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Your golden ticket to business success: customer relationships

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Your golden ticket to business success: customer relationships

How to harness the power of relationships to drive business innovation and success


As an early-stage founder, it’s all about your customers. Want to create a unique product? Looking to catalyze your startup? Ready to soar above the competition? Strong customer relationships are your golden ticket to business success.

Think customer values, needs, and wants. Is your product or service truly hitting the mark? There’s no one better to ask than your customers. Establishing relationships with users is a key competitive advantage — from real-time suggestions and feedback to brand advocacy and word-of-mouth marketing.

But it doesn’t stop there; the benefit goes both ways. Organizations working with early-stage startups get access to innovative products and services catered to their specific needs. Agile startups move fast, and recommendations are met swiftly.

It’s a win-win! 

We sat down with Leonard Ivey, Co-Founder of Softdrive (DMZ Incubator ‘23) and Michael Robinson, Chief Technology Officer at The Plus Group, to discover how they harness the power of relationships to drive business innovation and success.


Leonard, what inspired you to found Softdrive?


“My professional career started in the architectural engineering construction industry (AEC). I held various roles at several companies within the AEC industry. 

There was a common theme at all of these organizations: the computer experience I had or the computer solutions I was given were not adequate for me to be productive in my day. Unfortunately, anytime I asked for a computer upgrade, IT responded with, ‘We don’t have the budget’ or ‘We’re stuck within a three-year provisioning cycle,’ leaving me unproductive and frustrated. This wasn’t IT’s fault, it was just the reality.

Alan Daniels [Softdrive’s Co-Founder] and I chatted about computer issues at our jobs and how we could improve the experience. We brainstormed and looked at the incumbents in the space but couldn’t find an adequate solution for the experience or price, so we built Softdrive in 2019.”


Michael, what intrigued you about working with an early-stage startup? 


“At The Plus Group, we enable staff to work from anywhere. A couple of years ago, we were looking into VDI [Virtual Desktop Infrastructure] software, previously called Remote Desktop. Over the years, I would test different VDIs, but I never found a solution where I could feel the difference. 

A year into the pandemic, Leonard approached us. We tested their software, and although it was very new, it was fast. 

They proposed a partnership where we would test their software and give feedback. Of course, there were kinks, but Softdrive always keeps improving. We’ve rolled out Softdrive to two architects, and now we’ve begun rolling it out to other companies in our portfolio. They love it.”


Leonard, what are the benefits of working so closely with a customer? 


Our relationship has evolved to where The Plus Group directly influences and advises our roadmap. Michael is easy to chat with and the nicest individual, but he’s pretty no-bulls**t. Having a CTO as a resource that we can tap into who’s also your customer is awesome. It’s the best of both worlds. It’s very much a partnership.”


Michael, how does working with tech startups drive innovation in your organization?


“The Plus Group is one of the big three in architecture for residential design. We’re a forward-thinking company constantly pushing the boundaries of where we can take technology. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we transitioned everyone to virtual seamlessly within 12 hours. You should always try new things and position yourself to take on anything.

We had a problem with an architect who couldn’t open a large file. With Softdrive, we took the load time from 12 minutes to just 30 seconds. He told me it saved him time from working on the weekend. The savings are significant.

Being able to log in anywhere, do anything, and pick up right where you left off without having a physical computer is the future.”

“At the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey,
your customers are everything.”
– Leonard Ivey, Co-Founder, Softdrive

Leonard, how do you grow and foster your customer relationships? 


“At the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, your customers are everything. You have to learn from them and treat them as if they are royalty. Some things may give you pause and think, is this better for the organization, or is this just a customized feature that will only help them?

Besides that brief pause, you must listen and work with your customers. Otherwise, your organization will end up like any other enterprise product. 

Try to touch base with your customers frequently without annoying them. Have as many open channels of communication as possible — phone, text or slack channels — and always be sure to get back to them immediately. They are the lifeblood of your organization, treat them as such and give them the best possible experience.” 

Softdrive is a cloud pc software redefining the personal computer. They leverage the power of cloud computing and fast internet speed to stream a computer to any device. Check it out >

The Plus Group combines digital marketing with architectural design and real estate software to revolutionize the real estate industry. Learn more > 


Looking to access customers, capital and community?
 Discover how the DMZ can help you to uncover your golden ticket to business success.

Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

Event recap: The DMZ’s Founder Dinner

Latif Nanji, Co-Founder and CEO of SaaS platform Roadmunk, connects the dots of his entrepreneurial journey at the DMZ’s Founder Dinner, uncovering his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit.

Founded in 2012, Roadmunk is product management software that solves how product innovators build and communicate their strategy. Roadmunk has an impressive track record, from being listed as one of Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50 and their acquisition by Tempo in 2021 to serving over 3,000+ customers, including Amazon, Visa, Nike, Adobe and Morgan Stanley, to name a few.

Latif’s history is also not one to miss. Before Roadmunk, he co-founded several companies, including Pokerspace, an online social network for poker players, and Pragmatic CEO, a Toronto meet-up group for tech entrepreneurs. He also spent five years as a Product Manager at Miovision, working on intelligent traffic infrastructure, where he developed his passion for helping product managers build the right things for customers. Latif enjoys biohacking, rock climbing, scuba diving and angel investing in his spare time.

Looking for inspiration to build the next big thing? Check out Latif’s insights on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit from our latest DMZ Founder Dinner – an event series designed to bring DMZ’s community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections. ​​Watch Latif’s full founder talk below, or keep reading, to discover his top tips for being a successful entrepreneur and building an acquirable business.  

Go team!

“One of the early things I instantiated in the business was a core value called ‘Start with empathy.’ It was a family-like core value, and I thought it was a great idea.

Eventually, I realized that the mentality I had was one of protectionism — a high empathy and high loyalty culture. There’s nothing wrong with these values, but as an investor, I want to know if you are going to make the hard decisions.

Sometimes the teams need to change their structure or formation, just like they do in a sports team, to get to the outcome. If you want to level up through the divisions in soccer, you are going to different players as you progress. It’s not that you can’t thank the players before, but the new ones have to come in.”

The secret to reliable hiring: homework

“There were a few key things we did to fix our ongoing issue of short-lived new hires:

  • Anyone who walked through our doors looking to be hired was assigned homework on neutral ground that had nothing to do with our company or product.
  • This homework was assigned in an open-ended exercise that allowed us to have a dialogue and observe how responsive a potential hire is, how they write emails and how they ask questions.
  • We invited team members from other departments to sit in on meetings and presentations to get a chance to spar with candidates and provide feedback. This was the single most important thing we did when hiring in the early stages of the business.“ 

Students don’t interview the teacher

“We had to hire a software architect in 2020. I interviewed him, and I thought he was great, but I didn’t think he was that impressive from a cultural perspective.

I had my two top senior engineers interview him, and they came back to me and said, ‘We don’t think he’s the right fit.’

My COO walks in, and he asks us what we were doing. I said, ‘We’re interviewing.’ He said, ‘No, you’re not; students don’t interview the teacher.’

It was a simple concept, but it felt like a hammer hitting me in the head. So, we brought in the VP of Platform at Ritual and two external CTOs, who gave him a test on how to scale Google Drive. They came back with a report and said, ‘If you don’t hire him, we will.’ 

This was a great lesson in making sure not just other people that feel like they’re more senior, but people that have experience in the domain that understand your business and your business needs, are part of that process.” 

The key to winning the valuation game is pacing

“The problem isn’t with raising a little bit more money; it’s when you get further down the valuation trap.

If you raise five, six, seven million bucks when you only need  $1m, your post-money is maybe between $30 to $35 million instead of $5-10m. That means in the next 24 to 36 months or less, you’re going to grow >$30 million in valuation. That’s where things get really complicated. Going incrementally at a reasonable pace is how I think the best startups function before they see some version of a breakout growth path.”

Hear from Roadmunk’s Co-Founder & CEO, Latif Nanji, on his rollercoaster ride from emergence to exit

Want a front-row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other inspiring founders? Apply now to join our next Incubator cohort at dmz.to/incubator.

 

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Hear from the DMZ’s first-ever unicorn founder for his advice on building a billion-dollar company

Event recap: The DMZ’s Founder Dinner

Co-founder and CEO of brand interaction platform Ada, Mike Murchison, spilled the entrepreneurial tea at the DMZ’s Founder Dinner earlier this month, sharing lessons learned from scaling the first-ever DMZ unicorn company the ground up.

Empowering brands to automate customer interactions, Ada brings a VIP experience to every customer and employee through its platform. Since 2018, Ada has increased its revenue by 764% and in 2021, raised its Series C at a valuation of $1.2B, officially achieving unicorn status.

