By ProServeIT on August 10, 2023

[Read Between the Tech: Episode 5]  Exploring Startups and Technology

Brought to you by ProServeIT -Unlock your organization’s digital future | Microsoft Canada - Empowering organizations and people to do more with technology.
Eric Sugar is the President of ProServeIT, an IT consulting company with 20+ years of experience in digital transformation and technology advisory for various organizations across North America. Eric is joined on this podcast episode by Michael Thibodeau, Director of Sales & Strategy (Azure) - SMB, Startups & High Growth at Microsoft Canada. Michael is also the host and creator of Pitch Please, an engaging podcast for startups, innovators, and tech lovers.

In today’s podcast episode, we discuss:

* The importance of connecting and learning from diverse startup stories.

* The potential and impact of AI/data or AR/VR.

* Challenges and rewards of supporting startups with innovative ideas.

* Highlighting the ways AI is integrated into businesses and industries.

* Highlighting the ways AI is integrated into businesses and industries.


Listen Now: 



(00:00) Introduction

(00:58) Michael’s background/passion

(03:25) How passion and processes comes together

(06:48) Favorite startup in the Canadian space

(09:16) People, food, and being connected

(10:16) Upcoming technology to be excited about

(12:40) The impact of Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality in the workplace

(20:20) Book/podcast recommendations

Links Referenced in the blog: 

• Startup challenges and rewards:


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Read the Transcription

Disclaimer: This transcription was written by AI, thanks to Descript, and has not been edited for content.

[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Read Between the Tech, the podcast that explores how companies can have richer and strategic conversations about the future of their current technology. Whether you're a tech enthusiast, business leader, or simply interested in the impact of technology in a company's growth, this podcast will have something for you.

[00:00:20] So join us on this journey as we read between the tech and uncover the real stories behind your organization's technology and its future success. Let's listen in on this episode.

[00:00:32] Eric: And thank you for joining our latest episode here with Mike Thibodeau from Microsoft and supporting a few other things on the startup front. Appreciate everyone's time learning and sharing together. Looking forward to a great conversation. Thanks for joining us, Mike, and I'll give you a minute, introduce yourself.

[00:00:49] Michael: Thanks a lot, Eric. Yeah, Mike Thibodeau. I lead our Azure, segment here at Microsoft for SMBs, startups and high growth companies. Really just means I get to be the glue between a lot of amazing people, teams, and partners helping activate across the country. And lets me dabble a little bit in one of the things which I love, which is working closely with, innovation tech and startups across the country.

[00:01:11] Eric: Very cool. And, maybe tell us a couple of things about how you got started in technology. So a bit about your background and then a bit of a couple. Why don't you think you're passionate about that? Kinda keep you going outside of work?

[00:01:20] Michael: Yeah. So I think, it's funny, I guess my like personal and professional world blend and have this amazing contrast of high tech and low tech things in my life.

[00:01:33] Michael: And so I think as I was graduating university, I was in university, I started my first business. So that, I guess that's where sort of my neck , Enjoyment for, entrepreneurship and startups started, I had a lot of cool opportunities to work at a bunch of different places during university and a co-op, type role, and that allowed me to explore different things.

[00:01:53] Michael: I tried working in financial services. Worked in cpg, consumer packaged goods technology. I worked at, Rogers and telephone booth during university full-time. So got, that was the latest and coolest tech you could really get, back then, which, was only five years ago. So that gave me a big love for tech.

[00:02:12] Michael: And then on the low tech side, while I just, after I graduated, I was exploring where I wanted to go with my career and didn't wanna rush into it. There's a couple tech companies that I was thinking about and looking at, and was working in construction, so super low tech. I was building things and in some regards, now I build PowerPoints I guess, but before I used to actually build some meaningful things that had an end to the project, which felt pretty cool.

[00:02:35] Michael: And so that sort of blends into the where and how I ended up at Microsoft because it was my sort of love for innovation in tech. Those things that are. Changing the world around us and how they impact the world around us. I love cars, high tech and low tech cars. And then when I'm not, at work or talking to startups, I like to really unplug, from the busyness and get out and do some back country camping.

[00:02:58] Michael: So I guess my life is a real big contrast of high tech and low tech things that brought me here.

[00:03:04] Eric: You need the balance. Balance is important, and having those things that are again, on and digital and in your face is important I think, from where the world is going. And also we need that time to disconnect and recharge and reset.

