Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

3 Practical Steps to Increase Gender Diversity at Your Company

Tuesday, April 25th, 2017

In 2016 women held only 21.6% of board seats in Canada’s largest corporations by revenue, according to the Canadian Board Diversity Council.

While this is an improvement from 2015’s 19.5%, many companies still appear to be lagging behind adding women to their boards. A 2016 survey by the Ontario Securities Commission found that 45% of issuers did not have any women on their boards. Something needs to change.

Enter theBoardlist, a talent platform that engages the tech community to increase gender diversity on boards. Launched in the U.S. in 2015, theBoardlist currently has over 1600 board-ready women. For the past six months, I have relentlessly worked closely with founder Sukhinder Singh Cassidy and the team to support the expansion of theBoardlist to Canada.

If you know a board that needs more women check out theBoardlist to see how it can help. If you know a highly qualified woman who would be an asset to a board, why not nominate her right now.

If your company needs more gender diversity at all levels, you’re not alone. While working with companies of all sizes, I’ve learned these three steps can make a significant difference:

  1. Visit community colleges to find potential employees instead of Ivy League schools.
  2. When looking to fill a position at your company, demand that your HR department or staffing firm show you at least 50% female candidates for the role.
  3. Be a voice for change by calling attention to the number of women at every meeting. When numbers are low, relentlessly ask what can be done to improve it.

3 Must-Dos After A Conference

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

How do I know I’ve attended a quality conference? I leave energized, inspired and with a stack of business cards.

At most conferences I meet fantastic people and am inspired by a ton of fresh ideas and endless possibilities. I walk away with a long list of practical suggestions and some game changing strategies, and then reality hits:  

  • I am days behind on emails
  • I have a pile of new contacts with varying degrees of value
  • I have ignored colleagues, projects and life in general

So I hurry back to my office and before I know it, I’m back on the hamster wheel.

Sound familiar?

Recently after leaving a two-day conference, I realized this had to change. Almost all the value from a conference was lost because I didn’t have a moment to thoughtfully plan how to apply my new-found knowledge. I decided that I either had to stop spending money on conferences only to discard the learnings, or do something different that made the conference worth my time and money.

I decided to do something different and it’s working. Here are my tips for acting differently the next time you re-enter reality after a conference.

Starting with the obvious, you should do things, like:

  • Connect on LinkedIn (take 30 seconds for a personal message)
  • Send an email that says ‘great to meet you’ within 48 hours
  • Follow up with anything you promised a new contact, like web links, an introduction, meeting time, etc.
  • If a new contact really impressed you, mail them a personal, handwritten thank you card. No better way to stand out in a noisy online world.

But to upgrade your conference experience, I challenge you to try these three not-so-obvious must-do’s after an event.

  1. Set aside 20 minutes to use the new insights you’ve learned
    For me, the best time to do this is shortly after I leave — usually on the flight home. I set an alarm for 20 minutes and reflect on the key insights so I can organize my thoughts. I think about how I can bring the inspirations and tactical ideas back to my team. Your company can benefit from your conference experience by taking time to thoughtfully bring back new strategies for consideration.
  1. Make the first move
    If you’ve done a conference right, you’ve left with a healthy number of business cards, new LinkedIn connections, and Twitter, Instagram or Facebook followers. But let’s face it, not everyone adds the same value to you or your business moving forward.For those that can, devise a plan to stay in touch. For example:

    • Is there an event that you could invite them to speak at?
    • Is there information you could share, such as industry trends or hot new startups?
    • If you’re interested in what they are building, then consider being more actively engaged on social channels

When reaching out in today’s social media world, remember to use tools and platforms that are easily accessible and give you the best chance to stand out.

  1. Commit to changing one thing for the better
    We learn more than tactical skills from a conference. We learn how to be human. I once heard a CEO of a large company say on stage that during an elevator ride he asks employees what project they are working on. It gives the employee time to share (and shine) and provides insights he might not normally receive. This small change in behavior can make you a better manager, CEO or leader. If you listen for the non-tactical messages and commit to applying one, you could benefit in ways that will surprise you — and your team.

