Unique startup studio model makes first mark in B.C.

Expa, the brainchild of Canadian Uber co-founder Garrett Camp, is building startups in Vancouver

Cmd CEO Jake King (left) with Expa partner Milun Tesovic. The entrepreneurs co-founded Cmd at Expa’s Vancouver office | Submitted

Milun Tesovic didn’t know what was next for his tech career following a two-year-plus stint at CBS Corp.

The Vancouver-based tech entrepreneur was still in his mid-20s when he sold his startup, MetroLyrics, to the U.S. media giant in 2011.

There were many years ahead for him to make a mark in the tech sector, so he turned to another Canadian who made it big in technology: Uber Technologies Inc. co-founder Garrett Camp, who had gone on to launch start-up studio Expa in San Francisco.

“I was trying to figure out what to do next,” recalled Tesovic. “And so in chatting with Garrett, I really wanted to follow the vision of what Expa was supposed to be, which is a great place for entrepreneurs to come and create new companies.”

While an accelerator begins with a team at its early stages of product development and scales from there, the less-common startup studio generally begins with an idea, which becomes the catalyst for staff development and company expansion.

Two years after Expa’s launch in Vancouver, this unique model has delivered its first big score in the city with its cybersecurity startup, Cmd, announcing a US$15 million Series B raised last month.

“My work with Milun has really opened opportunities to get in front of other entrepreneurs – both locally to learn those lessons very early on but also to work with a lot of mentors across the U.S. and Canada when it comes to growing a business,” said Cmd CEO Jake King, who co-founded the startup with Tesovic at Expa’s Vancouver office.

Cmd’s server security platform is geared towards the enterprise market and is designed to help security experts log, understand, predict and control user behaviour within the Linux operating system.

King said Tesovic’s experience building MetroLyrics in Vancouver put him in front of the right people as they sought to expand Cmd and add personnel.

“Getting connected to that environment really requires someone who’s been there and done that before,” said King, the former security operations lead at Hootsuite Inc.

“It’s hard to hire the right team, especially when you’re competing with companies like Amazon [Nasdaq:AMZN] and Microsoft [Nasdaq:MSFT] and large companies that run the tech scene in Vancouver.”

Cmd has 24 employees. King said he expects growth this year will be “quite substantial.”

While startup studios are less common than accelerators and incubators, they are creeping into the Vancouver tech ecosystem.

Los Angeles-based entertainment agency Creative Artists Agency launched its own startup studio in Vancouver in November 2017.

Creative Labs, led by Canadian venture capitalist Leonard Brody, is focused on consumer-facing technologies such as over-the-top streaming, virtual reality and gaming.

It’s yet to unveil its local portfolio but, like Expa, it is deploying capital to its companies.

In Creative Labs’ case, it has US$12.5 million at its disposal.

Tesovic said Expa will be deploying “more capital in different ways” as it becomes further entrenched in the local tech scene.

“First and foremost, everybody at Expa has been a builder,” he said. “So we’ve all created companies, we’ve all been early on in companies. We’re not financing guys looking to transition into investment.

“We’re willing to take bigger risks. And we get our hands dirty. So we don’t do a cheque and forget about the company. We help them along the way [with] as much help as they need.”