How to Feel at Home At District 3


welcome-to-d3

By Sofia Carbone,  Communications Coordinator

You’re finally here! It’s exciting being surrounded by people who are passionate about entrepreneurship. You must have a lot of questions about the space and community. Here are some need-to-knows about District 3.

1. We’re a Family 

The first thing you should know about District 3 is that we’re a tight-knit community. You’re surrounded by like-minded individuals who are passionate about entrepreneurship and building their startup. 

Take advantage of the open space. Don’t be afraid to walk up to people to get to know them and even ask them for advice or feedback.

Pro tip: if the thought of walking up to your peers seems daunting, you can send a message through our internal community channel. People are very receptive and will most likely private message you.

2. Come to our Community Events

District 3 organizes regular community potlucks and monthly mixers. These are perfect times to unwind with your peers, but didn’t have the chance to meet or talk to.

Pro tip: download the District 3 Events Calendar to keep up to date with community events! You can find it HERE

3. Notion and Slack are your Best Friends

Notion is your portal to all things District 3. From booking conference rooms (believe me they come in handy) to figuring out slack, Notion has got you covered.

Slack is where everyone goes to chat, give updates and find out what’s happening in the community. The #General and #Community channels are the two almost everyone uses. You can reach the entire community (that’s right all 1,075 of us) in one go. There are also group channels which give you updates about the space, events, and programs.

Pro tip: if you need to mass contact the group on slack write in “@channel” and then your message. It will send to everyone. Fun tip, type in /giphy and write something… you’ll have a great surprise!

If you follow these simple tips District 3 should start to feel more like home in no time. You’ll be receiving a weekly newsletter every Tuesday where we’ll be sharing initiatives taking place in our space. Be sure to also follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the community! 

Building a Hardware Startup: Lessons Learned with Revols, OMsignal, Apisen, and Wurth Electronik (Part 3 of 3)


hardware-and-manufacturing-fb-2

This is the third of a three-part series on the challenges you’ll face building a hardware startup. In this third blog post, we’ll talk about the parts and processes: what it takes to find the right suppliers, the challenges you face when dealing with manufacturers abroad, as well as how your product evolves in a changing environment and how it affects your results. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t already.

When we think of startups, we often think of people making software or processes. We had the opportunity to host a Q&A panel with the founders of some of our most successful hardware startup. We are joined by panelists whose work touches hardware development in multiple ways, from established large-scale manufacturing operations to startups breaking into the hardware space with innovative designs, to research out on the edge of hardware applications.

Noah Saber-Freedman, our Makerspace technician and team management coordinator, was the moderator for the panel. Our speakers include:

– Ryan Desgroseilliers, Co-founder of Apisen, a startup producing specialized equipment for emergency responders and situations requiring forced entries.

– Daniel Blumer, Co-founder of Revols, a wearable technology startup that is creating the world’s first custom-fit earphones. Revols raised one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of over 2.5 million dollars.

– Joanna Berzowska, Chair of Concordia’s Design and Computational Arts and Head of Electronic Textiles at OMSignal–a startup that seamlessly weaves technology into life by designing beautiful and functional smart apparel to help people live active, fit and healthy lives.

– Marios Lteif, Area Sales Manager at Wurth Electronik, one of the leading manufacturers of electronic and electromechanical components, printed circuit boards and PCB-based intelligent power & control systems.

 

PARTS & PROCESSES

 

What did it take to find the right suppliers for the parts you need?

 

Ryan, Apisen: The relationship with manufacturers and suppliers is extremely important and you need to set up a whole infrastructure. There is a unique language and a unique process that nobody teaches you how to deal with. It’s a learning experience. Depending on the stage of product development, when doing early prototyping, it’s better to go to smaller manufacturers, because you may require a small amount of production for a given component. For large manufacturers, they value products that are scalable and have reached a level that requires a large amount of production, otherwise, it’s too costly for them. Moreover, you need to have someone physically there to build a relationship with manufacturers, otherwise they will mentally de-prioritize you.

 

Daniel, Revols: It was the main reason we went to China. Initially, we were worried about the quality, but we learned that if it’s done properly, it can work very well. There was a major cultural challenge, and we needed to learn how to communicate with manufacturers. Moreover, many people are worried about protecting their patents, but we aren’t as concerned. We still need to take precautions. For example, the more manufacturers you have, the more complex it becomes to manage them, but the positive aspect is that if each manufacturer only creates one component of your product, they will have difficulty replicating your whole product.

 

Ryan, Apisen: There are also different types of manufacturers, they can be big, medium, or small and there are pros and cons to consider. The smaller ones are more willing to work with you, but they may not have all the resources. For larger ones, they may have the resources, but not enough time to work on your product. In fact, they have different grades they assign to clients and if you have potential, they will assign you a certain team. So the more potential, the more they’ll assign a higher quality team.

 

What challenges did you face when dealing with manufacturers abroad?

