Shit, that was a big year. Now we make our move…

2011 was an important year for Canadian Startups.

We had some exits. Over $1bn worth. We needed that. The more important thing is that a lot of those exits were by entrepreneurs who “get it” and who are going to be re-investing in startups here in Canada.

Now we have a handful of funds who have money to deploy. Many of you probably don’t remember the good old days when there was no money to go around. I once saw a startup panhandling on Queen St West to raise money for some Dell servers. No joke.

This was also a big year because it was one of the first in which we saw deals getting done in Canada by US based investors. That’s good because it keeps us all on our toes and it forces local investors to compete on market-driven terms.

The biggest problem now, as far as I can tell, is that we are out of excuses. There is money, talent, and the need to build more quality startups.

So get to work.

In the early days of Democamp there was an obsession with quality. I think it probably stemmed from our (Toronto’s) own insecurity with itself. There was no identity or real history to draw from, so we had to be careful to make sure that everything that came from the community was world class. It wasn’t always but we tried. We need to get really obsessed with the quality of stuff we turn out in Canada in the next year. No more being cheerleaders for mediocre shit. We need to be OBSESSED with setting the bar high.

We need to go a step further now. We need to set the bar for world class. Now is not the time to slow down.

Part of the problem is that we don’t have a single voice to tell our story. Techvibes is doing an amazing job covering EVERYTHING, but it doesn’t have personality. Startupnorth is editorial and a lot of preaching (like this post). That doesn’t help much either. I hope a voice emerges in the next year that has the time and economic model to really tell the story in Canada. It would be good if Mark MacQueen quit his job as a banker and just blogged fulltime. That guy has it right.

If you are still reading, you should put your name in for the founders and funders dinner in toronto in February. I promise it will be good.

How a Canadian startup took investment from a european incubator

This is a guest post by Patrick Hankinson, the CEO/Founder of a Halifax based startup building an online IDE which has almost 100,000 users. Patrick is also a co-founder of

In early 2011, I met an entrepreneur and angel investor from London, at a Starbucks in my small province. He literally just took the red-eye from London, I could tell by his blood shot eyes. He wanted to know what I was working on and I explained what I was working on an “online IDE for programmers”. I could tell immediately he didn’t know what an IDE was…

Talk about a pivotal experience. I was a programmer turned marketer, yet I still used very technical terms to describe what I was working on. The angel investor looked at me with a blank stare; he didn’t understand exactly what I was working on.

After another couple of minutes of questions, I explained and tweaked my value proposition. He finally understood what I was working, but exclaimed that I definitely need to work on my non-technical elevator pitch. Naively, I responded I’ll never need to pitch to non-technical people.

Now, I know that a non-technical pitch is critical. You may end up with non-technical investors like doctors, who will want to brag to their friends what they are investing in. You don’t want to put your doctor in a situation where they can’t explain exactly what you’re product does, killing viral potential. This is sometimes the case, because the investor is more in love with the team than the product.

After this, he explained an incubator from London was putting a session together in New York. The incubator was called Seedcamp. I’ve never heard of them before, I looked at them online, saw they had invested in a several companies and were considered a European Incubator. They definitely didn’t have any credentials like Y-Combinator or Techstars. In fact, the only acquisition that I saw, to date had beenMobclix.

I decided to apply to Seedcamp anyway since it New York was literally a 2 hour flight away (I had never visited New York, gave me an excuse). Plus it was at Google’s office in New York. Our product, Compilr, was definitely potentially a product to someday be acquired by a company like Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Facebook, and the list goes on. Any visibility I could get at this stage was definitely worth it.

Compilr was accepted to present in New York to the Seedcamp list of mentors. We presented at Google’s office in front of 100 mentors or so. Presenting in front of 100 people was definitely not on my bucket list, but I got through it. It actually has helped in a lot ways. I’m definitely not worried presenting in front of 100s of people as much as I thought.

The day after, Compilr was invited to pitch to some of Seedcamp’s core investors. The room had maybe 15 people but I was more nervous than the day before. In all honesty, I thought I blew it because I was being asked a ton of questions. I answered them all, but Carlos, one of the main guys from Seedcamp had asked a question and I got sidetracked with an answer, when someone basically said “Well, ok thanks for your time, we’ll be in touch.” I still feel like a total d-bag because I didn’t answer his question…

At this stage I became defensive in my mind, even though I hadn’t received a yes or no to their investment. In reality, I didn’t care if I received Seedcamp’s investment or not. Personally, I was funding the company out of my own pocket, almost $150,000 a year, their small investment would only really marginally accelerate my company. I was hoping to get visibility in front of the right potential acquirers.

A few weeks later, I was in total shock when Seedcamp told me they were willing toinvest in Compilr. Even though, I personally felt like I blew the follow up meeting in New York. When I told several of my advisors, most of them were eager for me to take the funds. While some opposed to the idea, stating the same facts I alluded to earlier, onlyone successful exit, etc…

Our team decided to go ahead and take small investment from Seedcamp to use towards accelerating our business. Our end goal was that Seedcamp would present our company to potential acquirers like Facebook, Google to hopefully stimulate an exit, producing a positive ROI for them.

Should We Drink the Local Kool-Aid?

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from Mark Evans Tech written by Mark Evans of ME Consulting. Follow him on Twitter @markevans or MarkEvansTech.comThis post was originally published in December 15, 2011 on

CC-BY-NC Some rights reserved by Eric Constantineau -
AttributionNoncommercial Some rights reserved by Eric Constantineau –

In the post I wrote earlier this week about the demise of Thoora, there was a comment suggesting that “Toronto failed Thoora” due to a lack of community support to make it a “winning formula”.

It was a puzzling comment because it suggests a community has an obligation to support a startup so it can thrive. This strikes me as an absurd idea because startups should succeed or fail on their own merits, and the ability to attract an audience near and close.

Sure, it’s good to drink the local flavour of “Kool-Aid” but only if a startup is offering a product or service that meets a need or interest. There are lots of local startups, including some that pitch me directly, that don’t resonate because nothing something interests me or the product/service doesn’t resonate enough to warrant further exploration.

It doesn’t mean I’m not supporting the local community; it just means a startup has a service that didn’t pass the sniff test.

At the same time, I do think Toronto’s startup community is extremely supportive. There’s no lack of enthusiasm, energy and a willingness to share ideas, feedback, resources, real estate and time to provide startups with a boost.

This has been a fact of life for the past five years, even before we started to see a flurry of startups appear on the scene. There has always been a strong, support community that has pulled together in different ways. A great example is tonight’s HoHoTo party, which has become a major fund-raising machine due to tremendous support from the community.

The bottom line is if a startup needs to rely on the community to make it, it also suggests what it’s offering can’t survive  without artificial support.

For startups, the market has to be bigger than its own backyard. It needs people to support it or not based on what’s being sold as opposed to a sense of duty or obligation.

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from Mark Evans Tech written by Mark Evans of ME Consulting. Follow him on Twitter @markevans or MarkEvansTech.comThis post was originally published in December 15, 2011 on