Running a startup is like nothing else I’ve ever done. It’s an exhilarating 24×7, always-on series of experiences, interactions and product evolution. If you’re running or working at a startup, you’ll probably understand the need to have your brain (and body) functioning at 110% at all times.
If you’re anything like me, you’re always trying to squeeze another hour out of the day — answer 5 more emails, return 3 more phone calls, finish up one more proposal — however you want to justify it to yourself. Then you get home super-late, just in time to shovel down something that shouldn’t be described as “dinner”, spend a few moments enjoying the company of family and friends, and then hit the hay for the night. Oh, and you may have skipped a few meals during the day as you were plowing through some back-to-back meetings.
Well if that sounds like your normal routine, it’s probably not a huge stretch to say you’re also constantly striving to maximize your energy, performance and endurance, and minimize the stress that you put on your body — so that you can do even more! If you’re a poor eater, then you may also find yourself with a foggy mind. That’s no fun for anyone.
I’m no nutritionist, but I recently went to see one and learned some great things. So… I thought I’d share my learnings with the community for it’s collective good.
In less than 2 weeks, I’ve gone from from having a foggy brain, feeling light-headed and slightly dizzy (after working solid for most of the day), exhausted when I got home at the end of each day to feeling sharp in the morning, no signs of dizziness throughout the day and feeling full of energy when I get home to my wife (she’s pretty happy about this change too)!
It turns out that there are a number of factors that contributed to this change. Nothing hugely substantial, just some basic changes, some scientific rationale/reasoning and finding a small bit of time to cook and eat better foods.
My learnings have shown the following to make a huge (positive) difference in my energy, mental clarity and general well-being (in no particular order):
- Cut alcohol and caffeine
- Drink 3-5L water each day
- Sleep more than 6.5 hours each night
- DHA and other healthy oils are important
- Supplement with other energy boosting vitamins
- Increase protein intake at breakfast and other meals
- Avoid problem foods (food sensitivities)
- Graze throughout the day to keep blood sugar steady
- Stop making excuses, go back to the gym
The first three points above are fairly straightforward; however, if you’re sleeping from 3:00am-10:00am your sleep will not give you the same restorative effects and benefits as a sleep that is from 10:00pm to 5:00am. There are built-in processes tied to your circadian rhythm and if you’re awake and not sleeping during those times, your body essentially skips those cycles. Do this repeatedly and you’ll feel like crap in no time.
DHA is one of the Omega fatty acids (healthy oils) that is primarily derived from fish. I recently learned that it is absolutely critical for a high-functioning brain. Also, I don’t eat fish. Your brain is a very fatty tissue and DHA is required for a number of synaptic signaling mechanisms; if you don’t get enough DHA in your diet, your brain can’t signal as effectively and hence runs slower or becomes foggy. Boom.
Of course, I had an added issue which was that I didn’t really eat much fat or cholesterol-containing foods — stayed away from butter, fatty meats, yadda yadda — in efforts to be healthy, but was achieving an opposing end. Again, I was recently reminded that the cells in our bodies have a phospholipid bilayer (a cell membrane that is composed of fatty acid molecules as well as cholesterol to keep it loose and fluid) and mine was leakier than it should be because I didn’t have enough fats in my diet. The leaky membrane causes more water to flow out of the cells, leaving them slightly dehydrated and more susceptible to oxidative damage (hint: eat lots of anti-oxidants, they’re good for you too)! Nonetheless, this has been a fatty, tasty and scrumptious problem to solve and cure.
To get my required oils, I’ve supplemented my diet with DHA (2 capsules / day) from Metagenics, Omega 3 capsules, liquid flax seed oil (added to my green smoothies), coconut oil (used to stir fry at higher temperatures) and butter.
To improve my energy, I’ve supplemented with an active form of Vitamin B12 called Methyl-cobalamin, B100 complex (warning: your urine will turn a highlighter form of yellow), and Siberian Ginseng (caution: don’t take for more than 30 days; don’t use Korean or Canadian Ginseng, it’s not as good as the Siberian stuff, they know how to make it right!). Take these in the morning and not before bed, or you’ll find yourself wired all night. Also, I believe big contributing factors include proper sleep, drinking over 3L water everyday and working out at least twice per week (at a minimum, and even for 30 minutes if time is tight). Cutting caffeine and alcohol will help here.
