45.5019° N, 73.5674° W
‘I’ve always found that you can do whatever you want creatively here. It’s got that edge.’
Gems in this
Photo>>>Age of Union
Dax Dasilva is one of Canada’s best-known tech talents. The founder of Lightspeed has been earmarked for success in the sector ever since, aged 12, he started developing software.
But in 2022, after 17 years at the helm of the software company, Dasilva decided to step back in order to focus on a new challenge: investing in innovative, community-forward environmental activism. As the founder of Age of Union, a conservation-focused nonprofit that funds and spotlights changemakers and environmental initiatives around the world, this next chapter of his career is the most personal and important one yet. We spoke to Dax about his approach to investing in positive change, and got his Playbook for his favorite spots in Montréal.
On growing up in Vancouver
I grew up in this part of Vancouver called Richmond. It’s kind of a wetland — very beautiful natural surroundings. I was connected to nature from a young age; we did a lot of camping. British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I had an amazing time growing up surrounded by spectacular landscape.
On your parents’ immigration from Uganda to Canada
My parents are actually from Uganda, originally India; they came here in the 70s as refugees, when the dictator Idi Amin took over. They came in their late teens and had to choose their city: if they chose Vancouver the government would give them an umbrella and rain boots; if they chose Montréal or Toronto, they got a winter jacket. They chose Vancouver. I’m really grateful they did. It was really good to me, a great mix of urban and nature, a very young city, so you create your own destiny there. And I think that’s what my parents felt when they arrived. I left Vancouver when I was 24.
On your first steps in tech and founding Lightspeed
I started programming when I was 12, and got my first apprenticeship with an Apple developer at age 13. This was the start of me building software for other businesses. I did that all through my teens and 20s until, when I was 28, I decided to stop doing custom systems for similar businesses. I decided to make a platform instead. And that’s how Lightspeed was born.
On the roots of Age of Union
The natural bounty of British Columbia and Vancouver was the beginning of it. When I was 16, I went to the protests at Clayoquot Sound on the west coast of Vancouver Island, where they were logging old-growth forest. And the drive to that area! We basically drove through 100km of desolation: complete, clear-cut destruction. We finally got to the area we were protecting, and we did protect it. It’s amazing, in retrospect, the magnitude of what we were able to do. I thought ‘One day, I’ll return to this. When I have the experience and the resources, I’ll really tackle conservation in a big way.’ I never stopped thinking about it, and that’s become Age of Union now.
On starting Age of Union
We found 10 projects that were preserving different kinds of ecosystems on different continents and in different waterways — the Amazon, the Congo, BC, Indonesia, the Caribbean. Then the idea was that for year one, we would do a $40 million gift to fund those projects. These projects were focused on targeting industrialized fishing, the pollution of ocean plastics, and other threats. There’s even a Sea Shepherd called the Age of Union now. Running these missions shows everyone how powerful direct action can be.
‘Understanding the culture, the food, the music, the languages, and the places where people gather is so important for understanding what on-the-ground conservation takes.’
On each environmental problem requiring its own solution
Connecting with conservationists and actually seeing what it takes to save their world, it’s different in each place, You could have a tropical forest in the Congo or in the Peruvian Amazon, but the circumstances are totally different: the landscapes are different, the political reality, the way local people live and how they’re integrated into the area, their own perspective on nature — all different. That’s what makes travel so important. It’s a way to immerse yourself in the reality of a place. Understanding the culture, the food, the music, the languages, and the places where people gather is so important for understanding what on-the-ground conservation takes.
On your relationship with travel and the importance of showing up
Travel shows the value of showing up and the value of being there. With Age of Union, understanding more about what it takes in these conservation projects just opens your world up. Travel opens you up to another world, and that allows you to take in all those perspectives and those experiences, and bring it into everything that you are.
On the window vs the aisle seat
Definitely window, because I’m one of those people that can crash against the window. And I’m a pretty good sleeper on a plane.
On your relationship with Montréal
Montréal is a place where I’ve been able to do all of my projects, from Lightspeed to Age of Union. I’ve always had really creative, fertile ground here. It’s a place where you can really let your imagination run. It’s also one of the best tech cities in the world.
On how you would spend the day in Montréal with friends
There are definitely some places you can’t miss. There’s Old Montréal, which has got some of that classic architecture, but also really cool boutiques and restaurants. I also love areas like Saint-Henri: it has all sorts of cool boutiques, coffee shops and restaurants. Promenade Wellington is an area with lots of new ideas about hospitality. The Lachine Canal, which is nearby, is this large canal that goes through all the new, up-and-coming areas that are being built out of factories. It’s an amazing place to walk, bike or picnic along. There’s all sorts of unexpected little places to eat and drink along there. Definitely see the sunset there, too.
‘I can credit some of the Montréal speakeasies for getting us funded.’
On the best places to eat and drink
There’s a really great place for drinks called Palco. And Elena, in Saint-Henri, is an amazing gourmet pizza and Italian place. My new favorite place is a Thai restaurant called Pichai. It’s on St-Hubert Street, which is a former pedestrian mall that’s been revitalized, and has all these really cool restaurants and bars opening there. That area’s called Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie.
On the nightlife
Montréal is a huge nightlife city; it’s part of the reason I moved here in my 20s. Weekly in summer there’s something called Piknic Électronik, which happens around the world but started in Montréal. We also have festivals like Osheaga, which is indie music, and ÎleSoniq, which is electronic music. And the cocktail bars here are just outstanding. Cloakroom, Milky Way, Atwater Cocktail Club — and probably a lot of hidden speakeasies that you’d never find. When Lightspeed was getting its first round of funding, we took our venture capitalists to this place with absolutely no signage called Big In Japan. We took one VC there, and when his partner came from Silicon Valley two weeks later, we had a signed term sheet for $30 million. So I can credit some of the Montréal speakeasies for getting us funded.
On one song to describe the city
‘Reflektor’ by Arcade Fire. First of all, they’re a Montréal band, but the song’s a little bit rock and a little bit disco — that’s kind of what Montréal is, to me. It’s got that nightlife aspect; it’s got that independent streak — like, limitless possibilities. I’ve always found that you can do whatever you want creatively here. It’s got that edge.
On one word that describes Montréal