Find your company style

When you are a first time founder, you will find a lot of support and hands on training to get you started from a practical point of view. Programs like MaRS, Communitech and the tens of start up incubators provide great guidance on how to structure a business model, prepare for sales, make sure you understand legal implication and how to get financing for your start up. Those programs make sure you’ve got all bases covered but they fall short on one key element which is helping you to find what type of company you want to build.

You have a great idea or product and there is different way to turn this into a company. Do you want to go big or build a life style business? Are you more toward social enterprise? Do you want to monetize through an intellectual property (IP) or do you want to open source your technology? Each model comes with different challenges, follow different logic and I suit different type of entrepreneurial mindset, and early in the game you’re asked to pick one model that will deeply influence the future of your enterprise.

However, today’s start up ecosystem focus mostly on nurturing young company and grow them into unicorn with billions of dollars in market value. It is about raising a seed round to go big and conquer a market segment.  I think there is something missing to explain in depth that there is other way of doing things and expose first time founder to different model and offer support to build a company following one of those model. I am not talking a 30 min presentation, but offering long term mentoring and exposure to top entrepreneur who choose the different paths.

I graduated from the first Toronto cohort of Founder Institute (FI) in 2014. FI does this work but only for founder who to build a product start up (software, SaaS or hardware) that can scale and be in the top 5 of its industry following this type of path (source):


Like every other business program, Founder Institute put a lot of effort in making sure that your cover all aspects of a company from market validation, revenue model, legal and HR among others.  FI also expose and help you to grow as a tech CEO who can raise capital and operate at the boardroom level. They make sure that you understand what it take to build that type of company by exposing your idea and personality to CEO that have been down this path before with weekly pitch and through a mentoring program.

Having access to a pool of mentors who have been there and can share the challenges waiting down the road is I think the top differentiation between FI and other start up program. Personally, I wish I was able to connect entrepreneurs who follow a different model (ie. not venture based) and decided to build service or open source based company for example.

You must start a company that reflect your personal convictions and how you want to do things. It is already hard enough between the long hours and crazy level of stress due to the uncertainty and novelty  problems you have to solve. If on the top of this you are building something that doesn’t represent you, you won’t be motivated to work for and grow, and sooner or later quit it. Being a first time CEO, is about finding your style, and along with it the style of company you want to build. Do it your way because you can’t fake to be someone else all the time – this is way too tiring and nerve breaking. Find people who build similar company you want to build and connect with them, engage them as mentor, adviser or board member so they can guide you along the way.

Toronto Founder Institute Experience


Tonight I will graduate from the Founder Institute program and the last three months have been crazy (really three months only! Feel more like six this program started). Founder Institute helped me to take RefinePro from vision to product (we will launch our beta by the end of this month – yeah!) and avoid most of the common pitfalls when you start your company.

The program gives you a 360 degree view of what it takes to build a successful company, including building your team and mentors, your sales and marketing process, your product roadmap and all the legal part of your business. It pushes you to do what you might be reluctant to do if you are on your own and make sure you check every dark corner.

Despite what it seems at the first look, the program is an iterative process. During the first months your layout the foundation of your idea in term of product, revenue and vision. The following months your deepen those three aspects by drilling into the details.

Finally, the Founder Institute opens up a fantastic network of bright and successful people in your city. Over 40 mentors attended to the Toronto weekly meeting, which represent four mentors per graduate! They provide valuable insight on your business, open you doors through the city and are here to bounce ideas between two sessions.

Thoughts on Cloudmap and OpenStreetMap relationship

I’ve recently been doing researches on failed open source project or relationship between an open source community and a business that went in different direction. I’ve heard about the Cloudmap and OpenStreetMap story but I haven’t been able to find all the pieces in one place. Here is my two cents to group keys elements together with link to each resources for more details.

Cloudmap was initially providing tiles for Openstreetmap. In 2010 a couple of month after their second round of funding, the CEO left the company. In 2014 the company pivot to be a content aggregator for anyone who need geo data and later decided to focus on larger account only. OpenStreetMap is not their main source of information anymore and Cloudmap team seem to not contribute actively to the development of OpenStreetMap.

This can be seen more as a failure for the OpenStreetMap community as they lost a major contributing member. From my own opinion this can be due to different long term vision between the company and the community. This case is a kind of happy ending since both actors are still kicking and alive today. However this can also be a risk if the community reject the company and the latter is not strong enough to survive by itself (the opposite can also be true).


My views on Google Strategy

Following Steve Fraktor article on article on Google strategy  I decided to dust out an drafted version of my vision of Google strategy I wrote following Google I/O 2013. Steve Faktor ask if Google will eat your business next? He is addressing this questions to start up or other innovative companies. While Google will steps on other people grass for sure, I was more impressed by the Google ability to provide an unified experience across channels and how Google might just become our next personal assistant.

