In this episode, our CEO sits down with Marianne Bulger (People and Platform at Golden Ventures – a tech focused, industry-agnostic seed stage venture capital fund based in Toronto that invests across North America.) The conversation touches on our local VC landscape, the rapid growth we are experiencing in Toronto’s tech sector, diversity and wait for it…. Burning Man!
Golden Ventures – https://golden.ventures
Prospect.FYI – https://www.prospect.fyi/
Qasim Virjee 0:49
All right, welcome back to another installment of the start well Podcast. I’m Qasim Virjee, the founder and CEO of start well, which is a company that essentially brings people together to create magic it technology and related fields here in Toronto, Canada. This is the 12th episode. If you’re a avid listener of our podcast, you’ll have heard from Kareem Haji in the last episode, if you’re new to us, please do check that one out. He’s a lecturer at Oxford University that does really cool stuff with impact investing, and I highly recommend listening to that episode. Today I’m in studio on King Street with Marianne Belcher. And I pronounced your name correctly. Yeah,
Marianne Bulger 1:34
yeah, you did. It’s like the criminal. Whitey Whitey vulture. I think he actually just met his peril in prison.
Qasim Virjee 1:42
Did he become a criminal because of his first name or his last name?
Marianne Bulger 1:46
Hmm. I think he became a criminal because he was. Well, I actually don’t know the answer to that. Who wants
Qasim Virjee 1:53
to be called YT? Can you imagine?
Marianne Bulger 1:56
I will. It was William Bolger. And that was actually my grandfather’s name. So he ran into quite a bit of trouble at the border of
Qasim Virjee 2:02
getting confused with the criminal and they said, Hey, Whitey, he’s like, I’m not white. And then it just got very confusing.
Marianne Bulger 2:10
Qasim Virjee 2:11
So if I have this correct, Maryanne, I you lead people and culture at Golden ventures, people in platform actually people in platform. Yeah. And why don’t we just jump into it? What does that entail? And who is gold ventures?
Marianne Bulger 2:27
So golden ventures, I’ll start there. It’s a seed stage venture capital fund based here in Toronto, but investing across North America. We’re currently in our third fund. We’re sector agnostic, which is fun, because it means we can invest across the board in any industry. As long as the company is leveraging technology. It also allows us to divorce ourselves from being experts of everything, and allowing founders to really step up and say, This is why I want to build this. This is why I want to change the world. And I’m the one to do it.
Qasim Virjee 3:02
Yeah, no, this, it must be thrilling to have the freedom to be able to work with brilliant people doing awesome stuff, and passion, without the limitations of focusing on like mobile apps
Marianne Bulger 3:15
or whatever. Well, that’s where golden ventures got its start, okay? Matt Goldin has a lot of wealth or a wealth of knowledge and a lot of experience in the mobile sector. And the same with one of our other partners, Amit Shah, they both came from that industry. And they both realized very quickly that their expertise in mobile was not as important as the expertise of any founder that they were investing in. And it opened up the doors in our second fund. And now in our third fund for us to invest in everything from quantum computing, to aerospace to temporary tattoos to marketplaces for restaurants and chefs, it seems endless. The possibilities, and it makes every partner meeting each week. Quite fun.
Qasim Virjee 4:05
So the team comprises of you mentioned that too early, I guess. Are they both co founders or
Marianne Bulger 4:12
no, so Max, the founder of the fund, he’s the managing partner of Amit Shah, who’s a Partner, Bert Amato, who’s a venture partner, and Jamie Rosenblatt, who’s our principal, and myself, who operates in the people and platform realm, which is generally managing our post investment strategy. Okay, so something that a lot of people don’t think about in venture capital is after your investors write the check what happens next? Some people really just want the money and they want to run with it. But a lot of entrepreneurs in the smart entrepreneurs will realize that VC funds are more than just financial or couldn’t be more than or can or could be more than just a financial benefit to them. There’s a lot more to the network and the services that are provided. And so what I try and do is amplify our impact on our portfolio and the ecosystem at large.
Qasim Virjee 5:06
It’s interesting, because I mean, from my vantage, and it’s tough talking about the industry, because there are industry so tiny, I feel like the venture capital industry, especially in terms of funds that aren’t necessarily, let’s say, attached to institutional, LP money, and that are running their own show, you know, with their name on the door. I think that’s kind of interesting, a little golden, is, you know, Matt’s name is very much on the door. Um, how does that change? Or I guess, how unique do you find yourselves in being able to not only kind of direct the placement of funds that have been entrusted to the fund, but in the freedom to invest in companies, like you said that maybe you know, that you believe in that or not necessarily within the investable? I have other funds in the space and venture capital in Canada? I guess let’s start with that.
Marianne Bulger 6:05
Do you know okay. Yeah, I think it we do stick to our investment thesis and what we’ve promised to our LPS Yeah, but that that scope has grown over time, like I said, we move from mobile to Sector agnostic. And I remember when we first invested in ink box, the two week temporary tattoo, okay. For example, for some people that’s not necessarily originally seen as innovative technology. But when you actually dig deeper into the evolution of the technology industry, does it really stand alone? Or is it something that’s starting to span across every single sector of what we’re doing? Great. And so that is, that is what has allowed us to really leverage our own expertise, and what we’re trying to accomplish, to look beyond our sector. As I said, our sector expertise and to sort of say, We’re here because we know how to build businesses, not because we know what’s going on in outer space, right? Right, or inside of a quantum computer, we trust the people that we invest in. And the seed stage is really critical with that, it, it requires us to be far more hands on than series A or beyond or any growth stage investing.
Qasim Virjee 7:26
Let’s just define this, for any of our listeners unfamiliar with kind of the flow of capital in this story for early stage companies. seed for you guys is what size or cheque size
Marianne Bulger 7:36
usually between 500 to just over a million. Okay, that varies.
Qasim Virjee 7:41
All right. And then so the idea would be precede which could be friends and family seed guys like you helping out. And then series A and beyond.
Marianne Bulger 7:52
Yeah, we like to see it that see it as seed is your first into institutional investment, right? Anything before that might be pulled together in different ways. And we’ve definitely seen precede rounds done by institutional investors. But we’re, we generally in terms of our own financials, like to be the first institutional investor. And we like to lead rounds, which means that we want to bring together we want to support you the most. And we want to bring together the right syndicate of partners that all come to the table with different skills that we might not have that allow you to grow. that’s particular to us within the Canadian market, it’s hard for us to lead around in LA or San Francisco, if we’re not physically there to support you with the day to day. But we have done so before where we see such strong alignment with what’s already going on in our fund and the entrepreneurs that are within it. And we have strong conviction with the companies.
Qasim Virjee 8:50
Yeah, it’s really interesting. Especially taking the leader role, which means you know, you’re finding you’re forging those relationships, and a lot of people that I’ve met again, a lot means just a few for listeners all over the world. But in the Canadian venture capital industry, there’s a lot of piggybacking and kind of like the same deals being passed around tables, totally. But yet, what we’re seeing and I’ll tell you this from our lens is, you know, a place where people come to build whatever they’re building. And we’re now turning the tide of going from direct to indirect or, or outbound to inbound sales for attracting new members that start well, but literally, for the first year, it was like me, reaching out through my network and cold calling people and saying, Hey, come bring your awesome tech here. You need to start something here, which is very different than other people in our industry, which is interesting, because I had no marketing budget to start with, you know, this is a bootstrapped enterprise. So, so it’s interesting, but now we’re at a point where I guess we can rely a little bit on inbound. So we had in bounces day one, but I just never relied on it for a year because I had bills to pay. What’s interesting though, is that organic growth and that inbound is not, or did not, did not originally and has not consistently fit within my personal expectations of the types of companies or the companies that I know who would come knocking for space. It’s very interesting. What I’ve seen in just this a year of growth of our, you know, technology sector in Toronto is that every single day, there’s, there’s multiple, multiple companies that are brand new. But with traction, whether it’s, you know, revenue is already kind of like figured out, and that’s why they created the company, you know, pre sold the idea to someone got some customers to validate it for themselves to jump into the project, or whatever else was really strong, interesting potential first, or precede seed stage. And it’s not like it was two or three, four or five years ago in Toronto at all.
Marianne Bulger 10:56
Totally, I think it’s a great indicator that Canadians are graduating from university equipped with an understanding of what it takes to start a business no matter what they graduated with. I think prior to perhaps even around 2010, most people didn’t even know that they could start a startup or what that realm was. And in less than eight years, we’ve rapidly evolved into this space where anyone can really come out of university and believe that they have an idea based on their expertise to start a business and run with it. And I mean, that truly just didn’t exist. I remember graduating from university, and I had no idea that this career was possible for me to just study at school. Oh, it’s complex. I, yeah, I did an undergraduate in criminology, okay. And a master’s in human rights and international justice with schools at the University of York, in the UK, which is right in the heart of the UK, between Edinburgh and London, okay, a place that not many people know about it, but it’s one of the top 10 universities in the United Kingdom. It also was the hub for studying transitional justice and post conflict recovery, which is what I thought I was going to do with my career. But I evidently ended up back in Canada completely broke after studying the UK, and worked for a few nonprofits for a couple years, and actually became really jaded by that industry. And it happened when I started in my master’s and really learning the paperwork process to make change happened in human rights. Coming back here and learning more and immersing myself in the nonprofit industry really quickly revealed that it was a slow moving beast covered in red tape. And it was when I was in between a few jobs in about 2012, that I kind of came to the reckoning that I was looking for a faster paced environment. And if not, the nonprofit sector is covered in red tape. I wanted to know where everyone was running with scissors, okay, and
Qasim Virjee 13:18
running with scissors. Oh my god, we’re retitling this podcast.
Marianne Bulger 13:23
But it’s it’s true. This is this is what the tech industry is built on people taking huge risks, perhaps prior to the moment that they’re even ready to do so. And seeing the change in the world that others might not see and and trying to make that happen. And so I remember being offered a dream job in the nonprofit sector, the same day that I was offered a job at the DMC at Ryerson under Val Fox’s leadership back in 2013. And I took the part time content marketing role at the DMC because I couldn’t believe that they would pay me to do something that I had no business doing. And, and the environment was so exciting, right? Yeah. And within a couple months, I just knew I was never going to look back.
Qasim Virjee 14:14
Yeah. That’s wonderful. That’s very interesting. Can I ask what the role that you would have taken with door number two was?
Marianne Bulger 14:23
Yeah, it what’s so interesting is that it is now led by one of the first people to hire me in the nonprofit sector here in Toronto. Okay. Robert Mitchell. It was the chase Care Foundation. So as a baseball fan, I couldn’t believe I was turning down a job with to work for the Blue Jays in the field that I had studied in. But I just knew that I needed to take a big risk and see why everyone was talking about tech and what was going on there. And it was amazing to spend time at the DMZ particularly with Val Fox because she had started and scaled the space, and obviously we’re starting your career working for a woman in tech is a pretty special way to begin, because it’s a rare thing to find.
Qasim Virjee 15:14
And so post DMC, or you were at the DMZ for Hello.
Marianne Bulger 15:19
Just over two years. Okay.
Qasim Virjee 15:21
And then what’s what’s happened since that brought you to golden?
