Disruption doesn’t just come in the form of new technologies. Regulatory change, family responsibilities, business environment, proximity to customers and a myriad of other reasons (perhaps even Amazon’s decision on where to create a second head office?) may spark change for your business and necessitate a move. If you’re a founder contemplating the relocation of your business, what needs to be taken into account to make the transition smoother for your customers, employees and yes, for you? Since 2012, entrepreneur Ray Walia, founder of Launch Academy has helped over 1000 entrepreneurs, and incubated more than 500 early-stage tech startups in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. As someone who actively nurtures his own network (Walia holds regular dinners for c-suite executives in emerging tech in Vancouver as well as San Francisco and Seattle in order to foster productive networking and cross-border business opportunities), he’s well versed in the networking needs of a founder relocating to a new city.
Kelly Hoey: Vancouver is a beautiful city however, startups need more than an inspirational skyline. What reasons are they giving for relocating to the city?
Ray Walia: The obvious reason is quality of life, but cultural diversity and international connections play a big role. These are factors entrepreneurs building scalable, global ventures should consider regardless of whether Vancouver is on their shortlist. Vancouver is connected to international business hubs (Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai) and in the same time zone as Silicon Valley. Proximity weighs heavily in the decision process of companies relocating or expanding operations (Vancouver is a two-hour drive from Seattle and a two-hour fight from San Francisco). Not to get political but a major factor in Vancouver’s favor right now is immigration. Canada has always welcomed immigration and continues to do so.
Hoey: Lifestyle is great, but business networks are essential for launching and scaling businesses.
Walia: Exactly! Networks should be at the top of any due diligence checklist before the decision to move a business is finalized . Scan meetup. Look for Facebook groups. Sign-up for newsletters. Seek introductions and learn more about the types of networks (and networking culture) from people on the ground. Vancouver now has a strong business network spanning multiple sectors, from media and entertainment (Vancouver has been known as “Hollywood North” for years) to technology. Currently, Amazon’s largest workforce outside of Seattle is in Vancouver (5000 employees). Microsoft has a major presence in the city as well as Slack, Facebook, Apple, Paypal, Samsung, Sony, Boeing, and Hootsuite. Vancouver also hosts TED. The networks here are diversifying with each founder who relocates. I’ve personally helped entrepreneurs from Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, Serbia, Kuwait, Turkey, Brazil and yes, even the United States, transition their business and personal lives in Vancouver.
Hoey: What are the challenges entrepreneurs should be aware of when relocating their business?
Walia: A lot of the challenges are fairly universal, when the city or region is not a major tech hub (i.e. New York City, Boston or San Francisco). There are always challenges around access to funding (primarily early stage), access to talent and access to distribution channels.
Hoey: What are common mistakes entrepreneurs new to a city make?
Walia: Lack of preparedness around not only business requirements and tasks but also on personal matters. Entrepreneurs underestimate the impact stress in their home lives affects their business. The stress is magnified when the business relocates.
Hoey: What can other founders learn from the relocation mistakes of others?
Walia: Ask for help! Reach out to others, especially founder communities located tech incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, etc. before you make the move. These groups are an easy access point to vital networks. Even if your business is larger and you are planning to rent office space, I’d suggesting building connections with these groups as they are a bridge to a new city. Don’t overlook local chapters of global communities (Women Who Code and Creative Mornings are both active here). Ask around to see if there are programs supporting the founders of companies who are planning to relocate to the particular city or region you’re considering. At Launch Academy, we created a six-month program around relocation. We spend a month working with entrepreneurs remotely (via email, video conferencing and webinars) before their move date. Post-move, we provide for support for up to five months. Upon completion of the program, these entrepreneurs become part of our Alumni network and continue to benefit from networking and other resources.
Hoey: Canadians are notorious for being friendly and eager to help others. Any other guidance you can offer?
Walia: Well, if Vancouver really is on the short-list for your company, then I’d suggest:
- Going for early morning runs or bike rides around the seawall, as you’ll likely cross-paths with the investors and founders you’ll meet attending meetups and other startup events in the evening.
- Signing up for one of a number of open Slack groups for the Vancouver tech community, (and not just because Slack was born in Vancouver).
- Giving the city a trial run by attending one of the many startup conferences held here throughout the year.