Vision critical: BC’s booming tech industry despite untapped potential
In our October 2014 article that discussed Microsoft’s Billion-dollar investment in BC and Vancouver’s emergence as a world-leading hub for innovation – one of the companies referenced was Vision Critical. Companies such as Vision Critical are bellwethers for technology ecosystem success in Vancouver. They have grown from just five employees in 2000 to about 700, half of whom work out of their head office in Vancouver, and virtually all of their customers are outside of BC. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tyler Douglas, chief marketing officer, who is responsible for vision, strategy and demand generation at Vision Critical.
Q: Although you are based in Vancouver, I presume most of VC’s customers are in the US, is that correct?
“We predominantly work with Fortune 2000 companies in the United States, most of which are above half-a-billion in revenue,” says Douglas.
Q: What makes Vision Critical’s technology so successful?
“We deliver a cloud based customer intelligence platform. We help companies build communities of tens-of-thousands of people. We work with over 700 companies, everyone from Banana Republic to Yahoo,” explains Douglas. Vision Critical’s enormous success is driven by its ability to help organizations attract and retain today’s tech-savvy customers. The widespread adoption of mobile, social and cloud technologies has dramatically changed the landscape of many industries, and the more a company understand why their customers behave the way they do, the better they can tackle common business challenges.
“[Take] a retailer like Banana Republic,” adds Douglas. “It can learn from their customers by engaging with them online or on their mobile devices for feedback and insight. It can make better decisions based on customer feedback. We then have the ability to make sense of the information and provide strategic information to our customers so they can be successful.”
Douglas is referring to massive amounts of data, combining customer insight with statistics and demographics, including where and when customers buy. With online shopping, we have lost the human side of the transaction, including the person, opinion, attitude and feedback. This is what Vision Critical delivers. Retailers can now make smarter decisions based on conversations with their customers through a secure, opt-in online community of members who provide ongoing insight that builds into a rich body of knowledge.
Q: With Vision Critical’s headquarters in Vancouver, has Vancouver helped and/or hindered Vision Critical?
“Technology knows no geographic bounds. [We have succeeded] by both having really smart people, and executing with no geographic bounds,” Douglas explains. One issue that hinders Vancouver is its limited number of fortune 2000 companies, which he explains, “makes it hard to attract the right talent, who have been where we are going.”
So not everything is rosy on the Wet Coast. Recent data from Conversations for Responsible Economic Development (CRED) show that although the province’s tech industry has grown 12% since 2007, twice the rate of the provincial economy, significant untapped potential exists in the province’s tech sector.
I had a conversation with CRED executive director Liz McDowell to find out how important BC’s tech industry will be to Western Canada’s future: “I’d say that from my perspective, a responsible and resilient economy needs to be diverse. Rather than putting all our eggs in one basket – for example by rushing to develop BC’s LNG industry at the expense of other sectors -we should be supporting many different sectors.”
The CRED report speaks to how the government could be quicker to support new educational programs that would teach skills needed to thrive in the tech sector. Students in these programs would benefit from access to student loans, government funding and scholarships. Another potential solution would be to create a special fast-tracked visa category for high tech workers to enable easier recruitment and entry into Canada. Or programs like the Small Business Venture Capital tax credit (VCC), which help make equity investments more attractive to local investors, could be expanded and made even more powerful.
“The high tech sector has the potential to play a big role in fostering a responsible economy and creating hundreds of thousands of skilled, well-paid jobs,” explains McDowell. When comparing the tech industry to the mining sector, where there are geographic bounds and limited resources, it’s easy to understand why tech is so important to BC’s future.
One more piece of advice struck home from Tyler Douglas: “Understand that with technology, you can go global. You can create something powerful here in Canada, and with the right human capital, you can win on a global scale”. For the first time on this coast, with the tech boom, I say, let it rain!
To learn more on how the collective wisdom of your customers can help fuel your business, go to www.visioncritical.com, and to read CRED’s report on the future of BC’s tech sector, go to credbc.ca/future-bcs-tech-sector.