Waterloo Region has a secret, underutilized  weapon in the global battle to start and scale tech companies, says noted author, marketing expert and venture capitalist Geoffrey Moore.

It’s the same weapon every Canadian tech centre has at its disposal, by virtue of the fact Canadian companies are not located in the United States.

Canadians, Moore says, “have a cloak of invisibility.

“You’re kind of like Harry Potter. So why the hell aren’t you using [the cloak] more aggressively?”

Chatting with Communitech News prior to delivering a Wednesday evening lecture entitled Inside the Tornado: What it Takes to Catch and Ride Your Next Wave, at the Tannery Event Centre, Moore described in exquisite detail the problem and opportunity facing Canadian tech companies. The rap on Canadian startups, he says, is they’re good at hitting the $50-million mark, but then they stall or exit.

“The thing that is so interesting is: You guys can build a company up to $50 million and have all of your customers in the United States, and you will be invisible to your competition. They will not be able to see you.

“Whereas, if you had started in Silicon Valley, they would have known about you before you had your first customer.”

That invisibility, he says, is an opportunity waiting to be exploited.

“You’ve got a new prime minister, you’re kind of excited about him. We’ve got a new president, who is scaring the hell out of everybody.

“So, this might be a time for Canada to make some fast tracks.”

Moore, whose seminal 1991 work Crossing the Chasm has sold more than a million copies worldwide, is no stranger to Canada, or Waterloo Region. He was a guest speaker at the 2014 edition of Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference. He has invested in Canadian companies and he is a partner at Wildcat Venture Partners, along with Canadian Katherine Barr, who recently sat on the federal government’s Advisory Council on Economic Growth.

Wednesday’s lecture, sponsored by Deloitte, Canon, Cushman & Wakefield and Norton Rose Fulbright and attended by 174, was focussed on startups and entrepreneurs, and drew on themes from Moore’s many books, including Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado, The Gorilla Game, Escape Velocity and, his latest, in 2015, Zone to Win.

“In entrepreneurship land, don’t fall in love with your solution,” he said. “Fall in love with the problem.

“Staple yourself to the problem and just do not let yourself get separated.”

Moore began his career as a teacher of English literature at a small college in Michigan. His university dissertation was on the 16th-century poem called The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spencer.

“Seven or eight people might have read it,” he said with a chuckle. “It’s not exactly down the middle of the fairway, but I loved it.”

Moore parlayed a love of stories and storytelling into a career as a marketer and then an author and speaker.

“Human beings make decisions based on narratives,” he said.

“And the more you spend time with venture capital [the more] you realize is that every pitch is a narrative. And when you’re deciding which narratives to invest in, you look at: Is the entrepreneur credible as the lead actor? Is the plot coherent? As you start to analyze the narrative, is it consistent, or does it have one of those surprise endings, you know, ‘And then I woke up.’

Every technology, he said, has a story.

“Or maybe more than one story.

“Entrepreneurs play make-believe. You have to. It’s the only way you can do it. There are no facts about the future.

“Narrative has to lead. The greater the amount of change, the more important [the narrative].

“It’s not just making up a story. It’s got to be a story that works.”

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.