Behind the scenes at @yuser, a #LdnOnt app that hopes to revolutionize social media @LdnIncMag

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t care one whit whether people can see how many likes my posts on Instagram generate (or don’t generate, as is normally the case). There will never be enough for me to become a social media influencer, and that’s not really my goal when I post three photos of Halifax to let friends know that’s where I am that week.

Likes, mentions, retweets and the rest are all nice to get, but they are of no actual value to me. But wait. What if I could trade them in for something tangible? Small, sure. But tangible. A free coffee. A 2-for-1 lunch. Credit with an online retailer.

That would get my attention. I might spend a little more time crafting my social media posts. OK, not likely, but others might.

One more thing: What if the data I provided when posting and interacting on social media apps was guaranteed to be private and belong to me, with no Zuckerbergian slip-ups and lame apologies? I could get behind that.

That’s the basic concept – along with a smidge of blockchain wizardry – of Yuser, a new social media sharing app operating from the London Roundhouse. It’s the creation of three blue-sky thinkers who would have fit right in on the set of Halt and Catch Fire, the spectacular AMC series about the pre-Silicon Valley days of the personal computing revolution in the 1980s.

You can read all about Yuser and its founders in the October issue of London Inc. magazine, which hits the streets this month at 72 pages, its largest issue to date and proof some old technology can still work, when mixed with some tricks.

The Yuser brain trust has some great ideas for their app. They also know the odds of them succeeding on a large scale are rather long. But they have embraced the challenge and believe their concept will deliver.

More on my @LondonIncMag Sept cover story on @PSDintelligence #LdnOnt

Every homeowner has a list – an ever-changing series of tasks that need to be done in the house or the yard. Reminders pop up weekly, and you promise yourself you’ll find the time to fix it, install it, paint it or ditch it. There’s always something new to replace a task you’ve completed. 

            Now imagine you’re in charge of a city’s infrastructure. Everywhere you go, you’re reminded of things that need fixing, renovating or replacing. There are roads, bridges, parks, rec centres, libraries, sewer systems and countless other categories.

            And it’s not just your family relying on you to get things done around the house. You’ve got a whole community, not to mention an elected council, asking why there are still potholes on a given street in early May; when city-owned pools will open; why the grass hasn’t been cut at a local soccer field.

            Increasingly, the questions are about how your city is coping with the effects of climate change. 

            It’s a lot to consider with an almost limitless series of shifting variables affecting decisions. London-based PSD (Public Service Digest) assists more than 450 municipalities across Canada, more than a third of them in Ontario, to set priorities and make decisions. Not only that, it offers custom software and apps that help municipalities of any size to understand the larger effects of accelerating or delaying spending in a given area. 

            Thinking of replacing the ice pad in the rec centre two years ahead of schedule? That could mean hockey families will drive on a bumpier road getting there. The trade-offs are complicated, which is why so many towns and cities – but not the city of London, ironically – have turned to PSD for help. 

            As you can read in my London Inc. magazine cover story this month, the family-owned business is expanding to provide other services, including financial planning and accounting, and now operates in Burlington and Victoria. With 50 employees in London and nearly 80 overall, it is looking south of the border too, where the opportunities and risks are greater. 

More on my @LondonIncMag July cover story about @_stmnt_ #LdnOnt

              Asking me to write about fashion is like asking Doug Ford to write about public relations – we have a vague notion of the concept, but we aren’t great at executing it.

              So, when I met up with sisters Jenessa and Madison Olson, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. After all, they have started a business based on sharing fashion – Airbnb for your closet, as Jenessa says. As it turns out, the concept isn’t really about fashion at all. Yes, it allows people – women only right now – to rent clothes from individuals and participating boutiques. “But it’s really a software play, technology connecting people and their fashion,” she says.

              Well then, if it’s a software play, I’m right at home. After all, I have a smart phone and a computer! So, what else is there to know?