For me, the best conferences are the ones where I feel I’ve made meaningful connections and applied the messages I heard on stage to my personal and professional life. It really begins with taking 20 minutes on your way back to reality and then taking action.

Fintech FOMO: Stories for Success on Blockchain and Smart Contracts

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Blockchain is big business: According to CoinDesk, $1.1bn was invested in blockchain and Bitcoin in the first quarter of 2016.

Don’t get left behind.

Here’s a round-up of our coverage of blockchain, smart contracts, and the role of fintech in general.

Developers’ Job Guide: Smart Contracts and Blockchain

Why beginners are at an advantage — and why you should learn Go.

Why Fintech Entrepreneurs Should Make Friends With Regulations

Adam Nanjee, Head of Fintech at MaRS Discovery District, explains the key role of the regulatory environment at each stage of a fintech startup’s development — in animated GIF format.

Visa Testing Blockchain For International Payments

Trials are being planned between several international banks in a challenge to the existing Swift payment system.

Some more stories from our archives:

Ethereum Community Splits After Security Fix
US Postal Service Considers Adopting Digital Currency
As Fintech Spreads, Bank Revenues Are On The Menu for Startups
Behind the Fintech Hype


Canada’s Most Tech-Oriented Economy Must Lead to Survive

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Ontario’s future depends not only on embracing disruptive technology, but also on producing and exporting innovations built around cloud computing and artificial intelligence, says Dr. Tom Corr, President and CEO of Ontario Centres of Excellence.

According to the Brookfield Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (BII+E), 7.5% of businesses in Ontario operate in the tech sector – the highest proportion in Canada. The tech sector is directly responsible for 7.1 percent of Canada’s economic output.

That may not be enough.

There are so many disruptive technologies coming about that are disrupting every sector of our economy, from finance to healthcare to manufacturing,” Corr said in an interview during last week’s launch of IBM’s Innovation Hub in Toronto. “It’s important that we not only adopt it, but stay ahead of it and be part of that trend.”

The IBM hub hosts startups including med tech company Analytics4Life, which is working on a new coronary artery disease test, and BigTerminal, a personalized finance news aggregator. Both use IBM Watson and IBM Bluemix technology as vital parts of their platform infrastructure.

Ontario’s knowledge in upcoming areas of technology should be considered a natural resource, Corr said. “In terms of cloud computing, artificial intelligence and cognitive computing, there’s great talent coming out of places like the University of Toronto, the University of Waterloo.”

Corr said many companies in the IBM Innovation Hub, which offers startups networking and scaleup opportunities, wouldn’t have access to cognitive and cloud technology without partnering with IBM.

These resources can translate into export opportunities for Ontario and Canada.

“Should these companies see export potential in Germany, or Brazil, or in the U.S. or wherever they may be, these companies can then locate in an IBM facility in those places and get the help they need,” he said.

Corr, who holds his Doctor of Business Administration from Henley Management College in England, has led technology commercialization initiatives at University of Toronto and University of Waterloo.

See more coverage

IBM Opens Innovation Hub in Toronto
IBM Hub to Support Canadian Job Retention
VC Funding Doesn’t Reflect Talent in Toronto and KW: Minister

To find out what IBM Watson can do for you, click here.

For a free trial of IBM Bluemix, click here.

Tsinghua Beats MIT, Harvard in Startup Ecosystem Funding

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

Beijing’s Tsinghua University came out ahead of Harvard, MIT and UCLA among the world’s top schools in a measure of surrounding tech ecosystem investment.

The proximity of a few big tech players, including former Uber competitor Didi Chuxing, gives Tsinghua its edge.

In a comparison between the top 50 rated schools in the world for ICT, and investment attracted by startups, the University of California at Berkeley, Stanford University, and New York University had the most investment locally. In an IBM Watson Analytics data visualization, the century-old Beijing university placed next.

