Story of our move from Silicon Valley to Toronto
About a year ago I decided that I needed to make some changes. I wanted new challenges and the chance to explore some ideas that I had been thinking about. There was one problem - visa restrictions. So I dug a little deeper to see if there was a solution. There was none, the only option I could see involved waiting an indefinite number of years to get permanent residency.
I had a really great life in Silicon Valley. This included an exciting job that I loved with Linkedin and a wonderful house at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains. California is a wonderful place and me and my family took full advantage of that. Road trips, fresh organic food and tons of interactions with brilliant people in tech made California the best place for me.
I had been working for over 6 years at Linkedin in Mountain View, California. It was the best job ever. I got to work with the smartest people on the toughest problems and the free food was amazing too. In short life was great. To add to all this we had build some amazing friendships with some very cool people. In the end however we decided the indefinite wait was not for us. And we started thinking about our next play.
To be honest Canada did not ever factor into my life plans. We Indians tend to stay away from very cold places. Also Silicon Valley always loomed large above everything else. It was a chance encounter with a friend who runs a successful tech startup in Toronto that got me thinking about the place. My friend Mark Organ is a big cheerleader for Canada and its tech sector. He invited me to checkout his company Influitive and speak to some of the people who’ve recently moved to Toronto. I got rave reviews including one person who called Toronto the best kept secret in North America. In the valley talk of moving to Seattle or Portland is pretty common, moving to a different country, less so. I think in the end Canada has a really great brand and that convinced me to take that chance.
Since the whole point of this move was to get more freedom and some peace of mind, nothing short of permanent residency would do. My wife took the lead on doing the research. It seemed simple enough. The government website was very detailed and helpful. We figured I could apply as a software engineer under the skilled workers program. We would need to submit some required documents and fill some forms. The whole process was based on a point system which made it transparent. That appealed to me. Also since the bulk of the work involved getting the required documents together we decided to do it ourselves. Once we had the documents together we shipped it all off to Canada and waited. A few months passed before a letter arrived in the mail. It said that we’ve been granted PR. It was exciting to know that we could now live and travel across this beautiful country called Canada. We had some time before the actual work of moving. We spent this time thinking about what we’d do once we got there. And if we’d enjoy living in Vancouver or Toronto. Vancouver is known for its natural beauty while Toronto is the banking and tech capital. In the end Toronto was a no brainer with its growing tech scene and proximity to the rest of the world.
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Planning the move
Next up was planning the move. We decided to move in the fall, that way we would get to enjoy the Californian summer and get there before winter. I guess we were a little busy enjoying the summer since we didn’t get to move related tasks until two months before the date. I had to sell one car, ship the other, fedex over things like books and have a ton of goodbye parties. I can’t say this part was fun, we still miss all our friends and if they’re reading this we’ll be visiting you all very soon. The actual move involved catching a flight to Toronto (SFO to YYZ) with a few extra checkin bags. We had decided that after all this work we needed to have some fun and also explore our new city. To help with this my wife found us a short term rental in a condo in the heart of the downtown. Toronto downtown is very much like a smaller version of New York with condo’s and tall office towers. Downtown also has a surprising number of great parks everywhere.
Arriving in Toronto
Soon after we found a house we liked to move into. We were looking for much more space, a nice backyard, great neighborhood, good schools, near downtown and not too expensive. In San Francisco I’m certain our agent would have asked if I wanted a magic pony to go with the house. But this is Toronto where this is still possible. Our place was on the east side of downtown in a neighborhood called Riverside. To me it reminded me of the Castro / Mission neighborhood complete with great cafe’s and lots of hipsters. We love our little slice of Toronto and my kids love their school and having a neighborhood filled with other kids.
Things to do in the city
Fall in Toronto is amazing the weather is just right and the trees are full of colors. To add to the excitement of a new city the Toronto International Film festival was underway just a few blocks from our place. We’ve never lived in a major north american city so this was all pretty exciting for us. Silicon Valley is more a cluster of small picturesque towns and not one big city. Another thing that I enjoyed was not having to drive and deal with traffic. Work for me was a short walk away through downtown. Most of the big tech startups in Toronto are located around the fun parts of the downtown core. To sum up our first week I would say, very safe, friendly people, lots of diverse food options and great public transport. Another thing that is pretty important to me is good coffee. I was happy to see that third wave coffee thriving in this city. Design, Art and Culture seem to be all around. The Art Gallery of Ontario and the gardens around the University of Toronto were our favorite places to visit. Our first couple months passed quickly and with a lot to keep us busy. We were now fast approaching the end of fall and the beginning of that thing we dreaded the most, Canadian winter. Add to that we were totally unprepared. I was expecting the worst.
Preparing for Winter
People recommended we get a Parka, which is a heavy duty downs jacket. So we invested in a couple Nobis Parka’s for ourselves and snow suits for the kids. It was the best thing we ever did. The adage “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes” is entirely true. Toronto does not get much snow, it can however get pretty cold from the lake effect. Armed with the right Parka we hardly felt it. I barely used my car and choose to walk everywhere, the right clothing was all that was needed. I didn’t even need to layer up, I often only had a t-shirt under the Parka. It’s common to see people even little kids out and about even in the middle of winter. And when it did snow the kids loved it. The winter however can get a little long so many people here choose fly to Spain, Cuba or Costa Rica to get a break from the winter.
I had been thinking about working on my own startup idea for while now. Getting permanent residency, public funded healthcare and living in the middle of Canada’s tech capital gave me the freedom and courage to explore that option. I setup a pretty great routine for myself that includes working from home and spending time with my kids. With lots of really great cafe’s around, I could walk my son to school and then settle down at a cafe to get a few hours of work done. The cafe’s in my neighborhood are filled with people working in tech or on movie scripts. I often spot Facebook, Github and even Linkedin laptops and jackets. There are also people working on apps or managing social media. It’s almost as if I’m still in San Francisco. Toronto is a very creative place and a cafe is the best place to get some good coffee and soak in some of that energy.
My plan is to focus on one big idea while experimenting with a few smaller ones. I think of it as my own personal incubator. The big idea I’m working on is called Webmatr a tool focused at making it easy to build integrations between APIs. We’ve since launched and working hard at improving the product and getting users.
I also published on a book called How to Build the Future. The book is about how smart companies like Snapchat, Spotify, Pokemon GO, etc are using the Google Cloud. The book is a non technical read, it’s written to be a fun, inspiring and educational read. It was inspired by my own experience building my first startup on the Google Cloud.
Another product we’ve launched is Bell+Cat a privacy focused simple to use database in the cloud. It’s a tool I use personally to organize most of my work, tasks and projects.
We love Toronto
It’s now our first summer in Toronto. I’ve been pretty busy between work and exploring the city with my kids. I’ve also been working on connecting with the startup community here. I’m learning about how Toronto supports startups and more about the entire ecosystem. I believe this city has a strong chance at evolving into top tier place for technology startups. It’s still early which makes it an exciting time to be here. This post is my way of giving back. I hope to inspire talent from all over the world to take a chance on Toronto it has everything you need and more. Great universities known for their computer science programs, a supportive local and federal government, proximity to NYC, a high quality of life, relatively lower operating costs, a rich tech ecosystem with companies like Shopify and 1Password and finally an ever changing fun city. This city needs people like you to bring your experience and insights here, helping create the network effects that will take us all ahead.
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