I recently returned from the C100's CEO Summit in Silicon Valley where I joined several CEOs from some of Canada's leading growth-stage tech companies. Along with some of the Valley's most successful executives and investors, we discussed how to scale our businesses faster and more effectively.
Over the three days, I started wondering what it would take for Canada to produce not just a $1-billion tech company, but a $100-billion one. To be sure, a growing number of our tech companies are getting investment cash and generating buzz worldwide, but we have yet to see a startup take on the world at the same scale as Google or Facebook.
Here are four takeaways from the event for what's needed to produce a tech titan here in Canada:
1. Think big. Canadian entrepreneurs are very good at building sustainable businesses, but thy're less likely to swing for the fences on a global scale. Having played the role of America's 'kid brother,' we're often satisfied with seventh or eighth place. This is a recurring theme at all of the C100 events I've attended.
When I travel to the Valley for events like the CEO Summit, it changes my frame of reference for what great looks like. It's not enough to shoot for being B.C.'s most successful e-commerce company or the top startup in Halifax. If Canada is going to produce the world's next Twitter or LinkedIn, it requires an attitudinal shift. We need to get comfortable being bold. We have all of the raw materials for building the next tech giant; now we need to step out and aim big.
2. Be crazy. An entrepreneur in Silicon Valley just needs to look out the window to see an example of someone hitting it big. It's a different story in Burnaby or Moncton, where success equals selling your startup to a big U.S. tech firm. I recently read that over the past five years, 68 per cent of Canadian startups have been sold to U.S. companies.
We need more crazy-genius founders who are willing to buck the trend and stubbornly believe that, contrary to what others tell them, they can build it big right here in Canada. It takes just one or two trailblazers to show that multi-billion dollar tech firms can grow right in our own backyard.
3. Pay it forward. In order to build a strong startup ecosystem, it's critical that we try to push other entrepreneurs forward rather than holding them back. It takes a strong community for any individual company to succeed.
Silicon Valley understands the power of paying it forward. Whenever I'm meeting someone and they can't help me, the conversation never ends there. They dig deep to put me in contact with somebody else. As Canadian entrepreneurs, we need to start seeing each other as allies, not adversaries and leverage our networks to help each other.
The C100 is the perfect example of Canadians paying it forward. It's a volunteer, non-profit agency founded by a group of tireless Canadian expats working in northern California as venture professionals and executives at major companies like Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Google, and Salesforce.com. Programs like 48 Hours in the Valley and the CEO Summit are instrumental in not just connecting Canadian companies to Silicon Valley, but also connecting Canadians to one another.
4. Look regionally and nationally. We already have several centres of excellence within the country. For example, there's tremendous activity coming out of Vancouver (Hootsuite, Mobify, BuildDirect) and Toronto-Waterloo (Kik, Thalmic Labs, Top Hat), to name just a few. However, these regional hubs are often silos, with little networking, sharing, and mixing across regions. Events like the CEO Summit break down these regional barriers, essentially cross-pollinating startups across Canada.
My advice to any emerging entrepreneur is to do as much as you can to get involved locally. For example, in Vancouver, Bill Tam and the BCTIA team run an incredible lineup of programs and the C100 brings its Accelerate Series to Toronto, Alberta, Montreal, and Ottawa. But in addition to local events, look for opportunities to expand your network across the country.
It's important to remember that Silicon Valley didn't just sprout up overnight. Long before Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, there was William Hewlett and Dave Packard. Each company laid the foundational bricks for the next, from HP, Fairchild, and Xerox in the 1950s to Apple, Google, and Instagram today.
Canada may have a ways to go to match the scope and scale of the Valley, but our companies are moving the needle on a global scale. With attention moving north, now is the time to collectively believe that there are endless possibilities for $1-billion companies here.
Jeff Booth is president and CEO of BuildDirect, an online solution that is building a simpler, friendlier and more empowered home improvement industry. Follow Jeff on twitter @JeffBooth