The Californian schools were first and second in the list. The companies closest to them have $48.3 billion and $25.9 billion of aggregate investment, respectively, due to the overwhelming number of startups in their neighborhoods (San Francisco, and Silicon Valley).

Tsinghua, sometimes called “China’s MIT”, is closer to Beijing’s startups than its companion school, Peking University. Tsinghua is local to only three companies in our test, but together those three companies have booked $13.1 billion of investment.

The largest of these is Didi Chuxing, a mobile transportation platform that recently took over Uber’s operations in China. Didi Chuxing’s total funding is $7.3 billion, of which $4.5 billion came from Apple private equity in June 2016.

Xiaomi, with $2.45 billion in angel funding, develops smart devices and software. Meituan Dianping is a new merger of two popular group-buying communities. In January 2016 it attracted $3.3 billion in investment.

Schools with tech ecosystem funding

According to James Giancotti of Oddup, Beijing is an emerging startup powerhouse because of its large domestic market, government support, and talent pool from schools such as Tsinghua and neighbouring Peking. “There is no question that Beijing is following in the footsteps of Silicon Valley,” he writes.

China’s tech ecosystem hasn’t suffered for its relative isolation. Shenzhen-based Tencent Holdings, for example, developed WeChat, a messaging app that handles a wider scope of functions than most U.S. tech giants, including Facebook and Google.

And Tech in Asia reports that in the first six months of 2016, investors put a record $37.2 billion USD into China’s young tech firms.

Top 10 universities for local* startup funding, by amount

  1. University of California, Berkeley – $48.3 billion
  2. Stanford University – $25.9 billion
  3. New York University – $14.7 billion
  4. Tsinghua University – $13.1 billion
  5. University of California, Los Angeles – $6.32 billion
  6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology – $4.56 billion
  7. Harvard University – $3.24 billion
  8. University of Washington – $2.67 billion
  9. University of Chicago – $2.63 billion
  10. University College London – $1.84 billion

* local = within a 50-mile radius.

Peking University, the other Beijing-based university on the top 50 school list, arguably has a claim to joint fourth place status. It wasn’t counted as the closest school because it’s geographically further from the areas where technology companies gather.

Compare this to MIT and Harvard, which are within a mile of each other and are both surrounded by startups. They each appear in the top 10 list, but combined they would only edge out University of California, Los Angeles.

Startup funding data was taken from Pitchbook’s public database in August 2016. Top school rankings are from the QS World University Rankings 2015. The data was geocoded with ArcGIS, and then collated by the IBM Watson Analytics data exploration tool.

Globally, there was $33 billion of funding attached to startups not within 50 miles of a top-50 school for ICT.

VC Funding and the Culture that Rewards Failure

Monday, August 8th, 2016

Fail fast; fail often.

This has long been a mantra within startup cultures, but the industry doesn’t appear to be benefiting, at least financially.

The failure hype may have gone too far.

While many stakeholders in the tech startup space have accepted – and even celebrated – failure, Re/code co-founder and executive editor Kara Swisher points to VCs in particular.

“You can fail 99 times and VCs will still shove money in your hands,” Swisher told the crowd at Startupfest 2016 in Montreal last month, questioning the extent to which failure among startups has been celebrated.

Failure in the startup world has contributed to a recent increase in down rounds and financial losses.

Citing data from Adams Street Partners, Forbes reported that roughly 55 percent of capital went towards losing deals over a 10- and 30-year period, meaning that the track record hasn’t improved. Extrapolating from these numbers, upwards of $32.34 billion invested in startups across U.S. in 2015 might be gone.

Even worse, prominent VC Mark Suster recently speculated that loss ratios will increase in the near future.

Startups fail at higher rates than the industry usually cites, Harvard Business School lecturer Shikhar Ghosh told StartupGeist. Based on Ghosh’s 2012 study of 2,000 companies that received at least $1 million in venture funding between 2004 through 2010, 95 percent of startups failed to provide their projected returns on investment.

Given the recent writedowns of many unicorns-in-waiting and declines in VC funding, tech startups may find investors becoming less tolerant of failure. But before this cultural shift can occur, VCs must address their high tolerance for failure.

