I lived in Montreal for three years, or four winters, depending upon how you count.
I believe that Montreal has the most important element necessary to become an open-source startup hub, namely a lot of good talent. The language barrier exists, but is not strong enough that it has hindered any open-source efforts in Montreal (as far as I've seen).
The main hurdle to Montreal becoming any sort of startup hub is cultural. IMHO, Montrealais are not very opportunistic in starting and pursuing business.
I don't think this is Montreal-specific in any way, many cities are like this.
I think people are inspired most of all by other people they meet in their day-to-day lives, not images on TV or in media. The current difficulty is that Montrealais have very few positive role models around them, to show how it's done. In SF or NYC, you could easily move in a social circle that contains a successful business entrepreneur. "Oh, if he could do it, then I can do that too!" But most people in Montreal don't happen to know a successful tech entrepreneur, not even as an acquaintance in passing.
Note that I have found that Montrealais ARE very opportunistic when it comes to social entrepreneurism. Witness social events The Strip Spelling Bee http://stripspellingbee.blogspot.com/ (and other productions by Perpetual Emotion Machine Productions, like Slow Dance Night), musical innovation particularly in low-fi and DIY subgeneres, and non-profit activism like Head and Hands.
But business ambition is regarded with skepticism at best, and is generally considered a form of elitism and lack of social consciousness.
Having said that :) I'd like to point out that there were more than 700 attendees at StartupCamp last month. A relatively good portion of those people were not skeptical at all about business ambition. They have embraced entrepreneurship! They are opportunistic!
I think what happens when you have a social circle that contains successful entrepreneurs is you get better at business development and salesmanship by osmosis. You are more likely to pitch a million dollar deal if you're friends with a guy who did that a week ago.
Another commenter pointed out, Montreal use to compete on price and probably still does. I think it will take a while for the low cost crap to leave our bones. But that's already starting to happen ... so we'll see.
>>>Note that I have found that Montrealais ARE very opportunistic when it comes to social entrepreneurism. Witness social events The Strip Spelling Bee http://stripspellingbee.blogspot.com/ (and other productions by Perpetual Emotion Machine Productions, like Slow Dance Night), musical innovation particularly in low-fi and DIY subgeneres, and non-profit activism like Head and Hands.
Seriously, though, I recall visiting during YAPC, and the after-hours conversations slipping between English and French (and back) mid-sentence.
I really enjoyed the city, but if you want to fit in with the locals, learn you some French (or English).
(I should add that, personally, I don't see this as a negative. My French was pretty darned rusty, but it still made things fun. And everyone was quite cool and easy-going about it, perhaps because I was an American (i.e. culturally challenged ;-) ).
Anyway, I was in a bar one night in Montreal and asked a waitress the best thing that I could do to improve my French. "In all honesty," she said, "you have an accent, so you're allowed to try". Basically, if you're Canadian, expect to have a hard time practising your French in Quebec. If you're not Canadian, however, have at it!
Now I don't know how true it was, but I did give it a shot and didn't do too badly... Oh yeah, and had an awesome time: I can't wait to find another excuse to go back!
All in all, it's only a question of motivation. If you're focused and you keep practicing, you will get better... the trick is to prevent people from switching the conversation language (back to English) when they see you're having a hard time.
Bonne chance :)
Having said that, I agree: everyone should be giving it a go. I live on PEI so it's a bit harder, but trips to New Brunswick are great as you see the English / French mix there as well: I think the bilingualism is amazing.
No kidding. What Montreal has going is pretty impressive, but Quebec has an abnormally high personal income tax rate and the language issue is always going to hang like a cloud over it. I know everyone in Montreal speaks english, but the default is French and all public signs are too. While some Canadians will put up with that because our country is founded on playing lip service to bi-lingualism, I can see it as a massive barrier to importing American talent in.
While France isn't nothing (60 million people with a bit less disposable income than the US), USA+Canada+France is less than 20% bigger than USA+Canada.
I was very surprised when I started working in the US and encountered this concept of "internationalization". ;)
I'm not saying it's a killer advantage, but it could be leveraged.
It should be noted that France itself has many regional accents that are quite strong.
Also to be noted, there is a steady flow of young French people immigrating to Montreal.
On top of that, for the reasons above as well as others (including their accent), people from France really dislike listening to people from Montreal speak 'French', and will avoid it whenever possible. This is similar to the way Francophones from Montreal will speak English rather than French to an Acadian, because their accent is really just that bad.
