Thursday, May 23, 2019

Reliving Collision: Day 2 tweets

Here are my tweets from day 2 of Collision Toronto 2019. Many great moments!
As in the previous post, read from the bottom up if you care about chronological order.

This time, I've added a few comments, to provide follow-up or correct the occasional error.


(This tweet got under the skin of a few Nenshi haters. I'd prefer it got under people's skin in Waterloo, which missed a great chance to formally showcase its incredible tech community. Of course, individual tech entrepreneurs from K-W were found throughout Collision, but randomness is not the best branding.)

I missed tweeting two of the three semi-finalists (each pitch was just 3 minutes long - barely enough time for a meaningful tweet). New York-based Loliware  uses leading seaweed technology to replace single-use plastics such as straws ("Designed to disappear.") Los Angeles-based Spero Foods produces plant-based substitutes for eggs and dairy products. Dum spiro spero!

Addendum: The winner was Loliware. Canadian connection: Loliware is a SheEO-backed company.
Congrats to founders Chelsea Briganti and Leigh Ann Tucker!
Furlong's point was  valid, and I'm glad she had the courage to point that out after so many VCs were gushing over the quality of the pitches. You can't learn much from genial praise.


Very cool company! Check out Victoria-based Open Ocean Robotics at  https://openoceanrobotics.com/

Korapay is actually based in Toronto. Read more; 




There were actually 14 pitches, divided into two sessions of seven. Sorry for the error. Listening is harder than it sounds.

This tweet was especially popular in the Second Amendment community. That doesn't make it wrong.
For more about Anduril Industries, visit https://www.anduril.com/.
In elvish, "Anduril" (the name of Aragorn's sword) means "Flame of the West."* Which bothers me a little bit. Tolkien's hoary Nordicness is a bit out of place in our globalized world, where India and China are not Mordor.
* (Yes, I did have to look that up.)

Amazing new product from the company formerly known as Thalmic Labs. Read a review here. 

Speaking about the Ford cuts, Bains also noted, "We would not be here today (ie, in a leadership position in AI-related technologies) if we had not invested in the past... When it comes to AI and innovation, we will continue to invest."

Seriously. The paranoia about Chinese and Russian tech from some American speakers was almost tangible.


Always thank the volunteers.


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Collision 2019 Toronto - Relive Day 1 through my best tweets!

Collision, one of the world's biggest tech conferences, has set up shop in Toronto this week.

It's like a 12-ring circus: it's impossible to take it all in. But here are a few highlights, as conveyed in a few of my tweets today. See where the smart money is going, witness the death of cash, get to know Timbalake, meet some innovative bankers, find out how Collision welcomed Ontario premier Doug Ford, and learn what to do with self-doubt.

In the style of Twitter, these tweets are in the opposite of chronological order.





















Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Why You Need to Develop Smarter Introductions

Once you've learned the difference between gross and net, there is no more important skill for business leaders to master than developing a clear, compelling personal introduction.

Preparing your all-star, all-purpose mission statement provides multiple benefits. Instant clarity enables more productive business conversations. It can connect you faster and more efficiently to new ideas, new opportunities and new business relationships that will enhance your career and your life.

Wherever you meet people – at conferences, lunches or other events – you must be able to sum up your business role in a way that creates interest and stimulates follow-on conversation. People are always happy to meet interesting people.

A few well-chosen words can make all the difference between new contacts saying “Tell me more” or “See you later.”

Elevator pitches, missions, USPs (Unique Service [or Sales] Propositions) are all forms of business introductions. But developing them into compelling, relationship-building statements requires creativity, confidence and practice – which explains why so few people get them right.

Think of the last time you introduced yourself. Did your comments fire the other person’s imagination? Or did you mumble the first thing that came into your head: “I'm in the printing business.”

I'm not suggesting you “sell” to everyone. Most of the people you meet are not prospects. BUT – anyone could be a potential new partner, advisor or friend. They may know people who are prospects, or they may have access to resources you need. That’s why your job when you're out meeting people is not to sell, but to build relationships by signalling that you are interesting, your role is worthwhile, and your work matters.

Consider this typical dialogue when two business people meet at an event. 

