Posted in Canadian, entrepreneurial, export to .org, personal, random, Vancouver

What’s the value of Community? (inspired by David Crow….)

I’ve been thinking a lot more about Vancouver’s startup community recently.

In the last week, I’ve met with a few genuine & hard-working entrepreneurs here in Vancouver. Two that come to mind  are Ashish Gurung (@AshishGurung), CEO of NuXD, and Ryan Holmes (@invoker), CEO of Inoke Media’s Hootsuite. Great people. If you haven’t met them yet, you should. Looking at them from the outside, there seems to be little connection between the two: One is relatively unknown in Vancouver and the other created an app used by large organizations like the White House & Disney.

But in my meetings with them I found one similar trait: they both genuinely cared. And not just about my questions on startups, but they really exuded a genuine desire to help without much in return for themselves. And this was in the midst of their rushed, busy schedules.

I often forget that in addition to just writing about it, building community takes people who actually care about other people. This has definitely challenged me to rethink the way I interact with people I network with.

However, many people I talk to don’t see the need in building community here in Vancouver. It’s not a direct statement (hey, we’re Canadians), but more of a subtle undertone in many of my conversations. For a while, I was quite discouraged. So you can imagine my catharsis at reading David Crow’s recent post where he addresses the very question & quotes Paul Graham’s What Startups Are Really Like. In particular, 17. The Value of Community:

“One of the most surprising things I saw was the willingness of people to help us. Even people who had nothing to gain went out of their way to help our startup succeed…The surprise for me was how accessible important and interesting people are. It’s amazing how easily you can reach out to people and get immediate feedback.” – comments on What Startups Are Really Like

David goes on to say:

I want a vibrant, connected, accessible community of founders, investors, advisors and others in Canada. And I’m not alone. There are great communities across the country in Ottawa, Montreal, Waterloo, Guelph, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver (and be sure to check out StartupDrinks).”

I had heard lots about David Crow’s StartupNorth.ca community, but never knew if he was the real deal. I wish David was here in Vancouver. I would love to meet him.

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Posted in Canadian, entrepreneurial, Interview Transcripts, tech, Vancouver

Exclusive Video Interview: How 18 year-old Brian Wong of FollowFormation is Changing the World

The Aer Marketing Team founded by Brian Wong

“If you’re not passionate about something you can’t possibly be successful in it.” – Mike Desjardins (CEO of VIRTUS)

18 year old Vancouverite Brian Wong embodies this quote. As the co-founder of FollowFormation.com, a tool that helps twitter “noobs” follow the top users in the category of their choice, Brian Wong has traditionally stayed “under the radar” and allowed his products to take the spotlight. Now, as he’s admitted to me, that’s about to change.

I caught up with him at downtown Coal Harbour for a quick interview on what he’s up to. When I say “caught” I mean it in the literal sense as we’ve been playing email tag for the good half of this year. Earlier this week, I finally got to sit down with him & he, being the A.D.D energetic wizard kid he is, initiated my first walking interview:

Passion & Skill: The Driving Forces Behind Brian’s Success

Anyone that has met Brian in person knows that he’s passionate about what he does. That, and he loves talking. Take a look at followformation.com, his design company aer marketing, or his recent slide presentation at Mini Enterprize and you’ll see the perfect blend of aesthetic appeal & quality content.

When I asked him where he learned all his design skills, he said they were “self-taught.” The simplicity and elegance of his design style rivals many top designing companies I know and yet he taught himself! He’s obviously got some natural skill & talent. Imagine if even a fraction of students discovered that unchartered territory of where their passions meet their skills and build those skills!

No Free Lunch: Hard Work Pays Off

However, Brian would also argue emphatically that he worked his butt off to get where he’s at. I wouldn’t agree more. Lucas Lemanowicz, his now co-founder who started off as a developer for Aer, tells me of the time Brian got the idea for FollowFormation:

“It was 4am, and Brian had just called me to wake me up & tell me about his crazy idea. All I could say is, ‘what time is it?!?!’ ” – Lucas Lemanowicz

These stories and more abound in Brian’s life. He’s also known for his sporadic sleeping pattern, which you can ask him about yourself.

However, it’s not just hard work & crazy sleeping that brought Brian to where he is. It’s the fact that he actually went out and did it. He didn’t talk about it, complain about how hard the economy is, or whine about how his previous employees didn’t give him the freedom to create. He went out and made his own company and did all those things.

That’s the pattern I’m seeing over and over in interviewing successful entrepreneurs. When everyone else was talking about it, they went out and did it.

When I probed him further about his lack of personal online presence, he admitted:

“People are telling me I’m hoarding all this information but that’s not it at all. I spend time making presence for the things I do. My actions matter, not my thoughts.” – Brian Wong

Those words speaks highly of the maturity that has led to his current success. Brian has mastered at 18 years what many people still have trouble mastering @ 40.

Connecting with people that matter: Not Just Hard Work but Smart Work

In addition to Kevin Rose, founder of Digg, Brian has been traveling the globe connecting with influential people like Gary Vaynerchuk & the team behind RetailMeNot & BugMeNot. To him, they are “people that matter.” That’s his advice. To connect with the people that matter to you.

