingredients handy and follow along with our tried and true recipe!

  • A bowlful of lemons
  • A juicer
  • Ice
  • Sugar, zest instead of spice, and everything nice
  • Glasses, straws, mini umbrellas

Lemons to lemonade blog - Step 1: Gather your lemons

What setbacks have you faced as a founder? How did you overcome them?

“Too many setbacks to count but I think the biggest ones have always been knowing when we’re ready to move to the next level (hire a development team, work with a larger client, release a product, etc) and missing out on the opportunity to do so.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“The business nearly went bankrupt and I lost half of my team during the pandemic. It felt very lonely and I’d say I was missing opportunities because of that. However, daring to dream despite everything allowed me to connect with friends, family and even customers. My hope ignited theirs. I may be sad and feel defeated but I’ll never lose hope.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“[During the pandemic] we used our newfound time for something that often falls to the wayside when a business starts gaining traction. Something vital to product-market fit for any startup: customer conversations.

We picked up the phone and we dialled our customers. 100 to be exact. We took our time during our conversations, speaking to our customers for up to 90 minutes each and asked them to walk us through their unique parenthood journey. We listened intently to understand the challenges they faced. 80% of the customers we spoke to opened up about their mental health in some way, shape or form. A topic that is traditionally “taboo” was bubbling to the surface — we took note. If we hadn’t conducted these calls, we never would have founded Alli Therapy.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

Lemons to lemonade blog - Step 2: Juice 'em, add sugar and ice.

What did you learn in your journey of transforming lemons into lemonade?

“What I’ve learned is that the universe offers unlimited opportunities to those who are putting in the work. So if you miss one opportunity, be patient and the next one will swing around soon enough. And by the time it does, you’ll be even more prepared and have more to tackle it than before!” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“Cash is king, people are forgetful, and always have a backup plan.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

Lemons to lemonade blog - Step 3: Stir and serve

What advice would you give to an early-stage entrepreneur who’s trying to overcome an obstacle?

“Patience. You always have to keep up with the work but when things aren’t going your way or aren’t moving as fast as you’d like, remember that greatness takes time.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“The obstacle is the way. What is meant to happen, will happen – it’s a matter of perspective and intention. Leave yourself room and time to grieve, then carry on! Therapy does wonders for connecting and driving people through hardship.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“Learn to embrace the pain that comes before success and that there is no one solution to any obstacle. Look around, there is always a way out. Network and seek advice, there are people who have faced similar issues in the past.

The harder the obstacle, the sweeter the lemonade.” – Abiodun Adekunle, SleekScore Inc.

Ready to quench your entrepreneurial thirst? Check out the DMZ’s startup programs here.

What was your first lemonade stand?

Hear from DMZ founders about their early beginnings running a business, and what fuelled their thirst for entrepreneurship

All entrepreneurs can remember their very first business endeavour – typically a humble beginning that starts with passion and determination and ends with lessons learned. The venture where founders can dip their toes into the pool of possibilities of entrepreneurship and get a bittersweet taste of what could be.

Many of these beginnings can be as simple as selling cookies for school fundraisers, but just taking the first step can be the gain the fuel one needs to rev up their entrepreneurial engine. One of the most common first steps many entrepreneurs can give credit to is childhood lemonade stands.

The OG driver of entrepreneurship, lemonade stands ignite a flame for aspiring business owners and opens their eyes to the possibilities of what a career as an entrepreneur might look like.

That’s why the DMZ is giving an ode to the lemonade stand and paying tribute to the founders who dared to be bold, making the squeeze without knowing what their futures would hold.

We asked some of our founders to share what their lemonade stand was and what humble beginning triggered their thirst for entrepreneurship.

What was your lemonade stand (first entrepreneurial endeavour)?

“My first lemonade stand was an actual lemonade stand with chocolate chip cookies. I also walked dogs, pet sat, ran group garage sales to buy a go-kart and more. But, I think the most interesting entrepreneurial endeavour was spray painting street numbers on curbs. When I was about fourteen I heard about an eleven-year-old in California who was making good money painting street numbers on curbs to make it easier for friends and emergency services to find houses in the dark. I thought it was a great idea and wanted to earn some cash over the summer so I recruited 2 friends and got to work. Most days that summer we would load up my red and black childhood wagon with reflective spray paint, street number stencils, sign-up sheets and change. Then we would go door to door in every neighbourhood we could walk to or sometimes get a drive to the more affluent neighbourhoods to sell our services. To be honest, it wasn’t super successful but we made some cash and it definitely trained us to handle rejection.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“I sold maple syrup to international students going back home for the winter. Previous to that, I flipped items on the Runescape Grand Exchange.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“I realized that I was an entrepreneur when I was 10 years old. My mom had cancer while I was growing up and I wanted to find a way to help her. She had taught me how to hand sew little pillows. I was so excited about this new skill that I decided to teach all the neighbourhood kids how to sew them too.⁣ A few days later I had an idea. With piles of hand-sewn pillows in hand, I instructed the other kids to stand at the side of the road with me. ⁣We sold the pillows to every car and person who passed by our street.⁣

