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Startups in Montréal (builtinmtl.com)
44 points by jordigh on Apr 4, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

I moved to Montreal last summer and spring, after years in Seattle and Berkeley. Then I gave up and moved back to Berkeley.


    + Bitcoin Embassy Montreal!
    + Really cheap hipster life
      + Wonderful cheap food
      + Walkable city
      + A French culture that values living, parks, & community!
    + Beautiful women, and lots of them
    + There actually is a tech scene!  Woah!
    + It's different

    - Less edgy culture.  Less individual extreme boundary pushing.
      People move in largish herds of friends.
    - Racist against people who speak English.  Language racism.
    - Corrupt government
    - McGill and Concordia are nowhere near as good as
      Berkeley and Stanford, and not even UW.
Overall, it has a culture that supports working for a startup or doing tech contracting work, but it lacks that revolutionary west-coast culture that I like to live inside of to take a stab at doing something breakthrough.

And language racism really sucks! On the upside, it's a great way for a white american male to experience being a discriminated minority.

(quebecers here)

Not language racism but english-phobia. Everyone that I know will switch to english to help people, but they expect that the reverse will be true too. You will be expected to at least attempt French. Attempting it will be enough and people will gladly help you out.

I lived in Montreal for 6 six years, as a student and for my first job. I speak a bit of French, but not much. One day in Place Ville Marie I was getting a coffee at Starbucks. I accidentally bumped into someone in line, and I said "sorry". He snarled at me angrily and said "Get out of here, go back to Toronto". I don't think I had never been to Toronto at that point in my life.

Mostly that does not happen. Mostly people are okay if you try to speak French. But if you slip up or bump the wrong person, your English can certainly make you the target of hateful and mean language.

There is also a forced, legal "racism" against language, in that it can be prohibitively difficult to start a company in English. There is a systematic approach where the government and the locals will make your life more expensive, more complicated and less likely to succeed unless you do fully understand French.

Edit: That said, I love Montreal. It's probably my favourite city in North America, I miss it tons and tons. I live in the Bay Area now, but feel like Montreal is my home and I can't wait to go back.

> There is a systematic approach where the government and the locals will make your life more expensive, more complicated and less likely to succeed unless you do fully understand French.

Sucks to say it so directly, but that's the point and people vote for exactly for that (people also vote against this, so don't put everyone in the same boat). There was abuse up to that point, so the laws are harsh now.

In our history, there was a lot of oppression agaisnt french speaking people so people are still pretty afraid. The only contact that anyone over 80 years old had with english speaking people are from oppressive boss that abused them at work. I do agree on that point that the older population can be racist, but anyone under 30 should be more understanding. https://simple.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quebec#Quiet_Revolution

Yup, you can forget a director-level position unless your last name is Tremblay or Gauthier. Grew up in Montreal and loved it, but bounced to SF the second I had the chance.

Quebecers are my favorite Canadians!

But there is definitely language racism, especially with the language laws.

Here are some examples to prove my point:

On a phone call with the government to renew an ID card, my bilingual Montrealler friend messed up her French grammar. The government agent said "I cannot understand you" and hung up the phone! Made her call back and wait on hold and be more careful with her grammar.

The Bitcoin Embassy put up a webpage for international Bitcoin trading targeted to people beyond Quebec who speak English, and yet the Language Police stopped them because they hadn't translated everything to French before publishing the page! The government prevents international business simply because it's not French enough. But the whole point of international business is to target OTHER people.

My friend is COO of a large, successful international enterprise software company (I won't mention the company). All his programmers use English keyboards, but his company will be shut down if they don't use French keyboards. So they keep a stash of French keyboards in the closet. Every few months, the Language Police do an inspection and they have to bring out the French keyboards and pretend that they are using them to do all their work as good French citizens.

This last friend has lived in BOTH Palo Alto and Montreal for the last 15 years, and before that lived in France and Iran. He says that Quebec is more Racist than France.

I've heard stories about inspection for the keyboards but never experienced it myself. I only have been working for the past 5 years but for something you say happen once a month, it look like I'm pretty lucky. I'm on an English keyboard by the way.

I guess there is language racism, people here are expected to speak English when most of us doesn't handle it that well. When we travel in an English country, we have to speak in English, when we travel to a Spanish country, we do our best to talk Spanish, we expect the same of you. Sadly even people that have been here for a long time doesn't even try to learn French. Most of the superior I had are only speaking English.

Don't you learn Spanish as a second language in US? How would you react if you would be expected to use Spanish that much?

