Ottawa

Scans of My “Hacks/Hackers” Notes

by Joey deVilla on May 15, 2011

As promised in an earlier article, here are the scans of my handwritten notes from Hacks/Hackers Ottawa:

Scan of my handwritten notes from Hacks/Hackers Ottawa, page 1

Scan of my handwritten notes from Hacks/Hackers Ottawa, page 2

Scan of my handwritten notes from Hacks/Hackers Ottawa, page 3

Scan of my handwritten notes from Hacks/Hackers Ottawa, page 4

Scan of my handwritten notes from Hacks/Hackers Ottawa, page 5

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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Geek girl dinner ottawa

The Ottawa chapter of Geek Girl Dinners took place last night at Vittoria Trattoria in ByWard Market. Although I am not a geek girl, I was present as the representative of Shopify, who sponsored the event with some prizes (the winners of the raffle took home a much-coveted Shopify T-shirt and six months’ worth of free online store) and to get in touch with Ottawa’s women techies and designers. There were about 50 people present, filling the Vittoria Trattoria’s upstairs room.

The Geek Girl Dinners are get-togethers of women in business, tech and design over dinner, where they can get to meet their peers, share ideas and hear presentations delivered by women with some particular expertise on a given topic. They usually have a theme, and last night’s was entrepreneurship. Here’s their description of the theme:

Have you ever thought, “Why work for somebody else when I can work for myself?”

Easier said than done, but anything’s possible! From flowers to clothing, to writing and painting, entrepreneurship opens the doors to anyone with a dream and a passion.

On Wednesday May 11th, please join us for an interactive discussion about the entrepreneurial journey of three Ottawa women who have turned their business dreams into realities.

If you’re a woman in the Ottawa area with geeky tendencies and you’re looking to meet others like you, have a nice meal and see some interesting presentations, you should keep an eye on the Geek Girl Dinners Ottawa site, watch for their hashtag on Twitter (#ggdottawa) and come out to one of their events!

My thanks to the organizers, Kelly Rusk, Veronica Giggey, Melany Gallant and Samantha Hartley for putting on a great event!

My Notes

I took notes and photos during last night’s presentations and present them below. If there are any inaccuracies, they’re mine; I was furiously scribbling them into a Moleskine as they were delivered. Free free to copy them and use them however you wish!

Vivian Cheng, Blend Creations

Screenshot of the Blend Creations site

Vivian’s Bio

Vivian Cheng is an industrial designer and one-half of the creative force behind Blend Creations. She and her husband, Eric Jean-Louis (a graphic designer) combine their divergent design approaches to create a contemporary jewelry line that is clean and modern in aesthetic, yet also blends their respective cultures in East meeting West.

