Bay Street & Natural Resources – FinTech in Toronto

TL;DR

Toronto is a center of gravity for financial services. There aren’t a lot of financial technology startups in Toronto. There is a new Toronto FinTech Meetup. FIrst meeting is Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at the MaRS Commons (Suite 230, 101 College St.) hosted by Blair Livingston of Quantify Labs.

Bay Street and Natural Resources

[Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Blair Livingston LinkedIn , founder of Quantify Labs. Full disclosure: I'm an investor in Quantify Labs. Blair and I share a view that given the technology and talent available on Bay Street there should be a strong financial tech and startup community in Toronto. It is sad that my typing "toronto fintech" into Google results in a Montreal conference as the first result. ]

Google Search for Toronto FinTech

Great cities prosper and thrive, in part, because of their proximity to valuable resources. Arguably, the nearby resources were likely the main reason the city or village was situated in that location to begin with. However, it’s not enough to simply be near resources – gold still has to be mined – and we need to put those resources to work. Indeed, Canada is a country rich in resources; we have diamonds, gold, lumber, oil, gas and everything in-between. Canada’s strong economy is fuelled in part by this abundance of resources.

However, over the last hundred years (or so) new types of resources have emerged – communities, technologies, groups, industries and people. Many of these resources don’t take the familiar form of something tangible and malleable, and for that reason can go unnoticed for a long time.

One Hub to Rule Them All

When we talk about finance, we invariably talk about New York City. We talk about Wall Street, the 1%, and a concentration of capital, services, people and technology that makes NYC one of the financial industry capitals (if not THE capital). It is the density of entrepreneurs, emerging companies and people that are one of NYC’s greatest resources. Consider the effects on start-ups built to service financial companies – this industry has supported, nurtured and allowed some of the biggest financial technology companies in the world to grow and flourish in its ecosystem.

Bloomberg LP, with estimated yearly top line revenues of $10 billion, was started in New York. The city is host to a number of trading venues, back office technology providers, data aggregators and other interesting and innovative companies built on the resource of this community concentration. They even have an accelerator dedicated solely to financial services technology (appropriately named the FinTech Innovation Lab).

In New York, FinTech flourishes by connecting the community and building an ecosystem that leverage existing resources. Financial institutions play a role in supporting the new ecosystem by acting as customers, acquirers of startups and hiring talent that develops in each of the early stage companies. Demonstrated by the support, both financial and at very high management levels, that FinTech Innovation Lab receives. It’s no wonder a large portion of all leading financial technology, especially institutional tech, is coming out of New York.

Where is FinTech in Toronto?

Toronto has a booming financial industry. Our banks are in excellent shape. The combined market capitalization of Canada’s six leading banks is more than $323 billion. And with that kind of market capitalization comes new problems, new opportunities and potentially new tech. The difficulty lies in the regulation, legislation, risk standards and software/hardware requirements. This poses challenges for developers and entrepreneurs in selling to financial services firms. It doesn’t matter if the solution is aimed at the retail (bank branches or individuals), corporate (the mother ship) or institutional (sales & trading, investment banking). Selling to financial institutions is not an easy process. It requires assistance in process, guidance (legal, technical, financial), support, experience and a depth of knowledge that is greater than just hustling.

It is because of the complexity in the go-to-market and technical requirements, why very little innovation happens in financial services technology (aka fintech). It’s like the shadow cast on a wall – it looks menacing, like a panther or some dangerous beast – but in reality it’s only a little kitten. If you understand how to deal with the issues, and properly approach them, they aren’t all that scary (and a little help never hurts).

But, with little innovation comes massive opportunity – there is so much opportunity in financial technology that it’s hard to decide where to begin.
What Toronto needs is to start taking advantage of these resources – a thriving financial services industry. It’s already happening in pockets around the city, but it’s about time we started getting aligned to make a consolidated push together. I have had the opportunity of meeting with/hearing about/noticing some interesting financial tech companies in the city, who include:

  • D+H (payment/lending solutions)
  • Market IQ (data/social sentiment analysis)
  • FINMAVEN (data/social sentiment analysis)
  • eDYNAMICS (salesforce integration and consulting/cloud computing)
  • OANDA (FX trading platform)
  • Quantify Labs (institutional content/CRM platform)

Who else should be on this list? Who are the startups, developers, investors and entrepreneurs that are interested in FinTech in Toronto? If the community is the framework, let’s get the community going. Let’s share stories and guidance on selling, building and launching financial technology. Let’s offer insight and experience into usage and problems. Let’s discuss. Let’s take advantage of one of this city’s most abundant resources. That’s what we want to do, and if you have any interest in financial technology, I would encourage you to sign up for the Toronto Fintech Meetup. We’re having our first ever meeting next Wednesday, April 10th, at the MaRS Commons, just a ‘get to know you’ – no speakers, no schedule, just an introduction to the financial tech community in Toronto.

When I started in finance ask a desk analyst, I was repeatedly told – “it’s too bad, the low hanging fruit is gone” – well I took a walk out of that orchard, down the lane, and stumbled into another called Financial Technology. The fruit just isn’t low hanging, it’s on the ground – we just need a few more people to come help us pick it up.

 

Being a Hustler is Not Enough

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kevin Swan LinkedIn . Kevin has cut his chops doing product management at Nexopia.com before becoming it’s CEO. He moved to the dark side with Cardinal Venture Partners and is now a Principal at iNovia Capital.   Thankfully he is an MBA dropout and that’s why we like him. This post was originally published on April 2, 2013.

