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FranchiseBlast Helps Boomerang Kids Franchise Expand

clock June 25, 2014 13:39 by author JKealey

FranchiseBlast has been featured in a recent case study by Intel Canada.

Large franchises have sophisticated software to help franchise owners manage sales, order product, control inventory, and manage other aspects of the business. Until recently, these systems were too expensive for smaller franchisors to implement. FranchiseBlast, a software solution developed by Gatineau-based LavaBlast Software Inc., makes available the management, inventory and purchasing tools a franchisor needs, at a cost that growing franchises can afford, while providing IT support to keep systems running reliably.

Read more here!



Lessons learned during 48hrs in the Valley

clock December 11, 2013 10:00 by author JKealey

We recently attended the C100's flagship event named “48 hrs in the Valley” and want to share some key moments, lessons learned and observations. The event was filled with so many activities that it is difficult to distill everything into a concise picture but we'll give it our best shot. Before we get started, we'd like to take a moment to thank the C100's organizing committee for their great work. Coordinating this type of event is very challenging work and we appreciate it the effort put into it.

Key Moments

Picture by Kris Krüg Rob Burgess' insightful talk is the first things that come to mind when looking back at the event. Coming from a web design & development background, it was awesome to hear the inside story behind Flash. After becoming CEO of Macromedia, Rob had the foresight to pretty much cancel all development on the company's main revenue source (tools like Shockwave) and re-orient resources towards building products for the web (aka Flash). Given how drastically the industry has changed, this was the right decision but the amount of guts it took to perform this pivot is mind boggling. Pivots in a startups are difficult, but completely re-orienting a successful & profitable company with tons of money in the bank is much more challenging.

We also were fortunate to be matched with Debbie Landa for one of our one-on-one mentoring sessions. What started out with “I know nothing about franchises” concluded with a plan to revolutionize the franchise industry. By making parallels to the venture capital world, the future appeared obvious to us and we validated that FranchiseBlast's in a great position to completely alter the industry. Debbie had the energy and big vision we expected to find in the Valley. Combined with the open-mindedness to learn new things and the creativity required to challenge assumptions, these traits guarantee success regardless of your geographical location.

Being a bootstrapped startup not looking for funding, pitching to venture capitalists was also an interesting change of pace. The dynamics of each pitch was completely different. The first presentation was made to an analytical VC with a great poker face. Razor-sharp questions followed in quick succession to lead up to very insightful comments. It was the toughest meeting, but also one of the most valuable. Our second presentation was characterized by stellar flow: each slide was followed by a question answered on the next slide. It was a short meeting due to time constraints, but even in this short blitz one could sense the intellectual alignment. It's great to work with people with whom you can have fast-paced exchanges. Our third pitch slowed things down as we were given twice as much time as allotted and ended up being a conversation more than a pitch. This VC had domain expertise not found in the other meetings which lead the discussion in a completely different direction. The final pitch ended up being the easiest (emotionally) with great validation but few challenges. Putting myself in their shoes, though, I understand how gruelling it can be to deliver insights which can push companies to the next level, pitch-after-pitch.

Finally, I enjoyed the “both sides of the deal” talk where a startup and their VC discussed their deal from different perspectives. Not only was it extremely funny, it was also very insightful. Rather than discuss the specifics, let us dive into key lessons learned – some of which emanated from this talk.

Key Lessons Learned

Picture by Kris Krüg Although we learned a lot during these 48 hours, we didn't necessarily learn anything explicitly taught. These lessons learned materialized after talking to enough people in Silicon Valley and reflecting on their thought process.

First, the importance of shared vocabulary cannot be overstated. In the software world, best practices are often boiled down to design patterns. When two software engineers have internalized concepts behind these patterns, they can propose & refine software architectures very efficiently. The same shortcuts apply to everything in the Valley: software, finance, companies, people, eras and methodologies. While we do not personally stay abreast of every hot new startup mentioned in tech news and feel it gets in the way of getting things done, we acknowledge that shared vocabulary is critical. In particular, being aware of some of the key events which shaped the technology industry in the past and general knowledge of current trends helps us align ourselves with success and avoid repeating past failures.

