Complaining Will Get Canadian Startups Nowhere

Canada’s startup landscape is far from perfect but it’s probably as good as it’s been in a long time. There is a lot of activity by entrepreneurs, who are bold, enthusiastic and opportunistic. And there’s more financing available, albeit far from ideal.

It was surprising, therefore, to read James Bagnell’s story in the Montreal Gazette about how tough it is for Canadian startups, who have little access to financing and little enthusiasm among domestic buyers for their products and services.

“Corporate buyers are often unwilling to take a chance on untested firms. Venture capitalists are too cautious. Investment banks and pension funds prefer to invest in much larger, more mature companies. Government procurement officials – worried in the extreme about making a blunder – opt for the perceived safety of established brands,” he writes.

With all due respect to Bagnell, one of Canada’s leading technology reporters, his story is overly dramatic because it doesn’t properly reflect the vibrant startup landscape.

While complaining about the lack of startup financing is a common refrain, I haven’t heard a startup complain about a dearth of local buyers because they’re focused on global customers. Nor have I heard startups say our financial regulations are a hindrance.

The bottom line is Canadian startups just have to do it rather than complain things aren’t perfect.

It is easy to suggest conditions could be better but it takes away from fact there are fertile opportunities for entrepreneurs to be successful with the right vision and ability to execute.

Yes, it would be great to have more startup capital but we’re not looking at a woe-is-me, the sky-is-falling landscape. Instead, there seems to be a healthy amount of optimism and confidence.

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  • Jason Bax

    Amen Brother.

    If you can’t start a business in Canada you’re not going to make it anywhere, my friend.

    As far as financing is concerned…yes the deal flow is relatively low in comparison to our southern neighbours but they have 10x the population.

    Startups should build business with an eye to serving international markets and assemble a team that can realistically make that happen…and the financing will (almost) take care of itself.

    • Mark Evans

      In many ways, Canada is a great testing ground for startups. It may be more challenging but if you can execute, it means the chances of success look good. cheers, Mark

      • Jason Fonceca

        “If you can make it in [Toronto], you can make it anywhere.”

        - Ok, it’s a take-off of New York’s thing, but in this new economic landscape, it doesn’t feel too far off the mark. Toronto is not inhopsitable, it’s really not. ‘Challenging’ seems a more appropriate and beneficial description.

  • Francois

    The situation has gotten a lot better. If you had asked me to do a startup 5 years ago I’d of thought you were crazy. Today? Not so much. Founder Fuel is already looking for their 2nd cohort. GrowLab in Vancouver is another great opportunity. There are many more ways to launch a startup than simply begging for money.

    • Mark Evans


      Good to hear about Founder Fuel and GrowLab. Thanks for the comment. Mark

    • Jason Fonceca

      “There are many more ways to launch a startup than simply begging for money.”

      Brilliant Francous, I 100% agree.

  • Mark MacLeod

    I read the article. It seems like a series of unrelated “issues” jumbled together into one article. If you sell enterprise software then you still face the issues he talks about. But more and more our companies sell over the web and customers are individuals with credit cards.

    The early stage funding landscape is better than I have seen it since 2000. But there remain challenges to get our companies real growth capital. Tandem Expansion Fund was created to bridge that gap. Omers too promises to bring real capital to it’s companies.

    Bottom line: I agree. Complaining is for chumps!

  • jason @ voip

    No reason to complain – it’s hard for everyone!

  • Jason Fonceca

    I love this Mark!

    I love Toronto – love it! This city is brimming with talent, value, world-changing entrepreneurial superstars.

    I also would like to offer a perspective about Venture Capital Hunting ;)

    I find most entrepreneurs are interested in seeking ‘backing’ or ‘capital’, but the success-stories I prefer to focus on are the one’s who just took whatever resources they had, and delivered it as valuably as they could to the market. No excuses, no hesitation, and very little ‘waiting time’.

    Sometimes the market did not respond, and they *had to learn about marketing* or *filling a niche*.

    They did not give up from the experiment, they learned from it, and once again delivered their value to the market. It took some time, it took a garage as an office, it took living off ramen noodles, but they were committed to delivering value.

    They refine and do it again.

    Eventually, and sometimes in a short time, the market sends them dollars/attention/etc. in support, which they then parlayed into even more refined offerings.

    It’s like a poker player taking his small pot, and skillfully developing it into more. It’s like an artist who just starts drawing for anyone he can, and before long has an impressive portfolio. It’s like the marketer who starts with his email list of 3 people, and grows it to 4, then 8, then 32, then 256 and beyond.

    Jay-Z couldn’t get a record-deal, ie: no backing, so he sold his own CDs, made money, and parlayed that into more. Richard Branson had no early funding, so he sold ‘Student’ magazine, and parlayed that into more.

    I’m not saying it’s the only path, but it is definitely appealing to me. It takes the control and steps and reliance away from outside sources.

    You have value inside you, it is unnecessary to keep trying to ‘juice up’ the scale with ‘investors’ . You can start looking to use whatever small-scale value you *can* deliver, and watch it grow naturally and exponentially.

    Even if it`s just a napkin sketch of an idea shared online. Even if it`s a free consultation for someone to see if they like it. Whatever, entrepreneurs can start now, and then any extra help is welcome, but not NEEDED.

    Building something on your own, from scratch, accepting help when it`s around but not fanatically pursuing it seems beautiful.

    I dunno, just the path I prefer I guess. :)

    Either way, thought provoking, and I`m glad you`re repping Canada`s entrepreneurs. Rock on man.

  • Krista LaRiviere

    Agreed Mark.

    Some of my favourite sayings seem appropriate:

    1. If it was easy then everyone would do it.
    2. Complaining is a waste of time.
    3. Pressure makes diamonds.
    4. If you don’t like it, leave.

    I too am tired of listening to people talk about how brutal the startup landscape is in Canada. I think our ecosystem is pretty damn strong. Does it need improvement? Sure, everything does.

    If the ‘they’ people spent their time proposing solutions instead of complaining then we’d all be better off.

    • Jason Fonceca

      I love this Krista, great sayings, and I especially like the last one:

      “If the ‘they’ people spent their time proposing solutions instead of complaining then we’d all be better off.”

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  • Stephane Guerin

    Actually, those I know who complain are not entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurs I know just do it no matter what the challenges are.

    We could also say that it would be easier if a marathon was only 4 KM instead on 42. But what would be fun about it?

    And it could be worse as entrepreneurs from France often tell me how lucky we are to be in Canada!