Friday, January 29, 2010

That was a fine night in Guelph

DemoCampGuelph has a great combination of demos, atmosphere, conversations, and just plain fun. The 12th edition this past Wednesday had all that, and made for a warm event on a cold January night. As usual, the event was well-organized and inspiring.

At the start of the evening I spent some time planning the next UX Group meeting over dinner with a friend and colleague who will be leading a workshop on guerrilla usability. Should be a great event — more details to come in the next few days.

DemoCampGuelph proper got off to a great start with a talk by Tara Hunt about the social world. Good stuff. My takeaway? Don’t be an evil robot!

The demos were entertaining for a variety of reasons. Harry Scanlan’s demo-as-standup-comedy (or is it standup-comedy-as-demo?) is just as funny as it was the first time I saw him present/perform. On a more serious side, I particularly enjoyed seeing my former Primal Fusion colleague Alex Black demo his new product Snapsort. That’s him in the accompanying photo, responding to Brydon’s introductory questions.

The only downside of the night for me was that I couldn’t stay longer — family commitments took me home sooner than I would have liked.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shopping in the neighbourhood

There’s a lot to like about living and working in Waterloo. In previous posts I’ve commented on non-commercial aspects of my community. Today, following an exciting new opening last week, I feel compelled to write about a few independent businesses that happen to be within walking distance of my home and that I’ve been patronizing for many years. All of them add to my quality of life in Waterloo, and I’m grateful that they’re here.

Vincenzo’s, a lovely grocery store, recently opened their brand new location in the historic Bauer building, and I discovered on a recent visit that it really is quite wonderful. I’ve been shopping at Vincenzo’s for a very long time — I was first introduced to the store by a friend while I was attending university. At that time it was in a small house on Bridgeport Road in Waterloo and wasn’t yet called Vincenzo’s. My wife and I continued to enjoy the delights of the store when they moved to a larger location on Belmont Avenue in the early 1990s. The new location is even better, and I’m looking forward to shopping their regularly. If the sausages that we had for dinner this weekend are any indication, the newly added Bauer Butcher will be a great hit.

On another front, Words Worth Books is also a longstanding presence in the community. Over the years they’ve weathered the arrival of big box bookstores and internet shopping, and continue to provide a passionately local and literate alternative to those other shopping options. I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve gone with a staff recommendation when buying there over the years. I’ve also enjoyed readings by the many authors that Words Worth has brought to town, and look forward to many more. One, in particular, stands out. The late Robertson Davies, a celebrated Canadian author, was here to to promote his most recent book, The Lyre of Orpheus. My wife had brought her copy of the book, which I had previously given to her for her birthday, in the hope of getting it autographed. While standing in the autograph line after the event, my wife joked with Words Worth co-owner Tricia Siemens about a flaw in her copy of the book — some of the pages had been bound upside down. Tricia wanted to replace it, but my wife didn’t want to bother, and Mr. Davies heard the discussion. He took the book and examined it, before inscribing the great message “Robertson Davies Shame on Macmillans!’

Last for today, but certainly not least, is Generation X Video and Media. Mike and his crew have been a reliable source of fine videos, books, magazines, and odd collectible toys for over a decade now. The store was initially located in a house on Regina Street, and later moved into the Regina Commons location where they can be found today. We’ve been getting movies there from the very beginning, as my wife found and explored the store before they were even officially open! It’s a great place where everyone cares about movies. I’ve never hesitated to walk in and ask Mike or Chris “What should I watch?” and neither has ever steered me wrong.

While every city has it’s own unique independent businesses, these are three that make Waterloo special.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Primal Fusion a hit at EpCon

In my earlier post about January events, I forgot to mention EpCon, organized by and for students from the University of Waterloo and which ran this past Friday and Saturday. Primal Fusion was one of the companies that participated, and I was lucky enough to spend some time at the conference.

