Chris Albinson on Venture Capital and the Canadian Startup Ecosystem
Chris Albinson (@chrisalbinson) is Managing Director of Panorama Capital, a VC firm based in Silicon Valley. He’s also one of the founders of the C100. Chris is Canadian and a huge supporter of the Canadian startup ecosystem. He was recently in Montreal for AccelerateMTL, where he spoke on a panel of venture capitalists. If you watch the panel (which is definitely worthwhile) you’ll see where Chris stands on things: He wants to see more Canadian entrepreneurs make big bets and create $1B companies. It’s an aggressive and inspirational message. Not everyone on the panel completely agreed with Chris, but you can’t argue with his passion and the efforts he’s made to help Canadian startups succeed.We did a quick interview with Chris to learn more about his background and his thoughts on the Canadian startup scene.NextMontreal: How did you get into venture capital?Chris: It started in 1997 with Terry Matthews of Newbridge who asked me where my wallet was after I asked him to invest in a company, March Networks. We invested in 26 companies together after that. I was also an active angel investor for the last 15 years. After I sold my last startup Digital Island in 2002, one of my investors, JP Morgan Partners, asked me to join them to run technology venture capital. We spun our firm out of JP Morgan in 2007 to create Panorama Capital which I guess you could call my fifth startup.NextMontreal: Explain a bit of background around Panorama – types / size of deals, what you look for, areas of interest, etc.Chris: Panorama is a $240M fund that invests in the LOMOSO (Local Mobile Social) investments. We like to invest at the stage of product market fit and invest between $1-10M per investment.Chris: I have made over 30 investments in Canada over my career. Currently, we have investments in Belair (Ottawa), Fixmo (Toronto), and Tynt (Calgary).NextMontreal: How important is it to have local (Canadian) investors on board in a deal before you participate?Chris: It is very important especially at the early stages of building a business. We have great partners like iNovia, Extreme Labs, BDC, EDC, and Rho as co-investors. We can be the eyes and ears in the Valley to help our companies grow fast, but it is important to have partners on the ground close to the company.NextMontreal: Can you share some tangible results that have emerged out of the C100 and its activities?Chris: Wow, where to start. Our simple idea was to connect the 100 most accomplished Canadians in Silicon Valley with the 100 most promising startups in Canada. We have seen the power of an integrated innovation community for India (TIE) and Isreal (CICC) and believed that Canada could achieve the same. In a short 18 months, we now have 1,000 members, we’ve run 15 events, and brought on 100 Charter members. Most importantly, we brought 90 entrepreneurs down to the Valley for mentorship, business development, and help with financing. Twelve of those companies have now raised over $125M in US venture capital. The organization has had an amazing impact!NextMontreal: How do you handle the inevitable question from an entrepreneur, “Should we move to the Valley?”Chris: The short answer is “it depends”. The vast majority of my Canadian companies have not moved down and they have done exceptionally well. However, you need to be close to the pulse of innovation and close to your customers. For some companies, this means that they should move down, for others they just need to be present in other ways.NextMontreal: What do Canadian entrepreneurs have to do a better job of that’s “status quo” / “clearly understood” in the Valley?Chris: Canada has amazing entrepreneurs like Marcel Lebrun (Radian6), Derek Ball (Tynt), Terry Matthews, David Martin, Ted Livingston (Kik), Bernard Herscovich (BelAir Networks), and Rick Segal (Fixmo). The common element is that they go after big opportuinites, inspire confidence, want to build big companies, stay close to customers/competitors, pivot quickly, and are relentless. We need to celebrate this type of entrepreneur and we need more of them!NextMontreal: What are your thoughts on the growth of accelerators / incubators and the prominence of early exits these entities seem to inspire?Chris: It is a critical part of a healthy innovation ecosystem. You cannot have a forest without saplings. This is where people learn and grow and hopefully if the first company is not a home run the second one is. Marcel Lebrun is a great example of this.