Marianne Bulger 15:25
Oh, yeah. So while I was at the DMC, I co founded a small meetup called Tech Toronto, okay. And it started as a small meetup. And we quickly were able to design something that that filled a gap in the industry and provided entrepreneurs and innovation minded individuals across sectors, a space to come together and learn best practices and building business. And also a space that allowed anyone to get something out of it. And that’s why I introduced community open mic, and the community share like the community announcements program. And in that time, it grew from 35 attendees to 100 attendees to 200 attendees to 600 attendees. And so when I left, the DMC, I knew I wasn’t quite sure what was going to happen next. But within a few months, I took on scaling tech Toronto full time and built the brands around tech, Vancouver tech, Waterloo sales to health to FinTech to, and grew out those programs, which was fantastic. But I also knew in that time that building events and hosting events wasn’t the only thing I wanted to focus on, and that I came to the community with an arsenal of information around what it takes to build a community, both in person as well as structurally lay the foundation. And so I actually ended up joining a startup in San Francisco right around the time that Trump was elected.
Qasim Virjee 16:59
Okay, which is weird to think back that that was a while ago. Isn’t that weird?
Marianne Bulger 17:04
Thank God. I mean, it just means we just got to the end, we just passed the midterms. So it really means that we’re halfway in my mind, or I really hope we’re halfway. Yeah. And I’m really proud of our American counterparts. No matter what these midterms have shown, there’s definitely progress that has been made, right, especially with women in leadership positions, which is really cool. And so I joined the to finish this thought I joined the startup in San Francisco, and it was short lived, because I was supposed to move there. And we were, I was just about to do it was within weeks. And they said, Actually, we’re gonna open an office in Washington, DC, and we want you to go there. Interesting. And I don’t know what it was, but I just decided I couldn’t be anywhere close or
Qasim Virjee 17:55
wrong place wrong.
Marianne Bulger 17:57
Place wrong time. And so I stayed here. And that’s when I ended up joining golden ventures.
Qasim Virjee 18:02
That’s awesome. And yeah, I think he chose the right thing.
Marianne Bulger 18:08
Yeah, I think. Absolutely. And it’s undeniable to me that what’s going on in the Canadian tech industry right now is profound.
Qasim Virjee 18:18
It is where you feel that every day I mean, this is what we feel here is it’s not, I think we went through a few years of stick in the industry, where there were a lot of people kind of like talking it up. You know, my personal take coming from technology as a technologist, you know, in the early days of like, like what you were able to, to achieve with tech Toronto with tech to write tech to those people call it? If you juxtapose it with, I don’t know, has it been 10 years since demo camp, those early days where we had like 50 people in a room. And that was like the tech scene. It’s crazy. What’s happened in the last decade. But in the last, let’s say, up until two years, three years ago, then there were a lot of people kind of, like, comparing us to Silicon Valley, that still happens. And there’s that whole thing of like, you know, Canadians wanting to have platform and especially in Toronto, you know, like, really wanting to run towards the microphone and shout out that like there’s something here. But now it’s really interesting. I don’t know I think there is something here and there’s it’s not about the place it’s about what the place affords people and being in community. I feel very excited by that.
Marianne Bulger 19:35
Well, that’s why I built prospect. Recently we launched this brand and platform that’s called prospect you can find it at Prospect dot FYI not prospect, Wi Fi prospect, defy or prospect. If
Qasim Virjee 19:51
I think I’m dyslexic, that’s what I read when I saw it the other day and I was typing in the wrong URL and wondering what was happening.
Marianne Bulger 19:57
You know what, for me at the end of the day, it’s not about the strength For the brand, it’s about the strength of the product. And what it is is a definitive career hub for the Canadian tech industry. We’ve leveraged a software called Monday monday.vc. Also not to be confused with monday.com, which is a Productivity Suite. Yeah, it’s a product management software. But prospect is an aggregator that pulls jobs from across the Canadian tech industry, all into one place. And we pull the career, the job postings from career pages at any startup in Canada all into one place. Companies don’t need to do anything, as long as they have a career page. And it can be on their website, it can be on AngelList, it can be on Glassdoor wherever it might exist. And we pull it all in right now we have about 360 companies listed from coast to coast. But I do know that that’s only a fraction
Qasim Virjee 20:54
of what’s actually what the positions are that are actually being hired for
Marianne Bulger 20:57
exactly, and it’s only a fraction of the companies that are represented. And to your point, what’s happening here at start? Well, you’re starting to see that entrepreneurs are emerging from every single industry, leveraging technology to change the way that people are doing things. Absolutely. And so although we’re used to looking in incubators and accelerators, and VC funds for indicators of new technology, that’s not that’s only a piece of the puzzle, right. And so I’m hoping that what prospect can accomplish is not only providing job seekers with finally one place to look for jobs, but also with job seekers globally. We want to give them a picture of what’s happening in Canada not to just stand on a pedestal and say everything here is amazing. But to say it is amazing here and look, you can see it, right, there’s a diversity of opportunities available to anyone, whether they’re in the tech sector now or not. And that’s part of what makes tech to such a strong contribution to not only Toronto, but also all of the branches that they’re building out, is that they’re actually seeing a huge representation of people outside of the tech industry coming in and sort of expressing their curiosity for entering this space. And that’s amazing, pulling people out of big banks into the tech space. Is, is fun.
Qasim Virjee 22:23
Yeah, it’s really interesting. You know, like, I spent, as with many, I’m sure of our listeners, and a bunch of people who’ve been in this building. It just seems the numbers point in this direction, no matter what, but I spent a little bit of time at IBM, you know, and people have done many people that I talked to, and I say that have done in different roles, you know, which in in many ways, I think is like the, the quintessential, you know, corporation, the capital see, right 400,000 People spread across the world on like 500 person calls every day, just stapling, and, you know, passing paper around. And it’s so funny, because if you look at that size of workforce, and it’s not just talking about one company, but we talk about what historically in much of the world, for the last I don’t know what 30 years has been the aspirational goal of most people looking for a quote unquote, career, capital C career is higher with or get hired by a massive Corporation, if it’s publicly publicly traded, that’s even better, because, you know, it’s going to have some sort of constant, ever increasing success trajectory. That whole old way of thinking about your life being in the hands of a company that you somehow help, you know, sustain you and your fellow 1000s of brethren, has collapsed. I believe it’s collapsed. Totally. The markets are virtual, and people want satisfaction. And those two things together, inevitably, we’ll see an increasing diversity in entrepreneurialism and an ever increasing spirit, I think globally of self determination, that drives that want to create opportunity for people and their families and their selves and their people that are around them. And, and I really feel strongly that like this time in tech is really also poignant, because kind of what you alluded to is we’re moving past capital T tech. It’s pervasive. There isn’t it’s not and you know, and so many people in mass media, and, you know, politicians will use these words that I feel are redundant, to try and express, you know, their understanding of really, of what things are all about, but, but behind the curve, I think. Yeah, I mean, technology is integrated in everything, for the most part that we do and industries are, if not, embracing of new technologies. in innovation, there, they’re going to be dying.
