OMG the RIM is falling

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If you didn’t think RIM was in trouble before one of the co-CEO’s had a meltdown on BBC you certainly started to wonder once that happened. For someone at that level to crack on TV in such a way they must be under immense pressure, now we know what it was. The company has hit a bad time. When that interview happened he must have known the Playbook just wasn’t ready and they had sacrificed the timing on the next model of the Blackberry (and how many great devs) to get that thing out fast. The delays are something they couldn’t afford with Apple’s profits soaring and Android making a whole bunch of different hardware decent to use. The media reaction is visceral, the talk of layoffs is the big news but lacks perspective and certainly is going to do some damage to their stock price (down to ~$25 from $45). Look at their basic numbers though, they are still OK with a lot of cash in the bank but they can’t afford business as usual. It is time to wake up.

There is a lot of talk about what they need to do or if they could be sold. I won’t pretend to have any idea on that. What I do know is that the culture there is broken — no I don’t work there but I have enough friends there and hear enough Office Space-esque stories that you know something is wrong. I know they love cubicles. I know they do nothing like what Google or Desire2Learn does locally for their employees. I know the office environment resembles an insurance company in the 1990’s (for most staff). I know they completely ignore Silicon Valley. RIM is competing with Apple, Google, and Microsoft on devices but on the culture side they don’t come close. Could they be “too Canadian?” By that I mean too boring, too risk adverse, too safe in how they behave, and very conservative in what they allow their employees to do or act in the workplace.

Here is how I would fix RIM: make it fun.

How do you do that? I have no idea with 17000 people. A guess? They have to let go of all the rules they have for themselves. They have to let go of their products. They have to let go of their OS. None of that means throw everything out but take away all their staff’s Blackberries and get them iPhone’s and Android powered phones. Use them. Fall in love with them like everyone else. Then find the flaws, the real flaws, not just the spec sheet ones (Do not sell me on “real multitasking” on the playbook, who the heck watches a movie AND plays a game on the same 7 inch screen?) and make the Blackberry better.

By the way you already have iCloud at RIM and I bet it works way better than iCloud will for the next 8 months. It is called BES and BBM but no one there seems to see the oppertunity there.

Disclaimer: I have never owned a Blackberry because I have never been impressed with their products.

What is next for VeloCity?

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After the most awesome two months and a bit I have experienced in my professional career I have yet to sit down and take stock. There simply isn’t time to take a breath but I am going to take a moment and explain what is going on with my part of the universe. By now everyone knows we (at VeloCity) got some funding from, to many, was a very unlikely source. That funding was the missing piece — now we have the funds to give people a chance to try that may not have been able to as we can now clear the financial limitation.

The VeloCity program is going to be a full service incubator for students like none other.

What I mean by full service is that;

  • we will (and do) recruit best talent in the world,
  • inspire students that can do awesome stuff and have the passion but might have financial reasons blocking them to take a risk that can do awesome stuff,
  • provide an environment (build community) where ideas and entrepreneurs find their legs,
  • follow that up with a location to start to build a startup in an environment with just a bit more and way more experienced entrepreneurs and support one another,
  • then encourage (read: kick them out when they are ready) into the wild startup world (ideal) or into a job working for another startup (not bad for the community) or recommend one of the countless tech jobs in town (not everyone handles risk well).

At the end of it all, the student or alumni has the opportunity to try in an environment that gives them a big long term advantage over those not involved with VeloCity.

The plan for the next 4 months is to lay low and focus on: what we have learned so far, what we can do that is better (or figure out what not to do anymore), try out a couple things, hopefully staff up a little, and recharge. This means, I think, no conferences, very little travel, and fewer meetings. At least until some big outstanding tasks get tackled. I want to blog more as well. Writing helps focus thoughts and share the journey. Twitter is just too short.

It is going to be an exciting Spring term in Waterloo ;)

An insane young startup guy handed me a cheque for $1 million USD and…

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…life in Waterloo just got a lot more interesting. StartupNorth calls Ted insane in the best sort of way and I agree. He managed to build a great little startup, attracting some top tier VCs and then orchestrates a brilliant deal to not alienate some great investors. Then he does something nuts to pretty much everyone, he empties a big part of his bank account and asks me (and VeloCity) to do something awesome with it. I am blown away.

