Holy Sh!t Mom! We’re a Top 5 Finalist for Best Workplace in BC

Holy Sh!t Mom! We’re a Top 5 Finalist for Best Workplace in BC.

Woo Hoo! We are a Top 5 Finalist for Best Workplace in BC!

SPOILER ALERT! – Left won! Left won! Left won! [updated Feb 26, 2016]
Four weeks. That is less than one month. My mom used to say, “Count the sleeps” and it will make the time go by faster. As per the wonderful news that was announced today, our team of Lefties has just been named one of the Top 5 in the Small Business BC Awards in the category of Best Workplace.
“The Best Workplace Award recognizes the business that provides the best overall place to work. The business that receives this award provides a supportive, happy and healthy work environment for their staff. It’s a leader in encouraging both mental and physical health in its employees through education, incentives and activities for all staff members.”
How cool is that!
The Awards Ceremony takes place on February 25. That is only 28 days away. To help pass the time, I thought I would share the application that our team wrote explaining what life is like at Left.
So in their words…
“Describe the past, present and future practices in your business that support the mental and physical health of your employees.”
Since inception in 2010, we have been guided by 10 core values that foster and support creativity and employee well being in all that we do. We “Lefties” believe strongly in the philosophy that healthy and happy employees have far greater potential of producing incredible work. As such, our commitment to health and wellness is woven through daily decisions.

  • Relocated office to be closer to employee families
  • Ability to telecommute remains even though employees save 8.5+ hours/week in stress-free commuting
  • Flexible hours to accommodate school & daycare dropoff/pickup.
  • Unlimited Community Days (paid time off) where Lefties volunteer in their community, improve their mental well-being, and give back
  • 18 Vacation/Personal/sick days per year.
  • Competitive Benefits (dental, extended health, life insurance, etc.) provided by Manulife Financial
  • Maternity Policy (includes baby bonus, salary top-up, and RESP contribution)
  • Fresh fruit daily
  • Ergonomic adjustable chairs, optional stand-up desks, and ergonomic keyboards/mice, monitor stands, etc.
  • Large-screen monitors with eye-strain reducing software
  • Free Bootcamp classes twice weekly
  • Company-paid all fees for ToughMudder 19km challenge
  • Informal/structured mentoring available for all employees.
  • Full kitchen, filtered water, and family-style dining
  • Salad/Lunch club – up to 100% participation from Lefties in potluck style lunch club
  • The Dream Program™ where we train, support, and celebrate Lefties achieving personal goals
  • Monthly lunch and learns
  • Continuing education grants for employees
  • Games room for mental/physical breaks complete with ping pong and foosball
  • Library, including books on self-improvement, mental and physical health
  • On multiple occasions, the company has continued to pay full salary for staff who took extended medical leave, both due to physical and mental health issues

“Provide examples of any additional activities and programs implemented that support a dynamic, healthy and happy workplace.”
Our award-winning Community/Team Engagement Program was recognized as ‘Best in BC’ by the BCTIA at the 2015 Technology Impact Awards. In winning, judges cited our:

  • UNLIMITED Community Days
  • Personalized Volunteering
  • Social & Charitable Volunteering

Our sense of pride and achievement is infectious. Lefties know they are making a difference in someone else’s life and their own. Examples:

  • Distributing care packages to homeless of Downtown Eastside
  • Cooking meals at Ronald McDonald House.
  • Supporting “A Boy Named Nicholas” (charity for Maple Ridge boy with a devastating disease)
  • Adoption of a local family through Christmas hamper drive.
  • ToughMudder Whistler, supporting the Wounded Warriors Project, including weekly fitness sessions. We got fit. We gave back. We bonded. Every Lefty gained a sense of pride and personal accomplishment.
  • Beer O’Clock Fridays celebrate our weekly wins
  • Hype Music Mornings
  • 24-hour Global Hackathons between teams in Canada and Bangladesh

“List the company resources dedicated to current activities and programs to create a healthy workplace, including financial investments and staff resources dedicated to your activities and programs.”
We have a dedicated Employee Experience Manager who champions our culture and creates an employee experience that promotes happy, healthy, inspiring, and passionate Lefties.
Programs and financial commitments:
[financial numbers removed from this public blog post]

  • $XXXX a week to purchase fresh fruit for all staff
  • $XXXX in 2014/2015 for twice-weekly fitness classes and ToughMudder event participation
  • $XXXX/monthly to be mentored by an outside “Culture Guru”
  • $XXXX per employee in professional development funds and paid time off, including courses at BCIT, Stanford University, and numerous conferences, and workshops
  •  Uncapped budget for Culture Club initiatives (social committee)
  • Uncapped budget for UNLIMITED Community Days where Lefties are paid to volunteer their time (often during the work day) and make a difference in their community
  • Relocated office to the suburbs = decreased commuting time (i.e. each Lefty saves 8.5 hours per week in commuting vs previous job, which equals 8,000 hours saved annually)

“Provide proof of your company’s commitment to providing a happy and healthy workplace.”
The very essence of our brand is reflected by living our 10 Core Values. With our Legendary Lefty program, employees nominate peers whenever they feel the colleague has demonstrated or lived a core value. Every month, one “Legendary Lefty” is chosen from their numerous peer nominations. It is clear from these commendations that our Lefties truly believe in and relate to the company’s core values.

