When Michael Litt and business partner Devon Galloway decided to forgo the siren song of Silicon Valley and return to Waterloo Region to build their fledgling company, Litt was filled with pangs of doubt about whether they were making the right call. It was a feeling that was to last for many, many months.
The year was 2011, and Litt and Galloway had just left YCombinator, the famous startup accelerator based in Mountain View, Calif. The assumption from everyone they’d met, and from all their potential investors, was that their new, promising company, Vidyard, would stay in California.
But Litt and Galloway decided to move back to Waterloo Region, where they’d gone to school. They’d started Vidyard, a video platform for business, here. They had a deep-seated belief in the merits of Waterloo Region, in its talent, its culture, its post-secondary schools. Their families were based in Ontario.
And then Paul Graham, YCombinator’s co-founder, told Litt that returning to Waterloo Region would serve as “a 10-pound weight” on their backs, one that would prove increasingly difficult to bear as the company grew. The words caused Litt to swallow hard.
“That weighed so heavily on me,” Litt told True North TV host and Communitech CEO Iain Klugman Tuesday in the latest episode of True North TV, a series of weekly discussions with community and technology leaders.
Graham’s words created, Litt said, “quite a chip on my shoulder,” one that helped fill the CEO with the motivation to prove Graham wrong. And prove him wrong, he did. In 2013, the company completed a US$6-million Series A raise, and shortly thereafter Litt heard from Graham.
“Paul Graham reached out to me and said that going back to Canada was probably one of the best decisions I could have made. And that validated everything.”
Turns out the decision to return to Waterloo Region wasn’t just important for Litt and Vidyard. It was also, as Klugman reminded Litt, an important moment for Waterloo Region’s budding startup community – Vidyard was proof that a company didn’t have to leave to be successful.
“We saw this huge shift from most of the companies who went down [to the Valley] to raise capital or participate in things like YC [and then] staying in the Valley, to the vast majority of them returning to our region,” Klugman said.
Since then, Vidyard has continued to stress the importance of community, announcing in 2018 that it had officially designated “Community” above “Investors” on its list of stakeholders (with the No. 1 and No. 2 positions being held by “Customers” and “Employees,” respectively).
The pandemic and its inherent challenges haven’t altered Vidyard’s commitment to community. For instance, the company diverted money that it is no longer spending on entertainment and travel due to COVID-19 to charities chosen by its employees.
“I was raised locally, this community is very important to me,” Litt said.
Litt’s 45-minute discussion ranged far and wide. Other topics? The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on his company, including reasons behind a surge in sales and video usage, and how he maintains connections with employees and builds his social networks in a virtual environment.
True North TV continues next Tuesday with an interview with Mark Sangster, VP and Industry Security Strategist with cybersecurity firm eSentire and author of No Safe Harbor – The Inside Truth About Cybercrime.