Hi. My name’s Phil. 
I’m Julie. 
What brings you here, Julie? 
I’m here with my company. 
Oh? What company do you work for? 
Nelsoncom. Have you heard of it? 
First time. What does Nelsoncom do? 
Oh, we’re in office supplies. 
What kind of office supplies? 
All kinds, really ... 

And so it goes. A perfectly normal business conversation, awkward and full of pauses. Neither side is trying very hard.

Let’s imagine a better way. Where both people are proud of what they do and eager to connect. 

Hi. My name’s Phil.
I’m Julie.
What brings you here, Julie?
I'm in charge of procurement for Nelsoncom office supplies. We supply the entire Midwest with everything from staplers to office furnishings. We work with new brands that offer better value and more innovation than our biggest competitors.
That’s incredible, Julie. I work with a printer that specializes in rush jobs for really demanding clients. I bet we have a lot in common.
Do you work with Somfeld Industries? We've been trying to crack that account for years.
Yes. I even went to school with one of their VPs …


Notice how the first conversation drags on listlessly, while the second gets things done, with passion and vigour. That’s because both sides understood the importance of concise but expressive introductions that engage other people quickly and meaningfully.

I am convinced that anyone can develop compelling introductions that lead to deeper, more productive business conversations. Just keep in mind that passion is reciprocal. The more effort you put into being interesting and compelling, the more energy you’ll get back from other people!

To start you off, here are three ways to master the meaningful introduction.

1. Ugrade your introductions by selecting the parts of your story that are most compelling. What makes your business (or product) different? What makes it special?

2. Hint at the benefits or purpose behind what you do. How do you actually help your clients? How do you create value? Why do customers keep coming back?

3. Keep your intro short. Keep it human. Avoid jargon. Remember, you're not selling – you're connecting.

For more info on connecting more deeply through meaningful introductions, follow my new Twitter account, “Instant Clarity.” @clarity_instant.

Get help with your mission – free!
I tweet regularly about mission statements, introductions and branding. And I happily invite questions. My goal is to help people develop better introductions live-on-Twitter, so everyone can watch these messages evolve. This service is free – you just have to agree to go through the process in public. (Which is also great promotion, BTW.)

On our first day, we helped one company, Riverwood Acoustics, change its approach to branding. We’d be pleased to help you, too.

(If you're a marketer or consultant, you can join the conversation to help others improve their personal branding. Your input will be welcome.)

See you on Twitter!

Rick Spence:
"I help people create more exciting business messages."

Thursday, April 25, 2019

"Every person is an adventure"

A short note about networking.

When you are up to your neck in business and personal affairs, networking can seem like an extraneous, pointless activity. Why go out of your way to meet new people when you know most of them will never become customers – and you’re already too busy to properly serve all the people you know and love?
The answer is: the right people will surprise and re-energize you. 

So what if most of them will not buy from you? You already have (or should have) a marketing program designed to reach potential prospects. Networking is about nourishing your soul. It’s about breaking out of your solitude and your rut, and connecting with brilliant minds doing cool things. Their stories of purpose and achievement will inspire you, and their activities and new perspectives will trigger new ideas for refreshing your business doing things differently.

It's am effort to talk to take the initiative and talk to new people. And it’s getting even harder now, as people hide behind their phones in public places, masking their solitude with the appearance of activity and connection.

But every time I connect, it pays off. At a recent conference of social entrepreneurs, in Oxford, England, I met so many amazing people: purposeful investors, creative social activists, students searching for their place, a startup phone manufacturer from Peru, a guy with a 100-year-old one-sheet printing press. a French-Italian entrepreneur working in Finland to help home-based businesses in rural Africa. So many perspectives, so many stories, so much passion and energy!

When you open up to other people, your world gets bigger. New possibilities excite you. Hearing other people’s challenges reminds you that you don't have it so tough. Making arrangements to follow up with Skype calls and Zoom meetings ensures that these lessons and this energy aren’t lost.

And every time you talk about your own story you get better at it. You find new, better ways to describe your mission and engage other people. Contrary to popular belief, networking isn’t marketing – it’s personal development.