Our Core

Be Incredible

Keep Score

Take Responsibility

Think Different

Little Things Matter

Impact Your Community

Imagine the Impossible

Family is Important

Make Your Mark

Failure is an Option

1.       2015 Technology Impact Award – Community Engagement http://www.bctia.org/Resources/News/BCTIA-News/2015/6/4/2015-Technology-Impact-Award-Winners-Announced
2.       People feel valued when they have a sense of purpose and a common goal that they rally behind. Our core product, YO!, is out to change the world and allow every Lefty to make a lasting mark and make their world a better place. Watch this video to see the dream of what our Lefties are trying to create: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vj13ZIgHUoA
3.       Our Facebook page here (https://www.facebook.com/leftofthedot/photos_stream) where you will find:

  • Christmas Hamper Handout photos (great cause!)
  • Photos of a scary Halloween in the office (coinciding with a visit from MLA Doug Bing)
  • Action Shots of our 2nd Place Tech Pong Champion (Go Josh!)
  • Photo Gallery from our family fundraiser BBQ for ‘A Boy Named Nicholas’ (great cause!)
  • Photos from our talk about Social Media and Digital Marketing at Meadowridge School (kids today!)
  • Corporate outing – Disc Golf (whoohoo!)
  • Photos of our tour for Friends in Need Food Bank (great cause!)
  • Pics of our team celebrating BCTIA TIA Award win for Community Engagement (yay!)
  • 19.1km of our team sweating together at ToughMudder Whistler (look at that mud!)
  • Celebrating Healthy Living Week with wheat-grass smoothies for all (yuck!)
  • Cooking Dinner at Ronald McDonald House (great cause!)
  • Photos of our Community Open House in celebration of Entrepreneurship (party!)
  • Pics from our Family Easter Egg Hunt and Brunch (hop along little bunny!)
  • A few blog posts about how our 10 Core Values are driving our product decisions and recruitment strategies
  • Links, stories, media mentions, photos, and videos about our breakthrough product YO! and how it is allowing every Lefty to make their Mark.


Anchored by our core values, Left of the Dot is a double unicorn-in-the-making. Yes, we are growing, but we are doubly rare as we have always placed an emphasis on “what do we have our people becoming” vs. just “what do we have our people doing”. We feel if our people become more they will achieve more and thus impact more lives. Health and wellness—both physical and mental—is a big anchor for this and one we are very proud of.
Supporting each other through health and wellness initiatives will always result in immeasurable dividends via personal, socioeconomic, and environmental benefits. Although we will grow larger as we continue to expand and innovate, our belief in our people’s health and wellness and our love, care, and hope for the community, will remain a core value.
We sincerely thank you for your consideration to be recognized as BC’s Best Workplace.
While there are a lot of great companies out there, I think our team of Lefties is the best there is. And whatever the outcome, I am sure we will win the after party.

Making the Case for Investing in Canadian Technology Companies

Making the Case for Investing in Canadian Technology Companies

Canadian Tech Companies Are On The Rise!

