18 Mar A Silicon Valley Investor’s Love Affair with Canada
Recently I was asked to speak at California’s capital regarding business relationships and synergies between California and Canada. In preparing for that discussion I went back through my career and looked at all of the times I interacted or was affected by a Canadian company. It turned out to happen much more frequently than I originally thought.
As a young boy growing up in farm country outside of Chicago, my introduction to Canada was an annual fishing trip to Ontario with my Dad and Grandpa. To me Canada was a place of beautiful natural resources, great fishing, friendly people, and of course, Poutine. Some of the best days that I can remember of my childhood were spent on those beautiful lakes.
It wasn’t until the late ‘90s when the technology company I worked for was acquired by a division of the Canadian information conglomerate Thomson Corp., that I began to understand the scope Canada’s influence on technology. Thomson merged with Reuters in 2008 to become one of the world’s largest information companies with $17 billion in revenue. I credit Thomson for bringing me and my family to California and really beginning my journey in technology.
After a period with Thomson, I went to E*TRADE and then to a small tech company working in the area of email archiving (ZANTAZ, Inc.). ZANTAZ had a hosted archiving solution, but really needed an on premise solution to round out our offering. Our team found a Canadian company with just such an offering. Educom, Inc. based in Ottawa, ON had the best solution on the market and we moved quickly to make the acquisition. Educom’s CEO realized that he needed an experienced management team to achieve the kind of revenue potential he knew was possible for his technology. The combined firm saw hyper growth in the early 2000’s, thanks in part to the malfeasance of Wall Street insiders and discovery that many of their misdeeds were documented in their email. The acquisition of that Canadian firm helped us drive to $100 million in revenue, enabling us to do substantial hiring in both California and Canada, before selling to Autonomy in 2007.
During the process of acquiring Educom, I became good friends with the CEO, Andrew Moffat. Even after we both moved on from ZANTAZ and went our separate ways, we spoke regularly. I really looked at Andy as both a friend and an experienced entrepreneur who became my mentor.
After leaving ZANTAZ, Andy began work on some new projects, while I joined the management team of another firm. After the sale of that company, I reconnected with Andy to start jointly investing in Canadian technology companies. We invest as partners, with Andy identifying exciting Canadian tech startups, and me identifying the team to take them to market. We’ve found that Canada has a good supply of solid technologists that are available at a significant discount to what similar talent receives in Silicon Valley. However, it’s Silicon Valley where we can find the management expertise to get a company funded, quickly grow a company, and then find a successful exit for that company. We believe this is a model that really has legs.
One of our co-investment companies is FormVerse. FormVerse provides a platform for building workflow applications inside of Microsoft Outlook. We can take an XML form, put it inside of an email message, using the security and routing power of MS Exchange route that message throughout the organization for approvals, and pull the data from that form to be used with other applications (finance, HR, etc.). We have technical people in Ottawa, technical people in Calgary (including our CTO), and a sales office in Silicon Valley where some of our executive team resides as well. The team in Canada focuses on providing a cutting edge and solid product, while the team in California focuses on customers, partners and strategic investors. The best of both worlds! Andy and I looked at outsourcing to a foreign country because it’s cheaper, but when you add up the advantages of Canada, (time zones, language, work ethic, social environment, etc.) it just makes too much sense!
I whole heartedly suggest that when planning to build a technology company, look North! North to the land of clean air, plentiful water, solid technologists, and Poutine!