For startups, VC acceptance of failure has been more damaging than supportive, in part because some startups think honesty is not always the best policy. As noted in a previous TechPORTFOLIO article, startups have become more creative with their metrics and how they define profit in order to secure funding.


“Being honest in Silicon Valley is like being the one member of an Olympic team that isn’t on steroids,” entrepreneurs who wished to remain anonymous told Fast Company. “VCs will give you points for honesty, but they won’t give you money,” said another, also speaking anonymously.

Another founder claimed he was turned down from a financing round for having “too much integrity,” according to the article.

Promises of success evaporate over time, trust is eroded, and the poor due diligence that was overlooked in the initial stages becomes too problematic to ignore. When a startup does fail, VCs are reluctant to acknowledge it.

As a result, aspiring startups lose the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of failed startups. When a startup does not fail outright, its faltering is either unacknowledged or labeled a “pivot.”

The problem may ultimately come down to flawed funding models and the standards around valuation. Despite our increasingly data-drive economy, VCs still struggle to use that information to reduce their instances of failure.

According to TechCrunch, VCs are more confident about their decisions when they have more information, even though it doesn’t lead to better decision making. VCs also tend to favour entrepreneurs similar to them and those in close geographic proximity — not exactly the most accurate indicator of success.

The RIP Report – Startup Death Trends from CB Insights stated that companies “die,” on average, around 20 months after having raised $1.3 million.

As tech ecosystems begin to better understand their own metrics, new, more accurate methods for determining valuations may arise.

This may require VCs to reach consensus on what metrics they will accept from startups, and how those metrics will be defined.

Only then will the fetishization of failure be replaced by a drive towards long-term success.

A Brief History of Hacking

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

In 1957, a blind boy in Virginia used a high-pitched whistle to unlock his phone line, giving him free long-distance phone calls and establishing a hack with a direct line to Apple Inc.  

Joe Engrassia, Jr., who changed his name in 1991 to “Joybubbles,” is widely considered to be the father of phone “phreaking,” a technology famous for inspiring Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak to build a machine that could emulate the pitch frequency needed to control AT&T’s phone lines.

Wozniak, then a 21-year-old Berkeley college student, designed his “digital blue box” after reading 1971 Esquire article “Secrets Of the Little Blue Box.” For little more than $100 in parts, he and Jobs had hacked the global phone network. Jobs said the experience led them to build the Apple computer, a company worth more than $500 billion.

Technology journalist Clive Thompson, who’s currently working on a book for Penguin about how programmers think called Hello, World, says the blue box is emblematic of a certain subset of computer hackers.


“There’s a type of hacker that gets into computer because they enjoy screwing around with what they can get computer system to do, and that often involves stuff that’s thinly legal or totally illegal, because the fun is taking a system and seeing how to exploit weaknesses,” Thompson says.

That kind of curiosity-driven hacking made Wozniak a white-hat hacker, a term used to describe people who, loosely, like to take things apart to see how they work (and don’t work). Whether it’s legal or illegal is often beside the point because white-hat hackers are generally non-malicious and their exploits are often used to strengthen the very systems they hacked. Thompson points out that Apple has hired several people who were able to jailbreak and hack iPhones.

Those activities have also led to a number of tech advancements, perhaps most notably the open-source movement responsible for creating reams of non-proprietary software used by many of the world’s biggest technology companies. It was one of the first times a single piece of software was so widely adopted by the free market. “That kind of creativity can easily fold over into the type of creativity that capitalism rewards,” Thompson says.

There’s a direct correlation between the way open-source software permeated business and the developer culture we have today. It’s been enormously advantageous for companies to hire people who want to crack software open to play around with its insides, because they are some of the most motivated, clever and creative people in the world.