If you’re stressed out, Vitamin B complex will help you cope, add Vitamin D (if you don’t get much sun) and consider yoga/meditation — or if time is even more constrained — find 5 minutes every hour to get up and walk down the hall while doing some deep breathing. You’d be surprised, but it makes a difference, just don’t let people catch you in the act or they may think you’re a bit strange.
One last tip: I’ve been starting my day with these green smoothies and they rock because it’s a fully balanced meal packed with protein, fats, carbs, antioxidants, fibre and calories to burn. My green smoothie contains spinach, kale, frozen blueberries, frozen raspberries, fresh kiwi, banana, POM juice (optional), 1 serving of whey protein powder, 2% fat yogurt, kefir, flex seed oil and water. Blend it up and you’re good to go!
Let me know if you decide to adopt any of these recommendations, I’d be curious to know and hear about whether or not any of the changes worked for you as well.
Disclaimer: As I mentioned above, I am not a nutritionist so please consult one or a physician before you add any vitamin supplements to your diet, especially if you are taking any prescription medication.
Today, during Ontario’s Civic Holiday, I finally got around to filling out Deloitte Technology Fast 50™ CEO Survey. There was an interesting question that sparked a thread that I’ve been thinking about lately:
“Specifically, do you think the SR&ED tax credit program is pretty good as is, or needs improvement? If it needs big changes, what would be the first change you would make?”
For those of you who don’t know what the SR&ED program is, go learn more because it can save your business tons of cash over time and help you finance your business with non-dilutive government assistance.
For those of you running (or have previously run) early-stage stage startups, here are my thoughts: Currently SR&ED will refund a portion of a startup’s R&D costs based on expenses incurred during the previous year – some of those earliest expenses claimed were incurred 18 months prior to the claim. For startups, this is an eternity. Today, startups can grow and die violently before they get their first SR&ED claim, which could have helped them to pay one more employee, solve one more problem or help one more customer.
The Canadian government should consider modifying the SR&ED program to include a faster-reimbursement timeframe for startups (making less than $1,000,000 in revenue per year). For example, this could mean making claims quarterly and being reimbursed within 60-90 days – this would massively improve startup financing in the short-term. A modification, as requested, would help startups build value and growth potential more quickly and help the overall competitiveness of the Canadian technology sector.
Will anyone help to stand behind an initiative to get the Canadian government to improve the SR&ED program for startups? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Guardly has transformed from an idea to a best-in-class application that helps people stay safe everyday. There’s an exciting story behind our journey, and it has only just begun. I already have many people to thank for getting us this far so quickly – so, let’s get started!
Great concept, but will it work? That was the enigma facing Extreme Venture Partners’ Amar Varma, when I first pitched Guardly to him in its early days. He wasn’t sure if Guardly would be successful, but he liked the market opportunity and that we were solving a real world problem. So, Amar (and Farhan) let me squat alongside the Xtreme Labs team, fellow portfolio companies and Xtreme University startups. That gave me an opportunity to connect with other bright minds, leverage some of their resources and build my team within of the best startup-culture environments I’ve yet to see in Toronto. Even for technology startups, sometimes Location, Location, Location is everything. Thanks Amar and the Xtreme family for helping to raise young Guardly.
These times have been recorded in the Guardly Culture Book and it will be a time to remember: working at random desks, storage areas and even the floor, at times; taking important phone calls in closets, stairwells and every meeting room or abandoned office. Two to a desk all other times – it was a team bonding experience.
Toronto’s startup community and a bit of luck!
I’d like to personally thank all the organizers and facilitators that run events and bring the Toronto startup community together – namely David Crow (and Albert Lai) for DemoCamp, Sarah Prevette and Erin Bury for SproutUp, and Bryan Watson for Startup Drinks. You all make Toronto a better place to launch and run a technology venture. It was at a Startup Drinks that I first met Nolan Dubeau (now Guardly’s VP Product Engineering) through a mutual friend – Steve Dixon (now at Wave Accounting – another very cool Toronto startup). Only a few weeks later, I would be introduced to Mark Pavlidis (Lead Mobile Engineer at Guardly) and Bretton MacLean (UI/UX Designer at Guardly) through Ken Seto, who runs Massive Damage (previously EndloopX) out of YearOne Labs. Thanks Steve and Ken! In October 2010, Guardly grew its team by 300% in 2 short weeks. And then we were four.
Government programs, university incubators and industry organizations.
