Location, location, location

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lymbix founder and CTO Josh Merchant (LinkedIn, @joshmerchant). Josh was born and raised in Brampton, before relocating to New Brunswick to attend the University of New Brunswick. Josh and the team at Lymbix are based in Moncton, NB but spend time on planes between Toronto, San Francisco and New York. Disclosure: David Crow sits on the Board of Directors for Lymbix Corporation. 

Idea – check. Cofounder – check. Home base – che-… hmm?

CC-BY-NC-SD Some rights reserved by jcolman
AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by jcolman

At a company’s inception, what factors do entrepreneurs consider before deciding on a location to set up shop?

Scenario A:
Some may automatically choose their hometown, whether it is Halifax, Brampton, or even Hazelton, as a default location. With this option, entrepreneurs have the potential advantages of already knowing the city’s particular market quirks and tapping into a network of home-grown connections.
Scenario B:
Conversely, others flock to a major city such as Toronto, New York, San Francisco or Palo Alto, which have a thriving tech communities. This is a great option, as we see many acquisitions and exits coming from these startup hubs.

Is there any benefit to laying a company’s foundations in an “out of market”[1] (non-traditional) city, like Moncton? Definitely. Here are some reasons for why you might choose to set up your next startup in a location other than a major city.

Keep Costs Low

The average office rent and employee salary are noticeably lower in a city such as Moncton, especially compared to Toronto. The ability to limit the rate at which a young company burns through cash can be a major advantage right out of the gate. An “out of market” city injects new meaning into the phrase “cost of living.” In these locations, emphasis is shifted to the “living” part, and entrepreneurs don’t have to uniformly dread the “cost” part.

“One of the big advantages I see, and have been privy to is the political support. In a “smaller pond” with a limited amount of startups and successful IT companies, it is easier to get quickly noticed….We have been extremely fortunate to have the local and provincial government assist in opening doors for us, providing us with early incentives to stay in NB and shine the spotlight on us, which in turn helps raise capital and grow our business.” — Matt Eldridge, CEO & Founder Lymbix

Low Competition for Early Sources of Funding

Getting started is cheap, but eventually everyone needs money to keep that ball rolling. Hopefully by this point, you’ve already got traction and your idea is gaining momentum. Without some form of traction, it doesn’t really matter where you are. If you do have it, however, it is easier to secure government and angel funding in a province like New Brunswick. Why? You will encounter significantly less competition – if any – for what money is available.

Low Competition for Talent

“If you build it, they will come.” Well, it isn’t quite that easy in a small tech community. However, there is a greater chance that there aren’t as many companies drawing the interest of the local, tech-minded talent. Your company could be one of only five fishing in the talent pool in a particular city. Let’s face it, there are smart people living all across this country – not just in Toronto.

I can’t say for sure, but I would venture a guess that there is less employee turnover in a city like Moncton as well. This translates to less time wasted worrying about knowledge transfer, and more time invested in building a strong, diverse team that you can count on.

“Building a company out in a growing tech community is great – it’s like a talent magnet! The more news that’s pushed out of prospering areas like San Francisco, Vancouver and Toronto, the more talented developers want to jump on an opportunity locally without having the resources to relocate.”

If you could do it all over again?

If you were starting out or had to do it all over again, what city in Canada would you call home for your startup? Why? 

Acquisitions across Canada

I wonder where Anand Agarawala (@anandx), Nick Koudas (@koudas), Ray Ready (LinkedIn), Albert Lai (@albertupdates) will set up shop for their next venture?


FN1. An “out of market” city seems to be a great ecosystem in which to nurture a startup.

However, deciding on such a location does have its drawbacks:

  • In the early days, working closely with new clients and prospects can be a challenge in a small market. It is more difficult to have those valuable face-to-face feedback sessions away from large urban centres.
  • If and when an opportunity arises for rapid growth and expansion, you may be hard-pressed to find the quantity of talent your company suddenly requires. After all, startup life isn’t for everyone.
  • Ideas are contagious. It is easy to observe the community-created inspiration in the valley or in Toronto. A twenty-minute coffee break with an intelligent peer can spur an eight-hour hackation thanks to a flood of ideas. Motivation automation.

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Lymbix founder and CTO Josh Merchant (LinkedIn, @joshmerchant). Josh was born and raised in Brampton, before relocating to New Brunswick to attend the University of New Brunswick. Josh and the team at Lymbix are based in Moncton, NB but spend time on planes between Toronto, San Francisco and New York. Disclosure: David Crow sits on the Board of Directors for Lymbix Corporation. 

Under the Hood – Lymbix

We continue the Under the Hood series with a Q&A with Lymbix CTO and Hot Sh!t List member Josh Merchant (@joshmerchantLinkedIn). (Disclosure: I sit on the Board of Directors for Lymbix and helped them with their application/acceptance to the Microsoft BizSpark One program). Lymbix has raised approximately $3.8MM in funding from GrowthWorks and other angel investors. The Lymbix team is 18 people based in Moncton, NB and continues to grow.