I had two really unique opportunities this week in my role as Chief Marketing Officer and Co-Founder of a Maple Ridge, BC-based Canadian techn company. Maple Ridge is on the outskirts of Vancouver for my American readers. I throw that little geography lesson and autobiographical statement right there in that first sentence for a reason. It is important to understanding the context of my argument.
The first opportunity was an AceTech afternoon at the BC Tech Summit with Alabama-based
Greg Crabtree, CPA and author of the book Simple Numbers for Better Business Decisions
. The second was a 24-hour hackathon undertaken by our teams in Canada and Bangladesh. We had 15 teams, and about 60 people competing.
The Greg Crabtree session made me think. [Remember: this is the interpretation of someone who lives and breathes marketing and product and not someone who marvels at financial spreadsheets… though I do like my traffic acquisition projections and analytics]. To summarize his thoughts, Crabtree speaks of four forces of cash flow: taxes, debt, core capital, and profits. He also spoke with a great comedic touch (especially for an accountant) that each dollar earned in Revenue is not the same as dollars earned in Gross Margin, and that every organization needs to pay attention to the Contribution Margin of key departments, management, teams, or product lines.
And while we covered a lot of accountant-speak (and over 90 slides) throughout the afternoon, my biggest take away was that “success” comes down to the operational efficiency of key management plus labour output and utilization.
And while he is the world-renowned accountant, and I am simply the marketing guy, sitting in the audience, I found myself arguing with some of his logic because of its limitations. I can agree that operational efficiency and team output are important. When we hire, we always say we hire for potential, because, whether you are coming in fresh out of school, or you are well seasoned in your field, we hire talent for where it is going to be rather than where it is presently. Crabtree speaks to some of this, however I felt that a lot of his approach is dedicated to maintaining the status quo and eeking out minor profit changes via cost control and efficiency. There doesn’t seem to be much room for innovation or the value creation that comes from the creative abilities of the team. He did acknowledge afterwards that a winning culture and taking care of employees does attract better talent (at competitive rates), so we did agree on that aspect.
I will come back to Crabtree’s thought process on his bigger points, but I first need to describe the 24hour hackathon we held later in the week. This contributes heavily to my argument in favour of investing in Canadian tech companies, and doing it right now.
This was our second team-wide hackathon. In our vernacular, ‘hacking’ is creative problem solving using technology and marketing. Each project our teams tackle, adheres to a theme [this week’s theme was “Anything  mobile”] and the hack starts with a problem that the team is trying to solve. This may be a problem that is faced by the organization, by our existing users/customers, the Community, or other potential users around the world.
We start at concurrent times with our teams half-way around the world. Our team in Bangladesh started at night last time, so this time we started at 8:00PM Wednesday night and went all the way through 8:00PM Thursday night, while Bangladesh went from 10.00 am to 10.00 am. All of us are fueled by coffee, Red Bull, and a whole lot of can-do-anything-is-possible attitude.
A lot of great projects and ideas came out of the event, but the highest value output, for us, is the process and encouraging innovation. It is about risking failure. It is about imagining the impossible.
So why is now the time to invest in Canadian tech companies?  Because the low Canadian dollar is creating a labour efficiency that gives companies like ours an unfair advantage over every startup in the USA, especially those in Silicon Valley. The Canadian dollar is at a 13-year low. When you combine this with innovative programs like Canada’s SR&ED tax incentive program (Scientific Research & Experimental Development), the market advantage is even greater. For those that are eligible, a significant percentage of the engineering and R&D salaries can be clawed back, provided the problem being tackled is considered to be, amongst other criteria, “experimental development” and “ work undertaken for the purpose of achieving technological advancement”.
I would, happily, stand our technologists and innovators head-to-head against any idea from Silicon Valley. And it is not just our team of Lefties that I am talking about. The great ideas and talent that were pervasive at the BC Tech Summit should make everyone take notice of what is possible in our own backyard.
So in that way, Crabtree is bang on right. Companies that achieve success will be those that can exploit the market inefficiency, maximize contribution margins, and drive higher output from their teams. The real secret is that technology output is not restricted by geographic boundaries. A tech customer is just as likely to be in Bangalore as they would be on the Jersey Shore. Technology is global.
So why is now a good time to be investing in Canadian Technology companies?
Because we are about to win, eh.

6 Lessons in Leadership Learned from Watching Britney Spears

To clarify before you judge me, I am not a fan. I am a 43-year old male who just happened to be in Las Vegas last week, and yes, I attended the Britney Spears concert at Planet Hollywood.
I did not go alone. I attended with Sarah, our Marketing Communications Manager for YO! and Left of the Dot, with whom I was attending a marketing conference. It was kind of a ‘school-is-out-lets-celebrate’ kind of event, and Sarah (unlike me), is female, younger, and way more willing and eager to take in Britney’s Piece of Me tour.
But I did find the show enlightening, so much so that I rewrote and delayed last week’s blog post by a few days while I contemplated what I had witnessed and contrasted it with that which I had already had put on paper.
You see, I had a rather poignant piece written about the role of leadership in today’s high-tech startup, inspired by a trip to the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (VSO) the week prior. I know what you are thinking: contrasting the symphony to a Britney Spears show, you can’t really find more juxtaposition. And to further clarify, I am not saying that I am an orchestral music snob. In fact, I had not been to a performance in 20 years, but I had the opportunity and play the part of parent chaperone for my sons’ field trip, and thus I found myself being ‘cultured’.
I have been informed by those more attuned with the fine art of orchestral music that the Conductor really is important and it just wouldn’t be the same without him. I countered that argument if he were that important, why doesn’t every rock band have a conductor? I know, not a very good argument, but it was all that I had.
This event did inspire me, and I had intended to write about the multitude of leadership styles that I had seen that day, starting with:

The Conductor: He who gesticulates with a baton, commanding the attention of the entire audience… though it appears as though not a single member of the orchestra so much as looks at him. He is the one who gets the glory, however. He is the one who takes the bow. He is the headliner. He is the one standing on a podium with his back to his customers. Nothing starts or happens until he is ready and takes the stage.

