in Canada

Canada Needs to Realize The Technology Business is a Race

Canada’s pace in the technology industry is too slow. Commercializing innovation and business are a tough race. Only the swift and the lucky survive. I’m starting to believe the heart of the problem lies in our attitude. We plod along and make excuses as others pass us.

When you meet technology people from Silicon Valley, you’ll notice that they are in a race. They’re in a race to get to work, to get food and get back to work, and to do whatever they need to do to be productive as much as possible. They’re in a race to raise more money than their competitors, grab talent from anywhere they can, sign deals and build big companies. They’re in a race to thrive.

When you meet technology people from Africa, you’ll notice that they are in a different kind of race. They’re in a race to adopt mobile technology, to communicate easily where in recent memory it was quite difficult. They’re in a race to stop infectious disease, ease the burden of massive migrations of refugees, and stop the famine and drought that threaten so many. They’re in a race to survive.

When you meet technology people from Canada, we’re not in a race. We’re watching the race from the sideline. We act like technology entrepreneurship is closer to farming than shark hunting, as if risky business isn’t necessary to make the next Google or Microsoft. We putter around as if slow and steady actually wins races to innovate and grow technology businesses. We fail to light a fire under young entrepreneurs, like the ones that started every major tech company you can think of, and our best venture capitalists are putting their ships on “coast”. In a world of accelerating change, those are very dangerous habits. We need to lose our current attitude quickly.

If you have any illusions that our major media and technology conglomerates are going to take care of this job for us, please give up your fantasy now. Dinosaurs don’t know how to innovate. Our mobile data rates are worse than third world countries and they’re spending money to slow down your internet connection. That isn’t innovation, that’s strangling the golden goose before it can lay eggs. Startups are starving while they get fat on high prices for mediocre services.

My friends in the Canadian tech community are doing a lot to try and help technology startups. David Crow, Boris Mann, and Jevon MacDonald are all collaborating with multiple parties to improve the situation. I wholeheartedly support them in their efforts. But I think we have an entrenched culture of mediocrity that needs to be surgically removed.

The biggest change has to be in our attitude. We need to become bold, we need to embrace risk, we need to aim for the stars. We need to take big chances, learn the lessons from failures, and have some great successes. The only thing holding us back is the size of our own dreams, and our determination to see them fulfilled.

Will Pate is a street smart web geek, Community Evangelist at ConceptShare and co-host of commandN. This is his first post on StartupNorth.

  • http://www.caseymckinnon.com Casey McKinnon

    Word, yo. I believe in Nike’s slogan… Just Do It. If you wait too long to conceive your idea, you lose. And that is true for not only the tech industry, but also the entertainment industry. If you sit back on a clever idea, someone else will do it first.

  • http://www.caseymckinnon.com Casey McKinnon

    Word, yo. I believe in Nike’s slogan… Just Do It. If you wait too long to conceive your idea, you lose. And that is true for not only the tech industry, but also the entertainment industry. If you sit back on a clever idea, someone else will do it first.

  • Pingback: Canada and The Pace of Tech Innovation | Will Pate's Blog

  • Pingback: Canada and The Pace of Tech Innovation | Will Pate's Blog

  • http://fadetoplay.com Phillip Jeffrey

    I didn’t really understand what the Silicon Valley culture was like until I was fortunate to attend Tagcamp in October 2005. I was introduced to alot of Tech Doers (e.g. Tara Hunt, Chris Messina, Rashmi Sinha) that were on missions to bring their ideas to others.

    I feel incredibly fortunate to live in Vancouver in which I am exposed to part of the Canadian Tech scene as I learn about OpenID, open ideas, and freeing wifi for all. As a grad student eager to be an early adopter, I feel that my desire to try new things is being hampered because I am north of the 49th parallel (no unlimited dataplans, SMS limits by Twitter, limits on the types of mobile phones available to me).

    Props to the Canadian Tech people that are staying here, organising meetups, starting companies, and telling others about cool people and companies here.

    On this day, I think it is appropriate to share the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that also have relevance to our circumstances.

    “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.”

  • http://fadetoplay.com Phillip Jeffrey

    I didn’t really understand what the Silicon Valley culture was like until I was fortunate to attend Tagcamp in October 2005. I was introduced to alot of Tech Doers (e.g. Tara Hunt, Chris Messina, Rashmi Sinha) that were on missions to bring their ideas to others.

    I feel incredibly fortunate to live in Vancouver in which I am exposed to part of the Canadian Tech scene as I learn about OpenID, open ideas, and freeing wifi for all. As a grad student eager to be an early adopter, I feel that my desire to try new things is being hampered because I am north of the 49th parallel (no unlimited dataplans, SMS limits by Twitter, limits on the types of mobile phones available to me).

