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Archive for December, 2010

By Mark Zimmerman

Learn from the stories of crash test dummy start-upsWhen a start-up is looking for advice or models to follow, the obvious place to look is for successful ventures that have a similar business model or similar markets.  Lots can be learned by studying success stories in books like Founders at Work or on the web.  However, I think even more can be learned by an honest and thoughtful post-mortem of a failed start-up.  I know I learned far more struggling than winning. 

Marc Hedlund, co-founder of Wesabe recently wrote a fantastic blog post analyzing why he believes Wesabe lost to Mint.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the Coles Notes version: Wesabe and Mint were both online personal finance sites that sought to displace the industry leader Intuit’s Quicken. Wesabe is now closed.  Mint was acquired by Intuit for $170 million.

In the article, he dispels much of the conventional wisdom about why Wesabe lost to Mint and offers his own explanation:

“Between the worse data aggregation method and the much higher amount of work Wesabe made you do, it was far easier to have a good experience on Mint, and that good experience came far more quickly. Everything I’ve mentioned — not being dependent on a single source provider, preserving users’ privacy, helping users actually make positive change in their financial lives — all of those things are great, rational reasons to pursue what we pursued. But none of them matter if the product is harder to use, since most people simply won’t care enough or get enough benefit from long-term features if a shorter-term alternative is available.”

The post has generated lots of discussion in particular this piece from Eric Reis and has prompted other founders including Ben Yoskovitz of Standout Jobs to share.  A collection of 32 such postmortems is here. Definitely worthwhile reading for any entrepreneur.

Mark advises entrepreneurs in the information technology, communications and entertainment practice at MaRS. He specializes in B2B enterprise software, SaaS business models as well as security and privacy.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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Ready to Take RIC to the Next Level of Innovation

By Mary Dytyniak

The RIC Centre recently named John Switzer as the new Chair of the Advisory Board. Stepping down from the position is Bill Matthews.

Matthews was a key contributor in establishing and setting in motion the development of the RIC Centre as the fourth largest innovation and commercialization centre in Ontario. Matthews found it both rewarding and enlightening to work with Pam Banks, the Commercialization Director at RIC, the board and especially John Switzer.

“I have great confidence in John. I was delighted when he was selected to be the next chairman,” Matthews said.

Partnering with the city of Mississauga, Brampton, the Town of Caledon and Peel Region, as well as educational institutions such as the University of Toronto Mississauga and Sheridan College has helped bolster RIC’s clientele through support and funding.

During his term Switzer hopes to take the RIC Centre to the next level of advancement, supported by a renewed 3-year funding commitment approved by the Ministry of Research and Innovation.

“Our performance will be measured by the number of firms that take those ideas to fully funded, commercially viable enterprises in Peel Region, creating jobs in the process. Our job is about economic development,” Switzer said.

The RIC centre is one of 12 regional innovation centres in the ONE Network of Excellence, a network of organizations across Ontario designed to help entrepreneurs, researchers and business professionals commercialize their ideas.

Although the RIC Centre has been in operation since 2002, as the Western GTA Convergence Centre, it wasn’t until Pam Banks came onboard as the Commercialization Director and funding was granted by the Ontario government that RIC established itself as a non-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting and growing innovation in Peel Region. Switzer plans to work with the RIC board and its partners to push the innovation agenda further over the next three years.

“We have to raise our level of visibility by getting out and making calls to partners and to prospective enterprise partners, who can assist us by working with all our entrepreneurial clients. We need to actively promote and speak to  the innovation agenda within Peel Region, so that people will see RIC Center as the place to go for support in advancing innovation in the region,” Switzer said.

2011 looks to be a promising year for the RIC Centre, with the launch of a number of new programs such as the Peer-to-Peer network that will facilitate knowledge sharing among clients and entrepreneurs at monthly meetings.

The RIC Centre is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting and guiding small to medium-sized enterprises through the process of bringing innovative ideas to market in the fields of aerospace, advanced manufacturing, life sciences and emerging technologies.

Mary Dytyniak will be graduating from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts this June 2011. She is currently finishing her major in Professional Writing and a double minor in Classics and History. Mary has published works in the fields of non-fiction, creative, journalistic, research and corporate writing. She is currently pursuing a career in the magazine and publishing sector.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Mary Dytyniak
Social media and search engine optimization have been the buzz words in business in 2010, says Dev Basu, President and CEO of Powered by Search.

