Building Vancouver’s Next Tech Anchors – A Community Discussion

August 1, 2014 Jack Newton

When Rian Gauvreau and I founded Clio in 2008, the Vancouver tech scene was small and relatively unknown. In the 6 years since, the local tech industry has grown in leaps and bounds, but there’s still work to do. BusinessWeek recently published an article discussing the growing tech ecosystem in Vancouver, but called out the lack of anchor companies as a roadblock to encouraging further growth.

On July 22, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel to a sold-out crowd at Hootsuite’s new HQ2 about developing tech anchors in the city. I was joined by some of Vancouver’s most successful CEOs and founders: Igor Faletski from Mobify, Kristine Steuart from Allocadia, Rick Perreault from Unbounce; the panel was moderated by Ryan Holmes from Hootsuite.

When discussing company growth, the conversation shifted towards finding, recruiting and securing talent in Vancouver, which we all agreed is no easy feat. It can be difficult to compete with the buzz of Silicon Valley, but beginning to build an ecosystem of passionate, successful tech companies is the first step towards creating more anchors not only in Vancouver, but in the rest of the country.

The talent gap

One challenge we discussed has to do with hiring senior talent. The list of Vancouverites who meet top-level criteria is limited, and companies commonly look outside the city to fill executive positions.

With that in mind, (and although it may seem counter-intuitive), we were unanimous that having “bigger players” such as Facebook and Amazon open offices in Vancouver can actually benefit startups in terms of driving talent to the city. Rick mentioned that we’ll have to compete harder for talent, but at least there may be more talent to compete for.

It’s exciting to think about someone cutting their teeth at a company like Amazon, and then taking that experience into their own hands by joining or building a Vancouver startup.

Making sense of the math

Vancouver salaries often do not reflect its astronomical costs of living, and unfortunately even Vancouver’s beauty isn’t enough of a draw on its own. There’s a monetary tradeoff to be made if you choose to live here, and for many prospective recruits, that’s often enough to make them look to other cities for opportunity.

Kristine mentioned that because we can’t compete with Silicon Valley salaries, we need to compete with something else. It’s our job to sell a unique and compelling vision for our companies that job candidates will fall in love with. Vancouver’s beauty can help us close the deal, but at the end of the day candidates need to believe in our companies and the opportunity they present.

Working for a startup means making a difference and having an impact on the community. It’s incredibly exciting to take part of a company that provides you with so much room for growth and potential. 

Recent grads are a big draw for Vancouver startups: they’re young, excited about the future, and looking for new life experiences. This gives us the opportunity to scale them through a variety of different positions and have them grow into that much-needed senior talent. As Kristine put it, “part of it is finding great people and the other part is mentoring and helping create great people.”

Bringing awareness to the opportunity

Rick brought up that we’re not doing a good enough job promoting the many opportunities we have here. “We have to let people as a community know that you don’t have to move away to find opportunity.” Many people are quick to assume that tech startups only exist in the Valley.

 Igor also emphasized that, as a city, we need to be doing a better job of attracting recent grads from all over Canada to Vancouver.

 Final thoughts

For Vancouver’s tech scene, it’s really a matter of hitting the critical mass. Working to build a solid ecosystem will accelerate growth. The first step is engaging the tech community we already have, and events like this one are great places to start. 

 

 

Jack Newton is the co-founder and CEO of Clio.  

 

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