City of innovation

The Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail recently interviewed me for “Tech firms aim to reverse Hamilton’s brain drain”, an article covering my work with Kevin Browne (Software Hamilton) and other partners to support a thriving software economy in the city.

Next week we launch the first-ever HamOnt JS conference with support from the Hamilton Innovation Factory, Forge and Foster, Hamilton Economic Development, CoMotion on King, and key organizing partner and longtime software community supporter Fluid Media.

The previous five years have demonstrated that positive innovative economic change is possible in the city of Hamilton.  Forward thinking, mutually-supportive organizations as above why the future will be even better!

Poster of Lister Block by YHM Designs

Your startup should be doing collaborative performance reviews. Here’s why.

When I started Weever Apps, our focus was on building our product and figuring out everything we might accomplish one day. Performance review meetings and similar corporate “kruft” wasn’t on the agenda —that stuff, after all, was exactly the kind of work that made up the type of company we didn’t want to build. We wanted to be different, to be better. We were wrong.

Performance reviews have helped make Weever Apps the better place to work. So why did we start spending time on something like performance reviews?

Here’s why: performance reviews improve a team’s ability to work together and get things done. The goal of a collaborative performance review is to get honest feedback from team members, identify issues and misalignments, and develop ways to work together to create a shared actions plan for the future.

For example, in 2016, I adapted the Lean Business Model Canvas into a Collaborative performance review template and started using it with my own team. View and download the template.

If you’re new to the process, this all might seem daunting. So I’ve compiled a simple step-by-step list of how to stage a collaborative performance review:

  1. There is a manager (the facilitator) and an interviewee (the employee or peer). Both parties have access to a [collaborative review template] well in advance and come prepared to communicate their responses with each other.
  2. After verifying that both parties have had a chance to read through the template and gather their thoughts, the meeting starts. The facilitator reminds the interviewee that money/salary discussion is a distraction and not on the agenda.
  3. The manager (or peer) interviews the team member about their work tasks and roles that they like and dislike, following Sakichi Toyoda’s “5 Why’s” method as a guide.
  4. The interviewee communicates their own self-evaluation: the wins, losses, and challenges of their role, and (most importantly) the “why” behind each.
  5. Both parties review a predefined list of skill sets and evaluate how the interviewee is performing. Skills items include communication ability, initiative, attention to detail, and more. Skill discussion, not lengthy project-driven debates, should frame the review in a context of collaborative personal and professional development.
  6. The manager provides the employee with their evaluation. Critical, pre-captured feedback from other team members is included, but not in a combative or interrogative way (g., “one concern that came up from some of your teammates was…”).
  7. The manager and employee collaborate on an action plan to address existing issues, improvement areas and employee requests. Both the manager and the employee have action items (deliverables) to which they will be held accountable at the next review in three or four months.
  8. Finally, both parties sign the action plan and are encouraged to review it for a few minutes each week, evaluating whether they are accomplishing the goals they set forward together.

People on startup teams are more likely to have serious misalignments of roles, responsibilities and goals with their teammates. Early small misalignments often manifest as serious conflicts (and failed companies) in the future. Benefits that a collaborative performance review can deliver include:

  • Getting to the root causes of what is working and not working for team members, allowing teams to address fundamental problems and not various symptoms.
  • Identifying and addressing misalignments on roles and expected responsibilities among team members before they become (more) serious issues.
  • Identifying skill and growth opportunities (g., “I’d really like to try this…”) for each interviewee. This helps keep employees engaged and provides a young company the opportunity to see who may perform well in different roles.
  • Providing team members with specific, clear requests for professional improvement and defining the support required to do so.
  • Aligning team members on priorities, needs, goals and job expectations from others. In my experience, even people who work very closely together are surprised by some of the feedback they receive (both positive and negative). The review is an opportunity to see the company and their work in it from another’s perspective.
  • Setting a documented, collaborative and “fair” basis for future evaluations where both parties can review their performance in addressing the actions plan. In a good team environment evaluation is team-driven and not based on the whims of a manager’s personal bias or recent project experience.

As I have said before, strategy is overemphasized on startup teams; it is execution that matters most.  Performance reviews improve a team’s ability to execute on opportunities and, ultimately, that is what will make any company successful.

Hack Your Community at McMaster University

On November 1st I had the pleasure of serving as a volunteer judge for Spectrum's “Hack Your Community” event.  The 72 hour hackathon focused on creating solutions for the community as a whole and was supported by Community Foundations of Canada.

The winning team, “Project Jenny” embodied the spirit of the event in their innovation: a simple, low-cost, feature phone texting service that returns Google answers on-the-fly.  Well done!

How I hire software developers

I’ve noticed that quite a few job posts for software developers still recruit for “ninjas,” “makers,” or other hip job monikers.

