Talent in Waterloo Region: A conversation with Stephen Lake Phil Froklage September 13, 2016 Announcements, Featured, News Home-grown hardware startup Thalmic Labs has been in the news this week after announcing a big hire and the opening of a San Francisco office as it works on the product (or products) that will follow the Myo armband. Thalmic has brought on Tara Kriese, a former Samsung executive with 15 years of experience marketing consumer technology, as Chief Marketing Officer. Kriese has spent a lot of time working on Samsung’s VR portfolio. Tara Kriese Communitech News sat down with Thalmic CEO Stephen Lake to ask about the new hire, how Thalmic Labs found her, and the current state of talent in the Waterloo Region ecosystem. This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Q — We just got news about a new Chief Marketing Officer at Thalmic. Can you tell me a little bit about the hire? How you found her? A — We had about a six-month search process. We had an executive search firm helping us out, looking across both Canada and the U.S. in different geographies for, really, the best person that would be a fit for the team and the role. Ultimately, we wanted someone who had experience creating new categories, and launching new consumer electronics products. We’re really, really happy with the hire we made and announced this week, which is Tara (Kriese), who joined us from Samsung where she was leading the North American VR marketing efforts there. Q — Marketing in particular is something that’s been talked about for a really long time as a gap in the Waterloo ecosystem’s talent pool. Can you say anything about your experience with that? A — Yeah, I would say that Waterloo is very, very strong on technical talent, on engineering talent. We have great university programs here, and colleges in town that train technical talent. We just traditionally haven’t had the same level of talent around marketing here. Not only in Waterloo, but just in Canada in general, there are less consumer brands out here. There’s a handful now — Lululemon, Frank & Oak in Montreal — so we’re starting to build some of that base but we just traditionally haven’t had as strong of a consumer brand and marketing background as elsewhere. So it’s been a bit challenging, especially for startups, I think, to find that really senior-level marketing talent. Ultimately, if you find the right people who have the right experience, they’ll help train and build your local talent ecosystems. But if you don’t have those sort of people who have been there and been doing it for 10 or 15 or 20 years it’s hard for the talent base to develop. So, in the search process we pretty quickly realized we wouldn’t be able to find someone meeting all of those various parameters you’re looking for just locally, here, so we expanded that beyond the local community. Q — So, on that note, you’re attracting somebody… Just looking at Tara’s resume it’s extremely impressive. She’s worked at some very big places in some of the most beautiful parts of the world out there. How is it that you were able to get her to come here to Waterloo? A — Ultimately, I think we’re working on some really exciting things. We’ll share more about those as we can. But I think Tara was attracted to a couple of different things. One was just the direction we’re headed and the products we’re working on; I think there’s an incredible amount of overlap with her experience and where we’re going. So there’s a lot of excitement there. Secondarily, we’ve put a lot of time and effort into creating a great culture in the company as we’ve grown, and hiring amazing people. I think, as we spent time with Tara and she’s gotten to meet parts of the team and spend time in our office here and kind of absorbed and felt that, and really felt like she could see herself working with the other leaders in the company and we had a lot of shared passion for the same area; a great cultural fit overall, we think, on all accounts. Both experience but also on that culture, which is so important when you’re hiring a senior leader in the company. They’ve got to really gel with the type of culture you want to create and the people on the team. We checked all the boxes there, I think, and it worked out well. Q — Is she going to be relocating to Waterloo? A — So, we actually announced yesterday, as well, a San Francisco office. So, she’ll be splitting her time in San Francisco and here in Waterloo, and we’ll be building out that marketing team around her, primarily in San Francisco. So going forward, we will be expanding in San Francisco. Our primary engineering development teams will stay here. But we’ll be… our sales and marketing, a good portion of that will end up in San Francisco. Q — Can you tell me about the reason behind keeping your team’s marketing effort concentrated in that part of the world? A — Yeah, again, it comes down to talent. Talent, and also proximity to partners, and other folks out there. A lot of what we’re going to be doing going forward with marketing is going to be working with various partners that are generally based in the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley. So, having that proximity to them is important. A second standpoint is, being able to hire people that have experience in rapidly growing and scaling tech companies on the go-to-market side, I think, is important. That goes back to the previous comment about the gap we have here, we’ve got a ton of great technical talent; we don’t have quite as much of that experience of people that have been there in high-growth startups; been there, done it, scaled it. So, we’re excited to do this because it gives us access to both of those talent pools. To be clear, the bulk of our employee base is going to be here in Waterloo. We’re over 100 people in Waterloo today; we’re going to have a handful of folks in San Francisco and growing that over time. But the core engineering development is going to stay here at this point. Q — Can you share a bit about your hiring philosophy for bringing talent into Canada, and how that conflicts with current immigration law? A — This plays exactly into what we’ve been talking about on the immigration side. Companies here need to be able to recruit the top leaders in whatever fields they’re in. Especially in those key management roles, where you don’t have that experience at the growth and scale level here, where you need to bring in a senior leader like that. That’s been important here where we went and found someone who was not in Canada for this, and we’ve gone through an immigration process to get her the ability to spend time and work here. It’s going to be important for the company to grow; ultimately, we’re a Canadian company and we’re going to continue to grow here. But being able to access those key people from around the world, regardless of where they are, is super important to that. We think, long term, that’s going to help the entire community here as we bring in… In this particular role we’ve got someone split between the U.S. and Canada, but in other roles we’ve been bringing in folks from the U.S. to permanently move here and relocate, and building teams around them, and so we think that’s really important to being able to scale here in Canada. Q — What is your advice for tech companies in Waterloo Region going into 2017? Things you’re worried about these days, things you think they should be worried about that are coming up in the future? A — It’s a pretty broad question; every company is different and has their own challenges from the market perspective and everything. I think, at a high level, we’ve got a ton of great technical people here, an amazing number of startups in Velocity and other programs. I think now, I don’t know the number, but I think it’s almost 100 startups in Velocity today? It’s astounding. Working on some super cool products and technology and all that. The one thing I see, spending a lot of time in Silicon Valley versus here, there’s a certain level of urgency and drive to move forward and get out into the market and to continually grow that’s present in the Valley — especially places like Y Combinator — that doesn’t always translate directly here. So I think there’s some positive ways we can find to instill that sense of urgency, especially around actual growth and traction versus building cool things. We’ve got this great culture, we’re starting to build super cool technology and things, but you’ve kind of got to add that layer of “now that I have this, how do I actually go to market with this? How do I, week over week, make sure that I’m making progress? What is the right metric to measure? How do I create a sense of urgency to go and optimize that over time?” I’d say that’s the biggest thing I’ve seen. The companies in town that have done well to date, you see that they’ve been really good at that and often they’ve taken that from the Valley. Vidyard is an example. Mike [Litt, CEO of Vidyard] obviously spent time down at Y Combinator in the Valley; he has that sense of urgency, and you can see it in their success and growth so far. They’re just hammering at that. The more we can instill that in the early-stage companies in the region and learn from the Valley in that regard, I think that would be a great benefit to everyone here.