The first in-person DMZ Founder Dinner since 2019, the events are designed to bring the larger DMZ founder community together for an evening of food, drinks and connections.

We thought we’d share some of Mike’s insights and how he built the first-ever DMZ unicorn company for other founders looking to build the next big thing. Watch his full founder talk below to learn more about Ada and Mike’s journey, or keep reading for a recap of the tips and learnings Mike shared with the audience during his talk.

Entrepreneurship is a deeply personal experience

“We in this room are all united by this shared dream of building something important, big and world-changing. The journey that we’re all on is a very, very unique one, but we’re all unified in that shared ambition.”

The value of improving your rate of learning

“I think the single most important thing I’ve learned over the course of this journey has been a deep inward focus on improving my own rate of learning.

I think that’s one of the things I so admire about the community here at the DMZ, is that we’re all committed to learning. We’re all highly curious people who are eager to learn new things.

I encourage you to ask yourself, ‘What is piquing my curiosity? What problem am I facing that may seem insurmountable that I may be able to learn something new from?'”

Founders have a responsibility to support one another

“We all have a responsibility as founders to support one another in our own growth. I encourage everyone making progress themselves to share it with others.

We’re not competing against one another, we’re supporting one another. We all win when a startup in our ecosystem succeeds.”

Mike Murchison talking with another guest. - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Sometimes the easiest path IS the right path

“I was dealing with a hard problem and someone asked me, ‘What if it wasn’t hard? What if it was easy?’

I’ve grown up and trained myself into thinking I need to do the hardest things, and what I’ve learned in the course of building Ada is that sometimes the easiest path, where you’re feeling the pull, is actually the right path.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

“Looking back, something I would’ve done differently is not taking myself so seriously.

I wasted a lot of energy thinking about what the ideal path was meant to look like. I wish – earlier on – I would’ve let go of my perception of the right path and been more excited about the path that was unfolding before me.”

DMZ card that says "Changing entrepreneurs' lives." - DMZ Founder Dinner recap

Want to have a front row seat at the next DMZ Founder Dinner to hear from other founders who have made it? Apply to our upcoming Incubator cohort kicking off this fall at dmz.to/incubator.

From a family roofing business to $10M CAD in seed funding

How a 3rd generation roofer is disrupting the roofing market

For years, roofing has been seen as a traditional industry, relying on skills passed on from one generation to another. After working in the space for nearly 12 years, Richard Nelson, Founder and CEO of RoofR, saw an opportunity to introduce an innovative solution to modernize and digitize the field.

RoofR’s software allows roofers to measure any roof from anywhere with near pinpoint accuracy through aerial imagery and creates polished proposals that help seal the deal. Their tools help roofers streamline their workflow, helping both homeowners and contractors.

We caught up with Richard to learn more about how their company has evolved over the years, their recent raise, and what they have in store for the future.  

For years, roofing has been seen as a great trade in the construction industry, but not necessarily an industry that adopts new tech solutions. As a third-generation roofer by trade, could you tell us a bit about what led you to found RoofR?

Richard Nelson working as a roofer at the beginning of his career.

“The first time I was on a roof, I was 12 years old. Roofing was our family business: my grandfather was a roofer, my uncle was a roofer, and my dad was a roofer. I was a part of the family business for nearly 12 years and then took a job with one of the largest roofing contractors in Toronto. I soon realized how broken and archaic the roofing industry was, and knew I needed to do something to fix it. 

So I decided to quit my job, sell my house, and put everything I had into RoofR. Together, with my partner and CTO Kevin Redman, we decided it was time to disrupt the industry. 

What I realized as a roofing contractor and salesman was just how many inefficiencies existed. Consumers did not have a way to find good roofers, and there was a lack of tools available for roofers to streamline their workflow digitally.

This sparked the vision of creating an end to end roofing platform that helps both homeowners and roofing contractors — a software as a service (SaaS) for roofers.”


“This sparked the vision of creating an end to end roofing platform that helps both homeowners and roofing contractors — a software as a service (SaaS) for roofers.”

How would you describe the experience of introducing a new tech platform to a market that may be hesitant to change? How did you break into the industry?

“I come from a family of roofers, and even some of my family members were a bit skeptical of the idea. Traditionally, the construction industry was not tech-enabled, but ultimately I understood the pain points that these roofers were going through, living it myself.”

