Last night Startup Grind Toronto and Aird and Berlis hosted Anish Acharya from Google Ventures to give an inspiring chat about start-ups, investing, and what Canada needs do to enhance their current eco-system for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Starting out with a fireside chat, Startup Grind host Michael Cayley covered all bases by asking Anish how he went from being a Waterloo grad to an Amazon employee working on three startups on the side, to joining Google Ventures and becoming a venture capitalist. Like most entrepreneurs, he did not have a straight path and not all of his early projects worked out—though through his persistence and execution of ideas, he did eventually hit a homerun with Social Deck, which was acquired by Google in 2010.
“There were just as many valleys as there were peaks,” explained Anish.
Over time and after many pitches to get financing, Anish and his partner decided it was a good strategy to let the market, not investors, decide if they were wrong. “Ideas are free but the real work starts when you launch,” Anish reminded the full house audience. He also credits Facebook opening up their API as huge opportunity to take advantage of a massive distribution channel.
Since Social Deck was purchased by Google in 2010, Anish has gone on to work with Google+ Mobile and is now part of the Google Ventures team. When asked about the transition from entrepreneur to venture capitalist, he acknowledged that at times it can be hard to be a coach and not a player.
The DNA of Google is data-driven. Google Ventures currently has 180 companies in their portfolio. Anish encouraged entrepreneurs to set expectations with their investors and to keep up weekly 1+1’s and that it is the entrepreneur’s responsibility to stay engaged with their investors. He also stressed that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help from your investor. If you need assistance filling your pipeline, ask.
When asked what he thought Canada needed to succeed for successful product launches, Anish noted that the reason that entrepreneurs should spend time in Silicon Valley is for the ecosystem and the culture, which is rich with experience. He was careful to mention, though, that even if you are not in the Valley, there is no reason that you cannot succeed with the tools available for distribution with mobile and web applications.
It is an open market, Anish says, and Canada can absolutely have breakout companies. He did note that it can be challenging to find product leadership in Toronto, however, and encourages entrepreneurs to spend time in the Valley if they can: take advantage of the mindshare and suction off their culture and bring it back to Canada. Though Canada is heading in the right direction, it has a lot to learn from the Valley ecosystem, he admitted. One promising sign is that Google has invested in the Waterloo ecosystem and is encouraging innovation on Canadian soil.