At the end of the day, we had made the local paper and $1000 to which we proudly donated to Cancer Research. That day I realized anyone at any age in any circumstance can make an impact. Everyone has the ability to become an entrepreneur and a changemaker. Even you.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

Do you think you were born with the entrepreneurship bug? Who or what has fuelled your love for entrepreneurship?

“I like to think I was born with some sort of entrepreneurial bug. But I think three people/organizations really fueled it. Firstly, my parents. Growing up, my dad would tell me stories of running a wedding photography business or managing an apartment with my mom. And all throughout my childhood, I would help my mom and stepdad renovate the newest house they were flipping or watch as they started businesses ranging from interior design and deck building to RV rentals. Secondly and thirdly, throughout high school, I was a part of Junior Achievement and DECA. Both of these organizations have me a wealth of knowledge in business and how to work with large groups of people in a business sense.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“I was born mischievous and always wanted to stand out but the entrepreneurship bug hit me on my first internship at peer-to-peer dog walking marketplace startup gofetch.ca.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“Yes, I think it has always been there for me – though I didn’t recognize it until later in life. I didn’t understand why I was always the one coming up with the big ideas and organizing others during play as a child. My first business came to me at 18. I was on my first summer home from University. I had developed a passion for fitness. After picking up some personal training clients at a local gym I knew I could do it better. So, I went for it and opened my own studio. Within a few months I had a packed studio every day with patrons double my age. I realized from that experience that anything is possible.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

Are there any lessons you learned when starting out on your entrepreneurial endeavour that have stuck with you?

“I feel like you learn new lessons every day you run a business but the main one that has stuck with me from the spray paint days is how to handle rejection. Doing door-to-door sales is gruelling so it engrained the idea that for every 100 no’s, you’ll get 1 yes. Then once you have that yes, understand what you did right so you can up your close rates.” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“You’re out there to measure the results, you have no control over them. Better measurements allow for a smoother journey, not the journey you planned.” – Hudhaifah Zahid, econommi

“Do something meaningful to you. You have to be able to see the bigger picture, it will be the driving force for you on the days that feel hard.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

How would you describe your journey from your first entrepreneurial venture to today?

“A rollercoaster. It’s fun and scary at the same time but if you’re lucky have some awesome people riding alongside you!” – Evan Sitler-Bates, XpertVR

“I’ve learned that the journey is never linear. It is full of ups, downs and unknowns. I’ve learned to stay open-minded and to be willing to pivot. At the start of my journey I made most decisions on positive results but now, I make most decisions on data. I try not to become biased and to constantly challenge the results at hand. I’ve learned it’s really easy to miss things that aren’t working and data is the only factor that will give you that true result.” – Sarah Rennick, Alli Therapy

“Challenging and exciting. I derive joy and satisfaction with every milestone achieved.” – Abiodun Adekunle, SleekScore Inc.

Lemonade stand blog - Cooler full of ice, fruit and lemonade

What is or will be your first lemonade stand? Dare to take the jump, and who knows what you’ll end up with, whether it be a high-growth tech platform or a Grammy award-winning album!

Ready to quench your entrepreneurial thirst? Check out the DMZ’s startup programs here.

International founders dish their first impressions of Toronto’s tech ecosystem

A group of Lithuanian startup founders get real about their preconceived ideas and first impressions of Canada and Toronto’s startup ecosystem during their week-long visit to the DMZ

Last month, 4 rising tech startups from Lithuania embarked on a one-week soft landing program to Toronto called the Canadian Connection Program. In partnership with Pace Global Advantage and the DMZ, the program supported entrepreneurs and business leaders interested in exploring the North American market and gave participants the opportunity to tap into a wider network of investors, customers, corporates, founders and talent.

The Lithuanian visit to the DMZ’s headquarters was productive for the startups – participants took advantage of various workshops and curated one-on-ones with the DMZ’s Program Leads, Experts-in-Residence (EiRs) and Alumni-in-Residence (AiRs). The Lithuanian entrepreneurs walked out of the experience with a greater understanding of the North American ecosystem and its players.

