Derek Ball

Location, Location, Location

TBOP2017 ⋅ 4:00 ⋅ Filmed May 12, 2017

It’s the question that has crossed every would-be entrepreneur's mind: do I need to move to Silicon Valley if my business is going to stand a real chance of success? Can tech companies survive and thrive in Canada — or is it just wishful thinking? Derek Ball sheds some light on this contentious issue — and the answer may surprise you.

Further Reading

Silicon Valley

D-Wave Systems Inc.

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)


TC: I would be interested in your perspective on where you set up and where you operate. There's no question that for some lucky startups who all of a sudden The Valley calls and says, 'Yeah, we're willing to invest but part of that is here's the leash, put it around your neck and move down to California because we want you around the corner to keep an eye on you’. There's money that you can get from New York and Boston and all sorts of other places. Yet there's been some terrifically successful companies operating in Canada which is, at the beginning seemed to be a little bit, like ‘why are you still here’? I know of a quantum computing company in Vancouver. All of their clients are American, so why are they still in Vancouver? So the question becomes, can you — I mean, the answer is obviously yes you can be successful if you stay in Canada, if you take a look at the success companies that exist in Canada — but if you're a young startup and you get that call from The Valley, at what point do you say, 'Adios Canada, I'm moving down south' or at what point do you say, 'No, I'm going to try and make it here'.

[01:15] DB: Another great question. That's something I get asked a lot because I moved, I answered that call, I moved down to Silicon Valley. My wife and I said we'd go for a year and try it out. Six years later, we haven't left. I think the question comes back to, can you build a successful company anywhere in the world? I know there's people tuned in from all over the world right now listening. It's become easier and much more viable to do that. Anywhere in the world now. Or almost anywhere in the world.

[01:46] DB: I think some of the tools that we now have at our disposal make that very possible but what I would encourage you [to do] is understand where your customers are and where your key partners are going to be. You can be anywhere but make sure you're ready to get on an airplane to go make things happen. With D-Wave [Systems Inc.] in Vancouver, they're spending a lot of time on airplanes with JPL [Jet Propulsion Laboratory] and their key customers in the US.

[02:10] DB: So you can build it almost anywhere but that doesn't mean you shouldn't go to Silicon Valley if that something that interests you and you want to try it out for a while. There are incredible experiences that you're going to have. You're going to see a different kind of culture than what I've seen in any other place in the world that's special to that area. You don't have to make it permanent. In fact, these days, I distribute my teams. My product team and everybody that's building our technology is in Calgary. My business team, we're in the Entertainment industry these days, so my business team is in LA. I have a small team in San Francisco and that works very well for us. Other people have the philosophy that you must have everybody together in one place. I think that's less critical these days. You want to get the best people and best people want to be in Kingston or Hawaii then find a way make that work.

[03:02] DB: Now as far as moving to The Valley and what's the siren call. For me it was because I had to spend so much time down there, I was never home. I have three kids and I wanted to make sure that — and I wasn't seeing enough of them and they weren't seeing enough of me. I thought, 'well, let's have an adventure'. The spark for me was some very good friends of ours moved to Santiago for three years and I thought that's really interesting. If I was going to relocate and our family was going to have an adventure somewhere, where would that be? Given what I do for a living, it was a good fit. Doesn't mean I won't come back here or I might not move somewhere else in the future. So I would say, be where you want to be. If you're not there, get there. But you can be here.

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