De Groot Ventures Inc. https://degrootventures.com A Dream with a Mission Wed, 16 May 2018 01:33:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.6 Lunch’Ed with Sal Taghleb https://degrootventures.com/2018/05/15/lunched-with-sal-taghleb/ Wed, 16 May 2018 01:33:50 +0000 https://degrootventures.com/?p=13118 Sal Taghleb In my latest installment of Lunch'Ed, I met up with Sal Taghleb to learn about his long-distance journey from IA to Enterprise Agile Coach. Truth be told, I’m terrible at long distance relationships. The last I heard from (Sal) was in
 2008 when he was heading off to a new opportunity [...]

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Sal Taghleb

In my latest installment of Lunch’Ed, I met up with Sal Taghleb to learn about his long-distance journey from IA to Enterprise Agile Coach.

Truth be told, I’m terrible at long distance relationships. The last I heard from (Sal) was in
 2008 when he was heading off to a new opportunity in the Netherlands. That was over ten
 years ago, so I was excited to hear from him when he reached out to me for this series. The 
restaurant itself was Wimpy’s Diner in Markham which afforded Sal the time to meet me during his lunch break. While my burger was delicious, this was more about two old colleagues reconnecting after too long an absence.

We began our lunch as many of my meetings with past colleagues do, with a trip down memory lane. We had a great discussion on the joint successes and failures within CanWest during the growth years of canada.com. I was managing the development team at the time, and Sal was brought in as an Information Architect for yet another relaunch of canada.com. This discussion turned into somewhat of a sombre memorial as we reflected on the eventual demise of canada.com and Canwest itself, and our theories for why and how that happened. That, however, is not the purpose of this post and I may tackle that another time.

What I was interested in learning was how Sal went from the Information Architect I had last
 worked with to being an Enterprise Agile Coach. Not that there isn’t any connection between 
the two roles, but I knew the line wouldn’t be direct, and Sal didn’t disappoint.

Sal left CanWest for a job in the Netherlands with a startup called iLocal. For those who remember the whole “hyperlocal” craze that swept our industry at the time, their objective was to be a local business search engine for the area of Europe known as the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.). They would index every business based on a set taxonomy and feed that data model into a system so that it was smart.

At the time they were using a licensed proprietary .NET engine, but knowing that the real value of the company was the IP, they wanted to own it. While Sal had been brought it as manager of search and innovation , they soon tasked him with developing a system in-house. As Sal explains, while he had never done this before, he was excited by the challenge and dove right in.

They decided to go all open source and build this massive new system. The company didn’t
 have the skills or people on staff, so off they went on a mass hiring spree. Sal hired people 
from all around the world and brought them in-house, and now our IA was managing a software development team. The team itself wasn’t enough because what they were trying to build was cutting edge, so they hired a consulting company as well. Eventually, they did end up completing the product, and TomTom later purchased the IP to create TomTom Places.

While working in the Netherlands, they decided to utilize SCRUM exclusively. Again, not having the skills on hand they hired a company for a full training session and through this Sal became a certified SCRUM master. While he wasn’t the SCRUM master for the project at the time, they had an actual SCRUM Master come in on contract.

“Even though I completed the course, I wasn’t ready to introduce that risk on a big project.”


During that time Sal learned a lot about agile and about SCRUM, so when he came back to 
Canada, he brought all of that experience with him. He took many additional courses and
 applied his growing knowledge and experience to every software project he led. In time he found himself working as a SCRUM master and Agile Project Manager. He finally decided he wanted to continue moving forward as a professional agilist.

Having gone through this transformation, my final question to Sal was whether he enjoyed this role more-so than the previous roles in IA and software development? His answer was a 
definite yes. While he uses those previous roles to understand projects, make suggestions, and provide recommendations, he’s happy not to be too involved in those areas.


“I want to be great at what I do, not just okay. I’m much better as a facilitator, trainer, and agile leader. I do enjoy the servant leadership style of people management, and there’s a
 difference.”

