Is 2024 the Year of Investor Restraint and Startup Resilience?

Episode 46 Is 2024 The Year of Investor Restraint and Startup Resilience (1)

Will 2024 will be another challenging year for startup founders?

The world bank came out with the following prediction for 2024:

“Global growth is projected to slow for the third year in a row—from 2.6% last year to 2.4% in 2024, almost three-quarters of a percentage point below the average of the 2010s. Developing economies are projected to grow just 3.9%, more than one percentage point below the average of the previous decade.”

They are dubbing it the “Weakest Half-Decade Performance in 30 Years”.

This is a so-called recession that never really came (because of low unemployment, despite higher interest rates) there are indications similar to what we’ve seen at the start of the Ukraine/Russia war (2 years ago) that set off an economic fallout that saw the steep fall of Crypto and NFT and, in parallel massive investment pullout from overvalued startups that received millions in funding during the pandemic.

This time while the global economy is in a better place, mounting geopolitical tensions. Innovation will take a hit as we’ve already witnessed at the end of 2023 with rising tech layoffs.

“Amazon saw the most workers laid off in 2023 (27,410 workers) followed by Meta (21,000), Google (12,115) and Microsoft (11,158)”. This continued as we ventured into the new year with more layoffs from Big Tech.

In the fall of 2023 David Wright, Investment Analyst remarked, “Investor returns in the VC industry have not always paid up for the risks involved in private investments.”

Wright noted that in the last 4 decades, VC fund performance had its ebbs and flows with the mid-to late nineties being the standout period. “The average returns from VC investments have consistently hovered around 9%, comparable to public markets,” but Wright highlights that the more telling metric is the “1.8% returns indicating that there is a disproportionate performance that favors a handful of VCs while the “majority have largely underperformed.”

Will investors be more measured and discriminating in their search for promising ventures this year? For founders, what is in store for them as the year unfolds and how should they be managing their businesses to improve growth, increase their visibility to investors, and to essentially weather this uncertainty?

We were pleased to host three seasoned startup advisors and investors:

  • Bryan Duarte – Bryan Duarte is a Social Venturist, Serial Entrepreneur, a Professional Engineer and has over 30 years of experience in the Energy Industry. He is the Managing Partner at BlackTech Capital and our newest EIR at Altitude Accelerator.
  • Glenn Nishimura – Glenn Nishimura is the Principal and Chief People Strategist at Nishimura Consulting, based in Toronto, Canada. As an experienced advisor, consultant, and mentor, he helps early and growth stage startups and scale-ups across North America, Asia, and Europe to build and optimize their teams, culture, and people operations.
  • Olga Cruz – Olga Cruz is a Senior Associate at impact investing firm Good & Well. She leads the impact management practice and sources, analyzes, and invests in early-stage Canadian businesses. Her prior roles involved investing in healthcare and agricultural innovations. She also dedicated her efforts to supporting entrepreneurs in conflict-affected regions, guiding them towards investor readiness.
Transcript

Hessie Jones

Well, 2024 would be another challenging year for startups. Well, the World Bank actually came out with the following prediction for this year. They said that global growth is projected to slow for the third year. In a row. From 2.6% last year to 2.4% this year, almost 3/4 of a percentage point below the average in the 2000 and. 10s. They’re also saying that developing economies are projected to grow just 3.9%, which is 1 percentage point below the average of the previous decade. They are dubbing this the weakest half decade performance in 30 years.

Hi everyone. My name is Hessie Jones and welcome to Tech Uncensored. This is the so-called recession that never really came, and the reason I say that is that we’ve had in in the last little while low unemployment, despite the fact that we’ve had high interest rates. But there are indications similar to what we’ve seen. At the start of the Ukraine-Russia War Two years ago that set off this economic fallout where we saw a fall of both crypto and NFT’s at the same time. There was this massive investment pullout from overvalued startups that received millions in funding during the pandemic. So this time, while the economy is in a better place, we still see mounting geopolitical tensions that will actually weigh in and influence what what happens with investment this year.