[00:03:14] Eric: So That's amazing. Startups you told us a bit about your own startup. Startups. I know you have your own podcast on startups and I've listened to a bunch of that and it's really cool to hear how you're working with startups, how you're talking about them. Startups are also in your segment at Microsoft, which is pretty neat.

[00:03:29] Eric: How do you, it's almost a bit of a two sides of a coin there. You've got, you work for Microsoft, one of the largest companies in the world, all sorts of process, craziness, rules for everything, and then you have this passion for startups. Tell us a bit about, How you have that two sides of the personality.

[00:03:44] Eric: Cause you're dealing with people who are running in from the seat of their pants through to I have a checkbox for everything.

[00:03:49] Michael: Yeah it's funny. I think what's cool about, Microsoft generally is your ability to get a very wide aperture on what's happening out there. And so in my role, fortunately I got to work in a place where part of my role gets to work with startups, not all of it.

[00:04:05] Michael: But I also get to work with mature companies. Traditional businesses, software businesses, a wide variety. And so I think what's cool about that is your view and spectrum of what you get to see and who you get to talk to and the stories you get to hear is amazing. But in the world of startups, I think there's like this real inspiration of the problems that people see in the world around us, or challenges, or opportunities, however you wanna frame it.

[00:04:29] Michael: It's really neat and it's really inspirational to hear how they got there. Some people are just avid entrepreneurs. Some people, just had a challenge in front of them that they just could not shake and they felt that they needed to solve it. And so it's a really cool spectrum of breadth of things people are doing and working on.

[00:04:49] Michael: So at Microsoft, I get to work with them and support them, but I probably don't get to talk to them as much as I would at the if it was just on my own accord. And to solve for that, solve for my passion of probably wanting to watch, dragons Den or Sharks Tank 24 hours a day. I figured outside of work I would have some fun just having a podcast, and it specifically features, founders and or people from the ecosystem specifically in Canada. Any size could be people with an idea on a napkin. I'm really not picky. I really just enjoy hearing what people are working on, what got them there, the challenges in their own life, pivotal moments that influence them to take this leap because entrepreneurship is definitely not for everyone.

[00:05:36] Michael: Being a founder is even, fewer people who are really made to be that. And some have aspired and dreamed for that moment for a very long time. And others, it was just such a compelling, overwhelming feeling that they needed to solve the problem, that it turned them into a founder. And so it's really cool to just hear their stories and then hear the things that they're working on.

[00:05:56] Michael: So I guess I get to contrast both. What's cool about my, my podcast is you don't have to be a startup that's working with Microsoft. It gives me great perspective and keeps me fresh at work, and then I get to, through my platform at Microsoft help lift up and empower these people and tell these stories and help amplify the amazing work they're doing.

[00:06:15] Michael: So it's a really good contrast of, being able to do it without having to think about any specific outcome. Which is the podcast, and then having some specific outcomes around driving their impact and success across Canada, at work.

[00:06:28] Eric: Very neat. So as you think about all the startups you've talked to, who, who's your favorite startup right now in, in the Canadian space?

[00:06:36] Eric: What's someone who we have to go and check out at the end of this podcast and go check their website and see what they're doing? Who should we be experimenting with and supporting?

[00:06:44] Michael: Oof. This one's a tough one. That's a tough one. Yeah it tough. I get to work with hundreds, at work. At Microsoft, I've interviewed probably over 30 now, for my podcast called Pitch Please.

[00:07:00] Michael: I don't know that I have necessarily a favorite, but maybe we'll talk about one that is interesting to me because of the space and maybe some correlation to even things I did in , my first business. They're also a very fast growing startup that exited our founders hub program in record time and are continuing to grow.

[00:07:21] Michael: And they maybe differ from some of the other ones I'm used to talking about or even you're used to seeing, a lot of times we see things in financial services, we see things in the health tech space, and there's so many amazing examples for them. It's actually what kind of drew me to it was I love food.

[00:07:37] Michael: And anybody that knows me knows I love bringing people together and being a connector. And so the company is called Dyne. I believe their website is like Dine app or something of that nature. It's D Y n e if anyone wants to check it out. And so they have a platform, that uses data and AI to help restaurants, grow and thrive, which is oftentimes an overlooked category.