I'm a francophone, born in Quebec. I have never seen a francophone (from anywhere in the world) speak in English to another because the accent was too strong. Most francophones in Montreal actually speak pretty bad English, at least once you leave the technical spheres, and any Quebecois can speak something closer to "international French" when he knows an European is listening.
A large portion of my classmates at university were French people. They had no trouble understanding the local accent. They might be puzzled by some special expressions we have for snow, for "take a chair", for shortened forms ("je ne le sais pas"->"jelsépa"), swear words, etc. but nothing that can't be explained fairly quickly. The difference between French from France and from Quebec is important but I'd say comparing it to Cajun is exaggeration. It is not my impression that French people dislike Montreal French, but rather that they find it amusing at first (it sounds like a rural accent) and eventually just get used to it. Many Quebecois humorists and singers are popular in France as well.
Franglais is a large debate, but in short, the French are as guilty of it, if not more than the Quebecois. Many words like "email" or "shopping" tend to be said in English in France but in French in Quebec ("courriel", "magasinage").
Put another way: I've never met someone from France who didn't speak ill of Quebecois French when asked, and I've never met an Acadian who felt entirely welcomed in Montreal. They could be exceptions.
For what it's worth, here is wikipedia's article on Quebec French 
Sure, maybe two farmers from rural areas of each country won't understand each other, or a second language speaker who speaks in one accent won't understand the other, but otherwise it's simply pretentiousness.
Either I'm really bad at geography, or it's only figuratively and not literally.
I'm not saying that internationalization is the hardest problem to grasp, but there is a difference between building a single language system versus a multilingual system.
 re: > non-english-speaking countries
When your non-english-speaking country also speaks english, you're happier.
I can't remember where I saw this mentioned in the context of tech startups (pg's essays, probably), but if you're good enough and ambitious enough to choose whatever location you like, why not choose a location that has all the "nice place to live" qualities? Not to mention, "a nice place that wealthy tech investors want to live in".
Last week I saw Lane Becker give a talk at SproutUp here in Toronto. He's originally from Winnipeg, but was pretty blunt about the climate in California vs Canada. There's no way he'd ever come back. It's not the first time I've heard it.
Taxes, business, and tech-investment-friendly environment issues aside, this is a major weakness that our bigger eastern cities (Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Ottawa, Montreal..) need to make up for in other ways. What things can we use to make up for our crummy climates? I'm not sure... but I don't think local pride, ambition, or even "we have smart people" really resonate with anyone outside of those locales. Smart people are everywhere, and are globally-mobile.
Disagree. I've never been to Montreal, but I've heard from people who are from there and would jump at a chance to live there for awhile. Smart, creative, talented people are everywhere, but in some places there are many more of them and they are easier to find.
Cold winters will turn off a sizable number of people, yes, but many would be undeterred.
The real losers end up being the native Quebecers. There are really good programmers here working for pennies because they don't know enough English to move to or contract for companies in the Bay Area or NYC. This is true for a lot of other knowledge/creative professionals in Montreal as well.
If you look at Montreal neighborhoods and professions, you find that the ones where management and finance dominates are also the ones with mostly anglophones (of course Westmount dominates), and the ones with the highest incomes. The irony of francization is that it is creating an economic ghetto out of the native French speakers.
Furthermore, I highly doubt that the fact "you could be working in NYC if you wanted to" has any influence on your salary.
Finally, even if what you stated was true regarding francization, it wouldn't be ironic at all. Francization isn't there to help out the economy, it's there to protect a culture.
"The majority of migrants to Quebec are English-speaking – 33 per cent of the anglophone population is made up of immigrants, compared to only 7 per cent of the French-speaking population – and inflows of foreign migrants contribute to higher poverty rates among anglophones."
"A wealthy minority exists within the anglophone community, skewing their average income data upwards"
It is this Westmount/West Island wealthy minority I'm referring to when I say you should look at occupation and income levels.
There's no surprise blue-collar francophones earn more - that was the whole impetus behind the Quiet Revolution.
Programmer salaries in NYC are about three times what they are in Montreal, while the cost of living is only about twice as high. Salaries in the US have a very real effect on Canadian ones - it's so easy to get a NAFTA visa that the US and Canada basically share a labor market of programmers.
