Vancouver 2015 tech trends: talent & culture

City of Vancouver

2015 promises continued growth and more success stories from Vancouver’s technology community. With the BCTIA ($10.4M), Wavefront ($9.5M), and Highline-VC ($600k ) each receiving funding from the Canadian Accelerator and Incubator Program, they’re well positioned to contribute more support and resources towards Vancouver’s technology companies.

With over $100M committed to Canadian venture firms from the Federal Venture Capital Acceleration Program (VCAP), and an additional $100M through the Immigrant Investor Fund, the funding climate should warm up too. Having these dollars flow into the local community likely means additional international capital will follow suit as well.

The Vancouver tech community will face increased and intense competition to find, develop, and retain talent.

Despite these developments, the Vancouver tech community will face the significant challenge of increased and intense competition to find, develop, and retain talent. Companies such as Hootsuite, BuildDirect, Broadband TV, Dun & Bradstreet Cloud Innovation Centre, Aquatic Informatics, Vision Critical are recruiting significant numbers of new people.

While there’s a diversity of career opportunity openings, added pressure finding talented designers and developers will be experienced. Competition for these roles will be coming from the likes of Amazon’s new office opening (1000 new hires) and Microsoft’s Canada Excellence Center (400 new hires).

Beyond the pay and the perks, there has to be a deeper allure, something much more attractive for someone to consider joining a new team. Winning teams seemingly understand how to define and create a culture of happiness; a culture of fulfillment; a culture of purpose; a meaningful workplace culture.

I asked some of Vancouver’s tech leaders: “more than the person’s ability the sling 0’s & 1’s and a willingness to cash cheques with a bunch of zero’s on it, is the fit; them with you and you with them. Why do you think company culture matters more than ever? What do you define as the essentials qualities and core philosophy that goes into creating and sustaining a meaningful company culture?”

Here’s what they have to say:

Pete Hudson (Founder & CEO), BitLit

“Start-ups need to compete in the one area that big (high paying) companies can’t — fit, meaning, and vision. There is no substitute for working on a small team of talented, driven, inspiring people. If you’re a half decent professional you’ll remember the dread you had of group projects in school — you knew that invariably you’d end up carrying the thing yourself if you wanted to keep your 4.0. Now imagine that same group project where you knew everybody on your team was going to over-deliver. If a start-up team has that magic, it doesn’t matter how many 0’s Amazon, Google, or Microsoft want to put on a cheque.”

Ryan Spong (Co-founder & CEO), Foodee

“I think it’s because company culture is evolving as fast as every other aspect of life. Boomers wanted high paying jobs, Gen X needed to also enjoy those jobs and Millennials now need the work to also be meaningful. As part of the sharing economy, I think what we see now is a desire for shared values not just with co-workers but with stakeholders across the board: clients, suppliers, professional services. And why not enjoy every moment of your work? Chances are it bleeds into your personal life through your handheld and social media channels. And time, after all, is our only truly depreciating asset!”

Darren Roberts (VP Marketing),

“Good question. I think company culture matters more than ever because finally people are wanting to experience a work life balance where being at work, while more seamless with regard to time and place, is more comfortable and relaxed. People are learning that making money doesn’t have to hurt. You really can go to work, enjoy the company of your colleagues and do a good job — in fact, the happier and more relaxed you are, the more likely you are to do an even better job. The core philosophies behind this aren’t brain surgery. Like any relationship, when you are meeting people, beyond the qualifications on paper, you need to ask yourself if you can see yourself interacting with that person most every day. If your gut says no, then it’s probably right.

From there, once on board, culture needs to be nurtured and defended. Infractions need to be addressed directly and strongly not for the sake of controlling individuals but for the preservation of the group. When people understand the value and importance of the culture you’ve created they will either join in and contribute to its natural evolution or opt out. When it’s right, like any great community, it will self police and sustaining it will become everyone’s goal.”

Igor Faletski

Igor Faletski (CEO), Mobify

“Culture is what a great team working on a big mission feels like on the inside. It’s important to have a friendly office environment, generous perks and fun events, but in the end – passionate people that share a dream are what makes or breaks the company culture. Dream big!”