Talking with people today was really interesting. Students had a hard time getting their heads around the fact that Ted has no influence over that money once that cheque is cashed. He doesn’t get equity, we aren’t naming a room after him or a building, he doesn’t gain in any way that people seemed to think he would. He does, however, hope that what we can do at VeloCity is help fill a big gap in Waterloo (and Canada) for support, education, and risk taking funding to support young people as they really go for it.

Besides the cash part I think the most important thing here is that students get an entrepreneur to look up to that is:

  • just ahead of them in age
  • thinking really big, $1 million isn’t cool enough
  • a really nice guy willing to open up his newly established networks to his fellow Waterloo students

Over the next few weeks some big plans for VeloCity will start to take shape. So very exciting. Thanks Ted.

Got my hands on a Blackberry Playbook

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One of the perks of being located in Waterloo is that sometimes you get to see some cool stuff from RIM before other people do. Usually that is because a co-op student or employee drops a “test” unit in a parking lot or fails to hide it well at the pub but this time folks from RIM brought in two Blackberry Playbook to the VeloCity residence!

The Blackberry Playbook

They went through the development options and the deal with getting apps into appworld, etc. All stuff that is blogged about everywhere. What everyone wanted to do was get their hands on it. My first impression? Fast, light, easy to hold with one hand, but the multitasking is probably the most impressive thing that I noticed right away and the one thing I like way more than my iPad. The best part of the presentation though, the icon on the bottom left of the pic above shows an app called Book Keeper, well here is the guy that created that in Flash.

VeloCity student already had an app on there

He just happens to live in VeloCity this term.

So what didn’t I like?

  • The UI is a bit odd. I know Apple is rumoured to be dropping the home button but I went looking for it. To get a menu you have to swipe the bottom third up or pull the top third down. Once I got use to it I still didn’t find it a good way to do it as it didn’t work on first go and if I want out of app I want out now. The other thing I wonder if it will interfere with reading and other things that might like to use that action in the app.
  • Screen is too small. I love my iPad, I love my iPhone, there is a clear difference in screen size and utility. This size of tablet is just bigger than a phone but way smaller than a laptop. I think the same thing that kills the small netbooks is the same thing that will hurt this size of screen. It will be really good for a lot of uses though… but I think it won’t be as fun as an iPad for games and reading.
  • It just looks like hardware, nothing remarkable. Perfect for the business market but not for those that see the tablet as an accessary as well as a tool. That likely won’t hurt the Playbook adoption I don’t think.
  • Trying to get it to work with legacy Blackberry OS apps (we were told just OS 6)… forget your old OS RIM, you will cripple the Playbook with too much software options.
  • The guys demo’ing don’t have an iPad — nothing bugs me more about folks from RIM than their total lack of knowledge of the really hot products out there.

What I really liked?

  • It’s fast, really fast, and the battery is good. This newer build of the Playbook has no battery problem I can see. We had a ton of apps going, pulling a lot of data, a lot of video, and lots of just hard usage for close to 2 hrs and the batteries went down but used maybe a 1/3. It got hot too which says to me the battery should be dead… but it was fine.
  • The screen is nice. Really clear, really bright.
  • Overall user experience is good. I might not like the swipe but overall it is a good experience. Hopefully as they work on it (rotation doesn’t work yet), it will get a bit smoother with the swipe. How easily it just plugged into the 60inch TV in the residence was pretty cool though… can’t do that with an iPad.
  • It is the right size for a tool in that I can one hand it and not be worried it might drop. With the iPad I am always worried about swinging it around and knocking it.
  • The dev environment — Adobe AIR is a smart move.

Overall I think it is good device and if it is priced right I am sure it will do ok. Will it be the market leader? No way. The iPad 2 will certainly keep the hot and sexy category and people will pay a premium for that. However, if you were looking for an affordable (hopefully) tool that is more than you can use to replace a lot of portable devices out there from pay point stuff to inventory apps to restaurant order taking software.

Really excited to see if students at VeloCity try their hand at making some apps for it, maybe some day we will see Kik on it ;)

Kik on a Playbook?

…and yes, all pics taken on an iPhone 4.

