“the mainstream startup narrative is owned by VC backed startups who’s success and ambition are often measured by the amount of capital they’ve raise. That’s a fine narrative, but not the only one.” – Bryce Roberts on Indie.vc
I have been focused on furthering the narrative of VC backed startups. From the start of DemoCamp almost 10 years ago, the goal was to find venture fundable companies. It also allowed the use of venture funding has become the default proxy for determining the success of companies and the health of the ecosystem. The more venture capital deployed the healthier the ecosystem with more jobs and greater impact. There are a strong number of Canadian venture funded companies:
- Varage Sale
- and many more
Is venture funding the only narrative that matters? There are other companies in Canada that are participants and help define the ecosystem?
“there’s a cultural shift towards taking little to no VC investment, staying independent longer (or indefinitely) without sacrificing the ambition for building large, profitable and impactful businesses”
– Bryce Roberts
There are crazy entrepreneurs across Canada that are building big, impactful companies.
- Teehan+Lax building Medium, Prismatic and leading conversations about billing and things like OwnerCamp
- TinEye who have done more to define Toronto technology culture see events like Toronto Mini Maker Faire, Get Your Bot On, HoHoTO
- BNotions hosting AndroidTO, jQueryTO and spawning GallopLabs
- Cirque du Soleil and Sid Lee hosting c2mtl
- Xtreme Labs (sold to Pivotal in 2013) building a generation of pair programmers
- Big Viking Games, A Thinking Ape, Uken Games (I’m sure there is some funding that has gone into ATA and Uken, YCombinator and Extreme Ventures respectively, but very small amounts)
- Unspace hosting Rails Pub Nites, Ruby Fringe, Future Ruby, Throne of JS and other events
- 1Password this is the best iOS apps on the planet (IMNSHO)
- HackerYou spawned by Ladies Learning Code but redefining technical education
- Little Robot Friends a product of Aesthetec Studios funded on Kickstarter
- Format building tools for designers
- The Working Group with their support of StartupWeekendTO
- Ok Grow! and their support of Startup Metrics
- Smithson Martin building tools for EDM
There are companies that are building outside of the narrative of venture capital and venture funding. They are defining their own rules leveraging distribution and monetization paths to companies outside of the venture narrative. These are important companies. I really like Bryce’s description of these businesses as “indie” and not “lifestyle”. Just like independent music, I think it better represents the ethos and motivations of these business owners.
“Can we provide the resources and networks founders would traditionally get taking VC money, without all the expectations and baggage that come with it? Would an early focus on cashflow and sustainability v. fundable milestones stunt growth or lay the foundation for a more scalable long-term culture? Is it possible to maintain and independent attitude and ethos with an outside investor on your cap table? And could these types of companies compete, and win, against their traditionally VC funded peers?”
It’s exciting to see a venture fund recognize the importance of these independent business. To look at the tools, milestones, connections and content around cashflow, sustainability, recruiting and culture. Before the funding announcement in July 2014 it was easy to imagine FreshBooks remaining an independent. Mike McDerment has been a fixture in building and supporting independent companies and events like Mesh Conference for the past 10 years. The assumption is that FreshBooks was able to build strong culture and was able to raise financing at their own terms. This is a really interesting time, and it is amazing to see a group of independent technology businesses grow in to large, impactful companies.
As Bryce says, “we’re entering a golden age for Indie businesses”, and I can’t wait to see the companies that it brings.
Featured photo by Andrew Stephenson