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Posts in the 'General' Category

Are we still alive?

Things have been quiet on the Creationstep blog over the last season. We have had several large clients keeping the team busy and as Brainpark continued to grow both Bobby and I threw ourselves in with both feet to give it everything we’ve got. BandofCoders still continues to get stronger and one of these days they will probably update their site to show everyone on the team (nudge nudge). QA Room is still evolving slowly. It has a great offering but needs a steady sales focus to grow. Service Cloud is in the right space at the right time with great potential to solve the emerging problems created by new innovations on the web.
We parked  Empty Tray and Glassrocket which had been growing but were demanding too much of our time. The margins were slim and to make them successful was going to necessitate Bobby or I giving them our focus which we weren’t prepared to do. Maybe someday they will surface again when someone with the passion and skill to lead them emerges.

Last year we seed invested into several start-ups including:
Stand Out Jobs

Communitylend

Virima Technologies

Edufire

Brainpark

All of the companies above have been successful in closing additional rounds of finance and seem to be developing well in a tough economy. We are excited to be connected with each and be part of their wider community. I would encourage more people to seed invest in companies like these as the learning and community that comes with it is as valuable as the potential ROI. We also invested in half a dozen ventures that totally failed. It comes with the territory. We had our fair share of pain with some leaders who blamed us for their own incompetency. It is amazing how short-sighted some people can be. There are some things that we will never do again…

We are not planning on making any new investments in 2009 as we have more than enough on our plate to manage and want to remain of value to those around us. No doubt this means we will miss many opportunities but we are confident there will be plenty when we surface again. We will probably update the site here from time to time but don’t anticipate much action. You can follow me on Twitter if you want to stay up to date on what I am up to. Bobby doesn’t do the social media thing much as he does real work; so you will probably just have to suffice yourself with my ramblings.

Posted on November 15th, 2008 by Mark

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

In tune of the last post, Austin just posted a great article about angel investing in Canada.

Posted on February 24th, 2008 by mark

Start-up Camps

I am excited to be driving over to Waterloo for Start-up Camp. Momentum for new business and ideas seems to keep growing all over Ontario/Quebec. I remember after leaving the first Mesh thinking that something significant is happening among us geeks. Mesh 3 is coming up soon and I have as much anticipation for it this year as last year. Between events like these, unconferences like barcamp and democamp, and many of us choosing to cowork during the week, the community is becoming strong.

One dream would be that we eventually come together in some form like a Y-Combinator or Techstars group to be able to make more happen. Many of us have been talking about this as angel investors and entrepreneurs but have not landed on the right thing yet. Maybe it is just because we are all up to our eyes in our own start-ups…but I will keep dreaming.

Posted on February 24th, 2008 by mark

Code for Good

We’ve spoken with many charities and not for profits that are struggling to establish an effective internet presence. Every attempt they make results in something less than stellar. The sad reality is that most these organizations are probably still living off a website that someone’s 15 year-old nephew made in his parents’ basement.

It’s been well over ten years since the first pages were posted to the World Wide Web and yet the art/science of combining visual aesthetics with effective back-end engineering remains a significant challenge, particularly for those that cannot afford or identify a seasoned team.

What if a group of professionals came together, in one location, for 24 hrs, to build something that most charities could only dream of? Introducing, Code for Good, an innovative approach to give worthy charitable organizations the internet presence they deserve. The first event is in Toronto, followed by Atlanta.

Interested in leading the effort to bring Code for Good to your city? Contact info@codeforgood.com

This post was written by Bobby John

Posted on July 12th, 2007 by Bobby

No Room for Error

I have been building software development companies for over a decade and can remember a time when at least some classes of software were not considered mission critical. Much has obviously changed over that period time. The internet’s standardized communication protocols coupled with simple markup and scripting languages now makes it possible to develop software that can be used by millions. The flip side of this is that the internet also makes 24/7/365 availability of online software a requirement. Today even the smallest of companies are building and using web-based applications as the back bone of their business. It’s hard to find a project that does not need to meet very high quality and availability standards.