The VeloCity workspace

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Yesterday on the VeloCity blog I announced the VeloCity workspace at the Communitech Hub. It is, to me, a piece that has missing at VeloCity as we have tried to do an awful lot in what is a residential building but what you can’t do is work as part of the startup community locally. The University of Waterloo campus is just too isolated with the way parking is and its size to try and have a space that is open to the community for various events and collaboration. When you add the cost of living in residence and housing rules that require you to be a current full time student (all understandable and reasonable) there was a clear need to have a ‘next step’ space for students that have other living arrangements and recent grads of the University.

Currently there is no better place to be than in the new Communitech Hub in Kitchener. With bigger companies like Desire2Learn (founded by a uwaterloo grad) and Google as well as smaller companies like DossierView in Tannery space along with the partner organizations within the Hub itself, it is a good opportunity to be in the middle of the best that the Waterloo Region has to offer. Plus I get to work with the Accelerator Centre and Communitech, something I love doing as they are both organizations that have climbed a big learning curve and are now really influencing the services offered to companies across Canada.

This is a fluid experiment and I am assuming certain details of how we run the space will change but it is really exciting to try. What I do know is that a similar space at Ryerson (the Digital Media Zone) is a success with a load of startups working away in a gorgeous space in downtown Toronto. VeloCity and the DMZ are working closely together to develop this new model for an incubator type service inside higher education which is also something I am excited about. My hope is that we can get more Universities and Colleges working with us but time will tell.

What I see as our big challenges going into this are:

  • Cost of the space and covering the costs of the services — current guestimates place this kind of service for very early stage startups at around $1000 a month per startup. Our costs aren’t that but I will need to keep an eye on it. Certainly we do not have anywhere close to the same staffing level as Ryerson and I am not sure we need to but we do need more help to keep things moving. That will increase our cost.
  • What does success look like? With the residence I am still not sure what success is. I know it isn’t having a startup launch out of the residence into the real world and it is more important to build a strong bond between future co-founders but I will need to work on that. With the workspace it could very well be measured by the number of startups that find some revenue.
  • What are we missing? I try not to let this drive me nuts but I am constantly trying to find the gaps in what we are doing and ensure we stay focused on what are core mission is. That means saying no sometimes but a lot of the time the ‘no’ is because we just don’t have the staff to work with certain groups. Need to tackle point one above.

In a few months I will find new challenges and see if what I think are important problems really are. This is pretty exciting! Any questions, just ask. I aim to be as open as I possibly can about this whole thing ;)

A summer that brought fishing back in my life

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Over this summer I spent more time fishing then I did in the last 10 years combined. It use to be something I did all the time, pretty much every weekend (or day in August for Salmon). When I moved to southern Ontario I pretty much stopped fishing though. After getting out on a charter boat at the end of the summer last year I decided I need to fish so my kids learn how to fish and how much fun it is outside… even in the south.

It all paid off this past Friday when I took both the kids down to a spot in the Niagara area that we have been trying out every so often. The kids didn’t have daycare so I figured it was a good excuse to head out early and see what we can catch. It worked out great.

Catching fish

Besides small largemouth bass we picked up a nice sized perch.

Perch just caught

That perch found its way home, into the frying pan, and on to the plate of the kids.

Perch at home Perch being cooked
Perch about to be eaten

All in one day! I think this is a great experience for the kids. My son had the choice to throw it back or eat it and going by the plastic knife to the side he was more than interested in getting it on his plate. He did it all btw and I can still filet small perch easily and without waste ;)

It was a lot of work over the summer to find a place where we could find fish that weren’t Rock Bass and that we could eat. With the Grand River and all the creeks and streams in the area you can’t get access to them thanks to all the private property — that restricts you to a few spots that get a lot of pressure. Not to mention falling for all the stories you get at the fishing stores or on forums.

What we learned:

  • Lake Erie is an amazing fishery but it isn’t kids friendly unless you have a boat
  • The Grand River is a kid friendly river with unlimited small fish to keep kids entertained
  • What should be great fishing spots around Hamilton and Niagara, are and no one really fishes them in great numbers.
  • A worm and a hook is all you need.
  • A canoe will get you to some great small mouth Bass fishing inside of the Waterloo Region.

What’s next, not sure. I think I am about ready to start going for the bigger badder fish without the kids as the weather gets colder and wetter. Next year I definitely want a boat too. Thinking of starting blog only about fishing around here too as I learning to fish again and I am really annoyed with the fishing stores. Fishing is not an ‘open’ sport. People don’t share what they do or how they do it… I would like to do it differently.

