Award-winning entrepreneur and investor Ray Walia has focused on making Vancouver a hub for technology and innovation for more than a decade. In this Q&A, the CEO of Launch Academy and co-founder and advisor of Victory Square Technologies shares his thoughts on life in the tech world.
Is Vancouver a major tech hub yet?
Vancouver has come a long way in the last 10 years. Larger tech companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, and Salesforce are setting up offices here, we’ve seen some homegrown successes, such as Slack, Hootsuite, Broadband TV, and Plenty of Fish, and our university programs, specialty developer bootcamps, and incubators/accelerators show that we’re committed to producing homegrown talent and nurturing foreign talent immigrating to Canada.
However, other cities and countries around the world are actively growing their own tech industries and ecosystems too, so we can’t sit idle and take our foot off the gas. We need to keep reinvesting in our industry and expanding our global reach.
Is that why you partnered with Canada’s Start-up Visa Program? How does it work?
Having built multiple businesses in Canada and invested in companies around the world, I’ve seen firsthand the benefits of building a tech company here in Canada, and the Start-up Visa Program enables talented entrepreneurs from around the world to do the same. As a designated program partner, Launch Academy can provide a letter of support to assist in a company’s application process.
We only recommend companies that have pre-existing relationships with us through our various programs. Those that don’t have a prior relationship with us can apply for Maple, a program we created to aid international companies with their growth and expansion in Canada and North America. Through Maple, we provide a landing pad with resources, mentorship, networking, and business matchmaking to overcome the challenges that occur when moving a business and family to Canada.
Your father immigrated to Canada and became a successful entrepreneur here. What does he think about your work?
My father’s still going strong and working away at construction sites through our family business. In fact, I helped him out just a few months ago, and while I was struggling to get a proper grip on some plywood I saw him—out of the corner of my eye—moving piles of wood on his own. He was putting me to shame. That’s when I realized I’ve been sitting at a desk for too long.
That being said, my father’s very proud of my accomplishments and knows that the knowledge economy is the future. He knows that even his traditional ways of doing business are on their way out, with upcoming tech like 3D printing, new integrations of tech in homes, solar power, and contributing energy back into the grid, etc.
With so much innovation like this happening around the world, how do you identify the “next big idea”?
Ideas are a dime a dozen, especially in today’s globally connected economy. What really matters is the ability to execute. It’s also important to note that execution doesn’t just boil down to a team’s abilities and skill sets—it also has a lot to do with the team’s network, access to experts, access to distribution, experience solving particular problems, and experience running a business. And you can’t forget that timing and luck are also very important factors.
What is it about the tech startup world that most inspires you? What gets you most excited at the start of the day?
For me, it’s really about the people I get to work with and collaborate with every day. They inspire me and motivate me to try my hardest to help them achieve their goals and be successful. Also, it’s a lot easier to build an online business on a global scale than a brick-and-mortar one, so that’s another big draw. And the challenges are dynamic, because the tech landscape is constantly changing and evolving with new emerging technologies, such as Blockchain, Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, etc.
Combined with the ever-evolving responsibilities that come with building a startup, it makes for a pretty interesting day-to-day life.
What do you find most rewarding about mentoring other entrepreneurs?
Helping them move past a massive roadblock. When you can show them that the challenges they’re experiencing aren’t career-ending—they’re just part of the process.
However, a guilty secret to mentoring is that I often learn more than I teach. Tech is changing so fast that no one is truly an expert in anything anymore—or, at least, not for long. So the onus is on entrepreneurs to stay current. Mentoring and advising other startups is one way to do this. It can expose you to new ideas, new technologies, new challenges, new solutions, and new industries outside of your own. These opportunities then, in turn, allow you to potentially strengthen your own business in ways that you may not have been exposed to if you’d just focused on your own day-to-day steps.
What one piece of advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Be patient. The “next big idea” is often idealized as an overnight success, but it’s so far from that. I work with entrepreneurs every single day and see the blood, sweat, and tears they pour into their work. The road to success is not linear, and the majority of entrepreneurs fail completely before they succeed. There are many days where it would be easier to give up on your own venture and go work for a big corporation, but there is truly nothing like the feeling of building something of your own from the ground up. You just have to be patient and surround yourself with like-minded people.
Is there a goal you haven’t achieved yet?
One of the challenges of being an entrepreneur is that you rarely feel satisfied or like you’re done. It’s easy to lose sight of great accomplishments because you’re still focused on what isn’t right, or on what could be improved just a bit more. My goal posts keep shifting, and I always feel like there’s more I can do and achieve.
What’s something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I haven’t done anything with it, but I have written a screenplay…
Michelle McRae is the managing editor of CPABC in Focus.
A shorter version of this Q&A was published in the July/August 2018 issue of CPABC in Focus.