BusinessWeek recently discussed the need for more anchor companies in the article, "Vancouver's Growing Tech Outpost Searches for Anchors", and called out Clio, Mobify, and Unbounce as showing the most potential to join ranks with Hootsuite as tech anchor companies in Vancouver, BC. On July 22nd 2014, Hootsuite hosted the CEOs of Vancouver’s tech anchors as they discussed the opportunities and challenges of growing a startup in Vancouver, and what it will take to create a successful ecosystem of tech companies in the region.
Hootsuite CEO, Ryan Holmes, moderated the panel which included Clio CEO Jack Newton, Mobify CEO Igor Faletski, Unbounce CEO Rick Perreault, and Allocadia CEO Kristine Steuart. All have plans to double their employee counts in the next year. Given these growth goals, the panelists discussed issues related to attracting, selecting, and retaining tech talent in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Tech Landscape
One common agreement among the panel was that there are many benefits of being located in Canada as a tech company. The talent market in the region is diverse and composed of passionate, educated young people from around the world. In addition, tech employees demonstrate a higher degree of loyalty toward their employers, and in large part don’t experience the six month ‘shiny penny turnover’ that exists in the Silicon Valley. And lastly, in the Canadian market there are many government programs available that support startups and local tech companies.
Tech Talent Challenges
While there are undoubtedly benefits to establishing in Vancouver, there are many challenges for tech companies on the talent front. From a regional perspective, employer brand awareness is a key issue. Outside of Vancouver’s close-knit tech community, many candidates aren’t aware that these companies are present in Vancouver. The fix: tech companies should improve their community involvement and participation in public events to raise clout and gain awareness as a local employer.
A scenario that is all too familiar for Vancouver’s tech industry is when a five-person company uses word of mouth to grow at a slow but steady pace, then hits critical mass and finds themselves challenged in recruiting senior management and VP level professionals in the local market. To find qualified executives with extensive backgrounds at large tech companies, oftentimes Vancouver employers will need to look outside the local talent market. Which brings us to our next challenges...
While Canada has a competitive advantage against the United States’ immigration laws, improvements can still be made to our immigration system. To compete in the global market, local employers need to be enabled to bring in qualified tech talent from other countries when local skill gaps exist in the market.
Cost of Living
When it comes to migrating domestic talent for senior roles, the cost of living in Vancouver is high compared to the rest of Canada. Additionally, Vancouver salaries do not reflect the higher cost of living. Given this financial imbalance, candidates must desire to live in Vancouver for the lifestyle, as choosing to relocate may not make financial sense.
What needs to be done to fill the skills gap?
Over 400,000 Canadian expats are working in Silicon Valley. Given this statistic, and the fact that many new grads continue to be recruited for tech jobs outside of Canada, increasing enrollment in engineering and computer science disciplines is a top priority. On the same note, CEOs expressed a desire to have more education programs fast tracked, to expedite the training process and enable local talent demands to be filled with local graduates.
Biggest Talent Mistake and Lesson Learned
When it comes to recruiting for tech talent, the market is extremely competitive. While undoubtedly exciting, it can be especially daunting for early-stage companies without the resources or expertise in hiring to build their team, and even more intimidating to let an incorrect hire go. Whether it’s because of limited budget or a lack of hiring experience and expertise, it’s not difficult to fall into the trap of some common startup hiring mistakes.
What can job seekers do to be more ‘hireable’?
The panelists had this advice for tech talent looking to make a splash in the Vancouver market:
Do your research. Get to know the hiring company.
Don’t just apply for a job - pitch for an opportunity.
Attend industry meetups.
Don’t wear a suit to your interview - know what’s appropriate given the company culture.
Find a company that’s going to make you happy. Pay isn’t everything. Culture fit is first.