If you’re the person who is going to get the call when the web application suddenly stops working and business grinds to a halt, I feel your pain, the companies success may rest on your back. Trade Settlement,Inc., a client of Band of Coders, is a fully electronic syndicated loan settlement company. This company has a transaction-based revenue model, so if the technology is down, no transactions = no revenue. On top of lost revenue, a technology outage means a breach of the Service Level Agreement (SLA) and a black eye in the market. With many large bank clients and billions of dollars being settled on the system, being down is not an option - so quality assurance is top priority.

When people think availability, they turn to the infrastructure team to make sure they have clustered web servers, failover db servers, power generators, tape backups etc. Only those of us with lots of experience and the scars to prove it understand the availability risk that can show up in the code.

For example, I once came across a defect that showed up after 100,000 transactions. This is something you would never see in your unit tests, manual or automated QA runs. This bug would only appear in a long running performance/stress test. It took 48 hours to track down and fix the problem; all the infrastructure redundancy in the world wouldn’t make a difference in this situation.

Clearly, a deep level of testing and an excellent understanding of code are required to keep today’s applications running smoothly. The clear business need for superior testing of applications is one of the main reasons Creation Step is supporting QA Room. QA Room is a group of professionals who understand their role in ensuring software quality and availability. The combination of manual testing, automated testing and performance/stress testing along with understanding how to effectively work with developers and business folks sets them apart. Contact them so you can stop losing sleep wondering if tomorrow will be the day your application fails.

This post was written by Bobby John 

Posted on May 3rd, 2007 by Bobby

The Silver Lining on Indoor Playground

The past 7 days has been eventful when it comes to Indoor Playground. As many of you have been tracking with, we got covered in Business Week, ABC Global News, and One Degree here in Toronto. In addition I had an interview with the National Post yesterday which I believe will be in print on Monday. It has been a wild journey trying to experiment and discover our way since we opened just over a month ago. It cost quite a lot in the renovations even though we bootstrapped as much as possible to keep the prices affordable to the community.

We have been hoping for a few people to partner with us and share this risk. Today that hope became a reality as Carissa Reiniger from Silver Lining signed up as our first strategic partner who will share the cost and risk of making this venture successful. I met Carissa several months ago and have been inspired by her vision and commitment to making the new entrepreneur and small business successful. I have to admit that she has about twice as much energy as I do and seems to channel it in the right direction. She has one of the best lead generating business development solutions for the small business that I have seen and is proving it to be working with their rapid expansion throughout N.America. We believe our partnership with SilverLining will prove beneficial as it will not only bring in new energy, insight, and expertise, but will take us beyond having a predominantly male influence and membership.

Silver Lining is not exclusively woman led (kudos to joshua and the lads) but will definitely help balance out the hormones and bring an important influence within what we do. All said and done it feels great to have someone who is willing to stand beside us that will take a financial risk to benefit the entrepreneurial community within Toronto.

We are still scheming and instigating with a few other key players who have some clever ideas about how we can give more to the community here in Toronto. This is turning into a lot of fun

This post was written by Mark Dowds

Posted on March 6th, 2007 by mark

Indoor Playground Hits the News

The value of co-working space has hit the media radar. Check out this ABC News clip and Business Week article that mention Indoor Playground. This comes on the one-month anniversary of Indoor Playground’s opening.

Six months ago Mark and I made the commitment to create a place downtown Toronto for entrepreneurs to work and connect with others. This involved signing a lease and putting up the funds to renovate a pretty raw space. We were excited and sure that we would get sponsors from large companies, angel investors, and others who were committed to Toronto’s entrepreneur community.

Fast-forward 3 months. Renovation costs ended up being triple what we originally expected, all the large companies we thought were interested in helping small business turned us down, and everyone else we were counting on to pitch in financially lost interest. Mark and I had that emergency meeting where we had to make the call: Were we going to continue to walk this financial road alone or bail? We coughed up some more money to complete the renovations and carry the rent for a few more months and held our breath.

Though we never did get financial assistance, many in the community helped with spreading the word, donating furniture, and cleaning the place up for launch day. Our first few members signed up at the open house and we purchased a chair and desk for each of them. The most rewarding moment was when we got the feedback, “I love the space.”