[00:08:03] Michael: I think it's interesting because they started near the tail end of the pandemic when a lot of these people were trying to get back on their feet, and it helps introduce some of the best of technology to help with. Their marketing, their operational improvements, supply chains, staffing insights, it gives them a lot of the things we talk about every single day in the tech world.

[00:08:24] Michael: This like notion of co-pilots and really brings it to restaurants. And if restaurants con continues to succeed and I can go eat more food and build great connections, I think that's all goodness. So I think the uniqueness of it is pretty cool. But there's a long list and it's hard to pick a favorite.

[00:08:39] Michael: So , go set up a coffee with me or check out my podcast. I'd be happy to talk about all of them. They're all doing so many amazing things. So I wouldn't say it's a favorite, but it's definitely a unique standout one for me, because it speaks to my soul with the food and connecting people.

[00:08:54] Eric: Do you love food or do you love to cook or both?

[00:08:58] Eric: I love to cook if

[00:08:59] Michael: I can find the time to cook. But I love food. Food is great, all right? And I think food is good and delicious. But I also think it's like about the concept of people. It's a moment for people to get together and talk and spend time with each other. It's almost harder without food.

[00:09:16] Michael: Sometimes food helps make those moments happen or add something to them. So I love bringing people together and I love food, and somehow they're completely interrelated most times in my life, and probably for many others.

[00:09:28] Eric: Yep. They need, the food connects. It makes everyone human. It makes mistakes.

[00:09:32] Eric: You spill, you drop things. It's just, it's part of being human. So I love cooking on the, I'm on the cooking side. But love the cooking cuz it brings people together and for me it's barbecue. I get that.

[00:09:43] Eric: What technology, you may have mentioned a little bit of technology. What technology most excited about today?

[00:09:49] Michael: This one's tough. I think like I'm gonna be influenced and biased by the thing that's like most hot right now. And I'm gonna say ai, but I'm going to say that maybe the word excited isn't the perfect word for how I think about it. I think for me, the best word to describe how I'm thinking about ai, AI is I'm actually fascinated.

[00:10:10] Michael: And the reason I say that is because there's definitely lots of things about AI that excite me. But then I'm equally curious and aware of the discussions around how we manage transitions, change, impact, and trust. I don't think we have all the answers yet. We definitely have a lot of good answers, maybe not all of them, but then, I also don't think that should stop our energy. On using this technology and exploring it shouldn't halt innovation. And so we need to get comfortable having those discussions alongside our innovation. We need to be okay to talk openly and, approach it with an open mind because if we shut everything down, like we stunned a special moment at the speed at which things are accelerating.

[00:10:58] Michael: And so I guess I'm excited, but I'm more so fascinated because I think I'm enjoying reading, understanding, talking to people on all sides of the dialogue around ai. But I think AI is, it's obviously not new, although there's a new renewed energy around it because of the accessibility to AI as everyday consumers that we've been given through things like chat, G p T recently, that have accelerated a lot of what's possible, and I think that's pretty cool.

[00:11:27] Eric: Yeah, so it's, for me, it's, AI and the democratization of a ai. So AI was super expensive 12 months ago today, Evan could do it almost for free. So it's where are we going? So experimentation and transformation to me are really interesting in that space.

[00:11:43] Eric: And then ar, vr, I am, I'll say nervously, fascinated is a great word, but nervously interested in what's coming, how it's going to work, how people will eventually dive into the metaverse and the augmented reality space. But, Not losing the human connection the breaking bread together, the eating, the having a drink together, coffee.

[00:12:04] Eric: I think those pieces are really important, but those are the two texts that I'm zoned in on. Do you have a story about either ar vr? Cause I know you had some experience there. That's where we met. Yeah. Or about, ai And I'll let you pick your story, but those two pieces I anchor, really look for a story, maybe are a thought on those from you.

[00:12:20] Michael: Oh man, I, I think. If I tie it all together. So obviously when we met Eric, oof, I don't even remember how many years back this was, but I was the hollowlens and mixed reality lead, for Canada, which in some regards had to do with the hardware and the software that ran on that hardware, mixed reality or vr.

[00:12:42] Michael: But it also had to do with the platforms and connecting devices, even phones, right? It wasn't just about the HoloLens, which people thought it was, but it was also like generally anchoring components between our digitals and physical worlds. And then now in my current role with startups, I get to work a lot with people, I would call it use it, build it, break it, and we can talk about that after, around ai. And I guess the first story that comes to mind is, I think the part I love about my job, I guess I'm giving a little free bump in, in advertisement to Microsoft, but I think it's also just about the ability to work in the technology space.

