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Canada’s Hottest Startups and VCs for 2012

startupsTo be honest, I’m not a big fan in “hot” lists because they’re so subjective. For startups, it’s difficult to assess “hot” because  a variety of metrics can be applied. And, sorry, using Alexa.com to measure “hot” is a flawed approach.

But in keeping with the situation, here’s my completely unscientific list of the hottest startups and VCs. For the startups, it was creating by scraping the portfolios of the leading VCs and accelerators, lists created by Red Herring, Deloitte, CIX and PWC, and some personal selections. (I have tried not to include startups that have been snapped up such as GoInstant, or companies that have grown to become SMBs such as Freshbooks.)

From all this data, I picked 10 “hot” startups: Frank & Oak, 500px, Fixmo, HootSuite, Beyond the Rack, Keek, Top Hat Monocle, Chango, Wave Accounting and WattPad.

Canada’s hot VCs are: OMERS Ventures, Real Ventures, iNovia Capital, BDC, Golden Ventures, Extreme Ventures, Klass Capital, Relay Ventures, Mantella, Version One Ventures and Rho Canada.

In alphabetical order, here’s the complete list of the “hottest” 108 Canadian startups. (Feel free to make suggestions by leaving a comment).

360incentives.com
360Pi
500px
Achievers
Acquisio
AppHero
Archon Systems
Atomic Reach
Axonify
Azzimov
Bering Media
Beyond the Rack
BluePrint
BroadbandTV
BuzzBuzzHome
Canopy Labs
Celtx
Chango
Clarity.fm
ClearFit
ContactMonkey
Crowdbase
Dejero Labs
Digital Journal
EcoBee
Empire Avenue
Employtouch
Engagio
ePact
Fastgrab
Financeit
Fixmo
Flixel
Fluid Surveys
Food.ee
Frank & Oak
Gijit
Good Momming
Granify
Guardly
HomeSav
HomeStars
HootSuite
Hopper
Influitive
InfoActive
Infusion
iNovia
International Gaming League
Jibestream
KarmaHire
Keek
Kera
Kira Talent
LeadSift
LemonStand
LISTN
Livelenz
Lymbix
Mobovivo
Mobify
MyCustomizer
MyShoeBox
N8 Identity
Newtrax Technologies
Nulogy
Oompf
Openera
PageFreezer Software
Payfirma
Penyo Pal
Photonic Knowledge
Picatic
Playerize
Printchomp
Procurify
QuickMobile
reelyActive
Scribblelive
SecureKey Technologies
Shifthub
Shiny Ads
Shopcaster
Shopify
ShopLocket
SimplyUs
Sitescout
Skyscrapr
Source Metrics
SpaceList
StyleCaster
SurfEasy
Sweet IQ
SweetTooth
Top Hat Monocle
TribeHR
Uberflip
Unbounce
Urbita
Urthecast
UXP Systems
Valydate
Vana Workforce
Venio
Viafoura
Vidyard
Wajam
WattPad
Wave Accounting
Well.ca
Yactraq

More: Another way contribute to a “hot” list is casting your vote on Techvibes’ 2012 Canadian Startup Awards.

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Want the Media Spotlight? Get Some Traction

A couple of years ago, I was working with a startup looking for media and blog coverage after launching a new online service.

It hired a U.S. PR agency that promised the stars and the moon, and then the startup waited for its time in the spotlight…and waited and waited.

The startup soon realized that although its service was interesting, there were hundreds of other startups battling for attention. Without something unique, the startup was just adding to an already noisy landscape.

So the startup went back to work and continued to work on its product, marketing, sales and customer service. One day, something magical happened when its service hit the Chrome store the same day as Angry Birds.

The next thing you knew, the startup began to attract lots of users, achieving this wonderful thing called “traction”. Before you knew it, reporters and bloggers were looking for interviews, and the VCs were banging on the door.

The valuable lesson learned by this startup is that traction matters. While a few startups such as Dollar Shave Club hit the jackpot from the get-go, most startups are lucky to attract media and blog coverage. Unless a startup has something that makes it stand out from the crowd, its product is, at best, interesting or, at worst, meh.

This means most startups should stop worrying about media and blog coverage because it really doesn’t matter. What matters is traction, which means more users, customers, revenue, brand awareness and competitive momentum.

So, how do you get traction? Here’s a “traction bullseye” to get going:

1. It starts with the product, which has to fill a need, solve a problem, etc. In other words, it needs to offer some kind of value. You can do all kinds of snazzy marketing but if a product is a dog, sooner or later, it’ll bark.

2. Some startups never buy into it, but marketing matters. It’s difficult to get anyone’s attention (customers, partners, investors, media, etc.) without telling good stories. You need to give people reasons to pay attention to you as opposed to all the other startups.