 

Daniel, Revols: The most important thing to keep in mind is to work with reputable manufacturers. Manufacturers have a reputation and it’s in their best interest to preserve your intellectual property. If you were to contact them online from Canada, they always say of course they can do it. They want your business. But you need to speak with them in person. We reached out to 10 manufacturers in China, and we learned how to assess a factory. You could physically see the place, you can also see how their employees are treated. For example, when they give you a tour of the factory, ask them to go to the bathroom midway, not the one for guests, but the one for employees. You can assess their living conditions, such as if they have air conditioning and other aspects that indicate they are treated well.

 

Joanna, OMsignal: We started manufacturing in Montreal initially, then we eventually moved on to a manufacturing partner in Sri Lanka. Part of the team including the co-founder went, which is important, and we opened an office there. The challenge was educating the workers on the floor and how to do sourcing and pricing. Every little detail is important.

 

When dealing with material sciences and textile sciences, it’s a bit different than traditional hardware products. The reason with decided to work with the manufacturer in Sri Lanka was a question of time, we are funded by venture capital and speed is important. For examples, manufacturers may have 30 of the machines we need in Canada, but they could only dedicate two of them for producing our product. The difference in scale is enormous in Sri Lanka. They don’t exploit their workers and have sustainable practices, but the most impressive thing is that there were 3 shifts of workers in a given day. The manufacturer is operational for 24 hours, so it is so much faster. They may be ambitious at the beginning when they say they can deliver what you’re looking for, but once in production, there are many issues that arise. It’s not easy when you’re building a product that is innovative, manufacturers may want to quit along the journey, because it is difficult to produce, so you need to cultivate an ongoing relationship with them.

 

Marios, Wurth Electronik: There’s 90% of factories that are in Asia, because it’s less expensive to produce parts. That is one of the reasons why most companies decide to seek manufacturers in that region.

 

Can you talk about the evolution of the product/concept from the outset to today? What’s changed in the environment around the product, and how has that affected the result?

 

Ryan, Apisen: When you get feedback from customers, you’ll get a whole list of features they would like. Be careful not to become a jack of all trades, it’s expensive. It would cost a fortune for us to make, and it won’t help achieve our goal for the product. So we ended up pivoting back to the original idea because of feature creep. It’s hard to avoid, but we got a couple of wake-up calls, and we realized we needed to push back to core functionality and our key feature. Our secondary features are not the main reasons people are shopping for our product. Start pruning features and focus on the ones that are validated and still address pain point.

 

On the other hand, hardware is more difficult to A/B test. It’s challenge to change stuff in hardware, cost is an issue, and if you change anything, it will change the timeframe, that’s more important than cost. It might take 6 months to a year for certain components, which is much less flexibility than you have in software. Your first prototype, the quality is subpar and five times the price. You don’t want to order large quantities and still be making changes to your product, because you’ll be less agile. Your customers won’t necessarily inspect you for every little patch initially. Customers, however, expect you to get it right with regards core functionality.

 

One thing to keep in mind as well is that a lot of the work you do involves speaking with suppliers, there are specialists for every supplier and they want to be accessible to you. If they can help you, they will order this part specifically. They have a lot of experience in the specific components you require, given that they worked on building so many products for their clients. They tested the specific component. This can eliminate huge amounts of waste of time. They want to help you because if you succeed in building your prototype, you will most likely go to them for production.

 

Daniel, Revols: Initially, we wrote all the features we wanted to have in our product. We had a wish list, but you have to get your MVP out there, which is the fastest way to test whether a market exists. You can always add features later on, but you need to stick to your core feature. We also had one of the most successful crowdfunding campaigns in Canada, raising over 2.5M. It becomes challenging to satisfy all your customers.

 

Joanna, OMsignal: We started out with a much bigger vision, by creating all kinds of apparel and apps that would address many aspects of health and wellness. It was a difficult process once we raised series A, because it brought on venture capital culture. We had to focus on early adopters, mainly individuals that are into sports. Consequently, we had to change the way we thought about the product, the look and feel, the marketing, and the app.

 

We hope you enjoyed the third post of this three-part series!

 

At District 3, we have a Makerspace, a place to test, develop and prototype your ideas into concrete projects that could potentially become a viable business model. Open to the community; it is also a place to learn about new technologies, how to use them and think about design decisions through the development of your project. We’re also hiring a Design Lab Coordinator and Technician, you can apply here.

Building a Hardware Startup: Lessons Learned with Revols, OMsignal, Apisen, and Wurth Electronik (Part 2 of 3)


hardware-and-manufacturing-fb-2

Panel Moderator: Noah Saber-Freedman

Author: Khalil G. Haddad, Marketing & Communications Manager

This is the second of a three-part series on the challenges you’ll face building a hardware startup. In this second blog post, we’ll talk about the product: how do you decide which product to produce and what aspects of the product do you focus on? You can read part 1 here

When we think of startups, we often think of people making software or processes. We had the opportunity to host a Q&A panel with the founders of some of our most successful hardware startup. We are joined by panelists whose work touches hardware development in multiple ways, from established large-scale manufacturing operations to startups breaking into the hardware space with innovative designs, to research out on the edge of hardware applications.

Noah Saber-Freedman, our Makerspace technician and team management coordinator, was the moderator for the panel. Our speakers include:

– Ryan Desgroseilliers, Co-founder of Apisen, a startup producing specialized equipment for emergency responders and situations requiring forced entries.

– Daniel Blumer, Co-founder of Revols, a wearable technology startup that is creating the world’s first custom-fit earphones. Revols raised one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of over 2.5 million dollars.

– Joanna Berzowska, Chair of Concordia’s Design and Computational Arts and Head of Electronic Textiles at OMSignal–a startup that seamlessly weaves technology into life by designing beautiful and functional smart apparel to help people live active, fit and healthy lives.

– Marios Lteif, Area Sales Manager at Wurth Electronik, one of the leading manufacturers of electronic and electromechanical components, printed circuit boards and PCB-based intelligent power & control systems.

PRODUCT

How did you come to make the choice of what product to produce?

Ryan, Apisen: The team didn’t expect to launch a startup, it started as a research project while completing our studies at Concordia University. We quickly realised that our project had the potential to have an impact and solve a real problem for emergency responders and situations requiring forced entries.

Daniel, Revols: I had a business background and always wanted to build a business with my close friend Navi Cohen. Navi had studied mechanical engineering and was working in the field, while I was working in the financial sector. We both recognized the opportunity and decided to take the leap.

Joanna, OMsignal: I was always fascinated by textile and garments, people automatically assume because of my gender that it’s because of an interest in fashion, but it had more to do with the technical nature of building textile and garments. I was very much interested in materiality and experiences in the physical world.

Marios, Wurth Electronik: I was always fascinated by how things were built, and having the opportunity to work in manufacturing was a nice way to feel like a kid again. It’s always a pleasure to troubleshoot with entrepreneurs and engineers and see how we can help them build their hardware product.

What aspects of the product do you focus on when you’re looking to do marketing?

Ryan, Apisen:  In many cases—unless you have a unicorn idea that nobody has built in the past—the product you’re building will have a derivative of it in the market, so you need to differentiate yourself from others. When it comes to hardware, you need to build a product that satisfies the specific situations the customer has problems with. You don’t want to be a jack of all trades. The best situation is to have potential customers identify the problem or pain point themselves as opposed to you convincing them of it.

Daniel, Revols: Whatever you’re building, communication is crucial. You need to speak in a language that resonates with your customers. When Revols speaks about uncomfortable earphones, people immediately identify with that issue.

Joanna, OMsignal: Part of the marketing for OMsignal is about enhancing people’s fitness. When it comes to garments, many customizable clothes fail because it requires people to think too much about the purchasing decision. It’s an interesting challenge to appeal to people’s desires when they make these purchasing decisions, because it’s inherently instinctive more than it is cerebral.

Marios, Wurth Electronik: From a supplier or manufacturer perspective, a lot of the emphasis is on brand awareness, if they can provide an initial solution to their customers while they are at the prototyping stage, then they would be able to get them as a client for future opportunities as they expand their startup.

We hope you enjoyed the second post of this series!

Are you ready to take your hardware startup or idea to the next level? Learn more about our programs. Be sure to check out our FAQs if you have any questions. We’re also hiring a Design Lab Coordinator and Technician, you can apply here

At District 3, we have a Makerspace, a place to test, develop and prototype your ideas into concrete projects that could potentially become a viable business model. Open to the community; it is also a place to learn about new technologies, how to use them and think about design decisions through the development of your project.

 

Building a Hardware Startup: Lessons Learned with Revols, OMsignal, Apisen, and Wurth Electronik (PART 1 of 3)


hardware-and-manufacturing-fb-2

This is the first of a three-part series on the challenges you’ll face building a hardware startup. In this first blog post, we’ll talk about the people behind the products: what led them to work in the hardware space, what are the qualities necessary to succeed, and recommendations on what to keep in mind when building a hardware startup.

When we think of startups, we often think of people making software or processes. We had the opportunity to host a Q&A panel with the founders of some of our most successful hardware startup. We are joined by panelists whose work touches hardware development in multiple ways, from established large-scale manufacturing operations to startups breaking into the hardware space with innovative designs, to research out on the edge of hardware applications.

Noah Saber-Freedman, our Makerspace technician and team management coordinator, was the moderator for the panel. Our speakers include:

– Ryan Desgroseilliers, Co-founder of Apisen, a startup producing specialized equipment for emergency responders and situations requiring forced entries.

– Daniel Blumer, Co-founder of  Revols, a wearable technology startup that is creating the world’s first custom-fit earphones. Revols raised one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns of over 2.5 million dollars.

– Joanna Berzowska, Chair of Concordia’s Design and Computational Arts and Head of Electronic Textiles at OMSignal–a startup that seamlessly weaves technology into life by designing beautiful and functional smart apparel to help people live active, fit and healthy lives.

– Marios Lteif, Area Sales Manager at Wurth Electronik, one of the leading manufacturers of electronic and electromechanical components, printed circuit boards and PCB-based intelligent power & control systems.

PEOPLE

Why even work in hardware in the first place?

Ryan, Apisen: Having something you made in your hands, seeing a physical product develop over time, you get a sense of intrinsic reward that you don’t get from software. Your first version is clunky, ugly, you’re ashamed of it, but then you see the evolution. By the end of it, your reaction is “holy crap! How did we build this?” You get to level where your product has the same level of quality and polish that you see in products by Samsung, Toyota, Apple, or any professional product. Wow. There’s an incredible pride once you get to the production. If you realize the horror that a phone went through its design process, until it gets to the final product, you have tremendous respect for the people that built it.

