I awoke today to a photo from home showing snow on my Waterloo neighbours’ rooftops, so maybe you don’t want to hear that it’s sunny and 13 C here in San Francisco.
If it’s any consolation, we’re holed up inside RocketSpace, a Communitech Hub-like facility for startups, where Canadian entrepreneurs are learning how to unlock the funding vault that is Silicon Valley.
As a Valley virgin myself, I bought into the mystique as much as anyone, until I arrived here for the C100’s 48 Hours in the Valley.
Less than half way into the event, I think I’m starting to figure out the combination for Canadians, and it’s pretty simple. I’ll call it 5T, in deference to the tech world’s love of alpha-numeric acronyms.
The first and most obvious T is Talent. Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but demonstrated ability is key to securing investment.
The good news is that Canada, and Waterloo in particular, are already well-known in the Valley as a source of top-tier talent. That’s why 250,000 Canadians, many of them UW grads, work here.
The second T is Traction, and it, too, flows from the fact that a good idea is not enough. If you haven’t lined up customers to buy your product, Valley investors are unlikely to line up behind you. “It takes traction to get a VC on a plane,” as Naval Ravikant of AngelList put it in his presentation this morning.
That’s where the third T, Travel, comes in. The route from a Valley VC to a great startup in Waterloo can appear long and indirect from here, so a willingness to come here – or better yet, set up a modest presence, even temporarily – can be a huge benefit.
Physical proximity is important for the simple and universal reason that it enables quick meetings over dinner and drinks, and chance encounters at receptions – something active Communitech members will already know from our many networking events.
The fourth T is a familiar challenge to us nice, self-effacing Canadians (and indeed, many non-Americans): Thinking Big. Investors in the Valley expect big returns, and therefore, they want big thinking from entrepreneurs looking for their support.
The last T is also obvious, but it bears mention: Tenacity. Valley investors see thousands of proposals in a year but might make only a couple of dozen deals, so if they say ‘No,’ it often means ‘Not now’, says Arif Janmohamed, a Canadian-born partner with Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Getting investors’ attention is rarely a one-off, win-or-lose proposition, and more typically a process that unfolds over time, with regular contact between company and investor.
Another piece of good news about all of this is that Canadian companies are increasingly catching on to this combination, with help from expats who are already here, along with federal consular officials, and, of course, the C100.
Not yet two years old, the C100 was co-founded by venture capitalists Anthony Lee and Chris Albinson as a way to help their fellow Canadians make inroads in the Valley.
“There used to be this conventional wisdom that Canadians were a little bit more tentative, less ambitious and less aggressive, but we’ve seen a big change in that just in the last year and a half that we’ve been doing this,” Lee told me last night.
“I think we’ve seen a change in the perception of Canada from folks down here in the Valley, and I think Canadian companies are just thinking much bigger, so we want to just give them a little bit of an accelerated route to doing that.”
Perhaps you don’t need to hear that Lee told me these things during an outdoor reception on the seventh-floor patio of Mozilla, with its billion-dollar view of the Bay Bridge twinkling against the night sky.
If it’s any consolation, the wind off the bay was cold, prompting Lee to smile and say, “It feels like home.”