Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What is a Start-up friendly?

Hi all, Yipe. This is Raymond To and I am honored that Florence has asked me to break the champagne on her boat called PeerFX. The last 6 months have been fun working with her and Julien,the other significant part of the team...and this is a great launching topic I want to share with those of you who want to consider working for a start-up. In my 17 years of recruiting and HR consulting, there is only 1 thing that makes any start-up work and that is "you gotta believe". I am not saying the drink the koolaid kind of belief but one based on research, creativity and follow-through.I am biaised in that most of my clients are start-ups but I really like working for them because the people who work there are in it to change the world! How cool is that? We all have limited time on this earth so why not maximize it by investing your time in changing the world?Another insight I would like to share is that you have to be a problem solver! This is not a cliche. I hate it when I work with an anti-start-up person who asks me "how do I solve this?" That is the wrong question! IMHO, the right question is "I saw this problem and here are my suggestions for potential solutions. There are pros and cons to each option but I recommend this one"If you ask any CEO or executive team member of any of my start-up clients, they will tell you this is the type of attitude they expect if you are going to fit in a start-up.A word of caution: Not all start-ups make it to the next stage for a variety of reasons. 90% of them fail. Most don't make it past 2 years. My attitude though is "so what!?" because the journey is worth it and imagine all of the lessons learned along the way.Do you agree or disagree? I welcome some insights or debate.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The General Pitch

From my chat with an individual seasoned in entrepreneurship today, I realized that I have been giving "The General Pitch" for the past year. There are two big flaws with what I have been doing.

1) The General Pitch: here's what investors hear all the time.
  • Our potential market size is above $10 billion dollars;
  • We are curing a BURNING PAIN for our target segment;
  • Our adoption rate is going to be AMAZING;
  • Our financials display a hockey stick ramp up;
  • We'll reach break-even within 2 years;
  • We're going to exit by acquisition.
The recommendation I got today is to send the key reading material to the investor prior to the in-person meeting. You reserve the face to face time to resolve the nitty-gritty details, which is where the investors reveal their true objections of why they're reluctant to write you a check.

2) Not hiring an actor.

Number 2 is really true. I should hire someone that looks like a banker to do my pitch for me. It's a credibility thing. Investors can deny this all they want, but once they see me get up to do a presentation, they have already imprinted in their head that I'm young and enthusiastic, which equates to inexperience in their books.

I spend the next 20 minutes they've allotted for my presentation fighting this stereotype. It doesn't help that I spend these precious minutes giving The General Pitch.

This is why I should hire an actor to do my pitch - it has worked before from what I've heard - any takers for this deal? :)

Well, live and learn. At least I'm glad that I came to this realization.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Warm Welcome to PeerFX Guest Bloggers!

Hi Everyone,

Since this blog exists to help other start ups and small businesses by sharing our experiences and stories, I thought I would add an additional element through the help of Guest Bloggers.

Start ups and small businesses face difficult issues right now with tough economic times, but we think there's a huge opportunity for us to get creative and do MORE with LESS.

Our Guest Bloggers will share their experiences and opinions from their fields and you can watch for their posts on Monday of each week. We are starting officially TOMORROW so the purpose of this post is to extend a warm welcome to our first guest - Raymond To.

Raymond To has been recruiting and offering HR consulting to technology companies here in British Columbia since 1992. Applying the training received from his CMA and MBA, he founded GO Recruitment in 2002 and immediately set out to change the way companies could benefit from a different kind of service. He was recognized in 2006 as one of Business in Vancouver's "40 under 40" winner.

His post will be give you insight into the employment industry; I look forward to reading it and I hope you do too!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

FREE Stuff Attracts Skeptics

We spent an hour and a half searching for video screen capture software for my Macbook.

We went through 5 different "FREE" downloads and got progressively more depressed as each program replayed our video screen captures with a watermark of their logo.

Maybe we were too tired to catch on...but...we finally figured that it wasn't actually FREE - the catch was that they hope the watermark logos SMACK right in the middle of your videoclip will entice you to pay for the full version of the software.

WHY DO YOU CALL IF FREEWARE THEN?! (this is me with bloodshot eyes at 9:30pm and still trying to find the FREE software).

The point is...I had totally forgotten to do what a usual customer would do, ask: "What's the Catch?"

Applied to our own situation, after we go through our pitch of significant savings, online booking and locking in the exchange rate at the time you book...we get these skeptical looks and then the question: "So...what's the catch?"

