For this, the 40th episode of the StartWell Podcast we sit down with Jason Goldlist (co-founder), Laura Backman (Insiders Manager) and Alexandra Reilly (Growth Marketing Manager) to talk about TechTO – the largest startup focused community organisation in Toronto.
The session was recorded during our first TechTO-StartWell coworking day, launching monthly drop-in coworking for the TechTO Insiders community of startup founders, mentors, investors and innovators.Podcast Transcript
Qasim Virjee 0:27
It’s such a pleasure to have team tech to here in the stairwell studio, broadcast studio today on King Street West, I thought we’d take a little bit of time to actually chat about what tech to is, what its relevance is to the world. And specifically, you know, go around the table and just kind of see, you know, introduce you guys to the start. Well, audience, of course, and then also get a sense of kind of like what we’re trying to do here today, inaugural launch day of the tech to insiders co working day at Stark Well, I’m pretty excited about
Laura Backham 1:03
it. I’m so excited about it’s pretty excited. But yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. So why
Qasim Virjee 1:08
don’t we just start with Laura, Laura, who are you? And what’s your name?
Laura Backham 1:12
Who are you? It’s pronounced Lau No, I’m just getting its Laura. I’ve been volunteering with tech to for a really long time. And so I’m very familiar with the community. I’m very excited to be more involved with the community. Now that I’m on the core team. I was hired in to manage our insiders program. And so that’s, you know, a paid membership that we offer to people who want to be even more involved in the community get extra special access to events like this first co working day that we’re having, you know, sometimes a discounted ticket to some of our larger events. And we’re working on producing a lot of special content for the insiders community as well. But in the meantime, until we hire a couple positions, I’ll also be taking care of all of our in real life events that we have coming up this year. So I’m really excited because I’ve loved the events for four or five years now.
Qasim Virjee 2:00
Alright, let’s let’s, let’s do some introductions for the other people. I didn’t know how to follow that. Okay, so then your next
Alexandra Reilly 2:06
I’m gonna go next. Okay, I am Alexandra Riley. I’m the growth marketing manager at Tech to I am very passionate about what we’re doing for the Canadian tech ecosystem, I really do believe, whether it’s something as large as you know, you’re trying to start a business or you’re starting to scale or you’re trying to raise or even just, you’re new to Canada and you’re looking at opportunities, or you’re trying to pivot into tech, I love that there is something for everyone. And tech to is really providing a safe space for people to come and learn in general. So, as part of my role, I’m managing our, our newsletter, and as Laura alluded to, helping her with a few content and marketing initiatives for our insiders program. And I’m just I’m so happy to be a part of the team and to be at start wall today and getting to meet some of our insiders. I think it’s a it’s so exciting.
Laura Backham 3:00
Beat that co founder. Yeah, there you go.
Alexandra Reilly 3:02
I’m just trying to make Jason cry.
Jason Goldlist 3:04
I’m so proud of you guys. Seriously,
Qasim Virjee 3:07
from the new school to the old school. Right? Drop, drop some knowledge. Yeah,
Jason Goldlist 3:10
that’s what it’s all about, Jake. You know, this is Jason gold list. I started tech to with Alex Norman in 2013. And we had this vision that Canada could be a dominant force in the global tech ecosystem. And we were just lucky that it’s come to pass, I think, getting up on 10 years later. And the reason it’s come to pass is because folks like Laura, and Alex Riley, have found our community and started contributing to it and building the community, not in the image of what we thought was right, nine or 10 years ago, but what it actually needs today and what it needs tomorrow.
Alexandra Reilly 3:50
It’s changed a lot. It really has and it’s changing all the time. My job.
Qasim Virjee 3:54
There you go. He’s still has a he still has a purpose. And that’s to lift you guys up.
Laura Backham 4:00
Yeah, yeah. And the hoverboard, he still has that. It’s just it’s under the table.
Qasim Virjee 4:03
Let’s jump into that. The real quick. I think this is really interesting. Not the hover hoverboard, but the 10 years the fact that like Tech has been around for a while. The community has grown. Capital C. National, it’s not just about Toronto, but you know, your shirt, says tech Toronto, so we’ll focus on the city.
Laura Backham 4:23
We don’t need new shirts, though. Thanks for the reminder.