Furthermore, having intimate knowledge of the people behind those events is key. In our early days, we saw networking events as a chance to meet interesting people. We went into an event not expecting much and that's precisely what we got: nothing much. However, we unknowingly started to build a network of peers and, after a few years, we're now connecting some dots. We can start transposing our concrete needs onto the desire to meet concrete individuals – or at least give our interlocutor enough information to help guide us to a person which meets our criteria. Although you may randomly bump into the perfect contact, it is much more efficient to do your homework and seek out individuals yourself. As an aside, we purposefully dedicated some time during the event to plugging other local startups (Exocortex, Shopify, Project Speaker, etc.) when meeting relevant individuals because we firmly believe that we're not only founders, we're ambassadors for other startups in our community. “A rising tide lifts all ships”, as Scott Annan often says speaking to the Ottawa startup community.

Picture by Etienne Tremblay We also discovered that the more successful your company becomes, the lonelier it becomes for the founders. By this we don't mean people start ignoring you or despise you to the points of throwing rocks in your direction. No, in fact, we mean that the essence of loneliness is derived from the fact that you can't talk about your fears, successes, challenges or motivations with anyone else. To help illustrate this fact, visualize entrepreneurship as a pyramid of thousands of layers where the dimensions of each layer represents the number of likeminded individuals & companies. When you first start out at the base, pretty much anyone can give you valuable business advice. However, as your business grows, the value of this advice diminishes. This causes you to look elsewhere (higher-up in the pyramid) for high-impact advice, but it becomes exponentially more difficult to find it. As an example, when you've raised venture capital, you may find that there is a limited pool of likeminded entrepreneurs in your city with whom you can discuss your challenges; this forces you to branch out. We believe the same logic holds for every major transition in your company's lifecycle, from your first part-time freelancing gig to IPO to managing a trillion dollar company. In the technology industry, we believe the entrepreneurship pyramid reveals Silicon Valley's greatest asset for founders: a greater density of likeminded individuals to accompany you in your journey.

Key Observations / Thoughts

  • If you wish to raise capital efficiently, you must know which funds are aligned with your business model, which ones of those are at the right place in their funding cycle and which individuals within those funds you should talk to.
  • If you wish to network efficiently, you must know what you're trying to accomplish, which companies have done it before and which individuals within those companies are responsible for the behaviour you wish to emulate.
  • Company culture is important for all businesses but even more so for companies undergoing hyper-growth.
  • Toughest thing to do as a CEO is terminating someone who's gotten you to where you are now but hasn't evolved.
  • You will outgrow the impostor syndrome.
  • Our peers during the 48hrs event were there to get things done. Everyone is independent and focused. This may come off as arrogance; break through the shell.
  • Behind every success story are individuals who are just like you.
  • The C100 organizing committee sets up the context, but it's up to you to leverage the opportunity to reach your goals. Sink or swim.
  • Once you board the funding train, you're not getting off.
  • The only way to minimize risk is to use pattern recognition. (Hiring, investing, sales, growth, etc.)
  • Because of the importance of pattern recognition, most people follow. (Many investors chasing the same startups, etc.)
  • Fitting the right patterns increases your likelihood of success. Revolutionary ideas must break the appropriate patterns, but not all of them. Finding the perfect balance is extremely difficult.
  • Pick good lawyers; vet them.
  • Business is not a zero sum game. Find a win-win agreement.
  • At lastly, a tweet I saw while leaving California: Help others. Luck favours those with good karma.


FranchiseBlast Wins Bootstrap Award

clock February 27, 2012 10:07 by author JKealey
FranchiseBlast Wins Bootstrap Award

We’re proud to announce that 2012 is off to a great start! We’ve recently received lots of local recognition and thought we’d share this great news with you.