You see, I wasn’t very impressed by this particular leadership style. It is way too out in front for my taste, hogging the glory rather than pushing the orchestral members to the front. I had contrasted this with the First Chair violinist, and the percussion section and their jobs as rhythm keepers.
But then I saw Britney and most of that post was put out with the trash. And thus, I present to you instead, the 6 leadership lessons I learned from watching Britney Spears.

  1. Take joy in your team’s passions
  2. Give the audience what they want
  3. The best leaders inspire others to do their best work by leading by example
  4. The best way to spot a good leader is to watch a great team.
  5. A leader needs to be powerfully persistent and not worry about the knocks and doubters
  6. A leader steps outside of his or her comfort zone and risks ridicule

While I believe people should always play to their strengths, a true leader should not be afraid to step outside of what is comfortable with their everyday to experience something new and unexpected. Not only can a leader see an alternative perspective when they do this, but this allows one to better communicate your own wants, needs, and viewpoint. By stepping outside your comfort zone and being open to new experiences, you may find a better way of doing things.
I think this last lesson in leadership may have been the most interesting for me. Yes, my wife teased me about it when I returned home, and so did our other teammates, but this is but a little ridicule. I can take it, because inside I am like:

Are you kidding me?
No wonder there’s panic in this industry
I mean please…
Do you want a piece of me?

Now that is poetry, Britney. Pure poetry.

How we introduced YO! to Silicon Valley and lived to tell the story

NOTE: This is a cross post from Yo.com (October 4, 2014) . We’re sharing our story as it happens. Join us at:  http://www.yo.com/#!/our-story

YO! in Silicon Valley.

So… there is no turning back now.
I am writing this entry on a flight home from San Francisco to Vancouver, and I am doing so with mixed emotion. Normally, when people use that phrase it references that strange hybrid  feeling where joy and sadness comingle, but not this time. This time, what I am feeling is a strange blend of terror and excitement.
You see, we are coming back from the heart of the technical jungle, Silicon Valley — where ideas come to life, fortunes are made, and where there are more ideas per capita than anywhere else on the planet [not a scientific statement]. And most importantly, we are coming home after showing off our baby for the first time at TC3, The Telecom Council of Silicon Valley’s annual event for innovation.

“This executive summit [is] the premier telecom innovation event of the year — which highlights the relationship between the companies building networks, with the companies inventing the next generation of technologies.”

Over the past 4 days, we probably gave more than 100 demonstrations of YO! to some of the smartest minds in telecom, trend spotters, venture capitalists, our Board, and other vendors from within the mobile arena. The response we had was overwhelmingly positive.
Yes, sometimes some of the mobile carriers were a little unsure of what to do with us. One even swore openly once we explained what we had already created and our vision for what we could do, saying that “Well the best thing for us is if we could just make you go away, but that is not going to happen… so let’s find the best way to work together and make this work together.”
The giant whooshing sound you heard on Wednesday morning was the collective sigh of relief as Chris, Saju, and myself exhaled for the first time in six months.
You never know how people are going to react in situations like this. Were they going to say, “Oh yeah that… We’ve seen that before.” Or perhaps, “Mildly interesting, but we don’t see the need, we don’t have the pain, and the opportunity that you are pursuing is not really there.” Or worst of all, getting the dreaded  “Meh.”
We got none of that. The pain that we thought we had identified is real. Telecom carriers are looking at innovative ways to offload data. They are looking for value added services that they could bring to the market and help them become more than just a “dumb pipe” … These were their words, not ours.
The people we spoke to, especially the carriers involved in emerging or developing markets – Telefonica, SMART Communications, China Mobile, Saudi Telecom, etc. – they understood the pain point that YO! can solve.
Their customers are buying smart phones by the millions, often for the very first time, yet these same customers will not be using data plans. They simply cannot afford to. Data is too expensive and bandwidth is too precious. Oh… and those that are sharing and connecting are going to crash the global networks in a ‘data tsunami’ before the decade is up.
That is, of course, unless innovations come about that change things. Innovations like YO!
When we started journaling this effort 6+ months ago, we spoke about wanting to tell all and share this journey. And in so doing, we wanted to share both the good and the bad while giving those that follow after us a bit of encouragement to step into the world of entrepreneurship and into the unknown. In the spirit of this, here are some random learnings, each of which probably deserves its own post, but given time constraints, this probably won’t happen.

Stand out from the Crowd

Full credit  goes to the team for this one. When we first committed to going to TC3 and registered for a demonstration table, we were given strict rules to follow, including:

“Your display must fit onto the 36” circular cocktail table and cannot be taller than 24”.

