Roger Patterson, CEO, Later
For this serial entrepreneur, some things are non-negotiable
1. Later came out of a 2013 hackathon. How did that translate into a business?
The concept that Ray Walia, Jesse Heaslip, and I had when starting Launch Academy quickly gained momentum in 2012 when we added cofounders Alex Chuang and Mike Edwards. It's a nonprofit, physical space to allow tech entrepreneurs in Vancouver to come together, that we started in 2012. Since then, we’ve helped over 500 companies. But it’s a collegial/familial location where there was a cross-pollination of ideas and talent, people just working together and collaborating on things. And so Ian MacKinnon, Cindy Chen, Matt Smith and myself were sort of put together, and Ian had this idea for a scheduler for Instagram.
We went to the hackathon, built the whole thing with a server, web interface and mobile app. We had a landing page and had two businesses sign up within 48 hours. We all had other startups but realized there could be something here. Before we launched to the public in the summer of 2014, we had 20,000 small businesses and people sign up. Then Later's revenue started to surpass our other startups’, and we decided to do it full-time in March 2015; that’s when we hired our first employee.
2. And now you have more than 100 staff. What kind of culture have you instilled in the company?
Well, it’s the fifth company I’ve started—all the founders had experience working on other startups. And one of the things I wanted to do differently was to be very thoughtful and proactive about the culture. There’s an old saying: If you don’t define the culture, the culture defines itself. We wanted to define it.
Two of our core values are around fairness and transparency. So we borrowed an idea from Buffer, one of our competitors, and instituted a salary formula. We wanted a situation where if you were coming to work for our company and had the same experience, seniority and responsibility, you were getting paid the exact same as someone else. We don’t negotiate on hiring and never have; we automatically give people raises and make it very transparent. Everyone knows how the salary formula works.
3. Speaking of learning from competitors, what have you taken away from the Hootsuite model?
I don’t want to bad-mouth Hootsuite; we all make mistakes. But one thing they did that I think we learned from was that they tried to be a little bit of something for everyone. We chose to go the opposite direction and focus in on one core customer segment, small business. It’s been tough over the years, and we have a lot of huge customers; 61 of the top 100 businesses in the world use us—Google, Disney, NBC. But they pay us 20 bucks a month; we don’t focus on them. It’s kind of liberating when NBC will say, We need a custom contract, and we basically say, Sorry, no. We don’t do that, and you’re not our focus; you don’t have to use us.
4. Why such a big emphasis on small business?
I believe, for a lot of macroeconomic reasons, that small business is the future of our economy, and we’re only going to see more of them. It’s something we saw last year with COVID. We were looking at advance warnings out of Italy and Spain and saw massive rises in people signing up for our service, starting e-commerce stores or becoming influencers or independent consultants.
Part of that is the fact that it’s so much cheaper to start companies now. In the old days, you had to have manufacturing and all this stuff. Now you can outsource that, and it’s so cheap. The number of small businesses being formed right now is going faster than we can consume as customers. It’s the same wave that Shopify rides. And it’s only going to get bigger.
5. What do you think of Vancouver’s tech scene in general? Where are we headed?
I don’t think we’re the best place from a capital perspective—our funding prospects for startups here is definitely not nearly as good as places like Toronto. But there’s a more entrepreneurial sprit, a drive here that is almost insatiable. Now, do we have that next generation of small startups coming through? My ear isn’t as close to the ground as it used to be, so I’m not sure about that. But I know if Vancouver can get the capital and the right infrastructure, we really can and do shine.
The essential Roger Patterson
Board games/ board game design and disc golf
Last book I read
The Terror by Dan Simmons
Favourite TV show
The Last Kingdom
Dave Matthews Band
Favourite spot in B.C.
Whisky. I don’t feel guilty, though