Social Meals. Grubwithus in Toronto

Last Tuesday I hosted a Grubwithus meal in Toronto.

Grubwithus is a startup in Venice Beach, California that created a platform for building friendships over meals. The idea is very simple – choose your city, enter your interests and view meals happening near you. Meals are interest-driven or cuisine-specific – grub with designers, entrepreneurs, fashionistas or just enjoy your favorite food with awesome people!

Since the announcement about Toronto launch I knew that I wanted to host a meal.

Surprisingly, doing it was much easier than I thought – pick a date and time, specify number of seats at the table, choose a price range and finally list any dietary requirements. Grubwithus makes a deal with a local restaurant and informs attendees about it when the minimum seating requirement is met. This is quite exciting I should say – first grubbers at the meal are in for a surprise as they don’t know the restaurant when booking their seats. Reminds me of a popular European travel deal by Germanwings called “Blind Booking” – you are booking a flight to a secret destination which is revealed afterwards. The only aspect of the meal I was a bit hesitant about was the theme around it. But as the first meal in the city should be special, I decided to leave it open to everyone and not list specific interests or topics for discussion – was curious to see where the discussion would go :)

The group gathered at the table was very diverse, yet there was something we all had in common – passion for technology, travel and unique experiences. The conversation went from “tech talk” and career discussions to sharing great traveling stories and inspiring hobbies! The hosting restaurant offered their special menu for our enjoyment and judging by how many different dishes we tried, it surely felt like a buffet!

Pleasure meeting my fellow grubbers – hope you all had as much fun as I did! Thanks to Trimurti (www.trimurti.ca) for their hospitality and to Grubwithus for making an awesome meal with great people happen! Until next time – hope to see more meals in Toronto and will surely host another one myself soon.

If you have any questions about Gribwithus and how it works check their website – www.grubwithus.com or ask me in the comments below – I am an experienced grubber now :)

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First time in San Francisco

San Francisco made it to my top “places to visit” list quite recently. Since I discovered a passion for all things tech coming to visit  Silicon Valley became a priority. Also, seeing several friends leave Canada for sunny California inspired me to come and say hello. Despite many “Friday 13th” superstitions I booked a weekend trip to San Francisco.

48 hours in SF is definitely not enough to see and try all the city has to offer but I found a secret to a successful trip.

First, of course, is doing research prior to going – never fails to know that certain sights require a significant time commitment – famous Alcatraz is a whole different tourist experience for example (leaving it for the next visit).

Second, is being open to suggestions and looking for advice – big thanks to @alanpca, @ClaireBrundle,@EvanBirtch, @sean_lynch, @meetrajesh. Even though I haven’t visited all suggested spots I have a list for the next trip!

Third, interest in local culture. I truly enjoyed going to the Farmer’s Market and trying some awesome local food! It felt like the entire city was out there on the sunny Saturday afternoon.

Lunch at Hi Dive. Local pub? Check.

Last but definitely not least, having low expectations. I know that it is possible to pack in all kinds of activities into 48 hour window without getting to explore each in particular. My expectation was very simple – seeing the Golden Gate bridge and visiting Mountain View.

By the Golden Gate Bridge with my friend and great host Vivek

Mountain View visit was very exciting as I attended YC  (Y Combinator) Dinner together with a friend whose startup is currently in the program. Meeting YC companies was an incredible experience. These guys are building products that are going to impact tech industry and many aligning fields. Being in the room with many innovators made me think about what innovation really means and how it is a part of the SF culture.

A lot of people enjoy travelling as it brings inspiration and I could not be more inspired after visiting San Francisco. Looking forward to coming back soon.

More photos can be found here.

Social Media Day 2011 in Windsor-Essex

Popular digital and social media news site Mashable declared June 30th as the global Social Media Day in 2010. Communities around the world responded positively by connecting offline and talking about what social media means to them.

Last week Windsor-Essex joined other Mashable communities by hosting the first celebration of the Social Media Day.

Local social media enthusiasts (Follow them all on Twitter here) gathered to start the discussion on how to use social media to make Windsor-Essex community better connected.

Before going into the details of our discussion would like to mention that when talking about social media a lot of times the conversation shifted to discussing solely Twitter and its impact. Thankfully, our group was reminded a couple of times to look beyond Twitter. Even though check-in services are gaining a lot of users these days and Facebook (and now Google with its Google+) is on the news everyday, Twitter seems to be the channel most commonly associated with social media. Well, at least in Windsor, Ontario as I am reporting on the results of the community discussion.