I have met many people who have and are struggling with finding something they excel at which they also truly enjoy doing. While it may have taken a long journey across the pond and back to figure it out, I’m certainly happy for Sal that he has found his niche.

I encourage you to visit Sal’s website to learn more about the services he offers.

 

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Lunch’Ed with Mark Dodgson https://degrootventures.com/2018/04/19/lunched-with-mark-dodgson/ Thu, 19 Apr 2018 15:32:54 +0000 https://degrootventures.com/?p=13108 For this session of Lunch'Ed, I met up with Mark Dodgson to discuss the evolving role of User Experience and the value in using evidence-based design to achieve business goals. Our meeting took place at a restaurant in downtown Hamilton aptly named HAMBRGR.  Their goal is to make the best damn burger you’ve ever eaten, [...]

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Mark Dodgson

For this session of Lunch’Ed, I met up with Mark Dodgson to discuss the evolving role of User Experience and the value in using evidence-based design to achieve business goals.

Our meeting took place at a restaurant in downtown Hamilton aptly named HAMBRGR.  Their goal is to make the best damn burger you’ve ever eaten, and I think they may have succeeded. Mark chose the El Diablo burger for me which packed some heat (but not overpowering) with a side of Gar-Parm French Fries. To help cool things down, he also ordered what is now one of my new favourite beers, the LagerShEd, which comes from the Shawn and Ed Brewing Company, a microbrewery just down the road in Dundas.

I first met Mark about six years ago through hockey. We immediately hit it off once we discovered our mutual interests in web design and development. We have learned a lot from each other over these past few years and have even colluded on a few projects. (Well, I’ve learned a lot from him. The flip side is somewhat presumptuous of me.)

I was eager to hear Mark’s story on how he entered the industry, as this has proved to be one of the most intriguing parts of these lunches so far. It is rarely a straight path, especially within the web industry. Mark didn’t start out with a goal of landing a job in UX. The role didn’t exist back when he was in school.

Mark entered into the Advertising and Media Communications program hoping to one day land the job of Art Director at a fancy advertising agency. That quickly changed when Mark discovered computer design. Having never even owned a computer before, he found that his one class a week on the early Macs using Quark XPress quickly took centre stage. So much so, he found it was the only thing he wanted to do.

“I would skip classes to stay in the computer lab, just to design things!”

Once he completed school, he immediately took up an offer to be a junior designer at an advertising agency and then that was it, he never looked back. Computer-based design changed his life.

His first job wasn’t always that great though, and Mark led into a little story about why he loves listening to Jazz when he works. While the art director he worked for was a great mentor from a technical standpoint, he was, as Mark puts it, a horrible and verbally abusive person. They would fight and argue constantly. The only times Mark knew he wasn’t in trouble was when the art director was “in the zone” playing Jazz music in his office. To this day, Mark now listens to a lot of Jazz music when he is working.

“So now every time I hear Jazz music it’s the only thing that calms me down.”

So is conflict natural in the design industry due to the passion involved in a creative industry? Mark’s take was that while it may have been at one time, the industry has certainly changed. Especially the web industry in particular. Thanks to Agile development and fail fast thinking, the industry as a whole requires everyone to be much more collaborative now.

During his time as a designer, he came to realize the growing importance of user experience. As an industry, we were building websites that just didn’t work but it didn’t matter at that time because no one was thinking that way. That thought process led him into the field of user experience and eventually took him into his current role as UX Director for Bluespark, an enterprise-capable open source development agency.

Getting back to his current role, I was eager to learn how he balances sound UX principles over a client’s direction on design. Mark agrees that this is a big challenge, and as he put it so eloquently, it all comes down to evidence. They enter any project with success metrics and then use sound testing methodologies to back up the design choices they are presenting. Their goal is to create designs which show through data to achieve the objectives set forth by the client. While they may not always accept the outcome, in most cases the results speak for themselves.

