Dax Dasilva has had a busy run. His retail point-of-sale software company, Lightspeed POS Inc., went public in March and the stock has since soared 50 per cent. But as the Montreal-based Lightspeed prepared for its IPO, he also wrote a book, Age of Union, a call to action for others, drawing from his personal experiences, to become “changemakers” at a time of widespread global angst.
“My journey has taught me we can find our purpose in being our authentic selves and learning to be a force for the greater good,” writes Mr. Dasilva, who grew up in Vancouver, protested against clear-cutting in Clayoquot Sound, came out as gay during his teens, studied art history and religion at the University of British Columbia and, in 2015, founded Never Apart, a Montreal cultural centre dedicated to social change and spiritual awareness. Technology reporter Sean Silcoff spoke to Mr. Dasilva before the book’s April 29 release.
Why did you decide to write a book?
It was a three-year process that began when I started Never Apart. I wrote a manifesto for Never Apart knowing that the mission was to create change. ... The other big influence was when I did my TED talk in January, 2016. I talked about starting Lightspeed, starting Never Apart and how what you consider to be your day job and your passion project are different expressions of all of the things that you are. The lesson for me was that each one reinforced and gave me energy for the other.
What are the book’s key messages?
It’s a framework for changemakers to help spark a better tomorrow, grounded in four things that I think should be thought of together – leadership, spirituality, culture and nature. … I wanted to distill the best of what I’ve learned on my journey and to create a discussion around things that we’re not comfortable talking about or don’t see as connected. I don’t feel like there’s a modern way to talk about spirituality, so it often just gets skipped over. People are so overwhelmed by environmental problems [and] feel so divided culturally. We’re so obsessed with the selfie and social media. A teenager grows up today and their self-worth is judged by likes and follows. It’s so much about the individual. At the same time, that’s so powerful. If you take that from being about the self to focusing on how one person can make a huge impact, it changes the whole game. That’s the mission of the book, to inspire and ignite the changemaker. Who knows what the reception will be? I feel like it’s my responsibility to take my best shot.
Why was it important to you to share such a personal look at your life and worldview?
Technology leaders are looked at in a certain way in 2019, and for whatever reason they have a bigger platform and have that responsibility. I wanted people to know a bit of context of where this comes from. Everybody has a different path. I’m blessed that many things worked out for my family and for me. We’re very lucky to have been brought into Canada. I came out, but it was a very positive and accepting country for that to happen. Had my parents not emigrated from Uganda, I certainly wouldn’t be able to do the things that I can with the openness that I can. It’s remarkable that the LGBTQ community has been able to achieve integration to the degree that it has into society. For that reason, we can offer this perspective of what is good about people that are different, and shine a light on why other people, other cultures and other species and other ecosystems prove the value of diversity and are a light for a world that’s often very dark. It’s worth understanding one person’s way in order to find your own way to be impactful.
You reveal in the book you considered giving up the CEO job at Lightspeed in 2015 to focus on Never Apart. Why did you feel that way and what persuaded you to stay?
There was never a moment where I was actually close to leaving, but [after 10 years with Lightspeed] I was burnt out. That was a moment where I thought maybe there might be a transition at some point. What convinced me to stay was one of the biggest surprises in my life. We moved offices and I turned the old office into Never Apart. Usually, adding more work to your plate doesn’t save you from burnout, but in this case it did. It ignited another part of me that gave me all this new energy for Lightspeed. Sometimes you think, “Okay, you have a passion project, that’s my real thing that I should be doing.” But the passion project often lights parts of you that give energy to all things you do and actually improves everything you’re engaged with.
Lightspeed recently completed a successful IPO. What drew investors to the company?
There’s such a huge opportunity here. We have 47,000 customers. There are 47 million potential customers. Talking to investors about how we’ll capture more of that and how we’ve built the company ... [was] extremely energizing because people got as excited as we were. I don’t have a finance background, so meeting sophisticated investors was something I wanted to be prepared for. I was amazed by how positive and how rewarding an experience that was. I will look back at the IPO roadshow as one of the best memories of my life.
Lightspeed raised no outside venture funding for its first seven years. If you had tapped that early on, how different would your path have been?
There is such a great value in solidifying your identity and spreading your wings in that bootstrapping phase, so when the day comes to take investment and have outside influences, you will be far more solid in your approach and in how you steer your company. Culturally, the company is so strong because we bootstrapped for so long. If you take investment early, you risk extinguishing that part of your identity too soon.
You issue specific calls to action in the book, including banning single-use plastics, supporting animal rights, joining conservation efforts and limiting unnecessary consumption. How will people respond to that?
It’s not an exhaustive list of the things that we can do and it’s not the only things that we should be doing. The point is when you take an action, something that’s greater than you, it’s its own reward. We’ve disconnected from a lot of the things that used to give people meaning and purpose. What replaces people’s sense of purpose and spiritual foundation? The actions that you take for the greater good can be that. … The book has ideas that many people may not connect with, therefore it’s definitely a vulnerable moment personally. [But] I have an absolute responsibility to share the things that I’ve learned and allow other people to take from it what’s valuable for their own journey.
This interview has been edited and condensed.