Brice Scheschuk: Investing in People

As a champion of Canadian technology and an active venture investor, Brice Scheschuk looks for three key traits in any startup: Talent, Team, and Culture. Only when he’s sure a company has what it takes to succeed does he shift focus to the organization’s product and its path to commercialization. Without the right people, he says, even the best product or service will fall flat.

Scheschuk comes by these instincts naturally. As CEO of Globalive Capital, he’s been part of a tight team that redefined business communications, and then launched Canada’s fourth national wireless carrier, Wind Mobile. Tony Lacavera, Globalive’s highly visible and visionary leader, admits he couldn’t have succeeded without Scheschuk’s finance and strategy skills, and the regulatory savvy of chief legal officer Simon Lockie, now chief corporate officer of the company’s new spinoff, Globalive Technology Partners.

The team built Wind Mobile to 940,000 customers before accepting a $1.6 -billion acquisition bid from Shaw Communications in 2016. While many teams break up after a successful exit, Globalive’s leaders stayed put. Redeploying a chunk of the proceeds (Scheschuk will only say it’s north of $100 million), they repositioned Globalive as a diversified investment firm with a commitment to accelerate early-stage businesses in sectors as diverse as media, healthcare, e-commerce, and AI. Its 100 or so investments include Flexiti Financial, TimePlay, and TouchBistro.

After 15 years together, what makes Globalive’s team work? “We have figured out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Scheschuk. “Tony is the big thinker. He loves risk, and he’s a master of networking. Simon does legal, and I’m a finance/operations, people and culture guy. We defer to each other’s strengths. We know better than to step on each other’s shoes.”

Scheschuk currently splits his time between Globalive Capital and Globalive Technology Partners, which will take a more hands-on, operational role with promising tech firms, helping them build new software based on machine learning and blockchain.

If you’re an entrepreneur looking for investor attention, get thee to an accelerator. The days of Globalive finding its investments through random networking and coffee meetings are over. Scheschuk says Globalive’s relationships with programs such as Toronto’s DMZ, Creative Destruction Lab, and Next Canada lead to the best deals: “These are great harvesting grounds for guys like us.” He says the best accelerators put entrepreneurs “through a rigorous program with super-smart mentors around the table. You get to see these entrepreneurs in action, and then you see who [among the mentors] writes cheques for them.”

Scheschuk pauses thoughtfully when asked for his best advice to startups. “The best entrepreneurs are strategic thinkers about their capital stack,” he says at last. Whether you’re working on a seed round or series B raise, he says, “you have to be thinking two or three levels ahead.” Growth is a journey, not an event: “The people who are the most successful are the ones who understand this early.”

When asked to cite the most common mistakes that entrepreneurs make, Scheschuk offered three:

  • Raising too little capital or too much. You don’t want to give up too much of your company to early-stage investors, but you never want to run out of money before you’ve hit your milestones.
  • Not creating the right team culture. Scheschuk looks for real rigour in your team-formation decisions. Not only do you need all the right skills around the table, but everyone must have similar values and keep their egos in check.
  • Placing too much emphasis on your product. “I value marketing over product,” he says. In today’s Cloud era, with the latest development tools, it’s easier than ever to create a product. “But the ability to get traction and differentiate yourself is much, much harder.”

Above all, Scheschuk says, when assessing founders to invest in, “I do my best to suss out character.” He looks for humility, self-awareness, willingness to lead from the front – and ability to learn. “Pre-learn as much as humanly possible about what you’re likely to go through,” he warns. “You have to know where the pitfalls are.”