Marianne Bulger 25:03
I like what you said about diversifying the representation in the industry, I wonder if we’re able to see that, as people that are immersed in it, that it is such a huge issue. Still, even though we are claiming to be the biggest change makers in the world, there is still a huge lack of diversity in the tech industry. And if you actually separate the two, there’s a huge void in a lot of people feeling included in the industry as well. And so that I think, could be a whole other podcast or absolute topic. But I think that it’s important for us, as leaders in this industry to think outside the box, and to assume that technology is now so pervasive that anyone can really step up to the plate and make change happen leveraging tech, they don’t need to be an engineer, they don’t need to come with a business background or
Qasim Virjee 26:07
percent. And you know, it’s interesting, because you’re right, I mean, that that topic is definitely fodder for not just a single podcast, but a series, you know, it should pervade every conversation, I think. But some of our partnerships are really interesting, you see a sticker on my laptop there for crypto chicks? You know, that’s just one interesting partnership that we have. It’s a group of people that against all, you know, kind of, I don’t know, esthetic acts that you see represented, even from like, just photos of attendees at events, you know, in the blockchain, crypto space, a lot of nerdy, you know, like people that look like Vitalik, you know, what, if the founder is it, you know, white guys with glasses or whatever, and pimples all over their face. Maybe that’s cleared up for him now, I don’t know. But we see a lot of these people. And it’s funny, because there’s a lot of others that are that are challenging that the need for that aesthetic. And people dig cool stuff. And those people are of all backgrounds. And it’s high time that you know,
Marianne Bulger 27:16
we’re all weird. We’re all a bunch of weirdos, and it’s deeply discomforting to see someone on stage that represents a cookie cutter. Totally, it’s so much more reassuring to not only see but to hear from someone that can speak so honestly, and represent themselves exactly as who they are.
Qasim Virjee 27:36
Yeah, and I feel like there’s a lot of potential for those stories to emerge from. What we’re seeing is this really energetic time in Toronto, in the quote, unquote, tech, I’ll just say in in a, you know, entrepreneurial stuff going on in Toronto, because so many different types of people from so many different backgrounds live in the city and her and her entrepreneurial and creating things. And I think it’s interesting having this conversation with you, especially with what your you know, position is with golden Ventures is a venture capital firm, and particularly looking at I really had a whole bunch of other issues to do, I guess, to the ancillary, necessarily, that for your fund, to simply writing the checks, right. It’s interesting that you guys spend attention, and possibly money and whatever else, whatever resources to look at the 360 of what an investment is, and also how companies can successfully be sustainable in their growth. Because sustainability, at least to me, requires more than just capital and linear growth trajectories, along profit line.
Marianne Bulger 28:55
One of the most important things I’ve learned in observing this industry, and particularly why we invest, it’s that it goes beyond the metrics. And what we see when we invest is the potential in individuals and a team to go from five people to 10 to 30, to 50, to 200. And if we can’t see the potential of a leader to grow and evolve, and learn, and actually be able to lead a team of 1020 and beyond, we want invest, you could have the best idea strong metrics. But if you’re sitting at the table, and we do not see your ability to grow, we won’t write the check. And that is fascinating. To me. That’s a very arbitrary piece to the math of investment, but it is, especially at that stage early on in the lifecycle of a company. It’s one of the most important pieces and we’ve all seen it We’ve observed entrepreneurs with really big egos who come into the ecosystem and talk to a game and fallen on their face. And, you know, it’s in Canadian nature to actually pick that person back up. And we’ve done it several times. And I think that’s great. But from an investment standpoint, it’s important from the get go. And I’m really proud of all of the founders that we have in our portfolio, and not just them. All of the teams, the teams that they build one of my biggest gripes with this industry, is that we keep putting founders on stage. Yeah, absolutely. Time and time again, every event you go to the only person that’s on stage as a CEO, or CTO, someone who has actually co founded the company. Yeah. That’s why I rarely get any FaceTime truly, because nobody really asks me, because I’m not I don’t carry that title. But it’s, I think one of the the biggest misses one of the greatest opportunities is to start to recognize that senior level talent is so much to share
Qasim Virjee 31:03
or talent from any it’s not, I feel like I don’t know, I try and create this kind of like, flat, you know, hierarchy, this kind of an oxymoron. But at start, well, you know, like, everyone has a lot of carte blanche on our team to do stuff. And I encourage people to just like, go, do what what makes you happy everyday, just go do it, you know, do it and make sure you’re killing it, you know, so that we can all and if you if you’re not, and we can help you, let’s all help each other, like do some awesome, neat things. And we try to affect that culture with the companies that work here as well. And on stage, when we’re doing our kind of like Thursday speaker series that we do, we’ve had, you know, CTU CTOs talk about what their fascination with natural language understanding NLU is, we’ve had people talk about, you know, impact investing, not from a perspective of leading a fund, even though like Kareem, who was on the last podcast, he’s a partner in a fund, but he’s not the front runner talking about it. He’s like, the, I guess, self professed, kind of like, I don’t know, he he likes, he’s basically a researcher, who’s come up with means of assessing sustainability for investments based on culture, and based on cultural relevance, and approach to market. And, you know, all sorts of people that have, I guess, the idea is that if brilliant people are creating teams that will all work at their best in innovating. And it’s not the sort of thing of like, the founders are brilliant created this vision for software, and everyone else were the worker bees that held them up. Instead, all your worker bees are all individually brilliant people pushing all angles of your business in the right direction. There are stories that are there should be 1000s of stories, and it’s
Marianne Bulger 33:00
endless. And we keep wondering why we’re not seeing enough women on stage. I mean, there are already not enough women in leadership roles yet. But if we really do want to be part of that change, we need to reframe how we’re defining expertise and experience and start to make some of the speakers on stage. relatable, right to to the general audience. And it reminded me when you were speaking about that, it reminded me of a lecture series that someone else started a long time ago that I haven’t seen in Toronto in a long time called the last lecture. I wonder what would happen if we started this last lecture series and asked leaders from across the industry to come on stage and speak about whatever they want?
