The Upside Of Canada’s Startup Buying Binge

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from StartupCFO written by Mark MacLeod, it is a response to Mark Evans’ post The Downside of Canada’s Startup Buying Binge. Mark MacLeod is a Partner at Real Ventures, Canada’s largest seed VC fund. He is also an advisor to some of Canada’s leading startups including Shopify and others. Follow him on Twitter @startupcfo or StartupCFO.ca. This post was originally published on September 14, 2011 on StartupCFO.ca.

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Mark Evans posted recently about the downside of Canada’s recent startup buying binge. Year-to-date, we have had 22 exits in Canada. But save for outliers like Radian6 and Algorithmics, most have been relatively small. Mark correctly argues that there are long term negative implications to these early exits: losing talent to the US and not building mid to large scale companies that can really bolster our tech scene.

Can’t argue with that and I have posted in the past about the importance of large tech companies to our ecosystem. But, exits are like pizza, even when they’re bad (small) they’re good. Why?

Returns to LPs: Returns in the Canadian venture industry since inception are negative. Some funds have delivered returns, but the industry as a whole has not. That won’t work if we want to attract non-government LPs who are motivated by returns vs. policy, job creation. So, any exit that contributes towards fund performance is good.

Generating repeat entrepreneurs: The reason (I believe) why many of our exits are relatively small is that the founders behind those companies have not had a positive exit before. As an investor, you should not bet against human nature. And I think it’s perfectly natural for an entrepreneur that has the opportunity to sell early and pocket a few million to do that. The trick is to keep that entrepreneur in the system and working on the next company. The next time, that same entrepreneur will set his or her sights much higher.

Eliminating borders: It used to be an uphill battle to convince US investors to come up here. Now with the elimination of witholding taxes on exit and with our companies doing great things US investors are coming up here more often and earlier in the startup lifecycle.

So when you think about what’s happening now, my hope is that we are setting the stage for long term success and the creation of some tech giants right here in Canada. To enable that, investors need to do more of the following:

Give Canadian Startups more capital: This might be ironic coming from a guy at a seed fund, but it’s a well known fact that Canadian startups raise less than their US counterparts. I think it’s fine to operate with small $ before product/ market fit but as soon as you are ready for goto market acceleration you need serious fuel. Canadian investors and entrepreneurs need to continue building strong syndicates that include US investors that can write big cheques.

We did that at Shopify. The investor group there includes two large tier 1 funds that can help Shopify become a giant in its industry.

Enable founders to take cash off the table: As a founder you’re more likely to “go for it” if you can sell some shares and not have to worry about cash. This is common practice in the US. We need to do it more up here. It does not make sense early on but series B and up, I think it makes sense.

Surround our CEOs with mentorship: When you look at the truly giant tech companies, they are almost always founder-led. So that tells me that we have to surround our founders with peers, mentors, coaches, advisors to help them make that transition from founder to CEO.

We also need tech companies going public here in Canada, but that’s another topic for another time. So, I say bring on these early exits and realize they are setting the stage for great things to come.

Editor’s note: This is a cross post from StartupCFO written by Mark MacLeod, it is a response to Mark Evans’ post The Downside of Canada’s Startup Buying Binge. Mark MacLeod is a Partner at Real Ventures, Canada’s largest seed VC fund. He is also an advisor to some of Canada’s leading startups including Shopify and others. Follow him on Twitter @startupcfo or StartupCFO.ca. This post was originally published on September 14, 2011 on StartupCFO.ca.

About Mark MacLeod

Mark MacLeod is a partner at Real Ventures and CFO to SaaS based Canadian companies including Shopify, Freshbooks and others.