StartupWeekendKW – #SWKW

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matt roberts

I spent this past Saturday @ Communitech for their First StartupWeekend. So much for my sacrosanct Saturday’s resolution. You’ve got to wonder why its taken them so long to organize one, its K/W (!) there must be a huge demand.

To my memory, Edmonton, Ottawa (Royce!), Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto all have had multiple events over the past few years that I’ve attended. BDC VC was again a sponsor, the Gang for Communitech were helping out swell which was cool. Lots of good mentors in attendance – Sid from OMERS put in some time. The place with all the bodies and food was pretty rank when I left at 9 on Saturday and probably needed an airing out on Sunday night. Glad I didn’t have to clean it up.

Lots of interesting ideas & well attended. I’m not sure but I felt the technical talent was better represented in the teams then I’ve seen in MTL or Toronto events. The winners were, Homefed, a airbnb-type foodee company, good group liked the dynamic when I sat with them… There’s one foodee co at every StartupWeekend (I am not joking). I think people must show up hungry or something.

I’ll probably hit the next SW if Chelsea asks (and pays in Beer).

While searching for the feeds on the K/W event I found the Jeddah StartupWeekend event that was going on in Saudi at the same time… Thought it was pretty cool that another group of entrepreneurs were out there trying to pull something together inside of 54 hours. Yesterday, I caught the announcement on who the winners were in Jeddah. Remove some of the more cultural aspects and you would think they could be the winning team in K/W. Nice to see..

Protectionism in Tech is not what’s needed

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This morning I woke up to an opinion piece by local (Ottawa) tech guru Adam Chowaniec in the G&M.

The article entitled “How do we stop loosing tech companies?” Adam goes on at length to speak about how the American SEC rules give Public Companies more leeway than Canadian companies, and that we should change the rules etc etc. 

Now Adam does have an axe to grind here.

He was Chairman of two companies that were both “bought” before they had ‘time to prove’ their turnaround strategies, Zarlink & Tundra. The problem was that both of these companies were perennial underperformers. Talk technology all you want, the companies underperformed on the public markets making them targets for a buyout, they just didn’t have the metrics their competitors did. One will note that Mos-Aid was taken out after being put ‘into play’ by WiLan, but yet again that situation was a result of an inability to grow shareholder value. Like the rest their stock was an underperformer too.

These companies shouldn’t be looked at as small tech companies that need protection from greedy buyout operators, almost all of them sported huge valuations in their pasts. In all cases were nearly 30 years old. They were hardly on the cutting edge of tech as they were when founded and they didn’t employee all that many people (Ottawa headcounts provided).  

  • Zarlink – was founded in 1978 as Mitel Semiconductor (it was spun out and renamed in 2000). 140 employees at buyout
  • Tundra – was founded in 1981 as Calmos Systems (it was acquired by Newbridge, and spun out as Tundra in 1995), 55 ottawa staff at buyout.
  • Mos-Aid – founded in 1975 is the only that retained its name and ownership from beginning to end. 50 employees at buyout.

The truth is that these businesses were at a transition point in their businesses and that’s usually a great point to buy them out. Adam would have you believe that there were side benefits to having them in Ottawa, there were some, but not that many in this case. That said their deaths have been a boon to startups in the semiconductors space, I should know

The odd thing about the article was the comments it brought about, almost no one spoke about protecting big lumbering tech companies that had watched investor value decline. They all spoke of the need to help startups get more financing to build newer better tech companies… I think that’s probably a more apt description of what’s needed in Canada.



Hi York Angels, Let’s not nickel and dime Canadian entrepreneurs…

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Hi York Angels,

My name is Matt Roberts and we have a lot of things in common.

We’re both investing in Canadian entrepreneurs. We’ve both put our hard earned money on the line. We both like to think we’re mostly a help rather than a hindrance to building great companies.

You might think we do things a lot differently as I work in Venture Capital and you’re in an Angel group. That’s true, but on a more personal level I’d disagree as I have been an Angel.