Here are several questions we covered:

1. What does social media mean to you and your organization?

  • Opportunity to meet new people, discover the city, expand both social and professional networks and keep in touch
  • Someone mentioned that social media was a channel that landed them a job, partnership, clients and even a new place to live in
  • Social media is a way to start a two-way discussion with existing and potential customers and get insights on the market

2. How can we use Social Media to make Windsor-Essex a better connected community?

This question was one of the most important items for discussion and here are some of the items mentioned.

Windsor-Essex Twitter hashtag

A region-wide hashtag would make it easier to find interesting things going on, have a streamlined discussion and connect with fellow Windsorites.

#WErocks, #windsoron and #wearewindsor were among the suggested tags. #WErocks was selected as the favourite hashtag and it is already being used locally to promote events and initiatives.

#WErocks is helping us become a better connected community.

Join the discussion now!

Local businesses

Local business are great adopters of new trends and technologies and it is great to see them active on Twitter, connecting with fans on Facebook and offering rewards via foursquare check-ins.

We identified the following businesses as most active in Windsor :

@WindsorEats, @phogtom, @greenbeancoffee, @WETechAlliance, @BlabMedia

Tourism and entertainment

Another aspect the group looked into was tourism and entertainment. Using social media for increasing awareness of Windsor-Essex as a travel destination and for including visitors in the conversation with locals is what we are missing at this time.

3. How to engage your audience on different social media channels?

When thinking about presence on social media sites, it is important to both businesses and individuals to think about the conversations as a measure of effectiveness. Having sincere conversations with the audience is a key to success.

Think about what people expect from you, who your audience is and what they care about. Figure out what interests them and start a conversation. Keep it interesting!

Social Media Day Windsor-Essex went great- awesome to meet Windsor’s social media enthusiasts and collaborate to make our region better connected.

 

Thank you to all for coming and joining the discussion. Very grateful to @lubna_amin for great photos and of course thank you Vermouth for offering a great outdoor patio and awesome drinks! Special thanks to @greenbeancoffee for kindly providing a giftcard to the most active socialite during #SMDayWE – congratulations Lubna!

The global Social Media Week is on September 19 – 23rd, so let’s get together once again! Ideas and suggestions are most welcome :)

Not your regular networking event

Windsor’s entrepreneurs, startups and enthusiasts have been gathering at Startup Drinks monthly since November of last year. Started as a very casual event, Startup Drinks Windsor has already created a much stronger entrepreneurial community in the city.

The story of bringing the event to Windsor started in Waterloo, Ontario where I got a little taste of startup life while residing at Velocity residence. After one of brainstorming sessions at the residence many students headed to a local pub to meet entrepreneurs from the community. Startup Drinks Waterloo hosted by Dan Silivestru wasn’t like any other networking event I have ever attended before! Inspired by the great community atmosphere created at the event I decided to bring it back to Windsor. Thanks to my involvement with SIFE Windsor I received incredible support with the idea from the organization and was referred to Yvonne Pilon from WETech Alliance. Together we have been having a wonderful time with Startup Drinks Windsor and hope that so have you!

There are a lot of networking events in the region, but what makes Startup Drinks Windsor different you may wonder. Well, here are top 5 differentiators I thought of, but please feel free to add more in the comments section! Also, I am a bit biased, so constructive criticism is most welcome as well :)

1. Atmosphere

Entrepreneurial atmosphere at its best – casual yet innovative. We spark interesting conversations that foster innovation and collaboration in the room. Just ask one of the attendees!

2. Surprise every month

Nothing wrong with gathering at a pub over drinks monthly, but we take pride in offering something extra for our guests. It could be a session on social media and branding or some financing tips or even a free massage!

3. Guests

Bringing guest experts and encouraging them to share tips with young companies in attendance creates a great learning environment that we embrace at Startup Drinks Windsor.

4. Diverse audience

Startups, established businesses, industry experts, faculty and students. One thing uniting all – passion for entrepreneurship and innovation.

5. No cost to attend

While we gladly accept donations, we are committed to providing the Startup Drinks experience to all attendees at no cost. We couldn’t do this without support and hospitality of Mick’s Irish Pub. Thank you Mick’s!

Have you ever attended Startup Drinks Windsor? Did you enjoy the event? Do you have any comments/suggestions? Would like to hear what you think and hope to see you at our next event!

Redefining winning at SIFE Windsor

Last week I attended my 3rd ACE (Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship) National Exposition as a part of the SIFE Windsor team. SIFE teams from around the country came together to showcase their local outreach projects and compete for the title of the National Champion and the right to represent Canada at the SIFE World Cup in Koala Lumpur, Malaysia in October of this year.

