life startups transit Waterloo: Canada economy growth
by Jesse Rodgers
The Waterloo Region (Guelph too) have had huge gains economically and in population in the last 20 years but it is still a region relatively isolated from the main economic driver of the province, Toronto. I think this isolation has allowed the region to build it’s own identity but as the 401 becomes slower and slower the option for two income families to stay in the region will no longer exist.
The lack of viable commuter options to and from the Waterloo Region also discourages people that enjoy being connected to and more likely live in the increasingly vibrant and young downtown (labeled Creative Class but if you don’t like the label, I think it is the next generation of professional people/families) core of a city like Toronto. Those people are of the professional class companies in the Region desperately need to keep being successful or even grow past the startup stage. This isolation limits the success of the region and I would go so far as to say provides an opportunity for Hamilton to be the place to start and grow a company (and a family) over the longer term (20 years or so) where there are constantly improving and robust transit system (and easy access to Buffalo airport).
Public transit is a big issue to some in Canada at the moment. Rail is just a part of it but the rail system mess in Waterloo Region is a symptom of the larger problem. Something as simple as reliable, cost effective, frequent, and fast (same time as driving or better) should not be that difficult given it exists in Brantford.
The rail system that isn’t as good as Brantford
The communities of Waterloo Region and Brantford + Brant County offer a fairly good comparison:
- Waterloo Region is roughly a 110 km drive to downtown Toronto, Google maps says it is a 1hr 24min drive but I don’t know a time during daylight hours that it is possible in under 2 hrs.
- Population of the Waterloo Region is closing on 520k
- Brantford is roughly a 105 km drive to downtown Toronto, Google maps says it is a 1hr 20min drive
- Population of Brant County + Brantford is roughly 130k
These two places are basically the same distance with the big difference being Waterloo Region’s economy and population. Both are West of Toronto and Brantford sits in the bottom left corner of a map between Waterloo Region and Hamilton Region. Related is this research on Canada and how suburban it is, very cool maps and information to gain some perspective. When we look at rail access to Toronto though there are huge differences.
For example, Monday November 12th, 2012 as the travel date:
- VIA Rail’s trains take 1hr 40min
- leave at 9am
- return trip leaves Toronto at 5:40pm
- Commuter pass works out to just under $30 a round trip
- GO train takes 2 hrs <- 2 HOURS!
- leaves KW at 5:50am and 7am
- return trip leaves Toronto at 4:45 and 5:45 pm (so no evening events for you!)
- just under $30 a round trip
- VIA Rail’s trains take 1hr 10min
- leave at 7:30am and 8:50am
- return trip leaves Toronto at 4:30, 5:30, 6:30, or 7pm
- Commuter pass works out to just over $30 a round trip
- No GO service
To cover roughly the same amount of ground takes 30 min longer from Waterloo Region. Round trip that is 1hr more out of your day but VIA has recently cancelled the commuter train from Waterloo Region along with the late train. They put GO train on their site as an alternative, it takes nearly an additional 30 min longer to get back on seats not designed for that length of time. That adds almost 2 hrs of commuting time in one day from Kitchener over Brantford which are the same distance to downtown Toronto by road!
Both places lack flexibility for commuters to the Region from the east and returning in the later evening if you were to just go in for a dinner/date night or need to come back later from work. The workaround for commuters in both Waterloo (63km drive, 1hr drive) and Brantford (46km drive, 30 min drive) is Aldershot Station ($16 return GO train ride). The difference in drive times makes it not much of an option for Waterloo folks unless it is a daily commute. There is no workaround for those going to the region of Waterloo from the east.
The 401 is an ever increasing mess and that isn’t going to change
It is no secret that Toronto has a traffic problem. Transit is starting to improve but even Toronto politicians seem incapable of planning for the future around transit despite the continued suburbanization of the city. This exacerbates the issue for Waterloo as it puts pressure on the professionals that are couples (or not) to choose downtown living or living near rail corridors in order to avoid the carmageddon on the highways. My bet is that Waterloo Region is not an option for most of them at the moment.
