[This is the second part in a series of profiles on Canadian co-founders making waves in the States. Here's part one.]
The startup’s evolution began with a carbon fibre hockey stick. Sohaib Zahid, co-founder and Chief Designer at Vanhawks, was in sports medicine when he designed the tech that mimics the human bone: virtually weightless yet difficult to break. It was after having developed the hockey stick that they asked themselves what could be done next. They decided to disrupt the biking industry, which they felt had been sitting in the past. From there they created the software layer to build the world’s first connected carbon fibre bicycle.
Their first bike, to be shipped this Spring, is called Valour. Valour is a connected bike for the urban commuter. It’s long list of features include app-connectedness, turn by turn navigation, blind spot navigation and ride tracking (recording metrics such as speed, distance, calories and time). Perhaps most noteworthy is the interconnected commuter network. In cases of theft, the Valour community is notified to look out for your bike. Furthermore, the more often you ride, the better informed others will be of road conditions in your area. It’s been speculated that the commuter information – rather than the hardware – will end up being the real product. While the team does see the powerful nature of this info, whether or not this is the real value of Vanhawks is, in their opinion, yet to be determined.
After building up a team of fifteen, setting up shop in downtown Toronto, and raising 8x their goal through a Kickstarter campaign (the most successful in Canada), the startup applied to Y-Combinator. Ali Zahid, co-founder and COO of Vanhawks, describes Y-Combinator and FounderFuel as representative of two entirely different niches. Ali credits a lot of Vanhawks’ success to FounderFuel, saying that they “would be nothing and nowhere without FF.” The team had moved from Ontario into the same apartment in Montreal to eat, sleep and breathe Vanhawks. FF, for Ali, was a family. While it teaches the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, YC has more of a hand’s off focus on constant growth. Further, YC’s vast network has been invaluable to Vanhawks. Ultimately, Ali describes Vanhawks in Montreal as feeling like a big fish in a small pond. In San Francisco, on the other hand, they’re just getting started in a huge body of water.
When asked about the difference in living and working in San Francisco versus downtown Toronto, Ali describes two very distinct lifestyles. Tech employees in the valley work 16-18 hours per day; they exercise, eat every meal and do their laundry at work. On the other hand, Torontonians in tech find more of a work/life balance. Ali maintains that Toronto has a “secret sauce that these guys just don’t have.” While they wish to maintain very close ties in SF, they don’t plan on leaving TO any time soon.
One ingredient in the Vanhawks secret sauce is company culture. In looking to create something that outlives them, the team wants never to stray from their core values. As they evolve – bringing in more personalities and more ideas – they place importance on always remembering the consumer. The community of people seem to be what makes up Vanhawks, exemplified in the fact that two of the four co-founders are brothers. This is further exemplified in the friendship that runs throughout the four person co-founding team. The remaining two co-founders are Niv Yahel, CTO and Adil Aftab Iqbal, CMO. Niv is the brains behind the tech, working behind the scenes to both produce the best product possible and to create a successful (and growing) tech team. Adil has been running manufacturing since day one, spending most of his time abroad to ensure smooth operation from the first prototype to the shipping of the product. With this in mind, their greatest challenge to date has been finding the right people for their company. They’re constantly looking for passionate, dedicated and intelligent individuals who are flexible and willing to take risks. They only hire the best of the best – those who would follow both their product and their consumer to the end of the world.
Although the team is proud of the intensity of their growth, they want to move faster. With no regrets – because “the everyday mistakes are necessary in order to learn” – they’re looking towards the future. Up next is shipping out Valour, prepping for YC’s Demo Day, and getting back into the Toronto community by hosting events. When starting at YC, Paul Graham told the team that someone has to do what they’re doing – the question is whether that someone will be Vanhawks. They realize the power of what they’re building and “believe in it like crazy.” The Vanhawks team is hustling to create something massive and it’s safe to say that they’re well on their way.
Stay tuned for next week’s profile on Spoil, a personalized gift concierge service.