Global Expansion Key for Canadian Tech Businesses

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Yes, we’re Canadian. And as Canadians we’re sometimes mired by the stigma of being lesser than our American counterparts. But there’s one thing we probably know a little better, or at least have more experience in and that’s expanding our businesses internationally.

The United States is a humongous market and American companies can easily pick away at a very ripe consumer base. If all goes well, there’s no pressure to necessarily step outside of the comfort zone. Get in, stay put and watch the numbers rise exponentially. 

But by necessity, Canadian business leaders often need to expand beyond their boarders to scale past an intermediate level of business. This reality has made north countrymen (and woman) extremely well-versed in the processes of expanding in global markets.

Skura President Jeff Wessenger recalls this very process, one of which can be attributed to Skura’s rising success over the better part of a decade. 

“I call it a ten-year overnight success,” said Wessenger. We did have a head start because we had a background in services, which definitely helped a lot. We took a lot of existing relationships and leveraged them, transferring existing services agreements into a software and licensing relationship.” 

“The idea that we created a product and took it to market and had success in 78 markets, it didn’t happen that way,” he said.  

Humble as he may be, the process of expanding is not just a matter of packing up your product and throwing it across the ocean. There are many things to consider; taxes, exchange rates and culture to name a few. Skura can shamelessly give themselves a pat on the back, nearly 80 countries is no easy feat.

Tips For Global Expansion

Leverage Relationships and Win Those First Customers

Starting as a modest service company, Skura adjusted their strategy in 2006 and dove into the world of “sales enablement”. Today the company offers a software that collects sales data and allows outside sales reps to carry that information on the run. New data can be implemented remotely and everything added goes directly back to head office. It didn’t take long for the software to spread said Wessenger, but he notes Skura may have been working with an advantage in terms of expansion. 

“I think we had relationships previously built through the services company and it was through those relationships that we were able to bring on our first global customers and develop that enterprise reference and reputation,” he said. 

“Typically customers one through ten are the toughest to win and we won those almost immediately. Once you have those references, your go-to-market strategy is a lot easier than starting from nothing.” 

A big part in global expansion, Wessenger notes, is continual growth and considering the impact of new ideas. So with that in mind…

What’s Next?

“We want to expand beyond the current vertical, we have a pretty good presence in life sciences, but the solution we built is by no means specific to that vertical, there’s a much broader market out there.” 

“It’s really a sales and marketing pivot, we need find a way to win those customers in the financial industry, how can we win customers in manufacturing market? That’s a deliberate plan we’ve started on this current year. It’s been fairly successful, we’ve brought on some pretty big customers.” 

“We’re really trying to tackle the virtual customer from a product standpoint and helping inside sales reps.” 

Be Ready to Pivot – It Can Change Everything

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What do Twitter, Instagram and Starbucks have in common?

They are all companies that made major changes one time or another, catapulting them into the soul-sucking entities they are today (yes, nearly all of us are addicted to each one). And while we’re talking about addiction, we can throw Nintendo in the mix as well. These companies made a change in strategy that executives will forever bow to.

Starbucks began selling espresso machines, Nintendo sold household appliances, Twitter was a platform made to find podcasts. Now these names are some of the most well-known names around the globe, and they are doing something different. All it took was just a good pivot or two.

Yes, these are very extreme examples, but the practice is very scalable. No matter what business, no matter what size, it’s important to be a little malleable and open-minded. When the time comes to pivot, plant your foot and make your next move.

Martin Ambrose, CEO of Shoplogix, knows this story quite well. Ambrose laid his first brick in 2002 based on the idea of making manufactures more efficient. Shoplogix provides a technology that allows for a homogeneous reporting layer across any manufacturing organization. No, it’s not Nintendo or Twitter, but Shoplogix’s presence is felt among thousands of tier-one automotive manufacturing plants around the world.

“We’ve pivoted this business five times and by that I mean we’ve adjusted the strategy of this business,” said Ambrose.

“Our most recent pivot was about four years ago, when we moved the business from traditional license-based model to being a SaaS business. We now exclusively and 100 percent sell SaaS to our customer base.”

SaaS or Software as a Service is quickly becoming a necessity in the tech world, and most of today’s top software companies (Apple, Adobe, Microsoft, etc.) have either launched with it, or made the pivot towards utilizing it. Shoplogix, as a result of making that pivot, is reaping the benefits that an on-premise installation model couldn’t provide.

“I won’t go into the numbers, but from a growth perspective, our growth is in excess of 50 percent annually,” Said Ambrose, who mans a staff of 35 employees.

But as a young company, with changes happening quicker than the days themselves, how do you position your fort?

Act Quick, Act Smart

“I would recommend that any young business goes through the process of minimum and viable product, so don’t try to build everything and try to be all things to all people, you’ll be forever in the process of development.”

“You need to build a minimum viable product and take that product to market, it kind of falls into that scenario – build, measure, learn. Do that as rapidly and as fast as you can, and when I say rapidly, I mean daily or weekly.”

Your Fate Is in Your Troops

“Hire well, hire the right people. Take your time doing it. You need to be able to trust those people. You want to be friends with them, you’re going to be putting in long hours over the years.”

