David Crow

David Crow focused on product design, customer development and go-to-market implementation on $0. He is available as a consultant. He is a mentor at UW VeloCity, Jolt and FounderFuel. Follow him on Twitter @davidcrow or at DavidCrow.ca

One Post to Rule Them All

One Ring to Rule Them All

Hard to believe that it has been 21 months since I wrote Don’t Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Toronto Startup Ecosystem. There are parts of this post that are a little dated but it generally holds up as a meaningful introduction to the Toronto/Waterloo startup scene. The goal is to provide a curated list, it will not be comprehensive. 

If I’ve missed anything, add a comment or ping me directly @davidcrow and I’ll make updates on the fly.

People & Companies

There are so many people and companies, it is hard to know what is important to whom. I will do a separate posting with the companies and founders that I’ve been following. The challenge is that this is a long, long list and there are a lot of amazing companies in Toronto.

Angel Investors

Institutional Investors

There are a lot institutional investors that are active in Toronto. Entrepreneurs need to do a little diligence on their investors. You should be trying to figure out what type of companies do they typically invest in? How big is their fund? How much is unallocated? Who else have they invested in?

Foreign Institutional Investors

Banking/Financial Services

Accounting/Tax/SR&ED/Bookkeeping/Reporting

Legal Firms & Lawyers

Journalists

I think the biggest piece of advice is that generally the “we’re a startup and we launched” it just a shitty pitch to any journalist. You need to spend some time building a better message understanding who these journalists are, why their audience might possibly care about your story. This is a list of journalists that write about emerging technology companies. But you should also seek out journalists in your vertical or segment, this might might include moms, marketers or anything.

Recruiters

Office Space

We all need office space. I have spent hours looking at listings on Craigslist, Kijiji and other sources. I

Maker Space

Maker spaces are very different than flexible lease office space.

Educational Programs

Application Development Shops

Design Shops

PR & Marcomm Agencies

These are the Toronto-based PR Agencies that I’ve worked with or seen their work first hand. I probably need to add a section for other international PR firms particularly NYC , SF and the UK. This can be a very expensive and very difficult for founders that have not found product/market fit.

Coworking/Flexible Lease Office Space/Accelubators

We can call it what you want. Incubators, accelerators, cyclotrons. It doesn’t matter. The activities range from education to local economic development to flexible leasing to coworking. They are a necessary part of the ecosystem. But it feels like at times rather than starting a “real company”, that many have decided that the path of rent some real estate and attract others with a few programatic offerings is a better business model (at least there is a defined market with a key pain that can be monetized). Let’s call it what is is, it is office space with benefits or office space ++ (office space # for you Microsoft peeps). The benefits range from flexible leases to access to advisors to educational programs to investment capital. Do your research. Focus on the outputs, i.e., the companies that have graduated from each.

Events

There are a limited number of Canadian events that matter. There are the big events. They are big, they are busy, and not a lot of business happens at the event. But you can be guaranteed that most of the major players above will attend and you can reduce the number of trips to connect with people. You should be going to events that your potential customers attend. I am pretty sure unless you are an investor, service provider looking to service the startup industry that you shouldn’t be focused on these events. They are interesting social opportunities to connect with these groups in a concentrated fashion. You should also be actively looking for those same opportunities in SF, NYC, Boston, UK and around the globe.

If you’re going to travel and you want to stay in Canada there are 3 events where you can bump into most startups, founders and investors including some from outside Canada. These events are worth traveling for, but you need to have significant motivation/reason, like you are speaking or you have arranged a meeting with a specific individual.

The rest of the conferences are regional in nature but they should be considered mandatory if you are looking to connect in one shot. These events include most of the local ecosystems, i.e., Montreal, Ottawa, Alberta, Waterloo, etc.

There are smaller local events that happen more regularly. But I am not an expert at these events anymore. I recommend just subscribing to StartupDigest for a great weekly calendar email (you can also check out our Events page). Where are people finding really great opportunities to connect?

A conversation about MaRS

Dan Debow (LinkedIn) kicked off a conversation about MaRS on the StartupNorth Facebook group. It is an interesting thread with views on the efficiency of our tax dollars, the applicability of building office towers to stimulate the innovation economy, and the relative utility of advisory services for startups.

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Have you used MaRS advisory services or real estate? Do you have an opinion about the impact on your startup? Participate in the conversation.

Post by StartupNorth.

