Hey Sydney! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Victoria BC. I’m the first generation of my entire family born in Canada, or any first-world country for that matter. Growing up, I sold a lot of chocolates and cookies to raise funds for UNICEF and things like that at school. Fun fact: After my first year in University, I was qualified for zero jobs so I ended up selling knives. I once cut myself during a demonstration, which did not work out well, haha!
After graduating from McGill, I did a Master’s in Paris at a school called ESEC in International Marketing. I came back to Montreal, worked in online marketing and web marketing since then. Those were booming industries back in 2009 when I started. I actually did my stage at Ogilvy and Mathers, which is one of the biggest advertising firms in the world. Technology was moving fast at the time and it was the only place where innovation was taking off like crazy.
That’s where my career started in fields like marketing automation and CRM. I began managing websites for Procter & Gamble in Montreal. I also worked at WebMD, where I did online marketing for 112 pharmaceutical clients – mainly newsletter and email marketing. After that, I worked as a consultant for marketing automation. That allowed me to travel a lot, and I lived in Silicon Valley for a while. I met with friends there, and went to a tech conference. I was told that if I wanted to learn more about tech, this was the place to be. Luckily I was offered an opportunity from my friend and just hopped on a plane.
Last year, I started working on VenturX, which is my main pursuit now.
Tell us about your company and how it came to be.
A lot of people that start businesses are scratching their own itch. My story’s a little different – I didn’t feel the pain point. When I was doing market automation, I had a flexible schedule so I got a lot of time to go to startup events for 6 years. Something kept drawing me back to these incredible events and startups asked me to help out with business plans and grants. Eventually, I built an app that wrote business plans for them, but the hardest part is validation. I made an 8-level application and most only made it to level 3. That took a lot of time, but it helped me pivot to what I’m working on now.
Through interviewing my potential customers, I came up with what VenturX is now. VenturX is the world’s very first startup success tool. After you write your elevator pitch, you get quantitatively scored in 4 different things: product-market fit, conversion, engagement, and runway. When your score is high enough and you feel ready, you can submit it for funding to Venture Capitalist firms nationwide.
It’s important to look at your early-stage success indicators. Eventually, the big picture: this is a tool that can be used for incubators when they have startups come in. They can use the tool on both sides. Incubators can follow how well the startups are doing, and the startups are tracking their improvements real-time. For example, if you get a grant, you now have more runway and longer to “live.” Incubators can then jump in and help you improve in specific areas. For example, if you are a startup applying for an incubator or accelerator, you can see where you are at today and see how you have improved over time towards sales.
Eventually, I see VenturX making use of big data and AI to provide predictive modeling for economic modeling. Later on, we’ll be able to tell who is going to hockey stick up and what kind of impact it will have on the Canadian economy.
What is the importance of entrepreneurship for the national economy?
They’re a very important part, and the success of one startup helps motivate other startups. They account for about 10% of the population – 2.7 million people are small businesses or startups. But they don’t track all the ones that have a side-business, which means the market is actually bigger. Entrepreneurs have a major impact in terms of contributing to the economy. In fact, as time goes on, Statistics Canada could benefit from being a client of mine because I can help them quantitatively analyze the contribution of startups in extreme detail.
Which metrics of progress do you think early-stage startups should focus on?
There are 4 metrics that I believe are CRUCIAL for startups to measure and focus their efforts on. VenturX essentially gives your startup a report card (just as you would get in school) that takes these 4 metrics into account.
- Product-Market Fit: Number of people who felt the pain and the benefit, within the people that you have talked to in your target market. If you change your target market, you restart at 0 – which is exactly how you should approach it mentally. We use a net promoter score – this means that we only take into account “early adopter” customers who show extreme interest (on a scale of 1-10, these people are between 7 and 10) because these are the people you should focus on, and so you get more points within the metric if you have people that are scoring you higher as opposed to something like a 5 or a 6.
- Runway: How long can you survive financially? Quickbook (accounting software for small businesses) has found that over 50% of startups are financially illiterate – and over 90% in Quebec. Many of them don’t even know the difference between sales and net profit. – How long can you survive? VenturX securely accesses your bank API so startups know exactly where they stand financially. You’ll know how much available cash you have, as well as your expenses and your revenue.
- Conversion: How many leads were converted? In other words, first of all, what is the total number of people that you have talked to? Out of those, how many people have signed up for the product or service by making a pre-order, or have provided you with their contact info to follow up, or have written you letters of intent?
- Engagement: How many are using the service or product? What is the number of repeat visitors that you have, as opposed to one-time visitors? We will be implementing Google Analytics API so users with an online business would not have to fill anything in.
What class do you wish was taught in colleges? In other words, what is an important skill you had to learn in the real world?
I loved going to McGill but I found a lot of my learning was very theoretical. In my marketing program, I think you should have an in-field sales project. The people in my marketing/sales classes could not have sold anything if their lives depended on it, because we were not required to. Even just selling cookies door-to-door would be more hands-on than writing an exam.
When I went to McGill, we had these “apprentice games” – one year I organized it and we had McGill, Concordia, and HEC students go to the McGill Ghetto and it was a contest to see who could sell the most ice cream…in January.
This should be taught in school. It shouldn’t be something that you need to add onto your workload outside of school. You should have that experience while you’re there because that’s where you should be getting the chance to safely make mistakes. One of my favorite business professors Richard Donovan always told us that you can do anything you want, as long as you’re not afraid of hearing NO.
Similarly, I found that some incubators in Montreal were teaching theoretical types of classes in their incubation programs that weren’t realistic or practical. In BC, where I am doing my trial, incubator founders and directors were former entrepreneurs so they styled their programs differently and they are keen on having real time metrics for their startups. Most incubators didn’t have a Renjie like McGill does, to provide them leadership through example. Taking business from theory to real life is one of the hardest things I’ve had to face in my life.
If you could give advice to the college freshman version of Sydney, how would you tell her to approach college to get the most out of her experience? Would you do less of some things, and more of others?
In my first year, I was looking for opportunities to get involved and I was scattered all over the place. I definitely would have did less of some things.
Specifically, I would have participated more in business-type competitions against other schools which is a more real-life environment than typical exam-based classes. I probably would have competed in the McGill Dobson Cup, too! Startup events and things of that nature are a lot more popular now than they were 6 years ago, and I really wish those opportunities were available to me when I was in school.
Anything else you want to say to our readers?
YES! VenturX’s prototype for entrepreneurs is available now. Visit www.venturx.ca to register for a new account. If you are an entrepreneur or have a great business idea, come sign up! If you’re wondering how it works, check out the demo video.
You can join our McGill Virtual Discussion Group on Skype on Tuesdays at 8:30-9:00pm, where we discuss how you did on your VenturX startup success and share how we can boost your metrics! Just send me an email to join!
Contact info: Sydney Wong
Demo Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqPufIVoaHc