Afterwork – Microsoft for Startups kicks off the year in Toronto

Thank you to everyone who attended Afterwork Toronto, hosted by Microsoft for Startups and held January 7 at OneEleven, Toronto. The Afterwork party was our way of celebrating the new year with Toronto’s startup community with refreshments, a live DJ and great company. Our thanks to George Mason from OneEleven for providing such a great environment for the evening, and to everyone from the Toronto startup community who attended.

The event host was Allen Nizi from Microsoft for Startups. Allen kicked off the evening by describing the five things that successful startups need: a good product, talent, capital, technology, and customers. The Microsoft for Startups program has contributed more than $500M to startups worldwide and is particularly designed to help with the last two: technology and customers.

At the Afterwork event, founders from three Toronto-based startups were kind enough to share their stories and offer words of advice to the crowd in short interviews with Allen. You can see highlights of interviews with all three founders in the video with a brief recap of what they had to say below.

Afterwork – Microsoft for Startups kicks off the year in Toronto

Alwar Pillai is the CEO and co-founder of Fable Tech Labs. Fable provides a crowdsourced, on-demand platform that connects digital teams to people with disabilities, helping companies reach new customers and meet compliance with accessibility regulations. The Fable platform helps companies meet compliance goals, and provides flexible work, fair pay and growth opportunities to people who rely on assistive technology across Canada. At Afterwork, Alwar recounted that while studying for her master’s in Inclusive Design, she discovered how many products exclude people with disabilities and decided to start solving that problem by connecting digital teams to people with disabilities online. Alwar shared one piece of advice for new founders–“Don’t build anything until a customer asks for it”–and described how that led to a product that solves problems by being driven by customer requirements.

Brandon Kane is the CTO and co-founder of Vantage, which provides an AI-enabled ecommerce advertising, promotion, and insight solution to enterprise retailers and brands. Brandon shared his experience of being part of the Microsoft for Startups program: how the Azure credits helped the move from a local ISP to a cloud platform trusted by enterprise clients; how the infrastructure platform allowed him as CTO to focus development resources on providing core benefits to customers; and the potential for finding new customers through Microsoft via the cosell program. Brandon’s lesson for other startup founders: choose your partners carefully and use partners to allow your startup to focus on its core mission while relying on partners for everything else.

Salim (Sal) Naran is the CTO and Founder of Savvyy, which offers a software-as-a-service platform to helps lenders underwrite and service loans intelligently and efficiently. At Afterwork, Sal commented on the state of the startup community in Canada, the opportunities for modernization in the financial services industry, and his experiences of success and failure as a serial entrepreneur. Sal also offered advice on making the experience of running a startup sustainable, by way of what he calls “product-founder fit”.

I shared my experiences with a startup during the event as well. I joined Microsoft with the acquisition of Revolution Analytics, where I was the Chief Community Officer. In an interview with my cloud advocates colleague Piyali Dey, I talked about the importance for startups of building a community. The value of a product resides not only in its technology, but in the ecosystem as well. A technical community can provide code, documentation, examples, expertise, and, most importantly, talent to implement solutions, and to hire.

Many thanks to all our featured startups for sharing their stories.