Qasim Virjee 33:48
Right now? I don’t pitch us on your PR. Crap.
Marianne Bulger 33:54
Yes. We also don’t care if you speak about technology at all, you could talk about magic, and we’d be thrilled about that. Yeah.
Qasim Virjee 34:01
Yeah, no, I definitely encourage that. I’d love to host that. Let’s do it.
Marianne Bulger 34:06
Let’s do it. Yeah. Okay, we’re, we’re done. Now. We’re gonna go and start this lecture series.
Qasim Virjee 34:12
It’s funny, it’s something that used to happen. It’s not. It’s kind of similar. But at, in the David Crowe demo camp days, there was there was always one deck. So it was mainly pitches, right. We’d have people pitch their thing. And their thing often was just some geeky tech that they’re working on. It wasn’t a company wasn’t the startup thing. He was like, I’m working. I’m using PHP to create this software that will turn this thing in will blue thing. And I was like, Yeah, interesting. And we were really just celebrating technology. And then there would always be a deck that’s like a random deck. So someone will create a deck about anything. And it could be literally like donuts, and someone had to present and they’ve never seen it before. Oh, that’s funny. Yeah, it was really interesting. Part of it was like here, let’s See how you know how he’ll hilarious though? Susie sounds
Marianne Bulger 35:02
like debate class from Great.
Qasim Virjee 35:06
Totally. This is your position. Yeah, absolutely. But I’m all for the real being represented on stage. And also, you know, this comes back for me to redefining or people needing to pull back the, whatever patina of I can’t even use this. I used to use Kanye West, you know, a lot as a reference point to talk about, you know, silly showmanship, and now he’s just taking it too far.
Marianne Bulger 35:35
Yeah. Hard example.
Qasim Virjee 35:36
taking it too far. Fuck Kanye West. There. I said it. Yeah. But the thing is, that might get edited out. No, no, I said it. I’ll hold on to that. Well,
Marianne Bulger 35:47
I mean, one thing I want to say though, is if you are a founder, and you’re listening to this, one of the best ways to and you’re trying to most of you are probably trying to hire one of the best ways to do so when you get asked to speak anywhere, if you believe that there’s someone on your team that can do that better, because Oh, yeah, that’s also a testament to the fact that you’re hiring properly, you should always be hiring people that are smarter than you put them on stage, they will sell your company better than you can. And they will attract more talent to your company. Same thing when it comes to writing pieces or being represented in the media. If you think there’s someone on your team that demonstrates leadership on that subject, let them speak to that. And I can say confidently that that’s what Alan Lau has been able to do with Wattpad. He always points to his team, right says these are the experts, I’m going to introduce you to this person. And it’s allowed them to really scale their team in a way that I love. That he’s heard that, I may ask him, it has allowed them to scale their team organically in a way that has, I just haven’t seen it done anywhere else.
Qasim Virjee 36:59
And this to me, at least you know, like, Look, I’ve been an entrepreneur who’s who’s hustled, who’s hot, like I’m a hustler. I’m the guy who says there’s some cool thing I could sell. And you know, the transactions exciting, you know, and what I’m selling is really cool. And that relational value is really exciting and fun. And I’ve sold stuff in Africa, in India, you know, Canada in the states of work all over the world, right? So for me, entrepreneurialism is very much a way of life. It is not about this, like a lot of people that are maybe first time entrepreneurs starting something and technology and get swept up to it up into this, like Silicon Valley emulation mode and funding cycle perspective of looking for the glory of the, you know, Jay Z lifestyle boats and, and bliss, you know, down the line with their series D and potential IPO. That whole narrative I think is now I think people are still buying into that. You know,
Marianne Bulger 37:55
I just started wondering if you actually did the stats on this, if anyone set that is their goal and actually reached it, because most entrepreneurs
Qasim Virjee 38:04
Eric Fung Yeah.
Marianne Bulger 38:08
I think most entrepreneurs who set that goal, yeah, fall again, fall flat on their face. It’s a similar, it’s the similar ego play.
Qasim Virjee 38:17
Marianne Bulger 38:18
If you’re not building for the sake of building process, you’re not, you’re building for nothing.
Qasim Virjee 38:25
Yeah, there we said it. So if you’re listening, and you’re creating a company for the first time, really, I like this exercise. Look in the mirror, you know, and be honest with yourself. In fact, there’s a if anyone listening is interested in this drop by our concierge at start working with 786, King Street West in Toronto, and ask for what we call the founder deck, it’s a deck of cards, 70 questions that you can have it for free. And you just basically, you play it with yourself for your team is brilliant, because they’re hard questions that you should be able to answer. I believe you should. I tested it with a bunch of investors and friends and founders that I know when I created this deck and you ask yourself a question at random. And you should be able to naturally answer that thing if you have mastery over what you’re set out to do. And, and I think that that’s part of the process, you know, as you feel more fulfillment and empowerment in your position as an entrepreneur. It’s really because you’ve got the ability to make quick decisions that you believe in to do with whatever your business requires.
