Ron Piovesan is a Canadian technology business development executive who has worked for startups and large enterprises. He has lived in Silicon Valley for 15 years.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Silicon Valley is that all we talk about is great technology and "changing the world." While there is some truth to that, and it's good fun for sitcom writers, it ignores one of the fundamental truths of business here.
It's all about money.
Yes, we love free lunches, app-enhanced convenience and all manner of gizmos. But we also love selling and making money.
The weather here is warm but the culture is coldly capitalistic. If you want to talk about investment, be prepared to talk about return. If you want to talk about business partnerships, be prepared to talk about customer demand and market opportunity.
Companies and governments from all over the world travel to Silicon Valley to tap into our funding and the business ecosystem. The most successful ones talk some tech, but they also talk a lot about money.
This affects the way Canadian businesses and governments frame their message to Silicon Valley.
Canadians often come down to the Valley in search of business partnerships. They'll run into people like me, a business-development executive responsible for partnerships.
The first piece of advice I can give them is to stop giving product demos. The only thing a product demo proves is that your company can do a product demo. The best way to demonstrate the value of your product is to show that real customers are paying real money to use it.
In business development, we're far more interested in how we'll make money together, rather than in how great your product is. The conversations that we want focus on how your product helps make our customers more successful, and the litmus test for that is increased sales. Technology for technology's sake is not the basis of a business partnership.
An actual customer using your product validates the quality of your product far better than any demo. Actual revenue-generating customers also show there is a real model behind your business and market demand for your ideas.
This is the business conversation we want to have with other companies that pitch partnerships. We want to work with you to quantify actual market demand, not to discuss how a partnership is more abstractly "innovative."
The Canadian government and non-profits (such as the C100 networking group) do a fantastic job in keeping Canada top-of-mind for Silicon Valley business and in creating a sense of community among Canadian expats.
They also share a lot of info about the amount of investment going into the Canadian tech ecosystem from financial sources in Canada, the United States and elsewhere.
All this investment is impressive and very good news for the Canadian tech ecosystem. But in any good return-on-investment conversation, you need to quantify both the investment and the return.
Thus far, the message has focused overwhelmingly on investment, and lacks detail on return. We hear of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars being invested in Canadian tech companies every year, but what are the returns? How much money are venture firms and investors making from their Canadian investments?
To be sure, there are high-profile Canadian tech initial public offering stories, such as Shopify. These should be at the centre of any message from the Canadian government and its agencies to Silicon Valley. These successful entrepreneurs, who have actually made money, are Canada's best ambassadors to the Valley.
Yes, the government should (and does) trumpet the technology excellence of its colleges and universities, such as the University of Waterloo, and the forward nature of its policies, such as the Scientific Research and Experimental Development tax credit.
But it should also be telling the Valley: "You can make money in Canada, too!" Every single made-in-Canada IPO and major (hundreds of millions to multibillion-dollar) acquisition should be widely marketed in Silicon Valley.
Ensuring that the Valley knows of these large exits is a great way to reinforce the message that Canada is a great place to both invest and profit.
Yes, parts of Silicon Valley run on free lunches and "saving the world" rhetoric. But once you boil that all down, it's about money and how to make it. Talking tech is great, but Canadian businesses, government and agencies will find more receptive listeners and more successful outcomes if they align their messages around selling to customers, revenue and return on investment.