Waterloo needs to fix its growing islotion from Toronto (both downtown and Pearson airport) that will become an increasingly dire problem for economic growth. I don’t believe that the traffic problems in Toronto will drive employers out of the core of the city to the suburbs, I think it will move them to the core of another city that has an increasingly active airport, is closer to the border with the US (and Buffalo Airport), and tight transit corridor with Toronto – Hamilton.
The train issues shouldn’t be issues but they are because there is no political champion in Waterloo Region that seems to be legitimately concerned that it can take 3-6 hours out of someone’s day to pick someone up at the airport never mind go downtown Toronto for a meeting.
Step 1 is simple, get a train service that is at least on par with a small town just south of the region. The only people that can do it are our politicians, someone needs to show some leadership.
General life: fishing lake Erie Long Point Port Dover
by Jesse Rodgers
Thursday was the first rainy and cloudy day in Southern Ontario for a long while. After a conversation the day before with Tim Ellis at the Accelerator Centre I had fishing on my mind. After I cleared out my tasks for the day I packed up Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the truck and headed down to Long Point for a late afternoon search for the little fish and some fun. We had a good day.
After starting off a bit slow, as soon as the rain started to fall there appeared a ton of little perch in the harbour. There may have been bigger ones with them but we didn’t find them… but the kids did care. When every cast grabs you a fish of any size it is a good day.
Harbour fishing for fun
What I do is because my kids are all under 6 I have two main goals when it comes to fishing: 1) catch lots of anything 2) make sure they have fun. We are lucky to have lots of options for that around Waterloo. From kettle lakes to old farmer ponds to the Grand River, it is easy to find a spot to drop a worm in the water and pick up a bass or something.
But I like Arbor hot dogs and fries as well as hitting the beach when the fish aren’t biting so we head down highway 24 to Lake Erie. Between Long Point and Port Dover there are a series of little harbours that we drop some worms in the water to see what we get. Sometimes it is nothing but most of the time there are a ton of little fish that make the kids happy but I have a found there is a bit of a trick to it even for the aggressive little fish.
This is obvious to those that fish all the time so this is for those that want to take their kids fishing and don’t know how to start:
- This is an obvious one, heavy traffic in the harbour kills the fishing. Don’t waste your time if there is heavy boat traffic but look for a spot just off to the side.
- Change up the depth of the worm with the bobber. I have found that just 6 inches down works some times but dropping the worm to the bottom is required for other days. If something doesn’t hit in 5 mins, start changing the depth.
- Change the size of the worm. Smaller/larger worm chunks makes a differences depending on the mood of the little fish.
- Time of day doesn’t matter in harbours unless you want the bigger fish that might sneak in at night for a snack. You will have to be there at sun rise to get them but they are there.
- Use ultralight gear if you have a choice but don’t waste your money on plastic kids fishing reels because they break… smaller fish + smaller rods = a lot more fun.
What I like about harbours with kids is that even when the fish aren’t biting the kids get to see boats, we are close to marina washrooms, and I don’t have to worry so much about Ticks or other insect bites. Sure there are still bugs that bite but not like if you are stomping around a river bank or pond with a ton of vegetation around.
If 2012 is anything like 2011 for me I better get ready for a wild ride. The year started off with a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field to see the Packers defeat the Bears and enter the playoffs (thanks @tsand), then lots of good things:
- my third kid was born in time to watch the rematch of the Packers and the Bears on tv for the NFC championship (then they won the Superbowl!),
- my startup (TribeHR) went from a project to a business over a couple months then to a VC backed business ($1 Million) by mid-year,
- raised a $1 Million donation to the University of Waterloo’s VeloCity program from a 23 yr old in March with another $1 Million from the Ontario Centre’s of Excellence in July,
- the 3-pitch softball team I am on actually won a game and had a great season overall! go #abat!