> My friend is COO of a large, successful international enterprise software company (I won't mention the company). All his programmers use English keyboards, but his company will be shut down if they don't use French keyboards. So they keep a stash of French keyboards in the closet. Every few months, the Language Police do an inspection and they have to bring out the French keyboards and pretend that they are using them to do all their work as good French citizens.

Wow, French here, I find this most shocking. Can't the programmers use the French keyboard all the time but simply map it to the US layout (I do that myself).

Only the physical products need to be in french. The reason behind this is that an employee that doesn't know a word of english has to be able to use all the tools without having to ask for a french version (a french speaking employee in a workplace where the management is english speaking may get discriminated against otherwise).

My keyboard is french, but its layout is english and so is my OS and all my softwares. However, I had to change the language myself since everything come out of the box as french.

Of course there is racism, there is racism everywhere. The difference with Québec is that the racists are racist against wealthy white people who are not use to be on that side of the medal.

> So they keep a stash of French keyboards in the closet.

Here, even if we are french speaking, we simply stick french stickers on things. No need to buy extra products this way ;)

Stickers work too, but I'm guessing that in their case they just don't want to deal with applying stickers to a lot of keys and then removing them. We also had to put some stickers on vending and coffee machines.

We used to be audited every year but after we made a lot of progress they starting coming once every 2-3 years.

I think they started auditing after complaints, we're a manufacturing company in the suburbs with 99% French speaking employees but a lot of the stuff we had was English only. Fun fact, our parent company in Texas was careful and made sure we had French documentation/communication but French speaking office employees didn't seem to care.

It is sad to me that nobody in this thread knows what racism is.

'wealthy white people'

Like.. the... French Canadians?

I find this is a culture that pervades most of Canada (with perhaps the exception of Waterloo). It's a culture that follows, not leads and innovates.

We're all for pretending to be like Silicon Valley… but not trying anything new :)

In the tech sector, I would agree. In other industries, however, I would strongly disagree.

I'm just curious; which other industries?

Resource Extraction. For instance, just about every oil well drilled around the world likely has Canadian-developed equipment on it.

Exactly! Like in Seattle: a culture of fitting in, rather than standing out.

I'm sorry you had to go through some bad experiences. However I think you're unfairly judging the city:

Corrupt government: The fact that we talk about corruption does not mean its worse than elsewhere.

Quality of higher education: Well, you've left out the whole of French speaking universities. And what does "good" mean? Just looking at budgets, you're not comparing on equal footing: Stanford ~5.5 bn USD, Concordia <400 mil CAD.

Culture: Well, any way you look at it, you're comparing two very different environments. Historically extremely different, just take language as a factor, and you're also comparing arguably the most fertile region in the world in regards to computer science, with another region that has historically been deemed worth only of manual labor (pre 1960's).

And the big one, language racism:

I know literally no one who would qualify as a "language racist" in the same sense of "race racist", and I've lived here a quarter century. If you're coming to live in North America's biggest French speaking city, why are you surprised if people want to speak in French? Of course it's hard to learn, but I'd say Montreal is the best place to learn French for an English speaker, as you will not have trouble being understood anywhere.

I mean, would you find it reasonable for me to learn English if I wanted to work and live in Berkeley? Some friends of mine are moving to Italy and they have to learn functional Italian to be allowed to move (per them).

The language issue is the most annoying issue with foreigners or international students. Being in University so long I've had my share of discussions with such people, and a lot of the time the sentiment could be distilled to "I have many other things to do then learn French, maybe I'll do it when I have more free time, it's hard." To be fair, I've also met greatly motivated students who spared no expense to practice their new language. Just showing some interest/effort goes a long way...!

Come back anytime :)

In southern states some legislators have been trying to pass "speak English" laws for a long time. These laws seem to never get passed because they're deemed to be discriminatory. In Quebec however, those types of laws are here and being enforced. If you went to San Diego and told the guy with the Mexican food stand that he had to have English menus, you'd get called a racist.

As someone who has lived in Montreal my entire life and is perfectly bilingual, I can tell you I've had many discriminatory experiences while speaking English. Not to mention it's very easy to test these things out when you are able to do certain things in both English vs French to compare experiences. If you speak in English you often get a different, and more negative experience. Given that I speak perfect French, it's very easy for me to simply ignore most of it, but don't kid yourself, it's still there. Just because there's a bad history doesn't excuse the current state of affairs.

