Written by Andrew Seale
David Berglas’ hands are coated with pancake batter and strawberry juice as he apologizes profusely for being a bit late for the interview.
“I just made pancakes for 60 entrepreneurs and developers and other people working in startups at the Ryerson DMZ,” explains the co-founder and COO of Shoelace, a personal assistant-esque plug-in for ecommerce platform Shopify that lets small and medium-sized businesses retarget ads and advertise to shoppers who recently viewed a product but didn’t buy it. The startup has been in the Ryerson Futures segment of the DMZ since March 2016.
“It’s such an awesome place, the scale here is enormous,” he says. “It’s been a really great way to reintroduce ourselves into the Toronto scene.”
The company just returned from Boulder, Colorado where they spent four months in an ad-tech-focused accelerator after launching in May 2015. It’s been a hectic year admits David, but he and his co-founders, Reza Khadjavi, CEO and Alexander Sloan, CTO, are well tuned, having honed their chops at ecommerce startup Hubba before striking out on their own.
“We are the next generation product of a Toronto startup,” says David. Shoelace’s co-founders all got their start at Hubba around the same time, finding a mentor in Ben Zifkin, the company’s CEO, studying him as he built the team from 10 to over 50.
“We learned a lot from him and saw what he was able to do in Toronto,” says David. “He’s always been a champion of the city and we saw what it meant to build a startup here.”
It was an ethos they dragged with them after striking out on their own, heading to Colorado, wooed by ad guru Alex Bogusky to join his recently launched Boomtown accelerator. And it was the same ethos that brought them back to Toronto.
“The accelerator tried really hard to convince us to (become) an American corporation, to relocate there because that’s where most of our investment would ultimately come from,” says David. “But we made the difficult but very smart choice to return back to Toronto – we convinced them this was the right move for the company which was ultimately in their best interest (as well).”
The founders knew Shoelace “had” to be built here.
“We’re squarely between Ottawa and Waterloo and in the same city as one of the major offices of Shopify and our company has been a Shopify plug-in since day one,” he says. “Our competitors are located around the world… they just don’t have this hometown advantage that we do.”
It’s allowed Shoelace to stay connected with the platform they’re built off of, to foster relationships that are critical to the early stage startup. And, of course, it’s given David an opportunity to up his pancake game.
“I’ve always been hesitant to be too proud to be from Toronto because we have a reputation for being too proud,” says the entrepreneur. “But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”