“They are hiring you for a reason, to make recommendations, and you earn their trust over time.”

UX is a relatively new field within the industry, and with it comes some growing pains. While most other areas of discipline, such as graphic design and software development, have well-defined programs and courses, there isn’t a College of User Experience regulating the industry. As such, the title is sometimes carelessly thrown around and assigned, specifically within a client’s organization.

“It’s a new industry, and we are still trying to figure out what titles are and what it means to be in user experience, what we are supposed to be measuring, and how to align designs with goals and business objectives.”

Even within design schools, students rarely understand the breadth of choices they face once they enter the industry. Mark will talk to students who believe they are going to leave school and design logos or brochures for a living, but as he puts it that is such a small part of the industry right now. That led to a separate discussion regarding the commoditization of design (and development) that both our industries face right now. With the advent of services such as Fiverr, Mark feels that the idea of designing a logo for five dollars devalues the entire industry.

“In reality, a good logo is going to take five to ten hours, and plays into the overall branding.”

So given the current commoditization, is the future bleak or bright for upcoming designers? Where is the opportunity for designers going forward? Mark believes it’s in the area of user experience and results-driven design. The tools available today allow for everything to be measured and analyzed in a way which just wasn’t possible just a few short years ago. Design is no longer just about making things look good; it’s also about achieving measurable results. As an industry, Mark believes there are more job opportunities now than ever before.

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Lunch’Ed with Steve Veerman https://degrootventures.com/2018/03/12/lunched-with-steve-veerman/ Mon, 12 Mar 2018 19:58:02 +0000 https://degrootventures.com/?p=13095 For my inaugural episode of Lunch'Ed, I sat down to talk with my former Postmedia Digital Innovation teammate, Steve Veerman. Steve chose to eat at Kinkaku Izakaya in Kitchener and selected various tasty dishes for us to share. I love this story, as I find it very inspiring. Not only is Steve scratching his entrepreneurial [...]

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For my inaugural episode of Lunch’Ed, I sat down to talk with my former Postmedia Digital Innovation teammate, Steve Veerman. Steve chose to eat at Kinkaku Izakaya in Kitchener and selected various tasty dishes for us to share.

I love this story, as I find it very inspiring. Not only is Steve scratching his entrepreneurial itch, but he’s also helping to make the world a better place in the process.

Steve joined Postmedia back in 2009 and eventually leaped with me to start the Digital Innovation team. In 2012 Steve departed to continue his education at the University of Waterloo, completing his Master’s Degree in Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology.

I don’t get out to the Kitchener-Waterloo area often, but I always enjoy it when I do. There is a great vibe here that I can only assume is comparable to Silicon Valley. It’s full of young, vibrant and optimistic people looking to make their mark on the world. As we started our discussion, Steve brought some insight into the impact that Blackberry has had on the area and the silver lining to the near collapse of RIM.

“This is the place to be. There were so many offshoots of Blackberry that resulted in other startups. They were the seed in this ecosystem that allowed a lot of things to grow. Maybe it was a good thing [Blackberry] imploded. How many people would have stayed there and not left to do other, better, things?”

One of those great ideas springing forth is HITCH. HITCH is a hardware device, a smart router with video caching designed for developing countries with unreliable power and networking grids.

Steve met his co-founder Uche in the MBET program. Uche came to Waterloo from Nigeria where he worked with the Ministry of Agricultural consulting on their web portal. The problem he faced was that the farmers, while they have phones, they couldn’t access the portal because they live in areas without access to the internet. What he wanted to do was build smart routers that cache content and deliver it that way.

Steve at the time was looking to find a partner who was just crazy in love with an idea and would just pursue it with everything. He heard about Uche’s idea and more than anything fell in love with his passion for it. So they got together and set about this journey to tackle the problem.

What they soon discovered was that the sales cycle was too long. They had one buyer, the Nigerian government. The government was cool with paying for the website but trying to get them to commit to buying a certain number of devices wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. So in September, they decided to pivot and target private schools in Nigeria. The private schools outnumber public schools and are run as individual businesses. Instead of one buyer they now have thousands of potential buyers.

