The World Bank says Canada is the second-easiest place in the world to start a company. But that doesn’t necessarily add up to a stellar record on innovation, or success for Canadian startups. Kim Parlee talks to Anthony Lacavera, Founder of Wind Mobile and co-author of, “How We Can Win: And What Happens to Us and Our Country If We Don’t”, on what Canadians must do to ensure our future prosperity.
But, despite that, Anthony says that he in some respects considers the venture a failure. And now he has written a book. Here it is. How We Can Win: And What Happens To Us And Our Country If We Don't, which takes a tough love approach at looking at why Canadian companies aren't winning at the world stage.
It is tough.
It is tough. You kind of take the boots to a whole lot of different parts of government, and just people, and Canadians.
I think it's necessary, Kim. It's amazing to me that we go out and unapologetically strive for the gold medal when we play hockey. And if we don't get the gold medal when we play hockey, we're disappointed. Silver and bronze aren't good enough. But in our business culture, we're constantly striving for bronze. And this book is a formula of how Canada can win and strive for gold.
Why are we striving for bronze? Just tell me what you mean by that. Because I don't think anyone sets out and goes, yeah, I'm going to be third. They don't. So what is your interpretation of what's going on?
The fourth industrial revolution is upon us. Artificial intelligence is going to transform every corner of the economy. The way we live and work is going to be completely transformed. And in order for Canada to be prosperous long term, we have to own something from a technology perspective. We have to have a globally dominant, or several globally dominant, ideally several, large companies that are exporting technology. We have to break out of being a branch plant economy for foreign multinationals.
So we have big US technology companies already up here. We're trying to woo Amazon now and bring them in.
We'll get into that. Yeah.
And that's not the right formula for long-term success. Our homegrown technology companies have to aim for global dominance. It's not enough to just be a domestic supplier.
But what's missing? Why aren't we? You talk about here, and I know you've got tons of stats and great interviews in here, you talk about how the World Bank says Canada is the second best country in the world for starting business. But then it's like--
We exit early. We don't have enough scale-up funding available.
So it's just VC? Is that all it is?
Well, once we get companies out of the gate-- which we're great at doing, by the way. The incubator and accelerator ecosystem is fantastic across Canada now. We get them out of the gate, though, Kim, and then we fail to give them the real scale-up funding that they need to accelerate their growth and rise to global prominence, and export successfully.
So we've got a couple of examples out there now that are working. Hootsuite, Shopify. These are companies that are really actually on a solid financial footing and scaling globally. But think about what they're up against. Think about when they're up against companies like Amazon in the case of Shopify. It's really a challenge for them to continue to rise to global prominence if we don't feed them the funding and the talent that they need to continue to scale here in Canada.
It's funny. Because I was going through it. And I think for people who have worked in, I'll say, the community, meaning tech or VC, and you've got some names in here like Wattpad, or Haba and D-wave, and they're names I think people who work may know about, but I'm going to bet that a lot of people have never heard of them. And I think that's part of the problem too.
This is a huge part of the problem. We don't celebrate our successes. If we walk outside on Queen Street here right now everyone will know Elon Musk. They'll know Mark Zuckerberg. Most of them will know Bill Gates. A lot of them will know Larry Page. How many of them will know the founder Gordie Rose of D-wave? The quantum computer, the only working quantum computer. And it's Canadian.
But how do you fix that?
I think it's about celebrating our own successes.
But how do you celebrate?
We're just too modest. We're too modest. We have this idea that being loud and proud is an American way to approach things. But that modesty that we have, it comes at a huge price. Because now we're competing against the world. And entrepreneurs around the world are looking for the best place to locate their company. They're looking for global prominence. And they're not going to locate in Canada if our culture doesn't lend it to celebrating the successes that they can have here.
It's hard though, because you're asking-- I think you nail it in saying it's a cultural thing. But you don't just change a culture, right? So it's hard.
Well, and there's so many great things about Canada, right? What's amazing about this place and why so many people want to come here is we're open. We're kind. We're tolerant. We're diverse. We have a pluralistic population, a really well educated population, fair and strong health care system, strong democratic institutions, fair and modern health care.
Are we too comfortable?
But this is it, right? We have we have it so great right now that we're becoming complacent. And so my book is saying, we need to wake up. We need to get off the couch and strive for gold, because our amazing way of life here is under threat.
And what I like about this is it's not motherhood and apple pie. You go through some very specific examples of in the medical field and technology, just really incredible things that are going on.
Amazing things are going on.
And you also talk about Amazon. Not in here, but you've been writing about it. And I want to say here, because if you've been under a rock somewhere and you don't know, Amazon is looking for a new second headquarters. Places in Canada are lobbying for it.
And you actually say that this Amazon piece could be a modern Trojan horse attack on Canada's future prosperity.
It is a modern Trojan horse attack.
Well, the ancient Greeks used a Trojan horse to breach the city of Troy and destroy it. We need to wake up and recognize what the big US based technology companies are doing when they come up here. They're not coming up here for the benefit of Canadians long term. They already tap us as customers.
Everyone in Canada is already a customer of Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft. Probably all five of them in a lot of cases, but at least one or two of them. So they already tap us as customers. So why are they coming up here?
And in my opinion they're coming up here to identify our top talent, recruit them to their organization here in Canada locally, pay them less than they would have to in the United States. And then the real stars that rise to the top, they're going to relocate them to the US. It's a great growth plan for America. It's a great growth plan for those companies and their shareholders, which are predominantly foreign shareholders. It's not a great growth plan for Canada.
I've got 30 seconds. So what is the great growth plan for Canada? What do you do?
We aspire for gold. We get off the couch and use our smarts.
One of the people we talked to for the book actually said to us, Canada is like a kid with great genetics but that doesn't ever exercise. We just got to get off the couch, and use our smarts and creativity, and go for gold.
So just in 10 seconds, what does that mean? Like tactically what do I do? I'm fired up. Now what?
Aim for the top. Know that you can do it. Know that you can win. Know that you can own the category that you're operating in. Whatever business you're in, don't think of it as a small business. Think about ways to export and own your market globally.
Anthony, a pleasure. Thank you.
Thank you Kim.
Anthony Lacavera, he's founder of Wind Mobile and coauthor of a new book, How We Can Win: And What Happens To Us And Our Country If We Don't?