In fall 2010, Guardly was awarded a FedDev Advanced Research and Commercialization (ARC) grant and access into OCAD’s Mobile Experience Innovation Center (MEIC) incubator. We owe a big thank you to Michele Perras, who listened to Guardly’s mission and vision, and decided to support us in our grant and incubator proposals. The FedDev ARC grant has led to Guardly’s development on Android (still in progress) and the MEIC incubator was home to Guardly for just over 5 months, when Guardly grew from 4 to 6 FTEs + a few interns. Welcome Robert Lendvai and Kamran Shafi! We have fond memories of the incubator, starting our Guardly BINGO square and our domination of every whiteboard in our immediate vicinity. Thanks Michele, OCAD, MEIC and FedDev for the opportunity to take our next step.
In early winter 2011, I learned of a great program run by the Ontario Centre’s of Excellence (OCE) called – the First Job Program. It’s a fantastic grant that startups can apply for and redeem up to 80% of a recent grads first-year salary. In just a few days work, with the help of Martin Lord at OCE, we put together a winning application and were awarded one of only a few grants during this granting period. Thanks Martin – you’ve been an instrumental help during Guardly’s early days.
Closing the seed round.
Any startup founders that have had to raise money can attest to the time and dedication it takes to convince other people to part with their money to back your vision. Before starting Guardly, I had the opportunity to work in venture capital, on the other side of the table, as an Analyst at RBC Venture Partners and the BlackBerry Partners Fund.
In that role, I had the chance to work with some extremely intelligent folks and learn more about how the mind of the typical VC works, the attributes that make businesses exciting and the dynamics that lead to making deals happen. By understanding the economics that VCs look to achieve and bringing that mindset to the table, it makes the funding conversation much easier. I’d like to thank Kevin Talbot for bringing me onto the team as well as Matt Golden, Rob Antoniades, Dave Unsworth, Alex Baker, JD Begin, Jeannette Wiltse and the JLA Ventures crew who all contributed to my learning experiences.
Even with this hyper-focused entrepreneurial education, as I sometimes refer to my VC Analyst days, I still had to have approximately 70 conversations with family, friends, angels and VCs before I was able to find the right group of investors and close the seed round. Ultimately, Guardly ended up with a fantastic mix of investors that includes employee’s family members (so they could increase their ownership), friends, angels and VCs, including Extreme Venture Partners and Bryker Capital. Most importantly, we have patient investors that care about our success and are aligned with our vision of success. Thank you to all our early investors, for taking this early-stage risk and for believing in our ability to execute and build a strong, sustainable company.
DEMO Spring 2011.
Neil Silverman (DEMO organizer) and Matt Marshall (Editor-In-Chief at VentureBeat) came through Toronto to screen companies to invite to launch on the DEMO stage. We applied (~50 applications) and Guardly was selected (1 of 10 companies) to pitch to Neil, Matt and the Rogers Ventures crew; shortly thereafter, we received an invitation to launch at DEMO Spring 2011.
It was a fantastic opportunity for Guardly. The whole team flew down to Palm Desert, California to take part in this historic unveiling. It was an all-hands-on-deck type experience. We worked around the clock perfecting our demo application, the demo script, selling at the pavilion and networking at the bar! While traveling to the conference, a number of us pushed code from the plane (Virgin WiFi, YYZ to LAX) en route to DEMO; more interesting, one final tweak was made to our server-side code-base during on-stage setup, just 2 hours before the demo. A single flaw would have been devastating, with an eager crowd of 600 media, VCs and technology professionals watching – faces behind laptops and various Twitter clients – and waiting to see how Guardly works.
Fortunately, the demo went off without a hitch. Soon, you should be able to see the full-story behind Guardly’s DEMO experience since Microsoft commissioned a documentary and we were selected as 1 of 2 startups to participate from over 50 demoing companies. Daryll McDade at Microsoft was awesome to work with and the film crew at Ten100 made “acting” loads of fun. The feature-length documentary, called “Inventing The Future”, is set to complete editing this summer. Details to follow.
Guardly for iPhone
Of all the early accomplishments we had as a company, launching Guardly on iPhone has been the most rewarding for me (and hopefully for the team as well). It was the culmination of everything we had been working towards for the 6 months prior.
I want to thank all our employees for the hard work and dedication they’ve shown, working long days and nights to make sure Guardly would fulfill its mission – to help people stay safe. You guys rock!
When a product is built, most people only see the finished product, but don’t have an opportunity to see all the attempts, failures, redesigns and thoughts that go into making a product. One of the things that I love about the Guardly team is their attention detail and their passion for making sure that each component of the Guardly service is as good as it can be for our customers. Their collective creativity, resourcefulness and teamwork have already led to a number of post-launch product iterations that better address customer needs, recommendations and feedback. Improvements continue today.
