There’s no better way to find out where you stand than to ask an unbiased visitor what they think of you.
So, when I caught up with Y Combinator’s Garry Tan as he toured the Communitech Hub today, I was interested to hear his impressions. He wasn’t shy about sharing them, unprompted.
He repeatedly used words like “amazing” and “incredible” and “phenomenally cool” as he made his way through the Hub’s airy, naturally-lit spaces in the former Lang Tannery, where Waterloo Region’s tech entrepreneurs work together to start, grow and improve their companies.
The Christie Digital HIVE, which renders dynamic 3D environments you can walk around in, was a particular hit with Tan, who’d never seen anything like it.
In a sit-down interview afterward, he said the Waterloo approach “seems exactly right – bringing people together and getting people to help each other, that’s totally the right thing for the entrepreneurs. All of the things I see with YC, I see with you guys, too.”
The praise didn’t stop there. Tan, who sizes up and coaches startups at Y Combinator’s celebrated home base in sunny, cash-flush Silicon Valley, said “you guys certainly have way better facilities.”
He also said we “have built a lot more than most anyone else I’ve seen, and it’s all in one place, and there’s just so many people involved. It’s not something you see, at this scale, anywhere else.”
As for our decidedly non-California-like location, Tan – who was born in Winnipeg and grew up in the San Francisco Bay area – said it doesn’t matter.
“I think the only thing that matters is building product and getting users,” he said, repeating the central theme of his presentation at Communitech’s Entrepreneur Week earlier in the day. “There’s nothing about either of those things that say you have to be really anywhere.”
Tan continued: “That’s kind of the beauty of it; the internet’s about not having to be there. So, luckily, it’s the right industry to not worry about where you are, so much.”
Yes, attracting capital can be a challenge in Canada, and it sometimes means you have to take your show on the road to get noticed. That’s where places like Y Combinator come in, and Tan encourages Waterloo companies to keep beating down his door, as Vidyard recently did.
“It just means you do your best here, and obviously, bringing people together the way Communitech does will help people get funded.” And, once that happens, there’s no reason not to keep building a company in Waterloo Region, he said.
“In general, with most investors in the Valley or New York or really anywhere, the Number 1 thing is never the region or where people are; it’s always the team, the traction and the opportunity. I don’t think place matters.”
Oh, and one more thing: “There’s a reason why all the smart tech companies come here to recruit,” Tan said. “It’s because the best talent is here, and that’s the Number 1 strength. There are very few places in the world that can say that.”
That’s a lot of gushing, but the point of recording it was not to solicit a heap of “they-really-like-us” approval from a Silicon Valley power broker, to be spread like a balm over the famous Canadian inferiority complex.
It was to remind us of a simple truth that can be easy to forget when things get hard: That we’re as good as anyone in the world at building great tech companies. And that’s something to celebrate.