Gabriella Coleman, a preeminent scholar on hacker collective Anonymous, who holds the Wolfe Chair in Scientific and Technological Literacy at McGill University in Montreal, wrote in a recent essay:

So many hacker sensibilities, projects, and products are motivated by, threatened by, or easily folded into corporate imperatives. Take, for instance, the hacker commitment to autonomy. Technology giant Google, seeking to lure top talent, instituted the ‘20 per cent policy.’ The company affords its engineers, many of whom value technical sovereignty as part of their ethos, the freedom to work one day a week on their own self-directed projects.

Coleman points out that this does, unfortunately, lead to some people working 100 hours a week — a profound devotion to programming that has become a hallmark of developer culture. “Silicon Valley is smart in exploiting hacker tendencies, but people are also willing,” she says in a phone interview with TechPORTFOLIO.

Hackers in this area are generally amenable to the prospect of making money, though it’s usually not their main motivation — at least not at first. Coleman says hackers who become developers at companies often tire of the clock-in, clock-out grind of the corporate world and seek to create their own, more fulfilling projects, which has been a major catalyst in startup culture.

“Cool Technology” and “Lots of Money”

“In regions like Silicon Valley, and in other startup culture areas, there’s a very tight fusion of actual hackers who want to make cool technology and also want to make a lot of money,” she says.

There’s another side to hacking that’s probably best represented in popular culture by Mr. Robot, which focuses on an antisocial, anti-capitalist hacker widely believed to be inspired by hacktivist group Anonymous.

The Occupy movement, WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning have all helped the public gain a greater consciousness, and even admiration, for hacking as a public service, leading to the rise of the Robin Hood hacker profile.

That such seemingly selfless acts, often driven by anti-capitalist ideas, have been repurposed by film and TV studios to make millions of dollars is ironic. “Hollywood has long made a lot of money off domesticating supposedly seditious ideas,” Thompson says.

Still, whether archetypal hackers — often highly intelligent and creative individuals who like to take things apart and who are generally mistrustful of the establishment — have been co-opted to form a developer culture that has fed tech startups, and therefore, capitalism, is a tricky question.

“Call out the Bullshit”

“It’s a really weird, and interesting moment, where the two discourses are really strong. They are in competition with each other,” Coleman says.

That said, the divides between discovery-driven hacking, Robin Hood-style hacking, hacktivism and black-hat hacking, aren’t as deep as some may believe. In fact, these spaces can be very fluid, and many hackers (and developers, by extension) dip their toes into these different waters from time to time. Experimentation and publishing boundaries are part of hacking’s core ethos, after all.

“There’s a politics to hacking no matter what, because so many of them are willing to call out bullshit and break the rules,” Coleman says.

Follow @traceylindeman on Twitter

Startup Culture Means More than Free Snacks

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Forget the free snacks, games room and in-house masseuse. What attracts top talent to tech startups is an environment that will allow for unconventional approaches to problem solving.

In other words, a culture of creativity.

And creativity shouldn’t be limited to a startup’s founders or designers. Richard Florida, who popularized the idea of the “creative class,” says creativity should reach into the ranks of developers.  

“A large share of programmers are being paid to think – to a higher degree than what people in non-creative jobs are,” Florida and Professor Charlotta Mellander at the Martin Prosperity Institute said in an emailed response to questions. Math and programming make up eight percent of the creative class – “a relatively small (but yet important) share,” they added.

As the money backing startups shifts to artificial intelligence and machine learning, developers will need to be more integrated into the problem-solving schematic rather than being mere taskmasters.

TechPortfolio_Twitter_Quote-Aug2---4 (1)

According to TechTarget, startup culture is a “workplace environment that values creative problem solving, open communication and a flat hierarchy,” which contrasts with the top-down approach and rigid mission statements of traditional corporate culture.

So how does a startup attract the subset of creative developers who thrive in this kind of environment? Many look for the right staff not by competing with highly-paid big-name employers such as Facebook or Google, but by enticing candidates with an inside look at their organizations’ people and practices.

The Ryerson Digital Media Zone (DMZ), a Toronto-based co-working and accelerator space for digital media startups, helps to build culture in the companies it hosts through creative activities, mentorship and collaboration.

