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Entrepreneurship

For years and years, whenever I’d mention to someone that I’d like to start a business, I’d get quoted the infamous “80% of all businesses perish within 5 years” parable.

Well, that piece of “wisdom” never quite sat well with me… and now it seems it’s actually an urban myth!

Entrepreneur.com, in an article titled “Failure to Launch?“, reports:

…approximately half of all new businesses were still operating after four years. Headd and other researchers have had similar findings. “To my knowledge, none of them nor myself have run into a substantiated finding [showing] 9 out of 10 fail the first year,” Headd says.

So for some reason this urban myth has been passed on, year after year, person to person, discouraging people from entrepreneurship. The article sums it up quite nicely:

At any rate, it seems clear that some people simply want to believe that entrepreneurship is harder than it really is.

If I were a cynic I’d say that “The Man” has passed on this “wisdom” in order to stifle competition and keep the worker bees content… But I’m no cynic ;-) so I think this urban legend is probably just an expression of peoples’ fear of uncertainty.

So there you go folks. Yes, it’s not easy to start something, but it’s also not as hard as you think. My advice is then to get out there and just do it!

I was planning to write a post called “What Makes a Good Software Entrepreneur?” when I came across this article about the Top Signals of Success for Software Entrepreneurs. Great! Now I don’t have to write the post. ;-)

So the Top Signals of Success for Software Entrepreneurs are:

  • You like to experiment
  • You like to read and learn
  • You like to tinker and build
  • You are opportunistic
  • You are an artist
  • You Live On Email
  • You are considerate, respectful and nice
  • You have a proclivity for action
  • You attract others like yourself
  • You are a realist
  • You are exceptionally intelligent
  • You are fundamentally likable
  • You exhibit “balanced frugality”
  • You work hard
  • You just love the game

(Be sure to read the article for explanations.)

While I don’t agree with everything on the list (pretty much only because I hate email ;-) ), on the whole I thought the article got it right. It’s hard, however, to self-evaluate many of these characteristics.

Of course I can’t really speak with any real authority on the subject yet, being only an entrepreneur-in-training… So I’ll be sure to revisit this subject again when I hit one out of the ballpark. ;-)

Our friend Mat Balez is looking for a partner for his project: codename::ideack.

From his posting:

I’m looking for someone to help me build the thing, likely in a partnership capacity. Someone with significant Ruby on Rails (or Python/Django if you are convincing) and Javascript expertise to lead the site’s development, and with design chops sufficient to create something that might be characterized as ‘easy on the eyes’.

If you are this person, you will be:

– passionate about web technologies
– capable of building software that will scale
– eager to work hard to help bootstrap a cool new web project
– an all around good person
– preferably based in Montreal

If interested, send me an email and we’ll get together to chat further.

Best of luck in your partner search Mat! I’ll be fully supporting you in this project as we start to create a startup culture in this town of ours. :)

StandoutJobs Logo

Today I am finally unveiling the new startup that I keep talking about — StandoutJobs. I am working on StandoutJobs with two incredibly rockin’ co-founders: Ben Yoskovitz and Austin Hill.

If you’ve been reading our blogs, you may have noticed that we’ve brought up recruiting issues from time to time. Unfortunately we are not yet prepared to announce more than just a landing page, but you can be assured that we are out to do no less than totally change the way recruiting is done. It’s gonna be a wild ride and I hope you’ll come with us.

Finally, I have to echo Ben’s sentiments in saying that it’s an absolute blast working with these two guys. I too have already learned a huge amount and I have never felt more challenged or inspired in years.

So whatcha waiting for? Leave us your email address at standoutjobs.com and you’ll be the first to know when things start shakin’ and bakin’.

I’ve been researching Venture Capital lately and I’ve found a couple of good resources I’d like to share with you.

First is a very new blog called Venture Hacks. It is an “Entrepreneur’s Guide to Hacking Venture Capital”, and has some great insights into the VC process. It started on April 1st but is definitely not a joke. Highly recommended.

Second is Brad Feld‘s Term Sheet Series. It explains all the various ideas related to the term sheet, such as Drag Along, Anti-Dilution, and Pay-to-Play. There is a lot of stuff here and I’m still getting through it, but so far so good.

Ha ha, guys… Don’t take anything posted on April Fool’s Day too seriously. ;-)

Time now for a real post: a report from BarCampOttawa3.

One Laptop Per Child
One Laptop Per Child
Originally uploaded by fredngo.

I am writing this blog post at BarCampOttawa3. The Ottawa crew have done a great job organizing; and I heard that up to 200 people attended this edition! Great job guys.

Compared to Montreal, I noticed that there is a much bigger cross-section of the technology world represented here. In addition to the usual Web 2.0 enthusiasts, there are also traditional application developers (C++, etc.) as well as microchip designers, RF design engineers, embedded systems designers, and even one guy who has a startup working on internet-connected door locks. All of this makes for a much bigger cross section of possible discussion topics and a much more concrete reason to run multi-tracks. (They are running 4 concurrent tracks at this BarCamp.) Until we start getting this kind of crazy cross-sectional representation, I think our current tack with a “1.5” track BarCampMontreal2 will work very well (1 big presentation room, 1 smaller discussion room).

Another thing that was immediately obvious was a real mix of people and cultures: Indian accents, German accents, Japanese accents… Ah, wonderful multiculturalism… In this current climate of backlash against minorities in la belle province, and as a member of a minority myself, I want to emphasize how much fun it was and very refreshing to be around this kind of atmosphere. We have much to gain from accepting other cultures into our reality.

OK, enough political commentary; let’s get on to my thoughts on the presentations. I had time to write up two of them.

