Hello to Canada’s SaaS Community,
Canada’s tech publication of record—BetaKit—is run by a founder. Not a conglomerate legacy media organization, but a single person, Douglas Soltys, who acts as both CEO and Editor In Chief. Speaking with SAAS NORTH ahead of hosting the BetaKit Keynote Stage at the conference, Douglas explained what it’s like bootstrapping a media company and shared his entrepreneurial lessons learned.
- Think of your products as the means to deliver on your value proposition.
- Focus your efforts on generating impact rather than activity.
- Identify what role you want in your own company—“founder” won’t cut it forever.
- Media coverage is not the same thing as traction.
Co-Founder/Producer, SAAS NORTH Conference Editor, SAAS NORTH NOW
BetaKit as we know it today—the publication of record for Canadian tech—is the company’s third iteration. The media publication was initially founded in 2012 under the Postmedia umbrella but was shut down shortly after. It had a rebirth in 2013 after MobileSyrup purchased it from Postmedia.
The current version of BetaKit began in 2016 when it was spun out as its own company from MobileSyrup, officially making Douglas Soltys not just a journalist or editor, but an entrepreneur.
Speaking with SAAS NORTH ahead of leading the BetaKit Keynote Stage at the conference, Douglas explained more about his journey as a bootstrapping founder (plus, a tip on how to get your startup featured in BetaKit).
Growing with the ecosystem
Douglas’ journey to BetaKit had humble beginnings. In 2004, he worked for an Ottawa-based startup (or, as it was then known, a “small business”). The company purchased a blog that covered BlackBerry news founded by an employee and Douglas took over leading the blog. He then went to work for Research In Motion (RIM), BlackBerry’s parent company, in 2009, leaving just as things began to get “bleak” in 2011.
He joined BetaKit in 2014 as a contributor, the year after MobileSyrup bought the nearly-dead media brand from Postmedia. He became Managing Editor in 2015 and ultimately founded the modern incarnation of BetaKit when it became an independent startup from MobileSyrup in 2016.
At the same time, the Canadian tech ecosystem was relatively young. The new BetaKit had a mission to connect, interrogate, and inform the Canadian tech community—filling a gap Douglas identified, since there was no daily media cadence covering technology companies in Canada at the time.
But Douglas faced a unique problem at the start: Canadian startups wouldn’t pitch them any stories.
“In 2016, Canadian tech companies were so used to not having their news covered that they wouldn’t even issue press releases or pitch anyone,” said Douglas.
In response, the BetaKit team focused on covering what was happening: grassroots events and the small announcements that were available from then-burgeoning scaleups like Shopify and Hootsuite.
As the ecosystem grew, so did BetaKit. The first major branch was events, with BetaKit becoming a content partner to numerous conferences, including SAAS NORTH and Elevate Tech Fest. It also hosted its own event—BetaKit150—in celebration of the 150th anniversary of confederation. Then came team expansion, where the company hired team members in Vancouver and Montreal to ensure national coverage. The newly enlarged team also launched newsletters and multiple podcasts (CanCon in 2016, Black Swan in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and ultimately the BetaKit podcast in 2021).
“Our expansion coincided with each tech ecosystem across Canada lighting up to a level where it deserved and needed coverage,” said Douglas. “We wanted to showcase what local companies were doing not just to Canada but also the world.”
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Impact and mission, not just activity
Looking back on BetaKit’s growth journey, Douglas recounted three painful lessons he learned as an entrepreneur.
The first is about how you see your products. Douglas explained BetaKit has multiple products—newsletters, editorial coverage, podcasts, and at one point live events—but it took him a while to fully understand that BetaKit is not defined by its products solely. Instead, the products BetaKit makes are, and always should be, in service of the company’s mission.
“Do you see your company as the products you’ve built, or do you see products as how you manifest a value proposition and mission?” Douglas commented. “If you’re hamstrung tied to the original product, you won’t be scrappy or fast enough to change with the times.”
The second is about impact. Over the years, Douglas did a lot to get the BetaKit name out there and “show presence” to make noise about the brand and Canadian tech. But he realized there’s a difference between activity and impact.
“I spent many years drumming up interest and activity for BetaKit,” said Douglas. “But there were many simpler things I could have worked on, like growing revenue, building operational support, or staffing up the company. For founders out there: you have to make sure you’re driving impact rather than just activity.”
And finally, being a journalist (or even an Editor in Chief) is different from being an entrepreneur or business leader. Douglas said he didn’t start BetaKit to run a business—he wanted to run a publication and had to start a company to do it. So for years, he saw himself as the Editor in Chief when in reality he was also the founder and company leader. He’s now stepping more confidently into the CEO role and advises other founders to think deeply about what role they really want to have in their company (to help them in this journey, the BetaKit team leveraged Entrepreneurial Operating System training).
“Many founders start companies because they want to solve a problem, but they don’t actually want to run a company,” said Douglas. “This is the first time I’ve thought of myself as a CEO rather than just an Editor in Chief.”
How to get your startup featured in BetaKit
As Douglas continues to scale BetaKit, he always keeps the mission in mind: connect, interrogate, and inform Canadian tech. While this has traditionally taken the form of additional coverage-focused products like podcasts or newsletters on top of BetaKit’s daily news reporting, BetaKit now offers startups within the ecosystem best-practice advice on how to approach media outreach through its official Patreon, in partnership with innovation orgs across the country
“We want to show companies how to not trip over themselves when sharing their good news,” said Douglas.
When BetaKit launched the Patreon in 2021, it was the first time Douglas had directly asked readers to support the publication. He said the response was better than expected, teaching him one more lesson as an entrepreneur: if you don’t give people the opportunity to support you, the help won’t come. But if you make the ask, it often will.
For founders looking for the quick secret to getting featured in BetaKit (or any media publication), the answer is to share a compelling story. But Douglas also cautions that founders might want to focus their activity elsewhere first.
“Don’t think media coverage is the same as generating traction for your business,” said Douglas. “This is not the case. If you pursue media coverage instead of solving company problems, you’re only expediting the death of your company.”