I also find, contrary to your experience, that it's those Anglophones who did not grow up here who tend to excuse the discriminatory laws and practices the most.

Well, you have to take the legislation in its context, which obviously I don't have to explain to you. You can't just compare Québec with the American South (read some Charles Taylor for more detail as to why). As for getting a negative experience when speaking English, that really depends on where you are in the city, but I'm surprised you'd get "lesser" treatment. I agree there are assholes everywhere.

My own experience on the Anglo side of town (i.e. further west of St-Laurent), is that a lot of people simply cannot speak French, but will usually understand you, and the conversation can be had in two languages simultaneously. I wouldn't consider this "negative" treatment, but it's definitely not ideal for social cohesion.

In the end, someone has to make the effort of learning another language, and that annoys some people.

been here 3 years and don't recognise your issues at all, I found it a friendly place.

I'm sure they loved you thinking they move in herds and are sub-standard to US schools tho.

So, you were in MTL for ~1 year? Working / studying?

I find it a bit troubling that you list beautiful women as a plus of a city, as if women were a natural resource like trees or clean water.

I also don't know what you mean about Montreal not being edgy enough. There's plenty of counterculture in Montreal. Did you ever spend a lot of time in Hochelaga?

The language laws have a very good historical basis. Used to be that the bosses all spoke English and the employees all spoke French. That's the reason for the language laws, so that nobody in Montreal cannot access local jobs due to lack of French and that nobody is ever spoken down in English. Seeing how the linguistic majority is French, think of it more as affirmative action than racism. It's about levelling a historically unlevel playing field.

>I find it a bit troubling that you list beautiful women as a plus of a city, as if women were a natural resource like trees or clean water.

As a Montrealer, I would say that we have beautiful people living here in general. OP is likely heterocentric in their commentary.

>Did you ever spend a lot of time in Hochelaga?

Not much of a tech scene...but incredibly progressive/beautiful attitudes. Also, very French. If you don't have the language, you're missing 80% of it.

I think a good bit of the incredibleness of Montreal is kept at arm's length through the language barrier.

I grew up mostly with English friends and never spoke French. These days, I spend a lot more time with French friends and I feel much more at home.

> I grew up mostly with English friends and never spoke French. These days, I spend a lot more time with French friends and I feel much more at home.

I went through the same, actually. I "grew up" in the McGill bubble, but when my French got better, it's like a whole other city opened up to me.

>I find it a bit troubling that you list beautiful women as a plus of a city, as if women were a natural resource like trees or clean water.

Seriously? It's like if I told a gay friend when they said they were thinking about moving to SF because (insert missing phrase) - that they were (insert missing phrase); who are you to say liking a type of people is wrong.

Cities are different - and I assure you that some cities have more beautiful people than others.

> language racism

That's not racism. Stop calling it that. Piggy-backing on the plight of actual victims of racism isn't cool.

Montreal is not known for its tech scene. Scrolling through this page, I can immediately identify:

- the "startups" that are a 1-guy team doing "disruptive-PASS-agile-SCRUM" consulting

- large, partially government-backed monsters where money is burnt and not much is produced

- the students who just built their first social photo-sharing app, wondering why they can't find any funding

I've heard of them from others or was offered jobs there - there isn't a lot to choose from around here. Salaries are low as the city is cheap. There are also good companies in that list (some great ones even), but I'd say it's pretty inflated.

I work remote for a US company with its headquarters in Europe, it's the best arrangement possible, I'd recommend it for others (paid USD, half-day overlap with coworkers = lots of time for quiet coding, trips to Europe often to catch up with team).

Odd that Hopper wasn't on the site. I guess that's because it's located half in Boston.

It's a great city, especially if you are sick of industry monoculture. Lots of very well educated and open people from all around the world (lots of old-school hippie folks too: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=montreal+tam+tams&t=iphone&iax=1&i... :))

You might as well download https://www.duolingo.com and practice a bit of French (seriously, try it - it's fun!) if you are too lazy for that a "salut-hi" will usually suffice to break "the ice" :)


I do miss Montréal though! <3

That's great!!

Montreal is the place to be. Open, not so expansive, with easy access to North American market and it's easy to recruit internationally.

Only one real problem: the brain drain to the US

And I'm not talking about subsidies or taxes because that's a similar problem everywhere.

The main problem is the salary. Startup are having a really low salary compared to other jobs in Montreal with often the speech of being part of the next big thing to compensate the salary. In the US, startups are offering very competitive salary which make it easier to have people going into startup.

