I attended Collision Tech conference in Toronto this week. I was at a tech conference. It was a great way to get inspired by mostly young entrepreneurs, spend time with my nephew and try not to become a dinosaur. A dose of energy and optimism was exactly what I needed with the stock market going down and the negativity abounding.
After three days outside of my comfort zone, I left the conference with a lot to think about. I came away feeling positive because many of the innovators are working on things that will make the world better: climate change, social injustice, health issues, eliminate the middleman, and help companies deliver better service.
Hopeful because these creative and uncomplicated minds are chipping away at the armour of the oligopolies that dominate our economy think banking, telecom and tech giants. And hopeful because the crowd of 35,000 was highly diverse. Collision was a pleasure because I went three days without hearing about the United States Federal Reserve. These entrepreneurs aren't waiting for a central authority to fix something or determine their fate, they're getting on with it. The math in venture capital is very different from what I used to do. A successful analyst gets a stock pick about 60 per cent of the time. The average batting average when investing in early-stage companies is a fraction of that. Out of 10 investments, a good outcome might be one winner, two to four that are OK, and four to six busts.
This isn't a bad thing. You want failures to be small and informational. Silicon Valley does that very well. Nassim Taleb wrote in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable that it knows how to use failure as a tool for improvement. He was comparing venture capital to Wall Street, where the losses are huge when everyone gets on a bandwagon that doesn't work out. I like to compare the startup community to Spotify, where there are a few big artists and then a long tail of others that statisticians refer to as a long tail, many of whom get few listens. Tech entrepreneurs have an ecosystem that gives them a chance to build something from an idea, as I can easily listen to lesser-known artists such as Allison Russell and Waxahatchee. A pack of hungry venture capitalists and confabs like Collision give the chance to tell their story and get the useful feedback that Taleb references.
We are being subject to a fire hose of requests and nudges, both from established companies and new ones that want to change our habits. I am already starting to rebel from the constant asks and I don't know how close we are to our limit. One of the conference highlights was listening to author Margaret Atwood talk about women entrepreneurship and green tech. If we needed inspiration to keep learning and pushing for what we believe in, she provided it. Atwood was up on the issues, and her passion and unfiltered comments, 82, reminded us that we are never too old to grow. Tom Bradley is a chair and co-founder of Steadyhand Investment Funds, a company that offers individual investors low-cost investment funds and clear-cut advice. He can be reached at tbradley steadyhand.com.