Toward a unified experience

I am amazed by the work done by Google to offer a unique and comprehensive experience across its products. Google+ is becoming more a central identity management framework than a social network. Google+ is now the central repository for all your data and its where Google build your profile. For example any +1 from your network are now available through the maps or search interface. Thanks to the sign in with Google+ functionality, each Google products speaks to each other and data collected on one side is leveraged somewhere else providing an unified experience to the user and a deep profiling for Google ads program.

Each products on its own might not the best in its category (Google+ as social network, Google picture vs flikr …) but the overall experience beats most other services out there and as Steve Faktor points out, each products help to Google to get better data on you and thus better profile its ads. They also help Google to defend Internet usage time against competitors by making you staying longer on Google page rather going on Facebook.

Will Google become your next personal assistant?

Google is working hard to make the human / machine dialogue flow more naturaly. Earlier this year Google start to leverage data and technology of Metaweb and Freebase (acquire in 2010) through the Knowledge Graph.  Now combine this with the release of Google Now to help you to manage your agenda, basic search and reminders and Google Voice  functionality (to search, translate or write email) and you have a powerful assistant in your pocket.

The need for a back office or skills to do those basic factual searches in behalf of manager, CEO or other people will decrease, since Google is doing for you and for free. Once you taste it will be hard to live without it and you will keep feeding Google algorithms with more personal data for their ads engine …. as Steve Faktor wrote:

Every Google service is a tantalizing and addictive mix of free (or cheap) utilities that make our lives easier or more productive. […] Google accomplishes all this through a combination of organic products, non-stop upgrades, and acquisitions. Each one must create deep roots (email, contacts, smartphone) and painful switching costs (did anyone survive Apple Maps?).
The intended effect of all Google services is a lot like a casino. Google wants to envelop you in its world until you can’t find the exits. Once inside, you’ll tell the dealer your life story as he takes your money…

Google I/O – Design Sessions

I had the chance to attend two interesting and complementary sessions on design during the Google I/O 13 conference. During the Get Unstuck: Gamestorming Not Brainstormingsession the audience had a chance to play two brainstorming game. I will not go into detailed descroption of those games, for those curious or interested I recommend the session cheat sheet and

However one interesting statement has been made at the beginning of the session:

Design is following the same path as quality within IT product development team.

It is now part of everyone job, and not only the responsibility of a group of specialist,

and should be in taken into account in every stage of the product development. 

The Cognitive Science and Design session has been very intense in terms of information delivery. Tons of excellent advice  No break through tricks or process have been presented during this session, only a solid list of things to keep in mind while designing your next screen.

Alex Faaborg and reminds the audience about the risk of design blindness, as

  • you are not right person or team to judge your design, and
  • once you launched something it is really hard to go back or do radical changes on it, since
  • a user make up his first opinion (trust, reliability, purchase) on a product based on its design, and it take times to change his mind for an other product / solution – first appearance / interaction has to be solid.
Then the session break down under four mains topics:

1. Gestalt laws of grouping:

  • to get a cleaner interface use white space to group your element instead of hard bar or delimiters
  • if you cannot use white space, vary shapes to group items (using icones or colors background)
  • user will complete half drown boxes and shape (law of closure), no need to over charge your design with closed box, you can just suggest them

2. User’s vision:

  • easier to catch the user attention with things happening in the periphery of the screen than in the center of it.
  • we recognize silhouette faster than the real object (good to keep in mind for icon design) as user don’t have to break down the structure and recognize.
  • among a large number of information, we recognized known faces quickly (use avatar in interface) – on your Facebook timeline your recognizable your friend face and you don’t read their name.

3. Color usage:

  • pay attention to color meaning in different culturs
  • user filter color based information faster than text based.
4. User memory and attention span
  • be careful when you interrupt users in their tasks as it trash their working memory and you will get them out of the flow (and drop a registration or check out process for example)
  • split your task in small chuck to limit the usage of memory and increase the process speed (for example split credit card information in 4 digits group)
  • don’t hesitate to innovate new interface and teach your user how to use it instead or repeating the same interface or process over and over.

Google I/O – Responsive Design

This post will cover the two sessions I attended on responsive design and HTML5 / CSS3 features for cross platform development.

The Point, Click, Tap, Touch session presented touchevent events (touchstart, touchmove, touchend, touchcancel) for tactile devices and how they differ with mouse events when selecting or dragging an element. The touchevent API is supported by all major browsers. Google released a mobile emulation tools for developers to emulate touchevent, viewport and other mobile device specific functionality.

