Is a remote workforce the future of jobs in the Okanagan?

You might not realize it, but a growing number of people moving to the Okanagan (and Vernon, BC) are working remotely for companies nowhere near here.

In Vernon alone we have folks working for head offices in San Francisco, New York, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Toronto.

Remote work, or telecommuting, offers its own unique set of perks and challenges, but it’s popularity amongst the tech business community is growing.  Is this remote workforce the future of jobs in the Okanagan?

Are you curious about remote work? Join us for a panel discussion on March 11, 2014, from 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm, at the Vernon Chamber Of Commerce Board Room (2nd floor).

This is a great opportunity for:

  • students interested in remote working careers
  • business owners interested in how hiring and managing remote employees works
  • government officials who want to learn about building a “remote” economy
  • current remote workers who want to network with others
  • anyone else interested in applying for remote work jobs

Click here to get a free ticket for the event.

On our panel: Justin JacksonMarty DillMikey ArceJames LoveKyle Newton, Marco Ariano, and Linda Mork.

More resources:

PS: You need to register here in order to attend the event!

The event has been generously sponsored by Sproing Creative.

Why cities are trying to persuade tech companies to move

Ryan Holmes (originally of Vernon) recently disclosed that he’s received many invitations (with incentives) to move his Vancouver based company (Hootsuite):

It became clear to me then that cities were pursuing me as eagerly as I was pursuing new clients for my own business. And, if you look closer, this makes a lot of sense.There is an obvious and massive benefit to having well paid technology workers contributing to the local economy. In just over five years, we’ve gone from three to more than 500 employees and are on track to grow to 700 employees this year. These are young, smart, well adjusted people with good jobs who are contributing to the local economy in a big way. Ignoring the obvious taxes that the company pays, the ripple effect of having multiple tech startups fuelling the local economy is a taxman’s wet dream.

via Ryan’s post: Keeping Entrepreneurs Local — Medium.

Tech jobs and tech companies can help to improve a local economy. There’s obviously a lot of municipalities trying to get in on the action.

Again, my advice to Vernon is to stay focused on where we can be strongest, and appeal to bootstrappers and remote workers.

Photo credit: Rob Thompson


Vernon, BC: it’s time for Startup Weekend!

Are you awesome? Do you live in the North Okanagan? Do you dig tech?

Then you need to be at Startup Weekend Okanagan, March 14, 2014!

For those who aren’t familiar with the event,  Startup Weekend is a global movement of active entrepreneurs who are learning the basics of creating and launching successful startups. All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and then it’s a 54 hour frenzy of business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekend culminates with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders with another opportunity for critical feedback.

Whether entrepreneurs found companies, find a cofounder, meet someone new, or learn a skill far outside their usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave the event better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of startups. And leave very, very inspired.

Read Kazia’s blog post on what happened last year.

Kazia Mullin has secured 8 fully sponsored spots for Vernon attendees: this includes event tickets, a place to crash and wash up (there are 2 Kelowna hotel rooms available for our team members), and all the event provided food you can handle available at no cost to the 8 members from Vernon.

If you’re a North Okanagan developer, programmer, designer, marketer, entrepreneur, someone-who-is-curious-about-startup-culture, we would love to have you join us at Startup Weekend Okanagan!

If you’re still not sure, check out this video. You do not want to miss this!

You just need to get your smarty-pants self there! Email for all the details. And check out the website,


Where does Vernon fit in the BC startup scene?

“It’s time to rebrand the Chicago startup scene, focusing on passionate bootstrappers rather than small firms looking to get huge.”
– Adrian Holovaty via the Chicago Tribune

This Chicago Tribune article, and the comments from Adrian Holovaty are worth reading. I think there are a lot of parallels to BC’s burgeoning tech startup scene. Here’s the way I see it:


Vancouver is trying to become a second-tier startup city (like Seattle, Austin, or Toronto). They have the right climate, the right vibe, the right size and the right location. With companies like HootSuite leading the way (and big companies like Electronic Arts who have set up shop there), they have a good chance of becoming a reasonable venture-backed startup hub.