“Our culture very much revolves around a labour of love,” Abdullah Snobar, executive director of the Ryerson DMZ, told TechPORTFOLIO. “Time and time again, we’ve actually said no to companies who came on who had unbelievable products and services, and horrible teams. We want to make sure that we bring on people that complement the culture.”

NYC startup Squarespace, named by Crain’s as one of the best places to work in New York City, describes its culture as “flat, open, and creative.” The company’s recruitment puts the work environment front and center, describing employees as “white hat hackers, sponsored skateboarders, bluegrass musicians, trained chefs.”

“One of the things I work on is trying to be clear about company culture and job roles,” Squarespace founder Anthony Casalena told TechRepublic.

It’s no surprise then that Squarespace has grown to more than 500 employees and has raised more than $78 million in venture capital funding.

And Qumolo, a growing and successful Seattle-based data storage startup, takes this one step further. To recruit, it flies in graduating system developers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for a catered company tour, product demos, and a guided city break. As recruiting manager Emily Rosok told the Seattle Times: “Really, we are very culture-centric.”

In the 14 years since Florida developed his thesis about the creative class, talk about the importance of foosball tables and other fun distractions have persisted, and problems can become particularly acute when everything is just for show.

TechPortfolio_Twitter_Quote-Aug2---5 (1)

Dan Lyons’ book Disrupted describes a perspective from inside CRM and sales software company HubSpot. Lyons paints a picture of a Montessori preschool office where newly hired developers are taught “aspirational” but vague mantras like “1 + 1 = 3.”

The founders created “a mythology that attempts to make the work seem meaningful,” says Lyons. The nerf gun fights and a nap room appear to belie the actual culture, which Lyons reports as being sweatshop-like, and prone to random acts of arson and sex. (Lyons is now a writer for the HBO show Silicon Valley.)

To be genuine, culture has to be aligned with executive values. “If you’re trying to figure out what a company’s values really are,” explains Rand Fishkin, CEO and founder of Moz, “look at the decisions management makes when lots of money, risk, or loss of face for executives is at odds with the stated values.”

In a startup, hiring team members counts as a critically important decision. “I think culture always starts with people,” says Snobar. “It’s always the kind of people that you bring on, and that you have around you.”

And culture can make or break productivity, the driver of success. “When you love something you’re always going to do it no matter how, how difficult it is, or how hard it is. You’re always going to put more energy into it because you’re passionate about it,” says Snobar.

Tech Entrepreneurs Flock to Bali

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016

Computers are honored in Bali. So it’s no surprise that the culture of this island would attract tech innovators.

Bali, in the middle of the Indonesian archipelago, has grown for decades as a tourist destination, attracting people from around the globe to its beaches and terraced rice fields. Enchanted by the sweet scent of frangipani blossoms or the sound of lilting traditional music, some choose to stay, opening restaurants, boutique hotels or scuba diving schools.

Increasingly though, more of the island’s transplants are entrepreneurs developing apps and enterprise software solutions.


“Most people are attracted by the culture,” says Michael Craig, the Australian founder of Dojo Bali, a new co-working space less than kilometer from a beach that attracts surfers from Australia, Japan and California.

Bali is unique for how it has, for centuries, drawn on a mash-up of faiths and customs, creating a blend of Hinduism and traditional animist beliefs. Daily offerings left by Balinese are laid not only for spirits central to Balinese cosmology, but also for statues of Buddha and anything else recognized as meaningful or sacred.

The Balinese even have a day of recognition for things made of metal – including computers – to honor their contributions to community.

This acceptance of outside influences, including technological innovation, creates an environment that welcomes “digital nomads.”

Hubud, a co-working space in Bali

Photo courtesy of Raphael Olivier.

While Bali’s environment and culture has been a draw for artists and innovators for many years, there lacked a central hub in which entrepreneurs could collaborate, learn and work with one another.

That is, until March 2013 when former CBC producer Peter Wall noticed the swelling ranks of Bali’s dislocated entrepreneurs and opened Hubud. The co-working space whose name is a variation on “Ubud,” an area considered the island’s artistic center. Over the last two years Hubud has been featured in several media reports as being among the best co-working spaces globally.