What we’ve seen in 2023 is something that we we continue to see at the turn of the the, the new Year with the rising tech. Layoffs. It was amazing to me how many workers were laid off last year. Amazon saw the most with over 27,000 workers Meta 21,000. Google and Microsoft, respectively around 12,000. So in the fall of last year, I spoke to David Wright, who’s an investment analyst, and he said, and I quote, investor returns in the VC industry, have not always paid up for the risks involved in private investments. So he noted that in the last four decades BC performance. Added as the ads and flows with the 90s being the standout period, but the average returns from VC’s have always consistently hovered around 9% compared to many of the public markets. But he highlights that the most telling metric is 1.8. Percent returns, indicating that there is this disproportionate performance that favors only a handful of BC’s, while the majority of them have actually underperformed.

So the question is, will investors be more measured and discriminating in their search for promising new ventures this year? For founders, what’s actually in store for them as the year? And how should they be managing their businesses, not only to improve growth but increase their visibility to investors and essentially weather this storm of uncertainty. So thank you everyone for joining. I’m pleased to.

I’m pleased to be joined today by three seasoned startup advisors and investors. And I will add them to the stage.

Welcome. Brian Duarte, who is a social venturist he is a serial entrepreneur, a professional engineer, and has over 30 years experience in the energy sector. He is a managing partner at Black Tech Capital and our newest EIR at Altitude Accelerator. Welcome, Brian.

And Glenn Nishimura is the principal and chief people strategist at Nishimura Consulting, which is based here in Toronto. He’s an experienced advisor, consultant and mentor and helps many early and growth stage startups and scale ups across North America, Asia, Europe, builder and optimizer, teams, culture and people operations.

And finally, last but not least, Olga Cruz, who is a senior associate. That impact investing firm good and well, and she leaves the impact management practice and sources analyzes, invests in early stage Canadian business. Her prior roles involved investing in healthcare and agriculture innovations, and she has dedicated her efforts to actually supporting entrepreneurs in conflict affected regions, guiding guiding them towards investment readiness.

So welcome everyone. Thank you. OK, so we have a full group today and I’m sure you all have your opinions on what’s happening with the economy and how this affects boundaries.

So let me start with Brian. Is David Wright correct? Investor returns in the VC industry have not always paid up to the risk of in private investment investments and more importantly, he says that there is this disproportionate performance that favors only a few VC’s.

Bryan Duarte

So yes, he is right, I mean. People, I think we exist in this myth that all VC’s, you know, overall it’s performing well, it’s doing well. But if you go and dig into the numbers, what he’s saying is absolutely correct and it’s borne out. If you look at 2121, twenty 20/20/2022, there was a lot of money thrown in by. VC funds VC. Firms into startups without, in some cases doing a lot of diligence, and I think the number I saw this morning, if you discount for large investments into companies like open AI, it’s $88 billion in write downs that has happened over over the last year. So yes, overall. The the industry hasn’t performed that well and it’s it’s. Favoring the seller. Few and that’s why I think going into 2024, you’re going to see a lot more investor diligence, right, not only from investors themselves in, in the funds, but investors looking at who to invest into. So where you look at that from the startup perspective, it’s going to take longer. Before they get money put into. Because investors are going to hopefully be doing more diligence, I mean, I could speak for myself. One of the things. That we do. We actually start working with founders well before we’re ready to make an investment to understand who they are, what they’re doing, what they’re building, and can we help them? Can we help them be successful? We’re not one of those venture funds. Just put the money in and hope the company is going to be successful. I think the smarter investors are going to be working closely with the founders, whether it’s connecting them or their networks, providing them different expertise that they’re going to need along the way as their companies grow. But it’s going to take a lot more diligence from investors to to break that. Cycle, but it’s still probably will be those funds that are doing those sort of things that are going to be successful and from the startup perspective, it’s going to take time as I just said.

 

Hessie Jones

OK, so I assume that you’re the same way like you build relationships with founders earlier on, before you actually start investing, right? And I know this is this is one way to to minimize risk in the future because you you know that they have something there they you like their team. You’ve built your relationship with them overtime, but you you also say that and I want you to respond to that. But you also talked about the fact that 2023, despite it being a tough year for startups. Is that the fear induced by the overall decrease in in funding led to this natural selection process that you call entrepreneurial Darwinism? So can you expand on that?