Mentor a student entrepreneur while helping your startup

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Being a student at the University of Waterloo has one huge advantage over most other schools, Co-op. Startups have one huge advantage available to them available here in Waterloo, Waterloo students in co-op and the Small Business Internship Program along with a ton of other funding programs. From my perspective at VeloCity there is no better mentorship opportunity for students wanting to break into the startup world than by working for a startup.

However, it is not that easy for startups to stand out and be found by students — there is a lot of competition and with companies like Yahoo!, RIM, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and more posting jobs startups need to market themselves. On top of that, it is really hard to startups to get the timing right and navigate the co-op hiring process at the University. It’s not the fault of the process but more the nature of a fledgling business balancing a lot of demands meeting the deadlines that are at the start of each term.

Through VeloCity I want to help startups find good students to work with and I want the students to have the opportunity to gain some great experience working with a startup in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, Boston, San Francisco, etc. What I ask is that startups take a moment and fill out some basic information first (at the end of the post or use this link). From there go over to the Employer Manual on the CECS site and read up on hiring a student. You will need to follow their process to get a job posted.

Next VeloCity will follow-up with you. Once you have a job posted with CECS we will need to share that job posting number with students so they can find it faster.

What we plan to do is create a list for students at VeloCity to see right at the start of each term so that the company names are front and center. We will also send out the list of students (and some recent grads) that have been in VeloCity. We will share the details as we get them and keep them informed. The last thing is that we will develop a poster for campus that can feature startups and working for them.

What is asked in return…

We have the following topics that need speakers on the specific dates at 4pm:

  • A Start-up Life, Sept 20
  • Starting a Business, Sept 27
  • Building a Team, Oct 4
  • The Pitch, Oct 18
  • Selling your Product, Nov 1
  • Financial Management, Nov 8
  • Raising Money, Nov 15
  • As well as networking lunches at the Bomber every other Wednesday starting on September 22nd that it would good if you (by you I mean the founder(s), CEO, etc) could try and attend at least one. There is also are start of term BBQ on September 20th and would encourage you to come out that night.

    G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit #g20yes

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    From June 20-22 in Toronto was the first G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit with delegates from close to all the G20 nations. The idea for the summit came from Italy but was hosted and run in Canada by the  CYBF. The goal of the summit was to bring together people that support entrepreneurship in the G20 countries and identify the core issues we all face, perhaps identify solutions that may exist in other countries, and establish what could be done next to support youth entrepreneurship globally.

    The key belief underlying this summit is that entrepreneurship is the fundamental economic driver that makes recessions less painful and it is entrepreneurs that will lead economic growth. There is a shift in thinking in G20 governments from prioritizing the large employeer creating jobs and ignoring the small business entrepreneur that would create only a few jobs. The shift in thinking from the government perspective was emphasized when John Manley (former Industry Minister) took the stage and raised the point that he has seen Canada go from a nation that wants to be employees to that which what to be employers. Tony Clement‘s (current Industry Minister) statements made just before John Manley took the stage were more impressive considering where Canada was just 20 years ago.

    Canada still can do a lot more, entrepreneurs (especially in the tech world) don’t feel it is all that easy to start a business and legislation is stacked against them in favour of the large companies. However, it is through more official channels like the G20 Young Entrepreneur Summit where I think all entrepreneurs can be more effective influencing government.

    The end result of the summit is that the B20 summit will have youth entrepreneurship on their agenda along with the recommendations to discuss from the delegations that attended this summit. A secondary result is an agreement to pursue this movement into the next year with a meeting in South Korea in November followed by a summit at the G20 in France next year.

    Along with the delegate discussions there were a number of panels and presentations which just flooded twitter with some great tidbits of information. Here are some tweets from me and others that I really like that are quoting tidbits of the wisdom shared:

    You have to be born an entrepreneur – it’s a character trait. I can’t paint, but I am an entrepreneur. – Eric Boyko

    Partnership with spouse is key. Need to share responsibilities on a domestic level to avoid burnout. – Tara (mother of 7)

    “They tend to work less and they tend to talk more” Speaking of the younger people in the work place – Rahul Chawla

    the more people i meet the more i learn – Rahul Chawla

    Ur sitting on an ice cream cone in the middle of July. You must be making decisions quickly. But have humility to reverse decisions.