As one of the people responsible for new hires at Weever Apps, I try to carefully write our job placement adverts to demonstrate that our business culture views a developer as a person and not as a cute title. When I see these “of the moment” job titles, I feel that the applicant is being treated only as a commodity. I believe in hiring people.

I was recently asked by a person I was interviewing for a position at Weever Apps how I evaluate software developer job applicants.  I explained that after I establish the applicant’s general technical qualifications, I then evaluate additional attributes to determine their suitability for the job: problem-solving experience, perseverance, and patience.

Problem-solving experience.

My first evaluation addresses the applicant’s commercial or self-directed problem solving experience, – and not their education, training, or certifications. I don’t think there’s a substitute for solving real-world problems with code or other tools. Great developers, in my experience, are professional problem-solvers.

Items which “flag” someone’s proven problem-solving experience include:

  • Active and varying roles on complex work projects.
  • Contributions to open-source github repositories.
  • Volunteering, or co-op work, or internships.
  • Personal projects.
  • Experience with a business case that’s similar to what we do at Weever Apps (fulfilling projects for enterprise clients, working with digital forms, etc.)

Perseverance and Patience.

As with all things, class and other types of privilege give undue advantage to some some individuals. Finding the time to contribute to a github repo, volunteer, or work on personal projects is much easier when you’re already well situated and/or well-off. So I also look for evidence of perseverance and patience in our applicants. While not everyone has the time to volunteer or work on side projects, but most people who really love coding will find ways to pursue and keep their passion active. continue to do so as much as they can.

Perseverance is important. Very few companies build things well on their first try. Most struggle through shifting project scope, employee turnover, miscommunications, and (sometimes) unreasonable expectations. The best people-at-building-things I’ve known have learned to match their intelligence with both the perseverance to confront tough, unfair problems, and with the patience to know when to step back, review whether the problem is actually being solved (well,) – and formulate a new plan.

So when you are looking (or hiring) for a reliable software developer position, remember the three P’s: Problem-solving experience, Perseverance, and Patience. It’s a good formula for developers and a good one for entrepreneurs too I think!

City of Innovation

This week I had the privilege of witnessing some positive change happening in my home city of Hamilton, ON.

On Wednesday I toured the new coworking space, CoMotion.  A venture put together by local organizers–including Larrisa Drobot, and Tammy Hwang of the Hamilton Innovation Factory–CoMotion aims to be:

“an eco-system for the development of start-ups and existing small businesses, but also a testing ground to explore better ways of working together.” 1

I believe CoMotion will succeed as they have a prime downtown location, super fast internet, natural lighting, great food and culture nearby, and a beautiful, retrofitted building space.  I strongly recommend anyone looking for a great working space in Hamilton to visit CoMotion for a tour.


115 King Street E. – Google hasn’t recorded the new signs yet!

On Thursday I attended the launch party for another new downtown space, the FORGE, located at (address) on James St. South.  The FORGE is a local “accelerator” for startup companies.  I’ve had the good fortune to advise a few Forge startup teams including Start the Cycle and Thrive Games.  Similar to CoMotion, The Forge creates a space where hard working people can build new companies and opportunities together.


245 James St. North

Revitalizing Hamilton’s formerly vacant, dusty downtown spaces benefits the city as a whole.  When I arrived in Hamilton about a decade ago there wasn’t a “startup ecosystem” or anything resembling the sort of collective creative vibrancy that is so active in the city today. That’s changed.

Thanks to the hard work of forward-thinking people at the Innovation Factory, Hamilton Economic Development, OCE, Software Hamilton, McMaster University (and many more parties not named here), new startups have an ecosystem of experience, networks, and resources they can tap into.  It’s working – we’re now seeing a dream of a better Hamilton with new, good jobs being realized in practice.2

This weekend, the city sees the music / food truck / culture fair SuperCrawl return and on Monday, McMaster’s Spectrum student startup program launches their new season. Later this month, Lion’s Lair returns.

In short it’s a good time to be in Hamilton.

1. Interview on CoMotion at Software Hamilton.

2. I also like to believe that my company, Weever Apps, as an early successful startup, has played a key part in the new wave of Hamilton business development–“it can happen here”.

Startups in the city

This June I enjoyed guest judging at the Spectrum Summer Startup competition with Kevin Browne of Software Hamilton and Robyn Larsen of Robynlarsen.ca and Normative.

Meeting 20+ startup teams in in rapid succession was quite exhilarating!  One of my favourites (and the eventual competition winner) was “Clear Roots” a startup focused on gardening inside the home.  Their product takes inspiration from the popular urban ecology movement and IoT companies like Nest.

At Weever Apps our own “internet of things” protocol, IoTA, continues to grow. We recently leveraged IoTA to deploy a web app which connects to and instructs a popular home device.  I look forward to sharing this project later in the year.