 

Olga Cruz

Yes, of course, has its soul. First the dress. What the brand was saying 100%. We want to meet the founders even before they are starting to raise and develop that relationship. I think that even the process of building an investment memo, it’s a chance to see if you can trust this person to understand if you can work with them so. Definitely is a key part of the due diligence and the and how we build. Friendships and then back to your question about entrepreneurial Darwinism. So 2023 was certainly a year that impacted investor confidence. And I mean, you’ve probably seen that overall global funding decreased by 30%. Six year low, so definitely funders are paying way more conservative and valuations have been recalibrated. And I think that here what is really exciting now is that we get to see who are the founders that survive. So I don’t mean that it’s the law of the jungle and that everything can be justified, even going beyond business. Bit but what I’m trying to say is that it’s really exciting to see now who are the founders that survived based on the creativity they were. And and these are usually qualities that we see blended in the. For social entrepreneurs, because for them it’s about admission is not just something that they’re doing to get some money. For these founders, it’s about it’s part of their DNA. So you see that this. And you see how they’re actually building long term value and more sustainable business models. So I think that’s probably what we will see a bit more in 2024. In fact, I would say that January has been a month in which the founders that we’re meeting are actually not just providing the milestones and showing the traction, but also showing how they have been managing their cash flows, how. They’re going to reach break even, so those are some of the key differences that we’re seeing right now.

 

Hessie Jones

OK, thank you. And so Glenn, I’ve gone, I’ve gone gone on this panel because you you look at things a little bit differently from the founders perspective and so you you see how a lot of these outside forces are actually impacting companies internally within their teams. And within the organization so. What did 2023 look like for a lot of these founders and and you know, what do you see in terms of, you know, how how maybe some of them are fortunate than others? And did they behave differently and in in the last year or so?

 

Glenn Nishimura

Yeah. What a year it was. I can definitely tell you from a people perspective, the general mood was was similar to how most of us feel just before we go to the dentist, and that’s to say fear and worry. I saw a lot of team anxiety last year. It was definitely higher than usual. Not surprising. Given the fact that we had, as you mentioned before, layoff news on an almost daily basis, not just one or two key executives, but 50 people, one day, 100 people the next day, 200 the day after that entire companies folding. So it left a lot of people wondering, Oh my God, am I next. When’s the hammer going to fall? If I do stay, am I going to take on more work? I don’t get paid enough. Maybe I should brush up my resume just in case, you know. So that leads, it leads to a lot of sleepless nights for a lot of people. And I think culturally it. It soured what was otherwise a fun and very enjoyable place to work. I think the only people who probably who weren’t worried at all were the senior engineers and working in AI. You know, we’ve seen our salaries jump about 12% just in the last three months alone. So they’re sitting pretty. But yes, Founders definitely had it roughest, especially first time founders who hadn’t gone through this kind of thing before. 1 client of mine in Europe, he was contemplating with his Co founders, a third round of layoffs last year. And another client of mine in Singapore, they were they were pretty much choking up when we were talking about who was potentially on the chopping block and how they were going to actually break the news and handle all of those layoffs. So yeah, it was. It was a year that was very stressful and I think it’s a year that a lot of startup founders. Would rather soon forget.

 

Hessie Jones

Yeah, I don’t know it. It seems to be rolling over this year and I I think the one thing that I I want to point out and I I just listening to the news and then just watching the stuff that’s happening on Wall Street.

It it seems like there’s the layoffs happen and then because of a bottom line thing, they did meet specific goals. And then what we end up seeing probably in the next. Few months is that there are going to be people that will be rehired and.

 

Glenn Nishimura

Yeah, that’s. That’s unfortunately the ebbs and flows of the way this industry works, you know, so you know, not, not surprisingly, the fortunate ones who actually fared a little bit better than others. They were probably among the smartest. Because they were the ones who didn’t massively or needlessly over hire during the boom time. So they didn’t have to lay off as many people or go through as many rounds of layoffs as. Other people, and if they did lay people off, they managed to get away with doing it only once, even if it was an exceptionally large number, they only had to do it once, you know? They followed the old adage we have of cut once cut deep. Because if you have repeated layoffs, and especially if they’re very close together, it’s usually a good indication that the initial cuts weren’t. Deep enough.

 

Hessie Jones

Right, right. And and that’s the unfortunate thing is everything’s tied to certain metrics. And if you don’t hit those metrics then you know a fallout happens. So Brian, let me let me ask you this. You yourself see that maybe this could be a pivotal pivotal maybe year for generative? AI, or AI in general, we’re starting to see parts of it after, after last year, making slides within, like across industries for productivity, for content management. And now it’s starting to. To make its way like across organizations, how do you think in General AI will play out?

