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Pitching Your Idea

February 24, 2012

Chris Schmitt

I love the video Viafoura has created for pitching their idea. They use a classic approach that you can use for your own pitches:

  1. The problem – What problem does your service solve from your customer’s perspective? (Digital publishers premium content is been used to build social media communities on someone else’s platform)
  2. The solution – How does your service solve this problem? (Viafoura helps digital publishers create the same sense of community that users find compelling on social media platforms)
  3. Features – What are the technology attributes of your solution that solve this problem? (Conversation widgets, curation widgets and reward mechanics)
  4. Benefits – What are the benefits of using your service? (Increased customer loyalty – more page views, longer tome spent on the site, more return visits – leading to more revenue)

You can use this same methodology to pitch your idea:

“Our customer’s _______ (problem) will be solved by our ______ (solution) because of our _____________ (technology attributes) which leads to  ___________ (benefits)” (fill in the blanks)”

For example,

Digital publishers premium content is been used to build social media communities on someone else’s platform. Viafoura helps digital publishes create the same sense of community that users find so compelling on social media platforms through the use of conversation widgets, curation widgets and reward mechanics. The use of our Viafoura will increase customer loyalty: more page views, longer time spent on your site, and more return visits leading to increased revenue.

Get this pitch right and it should lead to more questions, like, what the heck is “reward mechanics”. But that’s what you want: more questions.

If you want you embellish your pitch even more, consider how you could add “proof points”, i.e. examples of how your solution (or maybe someone else’s solution in a similar context) actually produced the benefits described in your pitch.

Got an idea? Try to express it in the format above. The process will help you to flesh out your idea.

Next up: taking this one step further by structuring a hypothesis for your lean start-up.

– Chris


Entrepreneur or Employee?

February 20, 2012

Chris Schmitt

Some people know the answer to this question without even thinking about it. For others, it’s not so easy.

Being an entrepreneur is awesome! You’re your own boss. You’re in the drivers seat. You pick what you want to do rather then someone else. There’s an opportunity for great success.

Being an entrepreneur sucks! You’re your own boss: if you screw up there’s no one to blame but yourself. You have decide what to do every step of the way; no one’s going to help you (other than advice, of which over half will be bad anyway). There’s the chance of great failure: financial disaster, marital problems, stress.

Being an employee is awesome! If you screw up, the company will likely survive, and you’ll probably get a second chance. You get to contribute, perhaps in a big way, but someone else is taking all the big risks. Do your job well and you’ll continue to get paid. If the company is in trouble, you can always work somewhere else.

Being an employee sucks! No matter how great your ideas are, someone else is making the decisions. You do what you’re told; there’s little room for creativity. If the company is in trouble, you could loose your job, and you may have trouble finding another one.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I was starting to get a little discouraged…

January 12, 2012

Chris Schmitt

I was starting to get a little discouraged about the new apps being launched lately. They all seem to be so “me too” and narrowly focused. That is until lately.

I’ve recently been hacking around with a couple of applications, or platforms if you will, that look really interesting and got my creative juices flowing: Twilio and Trello (and yes, they sound a lot alike but that’s just a coincidence).

Twilio provides infrastructure APIs for developers to build scalable voice and text messaging apps. Think of Twilio as cloud-based telephony. They’ve built a very easy to use and flexible platform for developers to dream up all sorts of applications. It took me a while to “get it”, but here’s how I see it: Twilio approaches telephony from the perspective of what a user wants to do. It’s not really for making simple telephone calls – although it can do that – it’s more for building integrated and interactive apps that use telephony as a feature. I see this user-driven approach as refreshing from the traditional telecommunications company.

Trello is a very flexible, multi-purpose collaboration tool. Two things really impress me about Trello: first the incredibly responsive and dynamic interface. The developers, Fog Creek Software, have deployed the latest bleeding edge technologies to build Trello: node.jsCoffeescriptWebSocketsMongoDB, HTML5 and CSS3. I can make a change on the screen of my laptop and see the change propagate to my iPad in less than a second. No need to save and update. Trello gets me dreaming about the whole new generation of web apps that these technologies could spawn.