“85 percent of [Hubud community members] self-identify as ‘digital nomads’,” Wall says. “They’re as ambitious and driven as people I’ve worked with in other parts of the world. But they want a better balance.”

In an indication of Bali’s popularity among untethered entrepreneurs, Bali shows up the most in a recent ranking of the “hottest hubs and co-working spaces in Southeast Asia.”

Outdoor working space at Hubud.

Photo courtesy of Franz Navarette.

Hubud’s current space is at capacity having 3,500 members from 69 countries work in, or move through the space. Bali-based LineupHub and Wave also appear in the ranking.

To be sure, the island’s lack of direct access to venture capital is one of several factors that will prevent Bali from growing into a rival to Silicon Valley, Singapore, or Tel Aviv. That’s turning Bali into a community of “micro-entrepreneurs” as opposed to a startup ecosystem like the big city “valleys.”

But much like the unique nature of Bali in general, the island’s transplant-entrepreneurs turn that to their advantage. “If you fail [in Bali], no one cares,” Wall says. “Seed capital goes a long way and your cost of failure is very low.”

Wall says one of Hubud’s community members received startup funding in the Netherlands and received “tons” of applications for software developers wanting to work for him because they would be located in Bali. As many startups struggle with talent acquisition, Hubud has a unique draw in being able to offer a tropical development space.

Wall has demonstrated how Bali can be used as a development resource while client relations business development and administrative work can take place in other countries. Creating a link between Bali and other geographies is part of what is making Hubud unique.

“Make money in US dollars, live on Indonesian Rupiah, and outsource in Filipino Pesos;  I can afford to build a virtual and global team this way,”said Lydia Lee, a corporate escape coach and author of Screw The Cubicle, operating from Hubud.


“Culturally, the Balinese people are friendly and eager to immerse foreigners into their ceremonies and religious events, so people feel welcomed here,” Lee says. “Coworking spaces like Hubud are popping up more and more around the island, with the speed of wifi improving greatly to host digital nomads.”

What Bali lacks in venture capital and academic institutions, it makes up for in creativity, which draws people with many skill sets to the island. Ubud, for example, was one of the settings in Eat, Pray, Love, the best-selling travel memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert, as well as playing host to one of Asia’s most well-known book festivals.

The Guardian calls the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival a “well-established” event, where the publication convened a writing masterclass last year.

“You choose a co-working space based on community,” said Josh Gray-Emmer, 38, who directs a network of developers in Lithuania and Ukraine, among other locales, from Dojo Bali. “There’s a great, eclectic mix of people doing all sorts of things here. I rely on places like this for a local support system.”

Image_Press Release_Outpost (1)

A working area at Outpost, a co-working community in Bali.

From his table at Dojo Bali, not far from the surf Mecca of Echo Beach, Gray-Emmer tasks his network of developers to design websites and build custom APIs for his clients, all of whom are customers of LA-based NationBuilder, a consultancy for politicians and advocacy groups. 

“I’m in the future,” Emmer-Gray says. “Clients go to bed having sent me a list of things they want done, and I work on it while they’re asleep.“

In Bali, “there are many opportunities to meet talented people from around the world,” said Zach K.D., a former Hubud member who moved to Bali from Vancouver to produce a series of how-to videos and run an online clothing design and marketing business. “It’s easier to achieve a healthy work/life balance here than in Canada.”

Zach doesn’t use his full name in speaking with TechPORTFOLIO for privacy reasons, as many of Bali’s digital nomads are there working without a work visa. Like many countries in the region, work visas are difficult to secure without backing from global companies registered there. That’s to prevent foreigners from filling jobs that could otherwise go to Indonesians.

Still, Bali’s entrepreneurs are finding ways around these restrictions, staying for months or years building and supporting global businesses while surrounded by tropical serenity.

Outpost, another Ubud co-working space, which offers resort-style accommodations and massage along with shared office space, hosts between 20-40 people each day, according to co-founder David Abraham.