Alexandra Reilly 4:26
Do you like the rainbow? We can keep that but yeah, we I think we need I also want a onesie. It’s on the list tech to one Z on the list. Yeah.
Jason Goldlist 4:33
Great. That’s like kind of new energy that we need. Right? Did you know when you did onesies,
Alexandra Reilly 4:36
we’re keeping you current
Laura Backham 4:37
we’re keeping you current maybe for the lifetime insiders. Instead of jerseys. We get them onesies with their number on it.
Qasim Virjee 4:43
So but let’s talk about this this idea of insiders, right. So what’s the legacy that kind of precluded or led up to a founding the insiders as a thing? And, you know, how does the tech ecosystem look to tech to inter Otto, you know, leading up to this kind of like the program that’s specifically suited to who?
Laura Backham 5:08
Well, I mean, I can to my interpretation of when it, you know, came to be, because I remember when the insiders began because I was volunteering, and I was like, Oh, this is new, this is a new thing that we haven’t had before. And at the time, I, I just thought it was like, Okay, there’s going to be special events for insiders, there’s going to be special talks, or, you know, discounts on the tickets like, that was kind of what I understood it to be at the time and, and as a volunteer, they just kind of said, If anyone has any questions about this, just send them to talk to this person over by this banner, right. But at this point, and I think, especially kind of coming out of the last couple of years, and now understanding some of the lessons that have been shared in the tech to community in the ecosystem over the years. I think that everyone who has wanted to engage with the tech to community feels a lot more empowered to start something new, or learn about how to start something new. And, you know, there’s a lot of amazing mentorship and wisdom that’s been passed through through our events over the years. And yeah, I don’t know, I just I want to, I want the insider’s community to feel like an empowering place to try new things and to make new connections and to, you know, under like, understand that this is a network that’s here to help accomplish goals.
Alexandra Reilly 6:20
Yeah. And one of the things we say is always a community that wins together. And I feel like that is, to me what the insider’s program really celebrate celebrating the wins, and even you know, things don’t work out, it’s a place that you can turn to to get, you know, advice from people that are like, I’ve been there a million times before, this is like Welcome to being like an entrepreneur or professional,
Laura Backham 6:40
it felt like home for me for a long time. Like it was a place that I had to go
Qasim Virjee 6:44
to that end, even through the pandemic, you know, being in the insiders, Slack chat. In the last little while, seeing, you know, talking about like Alex was mentioning these kind of like, even when things don’t work out for an entrepreneurial team, it’s nice to see that the insiders community is there to like pick up on even employees offer people I think we saw that a couple times. Yeah, it’s a safe space.
Laura Backham 7:04
I’ve been thinking about starting an oopsies channel or something along those lines, where you can kind of like talk about the little missteps, or the lessons that you learn from the mistakes and because it’s, it’s, that’s just it. And that’s the attitude that I’m trying to bring into this position that hasn’t existed before, which is that everything that we’re doing right now is the first time we’re trying it. And so it does, it’s not ever, it’s not going to be the same every time I want to learn something different every time we do it. I want to receive different perspectives on the experience every time we do it. And I want to constantly be morphing it into something that’s a really unique experience. Yeah.
Qasim Virjee 7:41
So Laura, what do you think is important for the people that you’re trying to support?
Laura Backham 7:48
I think that, at this moment, I just want everyone who’s in the insider’s community to feel like it’s a place to connect. I think that there’s a lot there’s a lacking sensation and emotion when it comes to being able to feel confident making new connections, specifically new connections. You know, we’re we’re coming away from a rough social time, so to speak. And I remember understatement. Yeah, exactly. Right. So you know, I remember, even in the before times, I had a, when I was volunteering, I had someone who had never been to a networking event before come up to me. She was like, I think in her fourth year in university or something. And she asked, she’s like, how do I talk to someone? How do I meet someone? How do I go up to someone and introduce myself? And it’s just, it’s, it’s almost a leading by example, kind of thing. Because through interacting with tech to at so many events and interacting with the community, I have a lot of confidence when it comes to just walking up to a complete stranger and shaking their hand and creating a conversation and trying to build that connection. But right now, I just want the insider’s community. Because, you know, in a sense, they haven’t been getting enough of the membership in the last couple of years, in my opinion. Yeah, I just want them to feel really empowered to connect with each other, to connect with us. And to understand that everything that we’re working on right now is to serve what it is that they’re trying to accomplish.