Often the startup community attaches itself to buzzwords. We all know them. Growth hacker, lean, gamification, pivot, MVP, viral, ninja, disruptive, etc. I, and you, have been guilty of using them. These terms are not bad by nature and most have real meaning behind them. However, often they start becoming ubiquitous terms that lose their meaning and are sensualized by those using them. I have a new one to add to the list – Hustler.

U can't knock da HUSTLEWe all know the Hustler. Relentless in connecting with people, customers, partners, investors, etc. Always at every event, following up on every lead and never taking no for an answer. You give them a lead and they turn it into ten new opportunities for their business. They will iterate through their MVP (whoops, I just used a buzzword) 20 times to reach product-market fit if they have to. They never give up and their tenacity is off the charts.

Like most buzzwords, they start off with good intentions. There is nothing wrong with the Hustler. In fact, I wouldn’t want to invest in, or work with, anyone that doesn’t hustle! But, being a Hustler is not necessarily going to lead to success on its own. In fact, it can have the counter effect of resulting in a very inefficient way of building a company.

The entrepreneurs that I have come to truly respect and admire have a characteristic that hustle can’t replace. The only problem is I don’t yet have a buzzword to describe so I will just use this:

savvy /?sav?/ : having or showing perception, comprehension, or shrewdness especially in practical matters

The best entrepreneurs have an amazing ability to navigate a startup through all the ups and downs, risks and opportunities and challenges it encounters. They are never caught off-guard by a development and always have a plan B. They can spot opportunities and paths to take that most can’t. Having an engineering background I often think about making things efficient. Savvy entrepreneurs are just that – efficient. Where a pure hustler is running around trying ten different approaches to a problem the savvy entrepreneur has a calculated plan that nails it in the first couple attempts. The savvy entrepreneur uses their time, relationships and public appearances very stringently. They don’t take a ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ approach. They are thinking three steps ahead all the time. They know the next steps they have to take and aggressively push forward.

In my experiences these entrepreneurs are not that common. If the low costs, low barriers to entry and ability to iterate quickly have had one negative effect it is the belief that a successful startup can be the result of a bunch of experiments and hustle. Sure this works sometimes, the startup world is built on outliers. But, these are just that – outliers. The majority of successful companies are built by savvy entrepreneurs who know their domains, have an unfair advantage and are always three steps ahead of everyone else.

Dog Yogurt or Why angel invest in Toronto

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[Editor's Note: This is a guest post by Chris Maeda LinkedIn . Full disclosure, Chris as he mentions in the article, was an investor in Influitive, a company I co-founded. Chris is the CEO of Brick Street Software and an active angel investor. He's looking for deal flow and we will be hosting a series of Founders & Funders in Toronto, Halifax, Vancouver and a few other cities to connect those that start high tech, high potential growth companies with those that fund them. Subscribe to Founders & Funder$ notification list for updates. If you're looking to connect with Chris, my advice, is to reach out to him on AngelList, but hey, it worked for me and I'm a sucker for patterns.]

I’ve been an angel investor in Toronto since 2011.  Towards the end of the dot.com days, I traded my SOMA loft for a New Hampshire cottage, partly as a by-product of some public company M&A transactions.  I began investing with a New Hampshire angel group in the mid-aughts.  I like living in NH, but the deal flow you see there is quirky.  There weren’t very many software deals, and New Hampshire has a lot of trees and cows, so the angel group ended up looking at non-software deals, like online wood pellet distributors and dog yogurt manufacturers.  When I was hearing the dog yogurt pitch, I had a what-the-hell-am-I-doing-here moment of clarity and quit the angel group.

Then two things happened.  First, my company, Brick Street Software, decided to set up a customer support center in Toronto so I started coming to Toronto for business on a regular basis.  Second, Influitive was advertising a round on AngelList.  I met the Influitive founders (Mark Organ and David Crow) and, after verifying that they were not planning to enter the dairy products business [Ed. Note: I have a dairy allergy so I'm kind of anti-dairy], I invested in their pre-venture rounds and joined their board.  I recently invested in a second Toronto company and am working on a third.  I’m starting to see patterns for why Toronto is great place to invest.

  1. Activity, talent pool, and competition:
    As I tell my American friends, Toronto is the New York and Los Angeles of Canada.  So almost everything that happens, happens in Toronto.  I’m sure I just ticked off a bunch of people outside of the GTA, but this is reality when viewed from the US.  The software talent pool is pretty good; there are lots of startups but everyone complains about a shortage of capital.  So this forces Canadian entrepreneurs to have a bootstrap mentality and means that valuations are not outrageous.  The seed funding bubble has come to Canada but its not as gassy as the US.
  2. Lots of public money and assistance:
    the US does not have SR&ED credits, IRAP grants, refundable HST, or the network of publicly-funded innovation centers that you find in Ontario.  A Toronto company that I’ve invested in has probably raised as much money in grants as it has from investors.  This means the Canadian government is reducing my dilution and (hopefully) goosing my investment returns.  Thanks, guys.
  3. Corporate customers are nearby:
    Many of the large corporate buyers are headquartered in Toronto.  I rode along on a sales call to a large Canadian company.  I usually have to get on an airplane for something like this; in Toronto I can take a cab.   I can even take transit if I’m not in a hurry.
  4. Better for international business:
    There are a number of little things that make Canada a good place for an international business hub.  For a variety of reasons, Canadian employees are less expensive than Americans, and the NAFTA treaty makes it easy for Canadian companies to expand into the US with minimal US headcount.  You can have bank accounts in foreign currencies (e.g. US Dollars and Euros). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Canadian market is so small that startups have to plan for international expansion from day 1.