Networks: The Real Ventures Story

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‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’

I’m sure you’ve heard that one before. And I’m sure at one point or another you’ve grimaced when hearing it. I know I have.

Full disclosure: I’ve never been that super successful networker whose Rolodex (get with the times, I know) grows faster than the speed of light. In fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. I like to hide during most networking events. A perfect example of this is during my first FounderFuel Demo Day; I spent the cocktail hour hanging out outside with the caterer, instead of inside mingling with our 800+ guests. However, what I have come to realize is the sheer importance of the network and that even when it’s uncomfortable, it’s important that you get out there, meet people and form connections. This is how you’ll build your company, grow your team and raise money. Needless to say I no longer hide outside with the caterer. 

The crowd that I used to hide from. Photo courtesy of @evablue

Real Ventures
is a prime example of building a company from networks. Here are just a few snippets of the Real Ventures story.

Let’s start with John Stokes, a pillar of the Real Ventures team. We’ll save the first part of his story for another article, and fast-forward to when John moved to Montreal. He followed his not-yet wife (at the time), who was a native Montrealer back to her hometown. He was looking for connections in the business world and had been told that Alan MacIntosh was the man to talk to. But he didn’t have an in. So he made one up (his words of advice to everyone out there: “everyone has a network, its just about finding ways to reduce the degrees of separation to connect with who you want — no matter how tenuous!”. He called up Alan and said that X had recommended he reach out. Thankfully, Alan bought it (years later the truth came out and it’s something that everyone can laugh about now). JS Cournoyer came into the mix when a fellow Brit reached out to John to have lunch (because they were both British so logically they should hang out) and he suggested John connect with JS. Throw in a few more chance meetings and personal network stories and Montreal Startup (now Real Ventures) came to be.

Sam Haffar, who is now a Principal at Real Ventures, is the prime example of putting yourself out there to build a new network from scratch. When him and his wife relocated to Montreal from San Francisco, Sam went from being very well connected in one start-up community to knowing no one in another. His solution? Doing some research online he found Notman House and just strolled in one day. All of a sudden, Sam became a fixture at Notman and worked very closely with the Spring 2014 FounderFuel Cohort. The Real Ventures team quickly took notice of this intelligent and business savvy guy straight out of the Valley. He was volunteering his time to work with anyone and everyone — we knew we needed to find a place for him on our team. The rest is history! 

Sam, in his early Mentoring days, introducing Vanhawks on stage at Demo Day. Photo courtesy of @evablue

Stephen Osmond, our accountant, joined Real Ventures thanks to the network of his 2 year old son. Him, his wife and his children were invited to a kid’s birthday party being thrown by his wife’s best friend. John Stokes was also invited with his wife and daughter. Stephen, a British citizen who had — also, coincidentally — married a Montrealer, was introduced to a fellow Brit at the party (because you know, they have something in common). They got to talking, Stephen mentioned he was looking for work in the finance field and John knew he could help. We were desperately on the hunt for a talented finance guy at Real Ventures and Stephen ended up being the perfect fit.

Alex Shee was lawyering it up for Norton Rose Fulbright in Quebec City when one of his best friends (who had also hired him as his lawyer) told him about this Accelerator program he’d just joined in Montreal. The wheels started turning in Alex’s mind and he thought, maybe it’s time to make the jump into the start-up world. Having just lost our Analyst (he left to become CEO of a new stealth start-up) we were on the hunt for someone new. Alex is now our rockstar Analyst who keeps the office smiling.

And these are just a few of our stories. Because we’ve seen firsthand how important the power of networks are we make it our #1 focus to help founders build out their own networks. This is one of the ways we help them succeed.

Networks — real, forced, fake, British, or even one belonging to a 2 year old — are necessary. Learn from me and don’t hang out with the caterer at your next 800+ person event. Chat with someone new — they’re probably looking to expand their network too.

Emma Williams
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