Stephen Lake is the CEO and co-founder of Thalmic Labs, an organization that concentrates on “building the future of human-computer interaction.” The company works with wearable technology and ubiquitous computing. One of the most recent releases from Thalmic is the MYO Gesture Control Armband, that works in collaboration with smartphones, smarthomes, presentations, radio and various multimedia.
When asked about some of the biggest challenges of the startup world Lake said that as a hardware company they continually face challenges on both the engineering and business levels:
“Supply chain, quality control, distribution, and financing all this. One big challenge we faced was a technical one – existing sensor technology that picks up muscle activity signals wasn’t suitable for our application, so we spent over a year developing our own brand new sensor.
“We often think about the fact that we’re solving challenging problems to create something that could change the face of computing. The three of us get to wake up every day and work on some of the coolest technology we can imagine, alongside an amazing team of people.
There really isn’t anything else we’d rather be doing.
“Our stress relief outside of work is athletics for all of us – we did several triathlons together this past summer.”
And like most entrepreneurs Lake and his team, Matthew Bailey, and Aaron Grant, while proud of their accomplishments thus far remain on a forward path towards success:
“We’re still in the early days. If we had to narrow it down to a specific reason that we’ve been able to get this far, it’s that we’re a highly resourceful group and we continue to pound away at challenges we face day in, day out.”
Had an opportunity to chat with Igor Bonifacic for the Toronto Standard‘s entrepreneur interviews series, thank you for the feature guys!
“Kateryna Topol has a love for music.
That love for music was enough to set her down the unenviable task of starting her own music publication. We spoke to Topol at the Cafe Pamenar in Kensington. Here, she talks to us about her online music magazine, what life is like when freelancing in advertising and a bit about Toronto’s music scene…”
Marcel LeBrun is the senior vice president and chief product officer of Salesforce ExactTarget Marketing Cloud. Over the years Marcel has co-founded and led multiple technology startups to Nasdaq IPO and successful acquisitions. His most notable startup, however, has been Radian6 which he sold to Salesforce.com for US $326 million in 2011.
I’ve asked Marcel the same 3 questions I asked entrepreneurs in the previously published interviews and the wealth of his responses made it difficult for me to cut so let’s look at them as they are, in all of their wisdom.
Think back to when you started your first business, what were the hardest days, and the best days like in the first year?
I was 27 when I built my first business plan and 28 when I became co-founder and CEO. The first year was exciting, but it was also a bit scary because I had high profile investors, and I was learning as I went along. It was exciting to be building a business from the ground floor up; scary because it was the first time I was doing it, and I didn’t know what to expect at 27/28 years old. On the contrary, when I co-founded Radian6, we had experience; it was a very different feeling than starting my first business.
The hardest days and best days might actually have existed in the same week. The hardest days were overcoming major setbacks – i.e. receiving a rejection from an investor or technical setbacks. But working to overcome those obstacles and uncovering solutions to our problems were the best days. From these experiences I learned that difficulties provide a chance to create opportunities. Building value from challenging situations is always more rewarding, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment
How about the second year, what kept you going?
Every stage of a startup is difficult and has unique challenges. I learned a lot about communication during the second year – to shareholders, stakeholders, the public/media, etc. When the first year of a business is successful, there are high expectations for the second year. As an entrepreneur, you are still a startup, still proving your market.
In the second year I learned about managing expectations and developed my communications skills to build better relationships with employees, shareholders, and so on. The end result put everyone on the same page with a shared vision of the company.
When did you know you’d made it?
Like a lot of entrepreneurs who rarely dwell on mistakes of the past, I chose to remain focused on where I’m headed – the next growth phase – and never really consider myself to have “made it”. To me that implies being static and business is not static.
As entrepreneurs, we must always be moving forward.
At a point, your business eventually creates real value and achieves significant milestones – such as first investor, first profitable quarter. But nothing guarantees you will “make it,” not even an IPO. It is simply the next phase. When Salesforce acquired Radian6 (milestone), I looked at it as a transition to another growth phase.
The question of knowing when you made it is much easier to answer retrospectively than in the moment. When achieving each milestone, you feel like you’ve made it for that fleeting moment. But when you look back, it truly shows whether or not it was a key moment in the development of your business success.
