Communitech photo: Anthony ReinhartEight questions: In conversation with Techvibes editor Rob Lewis Anthony Reinhart May 20, 2015 Columns, Communitech, Ecosystem, News, View from the ‘Loo It’s always a good day when you get to sit down with a fellow journalist and get another perspective on the tech scene. Wednesday was one of those days, when Rob Lewis, President and Editor-in-Chief at Techvibes Media Inc., dropped by the Communitech Hub. Lewis is in town for the Techvibes Tech Fest Waterloo recruiting event at Bingemans on Thursday evening (May 21), where Kik, Enflick and Magnet Forensics will be among 16 local tech firms on the lookout for the best talent they can find. It’s one in a series of similar events the Vancouver-based media company is hosting across Canada (and Rob advises there are spots still available for attendees). Given Lewis’s eight-year tenure at the helm of what is arguably Canada’s best-known tech news site, I jumped at the chance to learn more about Techvibes and get his take on the state of the Canadian ecosystem. Q – What brings you to Waterloo Region? A – I’m here for our Tech Fest event. We’ve done them in Vancouver, in Toronto and in London, Ont., and we couldn’t very well ignore Kitchener-Waterloo much longer. We’ve got 16 companies involved, 11 of which are companies that use our job board, and five Communitech-related companies are also participating. Q – How big of an issue is talent to the Canadian tech community? A – It’s a huge issue. I’m from Vancouver, and getting good developers in Vancouver is a huge problem. Vancouver sells lifestyle over everything else, hoping that people will come out West, but it sounds like it’s the same issue in every city, whether it’s Kitchener-Waterloo or Toronto or even somewhere like London, Ont. People are looking for quality engineers, quality web developers, and it’s a good time to hire, but it’s also a good time to be a web developer or engineer. There’s lots of opportunity and you don’t have to get stuck in a stale job. You can find your next great opportunity at an event like Tech Fest. Q – Tell me a bit about Techvibes. When did it start and how did you end up getting involved? A – Techvibes actually has a long history in Vancouver. It’s been around for 13 years now. Originally, it was an online company directory, and they ran monthly networking events in Vancouver. That original idea kind of fizzled out and died. Eight years ago, when the owners of Techvibes decided to sell it, they put it up for sale on eBay. I had met a guy named Boris Wertz, who at the time was in the process of leaving AbeBooks, which had been acquired by Amazon, and he suggested that we buy it. So, we bought Techvibes and turned it around into a media property. It still has a job board, a company directory and an events calendar, but primarily the focus was pumping out quality Canadian tech stories. I think Techvibes was actually one of Boris’s first angel investments. He, of course, has gone on to do quite well for himself; he has his own VC firm now. We share office space in Vancouver as well, so I’m quite connected to what’s going on in the Vancouver ecosystem, but less connected than I’d like to be in Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo, and I’m trying to do more there. Q – In your time at Techvibes, what do you think has been the biggest change on the Canadian tech scene? A – I’ve been doing this for eight years, and we’ve seen a lot of growth. We’ve seen companies like Shopify go from being a tiny little Ottawa company to doing an IPO this week. We’ve seen companies like Hootsuite; we covered them when they were just an idea of Ryan and his team at Invoke. We covered them before their name was Hootsuite. So, we’ve seen companies grow from being tiny, tiny operations to being world-class brands. I think that’s probably been the most interesting thing – whether it be Desire2Learn, or Vision Critical, or BuildDirect – there are some great companies that have gone on to get some huge funding, thanks to folks like OMERS Ventures, and are now set to make a huge difference. And they’re not selling out. They’re doing it in Canada. Q – What do you see as the biggest Canadian tech story emerging in the next few years? A – I think the Shopify story is still huge. There are still a lot of people sitting on the sidelines, waiting to see where that IPO goes as far as price, and whether or not they can sustain all the momentum they have. But I’ve been writing for the last couple of years about this new phase of IPOs, and Canadian tech companies going big or being acquired, and Shopify is the first one. I think there will probably be more; I mentioned Hootsuite before, and there are a few other companies that are potentially angling for an IPO. I think that could be the theme for the next few years, and hopefully a really good theme. Q – When I started at Communitech four years ago, there was a palpable tension between Canadian tech communities, as if they were all competing for slices of a finite pie. Today it seems there’s more of a sense that the pie is not finite, but is just getting bigger, and that it’s more about Canada against the world than about this Canadian city against that Canadian city. If you agree that this is the case, why do you think it is? And if you disagree, why? A – I think I have feelings on both sides of that. I think, ultimately, Team Canada is a pretty strong team, and everyone does support each other. That being said, certain areas of the country have certain advantages over others. In Vancouver, they all talk about the lifestyle and why you’d want to live there for other reasons – proximity to Silicon Valley and things like that. You talk about the engineering talent in Waterloo. You guys clearly have an advantage over most of Canada, and maybe even most of North America, with the talent coming out of your universities. But I think there’s a general feeling that we can all work together on this stuff. We’ve seen the corridor between Toronto and Kitchener-Waterloo get stronger and stronger, and if you go back seven or eight years, these were two warring cities. And now, everyone seems to play very fairly. Every Canadian city has got to look out for themselves, and has its own strengths and weaknesses, but that being said, we need to work together. The C100 in Silicon Valley is a great example. This is a group of Canadians who are doing their best to promote Canada, and if we promote the brand as Canada, we’re all better off. Q – Tell me straight up: How is the Waterloo Region tech community perceived outside of Waterloo? A – In Vancouver, I think the talent here is considered kind of like the Holy Grail – everyone wants to recruit folks from Kitchener-Waterloo. I can’t speak for Toronto, but certainly what I’ve seen recently is a very strong relationship between the two areas. From an ecosystem perspective, what’s very different about Toronto and Vancouver is, Vancouver is relatively small compared to Toronto when it comes to tech stuff, and it’s not really unified. I think the same thing can be said about Toronto; there’s tons going on in Toronto, certainly way more than in Kitchener-Waterloo, but there’s not the unification that you have here with Communitech. What blows me away is that Communitech appears to have its fingers in everything in the community, and if we could replicate this in Toronto or Vancouver or Calgary or Montreal, I think we’d all be better off. Q – What’s the best way for tech companies in Waterloo Region to get on your radar at Techvibes, once they’re ready for prime time? A – We get pitched a lot. I think it really comes down to just polishing your pitch. Don’t reach out until you have news that’s worth covering. Working with an organization like Communitech, I would assume the startups coming through here are spending some time with folks like you, learning what a media property might want to hear about or be interested in. That being said, there’s also the mentality that the best way to get coverage is to reach out to press early and often, and build a relationship before you actually have news. That can be helpful, as long as you don’t do it in an annoying way. Anthony Reinhart is Communitech’s Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer. View from the ‘Loo looks at the issues, people and events that shape Waterloo Region’s technology sector.