Lithuania blog - DMZ team and visitors mingling

On their final day of the program, we had a chance to sit down with the founders and ask them about their thoughts on the program and first impressions of Toronto’s startup ecosystem. Here’s what they had to say.

1. Toronto is very well-positioned in the North American market.

“I have learned a lot about the close connections between the EU and this city’s ecosystem, especially for medical startups. Toronto is well-positioned in the North American market, which is important because we need to reach the largest user base possible. There’s a great support system here for startups and there are great connections to cities like Boston and New York, which are just a short hop away.” – Urte Steikuniene, Feetsee

“The ecosystem here is booming and attracts people from all around the world to relocate their businesses from other continents.” – Simonas Stankus, Unbalanced

“We are considering North America as our primary market. Through the program, we have realized how little we actually knew about Canada. By being here, we see the ecosystem in Toronto is really vibrant, and a lot of professionals and potential employers are living here. The access to the talent, capital and markets is much higher than you’d expect. It changed my concerns about Canada being the same as the U.S. in terms of work-life balance. It’s much more convenient for entrepreneurs considering relocation here compared to the United States. Being in Toronto was a perception-changing experience because we were too trusting of the assumptions we had developed.” – Vytenis Pakènas, IsLucid

2. There is value in the city’s multiculturalism

“I am very impressed with the diversity and openness that I see in Toronto. I’ve only been here for one week, but I feel like you’re at home almost everywhere you go. The diversity is very inspiring and all-encompassing.” – Urte Steikuniene, Feetsee

“I was especially taken aback by the fact that I have met other medical doctors like myself who have made successful startups here in Toronto. I’ve met other professionals as well who turned to entrepreneurship. That’s not something you see often. My favourite thing about Canada is that everyone is from everywhere. There’s this feeling of being away from home but also at home at the same time. A real melting pot of people and cultures, which is something that contributes to its unique atmosphere.” – Justinas Balčiūnas

3. The DMZ community provides startups with everything they need to grow.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time here at the DMZ. I got in touch with healthcare providers, venture capital funds, and angel investors, and got to know the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Toronto which is booming, energetic and inspiring. Not only am I leaving this program with an excellent portfolio of contacts, but I also leave enriched by hearing other success stories of startups that have entered this environment and have done well. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.” – Urte Steikuniene, Feetsee

“My experience in this program has been great! I partook in incredibly useful workshops and met such great people. Now, I have a much better understanding of what Canada is and what ecosystem it has.” – Simonas Stankus, Unbalanced

“When you enter a new market, it’s important to have the right support system of people who can tell you the truth. We received the right recommendations and connections within the context we needed to make the experience meaningful and actionable. I was touched because the team wasn’t too focused on revenue and speed, but more on care and guidance/growth. When you’re coming in from overseas, you’re being brought into a desert with people you don’t know. But the DMZ is helping turn that desert into a sweet forest with the right connections and resources needed to succeed.” – Vytenis Pakènas, IsLucid

Lithuania Blog - Founder Simonas Stankus pitching

The cohort of participating companies included:

Lithuania blog - isLucid logo
IsLucid
is a productivity hack that specializes in machine learning through transcription. The service transcribes verbal communication in meetings and automatically assigns tasks to employees, eliminating the need to take meeting minutes and ultimately saving time.

Lithuania blog - Feetsee logo
Feetsee
is a FDA-registered product that uses its advanced algorithmic technology, with 95% accuracy, to monitor and measure changes in diabetes patients’ feet. It stores this information in its mobile and desktop software that relays messages to the patient’s care team and physician via alerts.

Lithuania blog - InBalance logo
InBalance
produces electric vehicle charging stations. Their product focuses on energy efficiency and helps fulfill the increased demand for electric vehicle charging without requiring any changes to the current power grid infrastructure, ensuring the sustainable growth of a community-based public charging network.

Lithuania blog - Ligence logo
Ligence
employs machine learning algorithms and deep-learning technology to determine functional and structural aspects of a person’s heart through ultrasound images. Their current focus is reducing human error in detection and diagnosis and improving their measurement accuracy.

Want to act on the Toronto FOMO and get involved? Founders looking for international expansion support can learn more about the DMZ’s global offices at dmz.to/global, and partners interested in developing a soft-landing program in Toronto at the DMZ can reach out at dmz@torontomu.ca.

Big picture thinking: How Worksimply was able to double down on a new market to serve more customers

The secret to business growth? Think 10 steps ahead – always.

Thinking about what the future of work looks like? The founder of Worksimply, Jaime Aoyagi, is your guy.