Richard knew that if he could build a really powerful, but simple software for roofers to utilize, he could make a big difference in the industry. 

“As we began to roll out SaaS features, specifically the measurement tool that allows roofers to measure through satellite, there was certainly some push back from roofers who typically use a tape measure.”

Rather than driving to a client’s house to take measurements, go back to the office, and then return with a final quote, roofers can enter an address in their system and have a complete roof measurement within minutes that auto-calculates material quantities and creates a professional proposal a customer can e-sign. 

“Once we explained to roofers the benefits and the value that we add, that skepticism was pushed aside and they were willing to adopt.”

When the pandemic hit, going digital was inevitable for roofers. This presented an opportunity for RoofR to really solidify its position in the space. Roofers needed to be able to provide quotes and proposals to homeowners digitally, so they had no other choice than to look for reliable solutions they could trust in order to keep their clients safe. Roofr was the solution.

Could you explain to us exactly how the RoofR platform works?

“We enable roofers to measure any roof, from their desk, or in the field, in under two minutes with near pinpoint accuracy through our aerial imagery software. Roofers can then take those measurements and auto populate proposals that can be sent to their customers for e-signature.”

From measurement, to proposal, to a signed contract, RoofR has created a sales toolbox for roofers — automating the entire process under one platform. 

It was recently announced that RoofR secured $4.25 million USD in funding, bringing your new total amount raised to $8.25 million. What does this new round of funding mean for the company, and do you have any specific plans?

Kevin Redman CTO, and Richard Nelson CEO of RoofR.

“We are obsessed with providing a world class customer experience. We go above and beyond with every single customer, even if it doesn’t necessarily scale. With this investment, we plan to build out our sales, customer success, support, and engineering teams to help drive this world-class experience.

What impact did the DMZ have on RoofR’s trajectory?

I was not able to get a meeting with a venture capitalist (VC) before my time at the DMZ. Within two weeks of being part of the program, I had a handful of meetings with VCs that were able to help me refine my pitch. 

Our time at the DMZ helped set us up for our Y Combinator interview. I was able to connect to other founders that had also gone through the YC interview process, and had mock interviews to get hands-on investor practice. I credit a lot of us getting into Y Combinator to the DMZ.”

Moreover, the DMZ was able to help RoofR expand its network and gave the startup a sense of community. “Whenever I needed help, I could walk into the DMZ’s common space and find someone knowledgeable to ask questions, or reach out via email. It was a sense of community that I really loved. And I needed it at that time, because being a solo entrepreneur can be wildly lonely.”


“Whenever I needed help, I could walk into the DMZ’s common space and find someone knowledgeable to ask questions, or reach out via email. It was a sense of community that I really loved. And I needed it at that time, because being a solo entrepreneur can be wildly lonely.”

As an Alumni-in-Residence at the DMZ, what has been your favourite part about mentoring other startups?

“I get a lot of joy out of being an Alumni-in-Residence. I love giving back and helping founders with advice and insights to help them avoid the same mistakes that I’ve made. Being exposed to all the other innovative startups and business models that are being leveraged is also very captivating.”

Richard played a part in helping DMZ alumni company Turing Labs get into the Y-Combinator as well, which he described as “an incredible moment that allowed him to give back to the community.” 

What advice would you give to a fellow founder who is looking to raise funds for their startup?

“When you do get a chance to meet with an investor, make sure you know your numbers. This is a mistake that will affect your credibility. Investors will likely ask you about your growth rates, unit economics and number of active users…etc, so make sure you are prepared.

Focus on telling a story. Rather than just reading off of slides, paint the bigger picture. Remember that as a seed stage company they are often investing in you rather than the company. Sell yourself – why are you the best person to build this multibillion dollar company? Can you pivot if need be? Make sure to really craft the narrative around the size of the opportunity, why now is the time, and why you’re the best person to do this.”

“Remember that as a seed stage company they are often investing in you rather than the company. Sell yourself – why are you the best person to build this multibillion dollar company? Can you pivot if need be? Make sure to really craft the narrative around the size of the opportunity, why now is the time, and why you’re the best person to do this.”

Are you also obsessed with providing world-class customer experiences? RoofR is growing rapidly and has a wide-range of positions available including, sales, product, engineering, finance, and customer success. Head over to jobs.lever.co/Roof to learn more!