The experience we went through to setup Indoor Playground would have left many startups bankrupt. The Creation Step mission is to remove obstacles so people can break free from the misery of working in a cubicle 9-5, doing something they hate, and counting down the days to retirement when they hope to unlock all those ideas and passions. Our goal with Indoor Playground was to create a co-working space for people who had the courage to go out on their own.

With the community’s help, we hope that Indoor Playground will play a small part in the birth of many new businesses and the dreams that come with them. Thank you to everyone who encouraged us along the way and those early adopters who joined in faith.

Posted on March 2nd, 2007 by Bobby

Band of Coders

Over the past couple of years Bobby and I have had the fun of getting a few companies up and running. Our first company was Band of Coders although the name evolved a few times through the process of discovering its real identity. It seems ironic that the guys that know the most about technology and web were the guys who were nameless and faceless within Creationstep.
But today they have come out of the closet and announced themselves and who they are with a lovely new website that includes the following statement:

The Band of Coders is a crack team of programmers and system architects that creates business applications, web applications, and front-end interfaces. We work with companies that know exactly what they want and are looking for the raw programming talent to make their vision a reality quickly and efficiently.

Our team has been stripped to the bare essentials: exceptional coders. No marketing team. No sales guy. No CEO. No fluff to keep us from the goal of creating first-rate software products for our clients.

Looking for cookie-cutter code assemblers or hyped-up marketing outfits? Look elsewhere.

Well done chaps…

Posted on January 5th, 2007 by mark

Open House on Upcoming

Sign up for attendance at the Indoor Playground sneak peek and open house is available now on upcoming

Thanks for helping us get the word out

Posted on January 4th, 2007 by mark

Indoor Playground | Centre for Innovation

After much hard work and planning the Indoor Playground is almost ready to open its doors. We plan to open the doors officially on February 1st. We have taken some time to listen to feedback from potential community members and have deduced what we believe today to be an effective and helpful pricing model.

We named the space Indoor Playground | Centre for Innovation intentionally. We desire that the space is known as a social centre for the community as well as an effective co-working facility. This necessitates that we make room for some events as well as some space to work and collaborate within. The model below should make sense within this context:

Monthly Membership packages
$1500 – *Unlimited Corporate up to six members
$300 – *Unlimited Individual
$100 - 1 day per week + *Unlimited evenings and weekends
$50 – *Unlimited evenings after 5:30pm and weekends (Friday 5:30pm-Monday 7:00am)

Day Rates
$25/Day - Single day access to facilities - no guests
$100/Day - Single day access + 2 hour conference room + 4 guests for conference room time
$350/day - Small room + 12 guests
$1000/day - Large room + 50 guests
$1250/day - Entire facility + 65 guests

All prices are subject to GST

*Unlimited – except for up to 4 days per month (to make space for group rental and events)

We are opening the doors on Friday January 12th at 5.30pm for viewing (and an excuse for some of us to get together). We will be around for a couple of hours so plan on coming for as long as you desire. We will make some announcements and will have some Q&A at the earlier part of the evening. Please spread the word.

We will have both paypal and credit card options available to receive sign-up soon. If you plan to join as a member please go to www.indoorplayground.com and sign-up in the forum section.

For further information and details please contact: mark@creationstep.com

Posted on January 3rd, 2007 by mark

Indoor Playground

Recently out of a passion to have a shared workspace for entrepreneurs, innovators, and geeks in Toronto we ventured out and leased a great space at 364 Richmond St West (Richmond and Peter). We started working on it two months ago and lately have wondered when we will ever get finished. Today however the paint hit the walls and the place is beginning to look fantastic. It is basically about 2000 sq ft plus an additional mezzanine floor (the gallery). It is on the 5th floor (top floor) of an old brick and beam loft. The view of the city is outstanding and thankfully there is enough light to avoid florescent bulbs…

We know from the outset that this is not going to be a big earner but is more of a hub for creative people who want to make a difference in industry and within Toronto. This is one of the spaces that will allow some more jeans to be worn in the city.

Today I was chatting with Rob Hyndman, Stuart MacDonald, and David Crow - 3 guys who I have the utmost respect. All 3 gave me a lot of advice and shared the vision of what this could become. We want this to become a place where people not only use for a days work but a centre where great ideas and ventures are birthed. We want the new entrepreneurs and start-ups in the area to feel like it is a safe place and a home to hang their hat.