“[The children] come to school, a lot of them have phones and tablets but they don’t have internet access. Nigeria doesn’t have wires in the ground, so all their internet infrastructure is built on 3G.”

They identified schools where the children are equipped with devices and no internet, and then took their curriculum and mapped it to videos which they then uploaded to HITCH. Students can connect to HITCH, download videos, and watch the content at home or their leisure for homework. “It is a way to make delivery of video more affordable.”

They have signed up some paying customers and are now in the midst of rolling out the project this month. Uche and newcomer Brad are in Nigeria this month deploying to the selected schools, and they have more schools interested. “I think if we can get to a few more schools, we can all pay ourselves and we are all happy.”

Discussing some of the challenges he’s facing, Steve highlights the pressure of being the only developer in a small startup.

“At the end of the day, I feel a lot of pressure to get it done. I’m the only software guy on the team. Sometimes I wish I had a larger team. I like the co-ops, but they come and go. I want to be able to work with people who know things I don’t know.”

Being a bootstrapped company comes with some additional pressure, and I asked Steve how he removes the distraction of taking on paying side gigs to keep things going. He responds by confirming that he is all in. It’s his full-time thing, and he’s not working on anything else.

“I say no to everything, but I feel like an idiot half the time. No, make that most of the time. Why am I saying no to that job again? It’s guaranteed X amount of dollars, and it sounds very tempting. “

While at times he may second-guess himself, he still believes he’s doing the right thing.

“I think it’s worth taking the chance.”

I couldn’t agree more Steve. I believe you are on the verge of something great.

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De Groot Ventures Inc Launches Digital Agency to Empower Businesses https://degrootventures.com/2016/09/13/de-groot-interactive/ Tue, 13 Sep 2016 14:31:43 +0000 https://degrootventures.com/?p=13042 De Groot Ventures Inc. announced today a new division, De Groot Interactive, to help small-to-medium sized businesses successfully compete with the larger players within the digital world.

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Hamilton, Ontario – September 13, 2016 – De Groot Ventures Inc. announced today a new division, De Groot Interactive, to help small-to-medium sized businesses successfully compete with the larger players within the digital world.

De Groot Interactive will draw upon a growing team of talented designers, developers, and marketers to bring their advanced skills to businesses who may not have access to the same resources and knowledge that larger companies have been able to draw upon.

In today’s market, it is no longer enough to simply have a nice looking website. Businesses now need to consider and manage many other factors to compete online. Activities such as social media, pay-per-click campaigns, and search engine optimization can seem quite daunting to even the largest of businesses, and traditionally those activities involve significant investments in both time and money.

Edward de Groot, President of De Groot Ventures, believes this new division will break down those barriers and allow these businesses to successfully compete with their larger counterparts.

“While small and medium size businesses have had some difficulty competing with large corporations and box stores in the physical world, the internet has the potential to become the great equalizer. What we are offering is the ability for these businesses to not only compete, but to win, and to do so with a smaller investment than what was once required.”

De Groot Interactive will offer clients a complete range of digital services to help them meet their goals at a very affordable price, allowing existing business to modernize their digital operations and amplify their online activities. For new businesses or established businesses with little to no online presence, they are also offering customizable startup packages which will take care of every aspect of their digital offerings.

“No longer will these businesses be limited to simple, cookie-cutter websites or excessively expensive and overly complicated options. They now have a third option providing highly affordable, innovative, and customizable solutions that deliver real results and meet their unique business needs.”

About De Groot Ventures Inc.
De Groot Ventures Inc. is a Canadian company with a mission to foster innovation and growth within the digital landscape. Utilizing their vast experience and expertise, they are busy building the next generation of digital products and mobile applications through creative ideas, innovation, and sheer determination.
For more information, please visit degrootventures.com.

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