All posts by Heather Hickey

Get to Know Craig

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This is the first in a series profiling the members of eleven-x. We welcome your suggestions for what kind of interview questions you’d like to pose for the next round. Without further ado, please meet Craig.

What is you educational background?
I attended Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario for Computer Engineering. Originally, I had thought I’d go to my hometown school – University of Waterloo. In the end, the opportunity to move away from home and try something new really appealed to me. Something told me I might be ending up back in Waterloo for my professional career, since even then it had some great technology companies and opportunities. But Kingston’s small town and close-knit campus was a great place to learn, and I have fond memories of attending there as many Queen’s graduates will attest.

What path brought you into this particular industry?
I graduated just around the dot-com bust, and knew it could be tough to find entry level jobs. Having worked summers for both start-ups and established technology companies, I wanted to join a fast-paced younger company. BlackBerry was really starting to take off, although starting days before their first layoffs in 2002 it was an exciting time to be there. The processors in the phones were as fast as my first desktop machines, and the power of “Always on Always Connected” was alluring. I became addicted to mobile, and not having to be tied to a desk to effectively do your job.

I was proud of the contributions I made to ensure that the BlackBerry modem was “Always On, Always Connected” and it wasn’t just marketing speak. It didn’t hurt that everyone worldwide was in love with their BlackBerry either. But now the mobile phone is really becoming ubiquitous. Modems are becoming cheaper, but the technology is still very complicated and moving fast. I want to see what mobile and RF can do for other industries. I think IOT and M2M have huge potential to change many other industries. They just need the right technology to make it work.

What do you like about this type of work?
The great part about this work is that each day is different.  A lot of the work is problem solving which can be very rewarding and very frustrating. But I enjoy the mix of real world issues, and new feature requirements. Then there is finding the most efficient implementation. And of course, for each different problem there can be a different standard, and different solution. The technology is continually moving on, there is what’s proposed, what’s in trials, and what’s available in customer hands. So you need to understand all of it, and pick solutions that will work best today and for the future unknowns as systems mature.

What drew you to a startup, and/or eleven-x in particular?
I was drawn to start-ups for the “we do everything” attitude. It’s a mentality I felt was missing at bigger companies where “they do that” replaces it. It helps keep you from getting pigeonholed into one task. And if you have thoughts, opinions and suggestions, it is very easy to voice them, since the founders never sit more than 20 feet away, and will always find time. But I like eleven-x because it’s taking a focused and directed step into the messy world of IOT and modem development to make it better and easier for people to take advantage of its value.

What are you most excited about in the near future for this industry?
I always liked an example problem I was given in University: design an elevator software controller. In theory it should be a simple exercise, elevators go up and down. But as you peel back the onion, problems of efficiency in scheduling, timing of drop off, pick-ups and hold locations quickly complicate this.

The problem served as a real eye opener to the fact that even simple problems when investigated can contain deeply complicated systems. Going back to the elevator analogy and giving the designer knowledge of common events and times in the system quickly helps him make it more efficient.  So to me, IOT sensors/modems/products is the promise of the data to help make so many of our 20th century systems efficient for the 21st century.

What are your interests, hobbies?
As mentioned above, I like the opportunity to try new things, and one great way to do that is travel. Now with a family, I find my roaming to be more local then global – but I very much enjoy going and seeing new places, cuisines and ways of life. When I’m at home, much of my summers are spent doing triathlon training, or just running/swimming/biking for fun. In the winters, it’s cooking and enjoying a book or movie by a fire. Then I guess when I can find time, I like to tinker with 3D printers and small models for friends and family — another technology ready to take off.

 

April Update: Putting the “R” in R&D

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The term Research and Development has been a part of our vocabulary since we graduated university (that’s a long time), but never before has the Research portion taken on such significance. Thus far, eleven-x has characterized itself as a services company, with product development constantly buzzing in the background. The product development side has been gathering momentum, but no good engineer just starts DEVELOPING.

Technology research is second nature for our co-founders, who have an engineering background. Ryan and Fraser conduct research on a daily basis, by tracking the specifications and reading industry analysis (not to mention, writing their own for our site). With so much experience between them, it’s actually rather fun to watch them analyze the changes coming to accommodate the Internet of Things. They can interpret the data, but more importantly, they can see the engineering repercussions thereof. Technology research isn’t just trying to foresee the future, though. You can learn a lot by looking at what companies in the wireless space are doing at present. If several companies are developing the same technology, how do their strategies differ? Are there areas for innovation?