So here it is:

Just because we're saving you money does not mean we're not making any money. We still take a percentage transaction fee. That's it. We just don't have the crazy overhead that financial institutions have. We don't have to carry currency reserves either (oh thank you P2P model). You find it hard to believe that we can live off such thin margins but that's exactly what we're doing.

That's reasonable right?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

REALLY? I CAN'T Withdraw Money from Here?

SO. Earlier today I was at XXX bank. I have an account there and I needed to withdraw some money to pay a contractor.

I figured I live close to a certain branch so I pop in with my bank card. Eventually I get to the counter and they swipe my card, ask for my ID and then ask me whether the account was with that branch.

ME: "No - I'm actually with another branch."

Teller: "OH - then we can't give you money."


(At this time I'm also thinking about all the other things on my agenda, which is why my inner voice was of the screaming type.)

ME: "Oh. But I have my bank card here and I did tell my contact at the other branch that I want to be able to withdraw money here too...?"

Teller: "You need to go to your branch, talk to your manager and tell him/her to send us a contract...THEN you can withdraw money here."

At this point I was already beyond furious. Somebody who knows the banking system extremely well PLEASE enlighten me as to why they can't give me money? Lack of reserves? The fact that I might be trying to fake my identity? (Equipped with my driver's license, bank card and also walking into the branch...I don't think that would be the case...)

ME: "That's fine. Could I withdraw that amount from my ATM though?"

Teller: "Let me double check."

ME: (inner voice) "Really....you don't know that I could do anything I want at that ATM do you...wow."

Teller: "Yeah you can."

I come home and ask my mom if the same situation would be found in Hong Kong. Of course the answer is NO - banks elsewhere allow you to withdraw money from ANY branch.

Well. I've spent too much time typing about this, it has already wasted an hour of my time getting the money deposited (eventually walking a check over to another bank and waited in line to deposit there).

I feel so unproductive today. Time to play catch up.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The best feedback comes from your...customer

So many people do secondary research for months and rely on advisors who are knowledgeable in their fields for advice on how to build their service/product.

No matter how clever your product is, the end game is to get it in the hands of your customers and have them PAY for it. If you are also planning a start up or building a new product, it's great it there's people out there telling you how great they think your product is and that you've done a great job pursuing the entrepreneur route...but until they actually pay out of pocket for your product, it means


Sad but true. So where do you get the feedback to improve your product to the point where you can sell it for money? From the people who are actually going to use it! [duh]

We had an interesting meeting today with one of our early adopters. It went something like this:

Customer = C
PeerFX = P

C: "So...I want to get this account set up, how long does it take to authorize the account?"

[at this point he has already come by the office, we've met him in person and he has his bank statement + personal ID ready; I take out my laptop and authorize the account]

P: "It's done. You can start transacting now."

C: "Well, how do I know that it's safe going through you guys?"

P: "The money stays within the banking system so we don't ever take it out; everything is done electronically."

C: "OK. So what my bank [XXXXXXXXXXXX] is telling me now about requiring me to wire funds between my CAD and USD accounts and what not...I don't need to do that with you guys? Do I ever need to be in contact with my bank to get this done?"

P: "Nope. You stay in the comfort of your own home, book a transaction with us, fund it using your online banking bill payment system and that's it. A couple days later the converted funds show up in your USD bank account."

C: "Ok...ok...So what's your rate for today?"

P: "1.2105"

C: "Wow. You guys are better than your competitors; and since I already use online banking this is totally something that I can do. The only thing is the 3 day turnaround..."

P: "We wish we could do something about that but it's all done electronically and our transaction records all have to be stored there...the bank's electronic clearing systems are a hinderance to our transaction times right now; hopefully we can work on shrinking that."

C: "Well, I will definitely use this when I make a larger purchase down in the States since you said you could pay direct to the seller down there right?"

P: "Yep. Plus sending the wires through us is way cheaper than you going to a bank and transferring large sums of foreign currency."

Well the bottom line is that the conversation gave us a lot of insight into common questions our users have and what we should look at streamlining in our system. We wish we had video taped the segment and posted it on our website.

The best source of advice for how to build your product? Your customers! Make sure it's built to the point where they're willing to pay for it!*

*and of course make sure that their willingness to pay is well above your cost to serve!

