Key Lessons from AcceleratMTL 2014

by on April 15, 2014

Last Thursday, the C100 hosted its fourth edition of AccelerateMTL. After organizing invite-only, entrepreneur-focused events for the past two years, our objective this year was to go back to the event’s origins by opening the afternoon session to all of Montreal’s tech enthusiasts from a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and industries. 

This year’s theme was all about “Scaling Innovation”. Montreal has a young tech ecosystem where a new generation of entrepreneurs are starting to assemble the building blocks of the city’s next decade of tech innovation. Our high-profile speakers and panelists shared their stories on what it takes to make these building blocks solid in the long term, explored what growth really means and discussed what it takes to bring a company to the next level.

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The afternoon started with a fireside chat between Shawn Abbott of iNovia Capital and Wesley Chan (Now Advisor to Google Ventures, launched Google Ventures and was Google Analytics and Google Voice founder). Most of the discussion centred around building cultures of innovation. Wesley recognized that startups struggle to create a culture of innovation that is closely related to growth and to its ability to build long-lasting competitive advantages. One of the ways startups do this is to constantly monitor innovation in the market – to find and understand the best products out there. Google does that by encouraging employees to use any type of device/OS. Microsoft, on the other hand, only permits employees to use Windows phones. The striking contrast between the approach to innovation articulates the Silicon Valley state of mind: to be optimistic and confident while seeking the uncomfortable.

“You have to be uncomfortable, you have to believe there is something better out there.” – Wesley Chan

Wesley advised entrepreneurs to have that attitude towards innovation – of always seeking the uncomfortable – because it drives passion. And passion is the necessary fuel to spend days brainstorming and scraping on a problem.

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Following the intimate fireside chat with Wesley, we jumped over to a dynamic presentation from Nigel Beck, Business Development and M&A at Social Software for IBM. Nigel humorously illustrated the best ways to partner with large companies by illustrating all the things you shouldn’t do. The best way to position your startup when pitching to a bigger company is to show that it’s not about you. Position yourself as a tool to improve the big company’s offering or build their client base. Most importantly, understand the motivations of the different departmental functions and how you can fix their problem and make them more successful.

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A panel discussion on growth took the stage late in the afternoon. Featuring Mike Bhaskaran, COO & CIO at Beyond the Rack, Patrick Manion, Managing Director at Pagemill, Carl Mercier, CEO at Codified, and Greg Isenberg, CEO & Founder at 5by, there were diverse backgrounds and industries ranging from e-Commerce and supply chain management to mergers and acquisitions. Moderator Steve Abrams, touched on many topics, but there seemed to be a trend for the day: transparency and honesty. The panel agreed on the value in “getting punched in the face” – having tough conversations about performance and execution.

“When bad things are happening, don’t pretend they aren’t. Be candid but nice. @cmercier & Mike Bhaskaran #AccelerateMTL” — via @Invest_Ottawa

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The day ended with an insider discussion about BuildDirect’s recent funding round of $30M between Katherine Barr from Mohr Davidow Ventures and Jeff Booth, CEO of BuildDirect. Jeff shared how the deal happened naturally after Katherine cleared out her schedule to come and meet with him, although the Company already had a few options on the table. Jeff also shared a few general advices for entrepreneurs looking to build long-lasting companies. First, entrepreneurs have to be genuinely devoted to serve others, this is the simplest main reason people do business. Second, while building a company, it’s important to focus on the hard things first. BuildDirect has built its culture around Steven Covey’s “five rocks” lesson: the Company’s top 5 priorities are stated and re-evaluated on a 60-day basis. This culture also translates into highly effective board meetings that are always started with a discussion on the most important topic in the agenda.

“We have the real conversations and we talk about the core things objectively” – Jeff Booth

Third, on scaling, fast growing startups can’t afford to be focused on lagging indicators that are not directly actionable (such as sales). Entrepreneurs should more often use leading indicators that are the root causes/factors and generally best predictors behind performance (the key drivers of sales are the important indicators in this case). On values and attitude, Jeff emphasized the importance for successful entrepreneurs to make sure they remain humble as their success and power increase because that reflects to their team’s attitude towards their colleagues and peers externally. To the entrepreneurs that are not yet successful, it’s all about keeping standing up when getting knocked down.

We want to hear you feedback in the comment section. Let us know what were your key learnings from the event as well as anything we could do to make AccelerateMTL better next year. Special thanks to Marco Gartenhaus (@mgartenhaus) for sharing his detailed notes.

This blog was originally posted on the C100 blog.