Kelowna is trying to become the next Boulder, Colorado, taking a page out of Brad Feld’s Startup Communities book. They have one big win under their belt with Club Penguin. They’ve also made it clear that they’re trying to build traditional venture-backed startups: Steve Wandler runs an excellent conference called Metabridge that brings investors to Kelowna, and Accelerate Okanagan is helping to prepare companies to be “investment ready”.


So where does that leave Vernon? As I look at Vernon’s entrepreneurial history, the culture of the city, and the attitude of the people who move here, I think we need to forge a different path. Like Chicago, we can’t be something that we’re not:

Playing “the Silicon Valley game” isn’t going to get Chicago any closer to the kind of massive venture-capital dollars that flow through California, [says] Holovaty. He even offered a rebranding slogan: “Chicago. Be Your Own Boss.”

“There’s no way we’re going to catch up with Silicon Valley,” said Holovaty, “Let’s be honest with ourselves.”

via the Chicago Tribune

Why are people moving here? Why do people stay here? What kinds of companies do we want to build? 

First: We live in Vernon for the lifestyle: for mountains, lakes, trees, beaches, hiking, biking and skiing. The companies we build need to align themselves with that purpose. Many of us are expats of bigger cities (Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary) that wanted out of the grind, and wanted the freedom to enjoy life, outside, with our families. Vernon is a family town; it’s somewhere you want to raise your kids.

Second: I think Vernon is a lot closer to the DNA of Chicago (working class town) than San Francisco (big, venture funded startups). We’re bootstrappers. Again, from the Tribune article:

Bootstrapping generally refers to companies that fund themselves rather than look to angel or venture capital investors. Holovaty offered a more specific definition:

“It’s an Internet company that’s made by one or two people, developers probably, working from home, working from coffee shops,” he said. “It’s revenue-positive. It makes them a great living. And they are doing what they love because they’re craftsmen and they love doing it. And they have no ambitions to take over the world, because, really, 95 percent of what is taking over the world is (B.S.).”

Bootstrapping is about building something valuable with your own sweat equity; and the payoff is freedom. You’re not beholden to investors, a boss, or anyone else. If you build a great (small) company, and work hard, you’ll eventually earn the flexibility to do what Vernonites love: take off a week to go fishing, head to the mountains to ski untouched powder as soon as it snows, or spend the afternoon at the beach.

In addition to people bootstrapping their own companies I think there’s a great deal of opportunity for folks who want to work remotely from Vernon. These are people who’ve been enabled by their employers to work anywhere in the world.

If I were to come up with a slogan for this movement, I think it’d be something like this:

Vernon, BC. Build your own freedom.

That’s where I see Vernon’s startup future. What about you?


Manufacturing is not coming back to Vernon, BC

When I’m out around town, I listen. I listen to what people are talking about at coffee shops, at the gym, and at the barbershop. One recurring complaint is:

“Why isn’t Vernon investing in an industrial zone? Why don’t we bring manufacturing back to the area? It’s all going to Salmon Arm, Armstrong, Kamloops and Kelowna.”

Folks, manufacturing isn’t going to come back to Vernon. The days of having a glass factory that employs 300 people in the area are gone. There are 2 main reasons for this:

1. Bad location

Vernon, logistically, is a terrible place to start most factories: we’re not on a main route to a main port. Shipping something from Kelowna to Vancouver is always going to be cheaper than Vernon to Vancouver.

2. China has the capacity, the technology and the supply chain

Across most industries, large-scale manufacturing is moving away from Canada and the USA in general. This was best highlighted by The New York Times’ piece on Apple:

For Mr. Cook, the focus on Asia “came down to two things,” said one former high-ranking Apple executive. Factories in Asia “can scale up and down faster” and “Asian supply chains have surpassed what’s in the U.S.” The result is that “we can’t compete at this point,” the executive said.

“The entire supply chain is in China now,” said another former high-ranking Apple executive. “You need a thousand rubber gaskets? That’s the factory next door. You need a million screws? That factory is a block away. You need that screw made a little bit different? It will take three hours.”