[00:13:22] Michael: Is we're unbounded in what we're able to do. And so I've had a lot of autonomy and creative ability to go work with some of these cool things and live a little outside of the role definition, whether that be when I was working with HoloLens Mixed reality or now it's startups and getting to live close to the latest trends in ai.

[00:13:40] Michael: I think that's like really cool. You don't have to necessarily commit to doing any one of those things. You can see the breadth of it. And I think that's really special. It gives you like perspective. That you can carry across. I might not be the deepest expert on either of those technologies or especially those technologies when you double click into an industry. But sometimes it's cool to see and bring thoughts of how people are using AR and VR and financial services and pair that with something you're seeing around AI and the health tech space. And although completely unrelated in some seemingly way, sometimes there's these meshed dialogues that you can bring people together and reignite that connector, element to bring the two together. So I think my story, because I, it's so hard to isolate any one moment across any of those, but is the ability to see the breadth of impact that these things are having and the ability to shape and morph and maybe that's a little bit of me. You don't have to do that.

[00:14:31] Michael: That's not like a prerequisite to get a job here. But the ability to go. Flex and do cool things. Like even when we were doing some stuff on AR and VR and mixed reality, Eric that wasn't in my job description. And it wasn't necessarily in your job description, but it's fun. Definitely not. It brings people together and you can go push the mold as long as you can go create that time.

[00:14:49] Michael: I guess the story is about the ability to go impact and influence these things at scale.

[00:14:53] Eric: Experimentation at scale is what's driving disruption and change. So I can see, yeah, super important. And then you mentioned use it, break it, build it, tell us a bit more about that.

[00:15:03] Michael: I like to break it last, but yeah it's, it's an interesting, I guess I would call it like themes and I don't know, this might be quoted somewhere else.

[00:15:12] Michael: I just came up with these themes. I would say, again, from that perspective of talking to so many traditional businesses, larger enterprises, startups, friends, colleagues, family, I see these three themes emerging. The first is use it. The second is build it and the last is break it. And I guess I made it sound fun when I use those three together, but the idea is, use, it's really about how people are enhancing their productivity and efficiency in what they do. So that's everything from, the things that we've seen, in beta or people using around Microsoft Co-pilot, developer, co-pilots, AI assistance. We've been using versions of that for years. People using chat, G P T people using. Things from the break IT category, which we'll talk about in their roles.

[00:16:01] Michael: Sometimes deployed by the organization, sometimes as individuals who are just seeking out new and fresh ways to, enhance how they build a PowerPoint slide or enhance how they write a blog post. These are all things of people using technology with AI within it to enhance their productivity and efficiency in their roles and organizations doing it to enhance their productivity and efficiency as an organization.

[00:16:25] Michael: Maybe they're trying to get. A hundred videos at the door and before they were capping out, they could only get to 50. Are there tools that they could empower video editors with to help double their output? And I know this is a huge challenge in developers. Like we almost never had enough developers to develop all of the things that we need in the world.

[00:16:42] Michael: And so leveraging, AI technology to enhance productivity and efficiency has helped us not necessarily close the gap, but reduce the gap. The next is build it. I think this is, a piece that I see a lot at my role at Microsoft, which are organizations of every size, some that have built existing software, some that have some other traditional element of their business and are not in software at all.

[00:17:08] Michael: But how are they? Either already integrating or at least reflecting on and or piloting how they can integrate AI or large language models into their existing business and or product. If you think about it, it's Chatbots and virtual assistants are a big category. Predictive analytics, recommendation systems, right?

[00:17:31] Michael: If you think of the largest example, we see things like Netflix has been for time personalizing these suggestions more and more now getting even more personal. But these are ex examples of Netflix is not an AI company. But they're leveraging and innovating. They're building it into their product feature set to benefit and delight their customers.

[00:17:54] Michael: Others are companies that might have existing SaaS. Solutions. And they're building it as a component but not the only component of what they do. And that, leads to break it, which is, I guess the newest category, although I'm sure there's been, and I know there has been, AI born in AI companies where their entire business model is disrupting something with AI at the core.

