Written by Andrew Seale
Niles Lawrence wanted Facebook stock. Sure, the Queen’s University-educated biochemist knew nothing about investing but he thought he’d like to invest in Facebook nonetheless.
“I didn’t know anything about the financials of Facebook – I knew that everyone used it, it was the most popular thing at the time,” says Lawrence. He started sifting through huge amounts of raw data surrounding the company’s finances; devouring whatever info he could get his hands on.
“I didn’t know how to make sense of it and I kind of did what most people do: I quit and gave other people my money to work with,” he says. But the experience triggered something in him.
“I thought ‘how do we make this process a lot easier for somebody who doesn’t have this kind of time to do all the analysis or even know how to do (it),’ ” says Lawrence.
So, in February 2014, he launched Vuru, an analysis engine that looks at 10 years worth of raw financial data, crunches and analyses it, presenting it to the user in a free, simple visual report.
While he’d had an interest in startups prior to launching Vuru having interned in business development at the Ontario Centres of Excellence, helping out with the SmartStart Seed Fund, and participating in Queen’s startup community, Vuru truly flung him into the startup ecosystem.
He went down to California, eventually raising $1 million in seed funding led by Tim Draper (a prominent venture capitalists integral in the success of Skype and Hotmail) in partnership with Naveen Jain (InfoSpace, Intelius, Moon Express) and Sony Mordechai (Global Eye Investments).
“We locked down some really cool investors on our investment round and they wanted us to reinvent the way finance is done – the Valley is obviously excellent for that – we had this huge mentality shift and everyone wanted to do things at a humongous scale which was just mind boggling to us,” he says.
But Lawrence wanted to back home in Canada.
“I was born and raised in Toronto… I wanted (to) be back in the ecosystem here,” he says.
So in March 2016 he moved Vuru back with co-founder William Lawrence. “I was pleasantly surprised with how fast it’s been growing since when I left – I see more funding coming to Canada, not as much as the States yet but there are a lot more opportunities for startups in Canada than there were a couple years ago.”
Vuru has since set up shop in Ryerson’s Digital Media Zone.
“We love being in the DMZ, everyone is open to collaborate and bounce ideas off each other,” he says. “I think it helps a lot with your growth (to) have those conversations early with other founders and learn from them, share your insights, (add) their depth of knowledge to your own resource pool.”
He points out that hiring talent here has proven a lot easier and more cost effective than down south. Diversity is another major draw.
“Silicon Valley its almost becoming a monoculture to a certain degree… everyone is in technology or everyone is a developer and in that head space,” he says. “Which is a good thing, but when you’re in our space which is a consumer product, you want the diversity of people to test with.”
And it’s not just the diversity of businesses and people that he missed.
“It’s nice to have seasons again,” says Lawrence.