It goes without saying that the future has changed forever and remote work is here to stay. But what most employers may not realize is that the workplace of tomorrow isn’t just confined to an at-home office or central downtown location.

Aoyagi predicts that the future of work will take place in three main spaces: an at-home office, a central headquarters that’s typically located in a downtown core and an on-demand workspace that’s less than a 10-minute commute from the employee’s home.

Catching a new wave of opportunity and recognizing the transformational shift taking place in office settings, Aoyagi decided to grow Worksimply – a workplace platform – by doubling down in a new market to serve more customers.

We sat down with Aoyagi to learn more about Worksimply, and how he was able to shift markets by thinking bigger.

First, can you tell us more about what exactly is Worksimply?

“Worksimply’s solution is two-fold. For hybrid companies, we offer a workplace platform that makes office space more affordable and increases employees’ freedom. For co-working space operators, we offer software to manage end-to-end guest bookings for co-working spaces.

To put it into perspective, we help small businesses manage their own hybrid workforce by allowing their employees to book desks at their HQ and at co-working spaces all across North America,” said Aoyagi.

A cycle of various workspaces - How Worksimply was able to double down on a new market

What do you think is unique about Worksimply’s value proposition?

“Fostering an engaging work culture is crucial to creating a well-oiled, productive and happy team. At Worksimply, we understand how challenging this has been for remote and hybrid teams and are working to help them better manage their remote culture.

While a lot of companies today are working in a predominantly remote environment, we know that face-to-face interaction is still important. We know that it’s not about a desk, it’s about collaborating with your teammates.

This is exactly why we’ve rolled out features that allow teams to encourage their staff to meet in-person by allowing them to see who is working from where and when. But we didn’t stop there, we also offer services that help employers go above and beyond when it comes to maintaining a great office culture for remote employees – like providing snacks, drinks and workshops.”

This pandemic had a major impact on how Canadians work and use office space. How does Worksimply help companies in today’s current climate of needing flexible hybrid office space?

“The pandemic completely changed the way the world works. Pre-pandemic, the standard was for companies to have one designated desk per employee. Fast forward to today, a lot of companies have gone fully remote while others have embraced a hybrid model.

Now this presents a unique situation. A hybrid model can look very different from company to company, but nonetheless, the office will still play a huge role in how people work.

Moving forward, I think work will take place in three main areas: the home, the central office and finally flexible office spaces close to home,” explained Aoyagi.

This is exactly where Worksimply comes in. Worksimply is helping SMEs not only manage but also support their hybrid workforce by allowing their employees to book office space close to their home or their central office.

Jaime, you saw a new opportunity in the market and decided to double down on it to grow your business. What led you in making this decision?

“The pandemic obviously played a large role in why we decided to double down in a new market. We knew that companies would need on-demand workspace to accommodate their staff with flexible options,” Aoyagi explained.

Thinking 10 steps ahead, Jaime realized that there was a perfect opportunity for him to extend his customer base. “Since we already had space operators and co-working spaces on the Worksimply platform, we quickly recognized we’d be able to serve a new market – SMEs – that would need access to the space operators we were already serving flexible on-demand bookings.

“We sell software-as-a-service to space operators, and today our demand is twofold – on one hand, it’s businesses looking to book space for their employees, and on the other, it’s workspace operators looking for easy-to-use software they can integrate into their operations.”

Groundbreaking ideas are hardly ever lightbulb moments, but rather the result of developing and improving over time. After you made the decision to build in a new direction, what did the process look like?

“Once we realized the toll the pandemic was beginning to take on the world’s workforce and the new wave of opportunity it was creating, we started developing the software for space operators to implement.

As more and more space operators began to use our services, we were simultaneously creating a supply for hybrid-working organizations to choose flexible office space,” explained Aoyagi.

How did the DMZ support you throughout the process?

“Throughout the process, I was able to lean on the DMZ for mentorship and guidance.

As questions came up, I was able to turn to my Program Lead, Mohi Sanisel, who was able to help me navigate through the different challenges that presented themselves.

The DMZ was also able to introduce Worksimply to our first customer leveraging their new model.”

What would you say to other startup founders who are looking to iterate on their core strategy?

“Put your product out there as soon as possible and put your assumptions to test.”

Curious to learn more about what Jaime Aoyagi thinks about the future of work? Check out his recent LinkedIn article here. Looking to provide flexible office space for your time? Head over to Worksimply’s website to learn more.

The future of forecasting: How Granularity uses AI and big data to bridge the industry’s supply and demand gap

On Wednesdays, we startup.

To celebrate our women-identifying founders, we’ve put together ‘On Wednesdays, we startup,’ a blog series dedicated to positioning women founders centre stage to acknowledge their work, complexities and wins!