The harder you work...the shorter the days seem! Plus they all blend into one.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

PeerFX on Report on Business :)

Doing an early morning search to see who picked up on the press release :)

Very happy that we ended up somewhere in the Report on Business section here: http://www.globeinvestor.com/servlet/story/CNW.20090414.C9205/GIStory

And to think that we tried to buy banner advertising with Globe and Mail less than 3 weeks ago!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

PeerFX on Techvibes

Sharing the good news with the tech community, our good friend Rob Lewis has blogged about the launch of the PeerFX service on Techvibes here: http://www.techvibes.com/blog/peerfx-launches-peer-to-peer-online-forex-service

We're glad that so far people have both good and bad things to say about the site. If it were all good things we would be scared since we are looking to our users and supporters to provider us with straight between the eyes feedback. One thing that we've heard tons about is the green on white - we've tried improving that on the first version of the launch with better spaced menus and bolded font.

We're currently working on version 2.0 of the service and hope to roll out the new revisions in the next month. Thank you again for your support!

First Press Release - April 14, 2009

Sent out earlier today through CNW. Here it is.

PeerFX Making Waves in the Investment Community

Vancouver, BC, April 14, 2009 - If you ever watched the CBC television program Dragon’s Den the name PeerFX will sounds familiar to you! Since declining the Dragons’ offer, the company has been bootstrapped and is now seeking investment capital. This past February, PeerFX, the online peer-to-peer currency exchange service, held a well received investor forum by local and international investors. Now focussed on business development efforts, PeerFX continues to peak investor interest with each new milestone and is looking to close its first financing round by the third quarter of 2009.

On April 6th 2009, PeerFX launched its peer-to-peer foreign exchange service with an aim to cut through the clutter promising simplicity and better rates. It has already attracted initial customer sign ups plus a waiting list of over 250 people. The Big Deal? PeerFX customers can now exchange Canadian and US dollars at the “interbank or median”, a rate typically accessible by large financial institutions. What does this mean for small businesses and individuals? They can now save up to 80% on their currency exchange transaction fees.

The PeerFX opportunity is still open to investors interested in the growing foreign exchange industry. Potential investors and media are encouraged to contact PeerFX for more information. To view a short video of the investor forum visit the “News & Resources” section of www.peerfx.com.


For further information please contact:

Julien Phipps
Director of Marketing and Business Development
PeerFX – Changing Exchanging
(E) julien.phipps@peerfx.com

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tech Hire!

Looking for GREAT tech person right now.

Someone that loves business AND developing the software to enable the business to function.

We did post this position a couple months back but didn't receive as big of a response as now. Seems like more people are "available" right now and are looking for a long-term stable job (at least for the next 1-2 years?)

I think at that time we didn't rush to hire a full-time tech person because I didn't want to settle for the best of the worse. Some people that we did like wasn't available at the time so timing also matters.

We have received quite a few responses within the first 2-3 days of the posting on T-Net and Techvibes and hopefully we'll fill the position by the end of this month and cut back our reliance on contractors - building our own systems, we do want someone who follows the growth and development of the system through its various versions...so they know what we have tried in the past, or how it was programmed in the past, to know what to avoid and what to continue building in the next versions.

I was just reading my advisor's article in the employment paper and realized that it's better to leave a position empty than to fill it in a hurry - it costs a lot (if not money, then time) to train a new hire and to build a working relationship, etc. It seems like other companies are also being very careful with their hiring process as well - taking longer than usual to screen candidates and also to make the hiring decision.

In my opinion, I just don't want to waste the new hire's time if I know that they're not the "best" fit for the company.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Don't let the economy shrink your marketing budget

We were at the Massive Tech Show earlier today and it seems like the number of exhibitors this year has decreased by quite a bit.

Weird that with tough economic times it's always the PR and marketing budget that gets slashed first - shouldn't you be strengthening your sales and trying to cut operational costs?

The one thing you can't afford to cut when business slows is the marketing budget. Think about this: when everyone else cuts back on their marketing (hopefully your competitors) and YOU increase or maintain your marketing budget (of course through the most effective channels...) who do you think will gain from this?

Answer: YOU?

That's what I thought.

What you should actually be doing is managing your operational costs - can rent be cheaper? Can you outsource to lower the costs of maintaining full-time staff? Can your cost of delivering services/products to your customers be decreased?

These are just a couple examples, but you're bound to answer YES to one of the above questions. If you answer NO to all of the above then that means you're not trying very hard to save more for your business.

That's what I try to do for PeerFX - search for ways to increase the top line while decreasing the cost to serve end-users. Where there's a will there's a way - so get creative!