 

Bryan Duarte

In general. For one thing, it’s become a general buzzword. So everyone, everyone is following AI. Almost every single tech company I talked to has AI involved, so you part of it’s going to be. If I look at the investor perspective or even the consumer perspective. Doing a deep dive into truly what is AI for that particular company? Is it just some simple machine learning where they’re able to analyze a large data set or is there more depth to it? What is the data sets? What’s the model? So there’s a lot of components to AI, but it is definitely something that’s. Even when it is exploiting, I mean you’ve got companies out there that are using it for reasons to either lay off or not hire. Certain people, and we know that it can make better decisions you look at, say, doctors for example and the amount of times that they’re wrong, you know, but yet they don’t have exposure and individual doctor doesn’t have exposure to the latest techniques happening all the way around the world from in the space-time sustainability and clean tech. What’s the latest? What’s going on? So being able to use AI to analyze what’s happening in the different areas to be able to do predictions off of that analysis to fill in the gap? It’s going to be a crucial component and so the successful companies this year are going to be those that are able to exploit an AI’s capabilities, but also combine it with their own own own knowledge and their own way of putting it. Because I know you may have mentioned that, you know, general intelligence. You know or general is is on its way. I think that’s a long way away. I don’t see that as coming anytime soon. However, being able to be creative and that’s what we as human beings are good at. So being able to take that creativity and utilize the tools AI to me is just another tool. It’s no different than you know, when the Internet came to our capabilities. How can you use it? Those that can utilize use it, utilize it and make the best. Utilize are going to be doing the best, so definitely a key thing and understanding how to use it is going to be critical.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. So Olga, when we talk about, you know how perspective ventures make themselves a little bit more visible to investors, you talked about the importance of alignment. So what does what does this mean for you?

 

Olga Cruz

So as he when everything is going right, usually there is, there is very little friction between the cofounders. The relationship between the founders and the investors or the syndicate as a whole. But in the. Area of entrepreneurship. That’s not always the case, and they’re going to be ups and downs. And then when things start becoming a bit more challenging, that’s when you realize the need of having people. That are truly aligned with your goals with your long term vision. So at that point, you really want people by your side that agree with your values and that actually care about you. So, you know, founders need to truly understand what the strategy of their investors, what are their expected. Patients. If, for example, they’re expecting an exit in a couple of years and they just want to prioritize short term. Gains or if they can be more flexible because of that commitment to that long term goal. Also I think that sometimes founders don’t realize that they might get pushed in a certain direction. They might have to compromise some things that. Really matter to them, that’s just because that’s what investors want. So from the beginning, knowing how you’re gonna build a cup table and who you’re going to bring in is definitely key for the success of any venture. And the same thing applies within the same. Great. So one of the things that I have certainly learned over my career has been that bringing other investors that are also aligned to participate in the early stages of the venture. Definitely the risks, the investment, and one way you’re a little bit more. Yeah, you know that you have other people that can contribute with with following investments, but at the same time to what Brian was saying, if you know that they’re going to support the founders in different ways, they’re going to also introduce them to other people in their network. Then you can definitely. Expect better returns and better performance when you are bringing other people into the table that can contribute and that have that same vision. So that’s that’s one thing and then you were asking how to make the founders a bit more visible. I think that that’s when accelerators such as altitude play a key role. I actually participate in over the summer over several workshops and. Yeah, several cohorts that are supporting entrepreneurs. So that’s a key way how we can get to learn a little bit more about them. Usually it’s even better when you get to meet them through a process in which you are just like supporting them with their strategy with their your teams for example, and you get to know and build that relationship, you get to know them. Better and yeah, definitely later when they start racing then you can even accelerate the process and you have already learned a lot about them. And yeah that’s that’s one of the key things that.

 

Hessie Jones

I want to turn to to Glenn on this one, because Olga, you talked about, you know, ways that they can. Be more visible to investors and maybe things that they need to learn or or need to improve on. For programs, let’s say for accelerators, there’s so many of them out there, and we’ve actually noticed that we even within the accelerators. Case there is, there is a softening in the market in terms of the number of companies that are that are actually applying there are there are accelerators that are saying that we we’re not seeing the number of startups coming in for help like we used to. Do you see this as something? Off the list this year, the number of of they start up boundaries that might become a little bit more insular in 2024.