Alexandra Reilly 9:15
Yeah. And I think this is a really important time for us at Tech to I think there’s, as you said, a lot of ground to cover and a lot of slack that has to be picked up that a lot of slack that has to be picked up. And I think the insiders program is a great jumping off point for us to really leverage what it is that our community wants to do, and how they want to connect and meet people. So we need to we need to hone that and listen to that. Yep. Oh, for sure. Comfortable. Yep.
Qasim Virjee 9:42
And I think playing that role of socializing. Entrepreneurship, in a way is something that’s really interesting because the public sector doesn’t necessarily afford that and the private sector, I mean, people this could turn for me into a long monologue about, you know, ecosystem development. And the questions in Canada about our, you know, our want for, for institutions to be there to support entrepreneurs, and our, our, my dissatisfaction with the lack of those institutions or their efficacy, so I don’t want to go down the road. But I do want to say that it’s amazing that tech to celebrating soon 10 years of doing this party, yeah, 100% and leading up to that birthday party. The idea that, you know, you’re, you’ve got this kind of like group of people that you’re trying to encourage, to come together to help each other. I think there’s also something underlying, which perhaps has always been there for you and Alex, Jason is the intent to try and kind of see people form a network that can help the network like, by networking, you can actually strengthen the ties between people that support the next generation of tech entrepreneurs in the country. Yeah, that’s
Jason Goldlist 11:00
right on. I think one of the things that Alex and I thought about was sort of tech to is how do we help build a community that wins together? It’s what does it mean to win together? Right? Well, you can win together with your family. And that’s great can upgrade the house, you can buy a fancy car, you can win together with your team. That’s also nice. You can go out for dinner together, and you can celebrate, maybe you went together with your company, maybe it IPOs and a whole bunch of people get Tesla’s in the parking lot. But I think the most important thing is to expand what that means to win. How do we win as a community? Yeah, how do we win as a society? How do you win as a country? Has
Alexandra Reilly 11:34
everyone win? Yeah,
Jason Goldlist 11:35
does everyone win. And I think a lot of things that we saw as we were building this community, is we looked in other tech communities. And there was really a lot of individuals winning, and not a lot of societies winning. And we wanted to say, no, we want to build a community where everyone is included, and where when we when we’ve shaped the culture, so that we respect the different pillars of the community help support us, the other folks in there, the Social Security nets that we had, and we wanted to give it back and support that next generation, and you’re talking about, and I think that Laura said it perfectly. The way to do that is not to tell people to do it, right. It’s also not to build a Super Cluster, that tells people what to do with it, it’s actually just to go out and do it, show them, it’s to show them and to model the behavior. And I really think if we break down what tech to was done over nine years, it’s we are led by people who put money into the ecosystem, we are led by people that build entrepreneurial, fast growing startups. And we do it in the way that we want others to do it. And we hope that they learn from it. And they do it together with us. And they go and teach others and teach others and teach others.
Laura Backham 12:43
I think, just if I can speak to the scale of that, too, and how, how, you know, it’s our shirts, say, tech Toronto right now, but our events are tech together. And that’s really what it’s all about is it’s that it’s gathering this element of, you know, regardless of geography, obviously, we want to bolster the candidate ecosystem as much as possible, but it’s really just about how do we support each other? How do we build trust? How do we build stronger connections and relationships? And I think that that is what people come away from a lot of tech events and tech to events, just really celebrating and feeling thankful for. Yeah, because I’ve met so many people through the events. And I’ve, you know, I’ve I’ve found so many jobs through the events, too. It’s just it’s been really, really amazing for door opening and horizon, you know, extending almost Yeah.
Alexandra Reilly 13:33
And I always love to hear the stories of the people that have just are the folks that have just moved to Canada and have found tech to and, and just found even like, we were saying a safe space and a community of people that were they can lean on others for their perspective and guidance. And I love that we’re doing that for not just Toronto for everyone. So yeah,
Qasim Virjee 13:54
quick note, if I can hear from from you guys on what the experience as an organization was, in last couple of years. I know, Jason, that you have a personal note about this to do with the business that you found it. But how has community building felt in the last couple of years when has not been in real life and that whole organization had to shift into digital.
