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What Vancouver’s Startup Scene Needs (part 1): Real Community. Better PR

If you’re lazy like me, this pretty much sums it up….

“What I’m advocating is more stronger, open community between startup companies, tech associations & universities. Start to promote & get encouraged by what others are doing well & don’t be afraid to talk about your own successes or ideas! Attend each other’s events & get to know what others are doing in your technology space as well as out of it! Great companies like Bootup Entrepreneurial Society & TechVibes have already begun. Let’s join them and build a stronger Vancouver tech community!” – Jon Chui

Practical ways to get involved

But on to the original post:

The short road traveled….

A few months ago, I was an unabashed, unafraid, idealistic UBC graduate who was completely convinced that young students like myself were the catalyst to a new, Utopian, “silicon valleyesque” Vancouver tech community.  Yeah… I know.

It didn’t take me very meetups, nor many google searches like here, here & here, to convince me otherwise.

Though it’s similar to hearing there’s no Santa Clause as a kid, I’ve mustered the courage to write down my findings.

Trend #1:  Canadian’s are too polite.

The first major reason I’ve found for the lack of startups & a vibrant startup culture is not necessarily that they don’t exist. Rather, we don’t talk about them. We don’t seem to regularly celebrate entrepreneurial successes outside of small communities and don’t create a system that rewards & encourages them.

It frustrates me because we have so many great entreprenuers & startups here in Vancouver, but we don’t hear about them! Instead, we hear from all the bad not-so-good ones!

Frankly, they need to talk about themselves more cause they’re doing really great/cool/awesome/valuable/fun/rewarding/cutting edge/profitable things! * cough cough* Bootup Entrepreneurial Society *cough* the Network Hub *cough* W Media Ventures *cough* TechVibes *cough* Venture Labs *cough* Innovation Camp (I could keep going, really I could).

Actually, let me rephrase that: They need to talk about themselves a little more, and each other a whole lot more!

Sure, some of them aren’t really that cool or doing that swell… but, to add to the irony, those are the one’s who talk about themselves the most!!!

To be frank, we’re just too darn polite, in a weird Canadian way where we seem to believe that not talking about ourselves, and just doing really great stuff, will win out against those who yap about themselves too much. In a perfect world, I could see that happening. But the general public, and everyday Joe, don’t have the time to look into any of the claims! They just hear it and that’s their “perception.”

Therein lies the key to good PR.

To borrow the words of a seasoned entrepreneur from the Valley: “Canadians suck at PR.”

If your first thoughts are ones of indignation, I write about it later on as another Canadian thing we need to overcome.

Good PR, public relations, is so much more than writing good press releases but encompasses everything a company does to earn the trust & admiration of the public.

A Perfect Example: D-Wave & Google

Just last week, I heard a recent announcement that D-Wave, a local quantum computing company, had just partnered with mega-company Google to power their next-generation of image searching.

Let me re-iterate: A local company created a product so powerful that Google, the world’s largest & most successful online search company, chose to use their products to power their next generation of visual searching.

Now I’m sure D-Wave had a great press release. I’m sure it was even talked about it in many great local tech communities & online tech blogs. Heck, it was tweeted about several times. That’s how I originally found out about it!

But why, may I ask, do most of my friends & family not know a single thing about it? Why do most of those I speak with not even know about D-Wave, let alone their partnership with Google? Why does the general public not hear about these types of announcements, and furthermore, why are we who hear about it not more proud & excited to share or write about it?

Other examples….

Just today, I was chatting with an engineer turned realtor-entrepreneur who told me of another example:

A while ago, when Donald Trump built two towers in Hawaii, he was looking for top-notch businessmen to run the sales of these towers. He chose two businessmen from New Westminster.

Other examples abound.

Bootup Labs, Canada’s first seed accelerator for digital media startups here in Vancouver, just announced another 6 awesome companies they have accepted into their cohort and I saw 2 blogs talk about it.

Boris Wertz, a local angel investor, has personally invested into over 14 local companies but hasn’t gotten much recognition outside of the tech community.

James Wallace, long time marketing guru here in Vancouver, just quit his job to work on a new startup. In the valley, there would be a buzz & people would want to know what he was working on or how to get involved. Here, you barely hear anything.

Why do Canadians suck at PR?

Really, this should be a separate post. So take a break, sip some chai latte, and come back when you’re ready.

Oh! Back so soon?

In my limited interactions & experience, I’ve found two reasons for why Canadians suck at PR.

1)    We’re Canadian. With a mixed identity, we lack patriotism & pride in our accomplishments.

2)    We’re Canadian. We’re non-confrontational peacemakers who internalize our ideas until they’re perfect to show everyone.


1. I am Canadian

Canada is so known for being multicultural and accepting that we don’t really have an identity of our own. Therefore, we don’t feel a sense of patriotism on a Canadian or local level when startups or businesses succeed.

This can’t be seen any clearer when you contrast the pride Americans have in their colleges vs. the pride, if you can call it that, Canadians have in their universities. When’s the last time we’ve watched or cheered one on of your college’s sport teams? Or work a college sweater with pride? Or got into a verbal fight over which university is better? Here in Canada, aside from a small bunch of fraternities, pride over universities is about as nasty as two tea-drinking ladies disagreeing about the color of the drapes.

This may be changing with the current generation, as we were born here & therefore feel a personal tie to our “home”. That’s why I’m so excited and talk about Boris & Danny’s Bootup Labs, Brian Wong’s FollowFormation.com, Ryan Holme’s Hootsuite, Milun Tesovic’s MetroLyrics & other local successes! I feel a sense of Vancouver pride that they succeeded! But that culture is very much ingrained into our society & it will take a lot of people to change it.