              The sisters’ company is called STMNT – that’s STATEMENT minus the vowels. That’s one thing many software plays have in common: Drop the vowels, or add some. Ditch the capital letters, or add some. In any case, the statement they’re making is that you don’t need to spend $500 on a dress for a single occasion and then shove it to the back of your closet or try to return it, swallowing your guilt and avoiding eye contact with the sales person.

              You can read all about the sisters and their growing company in the summer edition of London Inc. magazine, itself a business success story, thriving early in its 3rd year of publication.

              For now, the business operates in London and Toronto. But the sisters have much bigger dreams that include global recognition of the STMNT logo, located at clothing shops that participate in the rental program. So, you could travel Europe with a small carry-on, picking up and returning your clothes as you need them, booked for specific functions, all with no fuss.

Behind door No. 1 at Heritage Renovations @LdnIncMag #LdnOnt

              One of the first things I ever learned watching HGTV – even before I saw how easily a DIY project can come together if you insert commercial breaks whenever you face an obstacle – is that people really like red front doors. If you want some instant curb appeal, pull out the overgrown shrubs and paint that front door red.

              If that’s not enough, slap up some shutters to frame out your windows. Paint those too, but not red.

              It comes down to this: Every home has some kind of front door and a collection of windows. We want them to function of course, but beyond that we want them to look good.

              That could be the motto at Heritage Renovations Windows & Doors: Work well and look good. The business has been selling and installing higher quality doors and windows in London since 1990. But, as you can read in my June London Inc. cover story, it changed hands in 2016 and has been growing impressively since.

              The new owners are the sister and brother team of Shannon Ruffell and James Baker. Their father, former London airport head poobah Steve Baker, hatched a plan to a) entice his grown kids to return to London, and b) to create a family-run enterprise that could be passed along to generations of future Bakers. With the transformation of Heritage, you’d have to say he succeeded on both fronts.

              This month, Heritage moves into its expansive new home on Exeter Road, where it will feature a showroom nearly the size of the entire business three years ago. At 3,500 square feet, the showroom will feature more than 100 door and window displays, a never-ending home show for anyone looking to upgrade.

              It will also feature separate offices for Shannon and James. They shared a rather small office to help alleviate crowding at the old location. More importantly, the new place provides a base from which Heritage can continue the growth sparked by the new owners and their enthusiastic father, who is cheering – mostly – from the sidelines.

@alcanadalabs is set to revolutionize #agriculture @LdnIncMag May cover story #LdnOnt

              Near the end of our conversation about his company, A&L Canada Laboratories, Greg Patterson offhandedly mentioned that, “plants talk to each other.”

              I nodded, as though I understood exactly what he meant. As you can read about in my London Inc. cover story this month, A&L is on the cusp of an agriculture revolution. It has identified 4,500 unique bacteria, fungi and other biologicals that prompt plants to do predictable things.

              These “bugs,” as Patterson calls them colloquially, help strengthen all kinds of crops, restoring the natural conditions in which they otherwise would thrive. Much of the action takes place in the rhizosphere, a narrow band of soil where the roots live. Patterson compares the plant microbiome to the human gut, where millions of microorganisms live and keep us healthy.

              And that’s where the talking plant angle comes in. A recent Swedish study showed how plants secrete chemicals into the soil that prompt neighbouring plants to grow more quickly.

              “It’s not magic; it’s science,” Patterson says, eyes twinkling. “There are ways to stimulate the plant biome, which means healthier plants with less fertilizer, among other things.”

              A&L began almost 35 years ago when potato farmers in Alliston hired Patterson to do some rudimentary studies on their crops. Today, it runs tests for farmers, processors and – most recently – for cannabis producers. But its real growth area may well be in biologicals, in the soil where plants talk to each other, pulling in bacteria and fungi as needed to improve their health.

More on my @LdnIncMag April cover story on @BigBlueBubble #LdnOnt @Downtown_London


              Not that long ago, when you were snaking through a crowded parking lot in search of an open spot, finding someone at the wheel of his car was a good sign. It would only be a minute or so until he’d back out and be on his way. Well, those days are over.