I won't disagree that NY salaries are higher but 3 times higher? It's probably more around 1.1 times higher. I'm frequently getting contacted by recruiters. Here is a sample of an email I recently received:
> Analyste-programmeur SHAREPOINT SR. [...] permanent temps plein et est situé à Montréal [...] salaire offert est entre 80000-85000$/an (selon le profil) + boni 20%
> Directeur Technologique (architecture et Base de Données) - Montréal - 100000-120000$
> Formateur technique (automatisation, DCS, régulation) - Montréal - 80000-100000$
> Analyste d'affaire senior (projets web et applic. mobiles) - Montréal - 80-90K$
> Analyste soutien informatique (SGPCR, régression, acceptation, - Montréal - 50-60K$
> Directeur Centre de données (conn. mécanique et électrique) - Montréal -100-110K$
> Conseiller principal bureau projet (adj. PMO) (conn. et expér. AGILE) -Montréal -90-95K$
> Développeur Iphone (objective C) - Montréal - 65-70K$
> Développeur Iphone TEAM LEAD (objective C) - Montréal - 80-85K$
> Développeur PHP Backend - Montréal - 60-65K$
> Développeur SQL-BI (datawarehouse, .Net, CRM) - Montréal 65-75K$
I'm thinking about: free healthcare, extremely low electricity cost, cheap rent (pretty much half as much as SF's rent) and everything that comes with living in a major city.
RE French: Ever learned a new programming language to go work somewhere? What's the difference? You don't have to be fluent in French, you have to understand it enough to read signs (which are usually just street or landmarks names with a symbol). I see this more as a great opportunity to become a better candidate in the future - by knowing another language.
I completely understand your reluctance, but you have to look at the bigger picture.
I even spent a day at a pretty nice coworking spot there: http://station-c.com/en
French Canadians do it another way. They have a small circle of friends they would do anything for, but most of the outside world is excluded. If you move to Montreal it will take a few years to break through into a social circle, unless you hang out only with expats.
Also, don't go to Quebec expecting the HI I'LL BE YOUR SLAVE TODAY treatment at a restaurant. Just... don't.
In Vancouver, I find that people will be more open to starting (or participating in) conversations on the bus, being asked for directions, chatting at a cafe (including baristas, cashiers, etc.), and so on. In Montreal, even with those people who did speak English, the attitude I saw from people was generally 'get out of my face'.
People in Montreal, in my experience, are absorbed in themselves and have no interest in anyone around them. They won't (as a rule) try to strike up a conversation on the street, they won't offer to help you if you're having trouble e.g. carrying a package, they won't hold doors. There are exceptions, but they're much more rare than in Vancouver, where everyone generally seems pretty content with their lives and is happy to lend a smile or a helping hand or a compliment to someone they've never met before or will again.
The other reason I enjoy Vancouver quite a bit (aside from the weather) is the living accommodations. It's said that the cost of living in Vancouver is higher, but from my point of view it tends to be pretty close, in the sense that you have to pay more in Vancouver but you also get nicer places. In Montreal, there is no 'damage deposit' when you rent an apartment, so there's much less incentive to be careful when you live in a place. Likewise, if there is a problem after you've left the landlord has to pay for it out of pocket (or try to fight with the tenancy board, which is a futile endeavour for small sums). The places tend to get run down and stay that way for longer. Even most 'renovated' places I saw were below what I'd consider liveable. The cost of renting a place is convenient though, considering that the wages in Montreal are (often considerably) lower than in Vancouver or Toronto.
"the people are friendlier" is too subjective though, can't really be sure of that.
Getting a position in a startup or open source team here isn't up to spoken language (unless like said early, it's customer facing). I think startups here prefer English. French is just that little extra (sad thing to say, but it's the truth).
Well that's a point, and it all depends on your own mentality, but I found that the culture in general is more friendly (people will smile at you more, strangers will start or participate in conversation, people hold doors, etc.) in Vancouver compared to Montreal.
Another problem I saw was that when trying to socialize in some social groups, the conversation would tend to be entirely in French solely for reasons of preference (given an equal anglophone/francophone split), making it incredibly difficult to do anything other than sit there and pick out the occasional word.
It can go both ways of course, depending on the group in which you find yourself, but it's just one of those little frustrations that can make it difficult to integrate into social circles in Montreal vs. an anglophone city like Vancouver.
You won't import American talent to Montreal however, why would they come to Canada when they can move to New York, Boston, Seattle, or the mecca of technology in North America Silicon Valley.
This doesn't mean that Montreal won't be a technology hub, but it has to compete with Waterloo which has a lot of draw for new graduates. I know several of my graduating class have already secured jobs in Waterloo.