3. Sales matter too, whether people to pay for it or they use a free service that is ad-supported. The more users, the better the business or business prospects. Sure, it’s Business 101 but as Ben Yoskovitz wrote recently, startups need to be selling all the time.

4. Customer service plays a key role to keep existing customers happy, encourage them to spread the word and create a vibrant user community, and attract new customers.

Startup traction

It goes without saying that traction can be difficult to achieve but startups that do get it not only have a booming business but usually have no problem getting as much media and blog coverage as they want. The ironic part is the coverage happens when they don’t need it as much!

My advice to any startup about media and blog coverage is to consider it the cherry on the sundae as opposed to a major milestone. Sure, the glory is gratifying, it’ll make your parents proud, and maybe it will attract some new customers, but it doesn’t fundamentally drive your business.

In other words, it’s a nice to have, not a must-have.

More: For more thoughts about traction, here’s a talk by 500 Startups’ Paul Singh that includes some thoughts on how traction is a great way to attract venture capital.

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Snapshot of a VC Deal: Influitive Raises $7.3-Million

Who: Influitive, whose AdvocateHub helps companies embrace and activate brand advocates.

How much: $7.3-million from Hummer Winblad Venture Partners and Relay Ventures, along with investors from a $3.75-million financing that Influitive did earlier this year.

The Quote: “This new investment will help us address a critical point of friction in the B2B marketing and sales marketplace by providing a platform that empowers customer advocates. Our users have enthusiastically embraced our unique solution because it focuses on the advocate experience, is highly engaging and drives measurable business value.” – Mark Organ, CEO and co-founder of Influitive.

Source: Influitive press release

For more, check out Christine Dobbie’s story in the Financial Post.

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This Week in Canadian Startups (Dec. 15, 2012)

startup newsletterThe theme of the week was clearly VC deals as Well.ca, Wantering, Playerize, Vouchr, Canopy Labs, IntroHive raised pre-holiday financing.

As well, Montreal’s Localmind was acquired by Airbnb, David Crow got a new gig as OMERS Ventures’ evangelist in residence, and I offer some advice on how to create an elevator pitch that resonates with target audiences.

Here’s the latest edition of “This Week in Canadian Startups”, and here’s how to subscribe.

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Are You Telling Good Stories?

While content may be king, they only work well if there are good stories to tell.

It’s a theme I’ve been emphasizing to clients when they start to think about how they can jump-start their marketing efforts. Whether it’s a Website, video, white paper, case study, blog, media/blogger pitch or presentation, a good story is the foundation that will determine if target audiences are engaged.

If you’re a startup, think about your story. Ask yourself (and be honest!) if anyone would be interested in your story. It doesn’t matter if you have a new and hip online service or you’re selling widgets, a good story has huge appeal and benefits.

Here’s a presentation I recently did at a conference organized by Infopresse in Montreal about the history of storytelling, why it’s important and how to create and tell stories. If you’re looking for help with storytelling, contact me.

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Snapshot of a VC Deal: Canopy Labs Raises $1.5M

canopy labsWho: Canopy Labs, which offers a platform that lets businesses easily analyze customer data to gain more insight into their customers’ product interests, spending habits and more. Canopy’s customers include the Toronto Argos, WagJag and the Canadian Opera Company.

How much: $1.5-million from BDC IT Venture Fund, Peter Thiel’s Valar Ventures and several angel investors. Canopy recently graduated from the Y Combinator program.

Mini-interview with Wojciech Gryc, Canopy Labs’ CEO:

What does your product do? What problem/point of pain does it solve?

Our product is a platform that automates analysis of customer data to predict customer value (i.e. how much they’re likely to spend), customer sentiment (i.e. how happy they are), and customer loyalty (i.e. are they likely to purchase again). We liken it to providing the type of technology that powers Amazon or NetFlix recommender systems, but with the needs of SMEs in mind.

The use case is as follows: a sales or marketing team member will upload the customer data to our platform. The platform will then analyze the data without any coding necessary, and will provide the results in (1) a dashboard format, and (2) a format that can be imported to the team’s internal business intelligence tool.

The problem we’re solving is that customer analytics is crucial for successful marketing and sales campaigns, but often too expensive for SMEs. SMEs now depend on analytics consultants, who are slow and don’t scale well, or very expensive IT solutions. Furthermore, this space is expected to have a shortage of 150,000 workers (according to McKinsey & Co.), so automation is crucial.

How do customers generate ROI?

The platform will provide predictions around each customer that a business has. These model results get updated in near real-time, whenever the business provides new data or is running one of our apps (which automate data submission). ROI is then generated by knowing exactly which customers should be contacted for various campaigns.

For example: our loyalty models will tell you which customers are likely to purchase again, and which ones are not. Thus, the low scoring customers become great leads for a retention or churn campaign.