Why Edmonton is Deadmonton for Technology Startups

I love Edmonton. It’s a beautiful, friendly, family oriented city that I owe a lot to. I landed my first job here, gained countless amazing friends, and will always think positively about the city. But at the risk of sounding like a pre-madona, it’s a terrible place to be if you’re starting up a technology company.

I’ve bounced between Seattle and Edmonton the last 3 years in an attempt to balance a career, a software startup company, and a relationship; probably compromising all 3 fronts instead of fully investing. My assertion has always been that being in Seattle or San Francisco as a founder of a software startup is extremely advantageous

I’ll spare you the chest pounding rhetoric, and just give you the personal first hand challenges founding a company while spending time in Edmonton.

1. It’s expensive
Sure, web 2.0 startup costs are much cheaper than traditional models, but we experienced the expenses of Edmonton’s remoteness on a recent business trip. Since I was in Seattle at the time, I flew Seattle to San Francisco for $200 return. My co-founder flew Edmonton to San Francisco for $650 return. It also took him 6 more hours to get there.

2. Bootstrapping possibilities
When considering venture capital investment, our team considered continued funding through independent contract work. Finding contract work in Edmonton is tough. Government contracts do exist, but to be frank, it’s not always the most invigorating work. The following is a screenshot of the “Ruby” jobs listed in Seattle Area

… and Edmonton Area.

nuff said …

3. Finding Capital
We got lucky and raised money on a cold call early on in our efforts, so this claimed advantage is based more on assumptions than first hand experience. In our early planning, we always assumed we would have to hit the east coast, Seattle, or the Valley for Angel investment or Venture Capital; perhaps I’m wrong on my assumption.

My assumption is that Edmonton is filthy rich, but the money is tied up in Oil. Edmonton’s rich are Oil millionaires. They know the industry, understand it, believe in it, and trust their investments in it. I don’t blame them. Talking, and getting helpful investment from an ex Amazon, Web-Ex, Microsoft, Google, or Oracle millionare is much easier than a Talisman, or Husky Oil. Furthermore, investment is more than just $$, and the sweat equity gained from someone who understands the business is extremely valuable.

4. Talking to startup and technology peers Talking to peers in any professional domain is energizing. Physicians, lawyers, educators, laborers, are all motivated, educated, and energized talking shop with peers. Forget networking, schmoozing, or any other cliché, there hasn’t been a Seattle Tech Startup, Seattle lunch 2.0, or startup weekend that I’ve not been incredibly motivated by. Seattle offers events sponsored by Npost, Northwest Entreupreneurs, Startpad, Seattle Tech Startups, Biznik, Seattle Lunch 2.0, and many more. No such technology evens exist in Edmonton, and I can’t help but feel incredibly isolated in Edmonton.

5. Finding evangelists We’re very close to releasing Beta product. In addition to trying to find early adopters of our software via blogs, online marketing, etc, you can bet we’re going to go the grass roots route and talk to as many of our contacts as possible in an attempt to find a beach head customer. It’s a tough thing finding evangelists of new technology when they’re all bogged down with IT policy, software restrictions, as most corporate and governmental organizations are in Edmonton.

7. Finding co-workers Not sure what comes first the jobs or those qualified to perform them, but they go hand in hand. See above screenshots of Ruby jobs in Edmonton.

8. Standard of living Start hurling tomatoes Albertans …. But the *standard of living* offered by the immediate access to the Puget sound, lake Washington, Cascade Mountains, the metropolitan perks, is a convenience for someone with a demanding work schedule. Not having to drive more than 30 miles for these benefits provides a lot of the balance we all need in our lives. While Edmonton is beautiful, it’s also extremely isolated and unbelievably cold.

I’ll admit that my ability to hack away on a laptop, whether I’m in Gull Lake Saskatchewan, Seattle, San Francisco, Edmonton, or Timbuktoo, is about the same. If only starting up a tech company was as easy as typing away on a laptop.

Adding UI to Add Remove Programs Uninstall

As part of our uninstall flow, we want to give the user the option to manually save any of their user generated data before our uninstaller deletes it. Giving all users on the computer, not just the uninstalling user, this option, is a completely separate bag of worms that I’ll address in a later post.

Unfortunately, Windows launches uninstall in minimum UI mode when run from Add/Remove program files. This meens that as fancy and elegant as my underlying UI is on uninstall …. You’re not gonna see it when launched from Add remove programs. After going down a few false positive routes

Changing the uninstallstring in the registry from /X to /I (windows ignores this)

The Rube solution was to

  • Hide the repair option from ARP

  • Enable the change option from ARP.
  • Modify my installer UI so that control elements displayed would be dependent on whether installing, repairing, or uninstalling


Wix bootstrapper setup.exe

As part of an effort to address several edgy installer and deployment requirements, I finally decided to wrap our installer .msi in a setup.exe. Previous deployments required our users to download a setup.exe which would download, and launch a second .msi. Being constrained by the wix toolset, and not having the luxury of install shield or another setup application made this a non-trivial task.

Our bootstrapper requirements were fairly straight forward and consistent with any other …

Extract the internal msi

Launch the external msi with maximum allowed privileges. If running as admin, install per / machine, else install per/user. This allows us to get around some of the Vista UAC nonsense in determining whether the installer is running as admin or not.

Launch upgrade path REINSTALLMODE=vomus if the application was previously installed and running setup.exe.

There’s several bootstrapper stubs out there and available on the internet, some even containing code, but none of them seemed to do the job. Our Rube Goldberg solution ….

Use the wix 3.0 setupbld.exe tool along with the wix default default setup.exe stub.

Setupbld.exe is a nice tool that is part of wix 3.0 that beautifully wraps an msi with any setup.exe stub. The setup.exe stub that is bundled with wix 3.0 fulfills the above installer requirements that we have, so there was no need to even write our own stub. The only problem a person may have with this approach is not functional, but rather cosmetic. The generated setup.exe bootstrapper contains the resource information from the stub. Ie. You’re stuck with the generic icon as well as version information contained in the stub. One work around for this (that’s tough to automate in a build system) is to manually crack open the stub.exe in visual studio (simply file open) and change the resource information to that which you prefer.

So … our process ….

1. Autobuild generates the binaries

2. Autobuild builds the installer msi wrapping these binaries

3. Autobuild wraps the msi into a setup.exe

a. setupbld -out Setup.exe –mpsu setup.msi -setup setup.exe -title “Product Setup”

If we had wanted to inject our own branding into the build, we could update the setup.exe bundled with wix 3.0 with our own branding / version information.

Microsoft Xobni aquisition offer

While the value proposition offered between our product Attassa and that of Xobni is not identical, there is enough similarities between the 2 technologies and value, that they’ve always been on our radar. So watching their progress all the way from Y-Combinator to Bill Gates Demo, it always seemed clear to me that a Microsoft acquisition was a likely exit. So it wasn’t too much of a surprise when I read today that Microsoft is mulling over an offer.

I’m rather intrigued by the $20 million dollar speculated offer.

On one hand, Xobni has been overwhelmingly successful at proving that they can generate buzz. Watching Bill Gates Demo, was proof enough to me that they’ve nailed out their vision with great success. Considering this and the 4M first round of funding, I’m inclined to think that taking a $20M exit would be leaving a serious chunk of change on the table.

On the other hand, what Xobni has yet to prove out is a business model. Furthermore, they’ve yet to prove that their product provides real time or cost benefit to the end user … beyond an Outlook bell or whistle. If they’re concerned about either … a $20 might be humored.

I’d be shocked if they took anything close.

David – Attassa (That’s “Attassa” spelled backwards, and then spelled backwards again)