Daniel, Revols: This is by far the hardest experience of my life. It’s extremely stressful, and it takes so much longer than expected. This is the best time of my life; you see progress, and that’s the coolest part of it. To everyone else, it doesn’t mean much, but to you, it means something. This is the first time this past week that a user went through the whole customization process without any issues. That means a lot; we’re not there yet, there are tremendous hurdles to overcome, and whenever you think you’re done, you’re not.

What are the attributes that make someone a good maker/designer/artist/entrepreneur? What do you need to be successful in hardware?

Joanna, OMsignal: As a founder of a hardware startup, you must be a lateral thinker and a renaissance person. You’re more of a generalist that brings specialist within your team. The founders were amazing in building highly diverse and multi-disciplinary teams, as well as establishing good communication between teams. OMsignal has multi-faceted products, and we have teams in hardware, software, textiles, and even experts and researchers in physiology because there are very specific biomechanical issues we had to deal with when it comes to bras and signal quality for example. Hardware is not just electronics; there is an element in ergonomics and many other facets.

Ryan, Apisen: You need to be proactive and always anticipate what’s ahead. On the design side, you need to see what’s going to happen in two weeks. You don’t see as much of that mindset in software, because as soon as there is a bug you can build a patch right away. With hardware, it’s essential that you plan ahead and have contingency plans, given the time it takes to implement any changes to your product and any mistake you make can be very costly.

Daniel, Revols: You need persistence, determination, and patience. People will challenge you in hardware; people will often say that it’s too hard and that there is no point of building it because people will copy you. Why even bother? If you listen to them, you will never get anywhere. Moreover, communication in the team is key and critical to the success of your startup.

What advice do you have for someone looking to break into the space?

Ryan, Apisen: Everything that you plan, expect it to take way longer than you think. There’s always something that you don’t anticipate. It takes a while to get used to being honest with yourself on how long it would take. Be very conservative in your timeline and budget. Sometimes it has nothing to do with your design, you may have a machine that cures cancer, but just because it has a plug, it will have to get it certified, and that takes a long time to go through that process. However, building a hardware startup is Incredibly satisfying, there are all sorts of markets you can go after. The barrier to entry is much harder than software. Consequently, you will have less competition.

We hope you enjoyed the first post of this series!

Are you ready to take your hardware startup or idea to the next level? Apply to our programs by Monday, December 19. Be sure to check out our FAQs if you have any questions.

At District 3, we have a Makerspace, a place to test, develop and prototype your ideas into concrete projects that could potentially become a viable business model. Open to the community; it is also a place to learn about new technologies, how to use them and think about design decisions through the development of your project.

Get Out of the Building! How to get Customer Interviews


outta-da-building

By Sofia Carbone,  Communications Coordinator

Customer interviews are the first, most important step in starting your business. This is where you discover if your idea can generate a profit, and if it is solving the pain point you’ve identified. It’s a crucial step you need to take before building your minimal viable product.

Let’s be clear; a customer isn’t a friend or a family member, they are people with whom you have little to no personal relationship with. How do you get in contact with them, and, more importantly, what do you do when you do meet them?

Here are a few tips our Validation Coach, Noor El Bawab, has for those looking to tackle customer interviews.

  1. Get out of the building!

Unless your customers are walls, you need to go out and talk to people! You need to be as curious as possible to find the solution(s) to the problem you’re trying to solve. At this stage, you can start creating your buyer persona, which is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. This exercise will help identify and narrow down who you customers are.

Pro tip: Don’t interview your friends or family. Why? Chances are they will tell you that your idea is the best. Not saying it’s not, but if you want honest feedback you need to talk with people who don’t have a personal relationship with you and are consequently more critical of your idea.

  1.  Gather Intelligence!

Once you’ve identified what your customer segment is, you need to interview them now! This is where friends and family can help you. Ask them if they know people, and if they can connect you with them.

Research plays a key role here. LinkedIn is a great tool to grow your network; you can connect with individuals in the industry. Find out what role they play in their given company or organization, and who they are. What are their interests? What is important to them? How do they fit within the organization? What challenges are they facing? These are the kinds of questions you should ask yourself in your research. Once you collect their contact information and have a clear idea of who they are, it’s now time to contact them.

Pro tip: Having an emotional connection with them is just as important. The best way to create an emotional connection is to be authentic and genuine. People sense when you are being unnatural, so you need to find commonalities that will arise naturally in your conversation. An often underestimated tool is to genuinely listen to the other person and be curious about who they are and the insights they are providing you with. This is not the time to sell your solution, the spotlight is on understanding them.

  1. Get them to say Yes three times

The best way to get a live in-person meeting is by cold calling. I know it may seem archaic, but it works. The trick is to get them to say ‘yes’ three times. Why? Because if they say ‘yes’ three times, then they’ll be more likely to stay on the phone with you and say yes to a meeting.

You can try and follow this basic template:

You: Hi, is this Person X?

Person X: Yes

You: Do you work at Company Y in this department?

