Toronto, Canada has an amazing and growing start-up environment. With great local cloud solutions taking off (like Influitive and Elevate) and hitting rock star status (like Freshbooks and Achievers) there’s no reason why you can’t build an empire in Leaf Nation. But thinking that everything happens in TO (or any other one city for that matter) is a dangerous mindset. As many start-ups have moved to a no-touch SaaS model we tend to lock ourselves in our HQ and focus on the funnel. Although I’m a fan of the online acquisition model as a big picture approach, isolation every day can be dangerous. The bigger opportunities you may be pursuing are often doomed to what I call the ‘email death trap’. I use this term for the bigger opportunities where you go back and forth without ever reaching the finish line. Unfortunately, if your start-up is like ours at Uberflip, you can’t justify leaving the office for every opportunity given the implied cost of acquisition (CAC) vs. average revenue per user (ARPU).
But I recently got motivated sitting at the Growtalks event listening to Scott Kveton from Urban Airship talk about jumping on planes and I started planning a trip the next day to San Francisco to plant some seeds. I’m now sitting on the plane on my way back home from that trip and thought I’d outline why these trips are so important while everything is fresh in my head (plus the movie options are terrible).
I will walk you through my itinerary below but before I do I’ll speak to the importance of planning. It’s like any bachelor party – you can’t just expect that you’ll get there and everything will fall into your lap. You’ve got to plan for the perfect trip. Luckily for me this was my third trip to the Valley in the last year so I’ve begun to build relationships. To fill your schedule you have to be willing to call in favors, ask for intros and follow up – getting a meeting is no different than making a sale – it’s a process. But people are always willing to meet if you have the right connections and something exciting to talk about.
Keep in mind that it takes time to coordinate your trip – aside from the high cost of a last minute ticket, take your time as it will take time to hear back. Like you, people’s schedules fill up so plan at least a couple weeks in advance but not too far.
Having done this a couple of times now I’d say you want about 5 meetings a day while you’re in the Valley – and that should tire you out. You may be able to squeeze in more if people come to meet you in a coffee shop, but in most cases expect you’ll be going to meet them. The key to squeezing in your meetings is not running back and forth from SF to Mountain View multiple times. My recent trip was 3 days so I focused on having SF meetings one day with Palo Alto/Mountain View/Menlo meetings the next and a 3rd for overflow.
Don’t let your goals be too specific. Don’t expect to go down and sign a deal with a customer on the spot, or get a cheque from a VC. You’re going there to plant a seed – if something bigger happens great. Most of your meetings will only be an hour tops – the real value is the face to face and ability to just pick up ideas for your product or overall process. My goal on this most recent trip was to meet with some of the companies we’ve partnered with (Box, Dropbox, Google), but also to talk up our product extension which is launching later this year with potential customers to get some early feedback. This trip was not focused on venture capital so for me those were the last meetings I slotted in (not that they’re not important, just wasn’t my focus – you need to prioritize when you can only fit in so many meetings).
In general my goal this time was also to make sure we have a presence in the Valley despite having a 416 rather than 415 area code (they’re so similar yet so far away). I tried something new this time too, with credit to my friend Julie at the aforementioned Influitive. I hosted a dinner in SF. I invited about a dozen people (knowing not everyone would come) with one simple rule – to come you had to invite someone I didn’t know and they had to have a background in marketing to create an interesting connected group. This was not to be a sales pitch about Uberflip, just an opportunity to share ideas and meet new people for me and those who came. It was great, we had people out from oDesk, 1000memories, Walkme, C100, Polleverywhere, DocuSign, Hellofax, Rsquared PR and more. It seemed as though everyone made some good connections, and hopefully even without a pitch I gained some advocates – no wonder Influitive suggested this.
I’ll give you a high level overview of the itinerary just so you see how I managed my time and goals – but for the privacy of those I met with I’ll generalize their roles.
It’s too early to tell but I planted a lot of seeds this past week and the key will be in a mixture of follow up and another trip soon enough! Hope this gives you the kick in the butt to plan your own trip wherever you live, even SF, in which case you should definitely come to Toronto.
About the Author
As COO, Randy runs around daily between strategy, operations, sales and execution of Uberflip's awesomeness.Follow on Google Plus Follow on Twitter