Why he matters: Giving voice to the challenges of Canada’s tech startups
Like so many great origin stories, the history of one of Canada’s most promising enterprise startups in recent years starts with a road trip. Michael Litt had just finished up a co-op spell at Cypress Semiconductor and faced a very long drive home to Kitchener, Ont., from San Jose, Calif. So he recruited fellow University of Waterloo engineering student Devon Galloway as another set of hands at the wheel and to keep him from getting bored. Spend 18 hours in a car with someone, and you’ll soon learn what you have in common. “We were both motivated by the impact we believed video was having in industry—it was a key component of the way the companies we’d worked for communicated their value proposition,” explains Litt.
That was late 2009. Today, Litt and Galloway are CEO and CTO respectively at Vidyard, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) startup whose platform allows businesses to host, measure and optimize video content. The Kitchener company, whose clients include Honeywell and Lenovo, has pulled in over $60 million in venture capital funding, including a $35-million Series C round in January.
Despite incubating Vidyard at California accelerator Y Combinator, Litt chose to base the business in his. The battle for talent was simply too fierce in Silicon Valley, and early investors—which included the highly selective SV Angel fun, run by Google angel Ron Conway—didn’t care either way. “We knew we could hire people from the University of Waterloo, because we had gone to the school and knew the ecosystem,” explains Litt.
Vidyard now has 140 employees and adds 10 to 15 new people a month, mostly in Kitchener. But hiring isn’t Litt’s only contribution to the local tech ecosystem. He’s also vice-chair of startup support organization Communitech and an increasingly public advocate for his sector’s needs. The likes of ex-RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie have suggested the tech sector needs to lobby governments more actively, and 29-year-old Litt believes there’s a place for his fresh-faced cohort of entrepreneurs to make their voices heard. “I have a responsibility to be openly communicative about the challenges I’m having as I build this business,” in order to open the way for the next generation of founders, he says. It’s not all altruistic—whether Vidyard eventually IPOs, is acquired or fails, Litt says he is likely to start another venture, and it’ll be easier to do if he has helped solve some of the sector’s challenges in the meantime.
Whatever fate Vidyard eventually meets, Litt is committed to the life of an entrepreneur. He is driven, in part, by the experience of his father. A long-serving government employee, Richard Litt turned down the opportunity to start an electrical shop in an old cherry wood warehouse. While getting ready to retire, he became terminally ill; he passed away in 2013. “He spent his entire life looking for the freedom that as an entrepreneur you get to have—you’re in charge of your own destiny. He never got to take that step,” says Michael Litt. “That, to me, has been a huge motivator.”