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Alexis Ohanian interviewed after talk at Waterloo (communitech.ca)
105 points by michaelrlitt on Oct 15, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments





I organized a talk by Ohanian at my university last week. His talk focused on entrepreneurship, and key points included that innovation can happen outside the valley, and that midwest startups are starving for engineers, so we shouldn't feel like we must flock to the valley to join a startup.



Hey! I know you! Thanks for the email this morning.

I forgot to mention that Innovation was misspelled on the poster you have been having everybody sign.


Whoa! Good catch. On the giant scroll?


Yes, I saw that at T-REx while you were presenting. There was a missing "n," if I recall correctly.


I was at the hub for this discussion. Alexis is an awesome, down to earth guy, and had a lot of valuable wisdom to share on starting a company.


I've heard SV investors agree it makes sense for companies to stay near a top notch university no matter where it is, in order to hire and retain the best. It's the same talent that SV companies get anyways. Coupled with a lower cost of living and less poaching, it's kind of a win-win.


Most people in Waterloo dream of getting out of Waterloo.


The most famous escaped Waterloo project has got to be Unreal: http://planetunreal.gamespy.com/View.php?view=UnrealGameInfo...

It's kind of funny how brilliant Waterloo could be if the weather was just a little better.

Quothe Tim Sweeney: TS: In 1997, we had started Unreal. We were well into the project, and we weren't making the progress we needed because everybody was all over the place -- it was a very complicated project.

So we got everybody together in Waterloo, Canada for a year to finish the game, since some of the guys already lived up there. It was really nice for about six months, and then it froze over and didn't thaw again for another six months, so we got really annoyed at the cold there.

After that we decided to set up a permanent office and bring everybody together so we could be a more efficient developer. We looked all over the country, decided on Raleigh, and moved here in 1998.

It was funny to relocate here because absolutely nobody working with Epic at the time had been born here. It was just a random place that we chose after looking at the cost of living here, on the west coast, and all over the country.

( http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/132426/from_the_past_t... )


Many move to Toronto, New York, or the Valley. Personally, Toronto fit my lifestyle closer than Waterloo, but Waterloo has a higher concentration of actually smart people than Toronto does. The problem is that it is pretty damn boring after you graduate.


I don't know anything about Waterloo, but many people in Madison, Wisconsin are passionate about staying here. Of course, there are many who want to leave, and I think recent grads are probably more likely to be in that group.


Being a Waterloo engineer, I agree with this wholeheartedly. Perhaps even more importantly, I'd say the top talent disproportionatly dreams of getting out of Waterloo. Most quality students want to get down to Cali.

I respect what Litt, Pebble, Bufferbox are trying to do, but I don't think young talent is the reason their doing it. I think that the cost of living, tax credits and familiarity are the reasons they're back in Waterloo.

All the power to me, but for me, California sunshine seems too good to pass up when there's three feet of snow on the ground in the middle of February.


Everyone should experience Silicon Valley. Vidyard's investors and network of influence are SV based. I'll never negate that.

Reasons I'm in Waterloo = Availability of Talent, Retention of Talent, Cost of living, Quality of Life

We've never had an issue with young, technical talent and I firmly believe that we have the best. That's more that can be said for our Californa based batch-mates.

Some people like the snow ;).


I'm just running off personal experience here (I've been through the Velocity Residence and Eng), but of the 10 smartest kids I know, all but one is in The Valley/Seattle. I think they plan to stay South after graduation.

Why do you think you can you get better talent? Less competition? People want to be closer to home? You can offer more in perks, salary, ect compared to local companies?

Ps. Sick boots in that lederhosen picture.


You're experience is certainly common but might be changing. When did you graduate?

Yes, Maybe, Yes. Great Engineers tend to be focused on solving interesting problems with great people over warm-weather that they'll rarely enjoy.

Thanks - they're actually long socks :P


I'm still in school; just finished 3A, so ive got a pretty fresh look at things. It seems to me Waterloo's stature is rising in The Valley, and they are offering more jobs. I had about 30-40% of my class go to Apple this semester, for example.


A small fix, Pebble is actually in Cali full time now. And it's been this way ever since YC 1.5-2 years ago when I interned with them.

The other thing is regarding familiarity, startup focused folks don't strike me as being too fond of familiar environments just for the sake of familiarity, though I realize this is a generalization on my part.


As a person living and working in Waterloo for a startup, I wouldn't be so quick to generalize. I quite like it here.


I'm quite the opposite then, I dream of getting into Waterloo. I'd like to stay in Canada (I'm an international student) and Waterloo has one of the best tech scenes in Canada.


