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Crossing the chasm - still a relevant challenge

Angela presentation picture

Angela Mondou, author, entrepreneur and founder of ICE Leadership Inc., shared her insight into technology commercialization at the CryptoWorks21 Distinguished Lecture March 12.

In an entrepreneurial environment always focused on turning the newest technology into a viable startup company, it’s easy to lose sight of the dedicated effort it really takes to turn an idea into a profitable business. One of the first hurdles to overcome in the process to commercialize technology is crossing the chasm.

The chasm, Mondou explained, is the massive gulf between attracting early adopters and selling a product to a mainstream audience. This chasm can be fatal for many tech startups, with only two to five percent of companies successfully bridging across and scaling up. In her talk titled Canada’s Future: Tech Commercialization and Crossing the Chasm, Mondou gave some advice on how to bridge that gap for tech company hopefuls in the audience.

Leading a scaling tech company is not, she warned, for the faint of heart.

Crossing the chasm

    • Focus, focus, focus. Mondou recommended that founders narrow the target for their product and market. Do not be all things to all people, and do not overestimate the long-term sustainability of the product. Company leaders need to be ready to scale multiple times to reach different markets.
    • Don’t digress. Founders must be disciplined when it comes to product management and customization to enable product scaling and company growth. Pulling developers away from current clients to customize products for new customers disrupts the development process.
    • Seek mentorship. Mondou has had a mentor in every stage of her career, and she suggested everyone would benefit from doing the same. Her current mentor offered some rules of thumb that a scaling-up tech company needs to succeed, including: a strong advisory board with a cohesive vision, at least three superstars on the team, and a 12-month run rate.
    • Beware of “founderitis.” When founders hold on to too much equity for too long, it can result in over ‘boot-strapping’. An undercapitalized company cannot grow at a sustainable rate and will likely have trouble covering basic costs or breaking-even. Some rules of thumb exist to balance investment and equity dilution, allowing founders to successfully grow their scale-up.

Don’t just build it

Mondou’s final piece of advice: understand your unique differentiation and exploit it as fast as you can. “Don't just build it, and expect they will come,” said Mondou. “Not everyone can be a Shopify. Successful commercialization requires go-to-market rigour.”

CryptoWorks21, the NSERC CREATE Training Program in Building a Workforce for the Cryptographic Infrastructure of the 21st Century, is a supplementary program for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who develop next-generation cryptographic tools. Through the Distinguished Lecture Series, CryptoWorks21 provides opportunities to grow professional knowledge and technical skills for all researchers.