Welcoming Hamzah Nassif to the Real Team
April 29, 2020
Engineer and VC Builder Hamzah Nassif joins Real Ventures as Toronto-based Partner
At Real, we fervently believe that diversity of thought and experience are two of the key ingredients for successful innovation and the creation of the vibrant and globally-impactful startups that are going to change the world. Just as we seek these qualities and experiences in the daring and driven tech entrepreneurs with whom we partner and support, we likewise seek them in our team members.
We had been looking for a Partner to join our Toronto office for some time — someone with a track record of success in working with and advising fast-growing, early-stage tech companies; who has experience working in early-stage venture capital; and above all, someone who shares our values and drive to elevate the Canadian tech ecosystem, one mission-based startup and community-focused initiative at a time.
We are thrilled to have found the confluence of these qualities and experiences in Hamzah Nassif, whom we are delighted to announce has joined the Real Ventures team as a second partner in Toronto. Hamzah’s skill set and background complement those of our four seed-fund focused, Montreal-based partners, as well as my own. His experiences as a software engineer at Qualcomm, his belief in technology as a catalyst for societal transformation, his experiences building a venture builder in the Middle East and supporting the growth of numerous impactful tech companies from the earliest stages set him apart as a wonderful addition to both our team and the Canadian tech community.
Since we met Hamzah we have been impressed with his warmth, his insightfulness, his passion for Canadian tech, and his drive to help build great companies and entrepreneurs. We are thoroughly looking forward to working with him and invite you to learn more about why he chose to join our team and community in his own words below.
Janet Bannister, Managing Partner at Real Ventures
Supporting the next generation of innovative founders
Hamzah Nassif, Partner at Real Ventures
I joined Real Ventures this month as a Partner in the Toronto office and I’m thrilled to be working with an amazing team that has demonstrated a strong commitment to the Canadian tech ecosystem throughout the last 13 years since the firm was founded. As I join Real, I hope this confluence of two separate journeys will be the beginning of an amazing new chapter of working with the next generation of globally-ambitious Canadian founders.
Origins, from engineering to venture
A decade ago, when I was going through graduate business school, my now-found passion for working with startups and the founders building them was still in hypothesis form. I knew that I wanted to continue working with organizations that were developing new technologies or were leveraging these technologies to disrupt existing business models. But I also wanted to apply my engineering and business background in a broader mode than I had previously experienced.
Until then, I had spent close to a decade wearing the hat of a software engineer, first as an undergrad at Purdue, and later working at Qualcomm. Although Qualcomm’s engineering organization was, and still is, a juggernaut with a legacy that spans decades, I was lucky to have arrived at a time — in 2003 — when the mobile world was about to go through a paradigm shift in computing, and I was about to be given an opportunity to play a part in building the technology enabling it. I worked on the team that built Qualcomm’s first multiprocessor chipset and it was amazing to witness the rapid pace of innovation that occurred over the next 5 years. By the time I left in 2008, that first chip had become a family of a dozen or so products. Outside the company, Apple had introduced the iPhone and Google had launched Android. I had successfully been infected with the “innovation bug” and I wanted more.
My curiosity was itching at peak levels and in my search for a cure, I quickly turned my focus to the themes of the new and the many. I wanted to be part of a new story, to acquire new skills to solve new problems, to do this in a new context and to do it as many times as possible. Originating from Jordan, I felt it was a perfect time to move back to the Middle East, where I could take part in the story of rapid technology adoption that I felt was about to unfold there. It had also become clear to me that the “broader mode” of working with tech startups I had been seeking may be best pursued from the investment side of the tech ecosystem. There was only one problem. It was 2010 and you could count the number of VCs in the Middle East on one hand — and most of them were still fundraising.
Putting the hypothesis to work
I did not get to work with startups immediately. Instead, I used my first year to put my business education to good use in corporate finance advisory. The right moment came in late 2011 when I joined two others in starting a venture builder that built and invested in several online marketplace startups in the Middle East. We helped founders take their early products to fully-formed businesses, and over the next 6 years helped them scale operations to half a dozen countries, millions of users and more than US$50 million in annual revenues.
That journey not only gave me the feeling of being personally fulfilled by having realized my original goals, but it also revealed to me what I now consider my biggest source of joy while working in venture capital — the meaningful relationships I develop with founders and their teams, from whom I learn many lessons about work and life, and whom I hope I’m able to help by sharing some of my own knowledge and experiences as well.
A new chapter
In 2018, my wife and I made the decision to move our family to Canada. It was an easy decision to make. From a family point of view, Canada is one of the best countries to live in, has a world-class education system and boasts a diverse society that we felt our children would benefit from growing up in. On the professional front, I had been following the tremendous growth in Canadian tech hubs such as the Montreal AI cluster and the Toronto-Waterloo tech corridor. This was the country that gave the world its first commercial quantum computer (D-Wave), two of the three “godfathers of AI” (Geoff Hinton and Yoshua Bengio), the inventor of the world’s second-largest cryptocurrency (Vitalik Buterin — Ethereum), and global e-commerce giant Shopify, among many others.
Toronto, in particular, was becoming one of the world’s fastest-growing destinations for tech talent and jobs. Silicon Valley giants from chip makers like Qualcomm, Intel and AMD, to consumer internet and software players like the FAANG had all set up offices in the city. Today it seems almost irresponsible for a tech company with global ambitions not to tap into the talent and innovations that are being created here. All of this is thanks to early investments by both federal and provincial governments in research, education and technology commercialization, excellent universities that attract and propel the world’s best tech talent, and the country’s tech-friendly immigration policies that help unlock all this potential. On top of this, I believe the cultural diversity allows different backgrounds and experiences to foster creativity while eliminating biases, creating the perfect environment for universally-relevant advanced research.
A Real meeting of the minds
Looking back at my first week in Canada, it’s not surprising that the first two people I met were part of the Real network. One was the founder of a Real-backed company, and the other was Sam Haffar, a current Partner at Real. As I continued to meet and speak with people in the tech community — at startups, VC funds, angel networks, accelerators and incubators — Real’s name was brought up constantly. Not only was it visible everywhere I went, but everyone I spoke with, on both sides of the table, had nothing but good things to say about the firm and the team. In my mind, it’s a true testament to how actively committed Real is to its core mission of believing in and backing Canada’s most visionary entrepreneurs.
It’s no wonder then that my journey of transition over the last year and a half has led me to Real. I’ve always been a proponent of the “First Who, Then What” concept when embarking on a new journey. Over the past several months, I have gotten to know the partners and the rest of the team very well, and what struck me most was their human-centric view of the world and their focus on the who before anything else. After several meetings and conversations with the team and with some of the portfolio company founders, I felt the most confident I ever have that I had found the best team I could be sharing a mission with, while embarking upon a new journey.
It’s time for Canada to be the biggest beneficiary of the innovations it’s birthing and to be better represented among the world’s largest technology brands. With our research strengths in AI, 5G, quantum computing and advanced manufacturing among others, we are in a position to be a true world leader not only in research but in commercial applications as well. As a partner working in Real’s Toronto office, I look forward to working with the next generation of mission-driven founders who want to build the world’s next leading and innovative tech brands.
Real Ventures serves mission-driven entrepreneurs and nurtures the communities in which they thrive. Established in 2007, the firm backs visionary founders building innovative tech companies that will have large-scale positive impacts on society. The firm also helps entrepreneurs to realize the full potential of their companies by providing them with the guidance, stage-specific help and communities required to develop the self-awareness and operational capabilities for global success. Real has invested in over 280 companies across five funds, with $330 million under management. Real’s active portfolio companies have a total current value of over $5 billion. www.realventures.com