UpStart Breakfast with Auvik Networks, UrtheCast, and MappedIn

Two weeks ago I attended a Communitech Upstart Breakfast Series event and listened to three local entrepreneurs:

  • Alex Hoff, co-founder of Auvik Networks
  • Scott Larson, co-founder of UrtheCast
  • Hongwei Liu, co-founder of MappedIn

It was an enjoyable session, and as always I took notes and scribbled down some thoughts.

Alex Hoff, Auvik

I knew Alex from working with him at Sandvine for almost seven years, so I was looking forward to hearing about his experiences so far at Auvik. Alex started Auvik with Marc Morin, who was a co-founder of Sandvine and was the CTO for many years, and initially they set about investigating many ideas. Through an “idea–>validate–>decision” process, they evaluated each concept by performing market research and asking for input from colleagues and associates. On this point, Alex advised the audience to “beware of the golf clap” – that polite applause that people give when they’re lukewarm on a subject; you only want to pick an idea that gets the audience truly excited.

Alex advised the audience to “beware of the golf clap” – that polite applause that people give when they’re lukewarm on a subject; you only want to pick an idea that gets the audience truly excited.

After assessing many ideas, they decided to focus on software-defined networking (SDN), and are crafting a programmable API into networks to simplify the monitoring, configuring, and automating of networks.

Alex also stressed the importance of establishing the right company culture right from the get-go, and he put up a slide that detailed “The Auvik Way”. I can’t believe I didn’t snap a pic or write them all down, but two parts of “the way” that stood out to me are:

  • “Shit Happens”: in the sense that things are going to go bad from time to time, and you need to do whatever is possible to solve the issue and also to accept and move on
  • “No Assholes”: we had this rule on my soccer team, too, and on the rare occasions when we convinced ourselves to bring on a player despite “character issues” it ultimately hurt the team…so heed this advice!

Update: Jacqui Murphy, Auvik’s VP Marketing, followed up with me via the comment section below and provided a link to the full Auvik Way. You can find it on Auvik’s careers page. Thanks Jacqui!

I’ll say as well that Alex did a great job presenting – he brought energy to the session and started off with a joke. Whenever people in town talk about Auvik, there’s always a bit of uncertainty about how to say the name. Alex did us all a favour when he said “It’s ‘Aw-vik’, not ‘Ow-vik’, because I’ve never been to ‘Owstralia’ or ‘Owstria.'”

On a side note, I can’t believe how many companies have names for which the pronunciation is uncertain! I truly believe this is an issue…if people are afraid to say your name for fear of sounding dumb, then they just won’t say it, so you’re artificially killing word of mouth.

Scott Larson, UrtheCast

…speaking of oddly-named companies…

UrtheCast was new to me: I hadn’t heard of the company, didn’t know what they did, and my inner monologue kept wanting to say the name as synonymous with “You’re the cast”, since so many people nowadays (to my utter dismay) insist on writing “ur” instead of “you are” or “you’re”.

But anyway, it’s pronounced “Earth cast”, which makes perfect sense because what UrtheCast does is commercialize and democratize the view from space. They’ve got cameras mounted on the International Space Station, and the business model is to sell this imagery. Apparently the “pictures from space” industry is worth a couple of billion dollars a year, and UrtheCast has the potential to disrupt the heck out of that by making things affordable (remember on The Big Bang Theory, when Howard and Bernadette had their wedding captured by the ISS? Now you can do that, too, thanks to UrtheCast!).

Scott told us the story of how UrtheCast came to be, and how they reached a partnership with the Russian Space Agency. He finished off by showing the first two images captured by the company’s cameras.

I’ve always had an interest in space (and in fact spent a co-op term at the Canadian Space Agency working on a satellite), and years ago came across this quote:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'” – Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell

It came to mind when listening to the presentation. Scott also provided us with a slightly more poetic quote:

“What was most significant about the lunar voyage was not that men set foot on the moon but that they set eye on the Earth.” – Norman Cousins

Hongwei Lu, MappedIn

MappedIn is a provider of indoor navigation tools and a platform for facility management. They make a number of products and solutions to help you better navigate the indoors (e.g., interactive maps and apps for malls, stadia, airports, stores, etc.), and to help providers of those indoor spaces learn how their visitors get around (with analytics and such). If every airport in the world signed on with MappedIn, I’d be a happier traveller.

Hongwei Liu is a co-founder, and he basically just told stories and lessons from his time getting MappedIn off the ground (“They told me one slide would be enough”, and he literally had a single slide). While his session was minimalist on visual aids, he charmed the audience with his honesty and often hilarious tales that helped illustrate what it takes to get a company going on basically no money. For instance: the time he and a colleague stayed in a harbour on a rented a boat for $30 a night while attending a week-long conference and tradeshow. It turned out the boat lacked essentials including a functional toilet and running water. But that’s what entrepreneurship demands of its practitioners…self-sacrifice!

It turned out the boat lacked essentials including a functional toilet and running water. But that’s what entrepreneurship demands of its practitioners…self-sacrifice!

And here’s a tidbit one of MappedIn’s supporters shared with Hongwei that is likely applicable to many a start-up: he observed that MappedIn was learning from mistakes, but that perhaps they could avoid some of those mistakes by hiring a few people with more experience.

Lee Brooks is the founder of Cromulent Marketing, a boutique marketing agency specializing in crafting messaging, creating content, and managing public relations for B2B technology companies.

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Posted in Careers, Everything, Leadership
3 comments on “UpStart Breakfast with Auvik Networks, UrtheCast, and MappedIn
  1. […] heard Hongwei speak before, and found him to be charming and […]

  2. Webmaster says:

    Hey Lee!

    Thanks for the feedback on Alex’s presentation (and the company name) 🙂

    You can find the full Auvik way here:


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