Person X: Yes

You: Do you have a few minutes to talk with me about Z?

Person X: Yes

Pro Tip: Practice makes perfect! Practice with friends, the first few times you will botch the phone calls, and that’s ok. That is why you practice.Once you get them to agree to an in-person meeting, follow up with email and propose two dates. Be sure to send a calendar invite.

  1.  Ask for Stories!

Some say not to prep interview questions; you want the conversation to be natural. The goal is to understand the problem from their perspective. You want to ask as many open-ended questions as possible. Get them to open up about their problems and understand if this is something you can solve.

Pro Tip: It’s never about you; it is always about the customer! You can have a couple of questions prepared to start the conversation if you are nervous. This is a skill that you can easily acquire through practice. After a couple of interviews, you’ll be more comfortable and better able to ask questions.

  1. Interview in Teams of Two!

Why teams of two?

You want one person to ask the questions, and the second one to be taking notes and reading their body language. We communicate a lot with non-verbal cues and it can make all the difference. The second person needs to be paying attention to all the minutiae details of the interviewee, while the interview asks the questions.

And there you have it. Now go out there and interview people!

 
These are few of the many tactics to help you do customer interviews. To truly validate your idea you need to interview a minimum of 100 potential customers. This is where District 3’s Business Model Validation Program can help. Going through this program, you’ll have validated your idea in 12-weeks and have spoken to over 100 potential customers! Our experienced coaches will be able to guide you through this process. Are you ready to take your startup or idea to the next level? Apply to our programs by Monday, December 19.

6 Tips on How to Get into Our Programs.


6 Tips on How to Get into our Programs

By Khalil G. Haddad, Marketing and Communications Manager

So you’re ready to kickstart your startup at District 3? Here are a few tips to stand out from the competition and increase your chances of getting admitted into our programs.

  1. Have a Co-Founder

Having a co-founder is crucial to building your startup. Finding co-founders or key team members is challenging and can take time, but it’s the first step you need to set yourself up for success. Consider it as your first challenge, if you can’t recruit a co-founder, how will you be able to persuade your potential customers?

Our programs are demanding, and we rarely see solo founders succeed. Building a startup is hard for one person and it’s rare to find someone who possesses all the skills required to build their startup. Having a co-founder or team member with complementary skills and who is willing to put in the time, energy and resources will double your productivity and ability to get things done. It will also increase accountability and morale during the inevitable challenges you will face throughout your entrepreneurial journey.

On the other hand, we value co-founders who have known each other for a long time and have worked on a project together. Selecting your co-founder(s) is critical to the success of your startup.

  1. Commit to One Idea

You may have many ideas, but focus is crucial. You need to be willing to commit to one idea. While completing our programs, your idea will inevitably pivot based on the insights you’ll get by talking with potential customers. You have a limited amount of time and resources, so focus on one idea. You’ll have the opportunity to test your value proposition and customer segment through customer development during our program.

  1. Keep Your Answers & Video Pitch Succinct

We go through hundreds of applications, so it’s important to keep your answers succinct. You want to use simple language and avoid jargon. Take the time to answer questions in the application form and make sure to have at least a friend or a colleague review your answers to see if they understand what you’re trying to convey.

Keep your pitch video simple, we don’t want you to have a video with fancy music and editing, just the basic information we need to assess your application. The application form and video pitch are the first steps towards getting invited for a live pitch, so make sure to give ample time to prepare.

  1. Demonstrate Some Traction

If you have an initial idea, we highly recommend you validate your business model first before building a prototype, that’s why we have our business model validation program. For those of you at later stages, you can significantly increase your chances by showing some traction. It could be through users or money or both.

  1. Be Open to Feedback

If you’re selected for a live pitch, one of the main qualities we look for is your ability to receive feedback. During the live pitch, if you don’t have the answers to our questions, be honest. Attempt to answer our questions by explaining your reasoning and assumptions that led you towards your conclusion. It’s more important for coaches to see how you arrived to your answer, as opposed to the answer itself.

During the program, you will be challenged by mentors, experts and coaches, which will give you a wider and more critical perspective on your business. Our coaches’ time is precious and they want to work with someone who is ready to be challenged and can take in constructive feedback.

  1.  Apply

It goes without saying, but If you don’t apply, then you can be confident that there is a 0% chance of you getting admitted. We don’t expect you to have all the answers, being an entrepreneur is being able to leverage what you have in order to build a product or service people love. Give it your best shot!

Are you ready to take your startup or idea to the next level? Apply to our programs by Monday, December 19. Be sure to check out our FAQs if you have any questions.

Bridge the Gap between Tech and Finance: How District 3 Can Help Build your Fintech Startup


fintech-graphic-revised

By Alessio Pellegrino, Fintech Coordinator

We’re launching our Fintech Program to support the next generation of FinTech entrepreneurs who are working hard to ensure a better financial life for all Canadians. By animating a collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem, District 3 puts the necessary tools, resources and knowledge in the hands of innovation leaders in order for them to move from idea to impact with confidence.

The program is aimed towards startups looking to tackle the financial sector using disruptive and innovative technology or those looking to develop new tech-driven solutions specific for finance. The tailored curriculum will help entrepreneurs narrow down their focus and address the right markets. By offering access to industry experts, coaches and mentors, the program will provide you with customized content and guidance based on your specific needs and at every stage of development. 