Ali Kashani (Co-founder & CTO), Neurio Technology

“In a startup you spend more waking hours at work than with family, and those can be most stimulating if the team culture encourages trust, creativity and cooperation. We want to spend our energy solving real world problems; that is to make every home safer, smarter and more energy efficient. My thinking is that the best talent cares more about their impact than whatever perk they get if they’re a cog in the wheel of a bigger corporation.

Rather than tell you my definition of our culture, I decided to use this as an excuse to hear what our team has to say. So I got the team to write on a sticky how they feel about our culture. Here are some of the responses:

  • Relaxed but hard-working, enthusiastic, excited by all the opportunities our technology brings, motivated to make an impact
  • Ability to give feedback about an idea, and understand that is not a reflection of who came up with the idea
  • No day comes in without learning new things, talented team, fun environment, everybody eager to help and excel you
    Young, fast-paced, innovative, team-oriented
  • Dynamic, one step ahead of others :), high tech, we live in the know! (Ali: that’s our motto), bring tomorrow to your house
  • Trust in each other’s abilities, relaxed, hodge-podge pool of talent
  • Fun & friendly, warm & welcoming, cozy!
  • High level of trust, continuous learning, beer, large range of backgrounds both culturally and education

Graham Cutliffe (Director of Business Development), IoT Design Shop

“What I’ve always found interesting is that culture and the key components that make it up differ from person to person and company to company. For me the most important things are to share a value system with your colleagues and to have an environment based on mutual respect. For values, this really comes down to what drives and motivates people. It’s a beautiful thing, and the results are often incredible, when you have a group of people who are motivated by the same things working together to solve a problem.

When it comes to a respectful environment, all kinds of good things result such as trusting relationships being built, teams being empowered and people not being afraid to speak up when they don’t agree with something. At the end of the day we’re all in the customer service industry. If we aren’t motivate by the same things and can’t treat our colleagues with respect, how can we possibly work with our customers to solve problems.”

Mark Cunningham (Founder & President), D&B Cloud Innovation Center

“Nurturing the right kind of culture is more important than ever for Vancouver’s technology companies. Competition for talent is high and people are our most important asset. At the D&B Cloud Innovation Center we talk about being a family and that’s exactly how I view my team. Even though we’re growing quickly, we are relentless in our pursuit of hiring the right people, not just finding bodies to fill chairs.

For us, company culture is about more than foosball tables and free drinks, but about transparency, mutual respect, a shared sense of fun and opportunity, and a passion for what we do. Compensation is still important, of course, but for most of the people I meet working in tech today, it’s secondary to finding the right company fit.”

Peter Muench (Corporate Real Estate Advisor), Colliers International Canada

“Culture begins top-down but at some point you must devolve responsibility to the company so that it can begin to thrive organically. The key is to realize your comparative advantage – if you are a startup, leverage your transparency and ability to provide the autonomy that larger companies will struggle to grant. If you are established, focus on your core values and find a way to instill and reinforce those so that employees truly care about coming to work every day. Lastly, don’t be afraid to emulate. Every company’s ‘secret sauce’ comes from incorporating and tweaking ideas that they have seen elsewhere.”

Rick Perreault

Rick Perreault (Co-founder & CEO), Unbounce

“As the tech landscape grows and competition increases, it’s not enough to try courting new talent with the usual “perks”. The team-members of tomorrow need to know that the work they’re doing will be meaningful and have an impact, that they’ll be empowered, supported and challenged in their roles. Since we spend the majority of our days with our coworkers, sharing a common set of values, goals and attitudes is critical.”

Vancouver’s technology community should be feeling good about the year that was, and the promise for the year that could be. But, to ensure our technical endeavours have the chance to be meaningful ones we need to keep the humanity in our conversations and our actions.

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning


John Gray

John Gray is the co-founder and CEO of Mentionmapp. As a writer, John cares about keeping the humanity in our stories and conversations about technology. He has a B.Ap.Sc. in Communications and a B.A. in English, both from Simon Fraser University.

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