“I think the key to any successful business is that it is built on the basis of trust and you need to be accessible. Trust is so important, take a look at your own life. Any relationship you have had with anybody, your partner, your parents, your businesses, without trust you have nothing.”

Scale Is the Only Way to Build a Successful Fintech Startup

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Contribution by Friend of AceTech 

Founder at SurePath Capital Partners

The Money2020 show is happening this week in Las Vegas. I was there last year and it was huge. It’s even bigger this year with over 10,000 attendees. In much the same way as this event has huge scale, fintech companies must also achieve massive scale in order to be successful. It’s a go big or go home market.

The most obvious examples of this are the payments companies. Payments is a great business in the sense that once you’re in place, you just take a small cut on everything that passes over your rails. BUT, it requires huge scale in order to make money. Square is evidence of this. It had a loss of over $50M last quarter alone, despite having revenue of over $330M.

If we stay on payments for a moment, Stripe is the favourite payments engine of every developer I know. They have raised $ 290M to date and are worth $5B. I have not seen their financials, but in 3 years they have gone from a valuation of $18M on their seed round to $ 4.9B on their series D. Clearly the market expects Stripe to be the next Paypal – a massive market leader in payments.

Direct to consumer startups also require huge capital. The consumer market is massive, but hard to reach at scale unless you have a viral product. So, if you’re looking to build a B2C market leader then you will need lots of capital to build your brand. Toronto’s Wealthsimple knows this and came out of the gate swinging with a $30M Series A round. This is massive for any market, but probably the largest Series A for an internet company in Canada.

Even B2B fintech companies need scale. If you’re moving money or handling other sensitive financial data on behalf of companies, then your company and product needs to be rock solid. You will have onerous service level agreements, uptime requirements, etc. You will need a strong balance sheet in order for companies to feel comfortable buying from you. More fundamentally, you will need to become the clear standard before companies adopt you en masse. It’s a winner take all dynamic.

Sensibill here in Toronto is an example of this. They work directly with the biggest banks. So, for them to succeed they will have to pull off massive enterprise sales.

Lending is another hot fintech sector today.  Here are just a few companies in this space:

Kabbage: $ 316M

Lending Club: $ 236M (before IPO)

Fundbox: $ 107M (in it’s first two years of existence)

The point of all this is that if you have a fintech startup, you have to be thinking really big. The only way to win is to build a large, well capitalized leader. And you have to do that quickly. Fintech is super hot right now. But that also means it’s one of the most well-funded sectors out there. Many segments will be winner takes all. So the company that scales fastest will win.

Go big or go home!

Learn to Swim with the Sharks – Advice From Young CEO Devon Wright

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Devon Wright

From band shirts, to dress pants. From rugged instruments to a keyboard and mouse. This is Devon Wright — and his transition was unusually quick. Now 28 years old, Wright holds the title of youngest CEO at AceTech Ontario. He mans the fort at Turnstyle Solutions, a proximity marketing platform which is particularly used for mobile marketing.

Though he’s taken a walk off the stage, Wright sports hair long enough to tie-up and a beard grown beyond any kind of order. It’s safe to say he hasn’t changed his look, perhaps a testament to how quick his professional encore came about.

“For us, my co-founder and I, we started the company when we were still in our band,” said Wright. “We had a really hard time figuring out who was coming to the shows and who our fans were.”

“We wanted to profile who was at the show, and get information on the shows they go to, how long have they been a fan, those kind of things.”

This is how Turnstyle Solutions got its start, and Wright was just 25 years old at the time. With no experience at all in the tech world, he jumped in with both feet. It wasn’t until he landed that he saw that he was just a goldfish in a shark tank. This is how he survived. This is how he turned his simple idea into a reliable proximity marketing tool used by some of the biggest retailers in the country.

How to Swim Among the Technology Sharks

“I’m not a technical co-founder, so the first thing I did and the first thing I would always suggest is – even if you’re not going to be the CTO, still learn the basics around development. I did do that, I learned some coding and it was obviously terrible, but doing that helped me attract my partner, who is the co- technical guy. ”

“Even if you’re the ‘sell guy’, learn how to develop the product.”

“I relate starting something like this to waking up in the morning, it’s the first thing you do, but it’s the hardest thing to do. You sit in your bed and say ‘shit, I want to hit snooze, shit I want to sleep for 20 more minutes’, there’s a million reason not to get started. But if you can be disciplined and just start your day by making that first decision to just get up and go, everything comes a lot easier.”

Don’t Overthink and You Won’t Get Bit

“There’s too much thinking into market research. If you have a new idea that you want to get off the ground, you just have to have a need, you need to identify a problem that you yourself are familiar with.”

“The only research I we did is look at trends… like is Wi-Fi still going to be popular in ten years, is something going to disrupt it, etc.”

“Just make it and see what people say. Let people make fun of you and say it sucks, take all that feedback back and adjust.”

Know Your Scales and Be Proud of Them

“The lack of network and lack of experience is difficult. As a young CEO, you don’t know very much about anything, so it’s pretty tough.”

