Although he just moved to Kelowna in January, Salmaan Ahmed is no stranger to the startup industry.
The Sudbury-raised Executive in Residence at Accelerate Okanagan has years of experience both as a successful entrepreneur and mentor for Communitech in the burgeoning Waterloo region.
Like many entrepreneurs who move to the Okanagan, it was the lifestyle that attracted Ahmed to the area.
“Kelowna stuck on me size-wise and lifestyle-wise, and I had been living in Seattle so I was used to the landscape,” he said. “So far it’s been great.”
Ahmed divides his time between here and Waterloo, and always enjoys returning to the mountains.
Before moving to the Okanagan, Ahmed spent the last few years as a program manager at Microsoft, after the software giant acquired his company in 2014. The startup he co-founded, Inception Mobile, was created in 2012 to allow developers to port iOS apps to different mobile platforms. The business received a round of seed funding from Samsung Ventures in 2013, and within a year there was significant interest from Microsoft.
“Our initial relationship with Microsoft was originally to study the feasibility for using our products to help us port to Windows Phone,” Ahmed said. “That relationship progressed really well and by August 2014 we completed the acquisition deal.”
The product lives on today as the Windows Bridge for iOS.
The Microsoft acquisition was not the only successful exit in which Ahmed was a part of. In 2006, Ahmed was a founding employee of SlipStream, a spinoff of research from the University of Waterloo that grew to about 44 employees until it was acquired by BlackBerry.
For the startups he works with at Accelerate Okanagan, Ahmed is clear about the primary objective he wants the founder to focus on: market validation.
“I think the most important thing is actually building a product and putting it in the hands of people other than yourself and your friends,” he said. “A lot of people I talk to, both here and in Ontario, sort of get fixated on fundraising. I try to quite delicately make a point that that raising capital is merely a tool to execute your larger strategy.”
One of the first things Ahmed advises founders is to talk with customers as much as possible.
“You need understanding of how your customers feel about your product or project; it is very easy for startups to believe their own bull, but you need to put it in people’s hands and get honest feedback,” he said, and added that these customers should clearly see where your product or service adds value.
For the budding CEO, Ahmed believes there is one character trait that is valued above all else: the ability to listen.
“You need to be willing to listen to your customers, your investors, your board or whoever is out there. It’s incredibly important,” he said.