Basu, along with panelists Krista LaRiviere, Co-Founder and CEO of gShift Labs and Roy Pereira, President and CEO of Shiny Ads were keynote speakers at the final Growing Your Business session of 2010: Search Engine Optimization and Social Marketing December 9 at the University of Toronto Mississauga Faculty Club.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is currently the leading online tool businesses use to recruit clients and customers on the web.  Google accumulated an astounding 16.4 billion searches worldwide in the month of June 2010, according to Comstar.com, and it’s no wonder page ranking is on business moguls’ lips. But according to Basu, recognized as Canada’s foremost search optimization guru, basic page ranking techniques aren’t enough to drive traffic to a website. Although it is fast, scalable and easy to control, users don’t trust paid page rankings or top results, he says. And 90% of search users zone in on organic and local results.

While people love to buy, they don’t like being sold [to]. Essentially, [they] don’t trust an ad. That’s why people don’t click it,” he said.

Basu suggested that smaller businesses with tight budgets move their websites over to a free content management system such as WordPress, Expression Engine or Drupal to further optimize their sites. Building links and credibility so that suppliers, venders and local directories link back to a company’s website is an important step. So is ensuring that the site operates in a trusted domain and includes the essential components of a search engine friendly website: texts, links and images.

Krista LaRiviere and her company gShift, specializing in offering web presence optimization software, and aspire to make search engine optimization accessible to everyone.

“Our vision is to change the way people think of and perform organic search engine optimization. We want the entire world to be able to do their own organic search engine optimization. We want non-technical marketers to be able to do it and non-technical business people to be able to do it.”

Google Analytics is one solution. It’s a free tool many companies use to enhance search engine optimization. Google Analytics helps aggregate, track, manage and explain how a user’s website is being searched. One important component that businesses often overlook is key word selection. What clients type into search tool bars often does not match the key words businesses insert into their web pages. Tools such as Google Analytics and WordStream list what key words are being used by potential clients, explaining why a company’s page rank is lower than their competitors. Narrowing the choice of key words to indicate a unique product or service offered by a company, filters search users and increases clicks.

What about popular social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, boasting millions of users? Roy Pereira’s advertising technology company Shiny Ads relies on search engine optimization and social media to generate 90% of their inbound revenue. Pereira has moved on from using traditional marketing focused on micro websites and trade shows that he claims are no longer effective.

“Twitter is fantastic. It’s all text and it is all very searchable. It’s a great way to increase an awareness of what you’re up to as well as what your product is. Sending out a press release or [posting] the title of your press release on Twitter is alright, but it’s… a little spammy… [This] is so much more natural,” Pereira commented.

Tools such as Twitter reveal individual voices and personalities of those employees who represent a company, encouraging an open and honest relationship with potential clients, something that has now come to be expected in everyday business practice.

The Research Innovation Commercialization (RIC) Centre and the Ontario Center for Environmental Technology Advancement (OCETA) jointly host the 10-event series, which runs from September to June 2011.  For a complete schedule visit riccentre.com.

Mary Dytyniak will be graduating from the University of Toronto with an Honours Bachelor of Arts this June 2011. She is currently finishing her major in Professional Writing and a double minor in Classics and History. Mary has published works in the fields of non-fiction, creative, journalistic, research and corporate writing. She is currently pursuing a career in the magazine and publishing sector.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Steve Sheils

I’m the fellow CEO’s call in when they know their company requires a Health Check.

I’ve worked locally and for 20 plus international  companies, raised money for growth, and been on the sale and acquisition side many times.

Regardless of whether your company is earning a few million or a few hundred million, often these days the story from the top sounds something like this;

“Top line growth is slow, margins are shrinking, competition has never been tougher, product development cycles are too compressed, there isn’t enough money for innovation, my Senior Management Team (SMT) is weak and I don’t have the time to  fill the holes, my Board is telling me to create Shareholder Value but I am too busy chasing cash flow.”