Jason Goldlist 14:17
It was a whole new muscle that we built. And you know what it was fun, like so when you first time you go to the gym, you make real gains, you know, if you haven’t been there before, it’s you, you blast off and you learn all sorts of new things. And I think that’s what we did as a community. We said, Okay, let’s all go to the gym together. And what’s his bicep, let’s try a curl, right? And then suddenly, the bicep grows. Oh, my God, we’re we’re doing well here. And I think that’s what happened. As we move that community online. We tried new things. We tried to get together in new ways. We tried to meet people in new ways. We tried to help each other in new ways. And you know what happened really quickly. We grew that muscle. Now I think what we see is that the virtual ask fact of how you build a community, it’s never going away. We want to bring back that in real life component. And what an amazing opportunity to use the strengths of both, hey, in real life, you build really deep bonds with people, you look them in the eye, you really feel a kindred spirit. We’ve been doing this for, I want to say generations, millennia,
Qasim Virjee 15:20
right since beginning of mankind, sure, humankind, I should say,
Jason Goldlist 15:23
by virtue, but virtually people
Qasim Virjee 15:25
can’t. generalist, animal kind.
Jason Goldlist 15:29
But virtually something we haven’t had for millennia, since the beginning of animal kind, is the ability to meet folks that are hundreds, if not 1000s, of kilometers away. And give people who are in rural British Columbia, or northern Canada, the opportunity to have the same access to network that we have in downtown Toronto, that didn’t exist, it was impossible for them to fly in for six to 9pm on a Monday night, but for them to log in, with an internet connection.
Laura Backham 16:03
Thank you star Jama pants at that, sure. And meet
Jason Goldlist 16:07
the founders that are even more well connected and can help bring that network to them. I think that’s incredible. And so we can’t stop doing that right there.
Qasim Virjee 16:14
Right? Yeah, it’s it’s opened a whole new world of opportunity that’s kind of been sitting there, you know, like, we’re all tech entrepreneurs, to some facet, or at least the community is made up of primarily tech entrepreneurs, innovating on these communication problems for the most part. And, you know, it’s nice that you know, what an output of this is to kind of embrace that not hybrid for the sake of these people can’t be in the room. But also those people should have input into this, you know, experience that everyone else is sharing. And, and that’s interesting.
Jason Goldlist 16:46
Yeah, the way that we see hybrid at Tech to is I’m not trying to make every event that we do both virtual and in person, right? Because then sometimes you get the worst of both. Oh, yeah, what we want to do is create sets of programming that engage people in real life, and programming that engages people virtually, and will lean into the best part of each, right. We’re not going to try to force people to mix and mingle with appetizers and drinks at their homes by themselves. That would be crazy. It’s
Laura Backham 17:17
weird to log off of those events, right? produced a few of those. Yeah.
Jason Goldlist 17:22
But likewise, if we’re coming together in person, does it make sense for us to all sit in long rows and listen to a keynote speaker for an hour and a half? No, no. So I think what you’ll see tech to do is we continue to build community in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Waterloo, and surprise some more places in Canada now that we have audience is engaged people in real life in a real social way to build the strength of connections in that way. And then virtually continue to deliver really cool opportunities to get access to knowledge that might not fly into Vancouver for a 30 minute talk, but might log in for a 30 minute talk and share it virtually, and get people to meet each other that they wouldn’t otherwise meet. Yeah.
Qasim Virjee 18:07
And I think one example, obviously, that’s brought us together today of this kind of like connectivity in real life. That’s not necessarily about like, unidirectional information sharing, or publishing. You know, this kind of like man on a stage thing. Is this idea of co working, I think it’s brilliant. Get people to like, do their own thing together. Yes. And share the experience.
Jason Goldlist 18:30
I want to know the beginning of the co working idea, like the BBC
Laura Backham 18:33
week crash, sorry.
Qasim Virjee 18:36
He didn’t begin this. Adam Newman, don’t
Unknown Speaker 18:39
bring him out. And I’m sorry.