It would be foolish for Vernon to try to entice large-scale manufacturers back to the area: that’d be like trying to swim-upstream (a whole lot of effort, with very little results). You can’t fight the global trend: manufacturers are going to go wherever has the best supply chain, the lowest wages, and a logical location for shipping.

Vernon’s economic opportunity

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” – Wayne Gretzky

My friend Amy Hoy says it’s best to target “people already in motion”. The question for Vernon is: who’s already moving here? Who are the people in motion? What’s motivating them to come here?

In our role with Startup Vernon, Kazia and I talk to a lot of folks that have just moved here. Here are the patterns we’ve observed:

  • Many are “knowledge workers” from Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. These are consultants, freelancers and remote workers who can choose where they want to live. They’ve chosen Vernon.
  • They’re moving here for the lifestyle. They’ve come here to ski, to hike, for the beaches, to boat, to bike, and for the natural beauty of the area.
  • They chose Vernon because of family. They either moved to here because they had family in the area, or they moved here because they thought it would be a good place to raise kids. In terms of the latter, Vernon seems to have a competitive advantage over Kelowna.

I think mayor Sawatzky actually has the right idea. Here’s a quote from this piece in the Vernon Morning Star:

Another priority for Vernon council will be trying to bolster the economy.

However, Sawatzky isn’t convinced Vernon is destined to become the centre of large manufacturers and it must consider why people come here.

“Our strengths are an attractive climate, our lifestyle and arts and culture,” he said.

The challenge

There’s two big questions:

  1. Are there enough knowledge workers out there looking to move to a place like Vernon?
  2. If so, how can we attract them here?

What do you think?


Building Startup Ecosystems Outside of Silicon Valley

My approach is based on the belief that a startup ecosystem succeeds first and foremost as a result of successful startups.

Ben Yoskovitz, Building Startup Ecosystems Outside of Silicon Valley

I couldn’t agree more.


Hootsuite scores $165M from top Twitter investor | Internet & Media – CNET News

Hootsuite, a 4-year-old social media dashboard for businesses, has closed a $165 million round of funding at an undisclosed valuation. The round was led by Insight Venture Partners, a seasoned New York-based firm that pumped late-stage money into Tumblr and still holds a substantial stake in Twitter.

via Hootsuite scores $165M from top Twitter investor | Internet & Media – CNET News.


If a small Albertan town can get 1 gigabit internet, so can Vernon

The town of Olds, Alberta (8,500 residents) has a community owned ISP called O-Net. This week, O-Net made an announcement:

On Thursday, the board of O-Net gave approval for residents to get access to a full gigabit or 1,000 megabits per second of bandwidth for the same price that they currently pay for a guaranteed download speed of 100 megabits per second — $57 to $90 a month, depending on whether they have bundled their internet with TV and phone service.

(via Small Alta. town gets massive 1,000 Mbps broadband boost – Technology & Science – CBC News)

This is really progressive thinking for a municipality. They’re a rural community who responded to business owners who said they’d leave if Olds didn’t improve internet speeds. The town stepped up, and spent between $13-$14 million laying their own cable, and building their own ISP (they did this with the help of grant money).

Vernon, BC needs to be thinking this way.

The city has identified technology as a growth sector. To be a technology leader, it’s going to need broadband speed. Currently, the fastest consumer internet I’ve been able to find in Vernon is 50 MBPS. The internet in Olds is 20x faster.

I think there’s opportunity for local businesses to help pay for this. A dedicated 1 gigabit connection for a business is $5,000 / month in Olds. To achieve $1 million in annual revenues, you’d only need 17 businesses to sign-up.


Canadian Game Developer Magmic Launches $4 Million Fund for Local Startups –

Looks like Magmic is launching a new fund for video game startups in Canada:

Ottawa-based gaming developer Magmic is launching a $4 million fund targeted at local startups.The Canadian company, which was founded in 2002, made the announcement at the Ottawa International Games Conference this week.

via Canadian Game Developer Magmic Launches $4 Million Fund for Local Startups –


Photos from May 30 #geekbeers

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