 

Glenn Nishimura

I I think that’s likely to continue. Yes, I think this is going to be a a year of conservatism still despite the fact that everyone is hoping for a better and brighter back half of this year. I think a lot of my startup founder clients, they’re hunkering down, they’re playing it, they’re playing it safe right now, so. I think this is still a good time to still get in touch with accelerators then and and have them help you, but I think a lot of them are still kind of taking a cautious optimism sort of perspective on on this year, but. I’m encouraging startup founders to just reach out and talk to people for for this year and see how they can maintain that momentum and still stay agile without necessarily going gangbusters and then finding themselves in trouble again.

 

Hessie Jones

Right. OK. Thank you, Brian. So clean tech is, is is actually growing a lot I think probably because we have so many problems we need to solve and we have to solve them pretty fast, right? Otherwise Mother Nature’s going to have to get us. But what do you think is in store for this sector? In 2024, especially with the potential softening in the investment.

 

Bryan Duarte

I mean there there’s a couple of aspects of that. The the good news for the clean tech sector is that governments still continue to put money towards them, you know, here in here in Canada, we’ve got, we’ve got different things. Hopefully the whole SDTC debacle. That’s all sorted out soon, and because that was a great source of funding for clean tech sustainability. Companies. However, there’s other initiatives that are out there. There’s a lot of different initiatives in the US and a lot of different foundations. So when you start talking about what else is available going out for foundation. So what I advise clean tech companies is put a plan in place, put a plan in place of where you want to go. And look towards what you’re solving. And where there may be a match, one of the best companies that we have, they’ve already mapped out well five years into the future, OK, we know we need VC type funding to cover off our operational costs. But because of the space we’re involved in, it’s going to take massive project costs to meet them. So what foundations? Institutions can can back them, so start mapping out of a plan and go looking what grants may be available to see there. So that is an exercise onto itself. And again, going back to what you’re Glenn was saying. Bringing in and it’s not, you know, yes, be conservative of what you’re doing, but do not ignore accelerators. Look to see what accelerators could be aligned that can help you with that mission. And I would say a lot of accelerators, there’s a lot of similar content. So really look and spend some time digging in when you’re looking at the seller who the people are in there. That can help you with that and and connect you to whether these grants and so on. Another big untapped area for clean tech. Is corporate funding a lot of corporations are looking to either decarbonize what they’re doing or to beef up their environmental initiatives. And So what corporations may align with what you’re doing, and that may be the source of funding, may be a source of customers. The best problem to solve is a problem that somebody already has. I mean, we know in this industry you’re either solving for product. Market fit you’re solving for team or you’re solving for scale and I for me, when I look at companies in the clean tech space, I want to make sure the team is the right to. So that’s the same thing that Olga was talking about. We were talking about before. There’s the teams, the values aligned or they have the right mentality. Framework. Are they coachable? So great that one’s in place, so that’s a definite thing for any type of company, including clean tech. Companies making sure that and now when you look at product market fit, if they’re looking at corporations and seeing what are corporations problems, what are the things out there that we can solve or how does that align with something. And our solution they can be a great source of funding as well as a great source for customers. So then the only thing you should be solving. Or is how to scale up and how do we reach the sizes that are needed to make that big impact that they’re looking for in the clean tech space? So a huge opportunity. To me it’s the. It’s a great space to be in and so much is going to be changing and coming and will be changing rapidly because yeah, mother nature’s not going to sit back and say, oh, that’s OK, we won’t worry about forest fires this year or floods or, you know, massive environmental disruption. And we we’ve caused it and it’s going to come at a faster pace so. Getting to those solutions quicker is what we need, OK?

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you, Olga. What do you think like what do you are there other opportunities within the clean tech space for founders this year?

 

Olga Cruz

Fascinating space and definitely we’re hoping that will come back, but you can already see that there are many older foundations that have committed to use their capital for clean tech. And I would say that maybe something that is improving is that before we would see more capital for like serious. The investments and I think that that’s changing a little bit and now it’s a bit more available for early stage founders. So it’s it’s definitely a great time for founders to start building in this space. It’s urgent. It’s where also more capital is coming in. We’re also seeing the well 2024 is going to be the first year in which the Social Finance Fund that is backed by the Government of Canada will start reaching the entrepreneurs as the fund the fund managers have started deploying their capital. So definitely it’s a space that it’s picking up. I was reading this morning the CDC report of 2023 and one of the things that they mentioned. Was that the top performing companies were actually the companies that were in the fintech space and space related to sustainability. So yeah, it’s a it’s a good place to be investing in.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. So, Glenn, I’m just going to touch on something that you said in an article you said with cheap money and high valuations, came the boundless optimism that the good times would never end. So what are the implications of this and the lessons that like boundaries this year can take with them?