Vivian Cheng makes her presentation

Presentation Notes

  • Trained as an industrial designer
  • "Didn’t want a ‘real’ job" after graduation
  • Started company in September 2005 with her husband, Eric
  • It was a bare-bones site, especially by today’s standards, hand-coded with PayPal buttons and a very basic shopping cart
  • She sells her jewellery almost exclusively online
  • Online store tips:
    • Look at other online stores and learn from them
    • Find out who your competition is
    • Take a look at Etsy and find out whether it’s for you, and why (or why not)
    • Etsy started after Blend Creations, and they decided not to go with it because they didn’t want to be a "stall" in a sea of thousands of stores; they wanted to be their own store
  • Their jewellery is a blend of modern and traditional, industrial and organic — steel with mahjong tiles, bamboo or coral
  • The jewellery is handmade, by them
  • They bootstrapped the business with less that $5000
  • The mandate:
    • Eric, then a full-time graphic designer, would continue at his job and pitch in
    • If the business went well, they’d continue on this path
    • If it didn’t, she’s have to get that ‘real’ job
  • If 2006, they were contacted by Real Simple magazine to have their jewellery featured on a full page
  • Had they tried to take out a full page ad in Real Simple, it would’ve cost about $60K
  • Real Simple found out about them via a design blog
  • To be featured on the page, they had to offer a special deal on a necklace to Real Simple readers
  • Real Simple asked "Can you handle 1,000 orders?"; the only answer was "Yes!"
    • (She was 7 months pregnant at the time)
  • The money resulting from the Real Simple deal allowed them to buy better equipment: a CNC router [here's a link one that routs wood] and a laser cutter
    • "We could cut circles now!"
  • They continued with magazine ads
    • Good, but during a recession, they’re not as effective
    • Magazine ads have a 4-month lead time
    • Problematic in 2008, during the econopocalypse
    • Generated only a handful of sales, what with the belt-tightening
  • During the economic crisis of ’08, the US was hit hard, and 98% of their customers were American
  • They had to refocus and hit more local markets
  • They couldn’t just do print ads
  • Their first foray into social media was Facebook
    • Their first activity on Facebook: a giveaway
    • She tries to say something on Facebook every day
  • They have a monthly give-away on their blog
    • Facebook’s rules make it difficult to do a monthly giveaway on their site
  • She initially didn’t "get" Twitter (they’re @blendcreations)
    • Discovered that Twitter is all about the interactions
    • She even designed jewellery specifically for their Twitter followers (such as one shaped like an @ sign; jewellery with your Twitter handle on it)
    • Her husband, Eric, doesn’t get the appeal of "The Twitters"
  • The thing about any design is that people either love it or hate it
    • The important thing is to get people talking about it, love or hate
    • If you offer a service, make it a service so good that people talk about it
    • If you offer a product, keep innovating with it
  • "With social media, you have to do something, even if it’s small"
    • "Blogs are the new magazines"
    • They’re the source of many customers
  • Their customer breakdown by region:
    • 60% US
    • 40% Canada and the rest of the world (mostly Canada)
  • Why did I go into jewellery?
    • "I’m an industrial designer, we’re trained to make things"
    • Went with jewellery because of higher perceived value
    • That can be a problem in hard times
  • She and her husband’s design backgrounds let them "do it all":
    • Product design
    • Product photos
    • Ads
    • Site design

Vivian Cheng makes her presentation

Hana Abaza, Wedding Republic

Screenshot of Wedding Republic site

Hana’s Bio

Hana Abaza is the co-founder and CEO of Wedding Republic, an Ottawa based start up allowing couples to set up an online, cash, wedding registry in a way that works for them and their guests. With an incredibly diverse background, Hana has pulled together her broad skill set in order to navigate the start up world. When she’s not in front of her laptop with armed with a large cup of coffee, she can usually be found teaching a kickboxing class. Self described as slightly ‘type a’ with a dose of ADD, although some say it’s just an unrelenting curiosity.

Hanna Abaza makes her presentation

Presentation Notes

  • Wedding Republic is a cash gift registry for people getting married
  • A couple getting married may want stuff, but sometimes, they’d much rather have the cash
  • The idea came to her and her business partner in 2008 while they were watching the Superbowl
    • James (her business partner) has a sister who was getting married
    • Always a stressful situation
    • Online registries for gifts were still few and far between
    • There was no way to register online to give a cash gift
    • The original idea was for a big general wedding registry; it got refined over time
  • Questions you need to ask when starting an entrepreneurial project:
    • Who is your target market? Who will use your product?
    • Does your product fulfill a need? Or a want?
    • What are the current alternatives to your product exist? What are the options?
      • What are the pain points for these alternatives and options
  • They talked to all sorts of people: couples, couples getting married, wedding guests to get more info
  • They hired a developer and were able to take advantage of government programs to help fund the project
  • Advice:
    • Surround yourself with the right people; people who are smarter than you are
    • You can’t do it on your own; make sure you have a support system
  • Wedding Republic went beta in February 2010
  • It was a stressful time
    • Once you’ve opened to the public, you get feedback, opinions, suggestions, complaints about issues
    • But opening to the public gives you a customer validation process
  • You have to listen to your customers, but:
    • You have to know what to ignore
    • You have to know what to take to heart
    • Focus on what you’re good at, and don’t get derailed by customer feedback
  • They were contacted by Saatchi and Saatchi
    • Someone at Saatchi and Saatchi saw their site
    • They were intrigued by the idea of Wedding Republic and invited them for a meeting in their Toronto office
    • They offered to do a rebrand
    • On big companies working with small companies:
      • They may be bigger than you, but once you’re working together, you’re on par
      • Meet as equals. Don’t bed over backwards just to please them
  • There’s a lot of back-and-forth between Saatchi and Saatchi and the developers; she "translates" between the two
  • Relaunched in January 2011
  • More advice:
    • Keep yourself in check (having a business partner will help)
    • Execute! Many people don’t think they can do something, so they don’t try.
  • One challenge with this business: few (if any) repeat customers
    • Considering expanding the concept to baby registries
  • How they make money:
    • The couple getting married doesn’t pay anything
    • The guests pay a transaction fee
    • That’s not bad, considering the 7% markup for registries at The Bay
    • People pay for services that save effort: "I’d gladly pay $5 to not leave my couch"
  • Possibility of expanding outside North America:
    • Looking at it, but wedding customs vary all over the world
    • For example, in China, cash gifts come in red envelopes. Can’t do that with a cash registry.