At Oxford, I tweeted about my experience.
Tired? Looking for inspiration? Get out and meet new people. Talk less, listen more. Follow up with those who make you smile.

You'll never regret it.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Climate Solutions: Follow CSI's epic "Pitch Night" through 11 Tweets

Full disclosure: I am a newly minted advisor to the Centre for Social Innovation's Climate Ventures program in Toronto. I'm looking forward to working with these and other outstanding cleantech entrepreneurs!













Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Surround yourself with good people (and much, much more)


Today is #TuesdayThoughts day on Twitter. I hope you'll find some inspiration from some of my favourites among this morning's tweets.










Sunday, January 06, 2019

Happy New Year! Best wishes for achieving your fullest potential in 2019.

If attitude determines altitude, your success this year will hinge on your mindset.
Are you focusing on the right things? Expelling negative thoughts from your life?

From author, speaker and leadership expert Jon Gordon, here are 20 tips for creating a more positive new year.
I particularly like numbers 5, 6, 10, 15 and 16: Smile, Serve, Read, Love.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Ten Characteristics of Great Entrepreneurs

Lovingly borrowed from Howard Schultz and Dan Levitan of Maveron, for a recent presentation in Ottawa.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

What’s Your Mission? Your Personal Mission Statement

Every day you are missing key chances to sell yourself and your business better.

Whenever someone asks you, “What do you do?”, you are being handed a golden opportunity to build your brand. 

But most people answer that question modestly, almost reluctantly. “I’m in insurance,” they say, or “I work with a tech startup.” Unsure whether the other person is truly interested, most people respond as tersely and noncommittally as possible.

The inevitable result: having received such a dull, unimaginative response, most people promptly lose all interest in what you do. Congratulations! You just blew a chance to acquire a new customer, partner, fan or friend.

If you care about what you do, be enthusiastic about it. And make other people feel just as excited as you are.

So when someone asks you what you do, instead of mumbling the simplest, blandest answer you can, respond with something bolder, more personal, and more memorable!

I remember asking the question of one entrepreneur, who were applied very boldly,” I’m the second biggest steel fabricator in the Ottawa Valley.” It was brash, it was memorable, and it sparked a great conversation. Who knows how many steel fabricators there are in the Ottawa Valley? Doesn’t matter. That hint of verve and audacity was the cue that this person was worth talking to.

There’s a school of thought that says your opening line should be a short commercial, such as: “I sell payment solutions for e-commerce companies.” That’s clear and concise, but it’s not very personal, or likely to grab the interest of anyone who is not entrenched in e-commerce.

Remember the medieval stonecutter, who when asked what he was doing, answered with great pride: “I’m building a cathedral.” Why not, then, say, “I’m involved with a company that’s reinventing e-commerce.” That sounds a lot less like a commercial, and more like a great cause that many people would be interested in learning more about. That’s how you start a great conversation.

I call these Personal Mission Statements. As a business person, you should prepare identifying statements and other talking points that demonstrate why you’re an interesting person creating new value in this sorry world.

Again, these are NOT commercials. Few new acquaintances give a fig about your “value proposition.” No one wants to be propositioned without permission. But everyone is interested in hearing innovative stories about people doing important and interesting work.

How do you create value for the world? Are you an inventor, are you a pioneer, are you working on leading-edge projects? Do you have a track record of helping people solve problems? Are you on the lookout for potential partners, allies, referrals, resources?

Think through all the interesting things you do, or you’re trying to do. Pick out the best parts and incorporate them into the opening sentences of any business- or career-related conversations. Don’t try to sell yourself; get people interested in your vision, your projects, and your dreams. Once they're intrigued, a fruitful conversation can begin. Afterwards you can decide if they're possible prospects, or, more likely, potential partners, resources or allies.

So many people struggle with their "opening line." Don't think of it as a marketing trick. Just share your light with the world.

Don’t hide that light under a bushel. If you’re doing interesting stuff, it’s a crime that more people don’t know about it.


Exercise: Just Three Questions

1. What are the most interesting things you’re working on right now?
2. Why should any of this matter to other people?
3. How can you convey your vision and mission to other people in just one sentence (your Personal Mission Statement) that will whet their appetites to learn more?