 

Glenn Nishimura

I think in some cases the the biggest implication and arguably the most dangerous is simply the development of hubris. You know when you have easy access to capital and all of your friends and your family. Are are, you know. Saying that your company is worth some insane and unrealistic valuation, it’s very easy to start believing that you’re invincible, and that can start creating some very serious blind spots. So in terms of lessons, what I’m encouraging my founder clients to do this year are three things on the people. Point #1 don’t just work on your PMF, as Brian was saying. Work on your PCF, your people and culture fit because this is going to be foundational. To your growth, absolutely. #2 take care of your existing team. You know, especially if you’ve laid people off recently, you will find that morale is extremely fragile right now. So you have to stabilize and control any bleeding before you completely hemorrhage out. And if you’ve never done a stay interview before in your life, now is a great time to start. And once things do start to improve and we’re starting to get a sense of that right now. Don’t stop. Don’t stop caring. Don’t stop investing in your people because ideally you should be checking on the pulse of your people and how your culture is doing as frequently and as intently as you would your financials. I would love to see it have that same degree of emphasis and. Focus and 3rd don’t stop recruiting. You know, you don’t necessarily have to hire right now, but you have to keep looking. You have to keep talking to people. It’s absolutely imperative that you keep that talent pipeline full at all times because the worst time to start looking for people is when the economy turns around and everyone is fishing from the same. Pond as you. Are you know that’s way too late? You have to get your hooks in early.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. That’s actually a good segue into the. The next question because Olga had this this interesting quote about it being more important than ever to bring our humanity to work. And so this is what you said. Like you said, whether you call it stakeholder capitalism, conscious capitalism. Or some variation. This approach simply flows from bringing our whole selves to work, and organizations make better decisions when they make full full that they make room. Sorry for the full scope of people’s values, concerns and capacities. Can you expand a little bit on that? I want each of you to to kind of. Respond to what this means to you. Olga first.

 

Olga Cruz

So we’re often thought that we need to park or he wanted to work to our humanity. The door to the business but. What we’re hoping we can see this year is more people, more investors, more founders, bringing that humanity to work. You know, we have seen that individuals, businesses, society is where way more resilient that we thrive when we can operate from that place. From that place of, just like being kind, thinking about the people that is around us, that is working with us and expanding our sense of belongingness. You know when you do that, that’s when you’re actually empowered. When you’re taking more responsibility and on one hand it brings fulfilling. Sense to life, but at the same time, if you want to see it just from like a very rational perspective, it actually improves long term value as you’re improving all of your environmental, social and governance aspects. So regardless if you have an impact focus or. Not you still want to have at least a minimum threshold of these practices, and they’re very easy ways. How you can check on how you’re doing. One tool that I highly recommend is ESV. We see. So it’s a very simple assessment to just like check on how are you doing what’s happening with your team. Are you actually prioritizing their well-being? How is the diversity of the team? What’s happening with the oversight of the company? So it’s? Definitely something that just can’t be. Forgotten. And it’s something that is definitely gonna help us in this year to thrive US society.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. That’s very well said, Bryan. What do you think?

 

Bryan Duarte

I mean, what all they said was great. I mean it it it’s so key and so important I tell people all the time solving the climate crisis is not really a technological challenge. I mean, we have technological things to develop, but it’s a people. Knowledge. It’s about culture changing behavior. So all that starts inside of a company. You know, if you’re bringing your humanity, as Ola said, if you’re bringing yourself to work and you’re looking, how do you feel about this? How do you feel about why you’re solving this problem that will come across in how you solve the problem? So it it’s a, it’s a very critical component for me. You know, we go back to talking about values. One of the values that’s important to me. Is it is love and people, it’s not love in the romantic sense. You know, if you have love for the people you work with, if you have love for your customers, if you have love for the planet, you’re gonna make better decisions than if you are just chasing a dollar. So and and again in to me where we’re looking at having this big impact. Have an impact on the climate. All that has to come into play. Otherwise, if it’s just about the dollar or if you’re in a company about the next fundraise and not where the company is going for the. Future or or. Or the that big mission that you started off with? You’re you’re bound to fail in the end. You you may get a payoff as an individual, but why? You set out to do it will not carry forward if you don’t pay attention to all those humanity aspects of it. I mean all the couldn’t. Have said it better.