- put a plan in motion for VeloCity’s workspace program to go from 1000 sq ft to 6700 sq ft (opens this winter),
- helped dozens of startups get off the ground,
- taught my son how to skate and decided to help coach with the hockey fundamentals program he is in which meant getting back on skates for the first time in a very long time,
- in November VeloCity was recognized with a Tech Impact Award from Communitech which is something I held as a big goal — building VeloCity into something that has a big impact on the local tech community is something I am very proud of,
- TribeHR was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2011 Junior Business Spirit Awards as well as earning Judge’s choice at Under the Radar in Mountain View,
- and finally my co-founder was on stage at the Canadian Innovation Exchange with TribeHR being one of Canada’s most Innovative companies.
None of the above list would have been possible without my family, the people in the community – startup and otherwise, and the amazing people I have had the pleasure to work with. Thank you all for the awesome year.
The oddest thing that happened was when a car leapt off of the road and tried to enter my dining room only to flip over and land on my friends Jeep. The pictures are just crazy.
A sad point was leaving the University of Waterloo after just over 10 years there (started there the end of May 2001 in the Information and Public Affairs department) and recognizing just how burned out the last year or so has left me. After all that time in one place (go back to 1997 if you count my student time with a short break working with small businesses and the web in 2000) it will likely be more difficult than I think it will to mentally break away from that identity but it is a healthy thing for me to do.
2011 was a year of learning, change, and growth… 2012 will be about my family and what to do with all the knowledge and experience I have gained personally and professionally. Specific goal of the year: be happy.
In closing… the fun part of having a blog for a long time is the old posts. A look back 5 years ago brings back a lot of good memories.
General life startups: burnout enjoy life working too hard
by Jesse Rodgers
Something I believe all entrepreneurs must face every day as they push to build something from nothing is the spectre of burnout. Put simply, burnout is physical and/or/as-a-result of mental exhaustion. Everyone can suffer from it from athletes to stay at home parents to big company executives. People want to do the best they can at whatever they are doing but at some point they hit a wall.
The idea of burnout is not something far from people’s minds as we enter the final push before the holidays. This is a stressful time of year where people joke about shopping or family fatigue. That makes burnout particularly newsworthy this month as well. For example:
- High levels of burnout in drone pilots
- Burnout in athletes mentioned more than once.
- Canadian Mounties in BC are burning themselves out
- Nurses and other medical professionals are showing signs of burnout
- Researcher takes on ‘empathy fatigue’ in the workplace
What makes the problem a very complicated one is that Doctors don’t think they can diagnose burnout. It could be the diversity in how burnout shows itself that leads to the inability to recognize it in themselves or others. Upon some self-reflection I believe I might have some personal experience to offer that may help others.
Recognizing burnout in myself
Over the last 4 months I have struggled to come to terms with why I was so unhappy given I have so many positive things in my life. In general I could see some odd things that I didn’t like about myself:
- I didn’t remember the last time I had a dream that I could remember. I was sleeping so badly that I don’t think I did dream.
- Short tempered.
- I didn’t take care of my house – I really use to enjoy working around the house, keeping the back yard clean, growing tomatoes, etc.
- I didn’t go fishing hardly at all last summer, I haven’t been snowboarding in years!
- I never felt like I was getting anything done even though I managed to attract some significant capital to the two projects close to my heart and see steady growth in both.
- I didn’t believe anyone thought what I was doing mattered or that anyone cared.
- Overall I was a grump.
I knew something was up in August of this year but I struggled to find a way to deal with it. My first thought was to just step back a little, look forward to bringing on some amazing new staff, and try to start a new term with a new attitude. What I failed to realize was that I was circling around the total burnout toilet bowl.
The first self-realization moment of things needing to change was when my son started hockey; he couldn’t skate and he didn’t want to learn. As a Canadian and a parent I felt like I failed my son as I didn’t take the time to teach him how to skate and have fun while doing it. I decided there and then to buy skates, helmet, and a stick. I then found any open ice time I could and took him out. My kids had to be more important than any work I felt I needed to do. The boy now loves hockey and the fun we have on Saturday mornings at the rink is something I truly cherish.
