HootSuite doubles down on Vancouver presence with new Mount Pleasant office

HootSuite stays local as the battle for Vancouver's talent heats up.

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To the east I can see Kingsway and Broadway, where the RIZE project will go in. To the Northeast is the Great Northern Way campus, where Emily Carr University has joined SFU, BCIT, and UBC in the False Creek Flats. Mount Pleasant is transforming at a rapid (or rabid) pace, but it's not all residential. People have a reason to come here for work and school. Companies like HootSuite, whose customers are distributed across the globe, don't need a city-centre space from which to do business: besides, you need to go east for affordability these days anyway.

We get a few moments to speak with founder, CEO, and Rick Grimes impersonator Ryan Holmes, mostly about the experience of moving into such an extreme fixer-upper of a space. The cost of cleaning up and redesigning this space must have been enormous. CTV pegs it at $1 million. That's both an expense and an investment: employees will stay in a place where they're happy. Beer taps and a yoga studio go a long way toward that goal.

HootSuite CEO Ryan Holmes

Don't leave town

I'm not really thinking about HootSuite's move to a new office, though; rather, I'm thinking of HootSuite's decision to stay in Vancouver at all, and how the company fits into the next stage of British Columbia's tech-industry evolution. We have Facebook coming to town soon, obviously with the intention of taking Vancouver's tech talent back to California after a year. Facebook could have gone anywhere, but they chose Vancouver. Because we have a lot of smart and talented people running around. If Facebook gets its way, it'll pluck some of those people up like a flying saucer abducting a cow.

Coming from the other end we have Canada's Start-Up Visa Program, geared toward luring entrepreneurial talent (and the jobs they'd create) up north rather than have them muck about with the United States' increasingly high-maintenance immigration policy.

Holmes says that the decision to stay and grow in Vancouver was due to the local talent pool, suggesting that the only reason HootSuite would even consider leaving the Lower Mainland would be "if we can't find the talent we need here."

Brain drain is an oft-mentioned risk associated with the high cost of living in Vancouver, coupled with attractive offers from elsewhere in Canada, south of the border and beyond. I ask Ryan how HootSuite (or any Vancouver tech company) convinces the Lower Mainland's best and brightest to stay put.

He responds by saying that half a million Canadians live in the San Francisco Bay Area, "a generation we're probably not gonna get back." What will keep Vancouverites in Vancouver, Holmes believes, is not just the offer of tech jobs, but the promise of big and interesting tasks: "problems that people can sink their teeth into." Also, says Holmes, there is a huge opportunity for Vancouver's universities to funnel its tech and social-media students toward local companies.

Local startup accelerator GrowLab is a step in that direction, playing Cupid between startups and funding; but there's also room to develop the recruiting side of the equation. Vancouver needs to become more of a place where like-minded (and strong-stomached) entrepreneurs, developers, marketers, and people-persons can move from doodles on napkins to viable small companies. They don't call it "incubation" for nothing: all sorts of elements go into creating a healthy environment in which a company can grow. Do we really want Waterloo to surge ahead of us and steal our thunder? Hell, no.

HootSuite already has an office in London, and is looking toward establishing presences in San Francisco, New York, and Sydney. The nerve centre is still here in Vancouver, though.

We're nearly out of time with the press tour, only time for a few more questions. Asked how newspapers can adapt to today's media landscape, Ryan Holmes replies, "Understand social."

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