#LPGROW, It’s a Wrap.

On August 17, 2011, my desire to one day have a Canadian-wide Launch Party was finally realized as Bootup hosted the opening reception of the 2nd Annual Grow Conference in Vancouver, BC. From NB to BC, 15 startups from across Canada were selected to demo at the #LPGROW reception and mingle with over 750 investors, entrepreneurs and other influencers from all over Canada and the US.

Food.ee Demoing at #LPGROW

High Fives All Around
This was without a doubt our biggest Launch Party event ever. We could not have pulled it off without the support of our wonderful partners:

Payfirma
Vancouver born, Payfirma has answered Bootup’s prayers by finally solving our payment processing needs. Payfirma’s little chip plugs right into your iPhone to make it easy for you to take a credit card payment just about anywhere.  A huge thank you to the whole Payfirma team for being so supportive of LPGROW, Bootup and the whole startup community. Support this great, local company:

This may sound crazy but I have never just taken a cheque to pay for an event. We only partner with other companies and people, who truly care about and support entrepreneurs:
  • Initio Group – an Investment Group run by Managing Director, Mike Edwards. If you haven’t had a chance to meet or work with Mike yet, he’s one of the best angels an entrepreneur could ask for.
  • A Thinking Ape –  The Apes are making waves in Vancouver building seriously addictive games for the iPhone. The whole team rocks and we are happy they decided to call BC home. PS. They are Hiring!
  • LaBarge Weinstein –  A Canadian business law firm that totally gets startups. James Smith is a good guy, great lawyer and splits his time among startups from TDot to YVR. He’s on our top 3 referral list.
  • Freshbooks – One of Canada’s favorite companies makes it easy for startups and freelancers to save money and time on invoicing. Amazing product and customer service to boot! Bonus: Saul Colt is a genius WOM, who wears crazy pants.
  • Strutta – the platform behind the Launch @ GROW startup competition can help you create and manage beautiful branded promos online. Conversion without sacrificing your brand’s id! No coding necessary. (disclosure: Maura & Danny are founders)
  • Keith Spencer  – Keith is not only one of the best technology lawyers I know but someone, who dedicates a lot of personal time to help local startups and our tech community. They broke the mold with this guy.  Also, on our top 3 list.
  • Lonsdale Rentals – North Vancouver company Lonsdale Rentals came through again to support #LPGROW and provided us with all the things we needed to make the venue look great.  Super friendly staff. Don’t rent from anyone else!
  • Jet Cooper – A User Experience Agency in Toronto led by Satish Kanwar stepped up to help us with the LPGROW site, and twitter walls. Phew!
  • Layer 7 – Big thanks to Dimitri Sirota’s (one of the LP’s Co-founders) company for supporting our 11th event.
  • Queen’s Cross – From the beer to the flatbread pizzas, my good friend Chris Greenfield’s pub catered the entire event. Drop by his pub on Lonsdale in North Van. for a pint, ridiculously good food, and great staff. #Truth.
  • Yaletown Venture Partners-   I am looking forward to seeing YVP invest even more in the local startup community.
  • Urbandig – If you found yourself being served up a teacup sized portion of beer by a cheeky rabbit, you were not lost in a bad remake of Alice in Wonderland but rather at the UD booth. Big thanks to Team UD for throwing a great after party at the Hub in Yaletown! (disclosure: another company by Bootup ED, Maura)
  • Pop Chips & Smart Pics – If you nom nomed on their tasty chips or posed in the digital Photo booth, you have these two awesome companies to thank for all the fun.

Big thanks to our media sponsor, Techvibes for helping us spread the word and share your startup stories. True Story: Rob Lewis and his team can help you get your brand and message in front of thousands and thousands of readers. 

Bootup is run by a very passionate volunteer group of amazing entrepreneurs and startup peeps.  We seriously could not pull a rabbit out of a hat without their help (follow these awesome people now):

  • Sonia Ryan – Previously my right hand at Bootup and now a Trouble Maker at A Thinking Ape, Sonia hustled hard to make #LPGROW a stellar event. She’s awesome but you already knew that!
  • Janis Behan  – Janis is part of team Bootup and helped organize everything from setup to labels to bunny suits. We could not have done it without her.
  • Robin Leskiw – One of my dearest friends, who has been with me since LPV1 at Section 3.  She did everything from keep your wine glasses filled to clean up. ❤
  • Toan Dang, Eliz Sarobhasa, Alex Shipillo & Tammy Yik – Thank you so much for all of your help setting up that morning. Huge Help!
  • Pauline Lipska & David Cameron – You were amazing at working the crowd  and doing whatever was needed during the event.  So great.
  • Leila Pejman – A big supporter of ours and the tech community, Leila is always willing to lend a hand. Thanks for working the door and then some. Big Hugs!
  • Rohit Tandon – Designer, Producer and awesome DJ, spinned up some sweet tracks to set the mood.  Thank you.
  • Jodi Day – talented UI Designer and member of Team Strutta worked the door and made all of your beautiful name badges. I can always count on her.
  • Tina Hoang – Communications Manager at Strutta kept the line moving at the door and ran the entire #LPGROW Startup Competition from start to finish.  My hero.
  • Keighty Gallagher – Surprise, Surprise – one of our newest members of Team Strutta and pro hand sandwich maker helped Tina & Jodi keep things tight at the door. You Rock.
  • Mack Flavelle – also part of Team Bootup, Mack did everything from pick out super heros to wear a bunny suit. An entrepreneur himself, Mack knows how to hustle and #GSD.