I might add that the standard for both coffee and bars in Montreal is quite high, and also priced cheaper than the midwest. Montreal is truly a hidden gem.

ok that's enough now. ssssh.

Canada as a whole sees locals fleeing to the US for higher wages and lower taxes, primarily professionals as defined.

My favority is https://www.artstation.com/

So much inspiration.

Hard to beat their Alexa.com traffic growth:


Love seeing more prominent Canadian startups.

I'm always impressed when I speak to people from McGill too… they have a tech-focused culture that could rival Waterloo. Miles ahead of the University of Toronto.

How does Concordia compare to McGill? Those are the two main Anglophone universities, right?

Yes. I've never followed classes at McGill but Concordia was excellent. I mean, anywhere in the world you could be stuck with a sub-par teacher. The facilities (chemistry) were also great. Nothing to complain about.

I regret not going to McGill.

Any hot tips on places to apply to for junior mobile developer positions in Montreal? I am graduating in a month from a college in Ottawa with a diploma in Mobile Application Design and Development and need to start gearing up to find a job. I have experience in Objective-C iOS, Android and Cordova and am wrapping up decently large native iOS game for a school client project.

Gameloft? Not a startup, but they make games for mobile.


Shoot me an email w/ your CV : simon@tractr.net

I've heard vague tales of Canadian companies receiving tax incentives to do research, in the form of SR&ED credits. (http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/txcrdt/sred-rsde/menu-eng.html)

Does anyone have any concrete experience with the program?

I'm working on one of the startups mentioned on the website (although one that's buried way deep in the list).

What I know as a dev : My company pays an outside firm specialized in getting R&D credits for companies. I don't really know how much it costs and how much it brings in. Every quarter, all the devs have to sit down and do a kind of interview with a guy from that firm. We're a pretty standard SaaS platform so it's hard to really know what can be considered R&D from my point of view. During the interview, we go over our work for the last quarter and dig into areas that could potentially be considered R&D. We'll explain in details what are the technical challenges, how what we're doing is different than what's already available out there, if we did prototyping, research, user testing, etc... Then they write up a nice report and try to get us as much R&D credit as they can!

The credits are for "innovation", and it used to be that more or less everything was considered "innovation", and it was a huge joke, and basically every tech company that applied got tax credits. However, in the past 3 years or so, the government has cracked down on this and now it's extremely difficult and/or not worth the work that is involved to even apply for the credits.

Pain in the ass for the employees and everybody really. You have to fill reports for weeks about some vague stuff. And then they come to inspect and it's more pain and more time not actually working.

You can get help from third parties, but they take a big chunk of the money and they just make the process a little bit easier.

I'm really quite surprised that Montreal lacks the same sort of rent crisis that other cities like the Bay Area (or Vancouver and to some extent Toronto) has. Apparently they've got a surplus of condos for some reason?

For better or for worse, Quebec is a nation of renters. The rent laws are thus skewed in the favour of tenants. The rental board enforces the laws very strictly. Tenants can refuse rent increases and have many rights that are probably keeping prices down.


Interesting. How come there isn't a large influx of people moving into the city?

Montreal is still expensive compared to the suburbs. Urban sprawl and congestion on bridges at rush hour is a big problem.

Québec is the most taxed province in all of North America too and salaries are lower than most other places. It's all relative.

I think there is? Although we are second to Toronto by numbers.


It's a buyers market at the moment, you can get some good deals but I still think they're overpriced. Personally looking at Laval (just north of Montreal), where there are 3 metro stations and the train. It's cheaper and I'm betting on properties to increase in value in the coming years.

However should I make more money, I'd definitely stay in Montreal. I think I'd miss walking around shopping for groceries, going to restaurants etc. I hate commuting in cars.

I love Laval, used to lived there when I was younger but prices have become too high for me so I went a little more north to Saint-Eustache.

They also have rent controls to a degree. If you are in a rental they can only bump the rent ~5% per anum. Sad for the bankers and rentiers.

The biggest reason I won't do a startup in Montreal again is the need to make your product bilingual. It's a huge distraction when it's just you and one other person trying to find product/market fit.

So many pitches ended with "we'd pay for your product, but it needs to support French". You can guess what happened next, we wasted weeks supporting i18N, then translating to French, only to discover people didn't want the product, even with French support.

The rent, food, and (most) people were great though!

I'd love to work remotely from Maine for a Montreal based company if I could visit HQ once in a while. ;) I love both Montreal and Quebec City, albeit for different reasons.

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