These sorts of questions start to overlap with market research, and market research was a lot less familiar to us. With the guidance of our mentors at Accelerator Centre, Ryan and Fraser have been building up those muscles in order to propel eleven-x forward. Primary research – making one-on-one contact with people – requires a lot of effort, and can be very fruitful. But we try to be mindful of spending everyone’s time well: if you’ve gotten a warm intro from a mutual connection, or a cold call that’s resulted in a conversation, make sure that the other party walks away feeling like their time was very well spent. If you can key into the other person’s interests or mandate, you can offer insight from your end to make it a mutual win.

The co-founders have sought out contacts across the entire spectrum of the wireless experience, from the networks, to B2B partners, to end users, to thought leaders. What are the major challenges in the industry? What problems lie in the existing solutions? What are the customers’ pain points? It requires a lot of detective work to identify who you should be talking to, let alone managing to make that contact (and then make the most of it).

These are the challenges that make every single day unique here in Suite 9, as we delve into the true heart of sound product development: good research.

In Praise of Good Mentors: The Accelerator Centre

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When you are an entrepreneur, there are so many paths that you will walk for the first time. Sales process, marketing, payroll, funding: just a few things that were new to us at eleven-x. And while I’d call our co-founders quick learners, there is immeasurable value in the wisdom of those who have done it before.

Affectionately (and efficiently) known as The AC, we’ve been proud to call this our home since the beginning of the year. Waterloo Region is a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship, and The AC’s mandate is to transform big ideas into thriving businesses. I have worked in the networking area of The AC, and over the course of the day I’ve witnessed the mentors in action. They are engaged, insightful, and caring. They come armed with a distinguished arsenal of accomplishments, and clearly love to feed that back into the start-up system.

(Pictured above: Ryan Hickey (our CEO), Kevin Hood, Kevin Elop, Fraser Gibbs (our CTO), Bob Rushby, Steven Fyke. Sadly missed were Jackie Lauer and Ellyn Winters-Robinson)

Jackie Lauer advises on Human Resources, Leadership and Culture. And while she’s helped us with the nuts and bolts of HR, what makes Jackie special is her passionate stance on good leadership. She’s like a (much!) younger version of Yoda, sharing practical philosophies on how our needs as human beings inform the way we want to be led. Though we’re just 8 people now, Jackie shares our cultural belief in “protecting what’s awesome now” and nurturing it as eleven-x grows.

Kevin Hood is the Sales and Marketing guru, and given our engineering-heavy origins, Kevin has helped us navigate this learning curve. A good idea doesn’t magically translate into a successful product, and that market validation process is crucial. We have been learning to conduct the vital research that indicates whether we need to modify, adapt, or pivot our product concept. In addition to this enormous undertaking, Kevin has provided practical methodologies for the sale process.

Bob Rushby mentors on the Technology front. He has been brilliant at challenging our technical ideas, asking the types of valuable questions that can only come from a knowledgeable-yet-neutral third party. Bob is also a skilled hand when it comes to strategic partnerships. With so many ties to the tech community, Bob exemplifies that spirit of collaboration and sharing one’s expertise.

Kevin Elop provides a wide range of guidance under the Finance umbrella. As the CFO of two high-tech start-ups, and with a deep history of blue-chip experience, Kevin understands a company’s needs at every stage. He’s clarified the complex world of funding options available to us, and the equally-complex legalities of a shareholder agreement. Most recently, we relied on Kevin’s support for an asset acquisition project.

Steven Fyke is devoted to making products that provide a rewarding user experience. As the Design Strategy mentor, Steven has taught us the importance of workflows as we flesh out our product ideas. He demonstrates the importance of asking good questions, and making the customer an integral part of our product story. He loves to dig into a problem, in the interest of developing the right solution.

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is like a walking toolkit for all things PR and Communications. In short order, Ellyn grasped our vision for the eleven-x brand. With that in mind, she encouraged us to demonstrate thought leadership in our industry by publishing original technical content on a regular basis. She helped re-model our pitch deck so that it told a more compelling story. She has advised on newsletters, business cards, social media, and SEO – always with enthusiasm.

And this is only our first four months at The AC. The word “accelerate” is an accurate description of what happens here. We are amazed by all that we have learned in this time, and by how much The AC feels like home. Every morning when you walk in the door, you are surrounded by people who love to roll up their sleeves and get stuff done. Thank you to the mentors at The Accelerator Centre, who have fostered this invigorating place to build our business.

March Reflection and Renewal

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Don’t look back.

It’s a discouragement from dwelling on the past, but in moderation, looking back can be a good thing. The month of March provided an opportunity for reflection at eleven-x, as it marked one year since being let go from BlackBerry. For a while thereafter, our story focused on “Life after BlackBerry,” which is a great story. Ryan and Fraser – who were Technical Directors in the BlackBerry Wireless Group – saw it as an opportunity to build a highly-skilled team and develop world-class embedded software. It was a brilliant but ambitious goal.