Asked what attracts tech entrepreneurs to Bali, Abraham says: “That takes more than amazing amenities. It takes a diverse, successful community where people share their ideas.”

“Need help raising money? Speak to Bryan,” Abraham says. “Need help crafting content? Talk to me. Need help with SEO, speak to the guy sitting next to me right now. Our community is full of people who just get stuff done.”

Exactly what has attracted writers, surfers, and travellers to Bali for decades before the digital nomads began setting up shop.



Why Canadian Fintechs Are Falling Behind

Monday, July 11th, 2016

Fintech may be hot in Canadian investment circles, but deal-making lags that of other countries, signalling a funding gap that could weigh on the country’s global competitiveness.

Canadian fintechs ranked fifth in volume of global VC deals, capturing 24 of 860 total deals in 2015, according to Andreessen Horowitz-sponsored Pitchbook. Canada also ranks sixth in overall funding, securing $117 million (U.S.) of $12.5 billion in global investments, or just under one per cent of funding distributed worldwide.

Canada fintech

For a country whose banks and their bottom-lines are the envy of the financial world, those numbers aren’t inspiring. They’re red flags.

The number highlights a glaring issue in Canada’s fintech industry: funding disparity. The funding gap between U.S. and Canadian startups is not surprising, given the size of the U.S. market. The bigger concern is that Canada ranks 13th in average funding per VC deal globally — far behind the world’s most prominent tech ecosystems, and only just ahead of Russia.

Canada ranking ahead of another tech ecosystem titan, Israel: but this is no cause for celebration either. The so-called “smart nation” has seen an increase in number of $20-million plus fintech funding rounds this year. The trend will continue if fintech initiatives such as The Floor gain momentum.

Canada’s lacklustre performance is apparent when you look at others’ statistics: According to KPMG, the U.S. market volume for alternative finance was $113.43 per person compared with $5.82 for Canada, a 95 percent discount, according to a column in the Globe and Mail by entrepreneur Ray Sharma, managing partner of Toronto-based Extreme Ventures. He’s calling for a “much deeper relationship between banks and startups” in Canada to help address the problem.

With fintech adoption set to triple in Canada this year, and considering Canada’s big six banks reported a profit of nearly $35 billion in 2015, the Canadian market is lucrative. So where is the disconnect?

Two to Five Years Behind

Risk averse VCs, credit regulations around peer-to-peer lending, and shallow relationships between startups and incumbents are all cited as problems. Peter Misek, a partner at BDC IT Venture Fund, recently told Bloomberg that Canada is two to five years behind in fintech.

Banks are responding to the threat of fintech, cutting fees and facilitating online transactions. While Canadian consumers welcome the changes, they’re defensive tactics, not innovative, long-term strategies. The reactive stance suggests Canada’s big banks haven’t fully grasped how disruptive fintech will be to their business.

Startups aren’t the only threats either. More established tech giants such as PayPal, Amazon, and Apple are also infringing on the financial industry’s territory, adding to an already increasingly competitive landscape.

Canadian fintechs might be too focused on the banks and not paying attention their global counterparts, which puts them at risk of falling behind on the international stage.

For example, U.K.-based GoCardless raised $13 million earlier this year and is eyeing the Canadian market. Sweden’s Bambora has made a number of aggressive moves to expand into the North American market, including the acquisition of Beanstream. If regulation changes are imminent, they could open the floodgates for non-Canadian fintech startups.

Partnerships Lacking

The words “collaboration” and “partnership” are used often when discussing the future narrative of fintech in Canada, but have yet to yield meaningful results. Innovation hubs within banks are still subject to slow-moving cultures and red tape, and lack the development talent needed to keep pace. Canadian fintechs might be relying on an acquisition strategy that prevents them from become true competitors to the banks.

Neither approach is conducive to much-needed disruptive change.

Whether or not banks and fintechs can transform Canadian banking is still up for debate. One thing is clear: the Canadian fintech storyline needs to change, or the homegrown industry risks falling even further behind.