I’ve invested in around 12 companies directly or more if you include my family’s investments that I help manage. Since I started in my current role I no longer invest directly (conflicts and all) but I still advise young companies, I truly love that aspect of my life.

I’m a former entrepreneur, though I’m not sure how you can ever not be entrepreneurial. Many of the people in your group have also started their own firms or companies.

I’ve also raised money for startups, something you guys also help with – its hard work to get a seed round or a Series A – much tougher than most people would know unless they’ve tried. If you can help with that you’re a huge contributor to the success of a company.

We both advise startups or aspiring entrepreneurs. I like to think I bring a lot to the table, people say I do – but maybe they’re being nice, I’m sure your networks and experience are also helpful when investing or advising an entrepreneur.

So, as you can see, I think on the important points we have a lot in common.

I know Venture Capitalists are ragged on. I’ve done it (and sometimes still do) and I understand the frustration. So with that in mind I’d like to point out that York Angels is beginning to be spoken about with some of the same complaints. Are these fair, perhaps not. But we in the venture community do our best to listen to criticisms and either articulate why we disagree with them or respond to fix them, occasionally they don’t even deserve a response. But we do it anyways, I think it’s just good karma. 

Here’s some advice.

You shouldn’t charge entrepreneurs to pitch to your network or submit a business plan. I know some other groups have done it in the past, but I thought we’d gotten past this in our particular corner of the universe. I’d encourage anyone hoping to raise money from you guys to refuse to pay these ‘fees’ or just avoid your group until you change the policy. I’d also drop you from any recommended source of funds if I ever maintained such a wirtten list, right now its in my head but you’re off it.

I don’t see what value your group gets or gives from such a miniscule amount of money and I know for the entrepreneur its a red flag. Why you thought this was a good idea is beyond me. What’s probably more galling is that your group gets money from both a local government sponsored OCE and from Fed-dev… which means you’re charging entrepreneurs AND taking government money under the guise of investing in those same entrepreneurs – seems a bit off side. 

I know you try and add value with more services for entrepreneurs including a $200 course to help them pitch to angel groups. These services are also provided by local Centre’s of Excellence suchas OCRI, Communitech, TechAlliance & MARS (etc) so I can’t think why you should offer a similar service for money. I’d encourage you to do this for free, refer potential opportunities to the previsouly mentioned groups or direct people to the online advice out there you agree with. 

The truth is every pitch or business plan is a learning experience for all involved – even if an investment is never done. You’ll learn more about whats out there. Thats why on the front page of my website is essentially a sign up for office hours, any entreprneur can ask for 20 minutes of my time. I don’t charge money. 

You guys have done some great investments in companies I’ve advised or might invest in one day and added some great value to your companies. With all the people out there pulling for startups in Canada lets kill the nickel and diming.




– As always what is written here is my opinon and does not necessarily reflect the views of my employer, my coworkers, Janet (the lunch lady), my parents, my friends, or someone in any position that may call and complain to me. If you would like to complain to someone you think has power over me I can provide my mom’s email upon request. –

You don’t need an IVEY MBA to get into Venture Capital.

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I got an email from a student attending my MBA alma mater, Western University’s Ivey Business Program. Beyond the usual questions about London and the professors, she asked specifically: “Will the Ivey MBA be helpful getting into Venture Capital?”

Below is my cut and paste answer: 

Honestly, the answer is no. I did not get my job because of my MBA. But it was a great checkmark to have next to my name. It adds instant credibility on financial topics, accounting, and other non-technical matters. But I’ve been told it was my previous industry experience and tech-community involvement that got me my job.

That said the Ivey brand (HBA and MBA) is very strong in Venture Capital. Amongst Ivey grads in Venture Capital roles (analyst, associate and up) I can think of in Canada:

At iNovia, my buddy, Karamdeep Nijjar. 

At Rogers Ventures, Jason Zan.

At Mantella VP there’s Russell Samuels.

At RHO Canada – Roger Chabra.

Chris Albinson at Panorama Capital.  

And at Summerhill there’s Gary Rubinoff and Brian Kobus.