First, we’ve been listed as a Startup To Watch for 2012 by the Ottawa Business Journal. Past nominees (Chide.it, FaveQuest, Select Start Studios and PatientWay to name a few) have had a tremendous impact on the Ottawa-Gatineau startup community  and we strive to do the same. For decades, our region has featured a tremendous wealth of engineering talent and we’re proud to be a part of the group of companies rebuilding our digital economy. 

Second, we’ve won a Bootstrap Award for Best Sales/Value Proposition. This award recognizes companies who’ve grown their companies without the use of external funding (such as venture capital). We’ve been growing organically since our creation in 2007 and bootstrapping has enabled us to focus on creating value for our customers from day one. Today, we have an awesome product that is a perfect fit for our target market. If we had to name a single element which helped us refine our value proposition (other than listening to our customers for five years), I would have to name Lead To Win.

Lead To Win is a startup ecosystem/accelerator (which takes no equity)  which helps companies get to market faster and/or accelerate their growth. We strongly recommend the program to other high-tech entrepreneurs, especially engineering students who don’t have a background in business.

Thank you to everyone who’s vouched for us over the years. 2012 will be a year of great growth for us and we hope to share more good news soon!



FranchiseBlast Now Member of the CFA and CQF

clock February 17, 2012 11:25 by author JKealey

LavaBlast Software Inc. (creator of FranchiseBlast) is proud to announce that it is now a member of both the CFA (Canadian Franchise Association) and the CQF (Conseil Québécois de la Franchise / Quebec Franchise Association). Over the past five years, we’ve helped numerous franchises grow thanks to improved operational software and we feel the time is now ripe to get involved in these franchise associations. We hope to have the pleasure to meet you at one of the upcoming CFA or CQF events, such as the CFA’s National Convention in April 2012.

franchiseblast     CFA      cqf



New Grant for Canadian Franchises to Adopt Tech

clock November 15, 2011 11:18 by author JKealey

(From left to right) Jason Kealey (President, LavaBlast Software), The Honourable Christian Paradis (Minister of Industry) Yesterday, the Minister of Industry announced a new grant pilot program (DTAPP) offering up to $99,999 in financial support to Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to facilitate the adoption of digital technologies. The announcement featured FranchiseBlast as an example of such a digital technology and was made inside one of the Boomerang Kids stores, our newest franchise client (see photo).

This pilot program is great news for Canadian franchises as it includes the adoption of business systems (franchise management, customer/work order management, inventory management, etc.). In the context of a franchise, these are often customized systems ensuring the uniformity of their proprietary business processes across all franchisees. Off-the-shelf hardware and software are not covered by this grant, but the following are:

  • Internal labour costs: franchisor’s time spent elaborating the system
  • Contractors: technology firm helping the franchisor adopt the technology
  • Travel & Training
  • Hiring of recent college graduates as a part of the adoption process

The new grant program is managed by NRC-IRAP. As with all NRC-IRAP grants, the process starts with the franchisor developing a relationship with an Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA). Over 240 ITAs, located all over Canada, will work with you to determine the best course of action for your business, whether is be via the new Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP) or one of the numerous existing grant program­s.

As our specialty is creating franchise-specific software solutions, we’ve gone through the process in the past. Our team can work with both you and your ITA to establish the scope and requirements for your project.

For more information about DTAPP, please visit this site and call toll-free 1-855-453-3940 to be assigned an ITA in your area. 



LavaBlast and Boomerang Kids: When helping local families meets the Cloud

clock November 14, 2011 20:17 by author JKealey

(From left to right): Jason Kealey (President LavaBlast Software Inc.), Honourable Christian Paradis (Minister of Industry), Bogdan Ciobanu (Director General NRC-IRAP), Lynne Plante (Directrice NRC-IRAP), Heather Meek (co-owner, Boomerang Kids Consignment Shops) LavaBlast, a leading provider of cloud-based franchise management solutions, announced today the deployment of its flagship product, FranchiseBlast, to the first of four Boomerang Kids locations. This state of the art software solution enables Boomerang Kids to grow their consignment franchise nationwide while allowing local families to shop smarter.