As soon as I shared this information with the team, Joe stated matter of fact as though it was not up for debate, “Well it is simple then. You will be the display.”
And so we were, we had bright green golf shirts that while still classy, could be seen from across the conference hall. People noticed us, especially in a world of dark suit jackets.
And the same was true with the display itself. Lighting is key in tradeshows as it attracts the eye. Our team hand-crafted a glowing, circular display that caught everyone’s attention and disrupted the status quo. On top of this, we had the Yo.com website homepage on loop via a front-facing flat screen display. Oh yeah… we also had YO! on full display running on a few Android devices plus our personal devices (the ones used were $100 smart phones from India.) All these phones were meshed together via an off-the-shelf ASUS WiFi router that was not connected to the Internet.

Have Something People Want

After drawing people to us, we had to have a story to tell. We had to listen to understand the visitor’s pain and then explain not only how we solved that pain, but how we were different. While the sales and marketing experts say that the product itself is merely a prop to the story you weave, I have to say that without actually having a product to demonstrate, people wouldn’t believe what we were saying.

“Yes… we are letting people share and connect without the internet.”
“No… we don’t require a server or any special router or hardware.”
“Yes… it is free for users.”
“No… We are not passing it through the Internet.”
“Yes… that file was just sent in a few seconds.”
“No… you cannot have it yet. Unfortunately, we are still in a private beta while we test the application in different environments around the world.”

Have Something People Need

Wants and needs are two different things.  And while YO! addresses a real need for consumers and for carriers, the need that I am referring to was the best tradeshow giveaway  by far. We were offering up free pre-charged solar power packs to anyone who saw the demonstration of YO!
These chargers were great. Each was pre-charged with enough juice to recharge two devices. And as each day wore on, people’s phones were drained by mid-afternoon.  Each came equipped with an Android and Apple adaptors so we were not discriminating. Oh… and they had a solar panel, so they could be charged via USB or simply by clipping onto a backpack and sitting the charger in the sun for a short time.
Total cost per unit was less than $10 when purchased wholesale.
While a great giveaway for a telecom conference, it also helped us tell the story that YO! is not being developed like so many innovations today for the developed world where power is plentiful. There are parts of Bangladesh, South America, Africa and around the world where reliable power is a problem. Technology can help them connect and share. The theme of empowerment runs true.

Make it Personal

Yes, each demonstration of YO! attempted to personalize it to the needs of the audience, and thus become more relevant. But what people wanted to hear was a story – a personal story.  I think that this was because many at the event (and throughout North America) had a hard time understanding that data is not unlimited and sharing is not always easy. What made people understand was relaying a story about our development team in Bangladesh, and in particular telling them this:

“After building web brands for the past 4.5 years, we developed a certain daily development rhythm. This included frequent Skype calls between Canada and Bangladesh. What we did not realize, however, is that if we were having these calls during the Bangladeshi day (our night), the team would need to stop working, sharing, and communicating internally. The bandwidth was too precious. So to compensate, they built YO!, allowing them to message inter office AND keep connected with us back here in Canada.”

In short, our team in Bangladesh had a pain that was not felt by our team in Canada. It was personal.
There were a few glitches here and there in our demonstration of course. Those things always happen. But these are all reasons why we are still in private beta… testing and refining to make sure we get a minimum viable product that can now live up to very lofty expectations.
It is always hard to know where these things will go. But I am very proud of the team for getting it this far. The next few months (and years) are going to be one hell of a ride.
What do you think? Have any launch horror stories to share?

Tough Mudder Anticipation: Success comes from repetition and doing the little things right

Tough Mudder Anticipation: Success comes from repetition and doing the little things right

[Editor’s Note:  We rocked that course!]
I wanted to declare this now for all to see: I am proud of our team. Tomorrow, we have our entire office from Maple Ridge taking part in the gruelling Tough Mudder event in Whistler BC. No one has or will be left behind.
For those of you who are not familiar with these events: this is 18-20km of running up and down the Whistler Olympic park. Rocky, forested terrain that more suitable to the local Grizzly bear than it is for the 10 of us who sit working in front of our computers all day. Oh… and to make things more ‘fun’ … there are 19 obstacles along the way to break up the monotony of our Sunday stroll. Obstacles that have joyful names like “Arctic Enema”, “Balls to the Wall”, and “Electroshock Therapy”. As I said… fun.
We’ve trained as a group for this since January. Early morning bootcamps of high intensity training along with an overall healthier living (yes… we have had less Beer O’clocks than in the past, but they are still around… we are not savages!) And regardless as to how we do tomorrow, we will have done it together.
We have blogged in the past about our company values and the PowerPoint slide that showed that which is important to us. One of the images on the slide is a small graphic showing the 98lb weekling and George Atlas advertisement that used to appear on the cover of comic books during our youth. The ad copy (which is brilliantly written) declares, “You too can look like this in just 15 minutes a day!”
We show this image as it represents the value of perseverance and repetition and about doing the little things right. Yes, we can in fact look like that if we set our minds to it. Just as we can build, launch and grow successful internet brands in any industry. It is just a question of when, not if if you persevere.
So here’s to the team. Congrats on your perseverance and willingness to go outside of your boundaries, to push past that mythical barrier of “there is no way” and find yourself smack dab in the middle of “You know, maybe we can.”  And to those who doubt, we will see you at the finish line.