In the BDC IT Venture Fund there is myself and Ron Warburton – our MD and my boss. 

While in the wider BDC VC family there is Paul Kirkconnell, Glenn Egan, Charles Cazabon, Charles Morand, Denis Ho, and Tony Van Bommel.

I’m sure there are more but this was off the top of my head (seriously). So yeah….  let me restate what i meant when I said “no” earlier, I meant maybe. 

5 reasons why Steve Jobs was an amazing nontechnical cofounder.

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For all the talk over the past week on Steve Jobs success I think we’re
missing some of the learning lessons from his life that I noticed.

From where I sit Steve Jobs was the best non-technical cofounder of his
generation. And he did it by ignoring a lot of advice that I’ve been
guilty of giving. You might not agree with his method but his results
speak for themselves. Here’s how I see some of the Lessons of Steve Job
nontechnical cofounder, and what we might want to learn from them.

1 – Take over everything from the technical founder that is not his core

Steve Jobs handled all the firing and hiring of Apple Computer early on,
he rejected technical hires that his technical cofounder wanted. He went
alone to banks and asked for money. He negotiated the early angel
financing, alone. He built the early dealers network to sell the computers
and he trained the sales people. Where was his cofounder Woz during all
this. Building and designing computers. Why? Because that’s what he was
good at. Would Woz have been good at the other items up here – perhaps?
But the goal was to squeeze every inch of engineering genius out of Woz
and get every distraction out of his way. Steve Jobs did that artfully.

2 – Learn enough technical knowledge to be dangerous. Then be dangerous.
(I.e. challenge everyone to defend their technical beliefs.)

Eric Schmidt in a recent business week article pointed out that Steve Jobs
argued with him on arcane points of C while Schmidt has a PhD in compsci.

Unlike Schmidt, Steve Jobs could never program the technology he wanted, but he had a view
on it. He could defend it and he wasn’t afraid to.

I suspect he learned more from the ‘defend your technical beliefs’
arguments then he ever learned from looking at code. In other words the
interested layman talking arcane tech so much he sounded like he could
even do it. He did this to keep his technical staff wondering what arcane
point they would have to defend next. But it also made them prepare to
defend their design decisions so they would chose the best and easiest to
defend design decisions.

3 – Never accept people’s qualifications at face value.

Steve had no qualifications and he was a success.

The opposite could also be true. You could have qualifications and be a
failure. If you ever read about people’s first interviews with Jobs, he
nearly always asked them to defend why they should be hired. The resume
was only a foot in the door. Qualifications, even technical ones don’t
really matter at the end of the day. Can you do it? They do so.

4 – Never let your products become too techie. They’re supposed to be used
by people. Make sure you want to use it.

At the end of the day Woz was about refined technical design. Steve was
about refined design. But it was Jobs who recognized that a command line
was never going to be the future of computing it was going to be an icon.
Technical founders build beautiful technology. Nontechnical founders need
to make sure they can use it too. Steve made sure he could use it and then
made sure he wanted to use it and then show it to his girl friend.

“We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them”

5 – Argue for technical changes by talking about the humanity of the
end-user. Not the technical problems that need to be fixed.

If you read the pages about the Macintosh startup time.
You’ll hear the story of how he argued for shorter boot times not because
it was slow but because they were wasting away the lives of their users.  

The argument was not a technical one, the problem was. The way to inspire
his team that Steve decided to use was to not argue about loading memory
items when the user won’t notice. He just explained a completely off hand
thought for saving lives.

Was it a good argument – no.

But did it explain the thinking of Steve Jobs? yes.

— There are probably many more and better ones.

There have been hundreds of arguments on technical founders versus
nontechnical founders. We just lost the best nontechnical cofounder in
history and he certainly showed that they matter.

Steve Jobs, insanely great.

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Steve Jobs didn’t build the first computer, the first MP3 player or the first smart phone.

He just built them right.

Sometimes innovation isn’t about being first, it’s getting it right first. He inspired those around him to get it right.

That’s a talent few people have, and we’ll all be the lesser for it.