By May, they had incorporated, and the story became less “Life after BlackBerry” and more “What’s next for eleven-x?” If you’ve wondered about our name, it comes from the engineering practice of using “10x” as a measurement for desired improvement. The name eleven-x is symbolic of our desire to excel beyond the expected. As a non-engineer, I simply love the way it looks and sounds.

Once eleven-x was incorporated, Ryan and Fraser elected to bootstrap the company by completing smaller contracts in a variety of industries requiring wireless solutions and consulting. They worked in backyards and basements; they learned about sales funnels and lean canvases. They fell under the start-up spell, so potent here in Waterloo, where everyone shares their expertise to help their fellow entrepreneurs. The work was endless, because your business is like your newborn baby, requiring constant nurturing.

And then we had a growth spurt. In November, eleven-x signed a major contract that would require hiring more developers. We got into the Accelerator Centre in December, and in March the co-founders traveled to Mobile World Congress. The trip was a success, as they got to meet face-to-face with our customer, and test the product concepts that had been brewing back in Waterloo.

Now we are a company of 8. We’ve had two very productive and positive visits with the customer, and we are in the process of testing a new product concept that has arisen from our intelligence gathering at Mobile World Congress. The idea has Ryan and Fraser very excited, and they are now researching the technology, markets, and potential business models. There is a great deal of planning and strategy in store.

Looking back is good, when it means remembering all of the efforts and achievements that got us to where we are today. It’s like rocket fuel, propelling us into the next chapter of the story.

February: The Elevator (Pitch) to Barcelona

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On the first Wednesday of every month, I write a blog about the previous month’s activities at eleven-x. My December update focused on our founders, Ryan and Fraser, and the constant hustle of start-up life. My January update looked at the flurry of events that occurred on January 5th, and the people who made that date so special.

If I had to choose a topic for February, it would be the preparation for Mobile World Congress (MWC). This annual event, held in Barcelona, is considered THE showcase for all things mobile, including the latest products, technologies and trends. It prompts a lot of big announcements, and a flurry of activities that propel the rest of the year’s developments in the mobile industry. And while it may sound like a no-brainer that eleven-x would want to attend this conference, start-up life dictates that every spending decision be made with careful consideration. If two people (Ryan and Fraser) go to MWC, would it be worth the time and money?

The main objectives for attending MWC were as follows:

  1. To strengthen the relationship with our primary customer. This was a matter of great importance (and anticipation), as it would be the first time meeting the senior management face-to-face after many Skype calls and email exchanges.
  2. To meet with other companies that may require our wireless embedded software services.
  3. To conduct market intelligence, and test our product concepts.

After deciding that the potential benefits of the trip made the costs worthwhile, we set to work. As co-captains of the eleven-x ship, Ryan and Fraser needed to produce a suite of materials to further their objectives at the conference. It’s one thing to KNOW that your team has the skills and experience to do good work, but it’s another thing to EXPRESS that in a meaningful way. They worked countless hours on an elevator pitch, which would feed into all of the other materials: slide presentation, one-page infographic, website updates, blog postings, and social media. This elevator pitch – designed to engage people in a short time – is necessary anyways. It was something that Ryan and Fraser had been working on, but having the conference as a target proved both challenging and useful.

We continue to take advantage of the excellent mentoring services provided by the Accelerator Centre. They are like part of our eleven-x family now. We are also strengthening our relationship with the University of Waterloo. We are exploring several exciting projects for future collaboration.

Ryan and Fraser made it safely to Barcelona, and as I type, they are at the conference. Everyone back here on the eleven-x home front is rooting for them! We hope that they make valuable connections, learn vital information, and enjoy the fruits of their labors. Stay tuned for Ryan and Fraser’s blog postings about their experience.

Making an Impression in January

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When your start-up is just 8 months old, every day has the potential to be a meaningful one. Whether you make a game-changing decision or get that long-awaited phone call, sometimes the significance of a moment can’t be recognized until it’s in the rear view mirror.

For us, January 5 was a very big day. On that first day back from Christmas holidays, we welcomed five new members to our team. The same day, two people from our major customer arrived onsite to deliver two weeks of training. It was also the first official day of eleven-x being at The Accelerator Centre. It was imperative that we form a cohesive unit, make a good first impression, and hit the ground running. And as much as I thought that this month’s blog would be plot driven – given all of the events that went down on January 5 – I would like to talk about characters.

