Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

I haven’t worked at Savvica, the company behind LearnHub, for a long time, but of course I enjoy following it through Malgosia‘s eyes.

Apparently the Savvica team is modestly regarding this as ’no big deal’, but as a long-time reader of The Economist I thought that it was very cool that this well respected magazine was running a multi-month advertising campaign on LearnHub.com.

Image

It’s satisfying to see the company attract such notable international partners.

Almost one year ago exactly, I listed SnapSort, a website for camera comparisons, as a company to watch. I’m proud to say that my friends Chris & Alex are growing the company fantastically well.

This week they launched Sortable.com, a decision engine. The company has raised a fraction of the venture capital that Hunch did ($500k vs. $20M), but is getting way more traction. (Hunch was acquired by eBay for $80M.)

Stats: over 3M visitors/month and 25k Facebook likes. More info at this handsome infographic.

This is a Waterloo success story in the making.

A report in the New York Times last week brought on a wave of emotion in me regarding the 3 years I worked at Savvica and travelled extensively to Gurgaon. I miss it!

In India, Dynamism Wrestles With Dysfunction

GURGAON, India — In this city that barely existed two decades ago, there are 26 shopping malls, seven golf courses and luxury shops selling Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs shimmer in automobile showrooms. Apartment towers are sprouting like concrete weeds, and a futuristic commercial hub called Cyber City houses many of the world’s most respected corporations.

To compensate for electricity blackouts, Gurgaon’s companies and real estate developers operate massive diesel generators capable of powering small towns. No water? Drill private borewells. No public transportation? Companies employ hundreds of private buses and taxis. Worried about crime? Gurgaon has almost four times as many private security guards as police officers.

This is one of the things I miss, as strange as it may sound. Indians have a word for this kind of creative (hasty?) problem solving:

jugaad—n. an improvised or jury-rigged solution; inventiveness, ingenuity, cleverness. Origin: Hindi, India

I’ve seen this admirable approach in many of my former colleagues and particularly in the Indian entrepreneurs I’ve met and worked with. These people remarkably know how to get things done in difficult environments.

If you are into India & fiction, I highly recommend the novel The White Tiger, by Aravind Adiga, which takes place partly in modern Gurgaon.

I miss you India, see you again one day!

I got wind of this new e-commerce venture in Canada this morning from my big brother

Background

Membership based online shopping sites have been growing in popularity throughout the United States and Europe. Sites like Gilt Groupe, Shopbop and Net-a-Porter have changed the way fashion conscious individuals shop for apparel and accessories. But there are barriers for Canadian consumers that prevents most from shopping these sites – things like dealing with unknown duty costs, shipping and heaven forbid, trying to return an item to another country.

Dealuxe.ca – Launching Spring 2011

Dealuxe

New fashion shopping site for Canadians

Dealuxe.ca will be a new Canadian-based online shopping destination, offering the best in contemporary luxury fashion and lifestyle products and accessories. It will remove the obstacles and frustrations of purchasing from U.S. and European retailers and provide a premier online shopping experience for Canada’s style connoisseurs. While Dealuxe will launch with a focus on women’s fashion, their vision is to quickly grow to include men’s and kid’s lines, as well as products for home and life. Dealuxe will also include editorial features that cover current trends in style and design, and provide members with an enhanced user experience. Their planned launch date is in early May and have started the process of building our membership base.

Special Deal

For a limited time, those who do join (which I should have mentioned is free) will receive a $10 credit to their account.

Some Related Ventures

  • I was delighted by the launch of Mr. Porter in the last couple weeks… its a very handsome site that also serves Canadians natively. They are following a different strategy by starting with men’s fashion.
  • If you aren’t aware of the Canadian e-commerce success story in the making that is Well.ca, check it out!
  • Good friend Tara Hunt is leading a new fashion shopping venture called Shwowp. I like her take on things as she competes with Blippy, TheFancy, and Svpply, and others.

Update

The most trendy man I know, modernmod, just pointed me to 2 other fashion e-commerce sites that ship to Canada:

Great to see some activity in this space!

One last link, in this sprawling post, here’s a great Toronto fashion blog for bearded and plaid-wearing men: Dressed For Dinner.

George Favvas is launching a new startup called Rewardli backed by Dave McClure from 500Startups in San Francisco and Real Ventures in Montreal. Sign up for the beta invite list here:

Rewardli

Its a cool product concept and am glad to see it supported by this great group of investors.

George’s previous venture, SmartHippo (mortgage community and lead generation), is now available for acquisition and should find a good home elsewhere. It was a solid product with good marketing (especially PR). A great stepping stone for George, on his way to his next big thing.

We had a pretty busy January at CommunityLend:

Michael Garrity on BNN with David Kaufman

We are keeping up some great momentum after a fantastic finish to 2010.

Some quick updates on young startups that you may not yet have on your radar:

  • SnapSort (Chris & Alex), which does camera comparisons, is growing by leaps & bounds as its SEO traffic doubles every month. They just launched their first of many planned sites based on the same underlying platform; LensHero.
  • Ampush Media (Nick, Jesse, & Chris), a new lead gen company which has grown tremendously without taking any investor capital, just won a significant industry award from LeadsCouncil: Best New Lead Generation Partner.
  • Allerta (Eric), which makes a very cool ‘smartwatch’, has been funded and is moving to SF.
  • Unata (Chris), not anything public to celebrate here yet, but keep an eye on this loyalty startup over the coming weeks.