Seeing the team grow throughout the years and go up from the semi-finalist in 2009 to number 3 in the country in 2011 was a result of hard work and passion, talent and determination. Even though we didn’t get the first prize, victory was ours as we were the voice of our community, people we’ve helped throughout the years and many lives we have changed.

The last words of our presentation speech touched hearts:

“Over the past 5 years, Windsor has been transformed from the epicenter of Canada’s economic collapse, with unemployment as high as 24%, to being proclaimed by the Financial Times as one of the top North American cities of tomorrow. We have gone from a city at the end of the road, to a city at the forefront of the new decade. We saw the change from a city of “poor me” to a city of “maybe I should try – maybe this entrepreneurial thing is for me?” and SIFE Windsor has been part of this.

Our school is more than bricks and mortar. Likewise our community is more than the bridge, the factories and the smoke stacks that define our skyline. It is us. It is the people within, it is the culture in which we live, and the effects we at SIFE Windsor have made on each other.

What have 38 SIFE students accomplished in such a city? I’ll tell you, more than we ever thought possible.”

If I were asked to define winning after 3 years at SIFE Windsor, I’d probably say that it is the journey of building something from the ground up and changing lives of all involved.

On startups – lessons, experiences and learning on mistakes

I have been around many people with a startup hype recently and got involved myself. Now I am now one of enthusiasts spreading the buzz. It has been a wonderful experience and a fun journey and I am making the most out of it. Just as we have launched the very basic beta release of Bite to Meet would like to share several lessons learned so far.
  • Identify a need and ship a viable solution
As somebody who enjoys exploring the market, watching trends and determining user behaviour, I find need identification lots of fun! There is nothing wrong with following a passion and building a product out of it, but the question that is asked way too often by both investors and the general audience is “What’s the market for this product?”
  • It is ok to fail if you learn on mistakes
Failure is more acceptable in North America than anywhere else in the world. In Europe and Asia failure is tied closely with talents and abilities of leaders, so many choose not to risk their reputation. Startup culture is a North American thing and it will probably take a while to get established in other parts of the world. That’s something I personally consider when explaining my parents what I have been up to recently :)
  • Ask for feedback and incorporate it in the product
First days after launch – most important ones. Getting users’ initial feedback to improve the product is probably the most important activity. This is exactly what we are doing now with Bite to Meet and it proves to be valuable.
  • Remember why you are doing it
Bite to Meet evolved from a Startup Weekend Detroit event where individuals from different backgrounds and walks of life came together to create a tool that would connect people over meals. Shifting communication from virtual to in-person interactions, connecting people based on their interests and passions, expanding social circle and forming relationships. 6 months down the road and 4 of us are launching the beta version of Bite to Meet and publishing our vision for networking inspired by Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” on our blog. Passion for connecting people is exactly why we are doing it (sacrificing sleep). Also, there are too many times when I think of a great use case we haven’t identified before and many of these times it is for the benefit of friends and people I care about. Thank you for inspiration!

 

Mobile Marketing – relevant like never before

Always by your side, most probably in your bag, pocket or hands right now – many of us are practically inseparable with our mobile phones. Think about it – you are never too far away from it, which makes it easy for marketers to target you with relevant and not so relevant ads. It is no surprise that advertisers recognized this channel long time ago, but with a rapid technological change and emergence of much ‘smarter’ devices these days, our phones can deliver advertising content in many new ways.

Mobile Monday Detroit Meetup group gets together monthly to discuss mobile trends in the industry and one of the recent meetups was dedicated to the topic of Mobile Marketing.

So what’s Mobile Marketing and what’s the value-add?

The Mobile Marketing Association defines Mobile Marketing as a set of practices that enables organizations to communicate and engage with their audience in an interactive and relevant manner through any mobile device or network.

What makes Mobile Marketing so valuable?

  • Immediacy (distribution)
  • Affordability (costs)
  • Quantifiable results (campaign analytics)
  • Interactive (value proposition)

Also, 38% of users took an action based on a mobile ad and this number has a potential to grow significantly.

What are some mobile channels that could work for a marketing campaign?

1) Bluetooth (Proximity) Marketing

Bluetooth (Proximity) Marketing Software will recognize customers as they are appearing in the business area and deliver relevant ad content to their mobile devices.

Why use it?

  • relevantly low cost
  • proximity aspect is great considering that this way prospective customers could be easily turned into actual customers

What to keep in mind?