Lymbix Sentiment Intelligence measures the tone and emotional impact of words in everyday written language. As a global leader in sentiment analysis technology, applications powered by Lymbix provide a more definitive look at specific emotions like friendliness, enjoyment, amusement, contentment, sadness, anger, fear, and shame and give insight to the true meaning of what brings positive and negative results. In short, Lymbix delivers incredibly fast sentiment analysis and can identify the real emotion in any domain of text exposing clarity and confidence on an individual message level.

Product Breakdown

An engine that analyzes emotion in text. Simply put, we’ve built an emotional spell check that we call ToneCheck, which looks into the emotions written in email communications, lifting out how someone may feel – or rather, the “tone”, they’ll perceive when they read the message. This technology is built off our core engine, which is available as an API for partners to understand more user expression style sentiment analysis. As a business, Lymbix is building better business communication tools and reporting for companies to analyze communication in sales, human resources, customer support. Think of it like an insurance package fitting nicely into your risk management profile.

How the Technology works

We use an array of techniques to training our systems to better understand the emotional interactions in common day communication. We analyze streams of data, whether it be from Facebook, Twitter, emails, blogs, or the news, and dissect elements of “emotive context”, meaning a snippet of text that can cause an emotional arousal in an individual. This is our linguistics component of our system. We believe in human powered insight, so we then take a slew of emotive context, and blast it through our own crowd-sourced network called ToneADay.com. We have just shy of 10k raters who give us their opinions of both “real” and “fake” emotive context to gauge the levels of emotion that can occur based on parameters such as frequencies, demographics, 8 primary emotions and so forth. We then build emotional lexicons which give us the power to test any incoming queries to detect emotional relevancy. We then apply our “emotional reaction algorithms” to come up with how different emotions play a part in determining the degrees of emotion in the query. When the system ever detects something that it has never heard of it, it quickly takes action and tries to learn it. In effect, the system gets smarter the more that its used.

Technical Details

We’re hosted on Rackspace, as well as Azure. With Rackspace we have a cloud and private hosted solution giving us the elastic scalability that we need to service this type of NLP on a massive scale. We’re a nice blend of Ruby, Java, and C#. Sounds gross, but for us, the solution fits quite nicely.

For horizontal scaling efforts (our API, and freemium ToneCheck users) we use multiple nodes replicated as our “workers”, sitting on Redhat using served by apache. Sinatra is used to handle the REST calls (essentially the wrapper) harnessing java – linking through sockets to provide really fast linguistic calculations on requests. We persist resident data through redis, and pull sync jobs to migrate up to the master datastore. These ‘nodes’ effectively are spawned up and down as we predict traffic congestion. We take full advantage of Rackspace load balancers to handle distribution of these requests. We monitor this bad boy with CloudKick – probably the best monitoring and performance analytics tool we’ve come across.

For ToneCheck (pro/business), we’re deployed on Azure. Works well for our business customers to give better piece of mind of no data persistence, enterprise integration (on a domain level), and security. Essentially we’ve built a RESTful service on a Web role that wraps the same Java logic as in our cloud. We have worker roles to do some of the heavy lifting, but we try to keep things in the Web Role for high priority, super fast response times.

As our system is ever evolving, in terms of understanding new emotive context, we use our own sync services to deploy lexicons across all our worker nodes (Azure & Rackspace). To build the lexicons, we need massive power, so we use a big hypervisor that performs all our “secret sauce” algorithms from our datastore. We have 3 layers of databases in our system, which seems crazy, but each has a niche. MySQL is basic user data for our apps and all the boring data to keep. Mongo is our dynamic datastore thats used for all our linguistic data and everything we need to build our lexicons, which is sharded for optimization and running our Map Reduce jobs. We also keep a Hadoop datastore for all the new language we’re processing for reporting and running massive queries on for some of our “in the making” linguistic calculations/improvements.

Our development practises are pretty neat. We use continuous integration to achieve higher standards of quality for all our apps. We’re a little old school, still using some SVN repos to manage our data (Beanstalk rocks), but now we’re starting to migrate more to the Git. The team is divided up into sub teams, which are all managed independently, and constantly on two week (global) dev cycles. We do all our project management through Pivotal Tracker, and have wicked fun demo days at the end of every cycle showcasing each teams improvements and brainiac innovations to everyone (while consuming beer and pizza). Our team is very passionate about the problem we’re trying to solve, technology, and code. We’re split about 50/50 Android & iPhone, so that pretty much says it all!

If you’re running a mail client (Outlook or GMail or Lotus Notes) you can try ToneCheck and to minimize the “cost” of dealing with misunderstandings.

Interested in being profiled in our Under the Hood series, we are actively looking for Canadian startups building “interesting” technologies and solving “interesting” problems. Contact me by completing your initial Under the Hood submission.