Marianne Bulger 39:36
And you don’t just have a yacht popping into your exactly every time you’re asked a question. Yeah,
Qasim Virjee 39:42
because false motivations will lead to frustration, lack of satisfaction, anger, and all of this horrible stuff that like no one needs in their life, you know, and if it’s just a cash grab, the funny thing is, you know, it’s just like I take a step back and I’ve talked I’ve cracked jokes actually with a bunch People that know in venture capital in Canada about this and the pecking order of the financial world, right? So you have a lot of people in venture capital that for some reason also have this sort of weird view on writing checks and the potential 100x return, and how a management fee might, you know, buy them their yacht, or their second house or their cabin in Muskoka, that now costs 5000 $5 million these days, I don’t know, it doesn’t make sense. Um, and what’s laughable about that, is the cheque size that people write the potential to really low, low potential for making ridiculous gains. And at the same time, if you’re really into only just making multiples venture capital is the beginning of the Finance, Financial Industry, you can make a lot more money putting up a dam in, you know, in Zimbabwe, or, you know, helping the Chinese build the Silk Road again, and put up, you know, mobile infrastructure for 5g somewhere. So there are places to make a lot of money if that’s what you want to do. And those motivations are a little bit unwarranted. If, if that’s all that’s in front of you. And you’re not really making billions, you know?
Marianne Bulger 41:16
Yeah, I, I think some people glamorize the venture capital space, and it is not that glamorous,
Qasim Virjee 41:24
tell it tell us some aspects of what’s not glamorous of the venture capital space,
Marianne Bulger 41:28
it’s hard work, when you raise a fund, you’re not done. Alright? If you raise your first fund, that’s just the beginning, you have to then demonstrate your value like your value in the companies you’re investing in. And that takes time you invest in sometimes you have to wait 10 years for any return. Right. And so we see this often where funds start and end after their first fund. I was fortunate to join as this third fund was closing, this is recently when was when we closed our third fund in May of 2018. Okay, so what I what I realized, and what I respect about Golden is that, I can see that when Matt races first funny didn’t just hire 20 people and assume he’d made it, and that everyone else could do the work. He has really grown slowly in terms of the team and very intentionally, and is very conscious about the money that he’s raised and where it’s going. And that means also that even though we’re a seed stage fund, and there are other seed stage funds in Canada, we are fundamentally different in different ways, because we only invest in up to 25 companies per fund, whereas others will raise the same amount and perhaps invest smaller checks across the board. Right. But it comes back to that point, we were talking about that, for us. It’s what we do after we write the check is far more important than the check itself.
Qasim Virjee 42:53
Sure. is very interesting. You know, I know a lot of people that have invested into Canada’s venture capital funds, right? LPs, limited partners. And the LP expectation on return of their capital is you know, and it’s not even a hard expectation. It’s just like, this would be lovely if we could get this because normally, the checks into venture capital funds don’t need to prove there. That’s another truth that people don’t understand. If it’s not institutional money coming from the government distributary. It’s not your tax money being spent somehow. LP money into a venture capital fund is a nice to have return investment. It’s low priority money. People that put it into venture capital, don’t really have particular faith in technology, for the most part, it’s a bet. They’re betting on technology. And if they lose their money, they don’t care. That’s been my experience, and maybe not entirely, but it depends on the commitment to a fund. And if it’s personal money going in, I know a lot of people that are writing millions of dollars in venture capital funds, and they’re in, you know, they’re how they made their money as raw material extraction. And this is, you know, a couple million dollars into a fund is nothing.
Marianne Bulger 44:06
Yeah, but one of the biggest mistakes you can make in venture capital is is betting and only putting your money in because you’re willing to bet because it’s so such a volatile industry, anything can happen even the best companies with the with the strongest metrics, and a great team. You’re shown on the fund disbursement side on the capital funds, but even those that are investing in our fund, it was fascinating. So we were in this third fund, we brought in Cendana and Foundry Group next, both of which are us fund to funds that had never invested in Canada before. Yeah. From my perspective, it was really amazing when they came to visit for the first time and we toured them around the Toronto tech ecosystem, Toronto and Waterloo and they were amazed their choice to invest in us goes far beyond just the the money in the bet, right Were betting on our team as well. And there was a lot of time we spent with them. But as an aside, one of the most interesting things they said to us is, there’s just no way that this is this industry or this ecosystem is collaborative, as you say it is. People really work together that much people really support each other that much. And it took a lot to convince them, although they may not may still not be convinced, but they were amazed that what was going on in Toronto, represented something that they perhaps had never seen before. Right, that we really do collectively believe I believe that together, we’re much better and stronger, and that we collectively want to make this a global tech hub. Right? That isn’t Silicon Valley. 2.0? Well, yeah,
Qasim Virjee 45:50
this is the thing, right? counterbalancing, the increasing pressures on our culture in Canada, of mass media that’s produced in the states in the lovely stories of in the crumbling political arena there, I think is the Canadian will, and the Canadian experience, people kind of underwrite, I think, especially in the big city, in the Big Smoke. They underwrite the cultural heritage of Canada as a country, and the fact that in the last few generations, frontiers people were Canadians, we were all people that you needed to band together, you’re not going to eat this winter. So that culture has been passed down. And I think the seasonality that we experience through the year, and our embrace of winter, kind of adds to keeping that culture alive. So for sure, I believe that we have a community here that helps the success of its participants.
Marianne Bulger 46:48
But we also have a long way to go. Yeah, and I think one thing that we have a hard time with is admitting our faults, and really putting them on the table and recognizing them together. But I should, I should say that I find it very funny that the US claims to be the leader of the free world. I think we’re just sort of sitting up here saying really.
