“What is it about Waterloo that has you located here, still?”
The question came halfway through an hour-long fireside chat between two giants in the Canadian tech scene. Ted Hastings, founder of Rebellion Media and President of Perk, was interviewing Ted Livingston, co-founder and CEO of Kik Interactive, about life as the leader of Waterloo Region’s latest unicorn.
The event was part of Waterloo Hacks, the region’s latest hackathon, which gives high-performing tech students from the University of Waterloo and Laurier an opportunity to show their skills to big-name employers like Google, Manulife, Canadian Tire, Thomson Reuters and others.
As he had with Mike Kirkup back in October, Livingston regaled the crowd with tales from the startup front lines: strolling into his local branch to ask an unsuspecting teller for a million-dollar bank draft; playing hardball with investors like Fred Wilson in New York; and getting sued by BlackBerry, the largest and most successful company in Waterloo’s history.
But when asked why he stayed in Waterloo, Livingston hesitated for the first time all evening,
“I want to turn this question around on you,” he replied. “You’ve been here longer.”
It’s true. Compared to Livingston, Hastings is a relative pioneer of Waterloo Region tech. A Laurier ’97 grad, Hastings started building high-growth businesses when Livingston was still in high school.
Hastings spoke of how he dodged the dot-com bust and weathered the storm from safety in Canada while San Jose “went into the toilet at that point in time,” and described how during that period he was able to raise “about $250 to $300 million, all out of the U.S.” as a Canadian entrepreneur. But despite his success, Hastings always faced calls to move operations south of the border.
“Ten years ago, it was more prevalent. People saying, ‘OK, you need to be in the Valley.’ For us it was also Boston, or somewhere else other than ‘wherever you are in your igloo.’”
“Yep,” seconded Livingston, nodding. “Mennonite country.”