“It’s getting to the point where a company that doesn’t have social media and a tool to manage it is like a company that doesn’t have a phone system,” Holmes says, adding that HootSuite recently received a $100-million purchase offer. He turned it down. —Remy Scalza
ERIC DIEP A Thinking Ape (Vancouver) Like a proud homeowner, 24-year-old Eric Diep shows off the amenities in his company’s 10,000-square-foot Gastown headquarters: the Ping-Pong room, the band room and the nap room, containing the largest beanbag he’s ever seen. The company’s dorm-room ambience belies an ambitious vision. “We want to build the most respected technology company in Canada,” Diep explains.
They’re off to a good start. Since it launched in 2008, A Thinking Ape has earned a reputation for designing some of the most addictive mobile games on the planet. (The company’s flagship, Kingdoms at War, was the 13th-highest-grossing app in Apple’s App Store in 2011.) Diep won’t disclose revenues, but admits they are in line with other top developers, who earn between $1 million and $3 million a month, exclusively through the sale of virtual items that users can use in their games.
A Thinking Ape is also a rare beast in that it was founded in Silicon Valley, then moved to Vancouver. Having dropped out of the University of Waterloo’s math program in 2007, Diep was developing Facebook apps from his San Francisco bedroom (if you’ve ever taken a quiz on Facebook, you might have used his technology) when he joined forces with a pair of fellow Canadians and ex-Amazon engineers who were working on Internet chat technology. They decided to fuse the world of gaming with the world of chat to create a new kind of highly social gaming experience, the result of which would form the basis of A Thinking Ape. “That’s our key,” Diep explains. “Our millions of users are very sticky—and they stick around largely because of the social element.” —R.S.
BORIS WERTZ W Media Ventures (Vancouver) “I’d say 90% of consumer Internet projects in Vancouver come through me,” says Boris Wertz, the 38-year-old CEO of W Media Ventures. “I wish it weren’t that way. It’s not healthy.” Originally from Germany, Wertz came to Canada in 2002 to manage a Victoria-based online bookseller. When Amazon snapped it up in 2008, Wertz opted to stick around, leveraging his Internet savvy by plunging into the world of angel investment. “Three years ago, there were virtually no Internet start-ups in Vancouver,” says Wertz, who‚ in jeans and a crisp Oxford shirt, looks the part of a tech elder statesman. “But we’re now witnessing a new wave of innovation.” At last count, W Ventures’ portfolio embraced “a few million dollars” invested in 30 businesses, from online custom tailors to a tool described as a Facebook for teachers. Among Wertz’s greatest early successes: Summify, the social news aggregator founded by Cristian Strat and sold to Twitter for an undisclosed sum in 2012. Behind his investments is a profound faith in the levelling power of the Internet. “When you find models that take out the middleman and basically give power to people who really care about a particular space, that’s exciting to me,” Wertz says. —R.S.
STEWART BUTTERFIELD Tiny Speck (Vancouver) The éminence grise of Vancouver’s tech scene is in his late 30s, wears Converse sneakers and plaid flannel. Stewart Butterfield rocketed to tech stardom all the way back in 2004, when he launched Flickr, the site that ushered in the era of digital photo-sharing. He sold it to Yahoo in 2005 for a rumoured $35 million (U.S.). Flickr today is likely worth many, many times that. Butterfield doesn’t mind.
“If I could be doing anything right now, I would be doing this,” he says. This is Tiny Speck, the 40-person company developing Glitch, a web-based multiplayer game involving giants, elfish avatars, barnyard animals and a mission to save the future. He thinks it’ll make his Flickr sale look like small change.
“There have only been a few massively multiplayer online games that have been really successful,” Butterfield says, listing World of Warcraft as an example. “If it catches on, we’re talking billions of dollars from one game.”