Around the same time something happened to a good friend and my co-founder (startup spouse): his wife gave birth to his son at 26 weeks in San Jose while on a business trip. At first it had an impact but then in mid-October I went down to see how they were doing and see if I could help. At that point nothing else mattered but the health of that tiny baby that was fighting to some day face burnout himself. He is doing really well now.
Those situations, along with my family and a number of conversations with people I deeply respect helped me start to realign my priorities and thinking. It wasn’t an instant fix. It is something I need to work on. I am lucky though, I didn’t collapse and hit a debilitating stage of burnout.
Looking back and times of high stress
In the last 10 years I can think of three different occasions when I was in a similar situation. The first time I started doing my Msc to find value and purpose in my work. The second time I had a very different kind of manager that recognized the signs early and did something about it. I also had a ton of positive re-enforcement from my family and the community to bounce back. This third time though, I let myself be isolated from coworkers and others for close to the last year. I thought that if I stopped doing the things I enjoyed but were time-consuming (like participating in the community) it would help, it didn’t. It made it far worse.
Next time (and there could be a next time although I am going to put more effort in to avoid it), I need to keep my perspective and make sure I find joy in what I am doing. I also need to take more time for the people in both my personal and professional life. Throwing myself at my work does result in achieving amazing things but at the same time, balance is needed in order to enjoy those accomplishments.
In trying to understand burnout my message to entrepreneurs is that you need to recognize when your behaviour or attitude changes. No one is immune to it and just because you haven’t hit physical exhaustion yet you might be reaching the point of mental exhaustion. Encourage feedback from your friends and family just like you would from customers or advisors on your startup. Listen, adjust based on the feedback, and grow.
How to avoid or deal with burnout, collection of articles that are worth a read.
blogging life University of Waterloo Waterloo: change Daily Bulletin web presence
by Jesse Rodgers
On Tuesday November 8th, 2011, Chris Redmond let everyone know (at the bottom) he is no longer the editor of the University of Waterloo’s daily news publication — the Daily Bulletin. He covers some the history of the Bulletin:
I have been editing the Daily Bulletin through more than 4,500 issues now since it was created in the spring of 1993. Originally the Daily Bulletin was distributed by “gopher”. In the spring of 1995 the first Web versions of the Daily Bulletin were tried out. In 1998, the “Link of the Day” was introduced; in 1999, the use of photos became a regular occurrence. The “When and Where” events listings began in 2003, and the present graphic design dates mostly from 2006.
What he leaves out is the role that he, along with Roger Watt and Carol Vogt, played with getting “UWinfo” online and to the staff, students, and faculty at the University of Waterloo.
When I started at the University of Waterloo in 2001, hired as the campus’ first Web Developer, I was interviewed in Chris’s office atop Needles Hall. That was the first time I actually met him. I heard about this UWinfo group that was two techies and a writer that learned HTML. That writer provided the content that grew into a very rich University of Waterloo web space.
Every business day Chris published an editorial on what is happening on campus. It was easily one of the first blogs in the world, never mind campus. The difference was that before there were commenting systems the uw.general newsgroup is where the ‘discussions’ happened about stories in the Bulletin. This engaged people in the publication at an early time. This is long before they were called blogs and sure comments never found their way into the Bulletin but I don’t think that is a negative thing.
Chris’s work on the Bulletin and what became the University of Waterloo ‘home page’ (something he “edited” daily until sometime after 2007) gave the University of Waterloo a template of content rich web pages. I believe everyone emulated his content focus in the early days and still influences how the web presence will evolve in the future. He saw the value of the web early and worked to use it for good to the best of his ability.
With Carol Vogt retiring a few years back (and sadly passed away shortly thereafter), Roger Watt retiring, the last of Waterloo’s web content pioneers has left his publication that defines the university web space for so many. It’s a big deal in my mind. Yes there are a few other folks that shaped those early days still around but to me the “UWinfo” group was the web… and if I missed anyone that deserves credit for that, sorry. I can update the post.
Good luck in retirement Chris (which isn’t for a few months at least), I look forward to all the content you have yet to create!
Edit: Hat tip to @garywill — almost forgot about Simon the troll