Written by Andrew Seale
Cedric Mathieu had been following the startup scene in Toronto from afar before he moved up to Toronto a year ago from San Francisco to helm Canadian operations for Turo – a peer-to-peer car rental marketplace.
“People in the company were fairly agnostic as to where we would actually set up the team and office,” says Mathieu. “I pushed for Toronto after reading about it and reading about people from around here.”
Born in France, the director of Canada for Turo identifies himself as an internationalist, having moved around throughout Europe before moving to San Francisco. Prior to launching the peer-to-peer car rental platform’s Canadian operation, Mathieu spent a year as director of finance for the company.
“To be completely honest people in Silicon Valley don’t think about Canada much… (it is) surprising,” he says. “I always tend to think of the world as a really diverse and multicultural place but in Silicon Valley you are in a bubble and you tend to not really think outside that bubble.”
So when Turo, founded in 2009 in Boston before relocating its headquarters to San Francisco, arrived in Toronto to set up its Canadian headquarters, the international nature of the city was eye opening for the company.
“That really was very appealing to us… we're quite an international company with a lot of different nationalities (on the team),” says Mathieu.
Plus the “cultural proximity” shared with the U.S. and the talent available here was definitely a draw. “I think having access to a pool of people who were able to speak many different languages and people coming from different places of the world was quite important for us – it was a tactical move.”
Since establishing their Canadian operations and officially hitting the road in April 2016, the Turo community (Mathieu emphasizes the word “community” given that every car comes from an individual who has listed their vehicle on the service for use by others, much like an Airbnb model) has grown to 250 cities.
“It’s been a very intense year,” admits Mathieu, but also a great year for the company. For one, the move has helped the company prove demand beyond the first few markets where they launched.
“There are more than a billion cars in the world and those cars are being used less than 5 per cent of the time which is crazy when you think about it,” says the Turo director. “You have trillions of dollars of debt sitting idle 95 per cent of the time, whether it’s in a driveway or a garage – just being there, depreciating at a very fast rate, costing money to the owners.”
Naturally, moving north wasn’t without it challenges. Before expanding the company inked a deal with Intact insurance. Coverage for those renting their vehicles is a key part of Turo’s model.
“You have to convince people nothing will happen to (their car),” he says. And they seem to have already, with thousands already listing on the service.
Mathieu admits, a year on, he’s still in the process of navigating the startup ecosystem here, familiarizing himself with the community and attending events when possible to keep a finger on the pulse. But it helps, he says, given that the city is getting some much-deserved attention.
“You can feel the interest of the outside world towards Toronto… every single week I read an article about Toronto, how VCs and angels are investing more,” he says. “I think Toronto has really managed to become the centre of the startup scene in Canada… I think it’s pretty interesting to be in the centre of all this – and we try to contribute as much as we can.”