The other thing that’s impressive about Trello is its multi-purpose functionality; you could use it for anything from keeping a personal todo list to managing a complex business process to building a house to designing a new product. Trello is working on an API and I could envision integrating Trello with other business applications.

Hopefully you’ll share my excitement.

What new platforms have you looked at lately? I’d love to hear from you.


TeamCamp Christmas Year 3 – 2012 Predictions

December 15, 2011

Chris Schmitt

We had a great turnout tonight with lots of new faces.

For the 3rd year in a row, here are the TeamCamp predictions for 2012:

Brad – Responsive websites that respond to either mobile or desktop applications. This will create more work for developers but will save companies money overall. Prediction 2: The Facebook IPO will make it one of the most over valued companies.

Sylvain – Prediction 1: we’ll finally see the emergence of software as a service (SAS), i.e. people will buy terminals rather than computers and run apps on the cloud. Prediction 2: Within the next 15 years there will be a total collapse of the economy worldwide and currency as we know it will cease to exist. I guess we’ll need to wait a few years to see if this will happen.

Ian – The global meltdown comes to Ottawa next year and there will be across the board cuts in the federal government (merry Christmas to you too Ian!). Ian cites cuts in DND and the elimination of the Wheat Board as leading indicators. Other indicators: the economy in general is suffering and housing pricing is 3 times higher than in the US.  However, as a result of all of this there will be a rise in entrepreneurship (ok, we feel better now, I think).

JC – The current multiplication of social networks significantly increases the signal to noise ratio which makes them, at best not as useful as they could be and at worst, very distracting. We’ll see the emergence of independent “social filters”, as opposed to the ones (built by and for the benefit of the major players) that currently dictate what gets into our news feed. This will hopefully bring better ways of reducing the social clutter while keeping it meaningful and human.  Also, Apple TV with integrated screen etc. will be launched and will be Siri enabled.

Zeeshan – Web apps will continue to proliferate despite the popularity of mobile apps. Prediction 2: Windows will launch an app store but it will not be successful.

Alain – TeamCamp will explode into a massive enterprise pumping out 100s, no 1000s, no 10,000s of new startups all over the world. And, as a result, The Code Factory will need more space. Now, the real prediction: The automobile industry will finally get with it and introduce truly innovative (and useful) technology in vehicles. Prediction 3: someone will invent a technology to make your voice sound like anyone else’s voice, an actor for example. (It sounds like you better patent that one Alain)

Christopher – Paying with your mobile phone will take off. Bitcoin will do really well.

Chris – I’m going out on a limb this year: Microsoft will start to make a comeback (gulp!).

All of our predictions started to get a little off the wall at that point. So, I guess we’ll have to see what happens next year.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

– Chris

Web Analytics for Startup Ideas

November 21, 2011

Chris Schmitt

You have a startup idea. Great! Is there a market for it? Let’s find out! A promo page is a great way to find out if your idea resonates with someone in the market.

On Thursday, Dec 1st, Pascal Laliberté (@pascallaliberte) will show you how to gauge the market for a startup idea using analytics tools and a promo page.

Pascal is a Business Analyst at the University of Ottawa and maintains a blog at  The is the second time Pascal will be presenting at TeamCamp. You’ll love his enthusiasm and his passion for usability.

In this session, you’ll learn how to use analytics tools to help you widdle down to a killer promo page. You’ll learn how to track clicks to gauge user interest, how to discover your audience by learning how they got to your page and how to know which version of your promo page creates the best response.

Part 1 : Analytics tools and how to use them

We’ll look at approaches for analytics, some definitions, a round up of a few tools you can use like Google Analytics, Clicktale, Google Website Optimizer and Adwords. We’ll also get technical with a few examples of click tracking code and A/B testing tricks.

Part 2 : Group exercise

By working with one or two of your examples, we’ll figure out together the steps to get to a testable promo page. This will be a group exercise, so bring your ideas!

When: Thursday, Dec 1st, 6pm – networking, 6:15 – start

Where: The Code Factory, 234 Queen St., Ottawa, 2nd floor (ring the buzzer to take the elevator)


Pitching an Idea by Telling a Story

October 30, 2011

Chris Schmitt

A great way to pitch an idea is to tell a story.  Explain how you came up with your idea by explaining the situation, the problem that arose, and the difficulty you experienced in solving it. If your situation  resonates with your audience then you’ll have an easier time explaining your idea and how it would have solved the problem.