I started off late Friday afternoon when I joined three of my colleagues at a booth where we evangelized Primal Fusion to interested visitors. And there were a large number of interested visitors. In a room that featured representation from giants like Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, it was gratifying to see how many folks were interested in what we’re doing. Many of them were also interested in joining us for a co-op work term.

On Saturday morning, Primal Fusion founder Peter Sweeney gave a talk in a session that was, again, well-attended. The engaged and enthusiastic audience seemed genuinely interested in hearing Peter’s ideas about the industrialization of the Web. At the end, he gave a demonstration of a Website Generator, which is currently in Primal Labs (and which I had shown in an earlier form at StartupCampWaterloo last fall). The demonstration was well-received and, despite having a time slot right before lunch, many folks from the audience wanted to chat with Peter after his talk. It was, by any measure, a fine morning.

EpCon looks like it was a great success. Congratulations to the organizers for a job well done. EpCon was certainly well worth the visit for Primal Fusion.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A couple of fine January events to look forward to

I’m looking forward to the next editions of a couple of recurring events in the tech community.

First up is the January edition of the UX Group of Waterloo Region meeting, next Monday January 18 at the Accelerator Centre. Kem-Laurin Kramer will lead us through a provocative session entitled “Is user experience becoming a commodity?”, which is sure to lead to a lively discussion and exchange of ideas. Come on out and enjoy the company, the conversations, and the connections.

A little later in the month is DemoCampGuelph12, on January 27 at the eBar in Guelph. As I write this, there are over 100 people registered to attend. At this point, I’ll draw your attention to a pair of useful posts by Brydon Gilliss on securing a demo slot at the event and, far more importantly, on the value of intersections.

Past editions of both events have, for me, made for great learning and meeting experiences. I know that this month will be no different. Here's hoping that January weather isn’t too stormy on the event days!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Founder smashed like a bowl of eggs, company listing badly

It’s been a bit of an indulgence on this blog to write about movies that provide a good metaphor for a startup. Two of the movie ‘startups’ ended well (The Dam Busters, The Adventures of Robin Hood), while one was a disaster (King Kong). With today’s post, it looks like I have a series going!

Barrett’s Privateers isn’t a movie, but a ballad written and performed by the late Stan Rogers. It’s a rollicking sea tale that, to me, is a fine metaphor for a path that some startups end up taking.

Barrett’s Privateers features a founder (Captain Elcid Barrett) who has an idea, though not an innovative one on its own, (become a privateer — “A letter of marque came from the King”) to solve a pressing problem (England was at war with its American colonies) and to get rich (by cruising the seas for American gold).

Barret hires his team (“twenty great men, all fishermen”, including the song’s narrator) convincing them that his vision will lead to success (“We’d fire no guns, shed no tears”).

This particular startup is underfunded and poorly equipped (“The Antelope sloop was a sickening sight... She had a list to the port and her sails in rags”), but the team was ready and willing to work hard (“It was ninety one days to Montego Bay, pumping like madmen all the way.”) to deliver.

The team went to market (“On the ninety sixth day we sailed again”) and it looked like they had a chance to make an early success (“When a bloody great Yankee hove in sight, with our cracked four-pounders we made to fight.”). They redoubled their efforts (“But to catch her took the Antelope two whole days”), but the market place was a much tougher one than anyone had planned (“Our cracked four-pounders made an awful din, but with one fat ball the Yank stove us in.”).

The startup couldn’t survive in such a competitive market (“The Antelope shook and pitched on her side”). Things ended particularly badly for the founder (“Barrett was smashed like a bowl of eggs”), while the narrator (“And the main truck carried off both me legs”) and the rest of the startup’s team (“But I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett’s Privateers”) faired little better.

The bad ending for Barrett’s crew provides some perspective for a real startup!

By the way, there’s a great line-by-line exploration of Barrett’s Privateers by Dan Conlin that is well worth a look if you’re a fan of the song.