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How Canadians helped Californians launch a startup

Lenny Rachitsky, left, and Beau Haugh, co-founders of Localmind


This is the second in a four-part series on 48 Hours In The Valley , and how it helps Canadian tech companies in the short and long term. The stories will appear every Wednesday in December on the Report on Small Business website .

Two southern California boys launching a company in Montreal is not a typical startup story, but it was the best decision of our young careers.

Localmind aims to give users the power of universal omniscience – the ability to know anything, about anywhere, any time.

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We do this by connecting you to local experts, and people who are out and about right now, to help you find out about a location in real time.

Localmind leverages existing check-in behaviours, and every time users arrive at a location, they build expertise there, and they are available to answer questions from others. Our customers use Localmind to help them figure out where to go, where to avoid, and how to connect with people around town.

I launched the company with my co-founder, Beau Haugh, in January, 2011, with the help of Year One Labs, an incubator that was just getting going in Montreal. The opportunity to work with Year One, and to execute on what we thought was a killer idea, was too good to pass up.

I moved from San Diego in December, and, to survive my first real winter as an adult, work was the only option. Product development moved quickly.

A beta Web-only version launched in February. That same month, I met an incredible developer in Montreal, who joined the team and whipped up the first version of the iPhone app, just in time for a public launch at the annual SXSW Interactive festival in Austin, Tex.

That same month, a good friend of mine from San Diego – who also happened to be a talented developer – recognized the potential of what we were trying to build, saw an opportunity to join me in Montreal, and left his full-time job to make the move.

The three of us turned the SXSW launch into a massive success, which eventually translated into a round of funding, and then a move to San Francisco.

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If only it had been that simple.

A key element skipped in this short history is the assistance provided by the startup community in Montreal, and the C100, a group of Canadian entrepreneurs, executives and venture capitalists living in Silicon Valley. When I arrived in Montreal, I had no idea whether there was even going to be a startup community. It turned out to be the second-most-valuable part of launching there – with the talented developer ranking first.

Our first experience with the C100 – before I even knew it existed – was being invited to its AccelerateMTL event, where we pitched in front of a room of venture capitalists and other Canadian business elite.

Our second was an invitation in June, 2011, to 48 Hours In The Valley, a mentoring program that runs twice a year.

At that point we were getting a lot of attention, so we didn't consider it a big deal. We applied on a whim, spurred on by our advisers. It ended up changing our world in immeasurable ways.

It's hard to remember all the things packed into that 48 hours. I met Jeff Clavier, founder and managing partner of SoftTech VC, a big life moment. I pitched to a number of extremely helpful VCs, in an unusually supportive environment. I had two hours of personal mentorship from the likes of Todd Simpson (chief of innovation at Mozilla), Dan Martell (founder of Flowtown), and Michael Buhr (ex-CEO of StumbleUpon).

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We heard talks from some of the most interesting people in the Valley, and we were given tours of some of the most interesting companies there. Some of the people we met in the program continue to be great friends, and continue to preach the Localmind gospel every chance they get.

If that wasn't enough, the long-term effects continue to pay off.

When we moved the team to San Francisco, we ended up landing in office space the C100 found for us. Also through the C100, we were able to connect with Apple, which is one of the most valuable relationships we have.

We're continuously presented with opportunities to meet other interesting startups and mentors that the C100 curates for us. Just recently, the C100 found us an intern to come to the Valley for a short stint, to help us with a specific need.

Looking back, getting in front of the C100 was one of the most fortunate things to have happened to us. Its sole purpose is to help make startups successful, and as a startup, you need every advantage you can get. Having the entrepreneurial elite of Canada watching your back is an incredible feeling. Especially for a couple of southern California boys.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Lenny Rachitsky is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Localmind, now based in San Francisco. Prior to that, he was head of R&D at Webmetrics/Neustar in San Diego, a speaker at TEDx, and a long-time blogger. He also puts both pant legs on at the same time.

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