It’s been a few months since Zuck was in Vancouver, but I’m surprised people are still talking about Facebook buying Hootsuite. What surprises me more is that people want Hootsuite to be bought. This is downright silly thinking.
I got a reminder this week when a tweet was forwarded to me. I’m not judging the author (maybe it was sarcasm?), but I will say that Silicon Valley buying up Hootsuite is going to do absolutely zero good for Vancouver in the long-term. Although there’s great excitement selling a company and showing the world it has value, selling off Vancouver business across the border is going to really hurt us.
Locally, Vancouver has difficulty building large and great companies. EA is about as big as it gets for tech companies in Vancouver, and that’s limited to gaming. There have been a limited number of massively large companies growing in Vancouver and it’s because the ones that did have potential have been bought out and moved south. Canada in general has been too reliant on the resources sector to continue its growth and I’m quite glad the Keystone Pipeline has been rejected…for now. It’s a smart wake-up call that Canada needs to place its growth elsewhere if it wants to stay ahead of the world. Blackberry’s woes haven’t been great for us, and the Nortel collapse was a huge disappointment.
Why do we want large companies tech in Vancouver? Right now Vancouver has the highest potential out of all of Canada to create, build, and house awesome talent. The city vibe and beautiful scenery attracts the creative and entrepreneurial type that are great for building the right companies. The location beats out the rest of Canada because of our strategic proximity to Seattle and the rest of the hi-tech west coast—that’s San Francisco, San Diego and the Valley. In addition, the Lower Mainland has a huge pool of capital that needs tweaking: most of West Vancouver is sending its money across the border or to resources, and we need smart capital firms to begin encouraging tech investment. Much of that responsibility will need to be picked up by the city if it really wants to grow large companies locally.
In addition, our local newspapers don’t really do much investigative journalism anymore. But thankfully you read the Vancity Buzz, and we do some asking. I reached out to Katherine Barr, a Venture Capitalist who was quoted in an article about Vancouver entrepreneurs missing the mark. Katherine lives in California but is originally from Ontario. She told me that she’s involved with Growlab because there is potential here. Her words: “Bring it, Canadian tech entrepreneurs and show the world what you are truly capable of. And we’ll do the best to be helpful as we can via groups like C100, Growlab, etc.”
How do we build large tech companies in Vancouver? It will require working with the province and federal government, but there are excellent programs available to those who want to make their business big. The British Columbia Innovation Council (BCIC) leads a new mentor program with the potential to enhance our business skills and link new businesses to top talent in the city. We also need to shift our greed from short-term gains to long-term benefits. When we consider a purchase by “outsiders” we have to think to ourselves, “will X buying Y keep the benefits in Vancouver? Or will it end up in relocation in 3 years?” In addition, we need to start encouraging more creativity within our universities. It’s not common for a medium sized city to have two big and well-developed universities. However, we do not properly leverage talent from SFU and UBC well enough by giving them a place to work. This is where shared offices like the Network Hub come into play and give the young talent a place to start creating.
Where are we missing the mark? Referring back to VC Katherine Barr, she revealed that there are also many Canadian tech entrepreneurs with limited and undifferentiated visions. She’s absolutely right. I also think there are too many poseur entrepreneurs who enjoy the façade of a start up but are very unfocused. It takes focus and commitment to build a business and sometimes our Vancouver entrepreneurs party a little too much. So instead of further bashing on our local businessmen, I only encourage them to sacrifice a little more to making it big.
My take home question is do you think Vancouver has what it takes to make it big? How would you change it to get there?