    Props to the Canadian Tech people that are staying here, organising meetups, starting companies, and telling others about cool people and companies here.

    On this day, I think it is appropriate to share the words of Martin Luther King Jr. that also have relevance to our circumstances.

    “We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with a lost opportunity.”

  • Pingback: Farming vs Shark hunting … or why there needs to be more boldness | Montreal Tech Watch

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  • http://chickadvisor.com Alex de Bold

    Deal Making in Canada has to be the best example of how painful our market is.

    Having done deals on both sides of the border I have to say that things rarely ever get done at the same pace. There’s no wasting time in US to get a deal done. It seems like it always takes a fraction of the time down south.

    Ultimately, if want to get it done you’ll do it and keep on pushing ahead.

    Now for the opposite.

    Some people I know have come to Canada because it IS slower. I know of two highly successful entrepreneurs who have launched financial based business in Canada because it IS less competitive. You might compete against 5 people instead of 50 in the U.S. for the same deal. They’re got their share of the market and they’re successful.

  • http://chickadvisor.com Alex de Bold

    Deal Making in Canada has to be the best example of how painful our market is.

    Having done deals on both sides of the border I have to say that things rarely ever get done at the same pace. There’s no wasting time in US to get a deal done. It seems like it always takes a fraction of the time down south.

    Ultimately, if want to get it done you’ll do it and keep on pushing ahead.

    Now for the opposite.

    Some people I know have come to Canada because it IS slower. I know of two highly successful entrepreneurs who have launched financial based business in Canada because it IS less competitive. You might compete against 5 people instead of 50 in the U.S. for the same deal. They’re got their share of the market and they’re successful.

  • Pingback: robhyndman.com » Blog Archive » “We?re watching the race from the sideline”

  • Pingback: robhyndman.com » Blog Archive » “We?re watching the race from the sideline”

  • Pingback: robhyndman.com » Blog Archive » “We’re watching the race from the sideline”

  • http://www.ragobeer.com Chris R

    I’m in a race….anyone care to join me.

  • http://www.ragobeer.com Chris R

    I’m in a race….anyone care to join me.

  • http://remarkk.com Mark Kuznicki

    Great post by Will Pate. In policy jargon, it’s called “competitive intensity” and you need more of it to create the conditions for innovation and commercialization success in a global market. As Michael commented on my recent post on the subject of Canadian innovation culture, we’re both coddled by a nanny government and operate within a business climate ruled by an entitled cadre of UCC graduates used to being big fish in a small pond. It’s myopic and provincial and it’s fast becoming unsustainable.

    As the global economy switch gets flipped to recession, those economies that nurture the mammals scurrying in the underbrush are those that are best positioned to adapt and remain resilient during the accelerating change of so-called “hypercapitalism”.

  • http://remarkk.com Mark Kuznicki

    Great post by Will Pate. In policy jargon, it’s called “competitive intensity” and you need more of it to create the conditions for innovation and commercialization success in a global market. As Michael commented on my recent post on the subject of Canadian innovation culture, we’re both coddled by a nanny government and operate within a business climate ruled by an entitled cadre of UCC graduates used to being big fish in a small pond. It’s myopic and provincial and it’s fast becoming unsustainable.

    As the global economy switch gets flipped to recession, those economies that nurture the mammals scurrying in the underbrush are those that are best positioned to adapt and remain resilient during the accelerating change of so-called “hypercapitalism”.

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  • http://www.bootuplabs.com Danny Robinson

    Canadian by birth, I’ve lived most of my life in the US. All I’ve done my whole life is start companies. I joke that I’d be a terrible employee, if I ever got a real job. I moved to Vancouver 6 years ago and agree that career-wise, I’ve taken a hit. But lifestyle-wise, you can’t beat it.

    BUT, in the past year, I’ve really noticed attitudes ARE changing. People ARE getting motivated. The best of Canadian culture, and the best of Silicon Valley culture are coming together to create the ultimate global tech hub. Technology in BC is already a bigger industry than Oil, Mining, and Forestry…combined!

    As Canadians, we realize that we have to build our products for more than just Canada. So we think about the rest of the world, and last time I looked, the rest of the world is a hell of a lot bigger and growing faster than the US.

    As a former Valley entrepreneur, I can tell you, we’re closer than it seems, and getting closer every day. We just need more exposure (www.launchpartyhq.com) and help with funding (www.bootuplabs.com) and we’re there.