Success comes with perseverance and repetition
Success comes with perseverance and repetition


4 Years Later And We're Still Having Fun!

4 Years Later And We're Still Having Fun!

Looking back on the Last 4 Years at Left of the Dot!

It is hard to believe, but it was 4 years ago this morning that I sat next to Chris listening to him tell Rick Latona over the phone that we we were seeking a “$100k investment on a valuation of $500,000 for our new business.” We have had ups and downs along the way, a few pivots and business model revisions, but nothing was as momentous as that first phone call.
Here is why:
Chris and I were sitting having breakfast one Friday morning with another friend and the conversation turned to the big T.R.A.F.F.I.C. domaining show that was coming to Vancouver the following week. I had just finished telling Chris that the company I was then with was going to do a round of layoffs and I would either be the one being laid off or I would be laying off a large percentage of my team — neither a very good option in my opinion. We had often talked about running our own company together “to do things right” so we decided sort of spur-of-the-moment, might have been the espresso talking … “Hey we should pitch something at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track on Monday and see if we could land a domain name to work on?”
The Test Track event was sort of a Dragon’s Den/Shark Tank sort of pressure cooker that the domain industry was putting on whereby eager entrepreneurs pitched to four successful and wealthy Domainers about their latest and greatest business idea.  For us, however, the only idea that we had was that “We should start a company” and “we need a great domain name to start with”.  Yes, we had tossed around the sub-domain ecosystem angle for a few years previously thinking that there was gold in them thar’ hills if we could figure it out (and sub-domains were really ranking well organically).  But unlike most businesses, we didn’t have a business plan, a cap table … heck we didn’t even have a company name.  Then Chris made the phone call:
[abbreviated and not to be taken as real quoted dialog]

Chris:  “Hi Rick  … Chris Jensen here. John Lyotier and I want to pitch at Test Track. Can we?”
Rick:  “Sure, how much are you looking to raise?”
Chris:  “Nothing. We are not raising any money. We just need a good domain to work with for our new stealth business idea.”
Rick:  “We are not accepting companies like that. You need to be raising money.”
Chris:  “In that case, did I forget to mention that we are seeking a $100,000 angel investment for 20% of the company?”
Rick:  “Welcome aboard. You pitch on Monday.”

I was dumbfounded. A few minutes before we had no company idea and I was on the verge of being unemployed. Now we were raising $100k on a half million dollar valuation. If ever there was an apropos time for the WTF acronym this was it. What had we got ourselves into?
The next 72 hours were a bit of a whirlwind. I took the lay off from my job that afternoon and ensured that I was contractually free and clear with no Intellectual Property issues to handcuff future opportunities. We spoke for another hour or so and sketched out the workings of the model that we had discussed off and on for the previous 3+ years. Then we divided and conquered a 10-slide PowerPoint deck: Chris took 5 slides to explain the financial and operational side of the business, I took 5 slides for the market opportunity and product side.
We met again for the first time late on the Sunday night to combine the slides into one deck, then a moment of panic set in …
“Wait. Are we able to use a PowerPoint for our pitch? How long of a presentation slot do we have? What time are we presenting? What is the company going to be called?”
We had way too many questions and no time for answers.

  • Let’s assume that we can use a PowerPoint. We will put the presentation onto a memory stick, but order about 10 printed copies from Kinkos “just in case”. DONE!
  • No idea how long we have. Let’s just speak passionately, honestly, and eloquently about that which we knew — We knew there was a market opportunity. We knew Domainers were starting to feel a pain. We knew we wanted a shot to figure it out. DONE!
  • We pitch tomorrow just after lunch. Oh F^@K… that is not much time. But nothing we can do about it now. DONE!
  • Name? Let’s call it “Left of the Dot” … I had grabbed the domain a short time before as I thought it would be good for a personal blog. DONE! A few business cards were added to the print order from Kinkos and a 1-page “Coming soon. We are in stealth mode” website was sprung up.

The morning had us pick up half of the business cards (the second half were still being printed), the printed slide deck, and we registered for the conference. It was a bit of a reunion the first few hours as we had great relationships with many in the Domaining community from our days at Reinvent and HitFarm. Then we pitched …
I would like to say it was a great presentation, but I really don’t remember it. It was a bit of a blur. What I do remember is that we had struck a nerve with the panellists and by the end of our pitch, we had 3 out of the 4 ‘Dragons’ wanting to explore an investment. And by the end of the night, we had someone else also offer to invest at the valuation that Chris had pulled out of nowhere.
Fast forward to today … we are now on the cusp of our 4th birthday. We now have a team of approximately 40 people between our offices here in Maple Ridge and abroad in Bangladesh. We have had our share of ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and failures. We couldn’t have got to where we are today without the support of our investors, Directors, friends, family, and team mates (3-2-1… Lefties!). But rarely do we take the time to look backwards and remember how it all started…
Four years ago we were just two guys with a willingness to fail but a passion to succeed. The only difference today is that there are now forty of us. We haven’t changed a bit.