Hanna Abaza makes her presentation

Amy Yee, Eventbots

Screenshot of the Eventbots site

Amy’s Bio

Amy Yee is an entrepreneur and strategy consultant specializing in technology, engagement and collaboration at start-up and high growth companies. Among a wide variety of projects, Amy is currently the CEO at the second company she has co-founded: EventBots – an award-winning technology solution for public engagement. Amy has a Bachelor’s of Electrical Engineering from Carleton University.

Amy Yee makes her presentation

  • Eventbots are devices that can record video or photo messages at events
  • [Showed video of people who recorded messages at the Mesh conference]
  • Think of it as being similar to the "Speakers Corner" at CityTV in Toronto
  • How they got started:
    • They had friends who were getting married
    • Had heard of some Toronto-based service where they set up devices where people could record messages
    • Her husband was an industrial designer: "I could build that"
    • He built the machine, she turned it into a business
  • The current, sleeker version is version 2
  • The first version was bulkier and made of wood
  • The device has to fit into their car, a Mini Cooper
  • They’ve taken the eventbot to events in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal
    • They can only serve areas within a reasonable drive of Ottawa
  • The sales process is online
  • Even if an eventbot gets only 5 video recordings at an event, there’s still always one that stands out as head and shoulders abover the others
  • Their current eventbot was so slick that a Japanese ambassador insisted that the device was from Japan
  • People call them "iPodzillas"
  • Advice:
    • Don’t fear change; change is a competitive advantage
    • Don’t worry if you have to modify your idea
    • Bet on the team, not the idea
    • Community support is important!

Amy Yee making her presentation

This article also appears in The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century.

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coffee and code

Just a reminder: there are a couple of Coffee and Codes this week…

  • Ottawa: Join developer/trainer Colin Melia and IT Pro Evangelist/destroyer-of-technology Rick Claus as they set up office on Thursday, October 14 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Bridgehead Coffee House at 109 Bank Street (at Albert). They’ll have some WP7 devices that you can deploy apps to, and you can ask them questions about Windows Phone 7. Colin will field the developer questions while Rick will handle your “How does this fit into the enterprise?” inquiries.
  • Toronto: Join yours truly, Joey deVilla, at the Starbucks at King and Yonge, where I’ll be on Thursday, October 14 from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.. I’ll have a WP7 device you can deploy apps to, and if you’re working on an app and think you have have it done by Monday the 18th, you will really want to drop by and talk to me!

Come on down, see a real live Windows Phone up close and personal and deploy your apps to it!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Windows Phone Hands-on lab: photo of hands on a computer keyboard

If you’ve been meaning to take up Windows Phone 7 development but didn’t know where or how to get started and you’re in the Ottawa area, this event is for you! Join Microsoft Developer Advisor Christian Beauclair and DreamDigital’s Colin Melia as they present a hands-on lab this Saturday where they show you how to write apps for our new phone.

At this lab, you’ll:

  • Learn how to develop apps for Windows Phone 7 in Silverlight and XNA
  • Follow along at a workstation as Christian and Colin walk you through WP7 development
  • Get familiar with the software tools: Visual Studio 2010 or Visual Studio Express for Windows Phone, Expression Blend and the WP7 emulator
  • Have an opportunity to try out a real live Windows Phone

This training lab will take place at Algonquin College (1385 Woodroffe Avenue, Ottawa). It’s free of charge, but you must register in order to be able to attend.