  • http://www.bootuplabs.com Danny Robinson

    Canadian by birth, I’ve lived most of my life in the US. All I’ve done my whole life is start companies. I joke that I’d be a terrible employee, if I ever got a real job. I moved to Vancouver 6 years ago and agree that career-wise, I’ve taken a hit. But lifestyle-wise, you can’t beat it.

    BUT, in the past year, I’ve really noticed attitudes ARE changing. People ARE getting motivated. The best of Canadian culture, and the best of Silicon Valley culture are coming together to create the ultimate global tech hub. Technology in BC is already a bigger industry than Oil, Mining, and Forestry…combined!

    As Canadians, we realize that we have to build our products for more than just Canada. So we think about the rest of the world, and last time I looked, the rest of the world is a hell of a lot bigger and growing faster than the US.

    As a former Valley entrepreneur, I can tell you, we’re closer than it seems, and getting closer every day. We just need more exposure (www.launchpartyhq.com) and help with funding (www.bootuplabs.com) and we’re there.

  • http://stephenpate.blogspot.com/ Stephen Pate

    The connundrum in Canada is that the money wants instant results and pulls the plug on young ventures faster than Silicon Valley. So you have pokey environments supported by trigger happy venture capitalists. God what a nightmare.

  • http://stephenpate.blogspot.com/ Stephen Pate

    The connundrum in Canada is that the money wants instant results and pulls the plug on young ventures faster than Silicon Valley. So you have pokey environments supported by trigger happy venture capitalists. God what a nightmare.

  • http://www.wildapricot.com/blogs/newsblog/default.aspx Rebecca

    I agree with the basic premise, but honestly believe that it’s not quite as simple as a matter of moving fast to break new ground. I recall that NBTel (New Brunswick) built the first full-digital switching network in North America, back in the early ’90s, ringed fibreoptics, and put the internet a local phone call away from every one of its customers when it was still cost-prohibitive to most households on the continent… but that’s where it all seems to have stalled, a competitive advantage lost while the rest of North America caught up and pulled way out ahead. Can’t help thinking there’s got to be another critical element in the Canadian tech dev story – lack of confidence, perhaps? Fear of failure?

  • http://www.wildapricot.com/blogs/newsblog/default.aspx Rebecca

    I agree with the basic premise, but honestly believe that it’s not quite as simple as a matter of moving fast to break new ground. I recall that NBTel (New Brunswick) built the first full-digital switching network in North America, back in the early ’90s, ringed fibreoptics, and put the internet a local phone call away from every one of its customers when it was still cost-prohibitive to most households on the continent… but that’s where it all seems to have stalled, a competitive advantage lost while the rest of North America caught up and pulled way out ahead. Can’t help thinking there’s got to be another critical element in the Canadian tech dev story – lack of confidence, perhaps? Fear of failure?

  • Too scared of small VC community

    Amen Will!

    Advise all to check out these PriceWaterHouseCoopers slides 32 through 50 highlighting the state of the VC nation in Canada: http://www.pwc.com/ca/eng/about/events/recs_cv2r-presentations_2007.pdf

    Slides 37 and 40 highlight the returns achieved by Canadian VCs (or lack of returns) and the amounts typically invested in Canadian venture backed companies vs. their US competitors (less than half).

  • Too scared of small VC community

    Amen Will!

    Advise all to check out these PriceWaterHouseCoopers slides 32 through 50 highlighting the state of the VC nation in Canada: http://www.pwc.com/ca/eng/about/events/recs_cv2r-presentations_2007.pdf

    Slides 37 and 40 highlight the returns achieved by Canadian VCs (or lack of returns) and the amounts typically invested in Canadian venture backed companies vs. their US competitors (less than half).

  • http://www.thomaspurves.com Thomas Purves

    Michele just blogged about a great example of a idea/project we could and should be importing to Canada. What a great way to sponsor and develop targetted early-stage innovation (whether it be public broadcasting or any other industry)

    http://shotfromthehip.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/ip-neutral-and-why-the-ceeb-will-never-be-the-beeb-le-sigh/

  • http://www.thomaspurves.com Thomas Purves

    Michele just blogged about a great example of a idea/project we could and should be importing to Canada. What a great way to sponsor and develop targetted early-stage innovation (whether it be public broadcasting or any other industry)

    http://shotfromthehip.wordpress.com/2008/01/21/ip-neutral-and-why-the-ceeb-will-never-be-the-beeb-le-sigh/

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  • http://jasondyok.blogsite.org Jason Dyok

    Great post and right on the money. Canada is a great country with all the resources it needs to be a world leader in any industry. What we lack is the will to succeed.
    For the most part, Canada is a nation of “it’s not my problem” and “I’ll let someone else do it”. We continue to let big business and big government lead us down the cattle trail. We need to take the talent and diversity this country has to offer and start blazing new trails.