Policy Wonking

Dan Managan and Bob Kronbauer - Hockey Day In Canada Photo by KrisKrug

Wojceich Gryc has an interesting post on the policies that he’d like to see the federal government implement to improve the startup ecosystem. The 5 key points are:

  1. Market Access Tax Credits
  2. Legal/Tax Advice for Market Access
  3. Sales-Oriented Startup Accelerators
  4. Global Benchmarks
  5. Global Branding

Not a bad list of things that could improve the startup ecosystem. However, I’m not sure they are not all necessarily things for consideration as governmental policy. Specifically, I have issues with 2, 3 and 4.

Legal/Tax Advice for Market Access

Entering new markets, particularly foreign markets, can be daunting. There are legal, regulatory, tax and other questions. And I would argue that the Canadian government already has a Crown corporation, Export Development Corporation, dedicated at lead to helping manage the financial risk of accessing new markets. Is there a step-by-step guide for emerging technology companies? (Let me know if you find one). There are access to the Trade Commissioners who continue to have a strong presence in the Bay area, New York and Austin, Texas.

The remaining advice and guidance about legal, regulatory and tax risks on entering new markets is provided by third-party services firms. I’ve worked with the teams at KPMGDeloitte, PwC and others on Canadian/US tax law and the implications for my firm. Also advice from Canadian and US counsel including BennettJones, CognitionLLP, LabergeWeinstein, Fenwick & West, Wilson Sonsini and others. You need to find lawyers and accountants that have experience with the risks and solutions and can provide you cost-effective advice.

Sales-Oriented Startup Accelerators

An accelerator feels like a red herring to me. Wojceich is 100% correct, companies should focus on focus on key traction metrics (see Getting Traction and Funding, Valuation and Accretive Milestones) including sales/revenue. But the idea that an accelubator is going to help you focus on driving realistic forecasts, and achieving milestones or traction feels lazy/wrong/not the right approach.

A startup is a temporary organization used to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. – Steve Blank

Depending on the type of business model, it can be okay to delay monetization. But if your business model is to sell software or software-as-a-service you need to determine if people are willing to pay you for it. I would argue rather than giving up 7% of company to an accelubator, you’re probably better to read David Skok’s Building a Sales & Marketing Machine and try to recruit an advisor that has experience selling to your idealized target segment. There are a lot of great sales advisors/board members including: John MacDonald, Howard Gwin, Andy Aicklen, etc. Most are accessible. Are they interested in working with you? On your business? Maybe, you need to convince them you’ve built something worth their time and social capital.

Global Benchmarks

Who gives a shit about where we fall on global benchmarks? It’s probably relevant as part of the next point, Global Branding, but I just can’t imagine that an understanding of the global startup benchmarks matters. Larger investment, more successful companies and exits probably have a larger impact on the overall startup ecosystem. It would be more interesting to see the creation of a Kaufmann Foundation with a focus on entrepreneurship.

“we develop and support programs that provide entrepreneurs with the education, tools, skills and connections they need to start and grow businesses. We also work to create a more entrepreneur-friendly environment, including lowering barriers to success and raising awareness of the important role entrepreneurs play in the economy” – Kaufmann Foundation

I’m unclear why federal, provincial or municipal policy should be based on a set of rankings provided by a private corporation. It just feels ill-informed view of the role of government and policy in managing the lives of citizens. But I am not a policy wonk and my understanding on the creation and execution of policy in the administrative branches of government approximates zero. (Take this free opinion for what it is worth, or at least what you paid for it).

The Greener Grass

It’s great to see entrepreneurs in the trenches think about the system and the support they need. It’s a honest view of the things that would help entrepreneurs improve their corporate performance, reduce their expenditures and risks.

I love the idea of a similar SR&ED tax credit for market access. Supporting companies as they experiment with distribution and monetization models is a great idea. Plus improving the Canadian brand through Startup Visa, Maple Syrup Mafia, The C100, and other activities is an amazing activity. It builds on the efforts that we as individual founders to support the ecosystem. Focusing on traction including customer acquisition, revenue growth and building a scalable business., I love that too. Using global metrics as a baseline to evaluate your business (see StartupCompass’ Navigating your Startup to Success) should quickly give entrepreneurs both the measures and the desired outcomes to compare against.

I don’t think it is going to be government policy changes, it is going to be founders and startups building successful companies that will ultimately improve the ecosystem.

Photo Credit: Photo by Kris Krug AttributionShareAlike Some rights reserved by kriskrug