"Using the FranchiseBlast system will allow employees to focus more on helping local families," said Heather Meek, owner of Boomerang Kids. "We are expanding our franchise throughout Canada and we want to ensure the success of our current and future franchisees. FranchiseBlast will allow us to offer a complete easy-to-use system that helps store owners, employees and their customers. And now, I can even manage my business on my iPad!"

The FranchiseBlast deployment consists of an integrated suite of local and cloud-based tools that allow Boomerang Kids to automate the management recipes they’ve perfected throughout the years and replicate them in a franchise environment. FranchiseBlast will boost Boomerang Kids’ efficiency and customer service with:

  • Point of Sale (POS) stations to allow employees manage and sell all items under consignment.
  • In-store interactive kiosks and web-based tools to making it possible for parents to review their account and item statuses
  • A cloud-based franchise management solution giving both franchisees and franchisors immediate insight into the franchise’s operations.

"We are excited to be powering the expansion of a local franchise. Boomerang Kids has a solid management team and now has the tools to support its upcoming rapid growth." said Jason Kealey, President of LavaBlast. "This collaboration strengthens our position in the Franchise Management market and has allowed us to bring on new team members and scale up our operations."

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About Boomerang Kids:

At Boomerang Kids, families can help the planet and their wallet through reuse and recycling of kids clothing and equipment. Parents bring the items into the store and Boomerang Kids will take care of verifying quality, selling and, best of all, sharing profits. The concept is extremely popular and independent of the economic climate. From their four initial locations in the Ottawa region, Boomerang Kids is now expanding Canada-wide via franchising.

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About LavaBlast Software Inc.:

LavaBlast produces state of the art software solutions for the franchise industry and has played an integral part in the growth of numerous franchises, both in Canada and globally. By migrating to FranchiseBlast, franchisors reap the benefits of a turn-key software solution for their franchisees and LavaBlast’s deep software engineering skills to adapt their franchise in a rapidly changing technological environment.

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About our flagship product, FranchiseBlast:

FranchiseBlast empowers you to run a successful franchise business with easy-to-use operational software. Manage day-to-day issues with franchisees, see everything happening in real-time and increase the level of control you have over your franchise business.

Download this press release (PDF format).



LavaBlast POS v4.0.0

clock September 6, 2011 13:49 by author JKealey

We’re just about to release the version 4.0.0 of our franchise point of sale system. One of the most noteworthy change is the fact we’ve given the look & feel a major overhaul, thanks to jQuery Mobile which we’ve blogged about previously. We thought we’d take a minute to share with you what makes it so special!

First off, I’ve recorded a short video featuring a variation of our franchise POS for the Teddy Mountain franchise. Teddy Mountain provides the stuff your own teddy bear experience to children worldwide and have been using our POS since 2006.

 

As you’ll see, I focus on a few of our differentiators in the point of sale space. We’re not a point of sale company and our POS is not conventional: we’re a franchise software company and we’ve created the best point of sale system for a franchise environment.

We bake in a franchise’s unique business processes into the point of sale, making it very powerful while still extremely easy to use. By integrating our point of sale with FranchiseBlast, we’ve also eliminated dozens of standardization/uniformity issues which face small retail chains or franchises.

Furthermore, we’ve given additional focus to cross-browser compatibility in this release as our POS is not only used regular POS hardware (in brick & mortar stores) but also on the Apple iPad for back office operations an for managing the warehouses that feed our franchise e-commerce websites.  We’re definitely excited by the potential tablets have for both retail and service-based franchises! Expect more news from us in this space soon!

