Points: More Together

This is a quick blog about my initial impression of Points. And while I’m an employee of Points, all of the opinions and impressions shared here are mine and do not necessarily reflect that of Points. Now that I’ve got the legal stuff out of the way, on to the blog ๐Ÿ™‚ Although it’s with sadness that I leave Canpages, I’m quite excited to be starting at a new adventure. I’m pretty excited to have landed at Points.com. Points.com is a Canadian start-up that went public (TSE:PTS) in 2004 and is located on Queen and John in downtown Toronto. Although a public company, it still hasn’t lost its start up edge. As an example, I was greeted by Erika, the VP of HR, with mamosas at 10 am in the morning. Granted, it was to celebrate the move to our new office space. 

There were a few things that impressed me before I joined Points:

1) Focus on Quality
A lot of companies talk about desiring quality in the delivery but often times there is little more than lip service to the concept. In all of my conversations with Points, there was a strong emphasis in bringing on senior managers who would advocate quality delivery, which more or less translated to automated testing. I’m a huge advocate of the concept where product quality is not the responsibility of one member or a particular team but rather anyone who is part of the product delivery process. This concept is shared and advocated by everyone of the management team whom I’ve had an opportunity to speak with about product quality.

2) Clear direction
Excitingly enough – there is a five-year plan. I have to be honest here. I was a bit skeptical when I started. Often times in interviews, companies often talk about having plans of some sort but few have actually materialized after I was hired. I was given preview of Points’ five year plan late last week and I have to say that I’m very excited to be a part of the anticipated change. While the details of the five-year plan are confidential, I was particularly impressed with the detail in which it went into.

3) People oriented
The motto of Points.com is “more together.” From a business perspective, it implies that points are worth more when it can be consolidated. From a people perspective, it also means that we can accomplish more as a company of people rather than individuals. Although it’s only been a couple of weeks, there are so many great things from a people perspective here at Points. The first are the simple things such as free pop (or soda for you American folk). I love the fact that there are shower facilities and places to lock your bike up. There is the weekly beer cart that goes around with beer, wine and snacks. This will be the first time in years when I’m not buying snacks for the team out of my own pocket, which is nice :D. But more than that, there are certain HR policies which I connect to such as all my benefits are paid for by Points. I’m more accustomed to having my benefits subsidized and having to pay for the rest. I love the fact that sick days aren’t officially tracked here with the belief that people won’t abuse it. It’s awesome to find a company that trusts its employees because trust is a two-way street. This is especially important to me because in general tech folk tend to work crazy hours. Frankly, I’d rather have a team member take the day off and not worry about using up sick days than coming in and getting more people sick.

Here’s another amazing story for me to tell. I had a special occasion this week with my wife. Being in IT for more than a decade, it’s pretty normal for me to be late and often times even canceling out. My family is used to that. Sure enough an emergency came up, and Dave, the CTO, and I worked through the issue. It took me only an hour longer than I was expected to leave and I still got to my dinner which I quickly postponed. I didn’t think much about it until we got home on Saturday where Dave had sent flowers to my wife apologizing on my behalf. It was a really thoughtful gesture. My wife was quite impressed.

flowers

Another distinct characteristic of the organization is its sense of humour. Everyone who works here seems to have one. Laughter is very common in our scrums and personal interactions.

4) Down-to-earth
Although we have ample space in the building, only a handful of people have offices while everyone including VPs and the CTO have cubicle space and are proud of it. One of the most interesting moments that I had an opportunity to observe was the COO and CTO huddle at the CTOs cubicle to work on something. No one seems hung up on titles and everyone wants to get the job done. People are both passionate and dedicated about their jobs. The constant theme in my conversations with the tech team is ownership. There is the fundamental belief and desire that we own our technology and that we drive our destiny.

Although I’ve only completed my second week here at Points.com, I have to say that I’m looking forward to my time here. The two weeks have gone by quickly and it’s been quite exciting already.

Tungle me this

Tungle Logo

Tungle has been one of the most powerful tools that I’ve come across in a long while. One of the biggest challenge for me as someone who is constantly working with people inside and outside my organization is the ability to schedule meetings. Tungle solves this issue for me. Tungle is essentially a public free/busy on steroids and crack at the same time. It allows you to publish all of your calendars (work, personal, fun, etc) and allows others to book time with you. It is not, however, a calendar server.

Tungle gives you multiple ways to publish your availability to its servers. You can download an iCal client, Outlook client or sync it with a service like Google Apps. I primarily use it with integration to Google Apps. The one thing I like about it with this feature is that it automatically updates to my calendar on my mobile devices as well. If you are using Tungle to schedule a meeting with others who are also on Tungle, a really efficient way of managing schedules is with the iPhone app. It allows you to see the availability of people that have made their information available to you and schedule the meeting.

The best feature, by far, is the ability for others who don’t use Tungle to book meetings as well. In short, vendors who work with me love it. My schedule is usually pretty full on a daily basis. It’s part and parcel of an exciting day at Canpages Technology. The best way for vendors to get my attention is to book my calendar for a follow up or even a conversation and they can do this without giving me a call. I’m surprisingly hard to reach on the phone.

Using it for me was quite intuitive for both users and non-users of the site. For non-users, you use my personalized link to my availability and when you load the screen, the interface is simply time slots in half hour chunks that are available to be booked.The idea here is to propose multiple time slots, add your subject line, location information and any message and Tungle sends me the information. I like the Tungle iPhone app for this part because all I have to do is to turn on the app, go through each meeting and I’m done. Very quick and very efficient all in all.