Since we live in a poly-smartphone world, we’ve been busy bringing Guardly to BlackBerry, Windows Phone and Android. Sign up to be notified when Guardly becomes available for your device.
We are also building a platform for the educational sector, which will disintermediate the way the college and university campus emergency phones work to connect students and campus security. Today, most post-educational institutions have emergency poles on campus (sometimes called “Code Blue” phones). Unfortunately, emergency phones are relatively hard to find, predators can avoid them, they require maintenance and most importantly, they are fixed and not mobile during an emergency. Guardly works to make student and faculty phones into emergency poles that are location-aware; further, Guardly would let students reach campus security by phone or instant-message. Today, campus security can only be reached by phone. We are looking to work with universities and colleges that are innovative and forward thinking – please contact us and ask how you can become an early partner.
Advisors: The supporting cast.
Any early-stage management team is only as good as the people that surround it. Guardly has been fortunate to have a group of strong, responsive and caring advisors.
Our earliest advisors included Matt Golden and Mark Ruddock. I had the pleasure of working closely with Matt on three investment transactions at the BlackBerry Partners Fund. He brings a wealth of knowledge in operations, building teams, business development and securing financing. Mark and I first got to know each other around a similar timeframe, back when he was CEO of Viigo and I was an Analyst at RBC Venture Partners (Viigo was our portfolio company). Mark has been helpful in vetting early hires, providing insight into contracts and negotiations and acting as a great sounding board for several key decisions made in our early days.
As we’ve grown, we’ve added April Dunford and Louis Toromoreno to our advisors. April is a local marketing maven, who has given us some extremely insightful advice on the D2C and B2B marketing fronts; she’s super responsive and extremely thoughtful in her suggestions and recommendations. Louis manages campus security at OCAD University and sits on the Board of the Ontario Association of College and University Security Administrators. He is active in thinking about how Guardly can be continuously improved to suit the needs of post-secondary institutions.
Guardly is also a MaRS client. We’ve been lucky to have not just one, but three advisors that have taken interest in Guardly and have provided useful feedback and a number of introductions to relevant people in our space. Big thanks to Mark Zimmerman, Peter Evans and Sue McGill for constantly offering your help and support to our team.
The next 300 days.
Guardly’s future is bright and boasts a number of exciting opportunities to pursue. We’ll be launching a number of new products and programs.
If you’d like to contribute to the Guardly story somehow, here’s a few ways that you can get involved:
If you’ve used Guardly, please help us improve by giving us feedback.
Work at or attend a college or university? Mention Guardly to your IT/Security department or contact us and we can help.
Want to join our amazing team? Apply to a job opening.
Do you mentor, advise or invest in other startups? We are always open and eager to work with great people – so please reach out and see if there’s a good potential fit.
If you like our story and would like to cover Guardly on your blog, newsletter or podcast, or would like to feature our story in more conventional news outlets, please check out our press kit and send us a note.
Over the course of the last few weeks, I’ve come across some great “rules” and “methodologies” for customer development and understanding your customers.
The Five Whys
The Five Whys, which has its origins in the Toyota Production System, believes that the root of every problem (including technical problems) is actually a human problem. As demonstrated by Eric Reis on the HBR Blog, here is The Five Whys applied to a startup:
- A new release broke a key feature for customers. Why? Because a particular server failed.
- Why did the server fail? Because an obscure subsystem was used in the wrong way.
- Why was it used in the wrong way? The engineer who used it didn’t know how to use it properly.
- Why didn’t he know? Because he was never trained.
- Why wasn’t he trained? Because his manager doesn’t believe in training new engineers, because they are “too busy.”
The Three-Minute Rule
This rule can and should be used to better understand your customers. The Three-Minute Rule should be used to better understand the broader context around how your customers are using your product (and what other features may make sense, given their typical use cases). If you’re a CEO or a Product Manager, chances are you are living and breathing the product. Typically, surveys and focus groups can tell you a lot about your customers, but sometimes other approaches can be much more valuable. Enter, the Three-Minute Rule: call up a customer and ask them what they are generally doing three minutes immediately before using your product and three minutes immediately after using your product. Having them run through this scenario allows you to better understand their challenges and complexities; you may learn new sales techniques, develop new insights for potential product features or identify a cross-selling opportunity with another product/service that your company already offers. Anthony Tjan offers some additional insights on this at HBR.