In the meantime, if you know of small chains / new franchises which want to explore disruptive technologies in their locations, we hope you’ll point them in our direction!



Positions to be filled at LavaBlast Software

clock February 8, 2011 09:26 by author JKealey

 

Positions to be filled at LavaBlast Software LavaBlast is currently looking to hire!

Want to help improve FranchiseBlast? Apply here: http://jobs.lavablast.com/apply.

Rather than rehash what’s in the job postings, I wanted to list a few cool projects we have in the works for the short/medium/long term.

  • SaaS application for tracking and managing franchise information requests.
  • Create an iPad-based version of our point of sale. (Most probably HTML5 instead of a native app).
  • Stream data from our point of sale into the cloud, for real-time tracking and data synchronization between stores and our data warehouse.
    In addition, we’re always building new operational software for our franchisor clients so our work is always full of fresh challenges. Interested, let us know


Startup Pivot: Lessons Learned

clock November 16, 2010 10:12 by author JKealey

logoWe’ve just launched a new website, FranchiseBlast.Com. Simply put, we’re spinning off all the content related to our franchise software from our main site onto this domain. We did this for a number of reasons, but one of them was that we decided to perform a minor segment pivot. We launched LavaBlast in 2007, focusing on an integrated solution for retail franchises. We built an awesome solution around this problem but, for a number of reasons – mainly scalability, we are pivoting to service-based franchises instead. We provide an equivalent feature set to both types of franchises; the main distinction is simply the deployment architecture. Our differentiators are still our focus on integration and our desire to build franchise-specific software solutions.

Since we’ve just pivoted, I don’t have any witty insights on the business aspects of the pivot. Sorry folks, you’ll have to tune in later to see if was a good idea or not! However, I do want to share a few lessons about the nitty-gritty details of the pivot.

 

1) Working with an outsider

Early on in the process, we got Ben Yoskovitz involved. In case you didn’t know, Ben is not only a co-founder of Year One Labs but also assists existing startups with product development via Flow Ventures.

  1. Working with A-Team individuals simplifies things. Even though our backgrounds are dissimilar, we share the same general philosophy about how to grow a business. Therefore, our debates were short and focused on key decisions to be made. Once decided, everyone could run with the idea and get things done.
  2. We didn’t want to look like fools. Explaining what you do to a respected outsider forces you to better articulate your thoughts. He didn’t need to point anything out; we preemptively realized inconsistencies or flaws in our own logic while explaining our business strategies. 
  3. Get some different thoughts. A breath of fresh air… unrelated to the use of Binaca.

 

As time passes, the business context changes. Going through this exercise once in a while helps you refocus and re-orient when necessary.

2) Moving away from SubSonic CMS

The LavaBlast website is built using a tweaked version of the SubSonic CMS.  We started using that CMS the first week it came out and slightly tweaked it for our needs. It is plain and simple and did what we needed it to in 2007. However, the open source project was never maintained and we keep getting burned by random issues. As an example, the rich text editor it includes doesn’t seem to work consistently on Google Chrome (which did not exist back then) and has issues with session timeouts.

The FranchiseBlast website is built on WordPress. Given our busy schedules, we didn’t waste any time with the revamp. Having never played with WordPress before, the main thing that struck us was the wide variety of plugins that are available. 

  1. Install WordPress. [Yes, you can install it on IIS. ]
  2. Purchase a WordPress theme. [There are awesome ones for software-as-a-service type startups].
  3. Tweak the site structure/theme. Pump out some content.
  4. Install plug-ins as you go.

 

As an example, we installed one plugin for our contact forms. Time spent configuring: 5 minutes. This enabled us to focus on the message, not the form or infrastructure-related-time-wasters.

3) The social web has changed dramatically

I remember reaching out to franchisors and franchise bloggers back in 2007. There were a handful of blogs and that’s about it.  Social media adoption has tremendously increased in the past years thanks to services such as Twitter. It is much easier to get in touch with someone now (using warm introductions) than it was back then.  We’ve now reached an era where franchisors are overwhelmed by the number of social media services they need to feed information to.