Jason Goldlist 18:41
I want to know how it evolved into a tech to insiders co working day. Where did that idea come from?
Laura Backham 18:48
Well, I mean, I think that to kind of speak to the last main point that was being made, like we’ve watched the definition of together change. And we want there to be opportunities for everyone. Everyone’s comfortability, right? Like, it’s also about kind of recognizing that people are reintegrating in real life at their own pace and in different ways. And when it comes to co working, some offices, and some companies just aren’t going back to hybrid, some people want it some people don’t like I have a friend who just started at a new company, and she has no interest in going into the office, but they’re making her every couple of weeks now kept their offices. And that’s just it. And so I think that I want, I think co working is just such an interesting way to also kind of like, it’s not like you’re at a networking event where it’s like, okay, I’m here to shake hands. And I’m going to have a very low social battery at the end of the night, but I’m here with my own priorities with it with what it is that I’m working on, which is what we’re trying to empower, you know, is everyone to, to work on it what it is that they’re working on, and, you know, pick each other’s brains. You know, I like the idea of just kind of saying ideas out loud and getting the odd response back just to see how it sounds out. Loud because I think that that’s something that our work from home echo chambers. I don’t know if it, I don’t know if this is just something that I experienced when we were working from home for a really long time. But I just, I was questioning the ideas that I had. And I was questioning how it was that they were going to be received. And I just didn’t want to be in my own echo chamber anymore. And so the other thing is that a lot of insiders are representing companies where maybe they’re the only person working there right now, they don’t have a co founder yet, or they don’t have their core team yet. And so for
Alexandra Reilly 20:30
those be really great idea exactly, they
Laura Backham 20:32
have a really great idea. And there is just like, you know, helping people start to learn what those next steps look like, and learn from people who’ve made those next steps before as well. And it might be that that person is two steps ahead of them or, you know, they’ve already exited a company and and they’re on the next one, you know, and it’s just a matter of everyone comes into this with a different perspective and a different set of values. And I think it’s really important for everyone to understand how to evolve theirs based on what they can learn from just sharing space with people.
Alexandra Reilly 21:04
Yeah, I think it’s a great way to also ease people back into those social interactions and learning how to do other again, go take your meeting, it’s like fine as we were saying it’s a little bit at the element of work from home together that’s what has been created here and it’s nice that there is the option to you know, ease back into it without having to do the whole you know, corporate office or whatever the situation nine to five every single day sitting at a desk it’s just not what people want to be doing. So yeah, that’s
Qasim Virjee 21:32
definitely what we say all the time here now at start well it’s struggle is a home for working together
Laura Backham 21:38
to go to your the rest of your question, how we came up with this idea was kind of that feeling that I got the first time I was here your question? Sorry, Jason. Everything sounds the same in these headphones. I don’t know where it’s coming from. But no, I think when I when I was here with you doing the tour the first time I put it down, and I just kind of saw all these spaces where I was like, this is exactly where our people need to be able to find home as well. You know, I think that it’s it’s important for people to feel like they have a home base that’s not you know, 16 feet away from their bed, that there’s a certain to leave there have a certain mindset like i It’s weird, but when I started, I left my job last summer in tech and got a job at a golf course because I literally missed commuting I just wanted to leave my house every day and listen to a podcast and to a purse talk to a person exactly and that that was an experience that I really craved. And so that’s just it I don’t I don’t want to force anyone to do it at all I want them to come and decide how it works for them and and just kind of mingle and get comfortable with that in person connection because I think it makes a lot of difference to how you think when you’re surrounded by people thinking about different things and whether or not it’s happening directly but as soon as you’re in a different setting and you’re surrounded by different people it just happens
Alexandra Reilly 23:00
yeah and people who think differently than you
Qasim Virjee 23:03
nice nice those awesome taking a moment to share with you guys and discuss the history a little bit of tech to where things are going how it’s been lately and and I’m excited to host more of these tech Co Co working days at start well for the Toronto Community and very excited very excited as well state to always welcome for any reason or good there you go team
Jason Goldlist 23:27
123 tech to working day.
Alexandra Reilly 23:36
We should have planned we should have planned what we were gonna say but we’ve been to where I think
Laura Backham 23:39
he is on the table Famous Last Words