              People don’t drive away anymore when they jump into their cars. Unless they’re late for their next stop, they’re more likely to linger in the spot and grab their phone. Granted, that’s much better than doing it while they’re driving, but it’s still off-putting if you’re sitting waiting for a spot that isn’t going to open anytime soon.

              Not everyone on their phone is playing a game, but plenty of them certainly are. They may answer a text or like a photo, but a game notification at the top of the screen is hard to ignore…

              Games on phones have evolved very much as phones themselves have. Everyone has a phone today, and nearly everyone who has a phone has at least tried a game. For 15 years, Big Blue Bubble has quietly plugged away from its downtown London office, creating more than 100 games, some of which are among the most popular in the world.

              As you can read about in my April London Inc. magazine cover story, BBB is going to attract more attention in the coming months. A TV show based on its mega-hit game My Singing Monsters is in the works and should arrive sometime this year. It will be accompanied by a full marketing campaign, including stuffed animals and plenty of other toys to support the loveable characters.

              As exciting as that is, BBB isn’t stopping to celebrate. Next up is Concert Kings, like Monsters a music-based game. The ideas just keep coming, and millions of people sitting idly in parking lots, can’t get enough.

More on my @LdnIncMag March cover story about Zucora Home #LdnOnt

My experience with the first extended warranty I ever bought should have prompted me to buy warranties, when available, on everything I bought thereafter.

              I extended the warranty on my first new car: a 1989 Chevrolet Sprint. It was a tiny car with a tiny engine and a tiny price: $8,000 new. But it got me to British Columbia to live for two years and then back to Ontario. At some point after my return, my father borrowed the car for some reason and returned with some disturbing news.

              An engineer who worked at GM and once took his car apart just to see if he could put it back together, he knew cars. And he said my three-cylinder, one-litre engine sounded odd. “I think you might have a cracked cylinder head,” he said, sympathetically.

              Sure enough, a mechanic confirmed the news within days. I needed a new engine, at a cost of roughly one-third the cost of the car. You don’t buy a tiny, $8,000 car if you’re flush with cash, so this was bad news indeed. Except I had an extended warranty, and for the price of a small deductible, I got a brand-new engine for my cheapo vehicle.

              So, I’ve been buying extended warranties ever since, right? Ah, not exactly. I still blanch at the cost, resentful that the manufacturer’s warranty is so lousy. Sometimes I give in. Sometimes I don’t.

              For the last four decades, London-based Zucora has provided the warranties offered by most of the country’s large furniture retailers. If you bought a couch at The Brick or La-Z-Boy or a dozen other retailers, the extended warranty came from Zucora, whether you knew it or not.

              As you can read about in my London Inc. March cover story, the company is expanding its suite of services and methods of delivery, offering homeowners a worry-free experience, for $70 a month or less. Its new Smarter Living Plans offer protection on furniture, appliances and home systems. In theory, there’s no reason to worry about anything in your home breaking or wearing out. Zucora Home has you covered.

              Scoffers, please note the experience at La-Z-Boy, where Zucora has offered warranties on the retailer’s motorized recliners etc. for years. The coverage costs 12-15 per cent of the price of the item, and 85 per cent of buyers buy it.

              That’s a lot of people willing to pay a little more for long-term peace of mind – exactly what Zucora provides.

What I learned from Ed Holder's brochure (hint: not much) #LdnOnt @LdnOnt_2018 @cityofLdnOnt #mayoral #municipalelection

Here’s a news flash: Ed Holder, one of the leading contenders in London’s four-way mayoral race, is in favour of job growth. Holy cow, that’s a stunner.

Have I got your attention because here’s another bombshell: He’s in favour of synchronized traffic signals. Has any politician anywhere ever argued against synchronized traffic signals? They’re to the transportation system what waste and inefficiencies are to budget deficits. Oh, and London council approved a synchronization project last year.

Council also approved the Adelaide Street underpass recently to keep trains and cars apart at that busy intersection. Holder has boldly thrown his support behind that project too.