Have you been in business for a few years? Do you have lessons learned to share?



Lead To Win Program Review

clock June 28, 2010 08:41 by author JKealey

 

IMG_4322 Over the past few weeks, LavaBlast has been participating in the Lead To Win program in Ottawa. At a high level, people starting high-tech businesses in the region are invited to apply to the program which helps them get to market faster and/or accelerate their growth. After a number of filters, the cream of the crop become a part of an exclusive business ecosystem of local companies. I joined without knowing what I was getting into but truly enjoyed the experience. Since one of my critiques of the program is that the website doesn’t do a good job communicating what the program is or what the benefits are, I thought I’d write a short post on the subject!

Who can apply?

  • Anyone who is serious about starting a business than can generate six high-tech jobs over the next three years.

What is the process?

  1. [filter] You submit a written application
  2. [filter] You pitch your business idea to a board of reviewers before being let in.
  3. Phase 1: You attend three consecutive twelve hour days (8am to 8pm) of hands-on presentations on various subjects (business idea, differentiation, sales, marketing, etc.).
  4. [filter] You pitch to a diverse group (Founders, Funders, Professionals, Education, etc.) and are hopefully invited to Phase 2.
  5. Phase 2: You attend three more consecutive twelve hour days of hands-on presentations (finances, accounting, legal, cash flow, sources of funding, etc.)
  6. [filter] You pitch to another group of reviewers and hopefully graduate into Phase 3.
  7. Phase 3: You’re part of the ecosystem
  8. [filter] If your business is obviously going nowhere, you get kicked out.

 

Are the presentations any good?

Definitely. They’re a lot more hands-on than what you’d find in university courses. The 60 to 180 minute presentations are:

  1. Given by credible individuals in diverse groups (local entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, service providers, academia, lawyers working for “patent trolls” :), etc.)
  2. Of tons of different subjects (there is more than enough diversity in the material to justify a 6-day commitment)

 

Why are there so many filters?

  • To ensure that only high quality businesses are in the ecosystem.

What are the benefits?

  • Strengthening the plan: You get validation that you aren’t crazy and that your plan makes sense.
  • Networking: When 30+ businesses are put in a room together for six twelve-hour days, bonds are created between the companies. You get to know like-minded people much faster than at random networking events. One major part of the concept is to build an ecosystem that collaborates and generates leads for each other. Moreover, you meet tons of other experienced individuals that contribute to the community (networking is not limited to other startups).
  • Increased credibility: There are dozens of government programs to fund startups and, because they know the value in the program, you’ve already proven yourself to them before starting discussions.
  • Joint ventures: Apparently [have yet to live through this], businesses collaborate on larger opportunities brought into the ecosystem.

Review

IMG_0575 What I disliked the most about the program are easy fixes and aren’t worth going into details (clarify website message, advance notification of the process & dates, facilities, etc). In general, a few small things could be improved, but the Lead To Win program is built around continuous improvement so these kinks will be worked out with each new session.

I have only good things to say about the concept, the presenters, the quality of the presentations and how good you need to be to get through the filters. The latter was something I was especially worried about, because weak filters would undermine the whole credibility of the program. You don’t need to be a superstar to get through, but I was surprised by some of the talented individuals who did get filtered.

I was also happy to see that most of the program was not tailored for people with dreams of VC funding. They burst that bubble fairly quickly. The program pushes you to reach an appropriate scale but I enjoyed how the focus was on growing your business and not about reaching 100 million in revenue in three years. This is a big thing to me because I like to avoid crowds of dreamers that don’t get anything done.

Conclusion

If you’re serious about starting up a high-tech business in the Ottawa/Gatineau region, consider Lead To Win.



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Disclaimer

The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in anyway.

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