We asked 140 start-up founders about Toronto’s tech scene. Here’s what they said

We asked 140 start-up founders about Toronto’s tech scene. Here’s what they said

Toronto’s top entrepreneurs on start-up stereotypes, wild investor stories and who they admire most

In June, Toronto Life sent a questionnaire to dozens of start-up founders and tech company CEOs in the Toronto-Waterloo Corridor. We asked them what they love about working in the GTA, what tech buzzwords they hate and what they’d be doing if they couldn’t run their own business, among other burning questions. Here’s what they told us.

Will Toronto’s tech scene ever truly rival Silicon Valley’s?


Have you ever worked in Silicon Valley?


Have you ever watched HBO’s Silicon Valley?


The best thing about running a start-up in Toronto is…

“It’s the real world, not a tech la-la land. When you’re building a product for real, diverse people, it’s important to do it with and among real, diverse people.”
Michael Katchen, Wealthsimple

“World-class talent and living standards in a (relatively) affordable city.”
—Hongwei Liu, MappedIn

“Toronto is the underdog and everyone knows it, which pushes founders to help each other to win.”
—Satish Kanwar, Shopify

“A safe community that embraces people’s differences, rather than managing them.”
—Ben Baldwin, The Founder City Project and ScaleDriver


The worst thing about running a start-up in Toronto is…

“Lack of access to executive talent and general low-ambition culture.”
Mike Silagadze, Top Hat

“Being overshadowed by Valley start-ups and ignored by U.S. media and investors. It’s changing, though.”
—Allen Lau, Wattpad

“Doing business in Toronto and Canada in general is really tough. Most of my peers in the tech community are doing more than 50 per cent of their business outside of Canada.”
—Chris Wiegand, Jibestream

“Cold winters.”
—Steve Irvine, Integrate.ai


Toronto’s tech scene needs more…

—Multiple founders

“Successful venture-backed companies that have grown to $100 million or more in revenue with successful exits. Showing investors these exits can and do happen here is the only way to secure the next generation of funding.”
Alyssa Furtado, RateHub

“People like Ben Baldwin, who bring the community together.”
—Prakash Chand, Ask the Doctor


Toronto’s tech scene needs less…

“Trying to be Silicon Valley.”
—Multiple founders

“White guys in their 20s who think they know everything.”


Out of 10, with 0 being the least diverse, how diverse is Toronto’s tech scene?

Average response among all founders: 7.2


Which Toronto start-up founder do you admire most? (Top three most common responses listed.)

1. Michael Serbinis, founder and CEO of League

2. Daniel Debow, co-founder and CEO of Helpful

3. Michael Katchen, founder and CEO of Wealthsimple


Who is the most important, influential person in Toronto’s tech scene right now?

1. John Ruffolo, CEO of OMERS Ventures

2. Michael Katchen, founder and CEO of Wealthsimple

3. Michael Serbinis, founder and CEO of League


Which Toronto start-up will be the most successful in 10 years?

1. Wealthsimple

2. League

3. Hubba

(Read more about these three companies in our company spotlights.)


What’s one app you can’t live without?

1. Slack

2. Gmail

3. Uber


What app do you waste too much time on?

1. Facebook

2. Instagram

3. Twitter


Which tech buzzword do you hate most?

1. Disrupt

2. Pivot

3. Innovation


Which tech buzzword do you use most?

1. Scale

2. Iterate

3. Platform


How often do you unplug?

“Never,” “Rarely” or “Not enough”
—53 founders

“Ha. I wish.”
—Peter Faist, Staffy


How many hours do you work in a week?


How many hours do you sleep in a week?


What’s the most annoying start-up culture stereotype? 

“That it is so fucking glamorous.”
Albert Lai, Big Viking Games

—Cameron Howieson, Opencare

“Ping-Pong tables.”
—Vuk Magdelinic, Overbond


What’s the most accurate start-up culture stereotype?

“We work hard for little pay.”
Sheetal Jaitly, TribalScale

—Ali Asaria, Tulip Retail

“Ping-Pong tables.”
—Eva Wong, Borrowell


What’s the coolest thing in your office?

“Three doorbells presented to guests as a life-dependent choice.”
—Karl Martin, Nymi

“The original Seagrams whiskey still.”
—Jim Murphy, Boltmade

“A Nerf wall—a wall with a display of 14 different Nerf guns with accompanying ammo.”
—Tyler Handley, Inkbox

“My dog , Schnitzel Fredrick Slutsky, is our Chief Executive Wooficer.”
—Matthew Slutsky, BuzzBuzzHome

—Chris Hamoen, Account HQ


What is the funniest thing that a fellow founder has told you they plan to disrupt?

“Soft-serve ice cream.”
—Paul Teshima, Nudge.ai

“The toilet.”
—Alexander Norman, TechTO

“Toronto gridlock. Let’s be honest—never going to happen.”
—Rainer Takahashi, Jauntin’


What’s the wildest venture capital story you’ve ever heard?

“I raised $500,000 after a five-minute conversation with someone I had never met before.”
Michele Romanow, Clearbanc

“Mine. A U.S. VC stopped my pitch and left the room for mentioning ‘Canada’ too much.”
—Rob Henderson, Soach

“Mark Zuckerberg showing up in his PJs at a Sequoia partner meeting.”
—Tami Zuckerman, VarageSale

“Angels said they didn’t feel comfortable investing in me because in their experience, ‘women are too emotional.’ They wanted to replace me with a male co-founder.”
—Ali de Bold, ChickAdvisor


What sci-fi invention do you most wish existed in real life?

“The George Jetson power pack, to let you fly freely to your next meeting. No TTC or cars or Uber!”
—Karen Hogg, Givicity

“Teleportation. Beam me up, Scotty!”
—Ben Dankiw, NAV43

“Light saber.”
—Bryn Jones, GrowSumo

“The portal gun from Rick and Morty.
—Jeremy Potvin, World of Angus

“In a book called The Discovery of Heaven, this bright kid thinks up an invention where you travel faster than the speed of light and with a nearly infinitely large telescope, you can look back and watch history unfold from above. I’d like this to exist.”
—Richard Penner, Figure 1

(Total number of answers that involved Star Trek: 18)


If you weren’t running a start-up, what would you be doing?

“Hopefully, a studio musician or law professor. Most likely, a strategy consultant.”
Daniel Debow, Helpful

—Ben Zifkin, Hubba

“Playing in a band in a beach bar that I own in the Caribbean.”
Michael Serbinis, League

“Barber by day, DJ by night.”
—Jason Tham, Nulogy

“Mountain guide.”
—Aarash Sofla, uFluidix

“Annoying my wife. More.”
—Ben Baldwin, The Founder City Project and ScaleDriver


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