bi-weekly column with timely,
relevant and possibly irreverent
insight into the BC technology
February 1st, 2008
Greenstone Venture Partners
A Look Back To The
“You are young and you are the future,
So suck it up, tough it out,
And be the best you can.”
– John Cougar Mellencamp,
Minutes to Memories
1986, I was living my life at university in
Ontario, oblivious to the world beyond
Southern Ontario where my friends and my
immediate job (finishing university) were at hand.
A friend of mine from high school left that April
for a fantastic summer job in Vancouver at Expo ’86.
She spoke French, so it was easier for her to get
hired. She had arranged to work a
gigantic fair, get paid and explore the West Coast of
Canada at age 20. That was my first
expansive thought as a near adult… I could actually go
work somewhere other than
so the bug started. My family went to
that summer (think the Griswalds
in European Vacation) and I started getting excited
about the big wide world that was a couple of years away
for me. When I graduated with a 4 yr
degree, I got my first exciting job in, well, uh, ahem,
18 months later I landed in
For me, the attraction was there from my friend’s summer
job in 1986. My “break” came when my
girlfriend (now wife) got into teacher’s college at UBC
for the 1990/91 school year. Away we
I got here, we settled in, where else,
Kitsilano. It was close to
downtown and to UBC, the rent was reasonable and it
offered the beach and a hip culture.
Before I attended UBC for my MBA in 1992, I had many
friends around Kits. Exactly 2 of
them were from here. Everyone had escaped the recession
Saskatchewan and even
Alberta and come here to work.
Some were up in Whistler, including a good friend
of mine who is now a senior guy at BOBJ/SAP.
He drove a taxi to start his career in BC.
Vancouver had no obvious
advantage over the rest of the country… other than its
allure for young people: outdoor recreation, hip culture
and no snow. But young people came
out in droves in the early 90’s. I didn’t know what a
mountain bike was in Ontario,
but then again, I didn’t know what a mountain was in
here, we started zooming through forests in Whistler,
UBC and the
And we skied. And we went kayaking out in the
Broken Group. And we camped in the
interior. Etc. Etc. And everyone who
is not from here engaged in the
favourite pastime of phoning snowbound Ontario in
late February or early March and telling how you were
washing the car or going for a rollerblade.
I still do that, 18 years later.
think back to that group from the early 90’s, almost all
are still here. One guy stayed for
11 years and is now in
New York City, but he was the
aberration. What drew us out here as
young people kept us here and we (not from BC) make up a
significant chunk of the technology workforce today.
the nostalgic look back? Because I
am living proof of the concept presented yesterday at a
BCTIA lunch by Joseph Cortright,
A Portland based consultant and
authour of a study he called The Young And The
Restless: Positioning BC in the Competition For Talent.
I just described to you my thought process and
18 years ago when I was a 23 yr old, highly mobile,
highly educated, hard working, cheap source of
Joseph prefers the 25-34 yr old demographic to describe
his Young and Restless, but I was just a little ahead of
BC wants to build a larger more vibrant technology
industry, it needs a long view and must attract talent.
In the short run, we can pick off some older more
experienced senior managers to come here and work in
existing companies. But the solution
for a strong future is to attract those that are easy to
attract, the 25-34 yr old, single, educated, mobile
worker. They don’t solve today’s
management issues as they are naïve and inexperienced (I
merely think of my first job in technology in 1994 as
being a poster boy for that comment), but they hold the
potential for the entrepreneurs and senior managers of
tomorrow (10 – 30 years forward).
best part of Joseph’s presentation was what I call the
“duh” demographics. It is so obvious
that we forget about it… In the last
30 years there was a labour
surplus. The boomers were in the
workforce, women more than doubled their participation
in the workforce, the percentage of people in the
workforce with a 4 year degree was up dramatically from
under 10M to over 50M in the
and technology was driving productivity gains per
worker. All of this meant that we
carried a relatively high unemployment rate even as the
economy expanded. Now, the “duh”
part, because it should not be news to you.