We are going to start gathering the members and the sponsors in December to kick this thing off officially late January. The official launch date will be announced soon. I just set up a community forum (a Ning Experiment) to start the conversation and to draw in those in the city who want to be part of this as it emerges.

So this is the official invitation to join up in the conversation or as a user to help us co-create a space we are all proud of. We are wide open to suggestions, ideas, and anything else you have to say (as long as you are decent).

Posted on November 24th, 2006 by Mark

Empty Tray

One year after launching with clients and experimenting, testing, and improving the service we have officially launched the EmptyTray website. We will have a proper public launch party soon but we thought it would be worth sharing a little bit more about the company and the service.

The folklore of the start of this company goes like this:

Betsy and Claire (our wives) separately hinted to us that if we were so smart we would set up a company that would create a way for professional women who were new mothers be able to remain at home and work without having to re-enter the corporate office. So being obedient and wise young men we went for it and began to structure something around virtual administration as a start. Claire then came up with a few names and Empty Tray stuck as it really communicated the outcome of the service.

A year later we have a dozen or so clients that are happy with our service, we have processes and systems set up behind the scenes, a pipeline of great people who want to work with us, and a new team lead. It feels like it is the right time to go for it and open up the floodgates of business. We are excited about EmptyTray for several reasons.

1. Our staff are passionately behind this because it is an important solution to their needs

2. Our service will make it very easy and affordable for independents and small business owners to manage themselves like a large corporation with executive assitance and a team of diverse administrators available on demand.

3. We can serve any size of company from any geographical location

4. We get to help some more people become successful

If you have any other ideas about EmptyTray we would love to hear from you

So thanks again to our clever and committed wives…we are indebted even more

Posted on October 8th, 2006 by Mark

Innovation

My eyes lit up when I was sent the link to the Royal Bank of Canada’s Next Great Innovator Award

There are many of us who have chosen to be entrepreneurs in life because we have vision to bring change within existing industries. There is great freedom to be able to act without the norms of bureacracy however we are continually faced with the struggle of gaining the resources to make the difference at the scale we desire. Maybe this is a new avenue for some of us to expend some energy and gain from the systems and resources of more established institutions. It wouldn’t be a bad idea for the school board to consider this as an option. Then they could gain the change they desire with the buy in from their existing clientele.

The Royal Bank have not only laid down the challenge with a $20,000 reward but have begun to open the doors for a new way of change. I am interested to see what comes from this campaign so I hope that they keep the public informed as to the change they implement as a result.

I hope that this is only the first phase of this new approach. When they and other corporations invite entrepreneurs and thinkers who are not students to participate they will begin to open themselves up for some of the success that Google and 3M have experienced by acting on ideas that come beyond the normal sources.

Well done RBC

Posted on September 26th, 2006 by Mark

Service Cloud

Nicholas Carr talks about technology services being available as a utility in his post, An IT sea change for smaller companies.

It is no longer enough to give your employees access to the network while they are in the office during business hours. Your team needs access to data and services from anywhere at anytime. All of a sudden the SMB has to provide 24/7 support, protect their network from outside intruders and ensure high availability. Large companies have provided this for years with their on site data centers, firewalls, VPN’s and network administrators. This is a tall order for a small company.

I believe the concept of a small business having a server room will become as ancient as switching tapes on an answering machine. Every essential service will be available securely on the internet cloud. It won’t be the extreme of giving Google or Microsoft all your data with some generalized offerings. It will be a hybrid of online services integrated with dedicated servers running your applications in data centers, staffed with professionals. Economies of scale will make it affordable.

Imagine the scenarios; no more hearing an explanation from your college student network admin on why email has been down all day. You can move offices without worrying about those mission critical applications becoming unavailable. Opening a new branch, no problem, just get it connected to the internet and work can begin. Finally, when that low cost DSL connection at the office goes down, your servers won’t skip a beat, every email will get through, your website will stay up and your remote workers remain productive.

Posted on September 24th, 2006 by Bobby

What Motivates an Entrepreneur?

