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5 things to know about being a Canadian entrepreneur in Silicon Valley

5 things to know about being a Canadian entrepreneur in Silicon Valley

Posted by PanamericanWorld on January 20, 2016

FundThrough, a high-growth, fintech startup that is changing the way businesses fund their working capital, was selected to participate in 48 Hours in the Valley this year. The program run by C100, a network of Canadians living in Silicon Valley and working at some of the world’s best tech companies and startups, select 20 of Canada’s best startups to participate in a structured two days of networking, presentations, meetings and social gatherings in Palo Alto, Calif. The startups go through a rigorous application process where founders and investors select those companies that best reflect the current trends and demands of Silicon Valley.

FundThrough had several mentors who helped the team refine its sales and marketing strategy, by sharing concepts being used in Silicon Valley that have not been applied in Canada yet, such as mass email personalization automation and other creative customer acquisition strategies. These ideas along with the connections we made resulted in a portfolio increase of four times, since returning from Silicon Valley, and we expect another doubling for September.

The strategies and tactics we learned helped us to accelerate business growth and has positioned us to return to Silicon Valley in the next few months to leverage the connections we made to raise a Series A financing round.

Reflecting back on our experience, here are five things we learned about being a Canadian in the Valley:

Canadians are everywhere and they want to help fellow Canadians. The bond between Canadians, especially when abroad, has always been valuable. In our backpacking days, it was easy to identify Canadians shuffling in and out of European hostels by the flags sewn onto their backpacks. In Silicon Valley, it’s much harder to identify them.

That’s where C100, in conjunction with the Canadian consulate in Silicon Valley, adds value. They know an impressive number of Canadians in the Valley, who are in senior positions at large tech companies, or running cool and innovative startups, or making key investment decisions at prestigious venture capital firms.

It is equally impressive how many of them want to help fellow Canadians. While they are based in Silicon Valley, they still understand the challenges we face from a business and cultural perspective and the Canadian market, and they are willing to share their time and networks. Perhaps they aren’t part of the Canadian brain drain after all, but instead are pioneers taking over the tech world.

Think big (many Canadians are too humble to do so). Canadian tech entrepreneurs size their market too small, said Canadian Jonathan Ehrlich, partner at Foundation Capital. Ehrlich said we should learn from our U.S. competitors: We shouldn’t just aim to “make the playoffs,” but instead aim, to “win the championship.” He conveyed his frustration at Canadian entrepreneurs pitches that spoke of  a “huge” opportunity to dominate a $500-million to $1-billion market, when he’s looking for entrepreneurs who want to win in a $25-billion market.

Everyone has an opinion. Do what’s right for your business. Through C100, we met with many venture capital investors; and heard conflicting views based on the investor’s experience. While some said that to succeed we had to expand beyond Canada or open a San Francisco office immediately, others said not to bother, and to stay focused on our core market. All had good reasons for their advice.

While we value the feedback, it’s important to remain focused on your vision for the business. Listen and absorb what others say, then take a deep breath, digest what was said and make your own decision. This taught us that fit, shared vision and social compatibility are crucial when picking investors.

Silicon Valley’s energy and sense of urgency is contagious. We came back to Toronto energized with the urgency to do something big before someone beat us to it — an omnipresent feeling in the Valley. While that feeling exists in pockets of Canada, frequent trips to the Valley helps homegrown startups get the “pick-me-up” they need to succeed.

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