Vidyard Inc., a fast-expanding business-video tech firm based in Kitchener, Ont., maintains “designated condos” for executives who live in the United States and would rather commute than uproot their families.
The 52-person roster at Borrowell Inc. in Toronto now includes two full-time recruiters recently hired to scour domestic and global markets for candidates with the specialized expertise needed to propel the successful fintech startup to the next level, says co-founder and chief executive Andrew Graham.
“We just hired a woman from France, an engineer who found us through a posting on Twitter,” Mr. Graham says.
Vancouver firm Finn.ai, which uses artificial intelligence to power customer service chatbots for financial institutions, spends “a lot of time and energy leveraging everything we can to find the right people” and accommodate their needs, says co-founder and chief operating officer Natalie Cartwright. Finn.ai’s new vice-president of sales, a former IBM executive, works from her home base in Florida. The head of global strategic accounts, a former Twitter executive, works from New York.
It’s tough to compete for talent when you are up against “the likes of FaceBook, Google, Amazon and Shopify,” Vidyard co-founder and CEO Michael Litt says. His firm has grown from two people to 250 since 2011, and the customer base for its business video marketing platform includes Citibank, LinkedIn and Honeywell International Inc.
It’s a problem many Canadian tech companies are facing. Canada does a great job of producing brilliant young tech graduates, Mr. Litt said in an interview, but there is a severe shortage of Canadian executives experienced in scaling up companies like Vidyard.
Concerned that talent shortages are impeding the potential of Canada's growing tech sector, venture capital firm Golden Ventures recently spearheaded the launch of a free job-postings hub for tech startups. The site, www.prospect.fyi, aggregates and redistributes job opportunities – lifted daily from participating companies' websites – to give them a broader, global reach.
“Canada’s innovation sector has exhibited dramatic growth in the past decade … yet there is still a long way to go in becoming a dominant global tech hub. Year-over-year, hiring remains the No. 1 concern for scaling companies. It’s expensive, time-consuming and the right talent is in short supply,” Golden Ventures said when the site went live in late September. Within a week, the job board had accumulated 1,526 job postings from 197 companies. “By the end of October, I expect we’ll be closer to 500 companies,” says Marianne Bulger, head of people and platforms at Golden Ventures, which serves the Toronto-to-Waterloo region.
As a seed-stage investor, one of the firm's most important functions – besides writing the cheque – is helping its portfolio companies "find those critical early hires to help them scale their businesses, particularly senior level hires.
“It can be a real pain point,” says Ms. Bulger, who has been overwhelmed by the response to Prospect.fyi, which was designed in consultation with other venture capital firms, government organizations and leading tech startups.
In the AI field, the demand for engineering and data-science professionals with five or 10 years' experience, is intense, as is the demand for seasoned executives with business-building skills, Finn.ai’s Ms. Cartwright says. “We use external recruiters for our very senior positions. On average it costs us about 20 per cent of the first-year salary, so between $20,000 to $30,000 per hire” – an expensive but essential investment in order to serve such clients as the Bank of Montreal in Canada and other financial institutions around the world.
Borrowell’s Mr. Graham says his biggest hiring challenge, apart from executive recruitment, is finding engineers and developers “with very specialized skill sets, like developing for mobile – that’s a very hot area right now.”
It will be a big help if Prospect.fyi leads more international candidates to his doorstep, he says.
The successful conclusion of the North American trade talks signals to prospective candidates “that the doors are open for business” in Canada, Vidyard’s Mr. Litt says.
"I hope the industry as a whole recognizes the extent of the opportunity that is at our feet right now."
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