We interviewed Nikolai Bratkovski, founder of Opencare,  to get an in-depth perspective on building a start-up  in Toronto. Opencare matches patients with the best  healthcare providers to improve outcomes and patient  experience. Nikolai has 10 years of experience as the  founder of several healthcare-oriented startups, including  SIMMS Enterprise and CardioTrust. 

What tips do you have for someone who wants to create their own startup?

Filter Your Advice. Everyone wants to give a founder  advice on how to succeed, especially the people who are  entrepreneurial types themselves. Filter your advice to  prevent yourself from getting taken off on wild adventures  that lead to nowhere and end up costing you valuable  time and resources. Ask yourself - has this person ever had  experience in this industry? Has their experience led them  to success? Another useful indicator for me is whether the  individual giving advice has ever had to overcome hardships  themselves or if their success was simply a result of being in  the right place at the right time. 

Build a Competent Team. It is tempting to try to build  a bigger team with fewer resources by outsourcing your  work. From personal experience, I think it is better to keep  a smaller team close rather than trying to work as a team  over a distance. Your priority at the early stage should  be to communicate effectively and build team cohesion.  Companies with fewer than 100 employees should avoid  outsourcing as much as possible in order to maximize their results.

 Find a Good Partner. Take your time to find someone  you get along with and who is on the same page as you. A  partnership won’t work if one partner is thinking of going  into a tech startup while the other wants to build a lifestyle  business. Good mentorship is necessary here. Consult your mentor to see what types of qualities they look for in a good  partner.

Do One Thing Really Well. It would be great to be perfect  at everything, but that’s not achievable for most of us. In  order to attract attention and land investor funding it is  better to aim for perfection in one area. For example, with  our business, we have really good customer retention so we  really hone in on that. Find what your business is best at and  really focus on perfecting that one area before moving on. 

Nourish Your Relationships. Too often, people go through  the effort of establishing a connection at an event, only to  end it after the second email. If you want to establish a real  connection, especially with investors, you have to build it  piece by piece and further it as much as possible. Many  opportunities I have come across have popped up through  casual conversations, so make sure you set aside time and  effort to maintain those connections. 

Get a Good Mentor Early On. My mindset has always  been, “I can figure stuff out”. When you are in that mindset  you go through trial and error and you end up trying  everything. For everything you’re trying to do, there’s a  person who has done it before – someone who has tried  out 10 ideas and figured out the one thing that actually  works. I didn’t rely on those people enough when I was  starting out. During the past few years, I have become more  aware of the resources that are available. Now our company  has much stronger advisors, much stronger mentors  around.

What were some of the challenges you’ve faced in  building your startup?

Have a Good Shareholders’ Agreement. When I was  building my first startup I did not pay much attention to the  shareholders’ agreement. That resulted in a very painful  experience when my partner and I decided to split up.

Big Egos. When you are looking for a partner, watch out  for people with egos. Egos are big red flags signaling  a turbulent relationship, especially in the event of a  disagreement. 

Restructuring the Company. I thought about it for a  long time before finally deciding to move ahead with  restructuring the company. The initial model that we started  off with was not working well, so I went ahead and started  everything again from scratch. That was very difficult and  expensive, but I think it was worth it. Speak to your mentors  and advisors to see what they think. 

Finding Talent. Good programming talent is really hard to  find. Sometimes you have to take what you can get when  you are at the beginning stages. A good founder will often  lure a really good team – but start small and build your way  up from there. 

Maintaining a Balanced Lifestyle. You need a balanced  lifestyle to stay at peak ability. I used to work crazy hours...  I basically lived at the office. Now, I know I perform better  if take one day off from work to recover. Sports are a good  way for me to stay above water when things get crazy. I also  try to eat well in order to maintain my health and diet. 

How have you found the startup landscape in  Toronto?

Toronto is a great city, but for me, the best scenario is being  able to start your own company from scratch in Silicon  Valley. First, there is more access to capital. There are also  more people who have succeeded in making money in a  similar type of business to yours, so generally investors are  much more likely to understand and relate to your idea.  Secondly, there is more talent and diversity in the valley,  making it easier to set up a team. Lastly, even though the  U.S. does not have startup grant programs like Canada, in  my opinion, private capital is more efficient because it does  not come with as many bureaucratic obligations. 

In spite of all these factors, I have enjoyed starting my  business in Toronto. People are more accessible and there’s  less competition in general, so there are definite upsides.

Andreea Andrei was a summer student with Aird & Berlis LLP