Startup TO: Why ‘The Six’ can compete with Silicon Valley for startup success

There’s an allure to Silicon Valley. The namesake TV series and movies about its history like the Social Network, show a scrappiness and drive of bustling entrepreneurs. That deep down go-getter attitude, mixed with a laxness of t-shirt and sandal wearing. It all culminates into an attitude of win or die. Money, power, and reputation.

Take a drive down nearly any street like Steven’s Creek Blvd., and you’ll nonchalantly stumble upon a major player in the consumer product, app, and VC market. If you hang out in the Cupertino area, you’ll come across more Apple buildings than there are buildings not owned by Apple. Not including their unfinished UFO building.

Stray in any direction and you’ll see the likes of Samsung, Cisco, and Adobe. Tesla, Google, Microsoft, and NASA are also famous locals.

So yes, this is surely where some of the greatest minds in current and future tech converge. Yet, all safely hidden behind their fancy, thick glass walls, and on the other side of doors that have scan card access most employees will never be able to enter.

This is the real Silicon Valley. Behind locked doors.

Toronto doesn’t have this same name brand allure amongst its skyscrapers. Having spent plenty of time in both, I can say they’re nearly opposites.  If anything, Silicon Valley is more like downtown Mississauga than Toronto. While Toronto is much more like the younger and hipper San Francisco.

There’s a myth that Silicon Valley is the best place for entrepreneurs and startups to find and seize opportunities. That’s simply not true.

If you’re a young, highly educated engineer type with a fondness for having big names on your Linkedin profile, Silicon Valley may be the place for you.  That’s if you’re good enough.

As a startup, you need to be where it makes the most sense for you at the time. You don’t need to be in Silicon Valley, or Toronto for that matter, to write a business plan.  An eager beaver can write on an entire roll of toilet paper with a crayon if they have to. You also don’t need an office to get your minimum viable product (MVP) off the ground. Especially if you live at home or have an apartment.  Product iterations can be sent through international mail. Important conversations can be had over Skype. Team meetings can converge in a local park or coffee shop.

What about the funding?

Just because you’ve got an idea that people like, doesn’t mean you have a business. The same goes if you have a small user base of happy customers. That doesn’t guarantee that you will turn into a million-dollar company or that a venture capitalist (VC) will buy into your idea.

Funding requires an equally as important plan of attack, but not necessarily a move. If you follow CrunchBase, you’ll know there’s no doubt that Silicon Valley has notoriously high funding rounds. Instead of uprooting her own startup team and causing its disruption, Katherine Hague flew back and forth from Toronto to Silicon Valley for VC meetings. The fruits of her labour being that her company, ShopLocket, got acquired by PCH International.

If you meet the right VC and they want you to move, you should highly consider it. If you have VC funding, and your board is pushing you to move, it’s probably time to start packing. Don’t hurt your runway for no good reason. It could cost you your business.

The one thing that Silicon Valley does really well is providing value in the form of perception engineering. With a local zipcode, you boost your value by standing alongside giants. If your funding allows, you can snipe some of the world class talent from its local companies. Big names, powerful contacts, and opportunities that come with a reputation, all within a relatively small epicentre. Boy, it’ll cost you. Salaries are typically 30 per cent higher, not including the price of perks; free meals, benefits, and room in the office for salons and gyms.

Toronto, on the other hand, is a tight-knit, multicultural, extremely diverse city. There isn’t a specific ‘startup’ focus, like health, apps or hardware. The city is surrounded by world-class universities, which makes hiring and scaling a process that won’t break your bank.  It’s also full of scrappy, young people and entities that are eager to help you start and scale, like MaRs Discovery District and trade commissioners.

It all comes back to the same thing. What’s the best thing for your business or startup right now? What’s the fastest path to long-term growth?

Now do that. Don’t just follow the beaten paths.

Ashley Huffman
Ashley Huffman
Startup, technology and girls in tech evangelist. Can be found behind the scenes at Nano Magnetics Ltd getting things done. Professional @Nanodots builder and Guinness World Record holder. Fan of life hacks, Scrum and WOW, in no particular order. Self proclaimed Twitter addict.

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