Written by Andrew Seale
It’s been less than a year since Vikram Rangnekar and his family left Silicon Valley to move to Toronto. Yet the serial entrepreneur and software engineer has already become Candian-ized, rather he’s become thoroughly indoctrinated in the art of having lengthy and nuanced conversations about Canadian weather.
Especially with friends and former colleagues back in the Valley wondering what he was thinking moving to Canada.
“People think you're moving to the tundra,” says Rangnekar, referring to the endless string of friends and former colleagues asking “why Toronto?” Since getting to Canada, the India-born entrepreneur launched MOV North, a membership-based website charting his trials and tribulations untethering himself from the Valley's ecosystem and a six year post at LinkedIn in Mountain View to make the move to Toronto.
But ending up Toronto wasn’t necessarily part of the plan. Rangnekar had been looking to explore some ideas outside of his work at LinkedIn but since his work visa required him to have an employer, he knew his time stateside was coming to an end.
“I had a bunch of ideas, maybe move to Europe… I’d moved to California from Singapore where I’d built a startup – I was considering moving back,” he says.
But a conversation with some close friends in Toronto got the city in his sights. The tipping point was talking to his friend Mark Organ, the Toronto-born founder of Eloqua and Influitive, who Rangnekar had met during his stint in Singapore.
“He's a big champion of Toronto and explained the tech scene to me – this is what’s happening here, we’re growing fast, it’s a new thing…,” says Rangnekar. “The Valley is all about getting in early.”
So he took a page from the Valley’s sentiment and decided to check it out for himself, applying for Permanent Residency as a software engineer under the skilled workers program. Organ hired Rangnekar in product management at Influitive and he settled in Toronto.
But that wasn’t enough. He couldn’t help but feel like some of his highly skilled colleagues stuck in immigration limbo back in the Valley could follow his path.
“Friends started reaching out from the Valley saying they would love to know more,” he says. They wanted to know about visas, they wanted to know about cost of living, about salaries and job prospects. Like Rangnekar, they wanted to know, “What is Toronto?”
“Surprisingly I couldn't find too much… it was super under-marketed – the government websites were very technical, they didn’t communicate that ‘this is Toronto,’ ” says Rangnekar. He started his blog and one of his posts happened to go viral on LinkedIn with 20,000 views in two days. “It told me I’d sparked a nerve.”
He began building out content covering all aspects of the move, from technical details about getting permanent residency to preparing for winter, which he admitted in a post, wasn’t as bad as he’d thought: “Armed with the right Parka we hardly felt it. I barely used my car and choose to walk everywhere, the right clothing was all that was needed,” writes Rangnekar. “I didn’t even need to layer up, I often only had a t-shirt under the Parka. “
He’s since grown his membership base, charging $5 to join the open forum (to weed out bots and the insincere). He’s also continued building a startup called Webmatr, an API integration platform for developers.
“Strategically, Toronto has a lot of things going for it at this time… it’s a perfect storm. I can see the government moving in the right way, they’ve opened up and made work visas move a lot faster,” he says.
And the demand for new talent is there, especially with the amounts of immigrants in limbo throughout the different tech hubs across the U.S.
“At the end of the day, all of them are in the same immigration boat and they're all generally looking for options,” says Rangnekar. He says his plan is to inspire this talented diversity to make the move north. “It's kind of selfish in some ways too because I'm here and would love the ecosystem to be better.”
Before Rangnekar came he remembers a friend telling him that Toronto was North America’s best-kept secret. “It was so true,” he says.