It is going to flip for the next 30 years.
My Mom is the first of the boomers (born in
1945). She is 63 this year and
represents the fact that for the next 30 years, the
boomers will all retire, some early.
We may have reached the equilibrium for women
participating in the workforce.
Joseph also points out that the rate of
college/university graduation has
plateaued as well. There will
be a labour shortage. And it
will change the economy of North
the technology industry, more than any other industry,
we need the skilled, educated, “creative” class of
society. We need those 25-34 yr olds
that can move today and into the future to move to
news. We have what they want.
Joseph and his cohorts did study after study and
many focus groups on what they want. They want vibrant,
urban cores in cities with diversity, culture and
recreation. They want to move to
places where there is a buzz. In the
Toronto was not buzzing.
Vancouver seemed more hip, more
edgy and so-not-Toronto. Joseph
describes the desirable
neighbourhoods as “close-in” or less than 3 miles
to the city’s central business district.
Kitsilano in the
early 90’s was the place. Now it is
Yaletown and the
with its incredible density and hip scene.
Soon it will be Gastown
as well. US examples of cities that
have these desirable neighbourhoods
are New York City,
San Francisco, Seattle,
Canada, I would argue that
Montreal is best, followed by
Vancouver and then, yes,
Toronto (which has improved its
core immensely since 1990). Have you
been to Calgary,
They roll up the sidewalks downtown at 6pm.
Nothing happens in the core.
In the US,
think of Los Angeles,
San Antonio or
Phoenix for cities that have no
hip, urban core. These cities are in
trouble down the road because this demographic does not
move into the suburbs. They get
allergic near a minivan.
Essentially, the message is Get Them While They Are
Young, an interesting challenge in today’s
Internet-driven world. Perhaps I shouldn’t hand out
advice on how to market to this generation as I am a few
years out of the demo and I am part of the immobile
later generation. I have my house, my kids are in school
and I live in the burbs.
I am what we want these young people to be… stuck
here. And happy to be stuck. Just
hard to move out for any old job opportunity.
But if I was marketing to this group, I would be
subtle. When I was 23, I did not
respond to any marketing campaign.
was desirable because it was different.
It just has to remain different. Oh, and like the
Expo ’86 attraction for this demographic, we should be
reaching out across
to attract workers/volunteers for the Olympics.
It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get
people to come and stay. Or at least
tell their friends about it when they get home.
Joseph told the story of an Intel executive in
Portland after his presentation
saying, “why do I want a bunch of latte-swilling, text
messaging slackers” working for me?
Ok, he has a point. Someone has to
hire these people in the first place, or they won’t
stick and get old like me. The
technology industry must be mature enough, with enough
entry-level or mid-level positions to absorb this
demographic. There must also be a
support network for the start-up because this
wonderfully naïve demographic is entrepreneurial and can
work 80 hours a week when they don’t have to drive to
soccer, hockey and piano lessons and
coach/volunteer/clean the house.
There time is their own… not their children’s or their
spouses. Do we have the mature technology companies?
Do we have the support network?
These are things we can work on in the short
term, but positive announcements like Microsoft moving
here help. BCTIA is about to launch
their tech labour survey, so
I can comment on the state of the technology market next
one example of this concept of the young and the
restless working, but back in the throes of the last
recession. It is much more apparent
that we need to attract these people NOW and have them
stick and become parents and move to the
burbs before the coming
labour crunch. See more on
Jim’s work at
What Do You Think? Talk Back To Brent Holliday
Something Ventured is a bi-weekly column designed
to supplement the T-Net British Columbia web site with
some timely, relevant and possibly irreverent insight
into the industry. I hope to share some of the
perspective and trends that I see in my role as a VC.
The column is always followed by feedback (if its
positive or constructive. I'll keep the flames to
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