Saturday, March 04, 2006

Valley vs. Toronto

Having spent a good chunk of time now in the valley this week, what’s funny to me is that the energy here reminds me of Toronto vs. the other way around. Whereas before during TorCamp, I felt the energy of the valley (when I spent a ton of time there between 2000-2002) in Toronto -- and reminded me a great deal of what it was like there during my time in the bay area... this time around, everything happening here feels like home.

Yes, the scale of things here are larger -- due to tech/capital density and other factors, but whats really interesting is that I often feel that there's just as much passion amongst the Toronto crowd as there is in the valley crowd here. However, the one thing I would challenge my local startup companions to do remains the same: Think Big(ger).

I got a chance to speak with quite a few former Canadian tech heads... it was amazing how many of us where down there, and how many I discover were from north of the border. One common thing I noticed about these folks was that they felt the same way about the Canadian startup attitude (thinking big, but only moderatly big) vs. the Valley attitude (don't think big, think BIGGEST)

So it got me thinking. Despite the technical talent that we have in Toronto, do we have a disproportion amount of tech-innovation and tech-wealth because of (a) economic factors (i.e. lack of capital, tax structure); (b) cultural factors (i.e. lack of ambitions or role models to inspire success); or (c) talent/experiential factors (i.e. lack of serial entrepreneurs, lack of mentors, lack of deep tech-marketing and tech-sales talent).

One more theory I have is perhaps its "(d)": we have a lack of graduate technical talent that are given sufficient resources. I'd argue that while we have a great deal of technical undergraduate talent coming form Waterloo and UofT, there's insufficient proportionate support for their graduate research programs as compared to say some of more well financed US based technical academic research labs.


  1. "(b) .. lack of .. role models to inspire success"
    :) I can think of one right now.

    "(c) .. lack of serial entrepreneurs [as] mentors"
    regarding mentors, as a student I feel it's difficult to seek mentorship because we don't know your expectations.

    "(d) .. lack of graduate technical talent that are given sufficient resources .. insufficient proportionate support for their graduate research programs. "
    What's the most needing technical area in your opinion?


  2. Thanks for the comments Tim.

    WRT to mentorship, sometimes it really has to be earned... its not about the ask, as it is about the offer from my experience. Its an exchange, not a one way street.

    I've been lucky that I've had many mentors along the way. I try to wherever I can give back to the mentors, or people around me that could use a boost.

    The concept of mentorship I think should be looked as as a fairly casual relationship. To me, its just another learning relationship. But in order to earn someone's mentorship, you really do have to earn it... and show exceptional abilities and passion and vision for what you do.

    as for point (d) i think we need more EE and CS grads doing more advanced research... perhaps its just me, i have a bias/favor towards advance research that can be commercialized. It just doesn't seem right to me that we seem to have a lot less commercialization of our research ventures than say a UC Berkley, UCLA, Stanford, MIT, UCSD, CalTech, CMU, and others.

    Perhaps its just a matter of perception (stemming from my lack of access to real numbers on the situation).

  3. You have some really good points, Albert.

    I'm a part-time developer in Toronto, and I always get the feeling that the guys in San Francisco have it better than us - and I'm sure they do, in terms of the points that you noted. We just don't have the culture that they do to compete with them. Although, I'd have to argue that our (Canada's) biggest web 2.0 success so far is Flickr, and that is nothing to scoff at.

  4. Agreed. The biggest successful B2C web2.0 company that I can think of is in Vancouver.

    Which tells me that in todays world, its all about talent, drive, and vision.

    Look at Skype. It wasn't a valley company. Yet another killer B2C innovation.

    But being in the valley is nice, very nice.

    I'm there right now. Every day I'm meeting people that share the same interest and passions as me. It helps me stay motivated, and up to date on wahts going on.

    But at the end of the day... its all about talent, drive, and vision. If you have those things -- and can figure out ways of aquiring capital if needed be to drive those factors forward, then you're golden no matter where you are.

  5. Very true.
    Thanks for answering my quesiton.

    for your latest reply, on top of these things, I keep on telling myself "no matter how .. old you are" to stay motivated.

    By the way Albert, I took a message for you from Rick and Shel.

  6. Albert,

    David Crow and I were discussing this situation earlier this evening. I totally agree that Toronto has all the raw ingredients, but the scene needs an attitude adjustment and a bigger vision. The TorCamp community has a central role to play in supporting and mentoring one another, but also in kicking each other's butts to think bigger and pushing each other to identify and develop truly remarkable ideas. Sometimes the best thing that one can hear is "your idea sucks or is unremarkable, because..." Tough love is a good thing. We tend to shy away from giving insightful critiques in favour of polite silence. Very Canadian.

    I also have the sense that historically, many of our successful companies and entrepreneurs have left after they cash out. This takes the dollars, knowledge and experience out of the local community, which affects the availability of startup capital and experienced mentors willing to contribute to the community. And clearly, the Toronto VC community is also part of the current state, particularly when it comes to a general lack of understanding of the next generation of web products and services, aka "2.0".

    On the money issue, check out my post on VC 2.0 and Social Microfinance.

  7. ...I'll give ya another reason albert, an ex-canuck buddy of mine, Chris Law IMed me the other day and said he bumped into ya down in the reminded him of me, so I got my yearly "what the hell are you still doin in toronto lecture" a little earlier :)

    when you want to change the world, sometimes you gotta go where the chances are easier, and sometimes you drag your friends along kicking and screaming :)

    ...however my company, m-Qube (formerly SharpRobot) just got acquired by Verisign, so I guess I'll be sticking around for at least a little while longer to see how that pans out...