We hope to push women-founder stories forward and share lessons learned and insights for other aspiring women entrepreneurs.

This week, we had the pleasure of chatting Tali Remennik, the Founder of Granularity, to learn more about her startup and how she’s infusing demand forecasting with AI and big data to bridge the supply and demand gap in the sector.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you founded Granularity?

“As a data scientist and ex-management consultant, I’ve witnessed first-hand how helpful data science and machine learning can be in solving large-scale problems. I have personally used these methods to help major retailers combat fraud, help governments reduce the risk of traffic accidents and help uncover the underlying barriers to women gaining leadership positions.

Demand forecasting is an issue that consistently resurfaces due to its challenges – and being the engine of every retail business – it can affect a company’s ability to compete in the market. The sector is too often overlooked and issues are starting to trickle out, making consumers take notice. Last year when TikTok had the feta cheese pasta craze we saw a nationwide shortage in feta cheese. The need for demand forecasting is increasing while the sector remains stagnant in producing any new solutions.

This is exactly why Granularity was founded and we are excited to be able to drive progress and remedy this critical issue.”

Laptop screen with forecasting metrics - Granularity blog

What exactly is Granularity’s mission?

“In five years, I can’t imagine a world where retailers aren’t using near real-time consumer data to make decisions about what inventory to order. Consumers are actively communicating their excitement for products on social media and expect their favourite retailers to stock them. Retailers want to listen, and business leaders in the planning sector are eager to bring this data to the forefront of their decision making.

That being said, I know that it’s not easy to decipher the thousands of signals that are being sent daily – from TikTok to Instagram.

And that’s what we’re here to do – help retailers understand how trends can impact their sales. We provide their teams with the actionable consumer insight they need to make decisions.”

Tali, you’ve spent a majority of your career working in AI consulting. What made you decide to make the leap to leave the corporate world and found your own startup?

“When I was younger, I used to imagine being a positive leader – inspiring people to live their passion and purpose. The vision of being a leader has stuck with me and is something that I continue to aspire to do daily. Having my dad, who runs a franchise, only added to this vision and gave me an entrepreneur to look up to. Once that entrepreneurial seed was planted in my brain, I knew I needed to dive in head first.

My time at Accenture is what really gave me the building blocks I needed to start my business. The clients I worked with and the network I was able to create through my experience working in consulting were the key to unlocking curated resources that I could use to position myself as an entrepreneur. This is what allowed me to build a strong foundation and be comfortable embarking on my own entrepreneurial venture. Now that I have been working on growing the company, I am realizing there is truly no other experience that can substitute building a business from the ground up.”

The supply chain industry has been largely dominated by giants for decades. However, over the last 5 years, there has been a significant spike of supply chain management and logistics related startups entering the market. What do you think is the biggest misconception of the space and the influx of new startups?

“Everyone outside of the industry assumes that there is already technology for demand planning and that the market’s problems have been solved. It’s only the parties in the space that understand the lack thereof.

Through working with a few seasoned executives, it was expressed to us that retail and point of sale technologies were largely ignored until the mid-90s, where there was a huge spur of new technology. That was over 20 years ago. It has been almost three decades since the last wave of innovation in supply chain – and more specifically, demand planning. The market was in need of this technology years ago, companies could’ve gotten ahead of the curve.

This is exactly what Granularity is doing for our partners – helping them get ahead of their competitors by predicting and acting on early signs of demand in the market.”

Shipping containers - Granularity blog

The amount of women in the supply chain workforce jumped to 41% in 2021 up from 39% in 2020. However, every leadership level saw an increase in representation except the executive level where there has been a slight decline. Have you had a chance to work with leading women in the space?

“There is always a need to encourage more women to enter the space – there is so much to do and having diverse perspectives will undoubtedly get us there faster.

Granularity is honoured to be partnering with incredible female leaders in the industry. They have a vision of what needs to get done and understand that they need a unique take of the external market to get there. Ultimately, although we are the ones building the solution, I feel like a lot of the visionary ideas come from them.”

What’s next in store for Granularity?

“We are building partnerships with retailers across Canada and the United States to test our minimum viable product. These partnerships are an exciting opportunity for companies to receive actionable consumer insights for their product lines.”

If you work for a retailer, either as a demand planner or merchandise buyer, and want to contribute your ideas to the future of forecasting; please sign-up to provide feedback on Granularity’s product here.

 

If you are a leader at a retail organization and have been continuously talking about improving your demand forecasting, Granularity is actively seeking partnerships. Please reach out here!

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