While I love Tungle, here are some quick things that I think would make this an even more phenomenal product:

  1. The ability to schedule meetings directly from Outlook. Right now, the Tungle plug-ins sends me back to my Tungle site in order for me to book meetings
  2. I would love an Android app for it. I use both my iPhone an equal amount so it’d be nice to have an Android app.
  3. Ability to customize daily availability by user or group. For instance, I’m available to co-worker only until 6 pm but much more available to friends after that

Zoompass Tags

I was quite honoured when I was selected as “one of the first Canadians” to receive my Zoompass Tag. To incent or reward the use of this new idea, I was also zoomed an additional $15 into my account. It was definitely a nice gesture.

The Zoompass Tag is essentially a sticker that is intended to be put on your phone. I suspect it is embedded with an RFID chip of sorts inside it. Zoompass is geared to be a mobile payment tool and this is a logical step in it’s evolution. It allows the account holder to be able to use the Zoompass site or mobile app on the phone before and now you can physically use your phone to swipe at a pay station. All in all, quite clever. When I used it at the Tim Horton’s yesterday morning, the attendant was quite impresses and quickly jotted down the name of the product.

There are a few issues for me personally. The first is that I have at least 3 phones that I use and I use them interchangably. It’s not a major issue as I am quite unique in that regard. The other issue I have is the sticker itself. For one, it protrudes quite a bit. I’m worried that over time, it will be jarred off the phone. Secondly, I chose to put the tag on my iPhone. The issue is that I use a silicon sleeve and that didn’t seem to adhere well on it on first attempt. So I ended up sticking it on the phone beneath the sleeve. That didn’t seem to work when I was at the Tim Horton’s the first time. I had to remove the sleeve to use it. I’ll try again to see if it was a Kelvin issue.

Overall, I love the idea. It’s neat and convenient. It also frees up my wallet from one additional card in my 5-card wallet. It does consolidate my use of Zoompass.

Tasting Tour Toronto – Beta 2

I really wished I got around to writing about Tasting Tour sooner. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Beta 2 version of the concept last week and it was something I thoroughly enjoyed. The concept of Tasting Tour is the brainchild of Jaime Woo and Naomi The. Jaime led the tour I was on and described it as a food crawl. Given I’ve never had the opportunity to do a bar crawl, I personally compare it to a combination of a tasting menu and and walking tour. The basic idea of tasting tour is that you get to try a number of food venues in a few short hours.

The idea is great especially in a city like Toronto where there are many different ethnic areas and their associated food and there is a very rich variety of food types. For the consumer, it’s a great way to try new restaurants that you otherwise wouldn’t think of trying or sometimes even heard of. For the restaurants, it’s an easy way to market and fill up the restaurants on days that it otherwise wouldn’t be busy. All in all, it’s a win-win situation for both.

Outside of the people I met, the other highlight of my tasting tour was really the interesting information that I learned about the places I went. I like hearing stories about people or things. It provides context of the event. At Tasting Tour, the owner of both an art cafe and vegetarian restaurant talked about why and how they started their restaurants and also a bit about the food that they made. In my mind, it made us connect with the restaurants so much more. At a teahouse, we were given a really long overview of the different teas. It was not that different from a wine tour. It was fascinating from two aspects – there is so much to know about tea and that the people working there are passionate about the product. The end result – many of us ended up buying tea from them. The night came to a perfect end at a pub where the drinking happens.

Outside of the event itself, I am personally quite intrigued by the idea. It’s the first non-tech startup that I am actually quite interested in. While it may not make Jaime and Naomi fabulously wealthy, I think as an event it could be really successful. There are still a number of things for them to work out but it will be very interesting to see how they grow their idea while I quietly root for them.

First Wired Wednesday Event in Toronto

I've never been much of a socializer myself which is a bit ironic because I am fairly public online. I guess in my mind, there's safety in my anonimity because my personal social circle is not particularly large. But I digress… While I've always wanted to attend such events, I never had any real facility to go. It's hard to go to any event not knowing anyone. Fortunately for me, I was lucking enough to be invited by Byron, a friend I met through work. So I went to Wired Wednesday in Toronto last night. It was an event hosted by Red Wire and the plan is to host it once a month. The format was relatively simple. Mingle for about an hour followed by start-up presentations and then key note speaker. The three presentations last night were ParkingSpots.com, Rypple and fonolo.

ParkingSpots.com is a great idea especially in Toronto where parking downtown is scarce to begin with and cheap parking is close to impossible to find. The premise of the site is simply to match parking seekers with parking providers where the parking provider can be anyone such as Joe Citizen to Corporate parking. They breakdown parking needs to hourly and monthly parking. The idea is great especially for those who are looking to rent out an unused driveway or unused spots as additional income. It's also a cheaper means of finding monthly rentals for those who have to commute in everyday.

We didn't get a chance to see Rypple but the premise was to provide a more natural way to provide performance metrics to individuals. I believe that it can be used for personal or professional use. It could also potentially be another means to measure reputation as well. I signed up for the beta and am waiting to hear back.

Fonolo was the most interesting of the three presentations last night. It was a phone crawler that helped you weave through the insane phone support structure that most companies have today. The idea was to be able to select a company and select an action. When you got to the point where you are ready to chat with someone, I believe that it would find a way to call you. That would generally save anyone a bulk of time. The killer feature here is that it could record your conversation with the CSR so you would have a record of it. Future features would include being able to playback to the CSR and publish the conversation to YouTube. I love this idea because it finally puts control back into the hands of the consumer.

 

 

The keynote speaker last night was Mark Evans. I've been a big fan of Mark Evans, if anything because he's Canadian. The topic was the relevance of social media in a corporate world. A couple of interesting facts were that Dell pushes a tonne of sale information through Twitter and IBM has over 15000 internal bloggers.

I'm looking forward to the next event.

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