I had the chance to speak with Philippe Tardif-Michaud, Co-Founder of Moving Waldo—a startup that takes care of your change of address and updates your contact information with over 250 service providers—and Noumeyi Freddy, Founder of Squares UNION, an online service for quick and safe money transfers.

Philippe noted that “you think you know what you’re doing until you get to District 3’s program. They [District 3] help you challenge your assumptions and find the answers to build your dream.” Noumeyi was one of the first startups to go through our Fintech program and mentioned that “District 3 gave us the credibility within the financial sector.”

Here’s how District 3 can help you:

1. Get Specialized One-on-One Coaching

The Fintech Program has specialized coaches who’ve been in the fintech industry and who understand the unique challenges you’ll be facing.

2. Get the Right Tools, Knowledge and Resources  

The 12-week immersive training will provide you with the right tools, skills, and knowledge to help you successfully grow your business. Whether it’s validating your idea, developing your first marketable prototype, or creating a product that satisfies your intended market.

3. Get Access to Service Providers 

District 3 has a network of service providers, whether it’s accountants, lawyers or other specialized professionals. You’ll get right advice to move your business forward.

4. Join Our Community

You’ll be part of a vibrant and growing Fintech community that supports and encourages one another’s project through peer-to-peer feedback and collaboration.

Are you ready to take your startup or idea to the next level? Apply to our programs before Monday, December 19. Be sure to check out our FAQ’s to learn more about our programs.

In the Trenches: Taking the Entrepreneurial Leap


by Sofia Carbone, Communications Coordinator

trench-blog-post

Felix Trudeau Geoffroy and Gabriel Bouchard-Gaudreau, two business graduates from HEC, hate Montreal winters, not because it’s cold, but because it destroys shoes. Most people just wear overshoes, also known as galoshes, however—according to Felix and Gabriel—they’re “ugly and expensive.”

Trench is a design startup that manufactures overshoes, which are not only stylish, but better quality and last longer. I had the opportunity to sit down and interview the dynamic team about their product and time at District 3.

What led you to found Trench?

Felix: The first idea came when we started having more business meetings, since we were going to business school, we had to wear suits in the winter. We had to wear these ugly overshoes. We tried to find a solution, but there was none available at the time. They were ugly and expensive for the protection they offer.

Gabriel: We decided we didn’t have to wear these ‘ugly condoms’ and that we can make them better and more protective. We wanted to make them look nice, so that there is no compromise between style and protection.

What made you decide that you were ready?

Gabriel: I think it’s inexperience. There’s a curve in learning that shows the less experienced you are, the more confident you are. I think we didn’t think it through.

Felix: Yeah we just did it. At first, I wanted to do entrepreneurship because I think the best time to do it is when you’re young and don’t have too many financial obligations. Now we’re living in an apartment; it’s simple. We pay a small amount of rent, and that helps us keep our business lean.

Why did you join District 3’s BMV (Business Model Validation) program?  

Felix: That’s a funny story! There was an information session, and I was just looking for something to start. We had started over the summer, but we had lost our designer and that delayed us.

Gabriel: We didn’t have any knowledge on how to start a business either.

Felix: Then I saw that a friend of mine was going to the BMV info session, I didn’t know what it was about, so I just went. People were super helpful at D3 the first time I came, and I thought we should just try to get into the program. We didn’t have anything to lose.

Gabriel:  We were also exploring different tech at first. We wanted to do something complex regarding materials and were looking at various technologies like 3D printing. Having these technologies available here was something that allowed us to explore all our options.

Gabriel: The first time we applied we weren’t accepted. But Xavier [District 3’s Executive Director] really wanted overshoes. He started coaching us, showing us the whole process of customer interviews and how we had an idea, but didn’t know if it was going to work. He showed us how much we had to learn. We reapplied that winter and got in.

Felix: I think it’s a mix of characteristic as well. We’re a good team, we’re fast, we’re working pretty hard, we came up with a good financial model and we had the potential of huge market reach. When we finished the BMV, it was natural to continue by joining the MVP program. We wanted to stay here; we liked the one-on-one coaching we had.

What was the biggest lesson learned from the 12 weeks?

Felix:  The pace. We weren’t accustomed to being “broken”, or pushed to our limits. It was quite astonishing, but at the end, I liked it. It makes you stronger, and you know how to answer people truly, whether it’s customers, investors, coaches or other stakeholders, because you know your business from the inside out.

Gabriel: I think the most surprising was the effect it had on me as an individual. I knew it was going to be intense and it required a lot of hustling. It’s only in hindsight, that we realized how much it has helped us in the end. We’re doing overshoes, and I’m able to convince people that it’s a good idea. And we’re now at ease in this environment. The program helped us believe in our product and gave us confidence to persevere in the face of challenges.

What made you stay at District 3?

Felix:  That’s the thing I really like about District 3. I’m trying to give back to the community, because I’m thankful for all the support I had and continue to have as part of the community. If someone comes to ask me for help, I’m going to try my best to help them. It’s knowing the people in the community, and trying to help everybody as much as people are helping you. It’s a philosophy that every entrepreneur should have if they truly want to succeed.

