Ian Jeffery is no stranger to the local business culture; with stints at Concordia University, Cossette Communications and Telus. But with five years in San Francisco, first at Tiny Pictures, then at Shutterfly Ian has earned his startup stripes. And with twenty investments to date, he has been instrumental in FounderFuel’s success.
Jeff: What was the most useful thing you learned as a General Manager at Domino’s Pizza?
Ian: I’d have to say team building. At the Whistler store, by far the busiest Domino’s in Canada, I had a team of 60 people including four assistant managers. I was 21 when I started at that store, and it was a challenge at first to get respect from everyone because most of my staff was much older than me. I focused on creating a great work environment and quickly everyone was having fun, and that led to amazing results in sales and a quality of service the store hadn’t seen in a very long time.
Jeff: What was Tistik Productions and what problem was it trying to solve?
Ian: Tistik was launched when the whole Superstar DJ craze hit Montreal. If your name wasn’t Richie Hawtin or Sven Väth, or if you weren’t playing at Neon parties, it was really difficult to get any kind of attention as a DJ in the city. A couple of my friends (ie: The Autist and Vega) had been DJing house parties for a while, but they wanted to take that to another level. They tried on their own to get gigs at the local parties and afterhours, but weren’t having any luck.
I realized there was a lack of opportunities for local DJs who were looking to make a name for themselves. That’s when we decided to create our own events to showcase them and other local talent and get them to play in front of a larger crowd. We invited international talent to draw people to the event, but they were always unknown artists from Europe. We regularly had events at SAT with 500+ people, were voted “Best Electronic Act” by the readers of Montreal Mirror and my buddies eventually played Sona, headlined Swirl and became residents at Circus and Stereo. Was a lot of fun
Jeff: You left the advertising industry in 2006 – why?
Ian: I worked almost 5 years for Cossette Communications, but never did traditional advertising. Within this huge agency, I was half of a two-person team that was leading the word-of-mouth marketing industry in North America. We broke every rule of traditional marketing, and launched a series of new tools enabled by new technologies.
While I was trying to re-invent the way brands reached out to their audiences, YouTube and Facebook were starting to get traction in the US and I knew this would change everything. That’s also when my buddy John Poisson told me about this idea he had while running an R&D studio for Sony in Tokyo. I quit Cossette, jumped on a plane to meet him in San Francisco with nothing but a suitcase, my snowboard and my wakeboard, and teamed-up with him to launch Tiny Pictures, the company that brought Radar to market.
Jeff: What do you think of the current state of the advertising industry?
Ian: I think the industry is really broken. In short, they have to stop selling. So many brands have jumped on the word-of-mouth (e.g. social media) bandwagon, but they’re doing it all wrong. They have to stop branding, and start bonding. Consumers control the brand message these days so they have to get personal and emotional with them to make sure they’re saying positive things. They need to humanize their brand and build true brand-consumer relationships grounded in authenticity and trust. Social-media has led to consumers with unprecedented control of brand messages, so brands that keep shoving things down our throats will fail.
Jeff: What was Tiny Pictures?
Ian: Tiny Pictures is the company that launched Radar, the first service for real-time sharing of cameraphone pictures and videos between friends. When you shared with Radar, your friends could immediately browse and comment on them from on any web-enabled phone on any network in the world with or without an app and through the desktop site. The stream of shared experience between friends became a group conversation, not just comments on pictures shared after the fact. The result was more than just picture sharing; it was continuous experience sharing and visual conversation.
Jeff: What’s your day-to-day like at FounderFuel?
Ian: Things are very different during the program and in between cohorts. While the teams are here, there’s a lot of running around, making sure everything is in place and that all the teams are getting the attention they need. In between cohorts, we try to get as much prep done as possible so we have more time with the teams when they arrive.
Jeff: Which of your previous jobs has prepared you the most for your work with Real Ventures?
Ian: Tiny Pictures for sure. Building a company in the Valley is like nothing I’ve done before.
Jeff: What’s your favourite investment to date?
Ian: This is too hard to say. We’ve made 20 investments through FounderFuel in less than a year, and they’re all so different.
Jeff: What are the pros and cons of doing a startup in Montreal?
Ian: There’s a common misconception that it’s easier to build a company in the Valley because there’s more capital, but in reality it takes so much more than cash to build a successful business. You can’t swing a dead cat in San Francisco and not hit the CEO of a startup, so that means that everyone is fighting for the same talent, especially developers. CEO’s face the same challenge to find great developers over there as they do here.
I think now is a great time to build a company in Montreal because there’s more early stage capital, we have great universities which are creating amazing talent and recent graduates are getting interested in startups, not to mention the contribution of events like the International Startup Festival and projects like Notman House. Honestly, I think things are looking pretty good right now for startups.