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Canadian Startups Must Get Cocky

In the wake of RIM’s fall from grace, there seems to be an awful lot of hand-wringing about about the Canadian high-tech sector’s relevance and ability to compete globally.

In the latest issue of Canadian Business, a cover story on RIM includes this quote from Joseph D’Cruz, a professor at the Rotman School of Management, about the smartphone maker’s decline: “What the Canadian tech industry has to learn is that you should not dance with giants”.

With all due respect to D’Cruz, his statement reflects inherent weaknesses within the high-tech sector.

1. We’re don’t believe we can create world-class companies.
2. We under-estimate the talent of our people and the technology they create.
3. We don’t have enough confidence that we can kill competitors.

These may be sweeping generalizations but the key message is startups must have more of a killer attitude. They need to be obsessed with crushing the competition as opposed to simply being happy to establish a foothold in the market.

Truth be told, cockiness is not part of the Canadian DNA but if Canadian startups are going to compete head-to-head globally, they must be way more confident. As important, the ecosystem (investors, partners, customers) that surrounds them have to more confident as well.

In other words, the Canadian high-tech sector needs a serious attitude adjustment. The reality is we have great talent, smart and enthusiastic entrepreneurs, a world-class post-secondary system and, hopefully, an increasingly healthy venture capital sector.

Contrary to what D’Cruz asserts, Canadian high-tech companies must learn to dance with giants, otherwise we might as well pack up, go home, and focus on being hewers of wood, drawers of water and pumpers of oil.

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  • http://twitter.com/Whensgarbageday Mike O’Krongli

    Great viewpoint Mark

    I totally agree. It’s time that the ecosystem believes in itself.

    Big ideas have a place here in Canada. Let’s stop them from heading over the border to join the “dance” there.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ZDJ5RQMPFF7YMXE6G3TGR2ND7Y Martyr 2

    Obviously you haven’t dealt directly with RIM in the early days. They were too cocky! Believe me, as a developer they were always basically telling us to screw off and neglecting us with poor developer tools, horrible help docs and when asking for help they would simply not. They thought they were untouchable at the top and now that they have been humbled, I am the one laughing at them. Me and the rest of my developer friends hated their crap for years and so no wonder we now enjoy developing apps for iOS and Android.

    Believe me, RIM deserved some of the stuff they are getting now.

    • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

      You’re right; RIM’s cockiness was a big issue. But I think it was hurt a lot more by arrogance; the idea that it was so much smarter than everyone else in the room. There’s nothing wrong about thinking you are smart and innovative but it’s dangerous when arrogance makes you dismiss many people. Thanks for the comment. Mark

      • http://whoyoucallingajesse.com/ Jesse Rodgers

        I think this has a lot to do with confidence. When someone doesn’t have the confidence (or even understand what confidence is) and then they get a load of validation they go way over in the direction of hubris. At least that has been my experience. I think Canadian culture has something to do with feeding that pattern. As a culture we are new to success and are learning — RIM was founded in the 80s by a different generation of Canadian work culture. I am optimistic that the current generation is much better equipped and knowledgable of how other business, countries, cultures do things.

  • http://abdallahalhakim.tumblr.com/ Abdallah Al-Hakim

    The ‘own the podium’ campaign during the Vancouver winter olympics was a significant example that Canadians can afford be confident and show it off a bit. I remember reading and listening to many media posts at the time saying that owning the podium sentiment was unCanadian and criticizing it for the early lack of medals. In the end, they were proven wrong and I think it was an important event in Canadian history that might have far reaching effects in the long term. I definitely think this type of attitude can be (and should be) translated to the hi-tech sector

  • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

    Mark: this is not about us being too “Canadian”. In other industries, Canadian companies are dominant. We have huge bank and resource companies as an example. Barrick Gold has been running around the globe buying companies. There are many more examples of this.

    We just don’t have public markets that embrace tech companies. And we don’t have enough late stage private capital to build big, stand alone tech giants.

    • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

      So the question is whether our confidence is linked to the tech sector’s financial clout, or lack thereof?

      • http://startupcfo.ca/ Mark MacLeod

        I don’t think it’s a confident issue. I have met many tech companies. They don’t lack confidence. They lack access to capital. And they suffer from a chicken and egg problem – the lack of capital means fewer big companies, meaning fewer proven management team leading to a continued absence of big companies.

  • Justin

    Im happy somebody else picked up on this sad statement by Joseph D Cruz in MacleansSent to Joseph d Cruz : Titled: David vs. Goliath
    As a fellow minority in Toronto I am really hoping the statement in the article “the end of rim” that a small player “should not dance with giants” was misinterpreted as it seem to me to be a very sad outlook in business and in life.