Welcome to VCs on BC, a monthly Techcouver series that interviews Venture Capitalists from around the world to get their thoughts on the state of investment in British Columbia—everything from venture capital to valuations and SPACs to IPOs.
Q: You’re the Managing Partner of Real Ventures, a VC firm that invests in early-stage Canadian technology companies. Tell us about yourself. What did you do before becoming a VC and how does that experience benefit your portfolio companies?
A: My background is a combination of operating experience and consulting, both of which have been tremendously helpful for me as a venture capitalist. In my career, I had the opportunity to help transform eBay from a Collectibles to a Mainstream marketplace during the early days of eBay as well as to launch and scale Kijiji.ca into one of the most visited websites in Canada. When it comes to consulting, I spent several years at McKinsey and then later in my career ran my own consulting business. My operating experience enables me to understand what founders are going through and to provide practical advice in terms of building and scaling businesses. My consulting experience taught me valuable skills in terms of strategic and analytical thinking as well as the ability to act as a trusted partner to CEOs and management teams.
I have now spent seven years in venture capital at Real Ventures and I absolutely love my work. I appreciate the opportunity to be part of the amazing Canadian tech community and to work with ambitious, passionate, driven founders who are building industry-changing companies while simultaneously growing themselves into impactful, courageous leaders.
Q: What is Real Ventures’ investment thesis and what are you looking for in a portfolio company?
Real Ventures invests in Canadian-based, early-stage founders who are building the next generation of industry-defining companies. We invest across a broad range of industries and technologies. Our team includes six full time investment partners, and each person has unique skills and interests. We are a team of specialists which enables us to be a strong generalist firm.
Every investment decision we make is significant because it commits not just our dollars, but our time and energy into supporting the founders and their company through good times and bad. At a high-level, companies are evaluated on two major criteria:
1) Founding team: We look for teams that we believe can create billion-dollar plus companies. We have learned through our 14-year history and investment into over 250 companies that the ability for someone to grow from being a scrappy, innovative early-stage founder to the leader of a large, growing company with strong values and a unifying culture is based primarily upon the whether the founder has a growth mindset and has the critical attributes of self-awareness, personal accountability, and authenticity and transparency.
2) Vision: We look to invest in teams that have a compelling, ambitious vision on how they will build a meaningful business. This incapsulates their value proposition, target customers, competitive advantage, go-to-market approach, and business model.
Q: As Canadian venture funding shatters records and tech IPOs boom, money is pouring into Canada’s start-up ecosystem. What does that mean for the future of tech and business in Canada? And what lasting impacts will the pandemic, and the economic recovery, have on the future of fundraising and investing?
Canada is one of the best start-up markets in the world. Three core themes are propelling the Canadian market and I believe that the future has never been brighter:
1) Deep pool of tech and entrepreneurial talent – Canada has world-class AI, deep tech and engineering universities, a strong spirit of entrepreneurism, and a growing base of experienced scale-up operators. Combining that home-grown talent with an immigrant-friendly culture that is welcoming tech and business leaders to Canada from around the world makes Canada a formidable force on the world-stage.
2) Easy access to global markets – Canada benefits from the ability to access the world’s largest economy right next door with a friendly border and common language. Canadian businesses are also welcomed throughout the world and our immigrant-rich population and relatively small population means that Canadian companies are thinking globally from Day One.
3) Flywheel of Canadian success – We are seeing the positive network effects of a strong tech ecosystem taking hold and rapidly accelerating. This means more repeat founders, experienced start-up and scale-up leaders, angel investors and skilled mentors. Today venture investing is growing faster in Canada than in the US and in fact, nine of the 25 largest Canadian tech exits ever have occurred in the past two years.
Q: As technology company valuations continue to spike, VCs have been warning of down-rounds in months to come. Do you think this will be an issue for the Canadian technology ecosystem?
It is very difficult to predict which way the markets will go in the future. Our approach is to invest in companies with great teams that are adding value to their customers in a meaningful way. Most of these companies will continue to thrive under any economic condition if their core value proposition is around increasing efficiencies to businesses or delivering value to consumers.
Q: What B.C. companies have you invested in to date? And what one local portfolio company should our readers be following in 2021?
I am a huge fan of the BC tech ecosystem and its potential. For three years, I was a mentor at Creative Destruction Lab at UBC and through this met many B.C.-based companies and got to know the local ecosystem. We have invested in several Vancouver-based companies including Login Radius, Goose Insurance, Unbounce, and Instant.
One company that I am particularly excited about in B.C. is Vancouver-based Snack, which is a video first dating site, founded by my good friend Kim Kaplan.
If you’re a VC with thoughts on BC, get in touch to be profiled in the future.