10 (or so) Legal Considerations when Starting a Tech Company

One great presentation I attended was by Mr. Mike Dunleavy (md@lwlaw.com, 613.599.9600 x268) from the law firm of Labarge Weinstein, called 10 (or so) Legal Considerations when Starting a Tech Company.

A couple of things I learned from the presentation:

The lifetime capital gains exemption has recently been raised to $750,000.

You can establish a family trust to save potentially millions in taxes; the idea is to split the shares of your company with family and friends, in order to use their exemption limits. So when your company is sold for $7.5M and you’ve used a family trust to split the shares among 10 friends and family, the entire amount is tax-free. Seems like a huge tax loophole to me, but at the moment it’s a perfectly legal maneuver.

He talked about many other important things including IP Agreements, Shareholder Agreements, and Tax considerations. It was a fascinating presentation and doubly more so because it is a Canadian-based view (previously I had only attended such presentations in the U.S.).

I’d personally love to see this type of legal presentation at BarCampMontreal2, so if you’re a Montreal lawyer specializing in helping Tech Startups, please contact me. It would be wonderful to have you with us.

Ruby on Rails and What It Entails

Tobias Lütke
Tobias Lütke
Originally uploaded by fredngo.

Another presentation I attended, Ruby on Rails and What It Entails, was given by Tobias Lütke, a CoFounder of jadedpixel.com. They are the guys behind the amazing Shopify.

I found it interesting that the first and foremost point he made was that Ruby on Rails developers believe in “Beautiful Code”. The reasoning is that Beautiful Code leads to Happiness. Happiness leads to productivity. Productivity leads to met deadlines. Finally, met deadlines leads to successful products.

I really agree with this; throughout my various incarnations as an engineer and developer I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time hacking on really, really, really, ugly code. As soon as a system becomes a steaming pile of junk, it’s just no longer “fun” to work on, and having fun is really key to productivity.

Tobias claims that happy teams of 4 using RoR outperform normal teams of 40 using outdated technology.

Another interesting thing he said is that it is extremely easy to replace pieces of Ruby on Rails with natively compiled C, so as you observe the loads that are placed on your application you can optimize the most time-critical parts if necessary.

I do really have to investigate Ruby on Rails a lot more.

Yesterday, I attended the Montreal Tech Entrepreneur’s Breakfast organized by my friend Ben Yoskovitz. The event was a smashing success. Over 25 people came, and they were the exact kind of people I have been aching to meet ever since I contracted entrepreneurship fever; the kind of people that I was never able to meet before, for one reason or another.

To understand why I am so happy with this turn of events, I have to provide some background on the state of the Montreal Tech Scene. I had been meaning to post about the state of the Montreal Tech Scene for quite some time, but my friend Julien Smith beat me to the punch with his posting “Montreal Needs Brains” a couple of weeks ago. The following quote summarizes my feelings on the matter quite succinctly:

People in other places, they talk. In Montreal, we don’t– like, ever. Somehow, the geek culture, where people talk about their ideas and help develop them, it doesn’t happen as much here. It’s weird.

His post (and the followup post) unleashed a firestorm of controversy; but it rang quite true to me. In fact, the Montreal Gazette published an article (“The Invisible Industry“) saying pretty much the same thing back in December. The article recounts my desperate networking experiences:

Local computer engineer Fred Ngo tells a similar story. He went to a tech powwow in Boston, hoping to find like-minded Montrealers who wanted to start their own businesses. What he found were people from Toronto and as far away as Europe. “Of course, me and my buddy were the only ones from Montreal there,” he recalled. And then the irony of it all hit him: He had left Montreal to find Montrealers.

What had happened is that I went to Startup School in Boston, organized by Paul Graham. And yes, that really was my thinking: That I would find other Montrealers there; presumably because they would have read the same stuff that I been reading and thus heard about Startup School.

I was to be disappointed; I did not meet any other Montreal entrepreneurs there. (To be fair, I met Carl Mercier a few months later when I randomly found his blog because he mentioned that he also went to Startup School — The magic of Google at work.)

“Why didn’t you try harder in Montreal?” You ask. Believe you me; I tried. I went to every business networking event I could find. YES. CEO. BNI. They were a blast to attend (afterall, I could always talk about Cat’s Corner), but I did not find startup entrepreneurs there. I found instead entrepreneurs who were starting photography studios and investors who only understood investing in ethanol plants (and demanded 50-page business plans). While all entrepreneurship is to be applauded, it wasn’t my own cup of tea, and I would not be able to find the right co-founders and investors in such a setting.

So there I was, one summer day in 2006, having lunch in Chinatown with my buddy JJ (who went to startup school with me), brainstorming big ideas (and lamenting the lack of other people who do the same); when a huge one hit me. Why not do a BarCamp in Montreal? I had heard about it months ago, checked the Wiki to see if there was one in Montreal (of course there wasn’t, grumble grumble), but it only just occurred to me that if I don’t stop saying “I wish there was BarCamp in Montreal” and actually bear the torch on this, nothing would ever happen. That very day, I announced BarCampMontreal1 on the BarCamp Wiki (I think Austin Hill had already put up a landing page at that point with a few names on it) and the rest is history, stored in the BarCampMontreal1 wiki archives.

My own feeling; corroborated by talking with a few others at the breakfast, is that for some reason everybody was just waiting for something to happen (which is weird since, as entrepreneurs, we are action people). That thing was BarCampMontreal1. It showed us tech entrepreneurs that we are not alone. Ever since, a certain energy has been in the air, and we are all feeling more confident than ever.

Nowhere is this energy more apparent than the initiatives that are taking place:

These are all amazing initiatives, and all of us who profess to be a part of Montreal’s tech entrepreneur scene need to support these initiatives.

Montreal is going to hit a home run this year. I can feel it. And no matter who hits that home run, it will boost all of us along with it.