  • http://jasondyok.blogsite.org Jason Dyok

    Great post and right on the money. Canada is a great country with all the resources it needs to be a world leader in any industry. What we lack is the will to succeed.
    For the most part, Canada is a nation of “it’s not my problem” and “I’ll let someone else do it”. We continue to let big business and big government lead us down the cattle trail. We need to take the talent and diversity this country has to offer and start blazing new trails.

  • http://www.willpate.org Will Pate

    Wow, some amazing discussion has happened so far!

    @Casey: Yep, I agree. Industries like entertainment can’t afford to dilly dally either.

    @Phillip: Great quote from MLK, very apt.

    @Alex: Interesting. Were those companies focused on a local market, or a global one?

    @Steven: I don’t buy that you need to be in the US to build a great tech company. RIM, EA and others prove you can build really successful companies here. Heck, Skype was mostly from Estonia!

    @Mark: I need to review all articles with you before I publish them, for proper policy wonk compliance like “competitive intensity”. Also, “provincial” is my new favorite word to criticize small world thinking.

    @Danny: Now I know the story of the mysterious dude working with Boris! :) I’m glad to hear that Vancouver is pushing ahead. I think some of our other cities need a kick in the backside.

    @Stephen: Yes, it sounds like Canadian VCs aren’t giving entrepreneurs enough runway to get their planes off the ground.

    @Rebecca: You have to consistently break new ground. You can’t just dig one hole and say “no oil here”. Imagine if Texas or the Gulf oil countries took a Canadian attitude!

    @Too scared: Thanks for sharing that info, very interesting to see the numbers on VC investment in Canada. Looks like we need our VCs to make bigger investments to give startups the capital they need to attract the best talent and give them enough runway.

    @Thomas: Great post by Michele. I think the CBC is a totally other broken system, and one I’m not sure I want to help fix. From what I’ve been told by people on the inside, it’s an organization full of people with the same kind of negativity and provincial thinking that’s holding back our tech industry. I haven’t found a silver bullet for old boys clubs yet, if anyone has one I’d love to hear about it.

  • http://www.willpate.org Will Pate

    Wow, some amazing discussion has happened so far!

    @Casey: Yep, I agree. Industries like entertainment can’t afford to dilly dally either.

    @Phillip: Great quote from MLK, very apt.

    @Alex: Interesting. Were those companies focused on a local market, or a global one?

    @Steven: I don’t buy that you need to be in the US to build a great tech company. RIM, EA and others prove you can build really successful companies here. Heck, Skype was mostly from Estonia!

    @Mark: I need to review all articles with you before I publish them, for proper policy wonk compliance like “competitive intensity”. Also, “provincial” is my new favorite word to criticize small world thinking.

    @Danny: Now I know the story of the mysterious dude working with Boris! :) I’m glad to hear that Vancouver is pushing ahead. I think some of our other cities need a kick in the backside.

    @Stephen: Yes, it sounds like Canadian VCs aren’t giving entrepreneurs enough runway to get their planes off the ground.

    @Rebecca: You have to consistently break new ground. You can’t just dig one hole and say “no oil here”. Imagine if Texas or the Gulf oil countries took a Canadian attitude!

    @Too scared: Thanks for sharing that info, very interesting to see the numbers on VC investment in Canada. Looks like we need our VCs to make bigger investments to give startups the capital they need to attract the best talent and give them enough runway.

    @Thomas: Great post by Michele. I think the CBC is a totally other broken system, and one I’m not sure I want to help fix. From what I’ve been told by people on the inside, it’s an organization full of people with the same kind of negativity and provincial thinking that’s holding back our tech industry. I haven’t found a silver bullet for old boys clubs yet, if anyone has one I’d love to hear about it.

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  • http://www.quebecvalley.com Denis Canuel

    Great stuff however the picture is slowly changing. There are more and more startups in Canada (especially in Vancouver) and we need to stop saying that in order to be successful you need to move south. I think a great idea will work regardless of where you are, good ideas will require some work and bad ideas will require you to move to Silicon Valley in order to get financed.

  • http://www.quebecvalley.com Denis Canuel

    Great stuff however the picture is slowly changing. There are more and more startups in Canada (especially in Vancouver) and we need to stop saying that in order to be successful you need to move south. I think a great idea will work regardless of where you are, good ideas will require some work and bad ideas will require you to move to Silicon Valley in order to get financed.