Until Next Time
Thank you so much for joining us and showing the world that Canada is one of the best places in the world to bootup. We hope you made some new connections, had a chance to reunite with old friends, challenged some Apes to a game of Foosball, saved bags of money with Freshbooks, tasted one of Dave O’s favorite craft brews at the Urbandig booth, snapped a photo or two in the Pop Chips & Smart Pic’s Lounge and  maybe even closed some financing or landed a new customer or two.  Rock on.

You can find more photos of the event on Flickr, of course. 🙂

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How Building a Community is Like Dating a Pretty Girl

You don’t own your community.  You can’t build a community.  Community starts on it’s own. Saul Colt

First Encounter
When I first met Saul Colt at Twiistup 4 in Santa Monica, CA, he treated me like the most important and prettiest person in the room. Perhaps it was all part of his master plan but the conversations we had after our first encounter are what really won me over.  There is a reason why Saul has been named as one of the iMEDIA 25: Internet Marketing Leaders & Innovators and has been called one of Canada’s best community builders/experiential marketers. His greatest strength, in my opinion, is his ability to listen, connect and nurture the community around him.  Saul got my attention at Twiistup and not only did I become a fan of his in the years to come, I also became a fan of Freshbooks – the online invoicing company he worked for at the time.  And now as the Lead Evangelist for Thoora, Saul still has my attention.

If you missed Saul’s workshop last week at Bootup, “How to Build and Engage a Community around Your Product or Service,” I took some notes on the steps he covered and some of the stories he shared:

Amy Rae of Canpages at the workshop with Saul Colt

Listen up!
Fascinated by the 50’s, when everyone knew everyone else’s business, Saul spends the majority of his time “listening” to his community.  In fact, he spent at least 2-3 weeks just listening before he engaged the Thoora community, an online service that helps people discover the hottest news stories. Before you dive in to the online conversation, Saul believes it is important to “Listen! Listen! Listen!,” and set the tone for the brand. For instance, some brands may be more conversational and playful, other businesses may be more formal.  It’s important to pay attention to the way people are conversing and interacting online before you introduce yourself.

The Courting Phase
When Saul was at Freshbooks, he followed many of their customers on Twitter.  One day, one of their customers tweeted that she had been stood up by her date.  Saul saw this person’s tweet and replied back under the Freshbook’s account  -“We would never stand you up!”  The next day he followed up by sending the same person flowers from Freshbooks with a note that said “We think you are awesome!”   As a result, this customer wrote a cool blog post about Freshbooks.

I was a bit floored when I received the flowers.  Saul’s right, they’ve never stood me up, always kept their word and made my billing life so much easier.  It was a great gesture and it won me totally over (even more!) as a customer.
<3 Freshbooks. @chelpixie

By sending flowers, Saul showed that Freshbooks was listening and cared about their customers.  If he had sent flowers in the hopes of getting something in return, then Freshbooks may not have been able to turn that first encounter into a long lasting customer relationship.

Love takes Time
“Never expect anything in return,” says Saul.  Building relationships and getting to know your customers takes time.  As a community manager or startup founder, you have to make that extra effort to get to know your customers first and follow through on your promises.  You can’t just send flowers and expect your customers to fall in love with you. You actually have to be there for your customer when there is a problem or pick up the phone when she calls.  If it is your goal to “execute extraordinary experiences everyday,” then Magic will happen. The Magic that Saul is referring to is word of mouth marketing.  If your customers genuinely love you and your product, they will talk about you as @chelpixie did for Freshbooks.

“Now that we found love, what are we gonna do with it?”
When you are in love, you need to constantly be thinking of ways to keep the conversation and flame alive. Saul believes the same holds true for customer development. Rather than say everything you need to say at once, he suggests breaking the “conversation up into little chunks” to keep things interesting and go beyond customer expectations.

For example, one of Saul’s favorite promotions of all time was a cereal contest giveaway he did during the early days of Twitter.  One Monday, Freshbooks decided to hold a Twitter Contest. Saul tweeted “What was the Best Song Ever Written?”  and was overwhelmed with the response!   Even though customers did not probably expect to receive a box of cereal, Freshbooks ended up sending out 100 boxes of cereal with $25 gift cards from iTunes.  For less than $2600, they engaged hundreds of customers online and exceeded their expectations by delivering more than they initially promised. As a result, more than ½ the people, who won blogged and tweeted about the contest.