Gabriel: And people here are genuinely rooted in entrepreneurship. They like speaking about it and hearing about it. Whatever you’re doing, they’re going to be interested and they get into it and question you. Every person I speak to is going to question me and people are so aware of it, because they’re doing it themselves and in the end, it helps you push yourself.

What is the most memorable experience either at District 3 or throughout your journey?

Felix: At District 3, the thing I remember the most is when Xavier told us “just do it!” It’s something I remember, like ‘What the hell am I doing just sitting on my ass?”He thought we were farther than we actually were. And when we finished and won the BMV, that was such a good moment!

Gabriel: When we had our first prototype. We worked so hard to get that thing. When we received our product and opened it, it actually looked like what we sent. It was very gratifying to physically see the result of our efforts.

What do you do on a daily basis to grow as an entrepreneur?

Felix: It’s continuous learning and improvement. I really love everything about entrepreneurship. I push myself to the limit. I’m always giving myself new and higher goals and just trying to reach something we haven’t done before and do it faster. And crying myself to sleep.

Gabriel:  I think it’s a lot of interactions with people. For me to get better, I need to ask myself questions and challenge assumptions, I’m less afraid now than I was before. I’m learning from others and take in as much information as I can from other people who are more experienced than me. That’s also what I learned from the BMV, there’s a lot of people with great insights. I research and try to use different tools that I wouldn’t normally use, I’m more thorough when I have to work. I think that’s what makes me a better entrepreneur; I’m more task oriented.

Don’t miss the opportunity to meet our coaches, startups and learn more about our programs at our information session Thursday, December 15! Are you ready to take your startup or idea to the next level? Apply to our programs before Monday, December 19.

 

Introduction to Scrum – The Importance of Testing (Part 5/5)


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noah

By Noah Saber Freedman

Show me the Receipts: the Importance of Testing and the Definition of Done.

This is the fifth of a series of introductory posts about Scrum. The previous post discussed User Stories, and the Product Backlog.

Let’s start where the previous post left off: when is the Sprint Planning meeting over? During the meeting, the team discusses which USs will enter the SB, and which DTMs will be responsible for each US – but there’s one more thing that needs to be discussed: the Definition of Done (DoD), a list which represents those specific qualities that a US must have in order to be considered complete.

The engineers in the crowd may remark how similar the DoD is to “acceptance criteria” or a “requirements list”. In fact, they’re exactly equivalent, with the only difference being that a DoD is grouped under a US. Engaging the DTMs in the process of listing the items in the DoD means they’ll understand the scope of the USs in the PB and SB – and those items in the DoD will be a boon to them when it comes time to organizing their independent work! Finally, the DoD is testable, which means it is possible to check to see if every item in the DoD has been accounted for.

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Life Without a DoD

Okay, so you’re a SM. You’ve worked with your PO to prioritize an effective PB filled with a set of descriptive USs (all of which flow from your team’s EUS) and you’ve held a marathon Sprint Planning meeting and your DTMs have all volunteered for the USs which suit them best. They’ve diligently worked the entire Sprint and, with the help of regular stand-up Scrum meetings to keep everyone on the same page, they completed the DoD for every single US in the SB for that Sprint. Shall we chalk this up as another successful day in the life of a Scrum Master and pour ourselves a cup of tea?

Well, maybe not quite yet. Let’s start by asking a very simple, but very profound question:

“How do you know?”

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. You built a thing…

But how do you know it does the thing you built it to do?

  1. You built a thing and it does the thing you built it to do…

But how do you know that what you built it to do is what you need it to do?

  1. You built a thing, and it does the thing you need it to do…

But how do you know what you need it to do is what your audience needs it to do?

Pouring that cup of tea would appear to be premature, indeed. There’s still work to do, here.

So, how do we know? In order to know, we have to do some science.

For too many people, the word “science” probably conjures images of laboratory denizens standing around bubbling Ehrlenmeyer flasks in white coats, nitrile gloves, and safety goggles – but don’t confuse the externals for the fundamentals.

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Not Science.

Science is a way of thinking. The scientific method is the only self-correcting method for rigorously testing our ideas in order to see which ones reflect the true state of nature, and which ones merely reflect our own preconceptions, delusions, and biases about how we think the world works.

So how do we do it? Let’s start with the hypothesis, a testable statement in an IF/THEN format. Here’s a simple example:

IF I write a series of introductory blog posts about Scrum,

THEN a reader will be equipped to engage in self-directed learning about Scrum,

AND a reader will be able to start applying some Scrum principles in their teams,

AND a reader will learn that District 3 can provide Scrum training.

The DoD in this case, would be a blog post about each of the following: the History of Scrum, the members of the Scrum team, User Stories and the Product Backlog, Scrums and Sprints, and Testing. This is where the testability – or, ‘falsifiability’, of these hypotheses becomes important: If by the end of this series you don’t feel like you know enough about Scrum to study the material on your own, and you have no idea how to start applying Scrum in a team, and if you don’t know anything about District 3’s ability to provide some level of Scrum training, then this series has failed on its own terms!