People have inspired this chapter of the story, starting with our new developers. Ryan and Fraser had a vision for eleven-x: an accomplished team of highly-specialized embedded software developers. And as the only non-technical person on this crew, I have watched the co-founders work like crazy to build that exceptional foundation of talent. Each person that signed on was like a fist pump. But talent accounts for only part of the equation, and attitude can complete it. On January 5, everyone walked in that door ready to rock.

After two weeks of training by our customer representatives, the team at eleven-x had proven itself. They ramped up on the project architecture, design, methodologies, and implementation and began collaborating to solve real issues. Our customer left with a good impression, and assigned specific features for development. What a remarkable gesture of trust, and a rewarding way for the new team to immerse themselves in the project.

I’d next like to talk about the impressive people at The Accelerator Centre. For those who aren’t familiar, the AC provides office space and mentoring to help you turn your ideas into a viable business. We were so grateful to be accepted into their program. Ryan and Fraser have been meeting with several of the AC mentors, and have come away with greater focus, direction, and wisdom. I have personally met with the PR & Communications Mentor, Ellyn Winters-Robinson, who has been so generous with advice and resources. Thank you all!

With input from their team, the co-founders have chosen a product idea to take through the business validation process, which means doing research, a lean canvas, and market intelligence. Much of that will happen within the AC, but a prime opportunity is coming up in March, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Ryan and Fraser plan to make valuable connections, and learn about trending technology and products. Will our product idea be the same on the other side of the process? Perhaps February will bring a plot twist. I invite you to follow us on twitter and LinkedIn for updates!

 

December Hustle for the eleven-x Founders

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Powdery snow and a clear, blue sky.

An avid skier, this is the stuff of Ryan’s dreams, but right now he’ll have to settle for a poster on the wall. Beside it: a poster of a scuba diver, Fraser’s hobby of choice. The co-founders of eleven-x are giving their new digs some flavour, even though interior decorating isn’t exactly their forte. But as anyone in the start-up community can attest, trying new things is one of the most thrilling parts of the game.

Okay, so maybe hanging posters isn’t exactly a thrill, but for these guys – who’ve moved three times in 7 months – this art represents the next level of stability for their company. Starting almost literally in the trenches of Ryan’s basement back in June, eleven-x grew to 5 people and moved to the Communitech Hub in September. “Communitech provided us enthusiastic support and an energetic environment in which to start and grow our company,” says Fraser. As an example of that, in mid-December a CTV crew showed up at the Hub. Within minutes of finding out that they were doing a story on post-BlackBerry employment, Fraser was on camera. Has it been Fraser’s dream to be on screen? My guess is no, but that’s all part of the hustle.

The hustle can be exhausting, but it can also be exhilarating. It has been fascinating for me to witness, and I have quickly developed an admiration for all the people in this town who are tenacious enough to chase their start-up dreams. In a single day, I’d see them collaborating on one of several proposals to potential customers, each proposal demanding a unique understanding of their audience. Then they’d shift gears in order to look for office space, since the space at Communitech was for a limited time only. Next, they’d jump on a conference call with a potential new hire. So that’s sales and marketing, operations, and recruiting, all in a day’s work. “If you told me a year ago that I would be doing this,” muses Ryan, “I wouldn’t have dreamed it!” I guess you can teach an engineer new tricks.

By the end of December, I entered Suite 9 at The Accelerator Centre to find Fraser underneath a table. He was finishing up a mighty neat job of wiring their new home, adding IT Manager to the list of “things an entrepreneur will first try himself”. Fueled by leftovers from the Gibbs’ Christmas dinner, Ryan and Fraser were grateful to once again have the opportunity to take eleven-x to the next level. In early December, they were accepted at The Accelerator Centre. The news couldn’t have been better timed, or more welcome, given the expertise at their disposal at The AC. Ryan feels very optimistic that the programs here will foster their momentum in terms of revenue growth, team building, and product development.

On January 5th, eleven-x will double its size, when 5 new employees take their spots beneath the skier and the diver. Fraser had his wiring work cut out for him, while Ryan became a lot more familiar with the nuances of Group Benefits and IT infrastructure. It’s been very cool to see Ryan and Fraser assemble this team of prestigious developers. Their years of experience have armed them for this adventure, and I suspect that like Ryan and Fraser, everyone will be called upon to flex newly-discovered muscles.

“I’m already looking forward to the day we’ll sit back and reminisce about our time in Suite 9,” says Ryan with a grin. Despite the long hours and countless curve balls that come with start-up life, there is something special about sharing those hours with like-minded engineers, and advisors to help you at the helm. Thank you to Communitech and The Accelerator Centre for fostering our start-up community! I can’t wait for the next chapter of the story.

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