category 1

Press: The Shopify effect: startups raising money in Canada’s capita

This is the way it’s supposed to work when a city’s high-tech core is reaching critical mass. Thursday morning — a downtown Ottawa software startup — will unveil a $8.75 million equity investment.

Nothing hugely unusual in this but what makes the deal notable is that — run by serial entrepreneur Aydin Mirzaee — honed its flagship product by testing it out at Shopify, the e-commerce giant whose global headquarters sits less than a block away from Mirzaee’s Slater St. digs.

Now nearly every one of Shopify’s 4,000 employees is using technology. More importantly, hundreds of other companies are looking to follow suit.

This is what it means to have an instantly recognized global tech brand anchored in your town.

If your software is good enough to command the attention of a $1 billion-a-year e-commerce software company, chances are good you’ve already got a winner.

“Shopify is literally the best possible lead customer we could have,” Mirzaee, 34, said in an interview, “It not only validates our product but raises the level of interest in it.”

The Shopify connection also made raising money a little easier, in one case directly. The three biggest investors announced Thursday are Garage Capital (an Ontario-based affiliate of the federal Business Development Bank), Inovia Capital of Montreal and Felicis Ventures of San Francisco.

Felicis, of course, was an early investor in Shopify. When Felicis learned of the testing underway of’s software, it was immediately intrigued and soon committed real capital.

Mirzaee, a University of Ottawa engineering grad, has his eyes on a very big prize. He wants his company’s software in the hands of most of the world’s managers., and its startup workforce of a couple dozen, aims to solve the surprisingly common problem of managers who receive too little training before being thrust into the role. The consequences for organizations can be grave because a breakdown in relations between managers and the team members who report to them, can produce disaffected workers. has developed a software assistant to help managers focus their relations with employees throughout the year, and never lose sight of commitments.

The inspiration came from Mirzaee’s previous startup, Fluidware, which grew to 75 employees in just six years before being sold in 2014 to Survey Monkey, a California-based software firm specializing in online surveys.

“We could find software to help us out with marketing, finance and many other things,” Mirzaee said, “but there was nothing for helping our managers manage their direct reports (employees).”

The idea stuck with him as he fulfilled a two-year obligation to stay on with Survey Monkey through the transition in ownership. In 2017, Mirzaee and co-founders Amin Mirzaee (his brother) and Samuel Cormier-Iijima set out to create the managers’ software assistant. Amin and Cormier-Iijima were also Fluidware founders.

A fourth member of this illustrious crew of Fluidware founders, Eli Fathi, went another direction late in 2015, when he took on the job of CEO of MindBridge Analytics Inc. — an east Ottawa firm that uses artificial intelligence to scan company accounts for unusual activity, whether caused by mistakes or fraud. MindBridge, which employs about 100, was founded just four years ago by Solon Angel, another remarkable entrepreneur. Angel was born in Brazil, grew up in France and the Caribbean, became a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, then moved to Ottawa for love.  Venture firms originally became interested in MindBridge because of its proximity to Shopify — whose CEO Tobi Lütke also chose to stay in Ottawa for love.

Back to Mirzaee, whose entrepreneurial track record gained him an introduction to Shopify’s human resources group. Shopify eventually agreed to an isolated trial of the product.

“The first version wasn’t great,” acknowledged Mirzaee. But Shopify had developed in similar fashion. Most Ottawa residents are familiar with the story of how Tobi Lütke pre-Shopify grew so frustrated with the lack of e-commerce software for selling his own tiny company’s surfboards, he and others developed a version of their own. After many iterations, this became the technology platform that underpins Shopify’s global success.

Mirzaee’s engineers obviously made big strides with subsequent versions of their  Shopify’s head of human resources, Brittany Forsyth, credits the technology with having introduced more focus to the thousands of conversations taking place daily between Shopify’s managers and the rest of the workforce. software is also being used at other startups including Vidyard (a Kitchener-based video technology firm), Tulip Retail (a Toronto-based tech firm) and Time Doctor (an Ottawa firm that makes team-tracking software).

With the $8.75 million financing in place — terms, including the implied market value of, were kept private — plans to introduce its software to much wider audience.

It is, of course, far to early to know where Mirzaee’s initial financing success at will take him. Certainly, he and his co-founders are launching their latest venture in a far different environment than the one that greeted Fluidware. In 2008, the year they launched their survey software company, the financial world was in crisis and the economy was set to crash. They survived, and eventually thrived.

As with other early-stage firms, there’s still much that could go wrong. But this time around, the founders could do much better than merely thrive.


Related Post