I was at the October 15, STIRR Canada Tech Mixer in Calgary to hear Boris Wertz speak. Boris is the current CEO at Nexopia (Edmonton), a part owner in TechVibes (Vancouver), runs an investment company (Vancouver) and is a former director at Abebooks (Victoria), which was sold to Amazon recently for a lot of dough recently. He is truly a 'western canadian' tech entrepreneur.
I was very impressed with his concise words of wisdom as to how to succeed as a tech startup in Western Canada. he delivered his advice like someone who didn’t make it because he ‘got lucky’. I was doubly impressed because of his modesty and smarts. Here are some of the things I noted:
Have a deep, deep niche. The search engine business is broader and more lucrative, but attracts unwanted attention from large players. Although this is obvious, many entrepreneurs don’t remember this, or get enticed by the ‘larger market’ and lose focus.
Boris stated that the another success factor he looks for is the ability to focus on the really important things. Entrepreneurs face a myriad of things to do/research/decide and the ability to see thru the noise is an important trait.
Lastly, he mentioned Exit, even though Abebooks didn’t have a plan to be acquired by Amazon. He did say that he took 4 potential deals (twice from Amazon) over 8 years before their exit occurred. Perhaps the number of potential deals disrupted them enough that he thought better planning for an exit might have been a good idea In any case, it was important enough to mention as his 3 points, so consider it to be a very important success factor.
Boris also relayed how there wasn’t enough good entrepreneurial tech and marketing talent or investment money in Western Canada, but that could be worked around by growing less aggressively than SV companies and importing talent from outside W.C. From an investment perspective, he said he looked for good teams, with good ideas and preferred companies with revenue and proven models.
I had a chance to speak with him afterwards, and found him to be realistic about tech cos in W.C. but with actionable and smart answers to working around those shortcomings, and even to turn those ‘disadvantages’ into an advantage. Personally, I think he embodies the investment term 'smart money'. With his energy and smarts, you’re sure to hear even more about him in the future, and Western Canada is fortunate to have him around!
STIRR Canada (whjich is originally a Silicon Valley invention) is where events are put on for ‘invite only’ guests to hear from and meet tech CEOs, CTOs, funders, and founding team members. STIRR Canada is based in Calgary, largely due to the efforts of Patrick Lor, Sharon McIntyre, Claudia Moore to bring this great concept to Canada.