HIGHLINE board member Amar Varma has over 12 years of experience in the technology and investment arenas, and is one of North America’s foremost experts in mobile.
He was the Co-Founder of Xtreme Labs Inc., a Toronto-based mobile development and strategy agency that was acquired by California-based Pivotal Labs in October 2013. While running Xtreme Labs Inc., Amar and his co-founder Sundeep Madra also launched Extreme Venture Partners (EVP), which focused on providing early stage venture capital to Canadian companies, including BumpTop (acquired by Google), J2Play (acquired by EA), Fixmo (acquired by Good Technologies), Locationary (acquired by Apple), and Rypple (acquired by Salesforce.com). In November 2013, after a very successful run, Amar and Sundeep sold their founders stake in EVP in order to focus on angel investments where they felt they could make a greater impact.
Before founding EVP, Amar was a Director at VenGrowth Capital Partners where he focused on investments in the technology sector, and prior to that, worked at a number of public and private technology companies in Canada (ATi Technologies Inc. and Newbridge Networks Corp.) and Silicon Valley (Jetstream Communications Inc. and Cypress Semiconductor Corporation).
Amar has a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Waterloo and is a graduate of the Venture Capital Institute sponsored by the NVCA.
With such a wealth of technical knowledge and experience in the VC space, we wanted to catch up with Amar to learn more about his thoughts on HIGHLINE, his experience working in the Valley and Canada, the importance of mentorship, and advice for startup founders.
Image via the Globe & Mail
Q&A with Amar Varma
What impact do you foresee HIGHLINE having on the global ecosystem?
Having a global focus is critical to the future of innovation and value creation. We’re part of a global ecosystem—we just happen to be running our programs from Canada.
You’ve been involved with North American startups and tech investments for over a decade. How has the landscape changed in that time?
The key changes are in what we’re investing in, from big infrastructure to software-dominated opportunities. What’s remained the same is that you’re still wanting to back the best people, and take advantage of opportunities that create value.
You have a BS in Electrical Engineering from Waterloo University, started your career in Silicon Valley, then came back to Canada to join a tech fund management firm before launching your own venture here. What key learnings did you bring back from your time in the Valley?
The one major thing I learned in the Valley was that you’re really only bounded by the obstacles you put in front of yourself.
What advantages do companies have by staying in Canada?
Some of the community events attract very talented people in Canada. That to me, is the number one advantage.
Do you have your eye on any particular tech trends right now?
Mobile started as a nice-to-have, now it’s a need-to-have. We’re seeing the transformation of things becoming mobile-centric. Our use of mobile is really challenging our world economies, and the way we do things.
Why is mentorship important to startup success?
For me, having mentors is important because it gives you at least one outlet or perspective that you may not already have—and when you do share that perspective, it’s nice to have reassurance.
If we don’t have mentors who can help shape us, we may still be successful, but mentorship can help us become even more successful.
What piece of advice do you find yourself consistently sharing with startup founders?
If you’re not passionate about what you’re engaged in, and you’re spending 12+ hours a day on it, you’ll hate it. Being a founder is hard, and when you see people get involved with stuff they don’t absolutely love, you can see it killing them. Entrepreneurship is not easy, don’t get me wrong, but when you have passion, it’s much easier to find the drive.