 

Glenn Nishimura

Yeah. Kudos to to Olga as well. I think she captured this perfectly because I’m really happy we’re talking about this essay, because this really is the backbone of the kind of culture that I want every startup to have. You know this level of vulnerability, empathy, open communication. This is what attracts the brightest minds to join your company over another company, right? It has nothing to do with gobs of equity or getting company T-shirts or unlimited cans of Red Bull. You know, this is really what attracts the brightest minds and. At particularly in this type of environment and atmosphere, it’s also what keeps those brightest minds from jumping ship when the going gets tough, it’s what keeps them in the game. But that said, you know, creating an environment like this is not easy. It takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of focus. And I think a lot of startup founders. Just assume that it’s going to happen organically. It’s just going to happen by default. It’s going to happen overnight. I’ll just cross my fingers it. It can’t be. It doesn’t work that way. It has to be part of a deliberate plan that the entire company is committed to. And as I tell my startup founders, it has to be embedded in every practice and system that you have, particularly as it evolves around people. So stop hiring people based on experience and skills. Stop assuming that someone with 10 years of experience must be twice as fast, twice as smart, twice as skilled as someone with five years of experience. It doesn’t work that way. This is what we should be leading with. This is the kind of foot that we should be leading all of our hiring and interview questions and then everything else is just a nice add-on because if you don’t have this, you don’t have.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you that that was amazing from all of you. I feel like we’ve covered so much. I’m going to ask one last question, but I I don’t know if there’s any more add to this. I’m going to ask it anyway. So from all your perspective, what should startups do this year differently? Given the economic outlook, and if you do have advice to to aspiring new founders, what would that be? So I’ll start with Olga.

 

Olga Cruz

So Brian was saying earlier that you feel the startups are solving for the same issues. So when we go through the lists of the the hundreds of companies that we have evaluated in the previous years and we see the reasons why we have passed, usually it comes to the same. One scale, so there are many. There are many advantages of building companies in Canada, but also even if you just think about the size of the population, that also results in sometimes limitations. To scale so one of the things that we usually encourage founders to do is to think beyond the Canadian borders and think when it’s possible. To, you know, like venture into the US to think about North America as a whole and to like from the very beginning, think how can they be, how can they build defensibility? Let’s one then the second one would be usually product market fit and I mean one, we know that resources might be limiting right now, but that’s when you have to be very resourceful about how you’re going to prove that traction. How you’re going to demonstrate that there is an appetite for your product, for your service and some of these things that I usually recommend is building wait lists, creating distribution agreements. Even like just making sure that you’re speaking to your customers, that you’re like Co developing the products and services with them, that’s already something that demonstrates that you are on the right way. So that’s something else. And then finally, back to your question. But what would we recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs? I would say that again. You know, like there has never been a better time to build a company that. That is mission driven. I would say that overall when it’s it’s urgent, we know that summer will come soon and we don’t want to see this forest fires. There are many challenges that we have right now. So there are many problems to solve. There but also. There is an increasing appetite from investors and yeah, we we definitely want to see the ecosystem growing and we have many advisors around willing to support these entrepreneurs. So certainly I would say take 2024 as a call to action and start building also from your heart on what are the things that can improve people’s lives that can truly improve environment.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you and Bryan.

 