According to Sramana Mitra People become entrepreneurs for two reasons: either they have a chip on their shoulder, and have something to prove to themselves and to the world around them. Or, they want to afford a lifestyle that is substantially above their current means. The context of her comments come in light of how entreprenuership is shifting in India due to venture capital extending beyond its normal bounds.

I would agree that these are two of the reasons that people choose to be entrepreneurs but I would like to add a third - Vision.

I met with a psychologist this week who assesses elite performers. It was a fascinating conversation as I got to learn a lot about myself. One of the interesting aspects of the meeting was my bazaar personality mix. According to the tests I came out very high in comparison to other high performers in the area of future orientation, this means that I have a tendency to see a lot and want to act upon it. The other interesting aspect was that I have very high coping in stress, in other words I have hardly any anxiety and low stress levels. I was informed that this is reasonably unique as most people need more stress to get going and to take action. For me however the motivation comes from vision, a large clear vision on how to transorm the world for the better.

So if you need to find a new way to get out of bed in the morning, you can either refine and renew your vision or go buy a new car that you cannot afford to stress you out just enough to make you do great things…

Posted on August 31st, 2006 by Mark

Trust Your Gut

Starting a business necessitates more than a good idea and strategy. Building the right team and making the right choices can be the make or break of a start-up. There is a skill necessary in decision making and choosing the right people which is beyond science and necessitates dependence on intuition.

I have few regrets in life. If I was to boil them all down into one category it would be that I regret not trusting my hunches more. At this point I would rather risk saying no after a funny feeling about an opportunity than saying yes. It is much less costly to miss an opportunity than to sign up to the wrong one. It may not be the most measurable methodology but it seems to lead in the right direction. After all in the eastern world all things immeasurable are considered more spiritual and beneficial.

Each of us have an inner voice that is given to help us navigate the world. Listen to what your gut says and use the wisdom to ask more questions and become more curious in decision making moments.

Posted on July 21st, 2006 by Mark

Go Topless

Maybe the title has been influenced by my recent beach holiday in Spain.

Losing your shirt is more than likely the case for many entrepreneurs. I had considered myself beyond that and in someway immune to great failure. It is only looking back today that I realize how full of piss and vinegar I was when launching the first time around.

Imagine that I could think that what our team would do could never fail.

Well to be honest there is one aspect of me that needed to believe that. If I wasn’t convinced of success I would never have been able to get the traction necessary to build a team and raise some money. What I know today is that even when I am fully convinced and passionate about a cause it does not equal business success.

I remember 7 years ago sitting on the porch with my wife in our BC home asking her advice (or maybe more permission) to risk everything we possessed in something that could fail.

As much as I used the word failure and considered the scenario I never actually believed it would happen.

I lost my shirt. I went topless for a season. I bared my all to the world.

Today I am a better man for it. With many more successes than failures under my belt I realize it is all worth it.

Better to stand on the edge of chaos than to hide in the corner of control.

 

Posted on July 16th, 2006 by Mark

It’s Not Just Who You Know

There is no doubt about it, that knowing the right people can help when growing or starting a business. What is not often considered is that knowing someone is not enough. Most people who have the influence to help or make things happen have the intelligence to only open up doors to people they trust and respect, specifically people they know that will not let them down.

It would be much wiser to spend your time developing character, skill, and respect than building a network because at the end of the day you will only be as good as you are.
Pamela Slim has a great article on this topic with some alternative ways of thinking and working instead of trying to target a VC right away.

Posted on July 10th, 2006 by Mark

Were you designed to be an entrepreneur?

I have a deep love and hate of personality type analysis. On one level it is fascinating and interesting but on the other it can be limiting. There is an interesting article on Poughkeepsie to help you assess if you are E-Type, or bent towards being an entrepreneur. It is worth the read for self-awareness purposes to know the struggles you may face.

Posted on July 9th, 2006 by Mark

Think of Yourself as a VC

Sramana Mitra has a great post on preparation and positioning a start-up when getting ready to meet a VC. She highlights the importance or limiting the idea to make it simple and understandable which is always a difficult thing to do when considering a new venture. She mentions a few helpful books that can help with this process and I would also like to add Blue Ocean Strategy by Kim Mauborgne as another.

Posted on July 8th, 2006 by Mark
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