Meet Ray Walia — Co-founder & Managing Partner at Victory Square
Raised on construction sites pulling nails out of two-by-fours or in the backstage of Vancouver’s first live Bollywood concerts at the Pacific Coliseum alongside his entrepreneurial father, Ray Walia was born to become an entrepreneur. Now, he’s representing Canada and championing the power of Canadian entrepreneurship to a global arena.
In the late 1960’s, Ray’s father, Peter Walia immigrated to North America in hopes of starting a new life for him, his wife and future family. He eventually landed in Vancouver, working in a grocery store during the day (where he also slept in the back storage), and driving taxis in the evening, just to make enough to bring his wife over to Canada.
By the 1970’s, Peter became an international producer, organizing over 200 Bollywood concerts around the world and was one of the pioneers in bringing live concert events to Vancouver at the Pacific Coliseum. If he didn’t seem occupied enough, he also worked as a general contractor, building homes throughout the Greater Vancouver region. His young sons, Ray and Sanjay shadowed him in the backstage of his concerts and construction sites. The two brothers went on to organizing live concerts on behalf of their father, but little did Peter know, his perseverance and resilience would lead his youngest son, Ray to become one of the most respected entrepreneurs in British Columbia.
While becoming an entrepreneur may be a dream for some, for Ray, it was a destination. From concert producer to serial entrepreneur, to now, the managing partner of a multi-million dollar venture fund for early-stage startups, Ray Walia has played an integral part of building the Vancouver startup ecosystem to what is now known to be one of Canada’s hotspots for innovation and technology.
Starting his entrepreneurial career as an owner and operator of multiple Dairy Queen franchises, Ray saw the potential for mobile marketing to break into the traditional franchise market. His experience in disrupting the restaurant franchise industry led him to build Razor Technology Inc., an interactive advertising agency specializing in mobile marketing. From developing systems in 2002 to facilitate on-demand online ordering and delivery for customer orders, then developing a platform to deliver coupons to customers via their mobile devices while in-store, Ray and his team were constantly experimenting with bleeding edge technology and creating new ways to interact with consumers with technology and through mobile devices.
Like others, Ray experienced his ups and downs in the market of 2008 and eventually went on to establish another interactive entertainment company, FireTonic Entertainment Inc. that specialized in developing digital content for social interaction and entertainment through film, television, the web, and mobile.
In 2012, Ray co-founded Launch Academy, Vancouver’s leading startup incubator designed to provide an open and collaborative environment for early-stage entrepreneurs to share ideas, receive mentorship and grow. To date, Launch Academy has hosted more than 450 startups that have raised over $80 Million in funding and created more than 650 jobs.
Last year, Ray co-produced Traction Conference, Canada’s largest growth-hacking conference, featuring more than 40 high-profile speakers from Silicon Valley, and bringing in over 800+ attendees at events in both Vancouver and San Francisco. Traction Conference was named one of the best stand-alone conferences in San Francisco by the Huffington Post.
Through his tireless work of mentoring and helping early-stage startups grow, Ray was named to the Forty Under 40 list by Business In Vancouver in 2014 and named Entrepreneur Mentor of the Year for British Columbia in both 2014 and 2015. In 2015, Ray Walia co-founded and became Managing Partner of Victory Square, and was selected to represent Canada at the G20 Young Entrepreneurs Summit as well as being selected by the US Embassy to participate in the US Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
We sat down with Ray to learn more about his early years as an entrepreneur, what sparked his passion for technology, and why he invested in building Vancouver’s tech ecosystem to global heights.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I grew up watching my dad run his own businesses, helping him out where I could, but my original dream was to be in the medical field and become a neurosurgeon. I was always fascinated by the brain, and how it worked. Mid-way through high school, I started calculating how many more years of schooling it would take me to become a neurosurgeon… let’s just say I quickly looked into other possible career opportunities. I enrolled in BCIT’s Entrepreneurship Program and also became a Certified Management Accountant.
Upon graduation, I had some cool jobs lined up — pretty lucrative positions for a new grad. My dad came up to me and gave me a bit of advice, “either you can work for somebody else and help them make a name for themselves, or you can do it for yourself — it’s not going to be easy, but the payoff is that much more rewarding.”
Looking back at my childhood and seeing my dad putting in all those long hours of hard work, stressful, sleepless nights, with the ups and downs, initially deterred me from wanting to be an entrepreneur. I didn’t think he was happy and didn’t want that for myself. I came to realize, that he was doing it for himself and his family, and being his own boss, building his own businesses were in fact, what made him happy. I realized that my potential long hours, stressful nights working for someone else would benefit them and make them happy but would leave me unsatisfied, and at that point, I made the decision to become an entrepreneur. Yes, it is not easy and I still have my share of stressful, sleepless nights, but being an entrepreneur makes me happy.
What sparked your interest in technology and startups?
Before starting my career in tech, I had purchased and operated multiple Dairy Queen franchises. The location I took over had a drive-through, good sales and at a good location, but during that time, many franchises were cannibalizing each other by placing them so close of one another. Eventually, I realized that to truly benefit from a franchise system the key was to have multiple locations, so in 2002, I was able to open a second Dairy Queen franchise this time in Downtown Vancouver.
I had worked with a friend who was building Blackberry apps at the time who helped put a website together and an online ordering system that allowed our customers to order our highest margin (and most popular) items, which were ice cream cakes. We enabled our customers to order these cakes online and have them delivered on demand to their office within 30 minutes. We had experimented with using Bluetooth hotspots for delivering coupons to customers in store directly to their mobile devices. I quickly realized this was a serious opportunity to introduce a new, engaging way for people to use their phones in real life scenarios and from there, I was bit by the tech bug and haven’t looked back.
You’ve recently represented Canada and the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance in Turkey and was selected by the U.S. Embassy to participate in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Why is promoting youth entrepreneurship around the world so important to you?
We’ve all heard of the saying, “the youth are our future.” While this has always been true, I don’t think it has ever carried as much weight as it does today. We live in a day and age where entire generations are growing up not having known a world without the Internet and not having the world’s knowledge just a few clicks away. In fact, we now have generations that will grow up not knowing a world without having a supercomputer in their pocket. Today’s youth are the most educated and globally connected in our history.
Even though I personally have multiple businesses to run, participating in the G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Alliance and the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program were a must for me as a duty and a privilege. People in tech tend to have a pay it forward mentality, and as such I am constantly helping to mentor and advise entrepreneurs whenever I can. These two programs have allowed me to take that pay it forward mentality to the next level and offer advice, insight and feedback to a larger, global network.
We as leaders and peers need to ensure that the proper infrastructure, support, and education is in place to help the next wave of young entrepreneurs around the world build technology and businesses that will help shape the future for all of us, and do so in a socially and economically responsible way. The key is, this is an opportunity for both old and young to learn and educate each other and work together in making our world a better place.
Ray is currently visiting five major cities in the U.S. participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in order to build dialogue around disrupting industries with technology and opportunities for young entrepreneurs. If you want to follow him on his journey, be sure to check out his SnapChat (@raywalia) and on Twitter!