“It’s hard, you get a lot of people saying ‘no’, you always feel out-gunned. But you learn that doesn’t have to stop you. What’s going to win the day is awareness.”

“Seek advisors and bring your passion and energy and the commitment to work cheap and work hard on something you love and believe in. I think that’s the number one characteristic that’s going to get a team through the tough, early days.”

Three Ways Peer Recognition Builds an Innovative Culture

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Contribution by
 Elysha Ames  of TemboSocial 

You wouldn’t dream of running your business without productivity goals, standards or key performance indicators.  Yet when it comes to the early stages of innovation – brainstorming and idea generation in particular – a lot of business leaders don’t know what to do.  They give their staff a bunch of whiteboards, ping pong tables and bean bag chairs and hope for the best.Encouraging creativity among your employees means promoting the behaviors that create a culture of innovation. While the creative process is sometimes mysterious there are definitely things you can do to manage the process and promote better outcomes.

1. Recognize Creative Work in General

Innovation by it’s nature means looking for ideas that are outside what is currently “business as usual.” Going beyond social and workplace norms makes most of us uncomfortable.  We tend to gravitate toward norms, going so far as to ostracize people whose behavior strikes us as “wacky” or unusual. There’s a certain amount of fear that goes along with presenting new ideas.

“Creative types” who can regularly deliver effective new ideas are sometimes branded as temperamental, flighty, easy to offend and shut down.  In fact, creative team members are struggling between ideas that just might work and ideas that are likely to pass muster with C-level leadership.

To start, give your creative development teams a boost by recognizing the work they do.  Personal recognition is the first step towards creating a culture where great ideas are generated, noticed and graduated to become great practices.
2. Recognize “Assists” as Well as “Hits”

It’s natural for top performers to want to contribute only the best ideas.  This drive to do our best at all times contributes to a phenomena that’s been called “social loafing”.  People in a creative team seem to hang back when they think their participation isn’t needed.

You can help get more people involved when you recognize people for their overall participation as well as the quality of their work.  Be specific in your praise.  A blanket “thanks for coming” doesn’t really tell employees that their particular contributions were meaningful.  Saying “thanks for contributing ideas X, Y and Z” lets participants know that their ideas, while maybe not chosen in the end, were worth contributing.
3. Make it Public

While personal recognition is crucial, it’s important for people to know that the team, or in some cases the entire organization, sees the value of their contributions. After all, emplyoees want to be part of a greater organization, not a cog in a machine. When recognition of team performance is made public, individuals go on to be more productive within the group.  Without public recognition, team members tend to be less productive in a collaborative setting than they are on their own.

It really is amazing just how important recognition can be to your creative teams.  The key thing is to let participants know that you see what they are doing and value their efforts at every stage of the game. When you do that, they’ll naturally want to step up their game and contribute more.

Dental Inventory Hardship Leads to Successful Tech Business

Paul Bhatti
Paul Bhatti via LinkedIn

Every person can look back at their life and identify a big turning point, or that “ah ha” moment that changes their day-to-day lives or routine. Sometimes that moment comes as result of a string of events and sometimes it hits you in the face faster than you can say ouch.

For Paul Bhatti, CEO of Sowingo, his moment came three years ago at his private dental practice in Brampton.

“There was specific moment in time, I came into my practice and had a busy day,” Bhatti recalled. “The person doing the medical supply ordering is usually an assistant. I had asked a few questions about supply and distribution information and I had a hard time getting the answers I needed quickly.”

Bhatti describes running a private practice much like running business. The customer has a demand, his practice must provide the supply. If he doesn’t have it in the timely manner, or his supply is no longer reliable, Bhatti can forget about putting on the lab coat.

“It makes it tough, Bhatti said. “Nothing in the marketplace was addressing this problem of supply management in private practices.”

What did his “ah ha” turn into? Sowingo.com, a dental supply marketplace and inventory management platform.

The once inevitable headache of dental supply management is cured. That’s Bhatti’s firm and educated belief. Now private practitioners can order and organize their inventory in one central place. Access to price comparison shopping, inventory management, dynamic reports and customer support are now at the precise and skilled fingertips of dentists everywhere.

“I started a company that does two things for anybody in private practice health care, said Bhatti. “We do industry management supply, so we track what your supply levels are, what’s expiring, what’s running low, we give you analytics on that. And as an extension of that, we’ve also built a marketplace for suppliers to come on board and showcase their products.” “This is a unique product.”

Now Bhatti lives a life balancing lab coats and three-piece suits. He’s a tech businessman, and although it seems like a wide transition, he assures it’s not as big as it would seem.

“There isn’t as much of a shift as you would think, primarily because I’ve run several private practices,” said Bhatti. “I took a multi-million dollar practice from nothing and learned a lot of business management practices.”

Accounting, marketing, networking, business administration. Bhatti can call himself a seasoned veteran in these areas and he attributes his years of practice in the healthcare world.

His moment led to a real change in the guard, and not just for him. For Bhatti, it’s a real success story he can hang his hat on.

“If you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you have that and it’s something inside you, it’s hard to ignore.”