This is a hands-on lab, so space is limited – if you want to attend, register now!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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This Week’s Coffee and Codes

by Joey deVilla on September 21, 2010

coffee and code

This week, we’re having Coffee and Codes in Ottawa and Toronto! Coffee and Code is where we work out of a cafe so that we’re easy to find. Come and talk to us, ask us questions about Microsoft tools and technologies, the industry, career, whatever! We’re also here to help you deploy apps to Windows Phone 7: we’ll have a real live Windows Phone 7 device that you can deploy apps to.

Wednesday, September 22 in Ottawa

Colin Melia and Rick “Claus” Claus from Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team will be at Bridgehead Cafe (224 Dalhousie Street) from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to host a Coffee and Code there. Drop in, say hi, have a coffee, ask questions and if you’ve got an app, try deploying it to a real live Windows Phone 7 device!

Thursday, September 23 in Toronto

Join Kate Gregory and me as we host a Coffee and Code at the Starbucks at King and Yonge (4 King Street West) from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., where we’ll merge with the Coffee and iOS group who are coming in at 4:00 p.m.. Want to find out more about WP7 or iOS development? This is the time and place!

See Kate’s blog entry about this Coffee and Code

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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coffee and code

Update (Sept. 21 @ 6:15 p.m. EDT): Made some corrections to the schedule.

We’re out there, and we want to help you with your Windows Phone 7 development by giving you a chance to deploy your apps to an advance-release Windows Phone 7 device for testing! We’ll be in the following cities on the following dates:

Wednesday, September 22 in Ottawa (Coffee and Code)

Colin Melia and Rick “Claus” Claus from Microsoft’s Developer and Platform Evangelism team will be at Bridgehead Cafe (224 Dalhousie Street) from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. to host a Coffee and Code there. Drop in, say hi, have a coffee, ask questions and if you’ve got an app, try deploying it to a real live Windows Phone 7 device!

Thursday, September 23 in Toronto (Coffee and Code)

Join Kate Gregory and me as we host a Coffee and Code at the Starbucks at King and Yonge (4 King Street West) from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., where we’ll merge with the Coffee and iOS group who are coming in at 4:00 p.m.. Want to find out more about WP7 or iOS development? This is the time and place!

See Kate’s blog entry about this Coffee and Code.

Wednesday, September 29 in Montreal (Coffee and Code)

Join “les bons gars”, Christian Beauclair and Guy Barrette, who’ll be holding a Coffee and Code at Le Café de la Cité on 75 Queen. They put on a professional appearance, but we all know qu’ils vont ecrire des «fart apps»! They’ll be doing it in both official languages: Silverlight and XNA!

Thursday, September 30 in Montreal (Deployment Clinic)

Deployment clinics are a little more formal than Coffee and Codes. You can book an exclusive timeslot to deploy and test apps to a Windows Phone 7 device, and there’s one taking place all day at Microsoft’s Montreal office (2000 Avenue McGill College, 4th floor) on the 30th. Email Christian Beauclair to reserve a time slot.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Working in the Kitchen

by Joey deVilla on December 14, 2009

01 ms ottawa officeMicrosoft Ottawa’s Kitchen. It has a decent view.

Every Microsoft office has a “touchdown area”, a place filled with cubicles where visiting or mobile workers can work. I avoid these like the plague.

Thanks to all the work I’ve done in cafes or coworking spaces, I prefer to set up in Microsoft’s “kitchen” spaces. The wifi is just as accessible there, but the lighting is natural, the tables are larger. the fridge with all the free Diet Coke is nearby by and it doesn’t feel so boxed in. Unlike cafes, you can leave your stuff at the table when you go for a bathroom break.

So, when I hung out in Microsoft’s Ottawa offices on Friday while waiting for my coworker and travelling buddy Damir to finish his meeting, I eschewed the touchdown cubicle and set up shop in the kitchen. These photos show what my “office” looked like, and believe me, it’s a lot nicer than a veal-fattening pen-like cube.

02 ms ottawa office

A lot of office workers might balk at the idea of working in a kitchen space, but consider this: people have been working in kitchens for millennia. Its centralized  placement in homes and workplaces as well as its layout and design are the product of countless generations doing work that sustains life.

On the other hand, the modern office has its roots in the Industrial Revolution. Its design is based on the concept of employee as interchangeable production unit and the hypothesis that people are naturally lazy and must be coerced into being productive.

Hence in the absence of a workshop-like environment (such as the Hacklab, where I often work), I opt for the kitchen.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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