Montreal’s Startup Scene
Seventeen years ago today, I moved from Toronto to Montreal. This was shortly after the October ’95 referendum. At the time most people were moving west not east. For 14 out of those 17 years, I’ve been a part of the Montreal startup community. But in two short weeks, I’ll be packing my bags again and heading west to start full time at FreshBooks.
I’ve lived through the highs and lows of our startup scene in Montreal. I remember when Austin Hill was on US national television talking about internet privacy for Zero Knowledge. I lived through the dark days of 2002 – 2004 when almost nothing was getting funded. We were actually lucky here in Quebec. Our province has a longstanding commitment to funding innovation and so provincially funded VCs were still cutting some cheques.
I’ve enjoyed some exits along the way. Some good. Some not so good. I have watched the startup community really come together in the past few years since 2008. Attendance at community events has grown and grown. Events like Accelerate Montreal and the International Startup Festival beautifully highlight this great community.
Finally, I have had the privilege of meeting a huge portion of Montreal’s founder community during my time at Real Ventures. Real has funded more Montreal-based startups than anyone. So we have had a great vantage point to view the development of this community.
As I look at where the community stands today there are lots of things to be excited about:
- More visibility than ever thanks to the growing pool of funded companies and events like Startup Festival
Despite all the good stuff, my one concern is that we are not building enough “big” companies here. Beyond The Rack is one of the few exceptions. If you look at leading startup hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston and NYC they are anchored by big, public tech companies. These companies acquire local startups, hire young engineering grads at a ferocious pace and contribute in many other ways to make those communities self-perpetuating. We lack that here in Montreal.
And from an investor perspective, as I have posted many times before: VC is about those rare extreme outcomes (like the 37x return on Radian 6) not averages. One homerun outcome can produce many years of follow on funds. We need successes like that (not just in Montreal) in order to ensure our community continues to have the capital it needs to grow.
So as I leave Montreal to join a company with huge, long-term ambitions, my challenge to the rest of the Montreal community is to build more big companies. Don’t sell early. Go big! We have the talent and the capital you need to make it happen.