  • some customers turn-off/disable Bluetooth on their devices
  • the software has to ask for the customer‘s permission before delivering any content, otherwise it would be treated like spam

2) Quick Response (QR) Codes

Sometimes best online marketing can be done offline. QR bar codes are connecting both worlds in a very meaningful way.

Why use them?

  • gain traction for online content
  • foster action
  • appealing and still rather new

What to keep in mind?

  • the site you are directing the user to after they scan the code should be mobile-friendly to enable effective content delivery

3) Text/SMS Marketing

Generate a database of telephone numbers and send your customers mass text messages with relevant ad content.

Why use it?

  • everyone checks their text messages

What to keep in mind?

  • there should be an easy opt-out option

4) Location – based advertising

Location is becoming a key component in marketing. Check-ins to services such as Loopt and foursquare are substantially growing.

Why use it?

  • 53% of users would be willing to share their location to receive a relevant ad

What to keep in mind?

  • adding a competitive edge (e.g. badges in foursquare) works as a great incentive

5) Mobile Site (instead of a set of mobile apps for different platforms)

Developing applications for all mobile platforms can be rather costly. Sometimes having a great mobile site works as well as providing custom mobile applications.

Why use it?

  • cost-effective while reaching a wide audience

What to keep in mind?

  • users won’t be getting the same experience as they would by using an app

Overall, Mobile Marketing is gaining more leverage as the smartphone market is growing and there are new ways of sharing ad content. If you are using Mobile Marketing channels in your organization and have best practices to share, please share some tips and suggestions in the comments.

 

 

Falling with ‘Waterfall’ and deciding to go ‘Lean’

Sometimes excitement about a project can take over rational thinking and desire to ship out the perfect product can hold one behind and play a bad trick.

Last November when releasing the initial version of the Information Management System for SIFE Windsor I thought that it would fulfill the needs of the team – data storage, knowledge transfer and some rather basic intelligence. The way we approached development was rather traditional – the PADDTIM (Planning – Analysis – Design – Development – Testing  - Implementation – Maintenance) Framework learned in one of my classes sticked with me so well that I subconsciously decided to follow it.

The ‘Waterfall’ model and establishing goals for each phase of development resulted in wasted time and resources. First several steps were focused around gathering requirements and developing a system to fulfill them. This would normally work ok in a large company or a structured organization, but the environment I was developing for was anything but that. Without a tracking system in place and also without many formal processes implemented the situation needed a different approach.

To sum it up, the lesson we learned was the following – before a system can be implemented, processes have to be identified and some preliminary data has to be gathered and carefully analyzed.This is exactly where a lean model came in place and agile software development concepts proved to be important.Going ‘lean’ might not work for many industries and organizations, but when requirements are vague and initiative is totally new it might actually be the ultimate solution.

So, after ‘falling’ with ‘Waterfall’, we decided to go ‘Lean’ and mobilize our team. If you are implementing lean approach in your organization and have any tips for me, please drop me a line.

Blogging and self-discipline

This post is by no means an excuse for not blogging for such a long time. I have been busy collecting thoughts, ideas and experiences recently and can’t wait to share them.

Self-discipline is very important when it comes to blogging and I finally realize what my friends and colleagues warned me about right when I started.

The mistake I made is probably one of the common ones – I got discouraged to write thinking that nobody would read my blog. Of course, it is easier to reach out to fellow Twitter followers with a 140-character update, but would it always be enough?

Going back to why I decided to start a blog (share ideas, concepts and passion for technology in more than 140 characters) I realize that I can’t back off like this.

I am back and not disappearing like that anymore.

The hidden side of everything

I read ‘Freakonomics’ a year ago, but realized the power of incentives just recently. The hidden side of everything is not so difficult to find once we take them into play.

Wikipedia defines incentive as a factor (financial or non-financial) that enables or motivates a particular course of action, or counts as a reason for preferring one choice to the alternatives. It is an expectation that encourages people to behave in a certain way.

The true meaning of the word comes from understanding of the concept in real life. After 3 years in a non-profit student organization working with volunteers I have learned (surely hope so!) how to understand people’s incentives. As soon as individual’s incentives become clear to me I know what tasks to assign them, rewards to offer and even what style of communication to follow when working with them. At the same time, I try to understand why the person makes certain decisions, says certain things and behaves in a certain way. This knowledge helps me motivate teams and individuals and also understand myself better.

I would like to recommend ‘Freakonomics’ to those looking for a fresh perspective on some  common problems or just inspiration to see the other side of the story. There is a  movie coming out and a blog to keep conversation going.

Also, take a look at ‘Freakonomics’ Around the World – what’s your favourite cover? I love  Denmark, Hungary and Indonesia for their creativity!