1. Tell Us About Your Experience at Les Affaires and Ferst Capital Partners

That was an amazing experience. So basically my story is that I didn’t study much in University, I had some courses here and there, but I was always someone avid to understand how the world works, I read a lot of books, which is a good way to learn how the world works. But you learn how the world used to work from the books.

So being a journalist was an amazing experience, for almost 10 years. It just gives you access to people who are shaping the world right now, and allow you to have access to those people. You can just call the CEO of a company, I mean sometimes it’s complicated, but that’s your job as a journalist, you just harass the secretary. For me, it was an amazing experience of learning new things every day, and incredible access to experts, that was cool. And I always knew when I was a reporter that I wanted to create a new business.

At some point in my life, I had a business, then I sold it, then I was just a journalist, but I knew I had to come back to run my own business. And at some point, it was so fun, I enjoyed it a lot but I didn’t feel a challenge in it, I was still learning everyday, but I didn’t feel it was a challenge to do my job, and I wanted to go back into business.

And that’s why I basically joined Ferst Capital Partners. For those of you who don’t know this company, it’s a VC focused on fintech. And for me, the reason why I joined them, I was covering the stock market, and seeing this industry that was using old technology, and seeing this industry that has such an impact in the world, it’s basically the industry that distributes the resources across the world. I felt that there was so much things to do, especially in Canada, we’re years behind the US, and the US is really years behind the UK.

And there I learned so much, about the robo-advisor space. Most people don’t know those things so I’m not gonna go technical about the regulation, but I learned a lot about the regulation and the space where I am right now. So for me it was another incredible learning experience.

Business is always a challenge. That’s a good question. Between any job, even the most challenging job, and starting something from nothing that doesn’t exist, that’s a different kind of challenge.

2. How Did You Come Up with the Idea for Hardbacon, and What Is It About?

I guess I did not have this ah-ha moment like the Netflix founding stories where it was a Bruce Willis movie or something. I would say that first point of contact with the pain was when I opened my first brokerage account. I had some basics about stock market investing. There was so much stuff I didn’t know.

One of the things I did was mainly investing in the US with an account in Canadian dollars. I was being charged conversion fees every time I was buying and selling, and I should have just opened a US brokerage account, and it didn’t have more fees. I’m not going to tell you which platform because I’m working with all platforms across the industry.

So that was my first point of contact. I didn’t even imagine of reinventing it, I didn’t think it was possible. But when I was at Ferst, I saw people trying to reinvent robo-advisors, a lot of verticals, banks, private loans, and I was stunned than no one in Canada was actually working on brokerage. And that’s beyond comprehension. Why am I the only one working on it? That’s why I realized that no one wanted to do it, everyone is launching a robo-advisor. A few of them will survive, most of them will die. I realized then that it was my calling.

Another reason why that project interested me is that I really believe that people are smart and they have a lot of knowledge that other people don’t. I believe that a lot of people can be investors. I’m not saying that everyone is going to make huge returns, but I feel if people are allowed to vote in the election, why wouldn’t they be able to choose which companies or funds to invest in.

3. What Are You Doing Right Now to Grow Hardbacon?

I just started this crazy marathon that I started yesterday, which is a crowdfunding campaign. It’s not a traditional way to go, like usually if you develop this new kind of earphones you’ll go on kickstarter and try to raise a lot of money because those earphones have some magic colour and make sounds that make you more zen or whatever, so I think it’s more a thing for hardware startups. And actually our main product will be an app to invest money in the stock market, so obviously that’s not something that you can finance by true crowdfunding. But we found a way to build this community, and now I’m happy because we already reached our goal in four hours.

For us, it was hard fulfilling our mission, so basically we’re crowdfunding courses about investment. It’s completely aligned with our belief that everyone can be a stock market investor, but people need more knowledge than they have right now. And since founding the company, I realize that I overestimated the knowledge of people about financing the stock market. And I think one of the reasons people don’t know so much is because most people present it in a boring way. So that’s why we kind of launched this course. But it’s also marketing, basically we’re building traction around our company and we’re building a community. Now I think 230 people contributed to the campaign, and those people it’s not just that they subscribed, they actually gave us their money, so that’s great for us because we’re going to work with them. We’re still in the development phase in terms of our application, we’ll send them questions, and we need that they’re ready to pay for it, which is great because for lots of startups, they ask a question on facebook and everyone has an opinion, but they’re not actually your customer.

For us, it’s a way to go to market early, we believe that those people that take the course will end up being stock market investors. We did thousands of things to make it work. Just in itself, using crowdfunding for a company that is not obvious, I think that’s something in itself. If you cannot crowdfund your company, try to make a product that you can actually sell through crowdfunding.