Bryan Duarte

Yes, there’s a a couple of things that I say startups should do in 2024. To me, one of them is diversify your team. You know, we we’re supporting underrepresented founders in the climate, tech, clean tech space and it’s not. Just because those are the ones that have been passed over haven’t got the investment, but we also see they tend to be more resilient if you’re not founder from anyone under underrepresented groups, you usually have to do more with less. So going into 2024, you know, or coming even going through 2023, those founders are the ones that I saw. You helped to stretch out the capital that was given for that. I think Glenn had said, you know, it’s not about going and looking what’s the next big capital raise, right? It’s how can you work with what you’ve had, make that stretch longer. So if you know, if you’re a small team, OK, maybe going and getting another team member is not necessarily the easiest, but you can diversify by looking at who do you reach out to as advisors. Who do you bring in and in the team that way? Because if they all either went to the same schools that you did or or or look like you did, they aren’t going to have one sort of perspective. So the more you can diversify your perspective and diversify your. Thought to me that that is one thing you should be looking at going into 2024. The other thing for aspiring founders is I love what Olga said leading from your heart and leading to solve a big problem that you’re passionate about or or passionate future, but also go and talk to customers. About it, before you build anything, I still remember one of the entrepreneurs I was mentoring her before. She had this great idea and what she wanted to do, but I just kept encouraging go out, talk to people, go talk to the potential customers for this product and relies as much as what she thought thought she was solving. It’s great there wasn’t a demand for it out there, so she pivoted and changed into something where there’s the demand. So even before you build anything as an aspiring founder, make sure you first talk to customers or potential customers and it’s easier than you think and see are people really willing to get this by it, you know, and it’s a. And it’s a bit of a challenge when you’re looking to disrupt something or disrupt an industry, but getting that good understanding before you go out and put a lot of time and effort into building something is key. And again, you know, speaking to, you know, accelerators like altitude can be really great and helping you get that.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. I like what you said thought about the the diversity angle because as you know, I’m sure you all know that there is a war on DEI right now, especially in big tech because. From their perspective, it’s the thing that’s slowing down progress and if they have to get, you know, representation and different perspectives. People, the people that normally make the decisions, it just frustrates them to to all hell. So let’s keep pushing for diversity in not in teams and as well as perspectives. OK. Finally, Glenn, what do? You think?

 

Glenn Nishimura

Agree totally. What everybody is saying. Thank you very much like groupthink is, is very dangerous, particularly for a growing startup. Yeah. First of all, I think when the economy and and all of its associated parts starts to improve, I would tell start up founders to not. Step on the gas and start hiring like crazy to make up for lost time. I believe it’s a misnomer that growth and success and the size of your team have a proportional relationship. They don’t. Small teams can accomplish some very big things and yet we are conditioned. Many startup founders are conditioned to think the larger the better. As you all know, a lot of startups bulked up over the last few years. They thought that they could execute better and execute faster if they had more people. But a lot of them were in for a nasty surprise when they realized that it was exactly the opposite. That these larger teams actually added friction, they actually added complexity, and the Founders realized that they didn’t have the leadership skills or the structure or the systems or the people and communication strategies that are necessary to underpin all of that growth. So and my last piece of advice for startup founders, regardless of whether it’s one person or two people or even an independent contract. Doctor, if you find yourself in the unenviable position of having to lay people off this year, and as we’ve been saying throughout this show for the you know, we’re two months in and we’re still seeing it continue. I would only ask that you please do it compassionately. I can. I can tell you horror stories of of some very impersonal and cold ways that people were laid off last year. And that’s not the way we should be doing it. That’s not the way we should be developing our our company brands and it’s not the way that we should be doing things as as human beings. So if you do have to lay people off, please do it respectfully. Please do it compassionately and also don’t just consider you know how much somebody earns or what their job performance is like or what their job title is when you’re deciding who to let go. Right. Think very carefully about each individual’s future potential. Think about who lives your vision and your values, and who actually contributes to the type of culture that you ultimately want to build. Because when all of this negativity and all of this economic downside begins to improve and we’re starting to see signs of that already. You need to have the very best people. Standing with you in order to rebuild.

 

Hessie Jones

Thank you. That on on that beautiful closing note. Thank you, Glenn. That’s all we have time for today. So I thank Brian, Glenn and Olga for joining us. If you want more details on on this topic, we actually wrote a beautiful article about is 2024. The Year of Investor Restraint. And startup resilience. It’s on our website, altitudeaccelerator.ca. I invite you to check it out. Also in in our audience. If you have any topics that you want us to cover, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us by e-mail communications@altitudeaccelerator.ca. Thank you again for joining us. And in the meantime, have fun. And stay safe.

Host Information
Hessie Jones

Hessie Jones is an Author, Strategist, Investor and Data Privacy Practitioner, advocating for human-centred AI, education and the ethical distribution of AI in this era of transformation. 

She currently serves as the Innovations Manager at Altitude Accelerator. She provides the necessary support for Altitude Accelerator’s programs including Incubator and Investor Readiness. She will be the liaison among key stakeholders to provide operational support and ultimately drive founder success. 

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