Qasim Virjee 47:11
So the free, the free world doesn’t need a leader. Regardless, that statement, you know, it’s so fun. Absolutely. If you’re free, then you’re free. Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, there’s a lot to be said about that positioning. Again, we’ll leave we’ll leave a lot of that for for a second edition of this or another discussion. I think though, there’s one note that I just want to pull back, that I didn’t finish on, which is in talking about LP expectations, and particularly, let’s call it personal wealth going into funds. The point I was making was that the expected return at best is three to 5x on money, totally. And a lot of, you know, the people that I said who are chasing perhaps this kind of like the great goal of return for their fund as operators of a venture capital fund, the 100x Plus dreams, the unicorn or, you know, yeah, unicorn genes are basically discordant with the LP expectations, because a lot of people running small funds are on close to zero management fees. And for the people listening that don’t know anything about venture capital. The idea here is that people who are creating businesses, as venture capital funds, hope to make money for themselves aside from the little bit that they might pay themselves a salary for doing the day to day grind of finding deals, writing checks, liaising with the lawyers and all of this stuff. Maybe not even doing the wonderful community work that that you guys do. And the diligence that is really relationship formation. They instead in the Lean kind of maybe slightly douchey VC model is they go out to get a bunch of money from people and they say, hey, we’ll make returns on this money. And we’ll only get paid on the actual upside. So if our, you know, placed funds for you, your money placed into these companies, if it turns profit, you owe us some of that profit. And then they run so lean, that they day to day, don’t even have money for rent. It’s weird, because it’s come up with us. A few VC firms have come to us with like, a willingness to pay a 10th of what our market rate is for deskspace. And like, how do you you have $50 million to spread around the you know, how do you not have any money to pay rent? How can you well place those funds when you can’t eat yourself? And and then that’s where this hope and dream for this ridiculous multiple comes from? In some ways. You know, and again, silly deals get done and then the push on companies that they invest in is very different than it’s like, how can we help you be better at what you’re doing? It’s like, you need to get to the next round of finance and then the next rounds when we can get out, especially if it’s precede seed level investment, they want to get out before the IPO.
Marianne Bulger 50:06
That’s why venture money is not for everyone. And it’s important to, for anyone listening who’s thinking about raising money to know that if you raise venture money, that’s not more impressive than finding other revenue sources. If it doesn’t fit your business model, you you could kill your business by taking venture money, because that is the expectation. So not every company is venture scale. But I do hear you on the the Lean model. But I’ve also seen it done the other way. I’ve seen some funds with huge management fees are a set aside, and they expand so so quickly with their team, but there’s not necessarily that value add. But you can also see why we spend so much time investing in our founders and their teams after we write the check, because we’ve made this investment, and we need to see them succeed. Well,
Qasim Virjee 50:56
and you know, it’s very interesting, but I think a lot of companies that take venture capital money, especially early on, you know, in the 10, to 20 staff realm are looking for quality advice and feedback. Yes. And when you’re running at a mile a minute, if you’re running with scissors, as you said, and you’re not looking at the sharp point, and you’re ignoring the fact that they’re in your hand, you don’t have time to wait for feedback from your, you know, investor pals, at board meetings that might be once a quarter, once a quarter feels like once a decade. And so it’s really important that the relationships you form, as a founder, or as the leading team of an enterprise, I believe should be relationships that you value, that offer you more than just a single purpose. And that are opportunistic in a holistic sense. So if you’re able to take capital, if you need capital from a fund, that is saying what you’re saying, which is, you know, we don’t just want to give you money, we want to help you. So how can we help you? And we’ll figure that out. And it’s beyond our investment, it’s for the future of your company that we’re interested in seeing success for you. That’s a wonderful thing.
Marianne Bulger 52:19
Qasim Virjee 52:22
So we just ended?
Marianne Bulger 52:24
No, you said it perfectly. And it just the wheels were turning in my head, as I remember so many moments in which we’ve had highs and lows with our founders, right. The other important thing is that you are bringing people onto your cap table that can experience that with you that volatility, because nothing is perfect, always are not always going to see upward trajectory. And you want to be able to go to those, those investors with tough questions, and they need to be able to help you answer them we’ve seen, I mean, I’ve witnessed really, really difficult moments. And one of the things that I respect so much in our team, is their ability to put their heads down when the going gets tough. And to really support those companies no matter what, because again, at the end of the day, these are investments, we can’t divorce ourselves from them. And all we can do is really try and help them based on our experience with other companies and professionally within our own world. And that’s the thing you need to look for. And those are some of the questions you need to ask. You’re not just there to pitch
Qasim Virjee 53:38
investors all the one that a wonderful story of how you’re gonna make so much money for everybody.
Marianne Bulger 53:42
Yeah. And there are people that operate within my function, actually, across the world, a platform ahead of platform or any platform leader at a VC fund is actually a really rare title here in Canada. Yeah, absolutely. There are hundreds of people around the world. And it’s becoming one of the more popular roles to add to your fund, because it’s someone that sits between a variety of different functions and can really look at the value add services that you’re providing, and to amplify them. So that could mean anything. And for me, that’s been really exciting because I can do what I do best, which is try everything and learn on the fly. And also support our entrepreneurs by connecting them with subject matter experts, even outside of our fund.
Qasim Virjee 54:31
And that’s a very powerful thing. That’s one of the things that we do for all of our companies here is like an unpaid for, you know, gratitude for companies participating in the story of being members that start well is it’s funny, it’s something I don’t talk about too often. It’s not on our website. We’re just you know, on paper, we’re a co working venue. But every single day the introductions that we make for some of our companies, will provide them with opportunities to not only realize great profit, but grow in any kind of way. And we’ve seen it right, like every company here has grown by a factor of at least 30%, every six months, in terms of their own team size, they’re upgrading offices. And that’s something we’re very flexible on. It’s really, really interesting. A lot of opportunity just comes from the right connectivity.