At the same time, we are very proud of certain aspects of our culture. Hockey is one.

2. Canadians are non-confrontational: Layoffs at Intel vs. Sierra

I heard a great microcosm of this Canadian non-confrontational yesterday by an engineer who had worked at the US Intel as well as the Canadian PMC Sierra during layoff times.

At PMC Sierra, when the 40 engineers heard they were laid off over a conference call, no one spoke up. After the meeting the engineers proceeded to silently pack up their belongings and leave. There’s nothing uncommon here, right?

At Intel, it was also a conference call and the entire department was being shut down. Instead of silently leaving, the department head confronted the president with a list of all the things management had done wrong & what needed to be fixed at Intel. Loud cheering from members of that department as well as other employees followed it.

Did those PMC Sierra engineers feel any less passionate about their jobs being lost? Probably not. Did they stay quiet with their thoughts of outrage? Well, at the meeting. But they probably vented to many people about it afterward.

That encapsulates my point. We Canadians don’t speak out when we need to and prefer less confrontational methods of expressing our opinions. That’s fine for certain situations but this attitude also affects the way we share & brainstorm our ideas. We like to keep as closed as possible & not let others know.

A current entrepreneur from San Francisco told me how closed the atmosphere is here & how difficult it has been for him to share & brainstorm ideas.

What about competition? Everyone wants to build their own empire!

Rob Lewis from TechVibes, and many others, warned me about this.  And for the most part, I agree!

What people don’t understand, or what I’ve failed to communicate, is that I’m not advocating the destruction of individual identities into a happy club where we all smile and praise each other.

What I’m advocating is more stronger, open community between startup companies, tech associations & universities. Start to promote & get encouraged by what others are doing well & don’t be afraid to talk about your own successes or ideas! Attend each other’s events & get to know what others are doing in your technology space as well as out of it! Great companies like Bootup Entrepreneurial Society & TechVibes have already begun. Let’s join them and build a stronger Vancouver tech community!

Practical Ways to Get Involved:

This is by no means a complete list. Here are some quick things off the top of my head (if you think of anything add it to the comments below, or e-mail me!)

  • Learn more about local tech startups, small-businesses, & their successes. TechVibes is a great hyper-local blog for that.
  • Then, blog/tweet/talk/write songs about them. Here’s an example of an interview I did with 18-year old Brian Wong.
  • Start volunteering to host or run startup events. Talk to Maura (http://twitter.com/maurar) or Me, if you’re a student.
  • Give your suggestions & feedback. Here’s one place to do that: http://wantit.bootup.ca/
  • Buy Local (Invoke media’s Hootsuite is an awesome way to do that)
  • (for students) Get involved with these companies as interns, or co-op students, just to get a feel! Then talk about the cool experience to your friends. (TechVibes intern posting)
  • Actually come out to each other’s events! Sign up for [StartupDigest], check Bootups Calendar, or TechVibes Calender.

Awesome ending for those who actually read to the bottom of posts…

Yu-kai Chou, founder of Viralogy.com, recently told me about his “pit theory.”

He imagines that we all start in a pit and work hard to get out. Some people do this by stepping on others to get to the next level. Others help those around them to the next level. The ones that help others get to the next level will have people on the next level that can also help them up. And when individuals who have helped others arrive at the next level, they will have multiple friends on that level. The ones who have stepped on others to get to the next level will have multiple enemies.

I think this what I’m passionate about. Let’s recognize that we as a community can be more successful when we work together in promoting & helping one another succeed. When we do that, we all succeed. Come join us!

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Author:

Jon Chui (pronounced "chew") has been building iOS/Android apps for the last 7 years, the last 3 working on Google Maps, Inbox by Gmail and Google's Search App. Though he grew up in a Christian family and to parents who would end up giving up their 25 years of hard-earned comforts/affluence in Canada to go back to China as missionaries when he was 14, being a Christian was always in his head, and he would constantly struggle with trying to unify the sacred and the secular - until last year. However, through a radical transformation[https://jonchui.wordpress.com/2016/05/17/a-copy-of-my-last-email-before-leaving-google/] @ work last year (which he can't take ANY credit for), he & his wife & 2 young boys have decided to leave Google, sell/donate everything they have so to serve the poor & marginalized with Jesus’ love as missionaries with YWAM.org's Family DTS in Kona, hawaii then to the Philippines. Read more about their family journey @ vickiandjon.com, and reach out to him @ jon@jonchui.com If you're a recruiter with freelance jobs or have tech projects for jon feel free to reach out to him jobs@jonchui.com -

2 thoughts on “What Vancouver’s Startup Scene Needs (part 1): Real Community. Better PR

  1. Great post Jon. Congratulations. It looks like you have been able to really mold your idea into something actionable. And it had already gotten you to places!

    For the most part, I agree with your post. You address a lot of problems and solutions that could help strengthen the startup community. But honestly, I don’t believe Canadians suck at PR at all. What we need is for companies to realize the need for PR and ultimately marketing. We can’t assume that all people are good at these types of things. An entrepreneur may be successful because he just good at just that, building and creating things. But he may not be well equipped with the skills or knowledge of how to properly market himself and his business and ideas. The same can be said about blogging/tweeting/writing. I can do it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it will get the word out. Many people do not know how to do it properly. Hence the people on Twitter and blogs who never get picked up by the media or other followers/readers.

    What we need is for people to shift their frame of mind and see that helping others out of the proverbial pit, will help them get where they want to be. “You can get everything you want in life by helping enough other people get what they want.” – Zig Ziglar. Using and sharing out expertise with each other and being able to make those connections in the first place is key.

    Kudos to you for bringing up this topic and for taking action on your ideas.

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