The technique that worked the most is a service called Nouncy. For those who are familiar with crowdfunding, it’s like Thunderclap, but most people don’t know about Thunderclap either, which is a better known version of Nouncy. Basically, it’s a website where you ask your friends, family or audience, to pre-set social media messages. They allow Nouncy to post as them on facebook. What I did is I basically convinced 140 people to preset social media messages. Then I just had to push a small button and all those social media messages went out at the same time on facebook. Yesterday, everyone in Montreal basically only saw this message about this course. And the first you see it, you may not care about investment. But then at some point, you’re wondering why all the people you know are sharing this course about investment. Then they check out the video. It’s so much better than any amount of advertising. It’s organic, there’s no “Sponsored” around it, it’s your friends that say it sounds like a great idea. It took a lot more work than just putting a number on facebook ads, but it had a tremendous impact.

Another thing we did was creating the feeling of urgency. All the crowdfunding campaigns are doing it, they put a cheaper price for early birds. I probably should have put more than 100.

We had this landing page, promoting page, and putting all the influencers with their social media links. I tried to personally like their stuff, a few months in advance. Not just telling them “I need you and need to use you.” I thanked them for being an ambassador, so they felt like a big deal. And then, I formed relationships with many of them, and it worked. When you launch, I asked them “Could you please like the video and share it?” Those people had huge networks, so it really helped.

The funny thing is I am a journalist, I have a lot of friends who are working in media, and I asked them to talk about my stuff. It didn’t work really well, but “Nah, it’s interesting, but it’s not news,” and I understand that very well because I was doing that all the time when I was in their shoes. I agree with them, it was not really news. It didn’t matter, I just realized that people that don’t know how convince the media actually don’t need media.

4. What Are Your Top 3 Pieces of Advice for Entrepreneurs Trying to Grow Their Startup?

I would say, find a channel that is a priority. A lot of people are doing some facebook, some snapchat, etc. That’s great, and I’m doing a lot of stuff at the same time, so I’m not saying to cut everything, that’s stupid, you should be a little everywhere and see what happens. But you need to know what is important. And when you only have time to do one thing, what do you do and prioritize? Email lists is not a medium that is on the upside, it is not the growing channel. It is a major channel, but it is so big, some people would say facebook is their main thing, I’m not saying it’s not true. For me, it made a lot of sense to build this email list. So everything we did, we did because it resulted in more emails. We don’t want to lose subscribers. Focusing on one channel, but not forgetting the other ones.

Do things different. If you’re starting a business, it means that you want to do things different. And a lot of people are in business and not doing things different. They should close their business and go work for their competitor. If you’re not doing things differently, why do you exist? I feel people should really think “Do I bring something different?” And it works, when people see something that is completely different than what they’ve seen before, they click, they engage. It’s the greatest marketing trick of all.

And the third one would be try to involve other people in your success. For the crowdfunding campaign, I really worked hard and we were basically working with BMO, a big Canadian bank, they sponsored us and we did some stuff together. I was contacted by a company doing an education platform. I basically developed a partnership with them so that the course we’re building is going to be on their platform. They’re called Didacte. They pushed us and they have a newsletter with 30,000 subscribers, they pushed our crowdfunding campaign for our course, they have a stake that we succeed. We mentioned an incubator called Centech on the page, and we made sure that all the people at Santech push what we’re doing. So basically, the closer the relationship, the better. My email list only has about 4,000 subscribers, but we worked with people who had 20,000 or 100,000 subscribers, and that’s kind of the secret of it: it’s not because they have billions that you don’t have something to offer. You always have something special. For us, it was story telling, the close community of younger people that are harder to reach, so we have stuff to offer even if we’re not rich.

5. Which Growth Tools or Resources do You Encourage People to Explore?

I feel like growth marketing is close to spamming, so I use some of those tools, like Holr. You can automate direct messages on Twitter and Instagram. It works really well. The thing is, with those things, that’s why growth marketing is so secret, the idea that those channels work now but if everyone use them, we will just stop checking the messages on Twitter and Instagram, it’s not going to work anymore. I use a lot of stuff like that. A lot of automation now don’t work. You fool someone into sending you a message, everyone is doing that and no one is reading those. But what’s working right now for me, is I use Crowdfire, to copy audiences on Twitter. On Twitter you have no reach, your followers mean nothing. But if you follow someone, people still get an email notification and actually go check who you were, and sometimes they click the link. And I really see Twitter as a dying network, a way to ping people. Some people are on Twitter, so I’m still there.

Popups work. One of the tricks we’re using is to ask people to subscribe to our newsletter. At the beginning I couldn’t say we had a lot of subscribers. Now that we are at 4,000, we can say “More than 4,000 Canadians are trusting us with learning more about investing.” Have buttons that say “Yes subscribe me” and “No I don’t want money.” No one in their right mind will say “I don’t like money.” so that’s a small psychological trick. There are so many of them. Try to copy people who are really smart, and sometimes try to invent your own stuff. With the crowdfunding, everyone told us it’s impossible to crowdfund pure digital products, we’re already at $7,000 and it’s a 40-day campaign. I’m not even started in terms of strategies, I just did the big social media push.