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  • http://blog.innovators-network.org Anthony Kuhn

    Will:

    Oh, Canada! I bet you might be able to get some South-of-the-Border help from your American neighbors if you want to give Canadian technology entrepreneurship a boost. Rally those Maple Leafers and see if you can convince a Yank to run the TSA gauntlet and join in the effort to bring Canada kicking and screaming into the tech game.

    Best wishes,

    Anthony Kuhn

  • http://blog.innovators-network.org Anthony Kuhn

    Will:

    Oh, Canada! I bet you might be able to get some South-of-the-Border help from your American neighbors if you want to give Canadian technology entrepreneurship a boost. Rally those Maple Leafers and see if you can convince a Yank to run the TSA gauntlet and join in the effort to bring Canada kicking and screaming into the tech game.

    Best wishes,

    Anthony Kuhn

  • aj batac

    I couldn’t agree more to you. You’ve nailed it. ;)

  • aj batac

    I couldn’t agree more to you. You’ve nailed it. ;)

  • http://www.indochino.com Kyle Vucko

    I have experienced this first hand, and totally agree.

    When I was going through the first round of financing for my company, I could not for the life of me get Canadain investors interested. I ended up getting funding from a German firm and discovered that the majority of tech startups in my city (Victoria) had found funding outside Canada.

    I would think that down the road, this lack of innovative investing will hurt our Country.

  • http://www.indochino.com Kyle Vucko

    I have experienced this first hand, and totally agree.

    When I was going through the first round of financing for my company, I could not for the life of me get Canadain investors interested. I ended up getting funding from a German firm and discovered that the majority of tech startups in my city (Victoria) had found funding outside Canada.

    I would think that down the road, this lack of innovative investing will hurt our Country.

  • http://biztrekkers.ca Philip Uglow

    Excellent comment. I agree that it is primarily Canadians culture and attitude that has to change.

    Read Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s excellent book on the Canadian Business Community called “Why Mexicans don’t drink Molson” for a depressing and revealing look at Canadian business culture.

    We Canadians are spoiled with wealth of natural resources and a wealthy southern neighbor that allow us to be complacent and have a high GDP at the same time. Any other country behaving like us would get wacked!

    Phil

  • http://biztrekkers.ca Philip Uglow

    Excellent comment. I agree that it is primarily Canadians culture and attitude that has to change.

    Read Andrea Mandel-Campbell’s excellent book on the Canadian Business Community called “Why Mexicans don’t drink Molson” for a depressing and revealing look at Canadian business culture.

    We Canadians are spoiled with wealth of natural resources and a wealthy southern neighbor that allow us to be complacent and have a high GDP at the same time. Any other country behaving like us would get wacked!

    Phil

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  • w

    Does that mean, that we should seek going for studying in the US too. It seems that Canada is Slow and thats what I’ve never expected
    ?
    ?

  • w

    Does that mean, that we should seek going for studying in the US too. It seems that Canada is Slow and thats what I’ve never expected
    ?
    ?

  • http://fotoglif.com Mike

    Great post, I know I am way behind on this one and I came across this from a search query, RSS subscribed. Nice work! I do agree that there is a general complacency in the startup community here and that aggressiveness and bold ambition are usually taken as risky, unbecoming values in an entrepreneur. It definitely has to change or we will continue to be out innovated and out maneouvered and our startups won’t see the light of day let alone become strong competitive entities the likes of which we so often watch as we stare south.

    Mike

  • http://fotoglif.com Mike

    Great post, I know I am way behind on this one and I came across this from a search query, RSS subscribed. Nice work! I do agree that there is a general complacency in the startup community here and that aggressiveness and bold ambition are usually taken as risky, unbecoming values in an entrepreneur. It definitely has to change or we will continue to be out innovated and out maneouvered and our startups won’t see the light of day let alone become strong competitive entities the likes of which we so often watch as we stare south.

    Mike

  • odelle

    It's not surprising that Telus (one of Canada's worst corporate citizens, union-busting and shipping BC jobs off to the Philippines)also cares little for its customers. It's all about the bonuses and options for the execs, and providing services that cost money doesn't help the stock price.
    inchirieri masini

  • anielle

    It's not surprising that Telus (one of Canada's worst corporate citizens, union-busting and shipping BC jobs off to the Philippines)also cares little for its customers. It's all about the bonuses and options for the execs, and providing services that cost money doesn't help the stock price.masini de inchiriat

  • Term Papers

    I would like to thank the author of this article for contributing such a lovely and mind-opening article. nnTerm papers