[00:18:17] Michael: So these are AI borne companies. They're redefining industries, redefining how we approach existing problems. And it's gonna be challenging to predict which ones will break through, which ones will we adopt, which ones will completely disrupt existing business models or our productivity and efficiency gains.

[00:18:33] Michael: And this is the one I probably get the most exposure through founders of at Microsoft and also through the work. That, I do talking to startups on the podcast, but use it build to break it. They're not specific to startups, they're not specific to SaaS businesses. I think thematically, I'm seeing that across my friends, family, colleagues, and businesses of every size that, that we talk to.

[00:18:56] Eric: We've been through three or four versions of ProServ, so I can say that for sure. I understand the whole concept of breaking it and disrupting yourself as a key idea for every business as we're in this digital transformation journey. So I love to read, some people love to listen to books. What's your favorite book or audio book right now?

[00:19:13] Michael: Yeah, I'm definitely a listener. I try, I've tried so many times to read when it comes to a book. I can't do it. I love reading articles. Yep. Shorter, medium form. I love reading about things. I love watching videos on things. So I guess it's just how I learn. But for me to get focused enough, the way I learn best is not by reading a book, unfortunately but I love to listen. I think. I don't know if it's like a favorite, but I think it's one that stuck with me and maybe influenced things not just at work, but in my life. Which is the book Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Yeah. And I think the reason is, and as a summary, the book is about this thought that Simon talks about called the golden Circle, which is why, how, and what and how. Most companies start with what they do. Then they talk about how they do it, but they rarely touch on the why they do it, which is interesting because like when I talk to a lot of the startups, when the best pitches start with their why, and actually the sometimes before they pitch, actually getting to their background story before we talk about it actually brings to life that why.

[00:20:27] Michael: For so many of them, and it's really about going beyond making the profits and it's your core purpose, but I think. The reason that it stands out for me is it has so many relatable elements to, how a business operates, which is great. And obviously I like talking to startups, I live in a business every day, have to activate people and get excited about the why of what we do and our purpose.

[00:20:50] Michael: But it's also like super, relatable to life, which is. Finding reflection of these moments to reset and reflect on the purpose and intentionality of the things you're doing, what you stand for, how you deploy and spend your time, your energy, your resources in life. And so it really brings a clear sense of that purpose to why you do things in your life, why you do things that you do at work, why the company you work at or for or within or are building, does the thing it does.

[00:21:22] Michael: And I think that the core of the start with why. Transcends so many aspects of work and life that it's really stuck with me and is a probably the question I ask most often all of the time. And I think it's really cool and it's inspiring, inspiring audio book or book if you like to read.

[00:21:40] Eric: Thank you for sharing. It is a really good one. I love that book. And then last thing, where can people find you? Cause you got a pretty awesome podcast. I know you got a day job of Microsoft, so where can people find you if they're looking for you?

[00:21:50] Michael: Yeah. On LinkedIn, it's, I should probably change it eventually to Mike Tito, but it's Michael Tito.

[00:21:56] Michael: I think if you do the slash it's slash mi. T H I B O D E A U. So m i tido, on LinkedIn. And then for the podcast, you could find it on Instagram, or LinkedIn or a, any platform that you listen to podcasts. It's just pitch Please Pod is how you'd find it. If you're like, oh, which one of these is it?

[00:22:17] Michael: It's the one that's like a light bulb. That'll be the easiest way to find it. And if you are a. A startup or a person that works in this space. You don't have to be a startup, but if you work with or in the Canadian ecosystem, I'd love to talk to you. No, no one's too big or too small. I think it's just about hearing the authentic stories.

[00:22:33] Michael: You don't have to be a winning story or a losing story or have some amazing advice. I think it's just the raw stories that, that we get to so much amazing things. So happy to talk with anyone on that or have a coffee as part of my role at Microsoft, or if you are a company working in this. Text base, whether it's a partner or a customer.

[00:22:52] Michael: Happy to speak with you as well. I think I answer. I wanna say I've answered every message I get. I try to make sure I get back to everybody. I think that's super important, because you never know what a missed coffee, could end up bringing in life. So I try to take every chat, every coffee, virtual or in person, and continue to build bridge, amazing connections sometimes over food.

[00:23:13] Eric: That's a great way to wind us up. Mike, thank you for sharing with the audience. Thank you for your time and

[00:23:18] Eric: look forward to our next coffee together. Awesome. Sounds good. Thanks Eric.



Published by ProServeIT August 10, 2023