Larry Gadea: How Startups Are Born

A young Ottawa-native programmer, who had a knack to to hack in his free time, went from Ottawa, to Google, Twitter to then founding a startup valued at 1 billion dollars(yes that's a B).

The story of the Ottawa- native you've probably never heard, Larry Gadea, co-founder of Envoy shares his story with us.

 

“I was born in ‘87 in Romania; when I was 3 years old, we left Romania and we went to Germany for only a few months. It was a little complicated because we didn’t leave in a normal way: there was smuggling involved because of the communist government.

Eventually, from Germany, we went to Canada, in Ottawa, where I grew up. As late as ‘92, I basically grew up there and I went to all the schools there.

I had absolutely no social life in school; I never had a girlfriend in high school; I had none of that: I was always on the computer and doing stuff.

As a kid I spent a lot of the time playing video games – a lot of Counter Strike, but then, here and there I would get guilty and work on my side projects and not play for a few months. Then I’d get bored of those projects and get back into the games.

 

Becoming a Googler

When I was 18 and graduated from high school, Google released this thing called Google Desktop Search. I reversed engineered it so that it could do more than it was supposed to. Google was super impressed and they wanted me to work full time for them.

So I started as an intern working for free for 2-3 months and then after, I asked if I could work part-time while I was in school. They accepted and I came back to Ottawa and went to Carleton University and I did school there.

Every single summer, or every time that I had a break, I would fly to Mountain View, in California, and work at the Google offices there. When I was back in school, I would go back to Ottawa and work for Google remotely.

 

The Bird Company

So I did the Google thing, and then I graduated from school and had to interview at a bunch of places like Google, Facebook, mint.com, and then this bird company: Twitter! So I interviewed at all of them.

At Google I would’ve kept working on the same thing, which wasn’t very exciting; Facebook wanted a 1 month trial period; mint.com wanted to hire me; and then Twitter was absolutely pleased and wanted me to “get started immediately”.

What Twitter didn’t know is that I was 18 at the time. They expected me to be much older, and they realized that they couldn’t legally hire me (because they couldn’t even get a visa for me at the time).

That’s why I got in a lot of trouble trying to get across the border as the customs officers needed a physical diploma. So I went back to the school and said “Yo! I need my diploma” and they told me that they couldn’t give it to me for another month, to which I replied that I was supposed to start work in a week, but no do.

"Literally like in movies"

 

I went to the Dean of Carleton and asked for a paper that states that I’m going to graduate, signed by him. So he signed one and then I went to another port of entry and gave the customs officers this paper. But you can’t be jumping at different border entry points, trying to get in: it just looked like I was trying to use the same evidence to get in at different border entries and the customs officers got upset at me.

Eventually I received the diploma, and on the third time around I had it, one of the lawyers of Twitter contacted a state congressman, who called the border entry to say “You should be expecting Larry to show up this time”. I came in and they’re all like “You’re the guy! I don’t know what’s going on with your account but I had the congressman call me today and I don’t know what he’s trying to do but don’t ever do it again. Here’s your stamp”.

Literally like in movies.

That’s how I started at Twitter in June 2009. I did systems engineering and this project called Murder – a bittorrent-based way of transferring files into the data center for companies. Very effective, and it saved Twitter a whole bunch of time.

 

How Startups Are Born

In February 2012 I left Twitter, and I took some time off. I visited a bunch of companies and noticed that a lot of them, for example Facebook, Google and Twitter, all had an interesting Kiosk thing at their front desk. Some companies like Airbnb didn’t have anything other than a receptionist who was very helpful, but their job was to call to desks and no one was ever at there (it’s hard to reach people) so now what?

They’d disappear and try to look for your host and realized that they couldn’t find them, which created a whole new set of problems. So Google and Facebook were fixing that problem with something they’d built themselves: a visitor registration system built by their IT.

They obviously felt like it was important so I built a product for it. This is something that every company should need.

It is based on that experience that Larry Gadea co-founded Envoy, which is today a billion dollar startup with more than 1,600 paying customers in 40 countries, and which is growing at an astounding rate.