For example, the idea for Twegather came from the experience of planning a “geek” BBQ. We used Twitter to communicate the BBQ and soon we found that people were replying to and retweeting the invitation. The word spread quickly.  The problem was we had no way to easily track how many were coming, how many were thinking about it and how many couldn’t make it. Our idea was to build an application that would keep track of this for us.

Now I’m not saying that telling a great yarn means you’ve got a great idea. Others may not feel the same urgency as you did to solve the problem. But at least it won’t be because they didn’t “get it”.

All great ideas originate this way. They solve a concrete problem in a simple way. Now it’s up to you to explain your idea in a way that people will understand.

Care to try your hand at telling your idea as a story? Come out to TeamCamp this Thursday, November 3rd. RSVP here.

– Chris

PS – For more great ideas on pitching ideas  read the book “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. The Heath brothers reveal the anatomy of ideas that “stick” and explain sure-fire methods for making ideas stickier. You can download the first chapter here. Interestingly, the process of making an idea sticky, i.e. keeping it simple; making it unexpectedconcretecredible and emotional; and then telling it as a story; is a great way to test if you’re on to something.

Start-up Launch Case Study: with Mike Matheson

September 7, 2011

Chris Schmitt

I’m pleased to announce that Mike Matheson will be speaking at TeamCamp on Thursday, September 15th.  Mike is the CEO at and is an MBA graduate from the Queen’s School of Business.‘s received some great coverage on its pilot on the Ottawa Business Journal website.

Mike will be talking about building a business around a technology idea using the launch as an example. He’ll  focus on bringing out the transferable lessons learned from the misses, fixes and successes that transformed his original idea into A Q&A session will follow the presentation.

When: Thursday, Sept. 15th at 6pm (presentation starts at 6:15 sharp)

Where: The Code Factory, 246 Queen St. West (ring the buzzer to take the elevator to the 2nd floor)

RSVP:  here


Make something cheap or make something easy?

September 2, 2011

Chris Schmitt

I was struck by a statistic in a very good post by Kapil Kale, co-founder of GiftRocket, on the OnStartups blog. Kapil noted that 83% of the ideas in Y Combinator’s W11 batch fell into the category of Making something difficult easy. The other 13% of submissions fell into the other 2 categories of: Making something expensive cheap; and, Making something that entertains. 

While I wasn’t at all surprised when I saw that statistic, I still think it’s interesting and worth talking about, in particular, why are so many web developers working on services that make things easier – which is a hard sell if you want to make money – as opposed to working on a service that makes something expensive cheap, which at least has a clear justification for paying for? I think the reason is twofold:

1. Techies are good at making things easier – if you’re a software developer it’s “hardwired” into your brain. You build some code that helps you do something faster and the thinking is that others will find it easier too.

2. There’s a lot less risk involved in building a product that makes things simpler than ones that make expensive things less so. If you make something easier, and folks don’t agree with you, well they can just go back to the way they were doing things before. If you make something expensive cheap, my bet is that they’ve justified the purchase of your product based on future savings, and probably went to some trouble to switch to your product, and if they don’t get those savings you will have one unhappy customer who will want their money back and maybe some of your blood along with it.

What’s the best type of idea to go with if your trying to build a viable, money-making service? I think the latter: making something expensive cheap. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. Plus charging for said service should be an easier sell.

Now, one could argue that making something complicated easier is the same as making something expensive cheap on the basis of the axiom “time is money”. But I don’t think that’s what Kapil is talking about here. For one thing, people tend to undervalue their own time (otherwise we would all have personal assistants) and second, if there’s a direct relationship to money it really belongs in the second category, making something expensive cheap.

There’s too many developers out there working on applications that make things easier, and not a enough working on things that make something expensive cheap.

If Y Combinator has 83% of their participants working on this first kind of idea – and I think Y-Combinator does a pretty amazing job at weeding out poor ideas – then think about how many developers are working on “making things easier” as apposed to “cheap”. That might explain why there are so many free apps in the app stores.

I believe the future of the North America’s competitiveness depends on the latter, i.e. making things that are costly less so.

