Dax Dasilva, 41, is the founder and chief executive officer of Lightspeed, a Montreal-based high-tech company with 600 employees across eight locations. He has a degree from UBC in art history and religious studies.
I have always had a deep passion for design, art and technology. My company, Lightspeed, is the intersection of those themes. As the company has grown bigger, those interests have been challenged; Lightspeed has taken my passions to new places and forced them into new applications.
I pursued computer science in university, but after a year switched into art history and religious studies. If you knew me back then, this may have seemed atypical. I think that my instincts lead me to those additional passions – I already knew I loved technology and I knew that my career path would be in this field. It was the other subjects I found over the years that enriched my ability to lead a company, to relate to people and to bring in other influences into what we do at Lightspeed.
It was hard for me to imagine scaling the company – but it has evolved rapidly over the years. I would almost say Lightspeed has been four different companies, but with the same customer.
The retail customer’s needs – and now the restaurant customer’s as well – have changed drastically over the years. We have had to evolve what we do and how we deliver the software, so scale has come alongside the retailer’s changes in size and needs. This is especially true as we have seen retailers really have to reinvent themselves in recent years.
It’s a balancing act to bring in and develop new talent while simultaneously evolving your product. Bringing in new talent is always challenging, but we always say leadership takes a lot of responsibility – and that the company culture comes from the top.
People look to you for how they work, for how they communicate, for how they operate. If I feel as though I’m doing the best work of my life at Lightspeed, that’s something that I want for everybody that works for the company. So, we try to create the environment where everybody can live in that culture of achievement.
Montreal is a hot place to start a venture. There are a lot of tech incubators – but more importantly – they are really capturing the passion of young graduates coming out of our great colleges and universities. For example, while an incubator in Los Angeles might attract 75 applicants, a similar tech incubator in Montreal will attract 400.
What is more impressive is the quality of these applicants. I spend time mentoring some of these startups on Friday afternoons – they are generating revenue, finding their product-market fit, carving their niche and ultimately creating valuable businesses. These entrepreneurial ideas are able to expand with the help of local talent and support from the government.
In my experience, I have begun to see a shift in Canadian startup development. Companies are choosing to stay here. Instead of being bought by American companies, they’re going public. Freshbooks, Shopify, Hootsuite, to name a few, are becoming large permanent tech anchors for our cities. It’s becoming a new aspiration for young people in technology. The belief is no longer that you must go to the Valley to have an interesting and challenging job – its an exciting road for Canada.
What really resonates with millennials is creating meaning with their work. One of our values is creating an environment for people to do the best work of their lives – and it works. People really connect with that sentiment. It’s a promise that we have to keep, and it keeps us focused on the vision for the company.
My employees appreciate when they create meaningful impact for the stores and restaurants that we, here at Lightspeed, love. It means something because it’s visible – we want these businesses to be able to evolve so that they can survive in the face of Amazon, in the face of Big Box and large chains. We can drive down the street and you can see businesses that are using our services doing well. I think it means something to people – it’s their city.