Cutting Room Floor: Investor Rich Osborn on how he knows when to back an entrepreneur

"What's critical is their ability to interpret, to see around corners, to read the tea leaves."

When I interview people for stories, most of what they say to me doesn’t make the final article. If you’ve ever been interviewed by a journalist or broadcaster, you already know this. A 20 minute interview generally gets cut to a few lines in a news report or 30 seconds on a news broadcast. A lot of interesting content gets unused. I want to change this. So, I’m going to start sharing some of the key parts of interviews that I was unable to make fit into my published works. I’m going to do this through a new and extremely infrequent series called Cutting Room Floor.

The first bit of unused output I’d like to share comes from my BCBusiness profile of Rich Osborn, managing partner of Telus Ventures, that was published on May 21, 2020. I had to leave out Osborn’s thoughts on how he knows when to back a founder, why he believes Covid-19 is an opportunity for Canadian investors to consolidate their bets, and many other things he wants you to know about Telus and their social impact work. Here it is. Enjoy.

On choosing founders to invest in

WJ: How do you when you should back an entrepreneur?

RO: I think you know when you know. It's like when I hired my team here. I mean, I'm far less concerned with people's background and much more concerned with kind of the grit, the integrity, the intelligence. Because no business ends up where it started, and so the snapshot that you get when you look at something is just a moment in time. In fact, it's almost retrospective. What's critical is their ability to interpret, to see around corners, to read the tea leaves. That's not a business plan thing. That's a personality thing. And I'd like to think people like [League CEO] Mike Serbinis that I've invested in, people like [Beacon CEO] Sam Duboc, [GenXys chairman] Mark Gelfer here in Vancouver. I mean, those people are... they're good folks. They're high integrity folks. They're honest and they're good because they care.

On Covid’s affect on companies and Canada’s investing landscape

WJ: In some cases, wouldn't you say that some companies that shouldn't be companies or maybe aren't good ideas or aren't going to find product market fit ever are finding that out right now?

RO: Yeah, I'm always reluctant to say something shouldn't be a company. I think as a general rule in Canada, we have funded, relatively speaking, too many companies with not enough money. And so all other things being equal, this may be an opportunity to consolidate our bets, and to give them more capital and to really have the winners to emerge. Because at the end of the day, not every company will be successful. And so if we're able to funnel into the stronger, more viable, more top-rated companies, more capital, which I think is what's going to happen, then I think at the end of the day, that benefits everybody.

On everything else he is proud of

WJ: What else should people know about Telus and Telus Ventures?

RO: Well, let me just maybe talk about COVID and some of the impact kind of related work, impact investing related work that we're doing. So TELUS you may know, is one of the largest health companies in Canada. And so as part of that, we've been doing our part and I would say, doing a really, I think, a commendable job as an organization of responding. So we have things like Tech for Good, which is a kind of tools and specialized assistance to customers of varying physical and mental abilities who require assistive technology. We do something called Internet for Good, so we've given broadband access to 200,000 low income families. We've given away 10,000 devices to socially isolated Canadians. We have home health monitoring for COVID patients. So using technology in the home for people who have been discharged from hospital, and we partnering with the BC Ministry of Health.

We have also, as Ventures, led a task force around serology testing. So if you know the testing landscape, it's clear that serology or blood testing to determine the presence of antibodies is going to be a critical part of return to work. So we're involved in a number of public sector and private sector committees, working groups, panels to try and bring that using our footprint to Canadians to help them get back to work faster. So that's another initiative our team is leading. And so we're working with our partners in the public sector, working with TELUS business units, and working with startup companies around activating some of those as quick as we can for the benefit of the Canadian economy. So I mean, talking about what's important to get across, I would just really hope that your readers get a better sense of, we're here, we're local, we're very active. We invested over a hundred million dollars last year in startups.

Keep reading: In a crisis, veteran B.C. tech investor Rich Osborn spies opportunity