I just won a box of cereal from @freshbooks. how cool is that …?! @chuise

Hiring a Community Manager
Dressed in a Thoora.com sweatshirt with Thoora logos emblazoned on his Nikes, it is evident that Saul completely submerges himself in a brand and believes that a community manager position should not be outsourced or a jr. position.  A community manager needs to be able to interact with and have conversations with many different types of people from customers to press.  In addition, a full time employee is constantly thinking about ways to make YOUR brand stand out.

Tracking your Success
As a person, who lives on his iPhone, Saul sets up RSS Feeds and Google alerts for all of his keywords and uses Twitter tools like Hootsuite to notify him instantly when someone comments on Thoora or messages him personally.  He also tracks competitors, listens to competitor’s customers and keeps a private Twitter list of all people, who RT.

In addition, Saul is not afraid of taking calculated risks and will try 100 things a month.  He keeps a notebook of every crazy idea he has ever done. Even though he is not motivated by numbers, Saul always hits his target.

Here’s what some of the attendees had to say about Saul’s talk:

Merci Buckets @saulcolt
Many thanks to Saul for flying out last week to share some of his secrets and wisdom with us.

Please come back and visit us soon!

Key Takeaways from the Freshbooks Workshop

Mike McDerment was in town last week to give his first How to Build a Web App Workshop in Vancouver in partnership with us.  He kicked things off around 9:30am with a poll to find out how many attendees were currently building a web app business or thinking about it.  Upon a show of hands, I would say approximately 40% of the audience was in the process of building a web app.

Mike’s workshop was about setting up your business to provide you with the best chance of success and was more marketing/business focused than technical.  He shared stories and lessons learned from the early days of starting Freshbooks (originally named 2ndSite) in his parent’s basement until today (1.25M customers and growing!).  Here are a just a few key takeaways from his workshop:

  • Build the least number of features you can. Until you get it out there and get people using it, you know nothing!
  • Set a deadline for launch and stick to it.  There will always be a feature to add but you are lying to yourself if you say “we can’t launch without this.”
  • Invest your time and energy into customer development.
  • You can’t go it alone. Find founding team member(s), who are passionate and will be motivated by tiny successes.
  • Own or be a leader in a category.

Here are a few Tweets from workshop attendees:

We didn’t announce a standard #hashtag at the beginning of the workshop so it was hard to find all of your comments online but it is not too late. If you attended, we would love to hear your thoughts about the workshop overall and what you learned or perhaps, wish Mike covered.  So, feel free to comment on this post.

If you have specific questions about Freshbooks or the content of the workshop, you can give them a holler
in Toronto.

Thanks again, Mike for joining us in Vancouver.  Let’s not wait another 10 years to do this again.

How to Build A Web App Business with Freshbooks CEO, Mike McDerment

How I met Mike McDerment
In July 2008, my company Strutta was selected out of over 100 applicants to be one of 11 companies to demo at Twiistup 4. Our team, dressed in white to celebrate the launch of our new white label contest platform, descended on the Viceroy in Santa Monica, CA to make some noise.

On top of attracting some new customers and dominating the Skee Ball table in the Twiistup Arcade late night (oh yes, I did!), I met some really great people including Saul Colt, the Smartest Man in the World, who introduced me to Mike McDerment, the CEO and Founder of Freshbooks.

I really enjoyed meeting Saul, Sunir and Mike and learning more about the itch that caused Mike to start Freshbooks.  Upon returning to Vancouver, I continued to hear rave reviews about his company and read stories of how the Freshbooks team went out of their way to deliver exceptional customer service time and time again. It was abundantly clear that Mike and his team had successfully started and built a customer driven product and organization. Not an easy feat!

Vancouver Enterprise Forum, November 24
So, when I sat down with the VEF Ops committee last May to help put together a wish list of engaging speakers for the year ahead, Mike’s name immediately came to mind. Lucky for us, Mike happily accepted our invitation to come West to share his start-up story and answer your questions at the VEF on Tuesday, November 24.

How to Build a Web App Business, November 25
While Mike is in town, he will also be delivering a very informative workshop on How to Build a Web App Business at Earl’s V Lounge in Yaletown on November 25 at 9am.  Mike will cover everything from building your app and your team to marketing, product management, metrics and financing.

For an entrepreneur, who recently graced the cover of Entrepreneur magazine as the Founder of 1 of 100 Brilliant Companies that has attracted more than 1M users, I trust Mike knows a thing or two about building a successful web app business.  Sign up now while there are still some spots left!  Tickets are $100, includes lunch and refreshments.