But he doesn’t like telling people who he’s met with because they get so focused on those people, they’re missing the point. It’s not the names of these “celebrities” he’s connect with, but rather how he made those connections.

As a quick story to end off, Brian talks about how he started to build his worldwide network & got connected with Kevin Rose. FollowFormation had just made some big news through Mashable and other similar sites and Brian phoned the worldwide Twitter conference in LA, told him he was a poor student, and asked if there was any solution. The receptionist replied that only speakers get in for free. He then asked to be a speaker. The rest is, as they say, history!

Making Meaning

As Brian heads off to San Fran to work for Digg, I’ve asked him if he plans on coming back.

“Of course! Vancouver is my home! I won’t forget her!”

I’ll end off with a quote from Guy Kawasaki. Brian chatted with him in LA & Guy told him this:

“Focus on making meaning & the money will come.” – Guy Kawasaki

More Brian Wong Links:

Posted in Canadian, entrepreneurial, personal, random, Vancouver

How to create a hype with next to nothing: How we turned an empty table and 500 folders into 200 inspired students @ InnoVasion

What a long yet inspiring day!

A QUICK VIDEO SUMMARY
If you don’t want to read the story, check out a quick summary video below or here. Apologies for the shaky camera.

And here’s what some students thought of us: Continue reading “How to create a hype with next to nothing: How we turned an empty table and 500 folders into 200 inspired students @ InnoVasion”

Posted in Canadian, design, tech, user experience, Vancouver

Examples of poorly designed websites (part 2)

(check out my latest part3 review of a poorly designed website here:)

2. Staples Ad promises much but fails to deliver.. twice!

So I’m browsing a tech site, and see this Ad from Staples:

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.18.58 AM

I’m feeling a little intrigued by the “limited-time tech deals” and “roll over to see more” promise. I’m impressed with the fact that they have tech-deals on a tech blog. They directed the advertising to me, in an extremely relevant yet subtle manner. And, I don’t know if they meant to or not, but with the “roll over to see more” they hooked me.

That’s two points.

So, I “roll-over” the ad and I get this image:

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.19.22 AM

Nothing.

That’s what I got: Nothing.

Not only did Staples lose the two points they just got but they went negative in my books.

But I’m still wondering about those promised “tech-deals”, so I give them the benefit of the doubt – maybe it was the advertising company they contracted out to.

So I click on the “See Weekly Ad” and get the following website:

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.20.35 AM

At this point, I am a little more than slightly frustrated.

Those who read my earlier post on location-based website can attest to this, but I feel that such a basic task as asking for your location from IP address is such a simple, yet valuable addition.

Granted, I was on a US tech blog, so I can understand why the Staples ad brings me to the US Staples site. But seriously, even MSN.com got it right, why can’t you?

So I figure, I really don’t want to:

  1. open a new tab/window
  2. type on staples.ca
  3. enter in my city, postal code, etc again
  4. find the “new tech deals

Instead, I want to

  1. Type in my city, country and have it direct me to the Canadian version of the staples site for my city!

So, as a last chance, I give them the benefit of the doubt again and type in “Vancouver, Canada.”

I receive this error: “Please enter a Valid Zip Code or City, State”

Screen shot 2009-10-12 at 11.20.59 AM

I’m done.

At this point. I’m done. Staples has become irrelevant to me. They are more than minus 1.

Will I stop going to Staples from now on? Probably not forever, but as a user I will constantly think about this every time I’m tempted to use their website.

Possible Improvements

Some suggestions for improvement – though Staples seems so large, and I so small, I hardly know if they will head these:

  1. Create a much smoother transition from your Canadian and US sites. (e.g. When I entered Vancouver, Canada that should show to you that I’m looking for Vancouver, in Canada, and send me to that site)
  2. Building on 1), detect where users are (including city, and postal code/zip codes) so users don’t have to keep typing it EVERY TIME.
  3. Test your ads on the majority of browsers, and the majority of Hardware! (I’m using Firefox 3.5.3 running on Snow Leopard (10.6.1) with a Macbook Pro 15″. Hardly a minority from what I’ve see nowadays)
  4. Golden Rule: Don’t suck. (I got this as an inspiration from the head of Google Canada). If your data sucks, your content is terrible, no matter how nice the ad or site or marketing is people won’t keep coming back. In this case, there was no data. That would translate to “suck” for me.

Again, not entirely staples’ fault, as they most likely went through a third-party for the ads, but that’s not what users think.

In short, Staples promised-high (with the design, the roll-over secretive anticipation) and succeeded on not only failing to deliver, but also annoying me.

From this humble user’s perspective, companies big and small need to stop doing that.

Posted in Canadian, design, user experience

MSN.COM asks me if I want to go to MSN.CA!!!

Screen shot 2009-10-14 at 1.47.34 PM

After years of defaulting Canadian-based Windows computers to the MSN.com (US Version) website, MSN.com now detects you are Canadian and asks you if want to go to the Canadian site (MSN.ca) or stay with the United States Version.

Not only that, it asks you to remember this choice for next time!

This is definitely an improvement to location-based user-experiences like MagicJack, but I say why not go a step further?

When the computer connects and allow the user to “register” in Canada, shouldn’t things like the default website be turned to the equivalent Canadian versions? e.g. msn.ca ? In my head, that would make for a much smoother user experience.

What do you think?