December 22nd, 2015, San Francisco
by Andee Gardiner
Since the Steve Jobs - Apple era, startups have been flocking to Silicon Valley to raise funding, grow their network, and spend their daylight hours building startups out of iconic Palo Alto garages. 48Hrs in the Valley is an opportunity to tap into this incredible ecosystem, build lasting relationships through the C100’s Charter Member network, and learn more about what it takes to succeed on the global stage.
Every year, C100 carefully selects up to 20 impressive, growing startups to visit Silicon Valley for “48 hours in the Valley”, our signature program that emphasizes the necessity for Canadian entrepreneurs to think bigger, move faster and form meaningful connections in the Bay Area. On December 6th, thirty founders from the 16 companies selected descended on San Francisco to participate in our 11th 48Hrs in the Valley, and by their own account, it was time well spent.
In previous years, founders have suggested that more be done to allow the cohort to get to know one another prior to kicking off the event. In response, we held a prep session & cohort-only dinner in Toronto during the week of CIX and invited the companies to San Francisco days before the program for some “cohort bonding” activities.
When the founders arrived Sunday afternoon they were quickly sent off on a city-wide scavenger hunt as a way to get to know one another while enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of this magnificent city. Founders were instructed to search for specific items, take photos for proof and upload them to a cohort-wide Slack channel. In addition to being natural-born competitors, these team members are also quite savvy and creative. We saw everything from a team of five making their way into the frigid Bay waters for 20 extra bonus points...to a team LOSING one teammate before quickly finding him and their way to a bar, where they spent the remaining hours drinking beer and superimposing their faces onto photos uploaded to Slack (which could have been cause for disqualification) .... another team found the porta-potties where Bruce Lee was born (inside joke) .... finally, a teams created a human pyramid --- and one was the first (and only) team to return on time and be hailed the winner! #OnlyInSanFrancisco .... #YourPrizeIsOnItsWay Team VanFloIn (Hongwei, Brandon and Steve).
In addition to their first day of exploration and adventure, founders were invited to a cohort-only dinner at the Vestry in San Francisco’s Mission district – taking uberPOOL to and from the restaurant, fitting seamlessly into the ride-sharing craze that San Francisco loves (and almost every Canadian city is rebelling against - #sad). On Monday the cohort attend an ad-hoc mini Sales Growth boot-camp put on by Oleg Rogynskyy. That night at our Premier Partner VIP reception, one founder said, “If I go home tomorrow, that session by Oleg made my whole trip worthwhile.” So I guess we’ll invite Oleg back!
Day One of 48Hrs in the Valley began at the beautiful New Relic offices (hosted graciously by Charter Member Lew Cirne). After our network breakfast hosted by Rogers Communications, Charter Member Jonathan Ehrlich took the stage. Known for his passion and desire to make sure that every Canadian doesn’t “settle for 8th place” Jonathan, partner at Foundation Capital, discussed the importance of “getting things done, even when it’s not perfect.” Engaging the entire audience, Jonathan urged the founders to not “hire the person who just wants to make the playoffs,” rather, “...hire someone who wants to win! Someone who's not afraid."
Following his talk, Daniel Saks and Kevin Swan, (AppDirect's founder and VP of Corporate Development, respectively) took the stage for a fireside chat entitled "Throw Out The Startup Playbook", reiterating that there's no specific, measurable formula for success, but rather a series of decisions supported by a great idea, capable talent, a strong culture, and an unwavering flexibility to adapt and evolve over time. Daniel revealed the five pillars supporting their culture at AppDirect: "The idea of True North, ownership, intensity, positivity, and humility." He urged the audience to always have "conviction in your vision" and to "never let people change your idea." When asked about the bridge between Canada and Silicon Valley, he recommended that founders visit the Valley to grow and learn as frequently as possible, but on the contrary felt that "this is probably the first year I would say that it's a good time to start a company in Canada”. Given the economic forces naturally preventing founders from being able to afford to build and live in the Bay Area, "the cost of moving here is astronomical - people can't even recruit an engineer for $150K”.