Monday, May 14, 2018

Meet the world's top social entrepreneurs

This year's Skoll World Forum for social entrepreneurs took place in Oxford, UK, April 10-13. Sadly, it marked the conference’s first year without founder Jeff Skoll, the Canadian-born engineer who became the first president of eBay. Now virtually the patron saint of social entrepreneurs, Jeff stayed home in California to recover from back surgery.

Jimmy Carter acceptance speech
But 1300 people showed up to the conference, making it the largest Skoll World ever. They presented a “Global Treasure” award to Jimmy Carter, and explored issues such as improving global healthcare, sustainable economic development, preserving indigenous cultures, enhancing agriculture in Africa, and fighting indentured slavery. 

After the 2017 conference, which was still reeling in shock from the election of Trump and his band of narcissistic nationalists, the world’s best social entrepreneurs proved this year that they're back in fighting form and ready to move forward again with their innovative, inspiring agendas for improving the human condition.

Dinner at Oxford's 600-year-old Divinity School
I wrote three stories on the Skoll conference. Here’s a quick summary.

“Proximity triggers empathy.” 
My first story for the Financial Post explored the conference’s surprising but very meaningful theme, “The Power of Proximity.” As I wrote, in phrasing that gained some Twitter traction, “Yes, this sounds like the business bromide ‘Get closer to your customer.’ But Skoll’s adoption of this theme demonstrated that this advice applies to any entrepreneur — especially when times are tough. It’s so easy to neglect your mission amid the day-to-day struggle to survive. As a leader, you have to stay focused on relationships even when things are so hard and complex that you feel you’ll never get home for dinner again.”

Jehiel Oliver of Hello Tractor
The story explored “proximity” through the case study of a social venture called “Hello Tractor.” U.S. founder Jehiel Oliver confessed that his initial plan to disrupt African agriculture by getting affordable tractors in the hands of small landholders failed because he didn't wasn’t close enough to the market. “We tried to do it the Silicon Valley way,” says Oliver. “But we had to do it the community way instead.”

"To whom much is given, much is required." 
My second Post story zoomed in on a key challenge for social entrepreneurs and the world: how to make governments more efficient. As I wrote, “Government waste breeds cynicism, inequality and despair. The entrepreneurs tackling this intractable problem could spur new efficiencies around the world.”

2018 Skoll Award winners
I looked at two ventures that this year received Skoll Awards, which are given annually to promising social ventures whose innovations have already had significant, proven impact on some of the world’s most pressing problems.

Code for America trains tech-savvy “fellows” to improve the ways governments offer services, by embracing concepts such as design thinking and iterative, user-centered approaches. According to founder Jennifer Pahlka, CFA now has 70 local “brigades” whose work has helped more than 500,000 people. 

Just as important, she says CFA’s efforts are firing up public servants. “The people we call bureaucrats are actually a massive force for good, who are just hungry for the tools and approaches that will let them effectively help their fellow citizens. And we, the people, can help them unlock that enormous potential.” 
(There's now also a Code for Canada, doing similar work. Visit https://codefor.ca/)

The second winner was Barbara Bush, the daughter of former U.S. president George H.W. Bush, co-founder of New York City-based GlobalHealth Corps. “Our ‘big idea’ was – and still is – that great ideas don’t change the world, great people do,” Bush told me in an interview by email. GHC has now trained and placed 1,000 “fellows” under the age of 30 in medical facilities and governments in the U.S., Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. They are young, educated and committed catalysts for change, says Bush:

“We realized that there was a major implementation gap in global health. Millions were dying from treatable illnesses because they weren’t being reached with the incredible life-saving tools and information we have. On the flip side, we saw a huge supply of passionate, talented young leaders who wanted to change the world.  So we set out to maximize this interest by recruiting and training a new generation of leaders to ensure people can live full, healthy lives. We are seeding the global health field with incredible talent who will effect change throughout their careers.”



"You are a barrier against disinformation, duplicity and destruction.”
My third story was written for Corporate Knights magazine (the issue will be out in June, but it was posted online last week.) It’s a collection of highlights from the whole Skoll event – from Jimmy Carter’s acceptance speech to an Indian lawyer’s story of his journey out of slavery.