As a Canadian working in Seattle... come here for a visit. There are a lot of Canadians in all of the above places, and most of them are just itching for a chance to go home.
Cost of living, social stratification (in a way that we really don't feel in Canada), health care... the list goes on.
Not to mention, if you like the whole metropolitan lifestyle, the Valley really cannot compete, nor Seattle (found that out the hard way)... and NYC/Boston are much more expensive than Toronto/Montreal.
There is a ton of startup activity in SF these days, as opposed to the Valley proper. Cost of living in SF is higher than in Toronto, but not by an enormous amount if you want to live downtown (Montreal is cheaper though).
It's a great place to live and work, but we fall into one of the above categories.
Also, if your children were originally enrolled in English, they can get into an English-language primary school in Quebec.
Did some quick checking via Google, and what I found requires attending a Canadian english school (based on law 101).
Either way, moving to Montreal requires that the whole family makes a commitment to learn French - kids included. It's not an effort that children generally appreciate until they're later in life. =)
I think if there's critical mass, there can be a strong ecosystem here if we specialize.
I think you are arguing that familiarity with the business model is transferable across organizations, but that seems dubious. At least so far, there has never been a "hub" based on an investing or management talent pool. It's always been based on the employee talent pool -- for the Bay Area, electronics and software.
FYI, I'm a Montrealer by birth, San Franciscan by choice.
There's a lot to unpack in your comment. Is there enough similarity between Open Source companies that they will benefit from being near other OSS companies? I think so, for a few reasons.
1. Local investors will have experience with Open Source (we've seen this here in Montreal; our big seed investor MSU has invested in 3 OSS companies).
2. Local service providers (accountants, lawyers, consultants) are aware of and can work with Open Source business models, licenses, etc.
3. A pool of business talent -- people who know how to commercialize Open Source.
4. A pool of Open-Source-sensitive technical talent. It's hard to make Open Source work from a technical level. Some people have the chops for it -- others don't. The ones who do a good job make it look easy; and then there's the hundreds of thousands of 1-person projects on sourceforge.net.
I think that making a successful Open Source company is as different from making a shrink-wrap software company as making a Web company is. It's a sufficiently different model that you have to have a much different team to pursue it.
I don't think that undercutting your competitors is a viable long term business strategy since you end up being cheap labor. This also discourages innovation since the focus is on copying what someone has already done and doing it for less.
There is already a lot of talent in Montreal but if Montreal is to become an open source startup hub, it needs to change this cheap labor mindset into one of innovation.
Thankfully, Canada's currency has reached parity with the US Dollar, in part because of Canada's stability during the clusterf*ck recession but mostly thanks to our country's vast natural resources. The dollar parity is forcing a lot of people to rethink the cheap labor approach, whether they like it or not. It was not so long ago that the US dollar was 1.5 Canadian dollars, but wages and costs were much less than 1.5x. The arbitrage opportunity was way too easy to ignore. That's over.
"Next week, I’ll give what I think is a potential plan for Montreal to take the lead in Open Source commercialization."
I hope he isn't going to ask for government money.
I think there's some serious opportunity for some jurisdiction to pwn Open Source startups with significant tax incentives for Open Source development.
What about tax incentives on salaries for developers who release code under an OSI license? Incentives for "soft" Open Source work like community management? Infrastructure like an accelerator space, business development aid?
Building a market helps, too. Vancouver has made it city policy to put Open Source software on an equal footing with proprietary software.
Other governments have chosen to use OSS exclusively.
If there's not yet an established Open Source startup hub (and I think there's not), there's an opportunity for cities around the world to claim that mantle. And that's going to take the contributions of all stakeholders.
Cheap, fast internet connections: the city could engage with Ile Sans Fil. Municipal fiber too.
The biggest challenges are not technological. On the political front, I think we're falling far short of what we'd need to compete.
my city and transit system offers that info to locals if they want to compete.
I haven't been yet, but planning on going soon.
Arduino is a super example of open source, so if Montreal were to be a "hub", that would entail that a lot more people would be excited about Open Source and would be downloading the code or getting in contact, right?
I find that there's not enough excitement yet. There are ways we could garner excitement, by investing in small companies, creating open source hockey players that can shoot the puck at the back of the net, and gaining more media attention, harnessing power through local politics. Long-term thinking, it may happen!
I think you're overestimating the amount of interested people have in Free Software/open source and Arduinos, though.
send resume, links to code and why you think you'd be a valuable asset for a new startup at phil AT matchfwd.com