Pitching at TRAFFIC Vancouver (Photo Credit: Ron Jackson DNjounal.com)
Pitching at TRAFFIC Vancouver (Photo Credit: Ron Jackson DNJounal.com)

Editor’s note.  OK… maybe we have a lot more grey hair (or less of it), we would much rather wear shorts and flip-flops, and Chris only looks like a startled llama on a rare occasion — but the passion is still there.

"Show Us Something Incredible", another one of our company values

"Show Us Something Incredible", another one of our company core values.

Guided by our 10 Core Values

Bob: “Well, what are you waiting for?”
Rusty: “I don’t know. Something amazing, I guess.”
—Bob Parr and Rusty, Pixar’s THE INCREDIBLES
With every new hire, either at our HQ or at our overseas development office, we go through a PowerPoint deck highlighting our company core values. This is a visual representation of that which we hold true, basically it is a whole bunch of small pictures smushed together, where each image represents something important.
In one corner of the page, we have a small 100×100 representation of a little-known character from Pixar’s movie, THE INCREDIBLES. That is the little boy named Rusty. Rumour has it that this is an inside joke inserted by the engineers and animators at Pixar as a tribute to their creative genius and director who always challenges his team to “Show him something incredible.”
At Left of the Dot, we want to see things that are incredible, things that are unexpected and exceed our expectations. And when you have high expectations (like Chris and I do), it is tough to surpass these expectations. But every now and then, we see something that stops us in our tracks.
A short time ago, our development lead messaged me with two documents and a few .apk files (Android apps). I asked what they were and the reply was, “Just something little the mobile team has been working on in their evenings and weekends.”  Peeling back the layers of what we were looking at… well let’s just say I felt like Rusty at the end of the movie…
Rusty from The Incredibles
However, it was not the proof of concept that they were working on that blew me away, it was the fact that the team had shown me something incredible.
In any business, as in life, ‘Incredible’ can be defined in many different ways. At first, I thought it was about seeing something that you hadn’t been before, or something that was such an action that you just sit there with your mouth agape. From sports, think Michael Jordan and a dunk from the free throw line, Tiger Woods at the NEC nailing an iron in the near dark, or Alexander Ovechkin scoring while laying flat on his back on the ice. All could be considered incredible.
Sometimes incredible need not be anything grand. Sometimes you may find that the simplest customer service interaction, whereby you show compassion and care to exceed a customer’s expectations can also be incredible. Certain poetry can be incredible [code is poetry]. I remember watching Pulp Fiction many years ago in the theatre and realizing that what I was watching then and there was something I hadn’t seen before. The opening monologue of Episode 01 of The Newsroom whereby you marvel at the writing of Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniel’s performance. Incredible.
So what defines Incredible?  I propose that Incredible is defined more by passion and commitment than it is by action. It is defined by a willingness to try something new (and risk failure), more so than the results themselves. So to me, it wasn’t that our team built something cool. To me, what was incredible was the initiative and commitment made by the four developers in giving up their evenings and weekends to try something new. No one asked them to stay late and do what they did (other than them understanding our company’s values). They just did it. They took a risk. The results were incredible.
I believe that you can’t teach someone to be incredible. You can’t coach incredible. Yet everyone has it in them to be incredible.
So what is it that they created?  Stay tuned… we should be announcing it shortly.

Failure is an option when building out brands and businesses.

I was asked the other day what it was like to start a company when you know that the odds of success are so stacked against you (I guess the questioner thought I had some good advice seeing as how we launch several businesses per year, the big one this year being RentalHomes.com). I answered as best I could in trying to paraphrase Seth Godin in Poke the Box, and said ... "Well first you have to be willing to fail. And once you are willing to fail, you have to be willing to jump into the abyss."
Some time last year, when the company was at one of those inflexion points, I played the video of Jeb Corliss jumping off the cliff in one of his flying wing suits for the team. Yes, sometimes that is what entrepreneurship feels like. A count down, then you sail into the abyss. Some moments of terror, some moments of exhileration, and some moments of floating peacefully after you have achieved something spectacular. If you haven't seen it, here is the video:

As I said, sometimes it is terrifying.
At Left of the Dot, we have several core values that are represented by imagery and are shared and revisited frequently. We walk every new hire through these core values, spending the largest part of our entire on-boarding process on this one set of images. Each image represents a value we hold true: from emphasizing the value of Community, to focussing on the routine and rhythm of doing the little things right. This slide and images have remained constant from day one... Well, until this week.
You see, we added a new core value this week. At Left of the Dot, failure is now an option (as illustrated by the Twitter community's Fail Whale). In fact, we fail every day. Often. Sometimes half a dozen times by lunch. But without failure, we also can't taste success. You have to start, you have to try new things, you have to be willing to jump into the abyss.