Sound familiar? But the Fed’s keep telling us that our economy is fairing better than others in the G8! So, when does it all translate into profits? Seems traditional financing is an elusive quarry and servicing our debt has never been more expensive. And Venture Capital? Forget about it…

This is usually when our conversation turns towards “future Opportunity”.  I inquire, “is the total market for your product or service large, rapidly growing or both?” “Is the industry you are in now expected to become structurally attractive?”

Growth, considered by entrepreneurs and investors alike, should be rapidly growing because it is easier to acquire share than fighting it out in the trenches in a stagnant or mature market.

Remembering our Economic 101 class in University, we must consider the elasticity of the market we are in. It is a tool for measuring the responsiveness of a function to changes in parameters in a unit-less way. Hmmm, what was that?

Frequently used elasticities include price elasticity of demand, price elasticity of supply, income elasticity of demand, elasticity of substitution between factors of production and elasticity of intertemporal substitution.

Well if this is all becoming too heady for you, then let’s just ask the burning question; “What does your Business Plan say you should be doing in the section labeled Contingency Plan?”.

If that plan is a dusty document on the shelf (like so many), does your company have a Plan for Growth for this fiscal year?”.

Or is your SMT rolling with the punches and doing their best to make their numbers?”

Believe me, by the time our first meeting has reached this point, most CEO’s are ready to make changes – and quickly.

Usually an external resource is required to “be the prophet from afar” because while every senior manager is starved for change, the “outsider” has no baggage – only a passion for improvement.

Creating a plan for change, cutting operational expenses, shedding an employee or two and investing in sales and marketing activities is the path to change. And best of all, it will quickly become a positive mantra on everyone’s lips.

In my next post; “Throwing the change-up pitch” that gets the company squarely back in the game.

Reposted from The Brampton Board of Trade blog

Steve Sheils is the CEO of Authentic Vision for Change. Steve’s passion is helping companies make the difficult decisions required to achieve profitable growth in this tough economy.  He can be reached by email steve@sheils.com. Visit www.authentic-vision.com.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Stephen Rhodes

Sometimes we think that doing what we always do will yield better results. Often, doing what we always do yields the same results and if you are not happy with those results you need to change things.

Here are five things to think about as you enter a new calendar year.

1. Review your past year for what did and didn’t work.

It’s simple, if you measure the return on your marketing program. Have a look at what worked and what didn’t. Common sense should tell us to stick with the things that are working, and try new things in place of those that are not. Don’t beat a dead horse.

2. Develop a program to measure success. Survey, measure results, ask your customers.

Ok, so you couldn’t complete the first assignment above because you don’t measure the success of your marketing program. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you need to understand what is working and what isn’t, so track sales related to a specific campaign and compare those results to the cost of running the campaign. If it costs more to run the campaign than …I think you get the idea.

3. Look at new ways to create a dialogue with your customers. Twitter perhaps.

Some business owners are afraid to talk to their customers and that’s why social networking tools like Twitter are unattractive. Developing an ongoing dialogue with your customers can help you retool the business on the fly, responding specifically to needs identified by your customer. Try it, it’s addictive. Talking to your customers is a good thing.

4. Find bloggers in your industry and subscribe to their musings for new ideas.

You are not alone in your sphere of influence. There are experts everywhere online and you can subscribe to any number of blogs that could be useful to your business. Go to Google blog search (http://blogsearch.google.com/ ) and search for your areas of interest. You can subscribe through a reader or simply have the material delivered to your email inbox.

5. Set out a measurable plan for the year and check the pulse monthly.

Don’t wait until December to find out that your business is under-performing. Set out a plan and check monthly to ensure you are on target. If you have three months of under-performance, you need to make a change. Better you do this in March than November. Be nimble, monitor your business and adjust accordingly.

Reposted from The Marketing Pad

Stephen Rhodes is President of The Marketing PAD, a full-service strategic communications and marketing company. Read Blogpad or visit The Marketing Pad online.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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By Jeff Bowman

2011 will bring many of the same challenges that we experienced in 2010, so we need to highlight our areas of success and plan around them moving forward as a sales organization.