    No pure failure in entrepreneurship; Entrepreneurs are optimists that fail. You pick yourself up and try again – Tom Jenkins

    #g20yes Minister Peter Van Loan Canada features strongest workforce, knowledgeable&skilled workers http://twitpic.com/1z3yyf

    Prosperity is created by successful businesses, big and small. And it’s people like you that help build this success- Peter Van Loan #g20yes

    Have a look at the #g20yes hashtag on twitter, there is a lot of info there but certainly worth digging through. Also Tom Jenkins Fireside Chat was posted on the National Post.

    On the last evening event one of the VeloCity teams that are part of the Entrepreneur Bootcamp had an opportunity to show off their work and meet delegates from all over the G20. I didn’t get a picture (there are official ones somewhere) of when Minister Peter Van Loan (Industry Minister for Canada) dropped by but I grabbed one of when they had folks from Russia, Canada, and the EU at the table.

    Bloq Software showing off their stuff

    Overall I am really impressed with what CYBF put together and the delegates that have attended. Really looking forward to what an effort like can do to help influence government policy, open up different markets to Canadian entrepreneurs, and help build a more extensive mentorship and support network.

    How to screw up the higher education system in Ontario

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    The Ontario Premier made his speech the other day that gave a big nod to the need for a stronger education system (no mention of the money to do it btw) but along with nod came some silly goals that demonstrate a clear misunderstanding with the state of higher education in Ontario. The globecampus.ca blog outlines some issues but I think it misses the point, we need revolution in education not just more bums in seats.

    Here’s my view of the world (simplified/generalize for effect):

    • Universities are tooled to create more academics, other outcomes besides professional accreditation are unintentional.
    • The government has given money to build buildings over the last 10 years – not lecture halls but buildings – and no money to maintain the buildings.
    • Budget cuts have peeled away operating budget of departments over 10 years but the pressure to deliver more has seen staff being hired without the flexibility or ability to look at how things fit within the larger organization.
    • Staff are better educated than in the past and in many cases more skilled than the academics yet are seen as second class citizens within the organization.
    • Most academics want to teach, do research, and focus on their vocation – they do not want to recruit, do marketing or communications, manage staff outside of their research group, or be a department chair, associate dean, or dean.
    • Research funds rarely contribute to the well being of the institution or teaching. Heck they likely don’t pay for the power consumption of the toys they buy.
    • Academic time and process rewards mediocracy and we all know mediocre products are crap (I say this while looking at my UW degree).
    • Students are paying way too much in tuition and have earned the right to view higher education as a service not an earned place that expects, requires, and rewards hard work (not with a job but with that little warm feeling you get, currently most students think only about jobs).
    • Like all of the publicly funded jobs, the leaders are gone or in the process of being chased out. As we head out of the recession a new exodus of the employable from public service will most certainly occur.

    To tackle these things takes breaking out of the mediocre and into some pretty crazy thinking. We need to take risks, experiment, and challenge the establishment that is almost dysfunctional outside a few pockets of brilliance. What the Ontario government is offering is more of the same—rhetoric, promises, and likely funds earmarked and the established system not a revolution.

    Of course that isn’t for the government to dictate. We need to figure this out and we need the leaders within higher education that are willing to do so. I see glimpses of it but I fear we won’t really go for it as there is little appetite or motivation to break out of the crisis management culture and throw away status quo. However, if I was king of higher education this is what I would try:

    • Remove administrative or managerial positions that are just appointments of academics—make them apply against other professionals
    • Create a product management office, force them on the world with a mandate to train people to think about their products and projects.
    • Put post-docs in the classroom, formalize a new class of research focused academics which they are associated with and require them to ship a new product or service every 2-3 years
    • Create a hybrid of distance education and intense campus education along with co-op
    • Move staff from the silos of departments to special team pools that can charge out for services and rotate throughout campus (modern take on secretarial pools)—that way you can rally on time sensitive pushes and build expertise along with campus wide perspective
    • Service Level Agreements
    • More programs and services to students that are not related directly to academics but tied more to the local community (build more VeloCities).

    Could be all crazy ideas but I would like to try at least one or two of them ;) We need to think differently about higher education and how we function institutionally. If we continue down the cut backs, hand outs, and status quo we will surely self destruct within a generation.

    Disclaimer: I would say this openly on campus and I am pretty sure it may offend some but these are thoughts being thrown out there. We need to start thinking and trying things.