Marianne Bulger 55:24
What you’re building here is fascinating. If you surround yourself with the same people doing the same thing all the time, cough, cough, San Francisco. You live in a vacuum, and you wonder why you can’t find the inspiration of the answers. When you start to involve yourself in physical spaces and communities that inspire you and teach you new things. Your business will grow in return. It was one thing that I learned in doing Seth Gordon’s alter MBA program. Oh, interesting. Okay, yeah, fantastic. And I recommend anyone who is looking for that creative edge, who really needs to take an idea to the next level, in particular, take an idea, build it and ship it. It’s a fantastic program. But what’s so neat about it is that it’s not just tech people, or growth, people that are taking that course you meet people from all walks of life, who are working on all sorts of things composing their first symphony, and, you know, transforming the banking model as we know it. And, you know, writing a book, you just never know, and they can teach you they can give you feedback on your ideas and the projects you’re working on that you never thought possible. And that’s exactly what I see in spaces like star Well, right. You’re sitting next to someone that you never even knew would give you the idea that you need, that you might be blocked on with your business. Oh, for sure. Just by asking them and getting to know them. Right.
Qasim Virjee 57:02
Yeah, and absolutely. And us, that’s what’s so fulfilling about playing the role of providing the space is that we kind of are the hands in the background that are putting those people together the puppeteers? Oh, we’re the puppeteers. Absolutely. And it’s, it’s gotten to a point where it’s ad hoc, and it’s fun. Like we have formal programs where we will sit down with companies and you know, regularly and say, Okay, what do you need, and here’s what we think you need and make introductions. But it’s literally like, people come in, and I bring people in for conversations like this. And it’s like, oh, you have to meet this person and that person. And those meetings take off. And it’s, it is really wonderful. But absolutely, community is at the core of it. And whether it’s a microcosm in a physical space like this, or the larger community that we might, you know, often talk about at events, and generally in the city. And the reasons for people coming together, or
Marianne Bulger 57:58
this is why I go to Burning Man every year, the people I’ve met within my community, they’re both at my camp and beyond, are absolutely incredible. And they inspire me every single day, because they’re not doing what I’m doing. But they have great insight into what I’m trying to accomplish. And and it just, it just gives you an entirely new frame on the world. I could talk about burning man for a while. But that’s
Qasim Virjee 58:27
actually you know, what, if you’re down for it, I’d love to do a podcast all about Burning Man and bring a few burners around the table.
Marianne Bulger 58:33
Oh, that would be really fun. We should do it. Because also, one thing that I’ve noticed in attending Burning Man is that some of my and this is, I should say not the explicit purpose of Burning Man. But some of my best networking happens there. Because I run into people that I’m usually meeting over, you know, cardboard pizza and shitty beer at a at a meetup. Yep. And I run into them on the playa, as they call it. Yeah. And in that moment, you just know that you’ve both come to this space to find something similar. And it goes beyond just your work. It goes into your spirituality and into creativity and building beyond profession. That it’s made it so much easier to build strong relationships with those people in the professional world and also create things together professionally, that perhaps were never possible. And so go outside of meetups in the tech industry, attend meetups, go to art gallery openings, try new things in the city, you’re going to meet people that you never thought you would meet.
Qasim Virjee 59:41
Absolutely. I think that’s great advice. I mean, the the myopia that we’ve seen in other tech quote unquote technology ecosystems around the world, that that can become problematic for people because they feel trapped in whatever their headspace is, is connected. seek inspiration. This is
Marianne Bulger 1:00:02
why it’s it seems to be very trendy in the tech industry to go into improv. But it is right. It’s not the only thing
Qasim Virjee 1:00:10
you have to come to us and say, We want to introduce improv to your companies.
Marianne Bulger 1:00:15
I think it gives people a certain level of confidence and allows them to become better public speakers or presenters. It eliminates a little bit of stage fright, but there’s so much you can do to Expand your horizon creatively. Right. And meet new people. So I don’t know. It’s not the only thing. I haven’t taken an improv class so far. I think I’m doing pretty good.
Qasim Virjee 1:00:41
Absolutely. You can riff? Yeah. Yeah. Great advice. And honestly, I think we’ll leave it here for now. But we’ll, we’ll definitely get that Playa re convention together.
Marianne Bulger 1:00:53
That sounds good. Place to leave it. Maybe we’ll have to do it at Burning Man next year.
Qasim Virjee 1:00:58
Oh, my God. That’d be fantastic. I keep saying every year, I keep saying I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it.
Marianne Bulger 1:01:04
It’s always there. Yeah, it’s just waiting for you.
Qasim Virjee 1:01:07
Yeah, absolutely. Well, we had we had a young child in the last few months. So this year didn’t happen. But you know, maybe we’ll bring Eva next year.
Marianne Bulger 1:01:14
There are lots of babies and children at Burning Man. Yeah, that’s a whole can of worms that we don’t have time for. But people should know that. It’s a family friendly space. It’s for everyone.
Qasim Virjee 1:01:24
Awesome. Any other closing notes, let’s throw out a shout out to a few URLs that you might want to toss out to people. Again, the
Marianne Bulger 1:01:32
prospect dot FYI, if you’re looking for a job, check it out. You can search and sort by job function, company size sector, business model, location. But if you’re also a company that’s hiring, and you’re not currently listed on the platform, you can apply really easily at on the website.
Qasim Virjee 1:01:55
Excellent. If someone’s looking for capital, and wants to speak with golden,
Marianne Bulger 1:02:01
reach out to me directly or anyone else from Golden ventures, we generally don’t accept applications directly from the website. It’s really great to get a referral as well. We just want to know that you know, someone that we know, it’s the best way to get in front of our partners.
Qasim Virjee 1:02:16
There you go. So drop by start. Well, we’ll have a chat
Marianne Bulger 1:02:19
where we can connect you thank you so much for having me. This is really fun.
Qasim Virjee 1:02:22
My pleasure. Absolutely.