Left of the Dot Core Values
Failure is now an option.

The Big Reveal of new gTLD Applications ... What does it mean for the future of Domain Names?

In just a few hours from now, the international unveiling of the of applied-for domains under ICANN’s New Generic Top Level Domains will be upon us. With coverage and anticipation brewing amongst a lot of the  major media, I can't help but wondering if it is going to be kind of like Ty Pennington yelling "Move that Bus" in the Domaining world's equivalent of Extreme Home Makeover.
Will people squeal in delight? Or will will they simply say... "Oh crap, now how am I supposed to cut the lawn of that size?" No one really knows the reaction. Probably the only thing certain with this whole process is that there is no certainty about what this will all mean. Of course, there are some visionaries within the domain space (see: Frank Schilling) who are betting big that this day is a turning point in the web and domain names in general.
So where does Left of the Dot stand on all of this? Simply put, we are excited about what this means for ourselves, our properties, and our clients.
Last week Donuts Inc. announced that they were applying for 307 new gTLDs, publishing in a media release:

“Finding a usable Internet address is a real problem. There are more than 125 million total names in the top five TLDs, with three fourths of them in .COM alone,” said Donuts CEO Paul Stahura. “The Internet was opened for worldwide use almost 20 years ago, and we’ve had only 22 generic names made available since then. We’re overdue for expansion.”

Stahura's rationale for pursuing  $50M + worth of gTLDs is the same as we stated in our AllICanAffordIsThisShittyDomain.com message from late last year. There is an ever-increasing appetite for online identities and there is not enough virtual real estate to go around.
The Left of the Dot approach has been to build virtual high-rises on these virtual properties (we're focussing on the waterfront lots at the moment). Or another way to put it, our virtual properties are being converted from 3 bedroom bungalows on large tracts of farm land into strata developments. Meanwhile, the new gTLDs are terraforming new planets and building new waterfronts.
We believe that these new gTLDs are solving the same problem of giving consumers a choice and an alternative. We also believe that with the amount of money being put into these new extensions, the general public will start seeing alternative domain constructs in their daily lives. And once they start accepting  alternate domain extensions, it can only mean good things for our sub-domain model.
In our AllICanAfford... video we asked those watching whether they wanted to turn the clock back 15 years when the first domain names were first being conceived ... "IMPOSSIBLE!" we claimed. Who knows, maybe in another 15 years, we will be kicking ourselves once more wishing we could turn back the clock again to right now. Only time will tell

Do Category Killer Domain Names Give you an Unfair Advantage?

We saw this quick rambling by Shane Cultra of DomainShane that we wanted to share. Shane is an offline businessman first and foremost, but owns a good collection of domains mostly in areas that he knows well (i.e., plant and garden-related). He asserts...

"When you own a category killer domain, a person that enters that site is making an assumption that the owner must be one of the leaders in that category. They haven’t a clue that many of the owners are clueless about their products or the industry in general. In my opinion, new customers won’t feel as comfortable going to Jones’ Mattress Factory as they would Mattress.com. Jones’ may have been around for 80 years and Mattress.com only 3 years (made up numbers) but Mattress.com gets a big head start. This doesn’t mean that Jones can’t become the largest seller on the net, but the road will be longer and actually could be more expensive than the mattress.com road with the advertising budget needed. The Internet is still young but major keyword domains feel older, more experienced. People feel like they’ve been to the site even though it was most likely some other generic type site. That familiarity helps them sell..."

Will the name make you an overnight success? Hardly. If you fail to deliver on customer expectations within the business itself (e.g., if Importers.com could not gain the trust of its users through its actions), then the name doesn't matter.
The impact that "Trust" has with customers, and the ability for a domain to influence this trust, is directly attributable to the brand positioning that we've established for Importers.com. This category killer and brand is all about "Trusted Global Trade." We've been working since the brand's launch to reflect this intrinsic trust of the domain name, back out in any of our marketing messages.
Launching and running a business is hard. There are bumps, twists, headaches all along the route. One second things are going well, then the next you are scrambling to reconfigure a merchant account so as to not miss out on any online orders. But when things are running properly and all things are equal:  in our opinion (and Shane's too) the ability for your customers to trust you over your competitor does give you an unfair advantage.
Part of what we do at Left of the Dot is allow small businesses as represented by the category killer domain name is to leverage this trust bestowed on the domain as sub-domains. In a way, having a marketing name is kind of like a celebrity endorsement from someone you trust. Everyone trusts Tom Hanks, so if you have your product next to Tom, some of that trust rubs off on your products too.
What do you think ... do category killer domain names give you an unfair advantage?