Written by Andrew Seale
Jonah Midanik may have started his first company in Toronto 15 years ago but he didn’t really understand what the city meant to him until well into his serial entrepreneur days.
“We didn’t know this at the time because we were so young but if we’d have started in pretty much any other city in the world we would have been dead in the water,” says Jonah referring to Casino Media, a company he started with a friend in their 20s selling advertising on pool table felts.
He points to their ignorance to the fact that much of the marketing in Canada, particularly beverage and consumer packaged goods, was based here.
“It cost us TTC fare or a tank of gas to go and talk to these marketers rather than having to fly everywhere,” he recalls. “And we found people a little bit willing to take a shot on two kids who didn’t really know.”
Shortly after he transitioned from his pool felt gig to building a successful experiential marketing agency called Immersion Media.
“We eventually grew into about 25 employees in Liberty Village (with) big clients like Mercedes Benz, Poker Stars and President’s Choice Financial,” he says. “I sold that business to one of my partners and left to another Toronto business – Virgin Gaming.”
Again, he was surprised to find that online gaming had a “huge footprint in Toronto.” He stayed there for a while before taking a job in Las Vegas but found “it didn’t nearly have nearly this startup ecosystem.”
Eventually he returned to Toronto having seen how it looked on the other side and decided it was time to combine all the lessons he’d learned from 15 years in the advertising and marketing sphere into Limelight, an experiential marketing automation and analysis software.
The platform lets branders scheme up entire experiential campaigns or events then communicate to all parties involved, tracking and analyzing the results in the process.
“They can plan what’s going to happen on the web, what’s going to happen on mobile, what’s going to happen on the site through applications or staff applications or kiosks, how the customers going to be communicated with and everyone can get on the same page,” says Jonah. “Then they can actually build all those assets, there’s no more need for coders, no more need for developers.”
So far Limelight has wooed big brands like BMW, Molson and Scotiabank for campaigns and raised startup capital in Toronto. He points out that while startups often complain about the “conservative” venture capital environment in Toronto, he thinks it manifests itself in a positive way.
“In 2015 they were throwing money around the Valley like it was going out of style… with the venture capital slowdown (there), it hasn’t happened nearly as much in Toronto because the valuations were never as crazy here,” says Jonah “That’s the unique thing about this city… even though we still have access to the US market, it’s a little more stable.”
Limelight launched its beta version in September 2015 with the Toronto ecosystem committing the bulk of funding.
“Toronto is home – we will continue to live and operate here, there’s no desire to pick up and move to the Bay area or New York,” says Jonah. And looking back on it, he admits, the city has always been kind to him.
“Shopify and Sysomos, Meriden, Eloquoa – company after company after company (there’s) a large marketing component to all of those businesses,” he says. “And we’ve proven quite conclusively you can build a great marketing technology business in Canada … so no this is home and you know regardless of what success we might be lucky enough to attain, there’s absolutely no desire to change that.”