But there is one in particular no one wants to work on: female products. It doesn’t matter what the product is. It could be tampons or soda water. What makes this brief particularly dreadful is the target market.
She is concerned with her weight, she diets, or does not diet, she counts calories but loves chocolate and sweet flavored everything, she is concerned with how others perceive her, she has a dream jean size, a dream man and so on and so on. You get the point.
All of these briefs are the same.
Despite the fact that women, just like men, pets and exotic animals, come in different shapes and sizes with an avid range of interests, the advertising industry tends to put them/us into a very small box as a single group.
The scary part is many of these briefs are written by women, keeping us in that same box watching the same ad over and over: “be original, be you, be comfortable with your weight,” and so on and so on.
What happened to our other likes, hobbies and sense of humor?
Why are there so few ads that appeal to women in a none generic way?
I have been pondering the issue for a long time but the solution never seemed clear enough. Today, however, I think I finally got it.
While browsing the web for entertainment and creative inspiration, I came across the new Veet ad “Don’t Risk Dudeness.”
Immediately, I thought to myself: “this is some funny stuff.” While the concept isn’t all that original, the idea approaches female waxing products with a humorous perspective.
But, sadly, the concept will not live on. Veet’s marketing team had to make a public apology to the angered women of North America who immediately begun furiously accusing the brand of sexism and encouraging stereotypical gender constructs. Admittedly it’s not the most amazing concept but to say that this idea reinforces stereotypical gender constructs more than all of the women doing laundry in detergent ads is a bit aggressive.
We, as women, have fought so long for freedom of speech and opinion, the right to vote, and equal wage opportunities (still fighting that one), that we seem to have lost a sense of humor.
Men don’t get up in arms when their counterparts turn into Betty White when hungry. It’s funny. But no, not when it is women turning into bushy men. Women felt insulted, infuriated, misrepresented and swore off buying Veet ever again all because the agency pushed the idea of feeling a little less like a woman when unshaved into the funny park.
“I’ll never buy Veet if this is how you think women should be portrayed in the media.”
“You intended to be funny, but what you ended up being was sexist, homophobic, body-shaming and transphobic.”
“You have no right to shame a woman who doesn’t follow what’s considered the norm.”
“I’m headed to Shoppers Drugmart right now. I’m going to write a short note explaining this event and post it on the Veet section of the store in the hopes that people will reconsider buying it.”
I know for a fact that I am not a particularly unique person. Like most people, I surround myself with alike individuals and while there are things that offend my female circle as women, this is not one of them so find it hard to wrap my head around how many women felt offended by this ad.
Women often complain about how bad ads targeted at them are but it’s now clear to me that it is all their own fault.
Not all of us are alike. Some women exhibit a rather generous sense of humor (just read the comments for the BIC Pen for Her). But if this is a mass response it’s no wonder the industry is afraid to reach the edge of the box towards creative and funny.
So here is my question: how is it that in a world fueled by creativity, much of which comes from women, we tend to rise against everything that’s funny under the guise of feminism?
A majority of the comments on this ad were in regards to cosmetics ads telling women what they should look like and what the norm is, comments like: “Do you know why women hate themselves? It’s because you, the cosmetic companies, TELL US TO.”
But ladies, you know that saying: guns don’t kill people, people do? The point is we all have a mind of our own, you are all free to make your own decisions, you can chose to shave, or not shave, no one will stop you from going natural year round (and yes, there really is someone for everyone). No ad out there, in the 21st century, said “shame, shame, you forgot to shave!”
The real norm is what majority of the people do, not what the ads show. It’s no secret models are not “regular” people (but if you look closely they too have scars, stretch marks, cellulite, and all of those other same things we “regular” women do).
If we are going to be upset about this ad should we be upset about make up companies telling us to have longer eyelashes or plumper lips and to smell like tropical fruits and vanilla. Shouldn’t we than be also upset about women eating mostly salad and yogurt in ads? Why aren’t we this equally outraged about it being mostly women in capris and cardigans doing laundry on TV – I don’t see anyone taking their rage out on the Purex or Maybelline Facebook Walls.
Men may already know all of our dirty secrets and this is simply an exaggerated joke based on an insight that I am sure the agency, and some research organization, invested a lot of time in, talking to women like us.
They don’t go around complaining about the ads where they are shown fat, whipped, tired, feminine, or dumb because they see the humour in them, they can take a joke.