I’m not saying that you should drop whatever you’re working on and look for ways to save people/businesses money. Go ahead if you want: it’s less risky and probably a lot more fun;  and you’re gaining good experience. But if you want to earn a living out of your business, I suggest you focus on the latter.

– Chris

The Perfect Landing Page

July 29, 2011

Chris Schmitt

Formstack provides a nice little pdf of a “perfect landing page“.

They’ve done a nice job of identifying all of the key elements of a good landing page and why they’re important. But is it the “perfect” landing page?

There’s really no way to tell because the “puck” is always moving. What might have been considered the perfect landing page 10, 5 or even 2 years ago, might be considered ugly and ineffective today. Web technology is constantly changing and more importantly, design is constantly evolving. Why? HTML is evolving, devices are changing, UI is improving, bandwidth is cheaper, etc. etc. To paraphrase Wanyne Gretzky, somehow we need to figure out where the puck is going to be rather than where it is now.

One of my favourite landing pages is

It’s innovative, it’s attractive, I understand exactly what they’re selling, and it’s obvious where I sign up. I come away thinking Boxee is cool (for a geek anyway) and I’d like to have one. I’m amazed I even spent as much time on the site as I did because, well, I already have enough devices in my house to choke a horse. But they did attract my attention, that’s for sure so from a design objective I think they did a good job (it’s also where I first discovered Foster the People ;-).

On the other hand, there’s Netflix.

It seems to have all the elements of a “perfect” landing page, but it looks like something out of a Readers Digest Ad.  But who cares?  Netflix has gained a considerable market share in Canada and I think it’s a great service. It get’s the job done.

I think the difference is that if you’re a new startup, and nobody knows you, you better put the time and effort into your landing page. It will likely be the first impression of your service. And don’t dismiss how important that is, no matter how great you think your service is.

Formstack’s pdf is serves as a great reminder the kinds of things you need to consider for your landing page. But don’t copy it, otherwise I guarantee that by the time you’re ready to launch, the “puck” will have moved to another spot.

What do you think? What is your idea of a perfect landing page, now and into the future?

– Chris

Roger McNamee: Assume the Future will Be Different Than the Present

July 22, 2011

Chris Schmitt

Update: Roger now has a TED talk as well: Six ways to save the internet

There’s so much value in watching this video, I hardly know where to begin. Elevation Partners director and co-founder Roger McNamee gives The Paley Center For Media his 10 hypotheses for technology investing.  At his core of his hypotheses is that HTML5 will bring incredible changes to the web. Some highlights:


  • The way the world wide web is responding is to “out Apple, Apple”.
  • This is an environment where all of us have a chance to be market leaders.
  • In HTML5 everything is an App.
  • Instead of flitting around, an HTML enabled page becomes a control panel.
  • The message to media companies: “The time to diversify what your doing is right now.”

On the iPad:

  • If you don’t have an iPad yet, your job today is to get one.
  • iPad is as big or bigger than the introduction of the IBM PC

On arhictecture:

  • Cloud allows you to get access to content no matter what screen your using (a smart phone, your laptop, your TV etc.)
  • Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple have demonstrated no talent what so ever in exploiting this
  • This opens up opportunities for new companies that can exploit the cloud and HTML5
On Social Apps:
  • Investing in social apps is over; social is now a feature
  • Every product has to have social – you have to have it to play
  • Old Spice doubled deodorant sales in one month from their social campaign
  • The last 500 social companies funded by VCs are worthless
  • Stop focusing on new social apps – instead focus on creating something new using
On smartphones:
  • Apple makes more margin on each smartphone then other smart phone companies make on gross revenue
On content protection:
  • The amount of effort to duplicate something will be very hard due to the interaction from HTML5 enabled sites
  • It will be harder to duplicate than a song, a movie or a television show
  • Don’t worry about content protection – focus on content creation
  • If you’re worried about protecting something, you’re not putting the energy into creation
  • The Mona Lisa was created from paint; HTML5 is just the paint
  • Make something that works, get the revenue, then worry about content protection
Spend the time listening to this. It’s fun. His insights on where the money is in the music industry is fascinating as well.
It looks like we’re in for an exciting ride!
– Chris

Six ways to save the internet