Billions with Zero Knowledge

Published in The Gazette June 2, 2007

Blog: Billions with Zero Knowledge
Author: Austin Hill, 33, entrepreneur
First post: Oct. 19, 2006
Updated: About once a week

Austin Hill was a big guy in the local Internet scene before there even was one. His résumé as a web entrepreneur is extensive. He started his own data security company when he was 17, then his own Internet service provider in 1994, which merged with another company to become Total.Net (a big name among Montreal ISPs in the late 1990s). After that company was sold to BCE Emergis in 1997, Hill co-founded Zero-Knowledge Systems, an Internet software company that he raised $75 million for through the dot-com boom and bust.

A decade later, Hill has amassed enough experience to start teaching others how to become successful web entrepreneurs, and he’s active on the public speaking circuit. His blog contains his thoughts on web entrepreneurship and the technology community, including some interviews with exciting new faces in the Canadian technology scene.

“There is a lack of technology entrepreneurs sharing their experience in Canada,” Hill says. “I have been overwhelmed at the response from entrepreneurs looking to network and connect with people who can give them practical advice on building companies in Canada.”

Nowadays, Hill isn’t just talking the talk. He’s got his hands busy in two startups set to launch this summer. One, called Standout Jobs, promises to change the way technology jobs are hired, by focusing on using video technology and blogs to better reach out to potential employees. Another (Akoha), which is mired in super-secrecy, describes itself only as a “new kind of web community”.

With all the successful technology companies under his belt, it’s hard to imagine Hill’s latest ventures falling flat. But even if they do, they’ll be more lessons he can teach others through his speeches and blog posts.

Sample post: “Recruiting takes a lot of time to do right. Throughout my career I’ve been involved in the recruiting and hiring of hundreds of people. Having recently used most of the recruiting tools, and jobs boards out there I can say honestly they pretty much all suck. I’m not the only person to notice this. … Companies pay to use these services because they don’t know what else to do, and they are so desparate to find people they throw away a lot of money on postings that don’t work.”

Bonus questions

Tell me about yourself

Austin Hill, 33, Montreal & Calgary are my hometowns.

What is your day job?

I’m an entrepreneur & angel investor.

Why did you start your blog? When was the first post and what was it about?

I started blogging in mid-October 2006. I started to blog to discuss Canada’s early stage technology community and also to discuss my own projects and investments.

My first post was about how I was going to wait a while before writing my first official blog post. It’s been about 4 months since then and I’m still working on the official inaugural post, but I’m busy posting about Canada’s technology community anyway. I wanted to get comfortable in my blogging shoes before tackling my inaugural post.

What do you write about? What makes your blog unique?

I like to write about what interests me. Most of my topics are about Canada’s early stage technology community. Both what is occurring in our own backyard as well as what Canada needs to grow as a technology leader. I often write about venture financing, technology trends that interest me as well as just whatever happens to interest me. I’m still exploring various topics and expect that I’ll continue to change throughout my first year of blogging.

Do you have a favourite post or series? One that got a lot of attention?

I’ve done some interviews with various members of the Canadian technology community to showcase the incredible amount of talent we have in our country that is often overlooked. These have been very popular. I have also written a bit about Dragon’s Den the CBC show and why I felt it was a bad choice for entrepreneurs raising capital. That was my most popular post. In general entrepreneurs have shown a real curiosity to be able to ask questions of someone who has ‘done it before’. Anytime I post about raising money or building companies I get a large response.

What do you not blog about? What do you have absolutely no interest in?

I try to stay away from politics, blogotics (the politics of the blog world) and covering what is already discussed at nauseam in mainstream media or popular blogs. The world doesn’t need me analyzing the features of a new MP3 Phone or a gaming console. There is a lack of technology entrepreneurs sharing their experience in Canada. I have been overwhelmed at the response from entrepreneurs looking to network and connect with people who can give them practical advice on building companies in Canada. This keeps me plenty busy without have to fish for topics in the mainstream.

How has the blog changed since you first started it?

I continue to experiment with all sorts of types of posts, content length and things I think my readers will find interesting. I don’t that this will change. There is a huge freedom from owning your own virtual printing press so who knows how I will feel like using it.

I definitely am become more conscious of the responsibility to provide good quality content as my readership has grown. I want people to feel like they learn something or are exposed to something completely new by visiting my blog.

Who reads your blog?

I have readers from around the world, but most of them come from major Canadian cities and Silicon Valley where much of my network and friends live.

I get entrepreneurs, students, engineers, former employees & friends, venture capitalists, friends and once in awhile my Mom visiting.

What else should people know to understand your blog?

That I write as much for me as my small audience. I test out theories and ideas through my blog. I experiment with new technologies and research trends by discussing them in public and seeing the results in my logs. There is a huge amount of experimentation. Sometimes I’ve written monstrously long posts, other times just funny and insightful photos or videos. I’m not sure if I will ever have one style or topic since my blog is a reflection of the many diverse interests I have.

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