Payroll for startups

Bank Robber

The joys of starting a company and setting up the basics, you know things like finding a lawyer, getting articles of incorporation, shareholders agreement, business registration, employment agreements and setting up payroll for employees. It turns out that it has been since 2005 since I thought about the logistics of running payroll in Canada in any detail (BTW if some asks if you want to be in charge of running payroll, the answer is “<expletive /> NO”). The great news is that there is a solution for startups in Canada and it’s inexpensive. Well technically it’s free for companies with <5 employees and only $18/month for >6 employees.

Payment EvolutionThe company is PaymentEvolution. It’s run by my friend Sam Vassa (@samvassa) and they were recently featured in the Financial Post. Despite the web presence that looks like it was last updated a decade ago, this is a new startup that is up and running and able to help Canadian small businesses with payroll.

Hallelujah, and it’s inexpensive

This is a great solution for startups. Basically the deal is there are no fees for the service, however, there are electronic banking fees are passed through to you as a user.

PaymentEvolution provides no cost payroll processing for smalls businesses with 5 or fewer employees. We’re serious – we don’t want payroll processing costs to encumber the growth of great small businesses. We’re small-business friendly and just want to provide a great service that allows these businesses to focus on what they do best. Like all our plans, we don’t charge extra for updates, the number of pay runs, or silly things like standard reports. We also give these firms the flexibility to pay their employees how they want – traditional cheques, direct deposit or even electronic funds transfer (fees may be incurred by the company’s financial institution).

This is just what startups need to process payroll and it’s cheap to boot.

Real Ventures closes

Real VenturesThis is great news for Canada, well at least Quebec until additional funds close. Real Ventures has launched today. With both JS Cournoyer and Mark MacLeod writing about the close of approximately $40MM of money that must be invested in Quebec. They are actively looking for seed investments in Quebec software, SaaS and Internet deals.

“We are seed investors in software startups based primarily in Quebec, though we will do deals in other markets. We like to be 1st money in and like to lead. We can do seed rounds in the six figures to get a product in market and can participate in series A follow ons for those companies that are hitting the gas pedal.” – Mark MacLeod

The great part about Real Ventures is the pedigree. The team is: John Stokes, JS Cournoyer, Mark MacLeod and Austin Hill. These are world class investors, entrepreneurs, executives and people who have had a hand in shaping policy, companies and entrepreneurs over the past few years.

“For those of you who don’t know, Montreal Startup is a $5M seed fund that was founded by John StokesDaniel DrouetAlan MacIntoshAustin Hill, and yours trulyMark MacLeod has since joined the team for Real Ventures. We invested in 15 web, mobile and software companies between February 2008 and March 2010, including Beyond The RackStatus.netWhatsnexxVanilla Forums,RecosetmConciergeOneeko and SocialGrapes. For the majority of our investments, we were the first money in, acting as the lead investor. We hold board seats in most companies.” – JS Cournoyer

Real Ventures is the real deal. Any entrepreneur in Quebec looking to raise a seed round should be talking to Real Ventures.

Congratulations guys, here’s to closing some money that can be deployed in Ontario.

Rogers out to woo mobile devs with Catalyst APIs

This a.m. in Toronto, the folks at everyone’s favourite big red carrier, invited a collection of local developers and partners to give a sneak preview of their new carrier services API called Catalyst.

At first swoopy-rosy-red blush, Rogers’ Catalyst looks almost oddly familiar to that old software branding of a certain other Markham-based technology heavyweight. Functionality wise however, Catalyst has a lot more in common with the similar multi-carrier initiative called OneAPI (also supported by Rogers btw). The difference with Catalyst is that it signals a split with OneAPI to give dev’s access to supposedly deeper/better but also proprietary integration with Rogers network. for now, these are services like messaging, location and billing. For developers, richer but proprietary api is either good or bad news, depending on your appetite for carrier-specific app development. Rogers and Fido may be Canada’s biggest mobile operator. However, tying your app to their network is obviously no way to reach every Canadian, let alone the world market.

Those caveats aside, there is good stuff in this API. First up, everything is build on web and “SOAP and restful standards” promising to abstract away historically crufty telco interfaces, dedicated lines and slow/expensive integration certification.

Functionality wise in this release we get:

  • Messaging: Web-based SMS origination, SMS delivery confirmation, and “instant” shortcode provisioning
  • Location: Server calls at various levels of accuracy vs speed that allows your cloud to geo-locate and track any handset on the network. A scary thought, but the service also comes with built-in opt-in and privacy controls.
  • Billing: the ability to bill up to $100/month to Rogers bills for apps or content. The revenue split is 30% Rogers, 70% developer, no need for CWTA shortcode to start using billing
  • More stuff, apparently coming soon

So what does it mean for entrepreneurs and tinkerers? Sure you won’t yet take over the whole world with Rogers-only API integration. However I see a few great use cases: as fast/cheap proof of concept sandbox before you invest in scaling your app with many carrier integrations, for enterprise app development, for academic or mobile research projects. Now if only Rogers would also provide subsidized (or at least more flexible) hardware, sim cards and data plans with their developer programs they’d have a real winner. Where are our api’s for Canada’s aspiring hardware hackers I’d like to know? Where are our api’s for helping us do real commerce over mobile not just virtual goods? I may just be biased, maybe we’ll get there in time.

The big picture here is we are seeing carriers trying to claw their way back into digital content value chain. It remains to be seen how well a single carrier can compete on alerts, location and content billing which, let’s face it, all smartphone platforms nowadays support some pretty decent version of natively. But notionally that’s fine. More choice and competition is good for developers. I’d like to see more big companies opening their kimono’s and offering up interesting APIs. Once they’re in the wild, have at the Rogers Catalyst APIs and let me know what you think.

Rogers Catalyst Beta is not publicly available just yet, but should be launching in beta form within a week or so at