Posts tagged toronto

Guardly: The First 300 Days

Originally posted on the Guardblog at: http://blog.guardly.com/guardblog/2011/06/28/the-first-300-days/

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!

Litmus testing.

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.

And beyond…

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.

  • Share/Bookmark

TEDxToronto 2010 Coming Soon

This year I got involved with TEDxToronto2010, an independently organized TED event held in the great city of Toronto. If you’ve never seen a TED event, go watch a few talks online. You’ll be inspired.

The theme for Toronto’s 2nd annual TEDx conference is “A Call to Action”. We, the organizers, want to see real change come out of the event. We want speakers to challenge attendees and we want attendees to challenge themselves and each other. A Call to Action is our challenge to everyone who comes across TEDxToronto to be passionate, excited and driven to make positive change happen.

So far, we’ve got an extremely good lineup of inspirational speakers who are doing magnificent things. The line-up (so far) includes:

My role in this event is to help drum-up some sponsorship activity. After all, what company or organization doesn’t want to be affiliated with thought leadership, passionate and driven individuals and folks that change the world?

We are currently seeking sponsors for the following categories:

  • Innovation Sponsor: $10,000+
  • Inspiration Sponsor: $6,000+
  • Conversation Sponsor: $4,000+
  • After-Party Sponsor: $2,000+

Most companies and organizations choose to sponsor TED events because they want to leverage ideas, technologies, design, and education to help create a better future; because they will be investing in the creation of a community who believe in the power of ideas worth spreading; and because they believe in bringing together corporations and individuals who want to be change agents surrounding remarkable thinking and ideas.

Please contact me or leave a comment below with your contact details if you’re interested in sponsoring this year’s TEDxToronto event. I’ll make myself available to answer any questions, concerns or comments that you have and make sure that your organization gets the spotlight it deserves at the conference!

More info @ TEDxToronto 2010 Announcement

  • Share/Bookmark

Explaining the ‘lack of’ Venture Capital in Toronto

I figured it would be appropriate to write about the lack of a growing and robust venture capital community in Toronto since it cropped up in three places over the last 2 days  – once with several folks at Startup Drinks last night, today over coffee with Jeremy Laurin of OCE’s Investment Accelerator Fund and on Quora (the new social network launched by the ex-CTO of Facebook). On a side note, Quora is actually pretty snazzy with super-high-quality people.

Back to the main point of this thread — I’ve been talking about this situation for roughly 3.5 years now — first in the biotech/life science VC community in Toronto and now with the ICT community. I believe there is one problem at the root of both sectors — we need a kick-start in Canada.

What does that mean, a kick-start? Well, most people believe that there is a fundamental funding gap in Toronto’s venture community between pioneering research (in universities, by startups, etc…) and venture capital finance-able deals. That may be the case, but that is a different argument for a different day. I believe there is a more substantial funding gap that exists once a ’successful Canadian company’ reaches the point of raising a round of capital greater than $15 million. The existing VCs in the community (generally) just can’t get those kinds of deals done. It’s not in our Canadian cards (given the average fund size, risk thresholds, etc…). Canadians need later-stage financing options (or Government money) to back those deals and to create a better later-stage ecosystem.

So, what happens instead? Great Canadian companies knock on the doors of VCs South of the border who are flushed with cash and willing to invest larger amounts in later rounds. For the record, I love US VCs. However, for the purpose of this discussion, or monologue rather, they have tended to bring companies close to home to minimize their geographical risk with the investment. Now, as companies continue to grow and are eventually sold, the successful founders and key employees of those companies often (not always) stay South of the border to further progress their careers — joining US companies, or launching other companies in those locales. Worse for Canada, those successful folks often reinvest in US VC funds or Angel invest in other local US companies rather than Canadian startups.

Envision that cycle reoccurring over and over for the last 30 years. The trend becomes large enough that a substantial amount of capital, and human capital for that matter, gets lost from the Canadian startup ecosystem.

Some say that there is a lack of venture capital in Toronto because there just aren’t great deals. I disagree. I think that there is a lot of talent in Toronto and in the surrounding areas, like Waterloo for example.

Now, the scenario I’ve described may not be the only reason for the lack of capital in Toronto (or Canada), but I feel that it is a significant part of the problem. What are your thoughts?

  • Share/Bookmark

Please Help Support Camp Oochigeas

Thus far, 2010 has been a year of self-awareness for me. First, I kicked-off the year by deciding to track my workouts, number of books read, hours of sleep and how I’m feeling each day. So far it’s been a very rewarding and enlightening experience (let me know if you want a copy of my Google Doc I’m using to track everything). However, as Q1 is wrapping-up, I have already seen my workout pacing decrease as my day-to-day responsibilities increase. I didn’t like this one bit. To re-prioritize exercise within my lifestyle, I have committed to running a 10km race in 41 days. I have neither ran 10k nor raced in any event previously. Wish me luck.

Sporting Life 10k For Kids with Cancer
The Sporting Life 10k is scheduled for May 2, 2010 and is supporting Camp Oochigeas, a camp for children with cancer. With no government funding, Camp Oochigeas relies on the generosity of volunteers, donors, community participants and the Hospital for Sick Children to provide year-round programs for children affected by childhood cancer at their campsite in Muskoka and at no cost to their families. I am personally raising at least $250 (update: at least $500) for this charity — please support me in my fundraising efforts.

Gearing-up: Nike + iPod
To get in-gear for the 10k, I joined Nikeplus.com (my profile page) and consulted their “coach”. Unfortunately, Nikeplus only offers a 12-week program — not 42 days (as at yesterday) — so I figure I’ll follow the first 5.5 weeks of the program to get in-shape for the big run. Yesterday, I was assigned my first run from coach — I had to run 4.82km! Talk about being thrown into the deep-end. So, I ventured to the University of Toronto gym to run the indoor track with my Nike + iPod sensor and iPhone to track my progress.

Although I had to walk for a few periods of time, here are my net results for run #1:

  • Distance: 4.82km
  • Duration: 30:42
  • Pace: 6′22″ /km
  • Fastest Kilometer: 5′42″
  • Calories Burned: 371

If you join Nikeplus, add me as a friend (username: jsookman).

More Details on the 10k Race
It is Canada’s easiest and one of the fastest downhill 10k’s (a good starter, I think…), and it runs right down the middle of Canada’s most famous street—Yonge Street! The start line is four blocks south of Sporting Life (at Yonge & Roselawn). From there, the course heads south on Yonge Street all the way to Richmond Street. It then turns west on Richmond, south on Peter/Blue Jays Way past Gretzky’s to Front St. The course then goes west along Front, south on Bathurst, west on Fort York Blvd. to finish! See the map below.

Course Map/Overview

Once again, please consider contributing to Camp Oochigeas. It is performing miracles for these children.

  • Share/Bookmark