Gwynne Shotwell of Space X
I also couldn't resist quoting Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, on how to create bold, successful change:

  • Execute missions that seem impossible.
  • Relentless focus on progress and improving every cycle.
  • Drive feedback to ensure we learn and fix quickly.
  • Superior staff is the only way to achieve great things.

(Sorry about that downer ending. But the best way to create social justice is to recognize inequality in your own backyard.)


Saturday, April 07, 2018

Lessons from Canada's most aspiring entrepreneurs

Oops. I meant to share this with you weeks ago.

For my first column of 2018, I went back and contacted a few of the ambitious entrepreneurs whose businesses I had profiled in the first half of 2017. An editor of mine long ago said, "You can't do enough follow-ups," so I followed up to see how they're faring and what they learned over the past year.

In my experience, you can learn a lot from other entrepreneurs. Our journeys are all different, but many of the obstacles are common ones.

You can read the story at the Post website here:
http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/0104-biz-rs-spence-review-fpe

What did they learn?

Here are a few examples of the lessons 2017 dealt out:

“I had a birdie chirping in my head that it might not work out. Now I know what that sounds like, so I am going to listen to that bird in future.”
Erika Mozes

“We learned that you need to understand what other market pressures and priorities your customers may be facing, and work with that challenge to demonstrate your value proposition to get to the top of their priority list.”

“Be totally forthright with potential competition, even when you’re not sure how they may react to your vision.”

“Understanding your customer is the most important thing you can do as a business."

“I learned that nothing is done in business until it’s done.” 

“Things only work out if you make them work out.”

Now go back and read the full story. 

http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/0104-biz-rs-spence-review-fpe

I'd love to know what lessons you're learning. 

Leave a comment or email me at rick@rickspence.ca if you'd like to share your thoughts on how to deal with the hard knocks of business. And please let me know if I can use your comments in a future column.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Auditioning for Dragons' Den

Dragons' Den auditions continue across Canada this month. Why not step into the Den with your invention, product or business idea?

I just received a request for audition advice from a startup entrepreneur I know in Western Canada. I'm excited that she has registered, and as you'll see, I think she has a good shot at getting on the show. And of getting an offer.


I used to help the CBC Toronto crew with Dragons' Den auditions, years ago, when they were under-resourced. So I have some insight into what the producers (and the Dragons) are looking for. But I've been out of that loop for a few years now, so take the following for what it's worth.   

Here, with a few edits to retain confidentiality, are my comments to this entrepreneur. 

She asked what time she should show up: "You don't need to get there early; that's usually a busy time. I suggest you go 1-2 hours before they close. By that time the producers are tired, their expectations are low, and you will blow them away."
She asked whether the fact that her product's sales have been slow will be a problem. Hell, no! 

"The fact that you are in stores and making sales is a big plus. You are way ahead of most people auditioning, because most of them don't have a product, and most of those who do are still looking for distribution. The audition judges (and the dragons) know sales success is as much a factor of promotion dollars as of product quality, so I doubt they would hold a slow start against you.

"Remember: above all they are looking for a good, upbeat story. And you have it.

"You saw personally a gap in a growing market. You looked for solutions and couldn't find one, so you designed one yourself and then hired a factory to produce them! Plus, you didn't want to risk your savings (the Dragons hate it when people do that - it's a sign of very bad judgment). So you looked for financial help. And after being turned down by a few sources, you found some additional capital (so there's a great lesson there about persistence). 

"Keep your story simple. (Sometimes entrepreneurs get too immersed in their own  stories and go on too long. Practice telling your story as simply and as briefly as you can.

"One other thought. Think of a customer success story. It could be anything positive that a retailer or retail customer has said or done. Did a customer provide amazing feedback on the product, fit, convenience, etc? Did a retailer hunt you down and beg you to supply them? One or two quick, casual anecdotes like those will help position you as a winner."

The annual Dragons' Den audition tour began in February and continues across Canada until April 7.  Upcoming locations include BC, Alberta, Whitehorse, Newfoundland, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Quebec and Ontario. Click here for dates, locations, and other useful information.

Go ahead. Own the Den!