It is important to stress that business should not operate in Silos, with marketing having their planning meetings, finance theirs and so on.  A sound strategic sales plan is fully interdependent on the actions of every other employee in the company.  If operations decide to change shipping procedures for example it may impact sales, finance clamping down on days outstanding will result in a more difficult selling experience and then we may have new product introductions or changes in marketing budgets that directly affect sales. An overarching plan must be in place that incorporates the individual ideas, plans and actions from every department.

Here are the top 5 areas to consider for your sales department heading into 2011.

5.         The salesforce should meet to debrief about their experience during 2010. Special attention should be paid to what was done right, what made the sales process easier,  what made clients more acceptable to their calls.  It is those things that can be built on for the coming year.  There will always be problem areas for sales in any organization,   however focusing on the accomplishments creates a more driven and motivated sales representative. Who enjoys sitting in a meeting being reminded of negative sales trends,  reduction of sales efforts, cut backs in marketing.  These are your frontline people, keep them interested!

4.         Review your past and current customer base to determine if it grew, where did any  increase or decrease come from, and discuss any trends that might have contributed to the growth and/or areas for future growth.

3.         Rationalize the activities of the salesforce, including any customer service effort, calls made by upper management with the reps, influence from the marketing tools that were made available, time available for face to face as opposed to face to screen, and  the record keeping activities required by management.

2.         Train your number one source of revenue generation, the salesforce.  It doesn’t end with the salespeople as most companies think.  Every person who has any potential opportunity to interact with a client is a sales vehicle. It doesn’t take much to train everyone in your organization some basic sales skills. Weight the cost of a lost sale (against the cost of a sales training workshop)

1.         Analyze the sales potential that exists in every territory or region that you sell into. This is not an exercise for the faint of heart, or even for the experienced salesperson.  The potential is made up of many variables including the competitive environment, trends, population growth, demographics and is closely affixed to marketing activities. I have  been working with businesses for 20 years in looking at “real” versus “imagined”   potential, and I can tell you a good understanding results in increased recognition of untapped potential.

Sales planning for the New Year is critical for growth and recognition of opportunities.  The process needs to be underway now, not in the first quarter.

Have you started planning yet?

Reposted from The Marketing Pad

Jeff Bowman is a Sales and Marketing Specialist with The Marketing Pad Inc.. Follow Jeff’s blog at Blogpad or visit www.themarketingpad.com.


The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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facebook encountersBy Knowlton Thomas

The results of a new study suggest that Facebook may actually enhance real-life social experiences, contrary to the popular belief that Facebook triggers the disintegration of face-to-face interaction.

Research from the University of Texas probed nearly one thousand students and recent graduates and made some unexpected discoveries. Quoth The Province:

“Our findings suggest that Facebook is not supplanting face-to-face interactions between friends, family and colleagues,” said S. Craig Watkins, an associate professor of radio, TV and film who headed the research team. “In fact, we believe there is sufficient evidence that social media afford opportunities for new expressions of friendship, intimacy and community.”

More than 60 percent of Facebook users said posting status updates was among the most popular activities, followed by 60 percent who wrote comments on their profile and 49 percent who posted messages and comments to friends.

The research also suggests that, although Facebook is used by both males and females equally, each gender does so in different ways.

“There is a noteworthy difference in orientation in how to use a tool like Facebook. We found that for women the content tends to be more affectionate, and (they) are especially interested in using it for connection,” said Watkins. “For men, it’s more functional,” he added.

Watkins pointed out that, for example, women are more likely to post pictures of social gatherings with friends, while men are more likely to post pictures of hobbies, or post a political or pop-culture related link.

The last interesting point raided is how Facebook audiences are everyone – from friends to family to your boss. Yet, historically people act very different in front of these separate groups of people, often even in front of different friends.

“Facebook brings all our different networks and social scenes together. We present ourselves in different ways, whether to friends, co-workers, or family,” Craig noted. “Facebook engagement is not uniform. It’s constantly evolving and in a state of flux, and that presents a challenge.

Reposted from Techvibes Media

Knowlton Thomas is the Associate Editor of Techvibes Media. He is also the Web Editor of The Other Press, a weekly newspaper, and a regular columnist for them as well.

The RIC blog is designed as a showcase for entrepreneurs and innovation. Our guest bloggers provide a wealth of information based on their personal experiences. Visit RIC Centre for more information on how RIC can accelerate your ideas to market.

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