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In the Valley, startup finds honest feedback and advice

Silicon Valley's capital city San Jose, California as seen in this aerial photo is undergoing an urban development revolution calculated to keep it as the thriving heart of a region renowned for technological innovation.The city is working to reverse a trend in which promising startups take root in suburbs and neighboring cities such as Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and Cupertino -- the homes of Google, Yahoo and Apple respectively. Districts brimming with high-density housing are now blossoming near downtown office towers. There are 32,000 units in or near the city center and "enterprise incubation centers" have sprung up to nurture start-ups in the areas of software, bioscience, environment and market access.


The idea for Checkfront – a booking and e-commerce platform for businesses to market, manage and sell their services online – started with my partner Grant Jurgeneit's experience guiding tours in Whistler B.C., and was furthered by our own frustrations when trying to book family vacations online. We moonlighted throughout the beta, but the response from the marketplace made us realize we would need more resources to meet the demand for our solution.

By the time we launched Checkfront in 2009, e-commerce was big business and booking a hotel, flight or even restaurant online was no longer a novelty. But when it came to booking a tour, renting a boat, or an accommodation from an independent operator, you were often left with an e-mail form, voice mail or the dreaded fax machine. Worse yet, businesses often lacked the proper tools for effectively managing their offline and online bookings and instead were left with a mess of spread-sheets, calendars or antiquated software. We knew there was an opportunity to change how scheduling was done.

We were preparing to launch Checkfront in late May of 2010 and received a last-minute call from the Trade Commissioner in San Francisco with an invitation to attend 48 Hours in the Valley. Despite being completely overwhelmed, we knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.

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I arrived in San Francisco 72 hours after launching version 1.0 of Checkfront. Without any pre-conceived expectations, I was there simply to soak up as much information as I could, meet as many contacts as possible and then return to Vancouver Island and pick up where I left off. But this event would end up directly changing our business model and help point us to success.

The event kicked off in Palo Alto, at the offices of Picaboo and Uptake (two Canadian success stories). Picaboo co-founder and co-CEO Howard Field discussed the struggles of launching his first startup and making that leap to the Valley. I recall his story about reaching the bottom of his line of credit and framing his bank receipt for inspiration. I really wished I had saved mine.

The mentoring sessions were also motivating. They allowed us to pitch our ideas and get honest, open feedback from some of Canada's most successful entrepreneurs. We had two 45-minute sessions with each mentor, but I could have talked to them all day long. We had great advice from Austin Hill (Bumptop Angel, iNovia, Akoha) and Rob Piovensan & Marilyn Mersereau of Cisco. You don't come by that sort of advice easily.

The evening networking events were probably the most interesting. The range of companies attending were pretty diverse. I'm still in touch with several of the entrepreneurs I met at 48 Hours in the Valley, and enjoy seeing them meet their goals.

Since then, Checkfront has hit several important milestones. We went on to win Emerging Technology Company of the Year by VIATeC this summer. Our customer base has increased by 350 per cent since last December and our merchants have to date completed over $28-million (US) in online bookings.

Special to the Globe and Mail

Jason Morehouse is the co-founder and CTO of Checkfront, an online booking system for Activity, Tour and Accommodation businesses. You can reach him on Twitter @jasonmorehouse and @checkfront.

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Grant Jurgeneit is the co-founder and CEO of Checkfront. Grant can be reached @jurgeneit or

This is the fourth in a four-part series on 48 Hours In The Valley, and how it helps Canadian tech companies in the short- and long-term.

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