I Disagree.. Here's why. I was born/raised in Kitchener-Waterloo. I believe K-W is the best place to live, start a family, and be successful.

K-W has always been about innovation and engineering, and smart people with access to top technology and just simply people are willing to chat about ideas without the worry of it being 'stolen'. We are thought of a "small-town community" - 500,000 if you include Region. If you compare this to the US, we would rank in the top 30 of populated 'cities'. K-W is a community of people who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty to build great things. Personally, I've been involved with technology and the Internet since 1998 - from small 4 person startups, to being #4,000 of 20,000 at RIM, who did create the first smartphone, the iconic BlackBerry.. The impact successful people have had here is astounding.

(RIM's founders' money stays in K-W, look at the Perimeter Institute, and Institute for Quantum Computing - $100MM donated). At the end of the day no matter how big or small, its all about innovation, and smart people. UW put K-W tech on the map with one of the top engineering co-op programs in the world, and startups are doing big things.

So it's natural so many software/internet startups have started and thrive here, Communitech & the Accelerator Centre are the best kept secret outside of our community and the world is finally taking notice. $500MM and 164 new startups.. more everyday.. (http://www.communitech.ca/half-billion-dollars-in-tech-compa...).

This is happening b/c of perfect storm of things coming together, great schools who foster students ideas - WLU, UW, Conestoga, (55,000+ students) companies who further foster this talent, RIM, OpenText, Desire2Learn, and 400 other high-tech firm, that encourage entrepreneurship, giving people opportunities to see their ideas come to reality, and in my opinion is the best place in the world to start, & build a technology business.

Now about people defecting to Sunny california,. Call us crazy Canucks, but some of us love 4 full seasons, including the snow! More opportunity for us here to build a company, & raise a family (median house price is $250,000), with median family income of $90K,. (2005),.. I could go on and on here, but people who are here know this..:)

Jay Klesitz


I don't


I don't


I think a lot of the "startup hubs" are missing the need for a "top notch university". The ~4 year talent turn over and resupply is key, it provides an ongoing top up as talent churns. Does it work in startup hubs that don't have a "top notch technical university"?


Portland (OR) comes to mind as a place where there's some fantastic tech people and no university, but I'm not sure if it's considered a startup hub or not.


The salaries for technology workers in the Waterloo Region are so horribly depressed compared to other parts of Canada, and the US, that no half decent developer will stay there. If they have half a brain they'll move to San Fran and easily earn 3-4 times more than they can earn in Waterloo.


I've spent a couple of weeks at Communitech and the energy is absolutely amazing. Everybody was incredibly driven.

If not mistaken, Communitech even claimed that "one new startup comes out from there every day".


For somewhere around a year now, we've had an average of one new startup registering with our Venture Services Group each day. I am struggling with the correct way to be pedantic about it, it's just the connotation of "comes out" that I want to highlight - the startups registering with us don't necessarily meet any minimum requirements, versus those who graduate from one of the incubation or accelerator programs we run or are associated with.

(I work for Communitech, but not in VSG so my understanding is likely to be only slightly more refined than noirman's, and could have a hole or two)

(edit to add: we're working on fixing the site!)


Being part of Hyperdrive was an amazing experience! But, the work doesn't stop at the end of our three months :) In a way, it's just beginning.


Too bad the site is down. Alexis is really an insightful person. He really understands the web.


It's interesting how Alexis talks about the importance of the possibility to "stay home and do great things" for some people. Well, sounds right but isn't startup a thing that's all about change - including lifestyle? Isn't it possible to have some valuable insights when you leave your comfort zone and go some place you didn't know before? I'd rather advice Silicon Valley guys just try and leave their cozy warm place and go and try to make a startup on Alaska, for example - that's the kind of adventure for startup-guys, not for sissies.


He's commenting more on the fact that SV seems to be the only place for startups to thrive. There's lots of opportunity at "home".

in a way, it's in line with your desire to advise SV guys to leave their cozy warm place. You may feel "safe" going to the valley, but you can (potentially) achieve just as much breaking ground in a different locale.


I agree with the fact that there's lots of opportunity anywhere, although... there maybe more opportunity in US than in Russia, for example. Anyway you got to try and to do something - no matter where you live, that's true.


Great to see Waterloo impressing such a talented dude


No questions about the Reddit staff's relationship with violentacrez?


Pretty sure Alexis Ohanian had left Reddit by the time VA started messing around.


If nothing else one could ask him what he thinks of what the "early Reddit employees" did in his absence. And isn't he still on Reddit's board of directors, anyway?




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