For cross device development the main recommendations was to

  1. Design bigger targets and button to take into account touch screen device (phone, tablet and now touch screen laptop)  or to enlarge your button when you detect a touch event on the page.
  2. Stop using hover events as on a touch screen device a single tap both activate the hover event and the link event in the same time, the link event “over riding” the hover one.

Coming back from the conference and testing the pixel chromebook (a touch screen laptop) on Netflix has been a great experience on what NOT to do. On Netflix when you hover over the cover of a movie a short synopsis and link to related items are displayed, while a click will start the movie. Not being able to see description of the item totally killed my user experience and forced me to get back to my mouse.

An other consideration to keep in mind with the new touch screen laptop is to not disable the mouse if a touch is detected (I’m glad Netflix haven’t done that!) and have your page to listen to both mouse and touch event. You can use event.preventdefault() to manage exceptions.

The second the session, a more awsome webintroduced more experimental features currently supported by a limited amount of browser. Nevertheless, some of them are promising when widely supported and I noticed the following interesting features:

  • Using the css @-viewport feature you can define size of your page elements, image and font based on the screen resolution of the device, which is perfect for a responsive design page.
  • The introduction of CSS variables using -var- (only in beta in chrome for now) will help for sure front end developers.
  • The position sticky to manage sticky element that roll or disappear based on certain conditions (for example keep an header at the top of the screen or replacing H2 elements when scrolling down) and css clip-path let you crop and clip any image based on certain conditions looks promising to develop nice and fun web application.
  • The clip-path option will also help for responsive design when combine with the viewport feature.
  • The web audio and speech api (only in chrome) let you to records and transform sounds directly in the user browser, so you can offer google voice / siri like features to control your application.

Watch the presentation for the full list of feature introduced (or check the presentation)

In the meanwhile you can go on to see which browser support which features and use the CSS supports to test if the browser support a specific feature and return true and false statement so you can defined fall back event accordingly.

Google I/O – Freebase and Knowledge Graph

I had the chance to attend two sessions on freebase and Google Knowledge Graph during Google I/O 2013.

The first session was a general introduction on the linked data concept and presentation of the work done around A platform developed by Bing, Google, Yahoo! and Yandex in partnership with W3C to develop standard around linked data and semantic web. is like a massive dictionary and mark up model to describe various entities through a huge collection of properties. You can browse the full list of entities describe from this page. This session also present webmaster tools to

  • use information from and
  • test how data will render on different search engine
  • see usage of your data
  • improve your data markup

The second session was more focused on freebase, and how anyone can leverage knowledge and data stored in it using its API. For example, the Freebase search widget is ready to integrate code to browse freebase entities given a specific category and a keyword (through the search function). The widget returns list of possible matches that the user can browse by hoovering the hits in the drop down list. If used in a production environment the API results should be constraint as it can return

  1. way too many matches
  2. information on a matches that are not useful in your use case.

For example playing a bit with API, the following query will provide 20 city part of Ontario:

I invite you to read the cookbook to master various constraint and query parameters as the API is flexible to query or display only certain fields. You can see more usage of freebase search API by checking the documentation.

Using the topic API, one can quickly retrieve all information available on freebase for a specific entity. This get interesting once you know that freebase also stored  links to other notorious web pages and social media (twitter, facebook, wikipedia …) for most topic (people, organization, location).

This session was also the opportunity to ask questions regarding methodology to maintain data quality on freebase (since information are pull out from wikipedia and any user can submit changes and new information), where we learned that freebase:

  • flag duplicate for merge process
  • wait two weeks to integrate wikipedia changes, so the wikipedia community has time to moderate it (freebase / google and wikipedia has developed formal relationship around this project)
  • keep track of all changes with user id and timestamp so can flag and / or revert submission that doesn’t meet freebase standards (the moderation system is similar to the wikipedia one)

See all other session on freebase and linked data

Google I/O – Google Visualization API

Overview: Google Visualization API works with JSON as an input source and produce interactive HTML5 / SVG chart. Currently 12 type of visualizations are available using a different packages. If not specified the API select the best color and scale to display the data.

Nice feature: As it already works in Google Fusion Table, the map package automatically detects country, states and other location name and display them properly on the map.  User still have the option to defined long / lat coordinate for specific points.

Read the API documentation.

Canadian Province Boundary files in google fusion table

I’ve been working on a project where I wanted to map some data based on the Canadian province boundary. After some research I found the Boundary files from Statistics Canada that provide cartographic and digital maps in three formats:

  • ArcInfo ® (.shp)
  • Geography Markup Language (.gml) 
  • MapInfo ® (.tab)
and google refine does not support any of those format :(
So I found and tested two file map converter exists:

Have fun!