Jonathan Bixby is a serial entrepreneur, angel investor, board member, and startup advisor. He’s also the former Executive Director of GrowLab, and current HIGHLINE Board of Advisor member.
A rich history of entrepreneurship, Jonathan was the CEO and co-founder of Strangeloop Networks, the first network appliance and cloud service for accelerating dynamic web applications. Under his leadership, the company raised over $21 million in financing, including a Series A round of $11.5 million, one of the largest ever rounds of private Series A financing for a Canadian tech startup. Strangeloop was selected Best Employer in BC for a five consecutive years (2008 to 2013), and in February 2014, was acquired by Radware.
Prior to forming Strangeloop, Jonathan co-founded IronPoint Technology, the largest content management company in the country. As chairman of the board, Jonathan led IronPoint from start-up to successful acquisition by The Active Network in 30 months.
Jonathan now invests out of Stanley Park Ventures, a startup foundry he launched with his brother, Joshua Bixby, and Mike Benna, as well as Oak Mason Investments. One of his most recent ventures is Koho, a Vancouver-based startup with sights set on disrupting the banking industry.
Q&A With Jonathan Bixby
What excites you most about HIGHLINE?
- I think it brings connectivity across Canada, which allows for economies of scale, and a sense of strength as Canada’s cross-nation accelerator, which adds value to the ecosystem and the companies that HIGHLINE funds.
- It brings mentors together from different areas for collaboration. Toronto is strong in mobile, Vancouver is strong in gaming; you want to bring those groups of people together: funders, mentors, talent. That’s a really positive thing.
- Geo-connectivity to the US. What we saw in Vancouver specifically is that we’re deeply connected to the Valley, but some of our companies need to be in NYC. This allows us not only to bridge Canada, but also mentors, partners and investors in the United States.
How do you foresee HIGHLINE affecting the Canadian and global startup ecosystems?
It benefits it immensely. From a fundraising perspective, it concentrates and allows for a playing field that has been well vetted, including some of Canada’s top VCs like BDC Capital, Relay Ventures, Version One, and iNovia. Allowing that deal flow to percolate to the top is important because there’s so much noise in the ecosystem. HIGHLINE is also going to create winners, which is going to attract more winners as founders see those successes, with acquisitions and companies going public. It also brings legitimacy to the Canadian ecosystem when you have a top-flight best ecosystem, and attracts attention from the global startup ecosystem.
Tell me a bit about your time as ED of GrowLab. What were some of the biggest learnings?
Looking locally wasn’t good enough anymore. We had to look larger and partner with people who have that larger vision.
You also have to look to where companies do business. A lot of business for Vancouver companies is done in Seattle and San Francisco, and for many Toronto companies, it’s done in NYC. At GrowLab, we were big proponents of the Startup Visa application. I saw there were a lot of opportunities to bring talent in from other places. And within Canada – like Farm At Hand – we realized we need to look nationally and find the best talent and where it sits.
We also learned we need to unite funding. There are a lot of accelerators and disparate funding pieces for those. I think there’s going to be consolidation, and GrowLab allowed me to see that. HIGHLINE is the way to say, “Consolidation is going to continue to happen, so we need to consolidate instead of be consolidated.” The guys who see that first and actively pursue that are going to be the winners of the space.
Do you have a favourite success story from GrowLab?
Retsly, the first cohort I ran at GrowLab, being acquired by Zillow was a huge one. Then Zeetl, which came from the Ukraine and was acquired by Hootsuite. And Farm At Hand (farm management software) is a great company in a massive space that isn’t that obvious.
You’re a co-founder of Koho, a banking startup that replaces your bank account with no fees and features like spending filters and maximums, goals, and rent cheques, and it also has a give-back component that lets customers select the cause they want to benefit.
What excites you most about Koho?
I really like disrupting industries. The bigger and more disruptive, the better. Banking is an industry that has had a regulatory moat around it for so long, and people are ready for change.
Last year Canada’s big five banks made $29 billion in profit, and paid out $10 billion in executive bonuses… but Canadians are stilling paying some of the highest bank fees in the world.
And the customer experience sucks. If it is the best in the world—an Apple-like experience—it would be different, but the reality is, the banking experience today is shitty.
Banking should not raise my blood pressure every time I do it, and that’s what it does today. We’re ready to disrupt that.