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Advice for Canadians, from the Silicon Valley diaspora

Canadians in Silicon Valley
First row, from left to right: Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Patrick Pichette, Ranjith Kumaran. Second row, from left to right: CJ Prober, Lars Leckie, Michelle Zatlyn.
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Canadian entrepreneurs are gaining a degree of polish and sophistication they didn’t have five years ago. I spoke with a dozen founders in the Bay Area about the Canadian diaspora and its emerging influence on tech and innovation. Some said they aren’t seeing a homespun attitude to match Canada’s growing footprint, but all had wise words for new cohorts of Canuck implants on how they can change that. Here’s what some of them had to say about harnessing their homegrown advantages to thrive in Silicon Valley.

Michelle Zatlyn, Co-founder and COO of Cloudflare

From Saskatchewan

“Building a $10-million dollar-revenue company is fine, but that’s just not going to move the needle. We need many more $100-million-plus exits [in Canada]. There’s a lot of companies where it’s, ‘Hey, I want to be the best at this in Canada.’ That’s what their pitch deck would say, and I’m like, ‘Well, can you make that a broader mission? Can it be beyond just Canada? Could you do it for North America, the world? Why just Canada?’”

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Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, Founder and chairman of theBoardlist and president of StubHub

From St. Catharines, Ont.

“The thing about Silicon Valley is that, at the end of the day, you are competing for resources and capital with people who have an audacious vision. So, I do think people need to fully own and sell their vision. Why not deliver the big idea?”

CJ Prober, Former COO of GoPro, now executive chairman and board member at Tile

From Winnipeg

“Canadians do well in business. We’re good listeners, humble. We have a strong emotional quotient…I think [Canadians] have a lot of credibility now, which didn’t exist as much before.”

Ranjith Kumaran, Co-founder of YouSendIt (later known as Hightail), recently sold to Canadian company OpenText

From Ottawa

“I play [being Canadian] a lot, because it helps people get comfortable. People like Canadians, especially in business. They think we’re trustworthy, pragmatic.”

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Patrick Pichette, Former CFO at Google, now general partner at iNovia Capital

From Montreal

“Every time I talk to someone, my first message to them is if you’re not looking to have a billion users, you’re probably wasting your time. We are talking about building institutions that will change the world.”

Lars Leckie, Managing director at Hummer Winblad Venture Partners

From Ajax, Ont.

“From the C100 perspective, if you’re going to put someone in front of a very successful committee in the Valley, it better be a good meeting…The biggest change I see now is these are companies that have already got a product; they’ve already raised some angel money and are ready to take the next step.”