Where do the Uber, Slack and SpaceX founders come from? What country is responsible for producing founders accounting for nearly half of 2019’s tech IPO market caps?
Having been a serial founder of this top country’s once thriving tech scene, I often hear the following question and response:
“How is this country different from Silicon Valley?”
“Well, think of California, take away the nice weather and take away the ambition, you’re left with
a) really nice people, and
b) really smart people”
… That’s my home, that’s the true north. That’s Canada!
While I agree that Canadians are nice and smart people, something we are extremely proud of, characterizing us as unambitious couldn’t be further from the truth…
Did you know Uber’s founder Garrett Camp, is a Canadian? Did you know that Slack’s founder Stewart Butterfield is a Canadian? These are two of our many heroes.
Believe it or not, these Canadians in Silicon Valley have contributed more than you’d expect to the massive tech outcomes and IPO’s this year in 2019… in fact out of an expected $270bn IPO market cap value at the high range, ~49% of that IPO value this year is generated by Canadian founders!
For a population 1/10th that of the USA’s, it’s a big deal that Canadian founders make up 2 out of the top 9 tech startup IPO’s in 2019 or 22% of the top founders, and half of IPO value in 2019, that’s clearly punching above our weight class!
It’s worthy to mention that Canadians have always made their mark in the Valley with some of the notable Canadians in Silicon Valley including (but not limited to):
- Elon Musk: A Canadian-South African… a driving force behind PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX and others. Elon attended my Alma mater — Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.
- Rob Burgess: CEO of Macromedia, acquired by Adobe for $3.4B
- Jeff Skoll: The first employee and president of eBay
- Rob Lloyd: Former Cisco President and former CEO Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Tech
- Jeff Mallett: Founding COO/President at Yahoo
- Cecil Green: Co-founder of Texas Instruments, was born in England and raised in Vancouver,
- James Gosling: Father of the Java computing language
In trying to follow the footsteps of Wayne Gretzky, a great Canadian, who famously said “ I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been”… In this blog post, I wish not only to celebrate our Canadian heroes, but also look forward to and support our heroes in the making, of whom there are plenty:
- Aly Orady, founder of Tonal, re-inventing the home gym & personal training industry, from your living room … (recently closed a $45m round backed by Sapphire’s sport fund & L-Catterton)
- May Habib of Qordoba (backed by Kara Nortman & Mark Suster at Upfront Ventures) where Visa, Marriott, Sephora and others are taking control of their front-end copy at scale, thanks to Qordoba
- Chad Rigetti of Rigetti Quantum Computing (backed by A16Z, DCVC, Streamlined VC, Lux capital) who’ll achieve quantum advantage first!
- Alex Rodrigues of Embark autonomous long-haul trucking with commercial deals with Amazon prime & others (backed by Sequoia, DCVC& YC, SOMA capital and others)…
- Chris Turlica & Hugo Dozois-Caouette of MaintainX bringing order to the front line & blue collar workers through mobile (backed by True Ventures)
- Nima Noori is the founder and CEO of TVAPE, one of the worlds largest vaporizer retailers and distributors in Canada/USA and winner of Product of the Year in the growing $22.6 billion global vapour products market.
- Jonathan Abrams, founder of Founders Den, Nuzzel and before that friendster, and he’s brewing up exciting things in 2019
and the list goes on…
Why are Canadians best positioned to crack Silicon Valley with success, you ask?
Lifestyle & Education
In addition to the close proximity and relatively easy access, Canadians have a very similar lifestyle and interest in American culture (we watch US TV shows, follow/compete with US sports teams, and eat American food, etc). Also, Canada has a great educational foundation where public schooling is often regarded better than private from the elementary stage up to post-graduate studies.
And let’s not forget the many tech organizations and start-up competitions, starting with the Nortel Case competition back in 1998–2000 in Ottawa and continuing with programs like Creative Destruction Lab throughout Canada and the DMZ in Toronto and Communitech in Waterloo and many others.