Part of the beauty of the DoD is this: not only does it give the DTMs on the team a concrete list of work to tackle as they move towards a completed US, but because each item in the DoD is testable, a well-defined DoD allows the team to reduce inefficiency and move confidently towards a better and better product.

As a Scrum Master, the most important thing by far will always be your ability to ask the right questions. I say “the right questions” because the easy thing to measure is rarely a good substitute for the right thing to measure! Not all tests are created equally, so let’s add one more question to our rack of “how do you know” questions:

How do you know your test is the right one?

The answer to this question is not always forthcoming, but if you stick to asking the golden question of “how do you know?”, then I think it’s very likely that you can find the right tests to keep your teams, processes, and products operating at a high level of efficiency and effectiveness.

If every item in the DoD can be checked off for every US in the Sprint, then you have successfully completed a product increment, and can (if you so wish) release the product – and then you pour yourself that cup of tea.

This concludes the introductory blog post series about how to start applying Scrum principles in you teams. I hope you found the series informative – or, at the very least, entertaining! Do you feel like you have enough information to effectively study Scrum independently? Are you confident to start applying some Scrum principles in you teams? If so, then this series of posts has been a success! If you have any requests for future posts, please list them in the comments below – and stay tuned to find out more opportunities to learn about Scrum at District 3!

Introduction to Scrum – All Hands on Deck: Scrums and Sprints (Part 4/5)


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noah

By Noah Saber Freedman

All Hands on Deck: Scrums and Sprints

This is the fourth of a series of introductory posts about Scrum. The previous post discussed User Stories, and the Product Backlog.

Hello! Wow, it’s great to see you again.

So you may have noticed that we’ve spent an awful lot of time talking what “Scrum” is, but we haven’t yet talked about what “a Scrum” is. We also briefly introduced the topic of Sprint Planning meetings in the last post, and this post will expand on the topic. Yes, today, we’re talking about that thing we do when we’re not working.

That’s right, folks: I’m talking about meetings.

As you’ve probably already surmised, Scrum principally makes use of two kinds of meetings: the Scrum, and the Sprint Planning meeting. Let’s start with the first.

A Scrum is brief stand-up meeting, typically held daily. Importantly, the Product Owner (PO) is not invited. Doing this is important, because (intentionally or not) the presence of the PO can bias the behaviour of the Development Team Members (DTMs) in the meeting. The structure of a Scrum is simple, but effective; In a Scrum, the Scrum Master (SM) asks the following three questions of each DTM:

  • What have you been working on?
  • What are you working on now?
  • What are the roadblocks?

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Apologies to Terry Gilliam.

That’s it! These three questions are all that are needed to get everyone on the same page. In this way, team members can share their successes and raise issues before they become serious impediments to the team. It’s important to note that these meetings are not for updating the SM as much as they are for helping the DTMs to update each other: as is sometimes/often/always the case, unexpected issues arise in the course of a Sprint, and it’s frequently helpful to keep the lines of communication open so that DTMs can get access to each others’ expertise.

A Sprint Planning meeting, however, is a much more intense affair. For a typical sprint of three weeks, six hours of Sprint Planning is realistic! This seems like a nightmare of a marathon of a meeting, but if an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, then it’s better to spend the time in Sprint Planning early to avoid lost time later on. This meeting, again, is run by the SM – and this time, the entire team is invited.

These meetings are the ones where the SM has the opportunity to do the most good for the team, and they’re the meetings where the SM’s capacity for team-building, mediation, and leadership can shine through. The User Story (US) at the top of the Product Backlog (PB) is the first to be discussed, and it is discussed exhaustively. The SM must mediate this conversation by asking how the US is to be accomplished, what needs to be done in order to conclude the US, and – perhaps most importantly – which DTMs will carry them out. The list of USs in the Sprint are stored in a list called (you guessed it!) the Sprint Backlog (SB).

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I would at this time like to reiterate that nobody tells the DTMs what to do. It is critical that DTMs volunteer for their USs of choice, and that they are never to be commanded, ordered, instructed, delegated, persuaded, coerced, cajoled, coaxed, or hoodwinked into taking USs.

I don’t want to make this sound like a trivial process, because it isn’t. In general, attempting to fathom the scope of each US discussed in the Sprint Planning meeting is a feat – and on top of that, people are notoriously bad at self-assessment! There exist tools for estimating the amount of time and effort required for each US – for example, systems of assigning difficulty points to USs – but the most important tools in the SM’s kit will always be their aptitude for asking the right questions, encouraging constructive participation, detecting and amplifying the underrepresented voice in the room, and building consensus about how the team tackles the backlog.

When these meetings work well, they’re a beautiful thing to behold.

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This diagram is true for all effective mediation.

I’ve left a couple of things off the list of items to be discussed in Sprint Planning, and that’s because they’re important enough to merit their own post. All I’ll say for now is that if you’re the kind of person who demands evidence before concluding that you have good results, then you’re going to want to read what’s coming up next. Stay tuned.

These articles are for you! Please don’t hesitate to ask questions or give comments. Let me know what you’d like to see, and what’s unclear – and, in true Scrum fashion, I’ll try to tune the future posts so they’re more interesting, informative, and entertaining for you.

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