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WATCH Magazine sat down over a cup of tea with Josh Wright (Josh had a coffee), Co-Founder and Director, Business Development for Marmot Labs, creators of decision.io. We chatted about life working on a star-tup, the importance of being adaptive and flexible, and how the company is gaining early market traction.
WATCH: What's a Marmot?
JW: "It's a small rodent, similar to a groundhog. Marmots have a lot of different sub-species that adapt quite quickly to their environment. As a company, we want to be a highly adaptive start-up that evolves based on the environment we're in, and we've created our product, Decision.io, to be very flexible in order to address the needs of many different customer types. So the name fits."
WATCH: How did the idea for Decision.io come about?
JW: "Our entire team has worked in the start-up world for some time. I worked at the Accelerator Centre, and my co-founders, Jesse Guild and Duncan McDowell both work at Communitech. Between the three of us we saw a lot of different decision-making workflows that required team input. We also saw how painful that process could be for the people involved. Decision.io grew out of our desire to solve that problem. We want to streamline the collective decision-making process for businesses small and large."
WATCH: Introduce us to your fellow Marmots!
JW: "Well, there's Jessie Guild - he is responsible for product management and marketing. Then there's our creative director, Duncan McDowell, who is handling user experience and spearheading all our front-end design work. And supporting us is our tireless development team, Jordan Clark and Lucas Harron. And me - I'm handling the business development and operations activity right now."
WATCH: Finding the right market where you can gain early traction is key. What's your go to market plan for Decision.io?
JW: "Our initial target customers are grant-making organizations, start-up support programs and educational institutions. We felt that it is a very clear need for this type of streamlining in those segments. They all collect a lot of applications. They all require a transparent workflow. And they all have teams who review the applications and participate in the decision-making process. Today, many of these organizations use paper-based methods to guide their application review and selection process. It's a market where we can quickly show the impact of streamlining this workflow online for our customers, and so a good place for us to gain early traction and great reference customers."
WATCH: So what is Decision.io?
JW: "It's an online platform that enables businesses to capture and streamline their collective decision-making. We help filter ideas, opportunities, or applications through a systematic and efficient workflow. Users of the system can invite teams or committees of reviewers to rate, rank and comment on different items in the funnel to help them drive the final decisions forward. One of the clear benefits of Decision.io is that it eliminates groupthink and common decision biases that can creep into team-based decisions. It also offers a lot of transparency back to the applicant - which saves our customers an incredible amount of time and energy."
WATCH: What are the potential markets for this technology?
JW: "Well, as I mentioned, we are focused at this early stage on granting agencies, but we see opportunity for Decision.io in many markets -- in small to mid-sized business, and even the large enterprise. We can automate any group-based decision making process, for instance, the prioritization of new product ideas where a business needs to crowd-source opinions of staff and stakeholders. We have tons of ideas. Everything we build in the platform is created as a configurable option, so we can capture different priorities in the decision making process for different types of customers. We want to be as flexible as possible to allow our customers to capture the way they want to make decisions."
WATCH: Where are you in your product development lifecycle, and how is your market traction to date?
JW: "We are in the process of moving from a closed to open beta. That means we're busy polishing our messaging, updating our web site, and refining our customer on-boarding process. We have 10 paying customers right now, so we're generating revenue, and we have lot of conversations going on with potential customers here in Waterloo, in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver, and we just brought on our first American customer in Boston. Locally, we're working with Social Venture Partners, Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation, the Hyperdrive program, the Wilfrid Laurier LaunchPad Program, and the VeloCity Venture Fund.
We have gathered more than 100 active prospects who have viewed a demo of Decision.io, and are interested in coming on board. And beyond that I have a ridiculous number of leads and lists of people to contact. So even in these early days things are looking really positive. We're now looking at adding some commission-based sales people, so we can accelerate our growth, which is really exciting."
WATCH: What's life like as an entrepreneur?
JW: "It's a roller coaster. You have great days where you are on top of the world, and then there are days where you are simply overwhelmed by the work that lies ahead. Probably one of the biggest challenges is keeping on top of everything that must be done. That's a real challenge when you have a small team. Communication is also really important. And at the early stage you are really, really broke. We're putting all our money into development. It's a real balancing act. But it's fun."
WATCH: You've experienced Waterloo's start-up community on multiple fronts. What have you learned from your experiences?
JW: "It's really an interesting fabric being weaved in this community. There's the University of Waterloo with VeloCity, which is helping nurture early ideas coming out of research and out of students' minds. Similarly, the Laurier LaunchPad program for WLU students. Then you have Communitech's Hyperdrive program, which offers young companies a really intense three-month program offering connections to capital and mentorship. And as you mature a bit more, you have the Accelerator Centre and Program, where companies can more fully commercialize their technologies and gain traction in the market before heading out on their own. We're resource rich here in Waterloo. I can't recall a time that I have asked for help or advice and someone has said no. And because of that, I am quick to help in return. This "work together" attitude is really important because it's really us against the world. I think we're rapidly becoming recognized as one of the best places to do a start-up in the world."
WATCH: Who inspires you?
JW: "It's a hard question because there are so many people doing great things. I really respect Warren Buffett. Not just because he's wealthy, but because of the way he's made his money investing in long-term value.
Locally, I really look up to people like Tim Jackson, Dave Caputo, and Carol Leaman. They are all successful entrepreneurs in their own right, and have done so much - more than many of us realize - to build our community. I also greatly admire His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, who is now Governor General, who led UW for many years, and Professor Paul Guild, Marmot Labs' Lead Advisor and Howard Armitage, Founding Director of the Conrad Centre for Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (CBET). It is amazing to look at what they have achieved, and the respect they have earned. I've also had so many good mentors and professors, I've been so lucky. People like Prof. Paul Doherty and the EiRs at Communitech, that are really out there to help get things figured out.
Every person I've named - they are all very humble people, and yet have accomplished so much. There's so many people to admire, I can't possibly list them all, but it's not hard to find inspiration in this town."
WATCH: How can people learn more about Decision.io?
JW: "We are always interested in speaking with potential customers and other people who see Decision.io as useful within their organization. Networking is one of my favourite things to do so I encourage people to reach out and set up a conversation. They can email me directly at email@example.com. There's not much on our web site right now, but that will be changing soon. People can also follow us on Twitter at @decision.io."