Deep Tech Talent
Canada has a remarkable pipeline of talent and domain experts whose value is sought by the world’s leading tech companies and research institutes. We all heard of Bill Gates fishing for the best talent emerging from Waterloo and Google Brain endowing Geoffrey Hinton with extraordinary status to lead their research efforts in artificial neural networks and deep learning.
Canada’s synthesis of talent is enabled by a robust secondary and tertiary education system that caters to deep science and tech innovations that it can export to the world, primarily to its southern neighbour (note the Canadian spelling 🙂 ) where those projects can be taken to their ultimate fruition.
There’s been a long awaited recent reinvigoration of tech and innovations hubs around Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver like TechToronto founded by Alex Norman & Jason Goldlist, the Elevate Conference, and many others.
In the valley we have organizations like The C100 led by Laura Buhler who play the role to precisely help Canada reclaim its history of entrepreneurship — Nortel, Corel, Newbridge, Blackberry, Mitel, JDS, Cognos, Matrox, and other innovative companies all came out of Canada.
Let’s not forget that Canada has better immigration policies (why did Elon go to Canada first?) and stronger safety nets (healthcare) which should in theory enable more entrepreneurship.
I am often asked, well if Canadians are so great, why are they in Silicon Valley?
This is the billion dollar question… see having been a Silicon Valley outsider myself up until 4 years ago, I now know what’s so special about Silicon Valley. In reality, intelligence and intelligent people can be found everywhere around the globe.. however, I argue and say:
Silicon Valley has something more valuable than intelligence… and that is Wisdom — the intersection of intelligence and experience..
There’s no place on earth with more concentration of “wisdom” in tech & startups than Silicon Valley!
The drag for Canada is that it’s a smaller market economy, so the gravitational pull of the US is huge. Even if one stays in Canada, the largest target market is still in the US.
Back home in Canada, I was often told “ Raed.. you’re crazy for trying to do this or that”, and when I came to Silicon Valley, I was often told “Raed…. you’re not crazy enough!”. Silicon Valley has drastically unlocked new frontiers in my thinking and has greatly informed the type of founders I look to back.
I look for founders who are 10x better than me, founders who are frugal and resourceful, and can get a lot done with very little, a great Canadian trait! There’s nothing I dislike more than waste.
Wastefulness scales really well! … that’s not good for anyone.
I look for founders building startups that are both coin-operated businesses with healthy unit economics (or have the promise to become such) and/or building assets in the form of strong network effects or deep tech & data moats.
Founders who are in the pursuit of transforming traditional antiquated industries like energy, water, manufacturing, agriculture, financial services, healthcare.
Rise of the rest?
Having been a serial founder, and later a VC and an institutional LP, I had the privilege to be part of a team that evaluated over 300 VC funds in the Valley and ended up investing in the best eleven of them. I’ve seen many VCs try to differentiate themselves by promoting a strategy of “rise of the rest” (of the world i.e.) … although considered a sound strategy for some, I am a believer in the continued “Rise of Silicon Valley”
The absolute best founders around the globe find their way to the Valley to work for, or to set up their own startup, or at a minimum to look for funding. Take Snap as an example, widely identified as an LA start-up, but in reality, they raised their capital in Silicon Valley.
I am on the hunt for extraordinary founders. If you want to impact a billion people with technology and tackle traditional industries like energy, water, manufacturing, agriculture, financial services, healthcare, then I want to hear from you! If you happen to be Canadian, even better!
About Raed A. Masri & Transform VC
Transform VC, is a founder centric, Silicon Valley seed fund, building bridges between Silicon Valley, Canada, and the Middle East.
Founded by Raed (pronounced RAW-ED) A. Masri, a serial Canadian founder & YPO’er (with two 20x outcomes and 3 failures). Raed’s portfolio investing track record is 85% IRR and 10x MOIC.
In Canada, Raed founded SkySurf, the exclusive operator responsible for inflight internet across Canada exiting to GoGo Inflight, the world’s largest inflight wi-fi provider. In America, Raed became a VC and institutional LP with Mubadala Ventures in San Francisco.