The Small, Deep Pool of Vancouver Tech

With a smaller pool of technology companies, B.C. offers one thing Silicon Valley can’t: loyalty.

With a smaller pool of technology companies, B.C. offers one thing Silicon Valley can’t: loyalty.

Stop me if you have heard this before: Vancouver (and B.C. in general) lacks sufficient depth in management talent to grow a huge technology business. Or we lack a big enough ecosystem of services to compete on a global scale. Like an insecure teenager, we cast our eyes to Silicon Valley and make generalizations about our lack of sufficient people and tools to excel when compared to them. Sure, it would be nice to grow a massive anchor company or two in our backyard and add to our homegrown talent base. But it is useful to point out the talent depth we do have and the capacity that B.C. has to facilitate growth in technology companies today.

If we stop looking through the lens of the talent hand-wringers for a moment, we can look around Vancouver and discover a firm such as iQmetrix. Founded by the Krywulak brothers (Chris and Greg) and Kelly Kazakoff in Regina in 1999, iQmetrix has grown impressively to its current 150 employees and now has its headquarters in Vancouver. Not Palo Alto. 

With 38 per cent of the market share, iQmetrix has become the leader in software and systems designed specifically for wireless-industry retail stores. As any successful startup can attest, the path to market leadership comes from an intimate knowledge of the issues in operating a complex business. In this case, the founders owned a small chain of wireless retail outlets, which led them to develop a solution to a significant problem in their field, and subsequently to leadership in a category across North America. They solidified their leadership by buying Work Software Systems, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2008. That office has grown in Charlotte, an emerging technology area not unlike Vancouver.

To review, iQmetrix was born and raised in Regina, grew to dominant market share, acquired its biggest competitor in Charlotte, landed at No. 14 in Profit’s 100 Fastest Growing Companies and, oh, I almost forgot, didn’t raise any money along the way, funding all its growth with cash flow.

The company decided to move to Vancouver in early 2009 because it needed access to the very talent we think we don’t have: senior technical, operational and financial expertise with experience in growing large technology companies. To wit, Kerem Karatal is their CTO. Kerem founded NCompass Labs and grew it with CEO Gerri Sinclair until it sold to Microsoft in 2002. Kerem returned to Vancouver from the Redmond mother ship a few years ago. The CFO is Rob Tweddle, who was the chief financial guy at Blast Radius, a very successful Vancouver company. They also recently added Boris Mann, a well-known Vancouver-area technology maven, as senior platform analyst.

I spoke to Greg Krywulak recently about what he looks for in his hires and he mentioned, among other things, a short resumé. In other words, someone who hasn’t moved around a lot and has spent a few years at a time in companies. In Silicon Valley, resumés typically read like the menu at Milestones: way too many items. That’s because in the California technology tsunami an employee has plenty of places to go and can and will move readily to other opportunities, usually after a one-year vetting of options. The upside to the fewer technology companies in B.C. is that people can’t and won’t move around constantly. This helps the cream of the talent crop to rise to companies such as iQmetrix. 

Viewed through the lens of a successful prairie startup looking to grow, Vancouver is a mecca. We are very lucky to have a company as promising as this one choose this location to grow to the next level. Perhaps we should stop worrying about how shallow the talent pool is here and invite more like iQmetrix in for a swim.