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Gamification, Meetup Note-Taking and Why Toronto is Fertile Start-Up Territory: An Interview with Mark Reale

Mark Reale is the Community and Culture Partner at Canadian tech company BNOTIONS, and has been using Popplet to organize his ideas, map brainstorming activities, and present at conferences since 2010.

Mark Reale
Mark Reale

BNOTIONS is at the center of the Toronto start-up scene, releasing an ongoing schedule of mobile and app products. Despite the hectic nature of being part of a business that is on Branham’s Top 300 list of best performing companies in Canada, and with an ever-growing catalog of mobile apps in development, Mark still helps host the weekly Lean Coffee entrepreneurs’ meetup, and manages the company’s not-for-profit initiative the YMC.

“We were 4 guys for a really long time, and now we’re around 60”, he says, explaining why BNOTIONS was ranked Number 5 on Branham’s Top 10 growth companies for 2012.

Mark recently shared a Popplet from the latest Lean Coffee meetup (see below). We asked him what Lean Coffee is all about, why the Toronto tech scene is getting some buzz, and where Popplet fits in to his creative, working life.

Q: Tell us a little about Lean Coffee?

A: As part of our not-for-profit initiative called the YMC, which brings entrepreneurial and tech resources to the community, we were inspired by a visit from a San Francisco startup back in 2010. Over the course of conversation, they told us about this Lean Coffee meetup that they had running out in SF, and it was the type of thing that fit into a lot of the initiatives we had on the go here.

On paper, it seems like a crazy idea. The meetup starts at 8 o’clock in the morning. It’s an interesting model because it’s a ridiculous time of day, but that’s also why it works so well. Everyone is more focused because they have to get to work at 9 am so the discussions stay on topic. It also works as a natural filter because only the most dedicated and insane people would turn up at such an hour.

Toronto has a strong tech entrepreneurial scene, so at its peak we had 45 people showing up and had to run the lean coffee meetup on the same topic twice a week, asking people to only come to one session so everyone could fit. Today, we regularly see a good number of folks, and the meetup has built a reputation for being a valuable resource with high calibre discussions. So far we have about 120 meetings under our belt, and we still meet weekly at 8 am.

Q: Can you tell us a little about how this Gamification Popplet was made?

gamification popplet

A: Toronto has an annual video game hackathon called TOJAM and as a result, the topic of real games as well as gamification was something that came up enough times that we wanted to have a closer look.

We wanted to ask the Lean Coffee community what they thought about ways to encourage gamification, how can you effectively implement it, and generally try to move ahead in a space where often its just a trendy word or something that everyone thinks they need to include somewhere in their product.

One of the the over-arching themes that Lean Coffee tries to instill into the Toronto startup scene is to develop an environment that really questions new product ideas and development. I had a chance to spend some time with the team at the Lean Startup machine in New York awhile back, and their mandate to continually question the assumptions that entrepreneurs make resonates throughout the Toronto community. So in this case, our meetup was focused on really stripping down the idea of gamification and seeing how you can effectively implement it.

The hypothesis we walked away with was that gamification only really works for the augmentation of something that is already meaningful and useful. You still need to answer the basic questions:

  • How useful is your product?
  • Is it solving a legitimate problem?

It doesn’t need to be useful to all 7 billion people on the planet, but you do need a good core of users who will benefit from your product.

Q: How did you come to use Popplet for mapping the discussion?

A: We use Popplet at a good number of our meetups as it happens. Originally we used a whiteboard, but since I’ve been using Popplet since 2010, I began using Popplet to keep track of a lot of the Lean Coffee discussions. It comes in particular handy when people start vectoring off on other topics.

It’s the only tool I’ve ever found that allows many-to-many relationships. With Popplet, you don’t have to have a central word or idea that everything gets connected to. There is no one central point: you can have multiple connections between different ideas and concepts. That’s unique in the mind mapping tools I’ve used.

Thanks to Mark for sharing his time with us and being part of the Popplet People community. You can also check out BNOTIONS for some great mobile apps.

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