C100 Charter Member Terry Doyle and long-time friend Jasper Malcolmson (former Co-Founder and CEO of Bloomspot and current SVP of Solutions and Innovation at Chase) led a conversation on taking a pragmatic approach to fundraising, the difference between an investor and a partner, and the importance of remembering the economic realities that affect the process. While most would argue that the founder's approach to raising capital is generally an art, Jasper's specific and strategic advice seemed to be more of a science, noting that, "A VC fund’s behavior is driven by where they are in their financing round.” He went on to instruct, "all activities pivot around the goal of getting a term sheet," and that founders should make a list of targeted firms, categorized into tiers, prior to pursuing them. The audience appreciated the straightforward, measurable and actionable advice given that almost every 48Hrs founder was currently going through this exact process as he spoke.
The largest panel of the day was a fireside chat made up of four panelists including Matt Wyndowe (Head of Products and Partnerships at Uber), Matt MacInnis (Founder and CEO of Inkling), Larry Gadea (CEO and Engineering lead at Envoy) and Mark Organ (CEO at Influitive). While much of the conversation was and will remain off the record, the chat discussed the CEO's Journey: tales of funding, product/market fit, growth, and the decision to exit or double down. It was an open, honest account of the realities of raising capital and what happens when a company completely changes its trajectory. With respect to fundraising, Matt MacInnis said, “It’s important to remember that funding is completely irrelevant until you have customers.” Larry closed the conversation stating, "We like to take boring problems and make them sexy... and you do that with technology." And while Larry’s advice was to be “nice” to everyone, we all got a laugh when Mark countered that with his own version - that you have to be respectful but that doesn’t always mean you need to be “nice”. And that is a good reminder that we all have to uncover (sometimes by trial and error) the way to lead and inspire our teams based on our own personalities and those of our team.
Following a networking lunch hosted by KPMG, the afternoon sessions were made up of short 5-minute presentations by the startups, explaining their company, what they're looking for and most importantly, how the C100 community can help. We concluded the day with Charter Members, partners and invited guests for our closing networking reception (if there is one thing we do well at the C100, it’s bring quality people together and enjoy California wine – always generously donated by our wonderful partner, Silicon Valley Bank).
Wednesday morning the cohort met bright and early to board a bus and head down to the Cooley offices in Palo Alto. The second day of the program was comprised of back-to-back investor meetings with local VCs. And whilst the goal of 48Hrs is not about fundraising, it does appear that the investor meetings have already resulted in some very strong investment interest. During lunch, C100 Co-Chair and Andreessen Horowitz Partner, Angela Strange, interviewed David Baga, Chief Sales Officer at Lyft for a discussion on how to effectively build a sales team. David encouraged founders to “Create fearlessly ... If it hasn’t been invented, don’t stop yourself. 'UpLyft' others." He went on to emphasize the importance of hiring people who know how to roll up their sleeves. “Startups have be careful to avoid hiring people who are too junior, as well as hiring people who come from too large of an organization ... Look for the up-and-coming employee," he said.
The rest of the afternoon was packed with pre-scheduled mentor meetings with the C100 network, followed by a closing reception hosted by Cooley LLP. Founders were asked for honest and constructive feedback so the C100 can achieve our goal of #50_Percent_Better for the next 48Hrs in the Valley. JPG from CareGuide admitted to being skeptical about joining the cohort prior to the trip, but told us that he "grew to be quite proud to be amongst these companies". Hongwei, founder of MappedIn said that he remembered someone saying, "Silicon Valley is a very tall ladder with the small rungs missing. C100 fills in the small rungs." He added, "Every person I met was of top quality." Mark of Storybird told the group, "You don't get the richness of the network until you're here." Consequently, everyone agreed that they plan to spend significantly more time in Silicon Valley after their experience.
C100 invites 48Hrs alums and partners to recommend and nominate startups for future cohorts and encourages them to give back by offering mentorship and advice as to when is the right time for a company to take advantage of the Valley. Nominations will open this Spring for the summer 2016 cohort.
More than ever before, Canada is making an impact in the global startup ecosystem and has seen some very impressive valuations including well-known unicorns such as Kik, Shopify and Hootsuite. The purpose of running a program incorporating mentorship, investor meetings and “think big” sessions is to create a cohort of founders that leave with the strong beginnings of a new network and the relentless drive to be the best in the world. "The best outcome from our program is for Canadian founders to learn what Silicon Valley does well and take the DNA back home to help build an even stronger tech ecosystem in Canada." says Executive Director Joanne Fedeyko.
Thank you to the entire cohort for joining us and making us all proud of the ideas, people and companies being built in Canada ... and to our Charter Members for providing us with your most precious commodity: your time.