Keep up the good work gents!

In 2000, the Privacy Commissioner in Canada passed the Personal Information Protection & Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA). It sets out the legal rules for collecting and storing (read: protecting) personal information on Canadians.

Separately, in its Department of Homeland Security response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the US government expanded its power to subpoena data with the “Patriot Act”. The US government can subpoena data from companies and gag them from even notifying account holders. The public doesn’t know how often this happens, but we do have a high profile example in the news right now: Twitter Shines a Spotlight on Secret F.B.I. Subpoenas.

Since these two legal frameworks were established, cloud computing has became broadly accepted, thanks in part to excellent platforms like Amazon Web Services. None of the major cloud platforms have data centers in Canada, which means there is a potential collision between PIPEDA and US law that would complicate cloud usage for services that collect and store Canadian consumer data.

Should Canadian companies be nervous about storing data in cloud providers in the US? I turned up no definitive answer, but here’s some interesting tidbits from the Canadian government.

  • “PIPEDA does not prohibit organizations in Canada from transferring personal information to an organization in another jurisdiction for processing.”
    “In an investigation into a complaint involving outsourcing to a U.S. firm by CIBC Visa, the OPC found CIBC to be in compliance with PIPEDA.”–Guidelines for Processing Personal Data Across Borders
  • “PIPEDA does not hinder our global economy. In fact, the legislation itself states that it is intended to support and promote electronic commerce by protecting personal information.”
    “The organization needs to use contractual or other means to provide a level of protection comparable to PIPEDA while the information is being processed by a third party.”–Canadian Federal Privacy Legislation: The First Ten Years (Sept 2010)

Sounds like some wiggle room to me. Executives need to weigh the risk of being sued in Canada (as CIBC Visa was sued in 2004) against the significant reward of moving their systems into the cloud.

CentriLogic, a cloud/hosting company, is trying to capitalize on the situation. Their marketing pitch, writ large in all-caps on their homepage: Do you know where your cloud servers are?

Unfortunately, the CentriLogic platform is nowhere near competitive with Amazon’s, which continues to impress me with frequent and significant upgrades. (AWS is this CTO’s dream come true!)

How can Canada-focused companies deliver consumer products and services on a par with their US counterparts if they can’t leverage modern cloud platforms?

Hat tip to lawyer friends Rob Hyndman and Jonas Brandon for their perspectives as I looked into this.

Background: Financial services is one of the largest industries in Canada, and 90% of it is controlled by the “Big 5″ Canadian banks. Despite a myriad of products and services, it mostly boils down to taking consumer deposits on one hand, and then lending to consumers on the other.

CommunityLend Online Loan Marketplace

CommunityLend is the most important new venture in Canadian Financial Services today because it takes aim at this core business model with something disruptive. It’s not about payment processing (like PayPal, ZoomPass), or mortgage lead generation (like LendingTree), but something larger still. CommunityLend is a disruptive new model for borrowing and lending. (Check out the site!)

After 3 years as an enthusiastic advisor, I joined CommunityLend full-time as CTO in August this year. I’ll humbly include my joining in this year’s list of milestones:

  1. Publicly launched the consumer P2P loan marketplace. (Only in Ontario & Quebec.) 7 other companies have tried, such as ioucentral, but CommunityLend is the only company with the regulatory approval to operate an online loan marketplace like this.
  2. Tim Gleeson joined as CCO. Tremendous background as a Portfolio Manager at Mackenzie and as founder of a asset management firm.
  3. Announced partnership with Strength Finance, our first major channel partnership.
  4. John Philip Green joined as CTO.
  5. Added British Columbia. Increases availability to 73% of Canadians.
  6. Paul Sehr joined as Director of Engineering. Paul is a fantastic engineer with good product sensibilities. We are really lucky to have him.
  7. Casper Wong joined as Director of Operations & Business Development. I love working with this guy. Great experience from easyHome and BMO.
  8. Beta launched FinanceIt.ca Sales Financing platform. For more, see this great FinanceIt.ca strategy analysis by WiseClerk.
  9. Launched a major partnership with AutoTrader.ca, which has over $3B in private auto listings per year.
  10. Closing the year out with over $7M in loan demand.
  11. Already over $12M of committed investor capital to deploy into consumer loans in 2011.

This was an important year of groundwork. In 2011 we will really start disrupt the financial services industry.

George Favvas posted a couple days ago about how to set up an advisory board for your startup. Good, practical advice.

As I am on George’s advisory board, I have little to disagree with in his post. I would dial back his recommendation on the 4 year vesting period; the norm in the industry is 1-2 years, which gives both parties an opportunity to reevaluate and recommit.

For more, check out Mark McLeod’s post on advisor boards. Also, here’s more info on my work as an advisor to other startups.

If you are really interested in the subject, you need VentureHacks: Everything you ever wanted to know about advisors (and part two). (I am inclined to list the VentureHacks blog as an advisor to my next startup!)





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