Look, I don’t know if Ed Holder would be a good mayor or not. I do know he’d be a lot better than Paul Cheng whose next specific policy proposal will be his first. I don’t know whom to support for mayor, so when Ed Holder’s brochure arrived in my mailbox today, I read it. Twice. And I’m still looking for anything resembling a specific idea.

ed holder.jpg

Holder has five top priorities, each one a collection of empty words or no-duh pronouncements. The only specific item is his opposition to the Bus Rapid Transit plan. Fair enough. I can’t decide if that’s a good idea or not. But having said he’s opposed, his ideas to move people around the city more efficiently boil down to the Adelaide underpass, already approved, more efficient bus service to retail centres and a better mobile app for London Transit users. And, of course, synchronized stop lights.

Beyond that short list of easy-to-endorse ideas, he offers nothing specific among his five priorities. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m sorry to say I’m not. There is nothing specific anywhere else in his five-priority action plan.

He boldly supports job growth but says nothing about how he might help create jobs. He’s in favour of collaborative leadership. Awesome. He reminds us he was a federal cabinet minister and claims that experience will help secure provincial and federal funding for infrastructure projects in London. Which projects? How much money? Don’t sweat it; he knows a guy.

His last priority, to “help London’s most vulnerable,” will be accomplished by “continuing to work closely with many stakeholders including other levels of government, social services and the not-for-profit sector.”

That’s it. That’s his platform as described in his brochure. The rest of the brochure lays out his resume, which I acknowledge is impressive. But come on Ed, give us some specific ideas, not just the highlights from your LinkedIn account.

Synchronized traffic signals? Seriously?

More on my @LdnIncMag Oct. cover story about @MyVoyago #LdnOnt

Here’s a little game I’ve been playing, often against my will, for the last few weeks. Be warned, if you live in the London area and read this, you might find yourself playing the game too.

Ever since I wrote about the transformation of Voyageur Transportation Services to Voyago, (this month’s London Inc. cover story) I’ve seen Voyago vans and buses all over the place, every single day. I guess they were there all along – after all, the company made the switch several months ago. But I did not notice a single Voyago vehicle until the middle of last month after meeting with company president Theresa Matthews and COO Corey Jarvis.


They made the switch for many reasons, but primarily to take the company and its dispatch system into the new age of Uber apps and on-demand transportation. The Voyago team has big plans to expand its school bus service across Ontario and into other parts of Canada. Same for its patient transfer service, now called Voyago Health.

It continues to operate Checker Limo in London. It was a testing ground for the company’s new technology and now runs with all the efficiency and customer service of Uber itself.

When you’re driving around London in the coming days, count the number of Voyago vehicles you see. It won’t take long to rack up a handful of sightings, I guarantee it.


More on my Sept @LdnIncMag cover story on @LondonMusicHall #LdnOnt

When Mike Manuel has a big idea, the consequences spread in concentric circles, as though he dropped a pebble in a pond.

A series of big ideas – and big bucks – over more than a decade have combined to create the London Music Hall, a music venue with a national reputation among artists, promoters and fans. Since he began by creating by Rum Runners in 2004, he has added amenities, features and technology to make the Music Hall something special, home to about 250 shows and events annually.

The consequences of his big ideas include a growing local concert scene, new music festivals, a local music hall of fame, and weekly opportunities for students to interact with musicians in the former Nash Jewellers building, now part of the Music Hall.

music hall.jpg

Further down the list of consequences is a note I get every two years from London Inc. editor Gord Delamont, asking me to write about Manuel’s latest adventure. My cover story in this month’s London Inc. is the fourth story I’ve written about Manuel, always keyed by his latest big idea.

This time it’s the installation of more than 200 bar stools in the main room, in a sloped configuration behind the standing-room main floor. The project will be done later this fall, giving fans a new way to enjoy concerts, without turning the venue into a theatre with padded, folding seats – anathema to Manuel’s vision for the Hall.

A revamped Rum Runners will reopen around the same time, and the latest iteration of the Music Hall will forge ahead, bringing in bands from across the country and beyond. Meanwhile, Manuel will be dreaming up his next project. I look forward to hearing all about it in two years or so.